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Articles by 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.

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It’s one thing to own your utility with a commitment to renewable energy, but it’s quite another thing to deliver on it. In 2007, the municipal utility in Palo Alto, Calif., set an ambitious target of achieving 33 percent renewable energy by 2015, and ultimately a carbon neutral electricity supply. Seven years later, they are on track to reach 48 percent renewable power in 2017, and have been meeting their carbon neutral goal since late last year.

How can a utility be carbon neutral?

The foundation of Palo Alto’s energy supply is hydro power, making up as much as half of their total electricity generation each year, though it doesn’t technically count as ‘renewable.’ The utility purchased renewable energy credits to offset the other half of its energy supply. So while the carbon neutral target is impressive, it doesn’t mean no fossil fuels are used. Rather, on an annual, net basis, the cities’ electric customers produce no carbon emissions.

But the utility is moving toward actual long-term contracts with renewable energy projects. Palo Alto plans to get 23 percent of its energy from solar, 11 percent from landfill methane recove... Read more

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