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.

Solar Power

Why we pay double for solar in America (but won’t forever)

The barriers to cheap solar in the U.S. can be solved by policy, not technological, innovation. It's not too ambitious to assume the price of solar will keep falling.

Just Energy Independence or Clean Energy Self-Reliance?

In Thomas Friedman’s latest column, he praises Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts because he “took one for the country.”  Friedman sees that “America today is poised for a great renewal” if only it can get some “big, centrist, statesmanlike leadership.” Logically, there would be some renewable (energy) in America’s renewal, right? Wrong.  Here’s Friedman’s vision for America: Our newfound natural gas bounty can give us long-term access to cheap, cleaner energy and, combined with advances in robotics and software, is already bringing blue-collar manufacturing back to America. Web-enabled cellphones and tablets are creating vast new possibilities to bring high-quality, …

Overturning the ‘15% Rule’ Can Expand Distributed Generation

If you haven’t heard yet, there’s a “rule” that precludes distributed renewable energy projects from supplying more than 15% of the power to most “distribution circuits” (part of the low-voltage electric grid that brings power into homes and businesses).  With the rapidly falling cost of solar power, many places in the country are starting to push up against this limit. So there’s good news recently in California, where the state’s investor-owned utilities agreed to raise this somewhat arbitrary limit and accept more distributed generation. The process of setting the rule is almost comical, although the rationale isn’t.  Utilities want to …

Who Has the Most Cost-Effective Solar CLEAN (feed-in tariff) Program?

In a new report on U.S. CLEAN (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now) programs, I provide a comparison of solar CLEAN Contract (feed-in tariff) rates across the United States. Comparing published rates is not particularly helpful, however, because contract lengths vary (from 15 to 25 years) and the solar resource also varies widely.  For international comparisons (e.g. Germany), it’s also necessary to account for the currency exchange rate and the federal tax incentives that are routinely factored in to U.S. solar CLEAN prices. Here’s a look at the methodology for normalizing the CLEAN rates for comparison, and two maps illustrating those …

1.21 Gigawatts!

New Local Solar Policy, Not DeLorean, Moving U.S. to Cleaner Future In the past five years, a new U.S. renewable energy policy has quietly grown more popular, enabling enough solar power (1.21 gigawatts!) to send Michael J. Fox “Back to the Future.”  CLEAN programs – Clean Local Energy Accessible Now – have been adopted in 14 states and can significantly increase the deployment of local solar power, says a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). The 1.21 gigawatts of distributed solar power planned under CLEAN programs (also known as “feed-in tariffs”) represents one of the largest expansions …

Local Solar Could Solve ‘Massive Supply-Demand Imbalance’ in Renewable Energy Financing

In the next two years, the U.S. may get a lot less solar and wind power than it could. It’s not a shortage of solar panels or the cost of turbines.  Rather, it’s a problem of the perverse nature of federal incentives for renewable energy.  Right now, the owner of a solar or wind energy project can get a federal tax credit based on the value of the project or the electricity it produces.  But many owners don’t have enough tax liability to make use of the entire credit, and their search for a “tax equity” partner has created a …

Local Ownership Doubles Economic Value of Wind

Local ownership of a wind project accounts for half of its lifetime economic value to the community! From: Value Creation for Local Communities through Renewable Energies [pdf] This post originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

Net metering a cost to utilities, or a benefit?

A version of this article originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog. Utilities often claim that allowing customers to run their meter backward (by generating electricity on-site, e.g. from rooftop solar) can affect their bottom line because these customers don’t pay enough to cover the cost of maintaining the grid.  In at least one case, however, a utility’s cost-benefit analysis of net metering was turned on its head in an independent review. Presenting as part of Vote Solar’s Data Not Drama webinar on net metering last month, Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC) Joe Wiedman showed the Public Service Company …

Renewable Energy

Lots of solar power may reduce, not increase, electricity prices

A version of this post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Whether German feed-in tariffs or U.S. tax incentives, opponents of solar rail at its perceived high cost. But a story making rounds this week, “why power generators are terrified of solar,” presents a powerful image that may flip this conventional wisdom on its head. Building lots of solar power can actually reduce electricity prices, to the dismay of utilities. The story comes from Germany, where a decade of consistent policy has resulted in thousands of megawatts of distributed solar installed on …

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