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.

Utility says nuclear greener than solar – for their shareholders

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 …

Climate & Energy

Three reasons why Germany is kicking our arsch on solar

Most Germans want a quick transition to decentralized renewable energy.

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 …

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 …

What is Solar Worth to a Utility?

It’s an issue of national debate, but one unexpected state – Minnesota – is engaging a formal process for determining the methodology for setting the value of solar. As the first multi-utility process, it’s likely to set a precedent nationwide for what the “value of solar” will mean and whether it will aid the continued growth of distributed solar power. So what’s happening with solar in Minnesota? Starts with a Standard It starts with the recently adopted solar energy standard, which requires investor-owned utilities to get 1.5% of their energy from solar by 2020, establishes a standard, long-term contract for …

A Community Solar Gold Standard?

Joy Hughes was living in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, a place with a “tremendous amount of solar potential,” so good that the valley’s residents were being overwhelmed by proposals for large scale solar power plants. One had a “field of things like radar dishes” and another included a “600 foot tower.” The influx of outside companies seeking solar profit led Joy to ask, “Why not just set up solar arrays that can provide power for people in the local community and offset their electric bills?” The Solar Gardens Institute was born, with a vision of helping community members …

Utility Agrees: (Their) Solar Should Supplant Natural Gas

Five months ago, one of the country’s ten largest electric utilities told regulators in Minnesota that it needed three new natural gas power plants to handle peak energy demand.  This week, the same company’s Colorado division announced plans to use more solar power because it is cost competitive with gas. Maybe they need a memo to share the news: solar is cheaper than gas.  A lot cheaper.  Big or small. The city of Palo Alto, CA, recently signed contracts to buy solar energy from utility-scale projects for 7¢ per kilowatt-hour. This is on the heels of solar contracts signed by …

5 Barriers to and Solutions for Community Renewable Energy

Community renewable energy has significant political and economic benefits, but is often hindered by five major barriers.  Read on for a summary of the five barriers, watch them in a 17-minute presentation, or check out the vividly illustrated slideshow. Barrier one is tradition. Utilities are simply used to operating a grid in a 20th century model, where large-scale power plants are connected in a top-down, one-way grid to power consumers. Policies that have allowed for on-site solar and wind generation, for consumers to be instead producers, have nibbled at the margins of this tradition.  It’s only in the past year …

Buying Local Solar Makes Florida City a World Leader

“It’s the only time I’ve done a rate increase when nobody was opposed,” says Ed Regan of the Gainesville utility’s feed-in tariff for solar power.  The program, launched in 2009, has resulted in nearly 15 megawatts of new, local solar energy generation on or near buildings in the northeast Florida town, enough to make it one of the leading communities in per capita solar worldwide.  The program is open to participation by anyone in Gainesville, with the utility buying all solar energy in the program on a fixed price, 20-year contract. It all started about ten years ago, when Pegeen …

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