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John Farrell's Posts

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New small hydro could add significantly to state renewable power

Over at Climate Progress, Stephen Lacey recently asked why there isn't more development of micro hydro in the U.S., given its potential to provide more than 30,000 low-cost megawatts of power to U.S. states (and bipartisan political support). We can't answer that question any better than Stephen, but we can provide a good illustration of that potential, replicating a map from our 2010 report Energy Self-Reliant States (click here for a larger version): New Micro Hydro Power Potential (Percent of State Electricity Sales)

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Utility fights dirty in city's battle for clean local energy

In just three weeks, citizens of Boulder, Colo., will vote on whether to begin a big, formal process to unplug from Xcel Energy’s system and plug into local energy self-reliance. The vote to form a municipal electric utility could set a precedent for communities across the United States to keep millions of dollars local instead of sending them to remote electric utilities each year.  The vote on ballot measures 2B and 2C is the culmination of a multi-year struggle by the city of Boulder meet the Kyoto greenhouse-gas emission targets by getting less coal power and more renewable energy from …

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SolarShare bonds let citizens make money by financing local solar

You’re an earth-friendly person and want to go solar, but a large tree shades your house; or you’re a renter; or you don’t have $20,000 to drop on a solar power system. Or maybe you just want to get more than 0.5 percent interest on your savings account while getting a piece of the clean energy economy. If you live in the U.S., you’re probably out of options. Not so in Canada. Thanks to innovative energy policy, residents of Ontario can invest in local solar power projects by buying SolarShare bonds. The $1,000 bond provides a 5 percent annual return …

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Local solar could power the Mountain West right now, all of America in 2026

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. The Germans have installed over 10,000 megawatts of solar panels in the past two years, enough to power 2 million American homes (or most of Los Angeles, Calif.). If Americans installed local solar at the same torrid pace, we could already power most of the Mountain West, and could have a 100 percent solar nation by 2026, while enriching thousands of local communities with new development and jobs. The following map shows what could have happened had the U.S. kept pace …

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Can cash payments win over wind farm opponents?

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. A 50-turbine wind farm in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota has met with stiff local resistance, a frequent tale in the wind industry.  Recently, the project developer won a key court case to move forward, after making concessions about the distance ("setback") between the wind farm and local homes.  However, many residents remained unconvinced that the project was in their best interest. But this summer the project developers offered $10,000 payments (over 20 years) to about 200 local residents to try …

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Does energy storage compensate for water-thirsty concentrating solar thermal power?

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. Concentrating solar thermal power has promised big additions to renewable energy production with the additional benefit of energy storage.  But with significant water consumption in desert locations, is the energy storage benefit of concentrating solar enough to compete with the dramatically falling cost of solar PV? In May, I compared the water consumption of fossil fuel power plants to various solar technologies, noting that wet-cooled concentrating solar thermal power (think big mirrors) uses more water per megawatt-hour (MWh) than any other …

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German small solar cheaper than big U.S. solar

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. The U.S. has a hodge-podge of utility, state, and federal tax-based incentives. The Germans have a comprehensive feed-in tariff, providing CLEAN contracts (in the U.S. parlance) to anyone who wants to go solar (or wind, or biogas, etc). What does that mean for the price of solar? From a study of U.S. solar prices reported in Renewables International: Perhaps most surprisingly, the study found that the planned arrays [in the U.S.] larger than one megawatt have an average installed price of …

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Overcoming the roadblocks to democratizing the electricity system – part 5 of 5

A serialized version of ILSR‘s new report, Democratizing the Electricity System, Part 4 of 5. Click for Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3 or Part 4. Overcoming the Roadblocks to Democratizing the Electricity System The electricity grid system has become host to a distributed generation phenomenon that has developed in a largely hostile environment.  It’s possible that distributed generation has enough inherent economic and political advantage to be sustainable, but new policy could significantly expand distributed generation in the electricity system. The following policies illustrate the many ways that the electricity system can incorporate the benefits of  distributed …

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New York City's Solar Windfall Illuminates America's Clean Energy Future

This post adapted from Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. A recently released solar map of New York City found enough room on building rooftops for solar panels to power half the city during hours of peak electricity use. Taking advantage of this solar windfall could allow New Yorkers to save millions on electricity costs and create tens of thousands of jobs. New York City is not alone in its solar power potential. Almost 60 million Americans live in areas where solar prices are competitive with retail electricity costs, but this opportunity …

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Why we should democratize the electricity system – part 4

A serialized version of ILSR‘s new report, Democratizing the Electricity System, Part 4 of 5. Click for Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3. Roadblocks to Distributed, Local Renewable Energy Despite technology’s march toward more efficient and distributed energy production, there’s a substantial tension between the decentralized opportunity and the institutional and policy inertia generated from a century dominated by the paradigm of centralized generation. Motivated by the urgency of global climate change, many renewable energy advocates hope to transform the electricity grid by building ever-larger wind farms and solar power projects in remote regions, and sending power across …

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