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John Farrell's Posts

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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  As it turns out, the graphic was out-of-date.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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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 …