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.

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 …

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 …

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. …

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, …

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

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …