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John Farrell's Posts

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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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Community Solar Shouldn’t Be This Hard

Sunlight falls almost anywhere, in every community.  So it would make sense for any number of people in that community to team up to harness the sun and make clean, local power. Sadly, it isn't as easy as it should be, as illustrated by the Vashon Community Solar Project in Washington State. The Vashon project is being organized by a local nonprofit called the Backbone Campaign, with a history of tackling tough issues.  But the unfortunate barriers to community-based solar are challenging even this dynamic nonprofit. The proposed project is a small commercial scale (50-66 kW) solar array located at …

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California County’s PACE Program Could Get Feisty with Feds

Does a Riverside County, CA, residential energy financing program put thousands of homeowners on a collision course with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)? In a proposed rule-making, the FHFA has suggested that Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) policies represent a threat to the safety and soundness of mortgages held by government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  PACE is a unique financing strategy that allows homes and businesses to invest in significant energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades and pay them back through a property tax assessment (for an explanation of PACE, see this PACE 101 slideshow).  The fight with FHFA …

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Preparing for “Cheaper than Grid” Solar Electricity

It started with off-grid locations, places where electricity was either carried in or generated on-site.  Then it beat expensive diesel generators.  In 2010, unsubsidized solar electricity could best on-grid retail electricity prices of major utilities in Hawaii.  In the next decade, residents in metropolitan areas representing 100 million people will watch the biggest solar barrier yet – economics – fall by the wayside. But cost isn't the only barrier to solar, and U.S. states should carefully consider the lessons learned in Hawaii as solar creeps toward cost parity with the grid. For one, utilities adhere to archaic limits on local …

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A Policy That Unlocks Community Renewable Energy

Net metering is a common distributed renewable energy policy in the United States, allowing individuals to “turn back” their meter (and reduce their electric bill) by generating on-site electricity.  But utility accounting systems typically prevent people from sharing the output from a single, common "community" solar or wind project. Virtual (or group or neighborhood) net metering  is the solution.  This rule allows utility customers to share the electricity output from a single power project, typically in proportion to their ownership of the shared system. For community renewable energy projects, typically relying on offsetting electricity at the retail price, virtual net …

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Colorado’s Community Solar Program Allots 9 Megawatts in 30 Minutes

When you subtract out shady roofs, renters, and other factors, only about 25% of Americans have a place to install solar power.  With the high upfront cost of a complete system, the potential solar universe shrinks further. That changes with “community solar.” After a long wait on the state’s Public Utilities Commission to finalize the rules, Colorado’s “community solar gardens” program (my summary here) sold out in 30 minutes when it opened two months ago, testament to the pent-up demand for solar among who don’t own a sunny roof.  The program allows individuals to subscribe or buy shares in a …

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How Archaic Utility Rules Stall Local Solar [Infographic]

Many people expect that solar power will dramatically expand once it bursts through the cost barrier and becomes less expensive than grid electricity.  But archaic utility rules can effectively cap local solar development at just 15% of peak demand.  Fortunately, pioneering states like Hawaii and California are exploring ways to lift the cap and bring utility rules into the 21st century.

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