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John Farrell's Posts

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‘Watershed’ Climate and Energy Agreement Between CenterPoint Energy and City of Minneapolis

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In a groundbreaking agreement announced earlier this year, the gas utility serving Minneapolis, MN – CenterPoint Energy – will work with the city of Minneapolis to achieve a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.  The agreement, negotiated with the grassroots campaign Minneapolis Energy Options, secures the support of the gas utility for a variety of measures intended to advance clean, affordable, and local energy. The memorandum of understanding, signed ahead of the city’s franchise contract renegotiations with CenterPoint next year, includes efforts to maximize the impact of the utility’s state-mandated conservation program, track building energy use and methane …

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City-Owned Texas Utility Already Serves 40% Renewable Energy

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Is having local control of a utility the key to ramping up renewable energy? In 2011, Boulder citizens voted to have their city take over the electric utility, joining 1 in 7 Americans served by municipal electric utilities.  Their feasibility study suggests they can more than double renewable energy on their system to over 50%, slashing greenhouse gas emissions.  A study in Santa Fe, NM, suggests a similar increase (to 45% clean energy) is possible, while reducing electricity costs.  Other cities, like Minneapolis, MN, are also studying the option. Many of these communities are inspired by examples like Denton, TX, a municipal …

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What’s Wrong With Xcel’s Proposed Community Solar Program?

Fees and illegal caps, for starters. After the state's solar energy law passed in 2013, Minnesota's largest electric utility, Xcel Energy, was required to create a program to support the development of community solar energy. Since 3 in 4 people can't have solar on their own rooftop (because they rent, or have a nice shade tree), community solar dramatically expands the opportunity for the average person to reduce their energy bill and participate in a clean energy future. Xcel Energy published their proposed community solar program on Sept. 30, 2013 and I've got a few choice words about their proposal, …

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How Vermont Has Promoted Local Renewable Energy: Episode 10 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

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“A lot of the utilities don’t totally understand this new paradigm that’s coming.” David Blittersdorf of AllEarth Renewables has been working to advance renewable energy in Vermont for years, and was instrumental in getting the state’s standard offer program (a feed-in tariff) passed in 2009.  He’s adamant that the state should accelerate its standard offer in order to meet its ambitious 2050 goal of getting 90% of its energy from renewable sources.  But some of the state’s utilities have balked and others don’t seem to grasp the pace that’s needed to reach the state’s targets. Podcast (Local Energy Rules): Play …

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People power beats corporate utility 2-to-1 in Boulder

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New Era Colorado

It was a textbook example of a corporation looking to buy an election result. After spending $1 million in a failed attempt to stifle local energy freedom in 2011, Xcel Energy poured over $500,000 of ratepayer money into a ballot measure to hamstring Boulder, Colo.'s exploration of a locally owned alternative to the largely fossil-fueled monopoly utility.

On Tuesday, people power buried Xcel. By a margin of 2-to-1, Boulder voters resoundingly rejected Question 310. As Stephen Fenberg of New Era Colorado said late that night, “Go home, Xcel. Your money is no good here.”

At stake was one community’s multi-year effort to power itself in a fashion that is more friendly to the local economy, to the climate, and to local oversight. It had previously culminated in a tough ballot fight in November 2011, when Xcel used ratepayer money to outspend locals 10-to-1 and still lost, as Boulder citizens narrowly granted the city permission to explore a clean-power-focused, city-owned utility.

Since then, the city and its citizen allies have turned traditional thinking on its head, envisioning a city-owned electric utility that maximizes local benefit rather than shareholder returns, that generates power in town rather than importing it, and that maximizes renewable energy instead of clinging to fossil fuels. They have rigorously studied other city-run utilities (29 others in Colorado alone) to learn best practices for running a local electric system. They have shown that switching to a locally owned utility could nearly triple renewable energy, halve greenhouse gas emissions, and compete on price with their current two-faced corporate overlords.

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On November 5th, Local Power is on the Line

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In 2011, citizens of Boulder, CO, opted to explore alternatives to their monopoly, corporate electric utility that pumps coal-fired energy into town and sucks millions in energy profits out. They won at the ballot box despite being outspent more than 10-to-1. But tomorrow they have to win again against deep corporate pockets, or lose everything they've fought for. Since November 2011, the diligent citizens of Boulder have shown that switching to a locally owned utility could nearly triple renewable energy, lower greenhouse gas emissions by half, and compete on price with their current two-faced corporate overlords. They've studied other city-run …

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Utility says nuclear greener than solar – for their shareholders

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Two weeks ago, I listened – incredulously – to Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, suggest that solar energy offers its ratepayers no value as an environmental hedge against carbon emissions or as a price hedge against natural gas fuel price fluctuations. See and share the infographic related to this post But just three days later, Xcel was singing a different tune [docket pdf] to the state’s public utilities commission.  In fact, the utility was touting the benefits of its nuclear power capacity, because (in the words of James Alder of Xcel Energy): “It provides the Company and its customers a …

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Three reasons why Germany is kicking our arsch on solar

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Franconia, Bavaria.

Germany is racing past 20 percent renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing "billions." What is often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country's relentless focus on energy change (energiewende).

How can a supposedly expensive effort to clean up the energy supply be so popular?

1. It's about the cost, not the price

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Ontario Kills Coal, But Local Renewables Program Falters

It was one of the most ambitious renewable energy programs in the world when it launched in 2009, committing the Canadian province to buy power from thousands of new renewable energy systems.  It was open and accessible to the average person, and it was committed to buying power only from projects that were "made in Ontario."  And it was part of a plan to kill off coal-fired power generation by the end of 2014. Coal's exit is still on schedule, but the rollout of renewables has been as rough as the Canadian Rockies. The bottom line is that the Feed-In Tariff …

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8 Practical Local Energy Policies to Boost the Economy

The economy has stalled and so has the war on climate change. But a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance shows that dozens of cities are boosting their local economies while dramatically reducing greenhouse gases. City Power Play:  8 Practical Local Energy Policies to Boost the Economy illustrates how Chattanooga, TN, is adding over $1 billion to the local economy in the next decade by implementing one of the most advanced smart grids while delivering the fastest internet service in the country.  Sonoma County, CA, has created nearly 800 local jobs retrofitting over 2,000 properties for energy savings …

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