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John Farrell's Posts

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Farmer- and family-owned wind power rises in Iowa

Iowa ranks third in installed wind power capacity in the U.S., it's 5,500 megawatts behind only Texas and California (and much higher per capita).  But like many windy places, the turbines sprouting from the Iowa prairie are often owned by multinational corporations, taking advantage of the local resource and sending the electricity revenue out of state. Iowa farmer Randy Caviness saw an opportunity to keep the value of Iowa wind local and he's helped to develop eight utility-scale wind turbines with community ownership, providing clean, local and locally owned power to municipal and rural electric utilities in southwestern Iowa. Listen …

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Three Unequal Choices for a Local (Renewable) Energy Future

Earth Day highlights the need for a sustainable energy future, and experience suggests that there are only three meaningful choices for communities trying to increase local control of a greener energy future.  But the three policies – deregulation (“customer choice”), municipal aggregation (“city choice”), and municipal utilities (“city ownership”) – are not equal.  Two recent articles highlight the relative value of these policies quite clearly. The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Illinois, a nonprofit ratepayer advocacy organization, just released a report on the results of electricity deregulation and municipal aggregation. Deregulation or “Customer Choice” CUB didn’t think much of deregulation …

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From soybeans to solar – a community energy project sprouts from Wisconsin fields

Just north of Delavan, Wisconsin, is Dan Osborne’s nursery farm. Where you once found a bean field now sit 80 solar panels on 100 tracking towers, generating renewable power for over 125 homes. It’s a small, but successful community-owned energy harvest.  The solar farm was developed by Convergence Energy of Lake Geneva, WI and has owners from all around the region. In an interview with John Farrell and Wade Underwood of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Steve Johnson of Convergence explained, “The genesis of the project from the beginning was to try and provide an offsite location for individuals interested …

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Utility “Gets Ready” for More Local Energy in Hawai’i

Hawai’an solar advocates are celebrating after the island state’s largest utility, Hawai’ian Electric (HECO) filed a plan with the public utility commission to take a “proactive approach” to adding more distributed solar to their grid system. Utilities across the country typically use “conservative blanket limits” on the amount of renewable energy allowed on local circuits (the power lines connecting to homes and businesses), generally 15% of peak load.  In most places, solar energy production falls far below these limits.  But in the few places where it's not, customers wanting to generate their own electricity must pay for a “costly and …

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Cloudy Days for a Washington-State Community Solar Effort

The Backbone Campaign's community solar project was motivated by a generous production incentive offered in Washington State for solar projects installed on public property.  Campaign organizer Bill Moyer and many residents of King County, WA, hoped to keep more energy dollars in the local economy by using this incentive to create a community solar project in partnership with the county government. But it wasn’t smooth sailing, as Bill explains in this January interview with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's John Farrell. In trying to bring the project to fruition, Bill ran into many limitations of the state incentive program and …

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Solar cooperative gets panels on 1 in 10 roofs in Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of DC

What began as a group of neighbors hoping to reduce their impact on global warming has since become a major force for solar advocacy in Washington, DC. The Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative was started by two teenage boys who wanted to make solar power convenient and affordable through a bulk-purchase program. Along the way, the cooperatives new members realized that buying power wasn’t enough, and sought out changes in the district’s energy policies.  Today the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative has helped to get solar panels on over 10 percent of the homes in the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood and has grown …

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Two Ways Americans May Get More Ownership of their Energy Future

Three years ago, the prospects for Americans to own their energy future seemed relatively bleak.   There were almost no replicable models for doing community-based energy projects or investment, despite falling costs and technology – solar and wind – that lend themselves to local development. But thanks to recent opportunities in community solar and crowdfunding, we may see a renewable energy market in America where everyone wins. Let's start with solar.  It's the ultimate decentralized renewable energy – sunshine falls everywhere – and its cost is falling so fast that, within a decade, 300 gigawatts of unsubsidized solar will be competitive …

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Community-Owned Transmission?

The enormous growth in local renewable energy is decentralizing the electricity system, often supplanting energy from centralized power plants.  But not all renewable energy is built locally, even in a country like Germany with massive local ownership of its renewable energy systems.  The Germans are undergoing significant upgrades to their electricity grid as they push 25% renewable energy, and transmission is part of the plan. And as with their wind and solar generation, the Germans are committed to letting ordinary citizens reap the economic benefits of the “energy change,” announcing a new plan to let citizens invest in transmission lines. …

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Clean Break Inspires Americans to Pursue “Energy Change”

Renewable energy journalist Osha Gray Davidson recently released a book called Clean Break, detailing the German Energiewende (translation: energy change).  It’s a story of how the Germans systematically shifted to clean energy, finding as they proceeded that the possibilities were greater, the costs lower, and the benefits for ordinary citizens more prodigious than anyone could have forecast. From the book: “We’ll definitely get to 35 percent renewable power by 2020,” [Dr. Joachim Pfeiffer, a leading spokesman for the center-right Christian Democrats] said, referring to the next official target. “In fact, we’ll probably reach 40 percent.” …A whopping 65 percent of …

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300 Reasons Utilities Should Do These 3 Things For Distributed Solar

In the next decade, over 300 gigawatts of unsubsidized solar energy could be deployed across the United States, generating electricity for the same or less than retail electricity prices.  But many utilities remain blissfully unaware of the coming solar storm or how to handle it, as evidenced by a Public Utility Commission hearing in Minnesota last fall. In October, the Xcel Energy presented their long term planning process (called an Integrated Resource Plan) to the Commission and the public.  In their plan, the state’s largest electric utility indicated an interest in adding 20 megawatts (MW) of solar power to their …

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