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John Farrell's Posts

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Local Permitting Makes a Bigger Difference as Solar Gets Cheap

Going solar keeps getting cheaper, but most of the cost savings have come from less expensive solar panels.  “Soft costs,” like permitting and inspections, are a rising share of the cost of a solar installation.  Several years ago, these permits could increase the cost of a residential solar project (then around $8.00 per Watt) by 5-10% , highlighted in a 2010 study by Sunrun. But as solar gets cheaper, permitting is going to be a much bigger problem. A recent analysis by Lawrence Berkeley Labs [pdf] illustrates the benefits of streamlining solar permitting rules: it can cut the cost of …

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600 Investors in South Dakota’s Premier Community Wind Project

In this episode of Local Energy Rules, ILSR's Director of Democratic Energy, John Farrell, speaks to Brian Minish, CEO of South Dakota Wind Partners about a community wind project that attracted over 600 local investors.  The project was the brainchild of four state organizations rooted in rural South Dakota–the East River Electric Cooperative, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Farmers Union and South Dakota Corn Growers. Hoping to broaden ownership in a wind farm project proposed by Basin Electric in Crow Lake, these groups worked with Brian to figure out how to add local investors to the mix. Podcast (Local …

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Uncovering the Cultural Barriers to Sustainability: a Eulogy for Jim Farrell

I spent the past two weeks saying goodbye to my father, Jim Farrell, so instead of my usual discussion of good policy and practices for distributed renewable energy, I’m taking time to explore how my dad’s work on sustainability fits  with how I approach it in this blog (and elsewhere) in my work for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. My dad was a professor of American History and American Studies at St. Olaf College, in Northfield, MN (where I did my undergraduate work).  He wasn’t a lobbyist for environmental policies or a political activist, but in his courses on “Disney’s America,” …

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The Community Solar ‘Holy Grail’?

Has a Carbondale, CO, company found the 'holy grail' of community renewable energy projects? In this podcast with with Paul Spencer, President and founder of the Clean Energy Collective (CEC) in Carbondale, CO, we explored how CEC is pioneering the process of delivering clean power-generation through medium-scale (mostly solar) facilities that are collectively owned by participating utility customers. Local Energy Rules podcast, Ep. 6: Play in new window | Download | Embed “From the outset, we really strived to find something that was going to be widely applicable,” Paul says in the interview. It’s no easy task. Many other community solar …

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Is Solar Cheaper Than Grid Electricity? Yes. And No.

The word "parity" is to the solar advocate as the word "abracadabra" is to the magician.  Through it, all things are possible.  But there's really two kinds of solar parity with electricity prices, and the difference is significant. Take this article from Renewable Energy World last month.  It claims that solar installations in New Mexico are at grid parity – i.e. the cost of solar is equivalent or less than the cost of grid electricity – for schools that are buying solar electricity instead of electricity from the power company. It's true, for these schools and many consumers, the price …

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Solar Costs and Grid Prices On a Collision Course

With the cost of solar continuing to fall rapidly (50% in the past five years) and electricity prices rising steadily, if slowly, the approach of solar grid parity is near. The following chart illustrates the trajectory of solar cost and electricity price, hinting at the coming intersection. 1 The chart compares the cost of a residential solar installation to the cost of electricity for a residential property. The numbers are national averages, and do not reflect the wide variation in the cost of electricity (from $0.067 per kWh in Seattle to over $0.170 per kWh in New York City, for …

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The One Thing Obama’s Climate Policy Can’t Leave Out

When President Obama unveils his climate policy proposal in the coming days, he should focus on the one key element of successful climate and energy policy.  It’s not about utilities or incentives or numbers, it’s about ownership. Climate-protecting energy policy succeeds when communities can keep their energy dollars local by directly owning and profiting from investments in renewable energy. Look at Denmark, with wind power capacity sufficient for 28% of its electricity use.  When the world’s nations descended on Copenhagen in 2009 for the climate conference, attendees could have gleaned their most important lesson by gazing across the water at the …

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Three key features of Los Angeles’ new local solar program

Officially launched in January after years of development, a new CLEAN (feed-in tariff) program from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (the city’s municipal electric utility) promises 100 MW of new local renewable energy by 2016.  In absolute size, the program will be among the largest CLEAN programs in the U.S., but compared to the size of the population it serves, the new L.A. program ranks behind national leaders like Gainesville, FL, or Vermont (the city’s peak demand tops 6,000 MW).  Even so, the Los Angeles program is a good example of a community increasing the capture of local …

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The coming solar electricity transformation

Solar cells are unusual in that they were cost-competitive from the get-go. From the Apollo space program to highway signs to lighting for buoys, solar could replace highly expensive power from batteries or other sources and eliminate the need for the construction of electric distribution lines. When the Institute for Local Self-Reliance was founded in 1974, the first factory producing solar cells for terrestrial applications had just opened in Gaithersburg, Md. The cost of solar power was over $3.00 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), com- pared to $0.03 per kWh for grid electricity. The output from that factory the first year was …

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Why Master Limited Partnerships are a Lousy Policy for Solar, Wind, and Taxpayers

If you follow the renewable energy industry and haven’t been sleeping, then you’ve probably heard about one of the few pieces of federal legislation purported to help clean energy that’s actually moving: expanding Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) to cover wind and solar energy. (H.R.1696) This is not a good thing. MLPs originated in 1986, when Congress decided that to allow certain businesses (oil and gas pipelines) to avoid paying corporate income tax.  These partnerships function a lot like publicly traded corporations, with publicly traded stock, but don’t pay income taxes. Most folks who’ve touted expanding MLPs to include renewable energy …

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