The U.S. Chamber of Commerce describes itself as "the voice of business." But a growing number of small independent businesses and even local chambers are challenging that notion, arguing that the Chamber’s real allegiance is to the giant corporations that fund it. Continue reading
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Unlike many cities, Portland, Maine, has forged ahead with a significant energy efficiency plan without federal stimulus dollars. Simply borrowing money through bonding and investing in energy saving improvements, the city will – over 20 years – reduce operating costs by $700,000 per year and shrink its carbon footprint by 30 percent. Our favorite quote from the news story: "We are spending money to save money," Councilor John M. Anton told critics. "And we are borrowing at historically low interest rates. This is good fiscal management on the city’s part." Bravo. Continue reading
An article in the New York Times last week suggested that a dearth of financing is holding back solar power in the United States. In particular, the authors note that “the country needs to build large plants covering hundreds of acres,” projects that can cost $1 billion. These large solar projects are languishing without financing, they assert, in part because of the lengthy process to claim federal government loan guarantees and because “Bankers generally prefer smaller, less risky projects and shorter-term loans than the 20-year terms solar plants typically need.” Continue reading
An article in the New York Times last week suggested that a dearth of financing is holding back solar power in the United States. In particular, the authors note that “the country needs to build large plants covering hundreds of acres,” projects that can cost $1 billion. These large solar projects are languishing without financing,… Continue reading
New York State is focusing on Extended Producer responsibility to get materials out of the waste stream. But the state is ignoring the most obvious way to reach high rates of diversion, eliminate incineration of garbage. Continue reading
A recent study in the journal Safety Science suggested that the most vulnerable parts of the grid were the smallest, like neighborhood substations.
“That’s a bunch of hooey,” says Seth Blumsack, Hines’s colleague at Penn State.
Hines and Blumsack’s recent study, published in the journal Chaos on Sept. 28, found just the opposite. Drawing on real-world data from the Eastern U.S. power grid and accounting for the two most important laws of physics governing the flow of electricity, they show that “the most vulnerable locations are the ones that have most flow through them,” Hines says. Think highly connected transformers and major power-generating stations. Score one point for common sense.
And score one point for distributed generation.
Unlike many cities, Portland, Maine, has forged ahead with a significant energy efficiency plan without federal stimulus dollars. Simply borrowing money through bonding to investing in energy saving improvements, the city will – over 20 years – reduce operating costs by $700,000 per year and shrink its carbon footprint by 30 percent.
PORTLAND — The City Council agreed Monday night to borrow as much as $11 million for energy improvement projects in 30 municipal and 15 school buildings throughout Portland…Councilor David Marshall said the energy conservation measures will enable the city to reduce its carbon footprint by more than 30 percent.
…Ameresco [a Massachusetts-based consulting firm] has said that the projects will save about $700,000 a year in utility costs, and by the end of the 20-year bond period will pay back the cost of the work and interest on the bond.
In by far the most exhaustive and detailed study to date, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that solar homes sold 20% faster, for 17% more than the equivalent non-solar homes, across several subdivisions built by different California builders.
The study looked at a number of housing developments where the homes were otherwise identical except for the solar energy systems.
Also interesting was that buyers were more interested in solar when it was-preinstalled:
If solar was already on the house, and factored into the price already, buyers were more likely to pick a house with solar. But if it was just one more decision to be made at the point of purchase, the decision got shelved.
I heard this week that foundations collectively spent as much as $300 million in the failed attempt to pass comprehensive climate legislation during the last session in Congress. Someone sarcastically remarked that we should have just burned the money for energy instead.
But would it have been worth it? A short analysis follows:
Assume that the $300 million was dispersed in $1 bills. Each dollar bill weighs 1 gram and is 75% cotton and 25% linen. Finding the energy content of a dollar was not easy (even though many conservatives accuse government of spending money on worthless research, apparently no one is literally burning through cash). As a substitute, we used the figure of 7,500 Btu per pound for cotton linters.
Our $300 million equals 300 million grams of dollars, which is 660,800 pounds of dollars, or 330 tons.
At 7,500 Btu per pound, burning $300 million nets us 4.96 billion Btus. And at 3,413 Btus per kilowatt-hour (generously assuming 100% conversion efficiency compared to typical power plant efficiencies of 30-35%), we get 1.45 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. It’s net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, because during its growth, the cotton plant took up all the carbon dioxide emitted during combustion. For comparison, 1.45 million kWhs from coal-fired electricity emits about 1,450 tons of carbon dioxide.
So, if we burn $300 million for electricity instead of passing climate legislation…
- …we can power 145 homes for a year (at 10,000 kWh per year)
- …offset 1,315 tonnes of carbon dioxide (0.00002% of annual U.S. emissions)…
- …at a cost of $228,000 per ton.
Conservatives take note: it’s far cheaper to get carbon dioxide emission reductions (under $100 per ton!) to pass comprehensive climate legislation than to burn $300 million.
Update: this analysis is not meant to imply that we shouldn’t fight for climate policy, but that the failure (like burning the money) is costly.
It’s been a common argument against feed-in tariffs that federal law preempts states from establishing prices for renewable energy above the utility’s avoided cost (a figure meant to represent what it what otherwise cost the utility to get the same amount of electricity from another source, typically a natural gas-fired power plant). The FERC ruling in mid-October changes everything, allowing states to set the avoided cost rate based on the renewable energy technology in question.
From the ruling, as shown on wind-works.org:
“. . . Avoided cost rates may also ‘differentiate among qualifying facilities using various technologies on the basis of the supply characteristics of the different technologies’. . .”
“. . . We find that the concept of a multi-tiered avoided cost rate structure can be consistent with the avoided cost rate requirements set forth in PURPA and our regulations. Both section 210 of PURPA and our regulations define avoided costs in terms of costs that the electric utility avoids by virtue of purchasing from the QF. The question, then, is what costs the electric utility is avoiding. Under the Commission’s regulations, a state may determine that capacity is being avoided, and so may rely on the cost of such avoided capacity to determine the avoided cost rate. Further, in determining the avoided cost rate, just as a state may take into account the cost of the next marginal unit of generation, so as well the state may take into account obligations imposed by the state that, for example, utilities purchase energy from particular sources of energy or for a long duration.51 Therefore, the CPUC may take into account actual procurement requirements, and resulting costs, imposed on utilities in California. . .” [emphasis added]
The FERC ruling does specify one difference between a U.S. state-based FIT and those in Europe or Ontario – the state must specify the amount of each renewable energy technology it wants, as well as the price (e.g. 100 megawatts of solar PV that is under 10 kilowatts).
There’s also a very nice, plain English explanation of the impact of the FERC ruling from Jen Gleason at Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide.