In 2009, Walmart unveiled grand plans to create a Sustainability Index that would, within five years, result in green labels for all the products it sells. Two and a half years later, the project has fallen far short and seems unlikely to ever deliver a green rating system. Nor is there much evidence that greener products are edging out more damaging ones on Walmart’s shelves. Continue reading
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This is a presentation by John Farrell to the MDV-SEIA Solar Energy Focus conference in Washington, DC. In it, I discuss the transformation in the electricity system being wrought by clean energy sources, the winning economies of local solar power, how the drawbacks of solar are technically surmountable, and how public policy must change to… Continue reading
Americans seem unable to resist big things, and solar power plants are no exception. There may be no reasoning with an affinity for all things “super sized,” but the economics of large scale solar projects (and the unwelcome public scrutiny) should bury the notion that bigger is better for solar. In fact, smaller scale solar… Continue reading
In 2005, Walmart announced that it was setting a goal of being “supplied by 100 percent renewable energy” — and has since received a steady stream of positive press for its commitment. But six years later, the giant retailer still derives less than 2 percent of its electricity from its solar projects and wind-power purchases. At its current pace of converting to renewables, it would take Walmart about 300 years to get to 100 percent clean power. Continue reading
While large-scale solar creates contention between environmental advocates and renewable energy proponents, the truth is that there are thousands of acres in already developed land where solar can easily fit. This infographic explains.
Chairs don’t hold together like they used to. Neither do toys, toasters, vacuum cleaners, or Levi’s. Walmart, with its relentless demands that manufacturers cut costs, has been a major force in making our products shoddier — and that has us heading back to the store more often to buy still more stuff. Continue reading
The use of the tax code has long made the federal wind power incentives something of a bane for community wind power. Finding strategies to use the passive-income-only Production Tax Credit has made community wind developers do legal acrobatics to structure deals with tax equity partners that can use the credits.
Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Jon Tester (D-MT) hope to make community wind easier with the Community Wind Act.
The bill, introduced in late October 2011, would extend an existing 30% investment tax credit (ITC) for very small wind (100 kilowatts and smaller) to wind projects up to 20 megawatts in size. Since the ITC doesn’t require passive income, it may be easier for community wind developers to use the credit internally or to find tax equity partners closer to home.
Brian Minish, whose company Val-Add Services helped develop the innovative South Dakota Wind Partners community wind project, believes that the Community Wind Act could make a big difference:
We strongly support the Franken-Tester Community wind bill so other groups like ours have the opportunity to build competitive wind farm projects. Not needing to have investors with passive income to be able to utilize the production tax credits to take advantage of the federal incentive helped our project be successful.
The Wind Partners project brought together over 600 local farmers and South Dakota residents to own seven utility-scale wind turbines in a 10.5 megawatt wind project and utilized the short-lived cash grant in lieu of the Production Tax Credit. With the Community Wind Act, Wind Partners could more easily be replicated.
In the 20th century electric grid, adding a variable source of power generation like wind or solar upset the paradigm: big coal and nuclear plants run constantly, efficient natural gas plants meet intermediate demand, and fast gas, hydro or diesel peakers fill the peaks.
But the 21st century grid is different and the best strategy for utilties may be to flip their outmoded paradigm on its head.
The Nippon Paper Industries mill in Port Angeles, Wash., which makes paper for telephone books, has an average load of 53 megawatts, which is roughly 1,000 times the peak load of a typical house. But the mill’s load can run up to 73 megawatts.
One of the big electricity consumers at the plant is the pulping operation, which turns wood chips into an intermediate product on its way to becoming paper.
While the mill pulps the paper at the rate at which its machines are the most efficient, it could pulp faster, turning pulp into a kind of battery. “What we’ve looked at is the possibility of more storage capacity,’’ said Harold S. Norlund, the mill manager. “A phone call could come and say, ‘We have a problem for 24 hours — can you use more energy?’“ he said…[the mill] would switch to electricity from wind at certain hours and save the wood pulp for burning as needed later.
The adjacent graphic illustrates the reversed paradigm. By planning on variable sources first (wind, solar, etc) – as in the bottom frame – utilities can think creatively about how to match supply and demand. In some cases, it means finding flexible generation sources to fill the gap. In this case from Wald, it means moving the black demand line.
None of these options is limitless (or always cost-effective), but each is key to making a renewable-first grid work. These example are also instructive in questioning the old grid paradigm’s role in a renewable energy world: should the electricity system limit new wind and solar power just because we’re used to running a lot of big power plants 24-7?
No. And with simple solutions like demand-shifting, we shouldn’t have to.
Under a measure that passed the House last Thursday, you may soon be able to invest in a portfolio of your favorite independent businesses. The bill, which won bipartisan support and cleared the House on a 407-17 vote, would overturn long-standing Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules that make it nearly impossible for small businesses to raise capital (or borrow money) from their customers and communities. Continue reading
Our Harper’s Index-style look at Walmart’s impact on the environment and local economies. Continue reading