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John Farrell's Posts

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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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Minnesota’s New (Standard Offer) Solar Energy Standard

A friend at Fresh Energy generously called me the “architect” of Minnesota’s new solar energy standard (signed last week), and although that may be a bit generous, I’d like to provide a detailed description of the nation’s newest solar energy standard. The topline: 1.5% solar standard for the state’s investor-owned utilities (with some exemptions) for a projected 450 MW of capacity installed by 2020 A CLEAN contract / feed-in tariff / standard offer for solar projects 1 MW and smaller, IF investor-owned utilities file to create the tariff. A $5 million incentive pool for solar projects 20 kW and smaller. …

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Susan Osborne Explains Why Boulder Opted for a Clean Energy Takeover

The process started in 2003 when Boulder resumed studying the option to create a municipal utility.  With a climate-action plan already in place, and a local carbon tax already financing conservation and clean energy, the once nascent issue became a serious option in Boulder. Creating a municipal utility would allow for more control over the grid, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in clean energy production.  As former Boulder mayor Susan Osborne described, Boulder didn’t set out to “blaze a trail” for local ownership of its electric utility, but for a growing number of cities across America considering municipalization, …

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8 Vivid Charts – 8 Reasons for a Solar Energy Standard in Minnesota

A conference committee is resolving differences between House and (much weaker) Senate versions of a solar energy standard in Minnesota today. Here's 8 graphic reasons why the state should go for solar as aggressively as it can. 8 Vivid Charts – 8 Reasons for a Solar Energy Standard in Minnesota from John Farrell

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The Making of a New Midwestern Solar Energy Standard

Last week, a solar energy standard moved one step closer to passage in the Minnesota state legislature, with an innovative new approach to financing solar power.  It’s a powerful first step for what would be one of the more robust policies to support distributed, local solar power in the country. The policy has three key pieces, outlined below. A Solar Standard Following in the steps of 16 other states, the House version of the Minnesota bill sets a timeline for (investor-owned) utilities to add solar to their electricity mix: 0.5% of electricity sales by 2016 2.0% of electricity sales by …

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