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John Farrell's Posts

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Utilities cash in when you go solar

I recently got a copy of a utility bill for a Minnesota business that has a 40 kilowatt (kW) solar PV array. I wanted to learn how quickly they'd pay off their array with the electricity savings. I was shocked. Payback time was 30 years. Even if the business owner had received a generous $2.00 per Watt rebate on top of federal tax incentives, it would still take 22 years to recoup the investment. It all came down to the way utilities account for solar power under "net metering" rules. A quick tutorial. Net metering essentially lets a utility customer …

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Concentrated solar power plants are all wet

Concentrating solar has promised big additions to renewable energy production with the additional benefit of energy storage -- saving sun power for nighttime -- but there's a catch. Most of the new power plants are big water users despite being planned for desert locations. With solar photovoltaic (PV) prices dropping so rapidly, does concentrating solar still make sense? Concentrating solar thermal power uses big mirrors to focus sunlight and make electricity. Think kids with magnifying glasses, but making power instead of frying ants. The focused sunlight makes heat, the heat makes steam, and the steam powers a turbine to make …

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Local clean energy a high priority for Canadian provinces

Ontario’s “buy local” energy policy has the promise of 43,000 local jobs from 5,000 MW of new renewable energy.   Now Nova Scotia is showing a strong interest in boosting the economic returns of its clean energy program. The maritime province is completing rulemaking for a provincial goal of 40% renewable power by 2020 that includes a 100 megawatt (MW) set-aside for community-owned distributed generation projects. The policy promises to increase the economic activity from its renewable energy goal by $50 to $240 million. Under the Community Feed-in Tariff (ComFIT), the community-owned projects will receive 20-year contracts for power at …

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Local ownership means local love for wind power

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. A new article in the journal Energy Policy supports the notion that local ownership is key to overcoming local resistance to renewable energy.  The article summarizes a survey conducted of two towns in Germany, both with local wind projects, but only one that was locally owned.  The results are summarized in this chart: Guess which town has the locally owned project?  If you guessed Zschadraß, you win.  With local ownership of the wind project, 45% of residents had a positive view toward …

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Cooperative South Dakota wind farm nets 600 local owners

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. With the right renewable energy policy, hundreds of individuals can have a stake in a renewable energy future.  That's what happened with a cooperatively-owned wind project in South Dakota, where 7 turbines from a larger wind project are shared by over 600 local investors. The largest barrier to community ownership of renewable energy has been the use of tax credits as the primary federal incentive for renewable energy.  Tax credit incentives stymie cities, counties, and cooperatives from constructing and owning their own …

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How to power homes with 100% clean and increasingly local power

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. After 10 years of battling incumbent utilities, Marin Clean Energy became California's first operational community choice aggregation (CCA) authority in 2010. Already, local ratepayers can opt to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable resources.  CCA offers an option for cities, counties, and collaborations to opt out of the traditional role of energy consumers. Instead, they can become the local retail utility, buying electricity in bulk and selecting their power providers on behalf of their citizens in order to find lower …

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Banks inflate solar value for tax credit

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. Solar leasing has offered thousands of homeowners a "no money down" route to go solar, broadening participation in the distributed generation revolution. Unfortunately, this revolution has been co-opted by high finance. Big banks have been able to write off millions in taxes by overreporting the cost of financed solar PV projects in what may be the country's next banking scandal. In a phone conversation last month, Jigar Shah of Carbon War Room (formerly chief of solar-as-a-service company SunEdison) disclosed that while solar …

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31 states can be self-sufficient with local renewable energy

The following map was the headline graphic to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's 2009 report, Energy Self-Reliant States, unveiling the enormous potential for each state to meet its own electricity needs internally.  I re-created the map for web viewing, so it's now even easier to share how each state can meet its electricity consumption with in-state renewable energy resources.  The renewable resources considered include on- and off-shore wind, rooftop solar PV, hydro, combined heat and power, and high-temperature geothermal.  Read the Energy Self-Reliant States report for more details. Click the image for a larger version of the map or here …

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Support local wind power on your utility bill?

Although Americans overwhelmingly support renewable energy, it's usually much harder to find a way to support the development of renewables close to home.  This innovative proposal offered last session in the Minnesota state legislature could change that. The bill would require utilities to offer a green pricing program for local, distributed wind power.  Green pricing means you can opt to pay a bit more on your electric bill to support clean energy development by your utility.  The largest investor-owned utility in Minnesota – Xcel Energy – already offers Windsource, a program to buy blocks of wind power at a premium …

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When is it time to break up with your utility?

Boulder is pulling the plug on Xcel Energy and looking to forge its own path.When is it time to break up with your utility? Perhaps it’s when they come to ratepayers for $30 million in cost overruns on a “free” smart grid project. Or when they fail to meet deadlines to propose a new franchise agreement. Or when they cite national security in an effort to avoid sharing load information. Or when they crash your office with nine employees to present their delayed franchise plan. Or perhaps when they propose raising rates again to keep up with rising fossil fuel …