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John Farrell's Posts

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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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Who Should Pay the Costs of Climate Disasters?

By David Morris, Institute for Local Self-Reliance Who should pay the costs of climate disasters?  In light of the current debate in the United States about federal assistance to Hurricane Sandy victims and the recent debate at the recent Doha Climate Conference about international assistance for climate change victims, that has become an increasingly pressing question for humankind. The frequency and cost of natural disasters is rapidly increasing. Since the 1980s the number of billion dollar natural disasters in the United States has tripled from two to six.  In 2011 there were 14 separate $1 billion plus weather events and …

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Is Your Utility Ready for a Solar Rooftop Revolution?

Within a decade, more than 35 million buildings may be generating their own solar electricity (without subsidies) at prices lower than their utility offers, sufficient to power almost 10% of the country. That’s the powerful headline from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s latest report, Commercial Rooftop Revolution. Despite the opportunity, utilities, regulators, and policy makers are largely unprepared for the surge of local solar power. See a summary of the report in the slides below (or read on): Is Your Utility Ready for a Solar Rooftop Revolution? from John Farrell In Minnesota, for example, the state’s largest utility expects just …

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Minnesota’s First Community Solar Project Doubles Down on Local

As community solar grows in popularity, an innovative solar project by the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association in Minnesota highlights the opportunity of merging local ownership with locally assembled solar panels. Earlier this fall, this cooperative serving communities just north and west of the Twin Cities metropolitan area announced Minnesota’s first community solar project.  The 40 kilowatt (kW) solar array will be located at the cooperative’s headquarters, with members allowed to purchase individual panels in the project for $869 per 180 Watt panel.   In exchange, members will receive a credit on their bill equal to the electricity production of their portion of …

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Get Ready, Utilities: Solar is Coming

Quick question.  Your state has good sunshine, lots of open rooftops, and the cost of solar energy has been falling by 10% per year.  Do you think it will take 13 years to double the 10 megawatts (MW) of installed solar power? Yes, if you're the largest corporate utility in my state, and willfully ignoring the economic trend.  But 'no' if you make decisions based on data, because the price of unsubsidized solar electricity will undercut most utility retail electricity prices within a decade, enabling 200 times more solar (4,400 MW) than found in this utility's plans. That's just one …

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