John Farrell

John Farrell is the author of Energy Self-Reliant States and a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where he focuses on renewable energy policy.

The Democratizing Promise of Energy Storage

While energy storage is a small fraction of total power generation capacity, promising examples suggest that distributed energy storage could change the electricity system during the next decade as fundamentally as distributed renewable energy has in the last decade. Right now, 95% of energy storage in the U.S. is water pumped uphill into in reservoirs, but there are at least four applications that show how energy storage can complement renewables and offer more local control of the energy system. Where Storage and Renewables Meet As highlighted in a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, there are four areas …

Better Building Codes Save Bundles [Chart]

How much money could you and your neighbors save on energy? That depends a lot on the building code, which states (and sometimes cities) can use to set minimum standards for energy efficiency.  The U.S. Department of Energy has a nice chart of which state has adopted which code, but the following chart is useful in understanding what that means from the standpoint of relative energy efficiency and energy savings.  A third of states could save new homeowners anywhere from $150 to $1100 per year in energy costs by upgrading or implementing the most recent International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). In …

Could Minnesota’s “Value of Solar” Make Everyone a Winner?

On Wednesday, Minnesota became the first state to allow utilities a new method of contracting with distributed solar producers, called the market-based “value of solar.” If adopted by utilities, it will fundamentally change the relationship between solar-producing customers and their electric utility. Following Minnesota’s Value of Solar Process? Here are a few resources: Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4 of ILSR’s series of posts on the process The MN Department of Commerce final comments and draft value of solar methodology (January 2014) My comments to the Department of Commerce on value components to include (PDF …

Can a Novel City-Utility Partnership Green a Big City Grid?

In pursuit of a cleaner energy future last August, the city of Minneapolis came to the brink of putting a city-owned utility on the ballot. It was the culmination of a grassroots effort to get cleaner energy and local investment from the city’s energy utilities. It won’t be a city-owned utility on the agenda this spring, but Minneapolis may launch a novel city-utility partnership that will allow them to race ahead of state renewable energy targets and prioritize local and equitable economic investment. “This first-in-the-nation arrangement would be an innovative and pragmatic approach to coordinating City and utility clean energy …

Five Reasons Solar’s Win Over Gas in Minnesota is Just the Beginning

Solar advocates were popping corks when a New Year’s Eve ruling by an administrative law judge in Minnesota said that distributed solar arrays were a more cost-effective resource than natural gas to meet Xcel Energy’s peak power needs. The energy media were aflutter for weeks, but many missed the bigger significance. If solar trumps gas for peaking power in Minnesota, there’s little reason to be building new natural gas peaking capacity anywhere in the country.  Ever again. Let’s look at the 5 reasons why solar’s triumph over natural gas is likely to stick: Solar Wins on Cost It’s not the …

Are Electric Utilities Already Dead?

For the last six months, the energy news sphere (perhaps led by the Edison Electric Institute) has been rife with a discussion about the threat to the utility business from distributed energy like local solar, as their customers shift to getting their own power from nearby renewable resources.  Reports and news stories – e.g. “Adapt or Die” – suggest changes to the electric utility business model are imminent as power generation shifts from massive to medium scale and from remote to local. For some utilities, this discussion is not a forecast, but a post-mortem. Electric utilities have always built infrastructure …

The #1 Solar Utility is in…Iowa?

It may be one of the oldest cooperative utilities in the country, but in the next six months, Farmers Electric Cooperative (FEC) of southeastern Iowa will be leading the nation in this 21st century energy source. Upon completion of a new solar array, the 640-member cooperative will have over 1,500 Watts of solar per customer on their system, nearly double the #2 utility. It’s also the most reliable utility in Iowa. How can a small, member-owned utility be “America’s Most Progressive Utility“? Find out in this interview with FEC Manager Warren McKenna, recorded via Skype, on November 18, 2013. Local …

Natural Gas isn’t a Bridge Fuel, it’s a Gateway Drug

In his State of the Union, President Obama added to the conventional wisdom that supplanting coal with natural gas will act as a bridge toward a climate solution. Unfortunately, gas is more of a gateway drug than a bridge to a clean energy future. 1) It’s still a major greenhouse gas.  Sure, natural gas is cleaner than coal, but that’s setting a pretty low bar.  Even if my shit smells sweeter than most, it’s still shit. Natural gas powered electricity still pours 1.22 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour of electricity it produces. That’s 6 tons …

Who’s Your Energy Daddy?

For now it remains large, investor-owned utilities, and ostensibly locally-focused rural cooperatives and municipal utilities. But the energy landscape of today gives me uncomfortable reminders of the Athenian tragedy by Sophocles – the Oedipus tale. John Farrell, ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy, gave this panel presentation at the 23rd annual conference of the Society for Environmental Journalists in Chattanooga, TN, on Oct. 4, 2013. For those who don’t recall their college or high school English class, that’s the tale of the man who grows up to murder his father the king and marry his mother.  And in this 21st century version, the …