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John Farrell's Posts

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For U.S. electricity, bigger isn't better

Originally published at Minnesota Public Radio. The United States doesn't need another nuclear or coal power plant. Instead, it's time to abandon our 20th-century electricity system -- dominated by large, centralized utilities -- for a 21st-century electricity system that allows a network of independently owned and widely dispersed renewable energy producers to flourish. The 20th-century electricity grid was mostly a tale of "bigger is better." Utilities built ever-larger fossil fuel and nuclear power plants in pursuit of the cheapest possible electricity. For a 20th-century society, it worked. But the paradigm has changed. Since the year 2007, national electricity consumption has …

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New York City's massive solar opportunity

The City University of New York (CUNY) released a solar map of New York City last week, allowing building owners in the city to determine the amount of solar power their roof could host. The cumulative impact is enormous, with city rooftops capable of providing half the city's peak power, and 14 percent of its annual electricity consumption. The city should immediately maximize solar power development to save millions in electricity costs. At $3.50 per watt installed, and with the federal 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC), solar power in New York City can provide electricity at 16 cents per …

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Feds running a high-voltage gravy train for power transmission

Even as distributed generation shows economical and political advantages over centralized renewable energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is running a high voltage gravy train in support of expanded transmission. FERC's lavish program is expanding large transmission infrastructure at the expense of ratepayers instead of looking at more economical alternatives. Since 2007, FERC has had 45 requests for bonus incentives for transmission development -- authorized under the 2005 Energy Policy Act -- and has provided all or most of the requested incentives in more than 80 percent of the cases. With the bonuses, the average return on equity for …

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Value of solar power far exceeds its cost

Solar power has a monetary value as much as 10 times higher than its energy value, thanks to its ability to reduce peak demand on the transmission and distribution system, hedge against fuel price increases, and enhance grid and environmental security.  The cost of residential-scale distributed solar PV is around 23 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in a sunny climate like Los Angeles, 24 cents in Colorado. While the average cost of grid-delivered wholesale electricity in many parts of the country is low (four cents per kWh), a new report lists many ways that distributed solar adds value beyond electrons [PDF]. …

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Do we have to choose between big or small clean energy projects?

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. A recent Colorado news story captures the tension between two visions of renewable energy, with a quote that illustrates the conventional wisdom: "It's not an either or choice, that we only put solar on rooftops or on people's homes or do utility scale, large projects," said Pete Maysmith, executive director of the Colorado Conservation Voters. "As we move forward toward energy independence, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, on dirty, polluting sources of energy like coal, we need to move forward on …

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German rooftop solar price *averages* less than $4 per watt

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. Earlier this spring I shared a graphic illustrating the dramatic fall in distributed solar PV prices in Germany, down to $4.11 per Watt installed, for rooftop systems under 100 kilowatts.  As it turns out, the graphic was out-of-date.  In Germany, the average installed cost for rooftop solar PV under 100 kW is $3.70 per Watt.  It's a 50% drop in price since 2006, an average of 13% per year. For comparison, here's the average installed cost for under 10 kW rooftop solar …

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Land use is not a barrier for distributed renewable energy

Photo: GrahamThis post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. A column in The New York Times last Tuesday suggested that land use is the greatest environmental problem facing new renewable energy. While getting the facts terribly wrong, it opens a door to talk about the advantages of distributed generation such as a unique proposal by Republic Solar Highways to put solar photovoltaics (PV) on highway right-of-way in California. Robert Bryce's column, "The Gas is Greener," suggests that wind and solar have a large land footprint compared to gas and nuclear …

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Oregon town gets a lot of solar for a little money

Pendleton, Ore., is showing how solar doesn't need to be expensive.Photo: Ajay TallamThe upfront cost has always been the biggest barrier to solar photovoltaic (PV) adoption, and one Oregon town has found an innovative way to help its citizens buy down that cost. The city borrowed from the sewer account to offer no-interest loans of $9,000 each. The repayment schedule, over four years, is tied to residents' tax returns each spring, when they receive refunds of state and federal renewable energy tax credits. All told, Lehman estimates the program will cost the city only $10,000 in lost interest over four …

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Colorado town considers "How much renewable energy is feasible" — 80 percent by 2025?

A great story of a city looking to -- literally -- take ownership of its energy future: The Colorado Renewable Energy Standard, as amended last year by the state Legislature, requires Xcel Energy to get 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. ...  Boulder leaders -- who let the city's 20-year franchise agreement with Xcel Energy lapse at the end of 2010 -- are now considering whether they can get an energy mix for their residents with a larger percentage of renewable energy than what Xcel is offering. ... At the "Clean Energy Slam" event in February, …

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Smaller generation incites largest renewable energy gains

While seeming counterintuitive, a focus on smaller-scale distributed generation enables more and faster development of cost-effective renewable energy. In April, I wrote about the illusion that we can “move forward on all fronts” in renewable energy development; rather, a bias toward centralized electricity generation in U.S. policy reduces the potential and resources for distributed generation.  Solar economies of scale level off at 10 kilowatts.In contrast, distributed generation provides unique value to the grid and society, and its development can also smooth the path for more centralized renewable energy generation. First, distributed generation is cost-effective.  Economies of scale for the two …

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