John Farrell

John Farrell is the author of Energy Self-Reliant States and a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where he focuses on renewable energy policy.

Climate & Energy

Palo Alto’s utility now provides guilt-free electricity

The Palo Alto municipal utility is carbon neutral.

Show Me Solar: Missouri’s Opportunity for Solar Power

What can solar power do for a single state? How about 21% of its energy, $14 billion in economic activity, and over 150,000 jobs. At a discount to existing electricity costs. Without subsidies. That’s what solar power can do for Missouri, but the state’s utilities may be about to pull the plug on local solar power. It started with a renewable energy standard, passed overwhelmingly in 2008, requiring the state’s utilities to get 15% of their electricity from renewable energy resources, and primarily from local sources.  But attacks on the law started three years ago, when the Republican-controlled state legislature …

A David and Goliath Fight to Tap World Class Solar

“It’s the most inspirational work that I’m doing…this is an inspirational and aspirational effort…at the heart of it is love of place and energy democracy.” Mariel Nanasi and the citizens of Santa Fe, NM, are exploring the economic and environmental benefits of more local and locally-controlled energy production.  Is their city ready to take the lead? Find out in this interview with Mariel, Executive Director of New Energy Economy, recorded via Skype on November 22, 2013. Podcast (Local Energy Rules): Play in new window | Download | Embed   A Failure to Take Advantage The incumbent electric monopoly serving Santa …

The high cost of the solar middleman

If there’s no such thing as a free lunch, then how can Americans get solar on their roof with “zero money down” and lower their electric bill?  Solar leasing, as it’s often called, is a clever market solution to poor federal and state policy design that otherwise requires Americans to do financial acrobatics to power their home or business with solar. But solar leasing adds significantly to the cost of solar energy. Data from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources published last year suggests that state taxpayers that will pay (a lot) more to make solar easy to install for …

How to Phase Out Incentives and Grow Solar Energy

Over the next decade, solar electricity will let consumers get cheaper energy from their rooftop than from their utility. Among the upheaval in the electricity system, the coming of solar “grid parity” means re-thinking incentives for solar energy. The success of solar is remarkable, no less because the amount of federal subsidy in absolute terms has been far less for renewable energy than for fossil fuel resources (see graphic below).1 As the cost of solar drops toward – and below – grid parity, the question is how to adjust solar subsidies appropriately. Should they be eliminated immediately? Phased out? Or …

How solar energy cuts electric grid costs

With solar power, “we can avoid that $100 million investment in transmission lines, distribution lines, in capital infrastructure…” That was Vice President of Environmental Affairs Michael Deering of the Long Island Power Authority in a remarkable podcast interview, explaining how local solar energy can help offset expensive grid upgrades for bringing in remote power generation, as much as $100 million worth. Listen in to the podcast (recorded via Skype on 11/25/13) for the full story, or read the summary below for more on why one of the country’s biggest municipal utilities is looking to solar to meet their growing energy …

The Opportunity to Overturn Three Costly Values in Our Energy System

Earlier this year I worked as an election judge for the city of Minneapolis.  It was the city’s second experience with ranked choice voting, a system where instead of voting for a single candidate, you get to pick your top three choices.  If your first choice candidate is mathematically eliminated from winning, your vote is reallocated to your second (or even third) choice. I tell this story because I feel a bit like a second choice when I’m here to talk to you about campus sustainability when my father literally wrote a book (if not the book) on the culture …

A Big Question for ‘Solar Choice’

Two weeks ago, Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission ratified the first-ever statewide policy for setting a fair and transparent price on solar energy. This week, a coalition of companies that provide leasing contracts for solar to home and business customers declared war on this “value of solar” policy, and pretty much every financial model for compensating solar energy producers that isn’t net metering. As I’ll outline below, this position by “The Alliance for Solar Choice (a.k.a. solar leasing companies like SolarCity)” leaves one enormous unanswered question. What’s Happening Right Now Distributed solar power production is under fire. In nearly 1 of …

Can a Fair Price for Solar Energy Win Over Utilities?

In March 2014, Minnesota became the first state to adopt a “value of solar” policy to set a fair, transparent price on solar energy. It may serve as a national precedent and fundamentally change the financial relationship between electric utilities and their energy-producing customers. So what will value of solar mean for utility customers producing power with solar? The Value Of Solar Concept The basic concept behind value of solar is that utilities should pay a transparent and market-based price for solar energy. The value of solar energy is based on: Avoiding the purchase of energy from other, polluting sources …

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