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.

Wind Power

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Solar Power

Distributed solar approaches grid parity

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project. Grid parity is an approaching target for distributed solar power, and can be helped along with smarter electricity pricing policy. Consider a residential solar photovoltaic (PV) system installed in Los Angeles. A local buying group negotiated a price of $4.78 per watt for the solar modules and installation, a price that averages out to 23.1 cents per kilowatt-hour over the 25 year life of the system. With the federal tax credit, that cost drops to 17.9 cents. Since the average electricity …

Solar Power

If you like solar, tell your utility to publish this map

Distributed energy generation (like solar) brings unique and valuable benefits to the electric grid. But capturing those benefits means solar and other renewable energy developers must find the best places to plug in to the grid, e.g. where demand is high or infrastructure is stressed. The cost to connect distributed generation may also be lower in these areas. Unfortunately, data about a utility’s grid system is rarely public. California utilities are changing the game. To support its solar photovoltaic (PV) program, Southern California Edison (SCE) rolled out a map of its grid system, highlighting (in red) areas that “could potentially …

Wind Power

Wind farm sizes suggest bigger is no better

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project. Have wind developers hit a financial sweet spot above which more turbines results in disproportionate land acquisition and lease costs? Are crane and construction economies of scale no greater? Are NIMBY concerns mitigated with a smaller number of turbines? Wind generation may be growing rapidly in the United States, but the size of wind farms — measured by the number of turbines — is not. Rather, wind farm capacity grows largely because of increasing turbine size. The reason is unclear, but …

Solar Power

Solar gardens to bring small-d democratic solar power to Colorado

Colorado is the first U.S. state to follow in Canada’s footsteps democratizing solar power.This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project. Want to go solar but you have a shady roof? You rent? You don’t have $40,000? Last year, Colorado passed the first state law to create “community solar gardens” and the recent release of draft rules for Community Solar Gardens may open the floodgates, turning distributed solar power into democratic solar power. A solar garden is a 2 megawatt or smaller solar photovoltaic (PV) project with 10 or …

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