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John Farrell's Posts

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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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How a City Can Get More Clean, Local Energy

Like many cities attempting to solve climate change at a local level, Minneapolis is finding the prospect more challenging that it may have imagined.  The lion's share of emissions (two-thirds in the case of Minneapolis) come from electricity and gas sold by two monopoly, corporate utilities.  Minnesota's state-level policy is helping: a renewable energy standard pushes the electric utility to 30% clean energy by 2020 and a conservation standard aims to reduce the growth in energy consumption.  But state (and federal) policies aren't enough, and Minneapolis has had no leverage to force its utilities to de-carbonize. But an opportunity is …

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Germany has more solar power because everyone wins

germany-solar
Tim Fuller

Suddenly everyone knows about Germany’s solar power dominance because Fox Newsheads made an ass of themselves, suggesting that the country is a sunny, tropical paradise. Most media folks have figured out that there are some monster differences in policy (e.g., a feed-in tariff), but then latch on to the “Germans pay a lot extra” meme.  Germans do, and are perfectly happy with it, but that’s still not the story.

The real reason Germany dominates in solar (and wind) is its commitment to democratizing energy.

Half of the country's renewable power is owned by ordinary Germans, because that wonky sounding feed-in tariff (often known as a CLEAN Contract Program in America) makes it ridiculously simple and safe for people to park their money in generating solar electricity on their roof instead of making pennies in interest at the bank.

It also makes the country's “energy change” movement politically bulletproof. Germans aren't tree-hugging wackos giving up double mochas for wind turbines, they are investing by the tens of thousand in a clean energy future that is putting money back in their pockets and creating well over 300,000 new jobs (at last count).  Their policy makes solar cost half as much to install as it does in America, where the free market’s red tape can’t compete with their “socialist” efficiency.

Fox News’ gaffe about sunshine helps others paper over the real tragedy of American energy policy. In a country founded on the concept of self-reliance (goodbye, tea imports!), we finance clean energy with tax credits that make wind and solar reliant on Wall Street instead of Main Street. We largely preclude participation by the ordinary citizen unless they give up ownership of their renewable energy system to a leasing company. We make clean energy a complicated alternative to business as usual, while the cloudy, windless Germans make the energy system of the future by making it stupid easy and financially rewarding.

I’m all for pounding the faithless fools of Fox, but let’s learn the real secret to German energy engineering and start making democratic energy in America.

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Barriers to Distributed Renewable Energy [slideshow]

The following presentation by ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell examines the five major barriers to the expansion of community-based and conventional distributed renewable energy.  The barriers range from the challenge of raising capital to forming a legal structure that allows for local ownership and for access to tax incentives.  It also examines the uphill struggle against utility and regulatory inertia toward large scale power generation and utility hostility to local power generation because of its threat to their market share. There are also several examples of community-based projects that have succeeded despite the challenges, and that offer models for promoting clean, local …

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Why Boulder Has to Buy Out their Electric Utility for a Clean Energy Future

In late 2011, citizens of Boulder, CO, voted to boot their incumbent electric utility, Xcel Energy, and form a municipal electric utility.  It was the culmination of a multi-year battle to get more clean, local energy from their corporate electric overlord.  In the end, city leaders and citizens agreed that the only credible option for significantly reducing their contribution to climate change was to go it alone.  Now, the city is embarked on the long, complicated process of localizing their electricity system. Susan Osborne was the mayor of Boulder at the time of the climatic vote, and she came to …

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Taller Wind Turbines Boost State Energy Self-Reliance

A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune highlights the increasingly common use of 100 meter wind turbines for new wind power projects, up from the previous 80 meter standard.  The technological change grabs more wind energy, with consistently higher wind speeds at higher altitudes, meaning states can get even more power from a similar number of turbines. In our 2010 report Energy Self-Reliant States, we illustrated the potential for state self-reliance on wind power with the following map, using NREL data that assumed turbine heights of 80 meters (and a minimum capacity factor of 35%, to be conservative).  The following …

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The Most Amazing, Interactive U.S. Solar Grid Parity Map

Within a decade, 300,000 megawatts of unsubsidized local solar power could compete with utility electricity prices in almost every state, enough clean energy to produce 10% of U.S. electricity.  Grid parity is building like a relentless wave, but how much solar is at parity today?  In 2016?  In 2020?  On homes or businesses?  With incentives or without? Answer all of these questions with the Greatest, Most Interactive U.S. Solar Grid Parity Map from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.  Click the link or the map image below to interact. For more on the data behind the map, see ILSR’s Rooftop Revolution …

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