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John Farrell's Posts

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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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Michigan to grid operator: We prefer to generate our own renewable energy

Michigan would rather pay a little more for energy if it's better for the local economy.Photo: Alex GorzenThis post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. The large transmission authority serving the upper Midwest -- the Midwest Independent System Operator -- has plans for new high-voltage transmission lines leading from windy states like the Dakotas to places like Michigan. The purpose is to bring renewable energy from big western wind farms to places East. Some of these places -- like Michigan -- would rather do it themselves: Michigan's share of $16 billion …

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Cash incentives for renewables are twice as effective as tax credits

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. Using the tax code rather than cash incentives to support wind and solar power costs ratepayers significantly more. I wrote about this problem last year because project developers were selling their federal tax credits to third parties at 50 to 70 cents on the dollar. And David Roberts wrote about it a couple of months ago: Along these lines, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a study [in March] showing that simply handing cash to clean energy developers is twice -- yes, …

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Cuts to U.K. solar incentive may spread economic benefits more widely

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. A proposed revision to the United Kingdom's feed-in tariff program may have created an uproar, but it may also help spread the economic benefits of solar more widely.  The proposed changes, announced in March, would reduce solar payments for large solar projects (50 kilowatts and larger) by 50 percent or more, but leave payments for smaller projects largely intact. The following tables illustrate: The new tariffs will help redistribute more of the feed-in tariff (FIT) program revenue to smaller projects. The most …

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How community ownership can save wind power

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project.     Community ownership may provide the solution for increasing resistance to wind power in the United States. Wind power has expanded rapidly in recent years, but the new wind farms have a common characteristic: absentee ownership. These large wind farms promise a broad expansion of clean energy production, but not a commensurate expansion in local economic benefits. True, every wind power project will create some jobs and ripple effects in the local economy, but with absentee ownership, most project benefits will leave …

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Want local communities to support wind? Put them in charge

Let's turn NIMBYs into YIMBYs.Photo: Eddie CodelThis post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. Last month, Grist's Jess Zimmerman noted sarcastically that "Money is a miracle cure for 'wind turbine syndrome.'" It is. And environmental advocates frustrated by the (spurious?) health and aesthetic complaints raised by not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) actors would do well to consider why. The implication of her post (and this attitude in general) is that we can't green our energy system without sacrifice. Getting to big carbon reductions will require enormous new renewable energy development and it will …

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Community uses ‘choice aggregation’ to fight its utility

Utilities need to cooperate with their communities.Photo: Powerhouse MuseumThis post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. Taking over the local utility has traditionally been the only route for communities wishing to chart their own energy future. California, Ohio, and two other states have opened a door called community choice aggregation, but incumbent utilities been monkeying with the lock. Community choice aggregation (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 …

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Ontario's 'buy local' energy program growing rapidly

In January, we released a report – Maximizing Jobs From Clean Energy: Ontario’s ‘Buy Local’ Policy – highlighting the impressive job forecast (43,000 jobs) from Ontario's CLEAN Contract (a.k.a. feed-in tariff) program.  News from the province suggests that the program is overcoming hurdles and continuing to grow. Forecasts for 2011 indicate that Ontario could become North America's largest solar market, installing 455 MW, more than twice what California installed in 2009.  This is nearly a 3-fold increase over 2010 installations. Additionally, supply concerns have faded.  ClearSky Advisors notes that, "Though there has been concern that development would be limited by …

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Solar PV gets grid parity for 78 million Americans with 'balance of system' best practices

Cutting non-module solar photovoltaic (PV) costs with best design practices could make solar PV cost less than grid electricity for more than 25 percent of Americans. Half of the installed cost of a solar PV array is the solar module, but the other half (the "balance of system") involves labor, assembly, and other components. With module prices continually falling, significant decreases in total installed cost depend on reducing balance of system costs. The Rocky Mountain Institute held a design charette last year, and the result was a concept of how to reduce balance of system costs by 58 percent in …

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Court strikes down federal overreach on transmission lines

With the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress gave broad powers to the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to identify "congested" transmission corridors.  The goal was to prioritize new high-voltage transmission development and to provide higher financial returns to transmission development companies.  The decision created a lot of controversy, since FERC could fast-track transmission development without considering alternatives for meeting safety and reliability goals (such as distributed generation, demand response, or energy efficiency investments) and also provide incentive payments for new transmission lines.  Furthermore, in making the designation, DOE claimed it had no need …

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