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John Farrell's Posts

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

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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 …

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

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John Farrell

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 …

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

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Flickr user /\ \/\/ /\

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 …

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Are Electric Utilities Already Dead?

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Rick Payette, Flickr

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 …

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The #1 Solar Utility is in…Iowa?

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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 …

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

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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 …

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Who’s Your Energy Daddy?

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Michael Kappel

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 …

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Enabling more Democratic Energy

From outdated technical rules to local permitting to incentive policies, there are opportunities to increase the potential for local solar power. This is the fourth of five parts of ILSR's Rooftop Revolution report being published in serial.  Read Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3. Download the entire report and see our other resources here. Removing Technical Barriers A prominent “technical” barrier is the so-called “15% rule.” It’s a rule adopted in many states that says that distributed renewable energy systems can only make up 15% of the peak energy demand on the portion of the electricity system that …

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Top 5 Democratic Energy Resources of 2013

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From the Democratic Energy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Rooftop Revolution A combination resource of our two reports on residential and commercial solar grid parity, including a slideshow, infographic, and an amazing interactive map (#5 on this list by itself). Germany Has More Solar Power Because Everyone Wins It got press because someone at Fox News thought Germany was sunnier than America (the reverse is true), but the real revelation is that the renewable energy revolution in Germany is largely people powered. Half of Germany’s 53,000 Megawatts of Renewable Energy is Locally Owned Actually, it’s up to 63,000 …

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The Solar Opportunity

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The coming of solar grid parity offers an opportunity for millions of Americans to go solar affordably. But it also means a potential transformation, a democratization of an electricity system long dominated by centrally-controlled utilities and centralized ownership and production of electricity. When solar can undercut grid electricity prices, it may also undercut this 20th century system of centralized ownership, bringing economic sunshine and self-reliance to communities along with solar electricity. This is the third of five parts of our Rooftop Revolution report being published in serial.  Read Part 1 or Part 2. Download the entire report and see our …

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