How many times do the people have to be proven right before their political leaders listen to them? The recent cancellation of Big Stone II by its investors brings that question to mind. Back in 2006, seven Minnesota utilities asked the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission for permission to build a large coal fired power… Continue reading
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Despite being outspent 12-to-1, a grassroots group campaigning against a plan to build a massive big-box complex in Mendocino County, California, won a decisive victory when voters rejected the project by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Continue reading
By creating decentralized, community-based renewable energy projects, tapping into the existing grid, and applying new smart grid technology, communities can maximize the economic returns of renewable energy production. Continue reading
Recently on Fox News, Annie Leonard, creator of The Story of Stuff, was likened to Karl Marx with a ponytail. I do not know how Annie is wearing her hair these days, but she reminds me far more of the young Frederick Engels than of Karl Marx.
Let me explain.
Annie’s widely circulated animated video makes the connections between overproduction and ecological damage as well as between sustainability and job creation. In all of this, she is following in the footsteps of Frederick Engels, not Marx. Continue reading
There’s good news and bad news in President Obama’s announcement Wednesday of 100 grants totaling $3.4 billion to build a smarter electric grid. The good news is the grants. The bad news is that President Obama continues to conflate the need for a smart grid with the need for a new national high voltage grid. Continue reading
Current providers won’t encourage the competition necessary to improve service and cut costs.
Last January, as the economy spiraled downward, Time Warner did what no other company could have gotten away with under the circumstances: It imposed a price increase of as much as 5.5 percent on its Maine customers.
Meanwhile, the state’s other major broadband Internet provider, FairPoint, has amassed a stunning track record of mismanagement and abysmal customer service.
Rooftop solar is no longer the playground for granolas and Germans. But even when utilities join the solar PV game, they find that the distributed nature overcomes many of the technical and political barriers. A 2008 change in federal tax policy opened the door to utilities to invest in solar PV and utilities like PG&E are planning sizable installations (250 MW). PG&E will do a ground-mounted field of modules in the desert, but other utilities are finding distributed PV makes more sense:
Southern California Edison already plans to scatter 1 MW and 2 MW rooftop PV installations across its service territory, part of its goal to deploy 250 MW of PV over the next five years. Minimizing transient spikes is one reason. A second is that transmission remains the No. 1 barrier to renewable energy growth in California, says Mike Marelli, the utility’s director of renewable and alternative power contracts. “We can implement smaller systems with little or no transmission” additions, he says.
It’s hard to argue that transmission is a barrier when you’ve got 250 MW coming online without it! The good news is that the distributed solar also helps overcome some of the variability issues with solar power:
“During cloudy periods, the output from PV can get noisy with spikes,” which can have an effect on the grid, says Kelly Beninga, global director of renewable energy for WorleyParsons. PV installations around 20 MW in size can be managed without too much trouble. Larger than that and portions of the grid can be affected by passing clouds… To better understand the issue, NV Energy is studying power output variations that may result from deploying PV in and around Las Vegas. The study won’t be complete for another year, but Tom Fair says early data suggest that geographic dispersion helps dampen variability. A second finding is that solar facilities need to be placed on strong parts of the grid. “That leads us away from having huge amounts of PV at any one site,” Fair says. Ten to 20 MW at any one site might be the limit.
The utility interest in solar PV may help remove some of the stigma, and show that even small-scale modules can have a big-scale impact.
Photo credit: Schroeder, Dennis – NREL Staff Photographer
Even if many states prefer to focus on their own renewable resources, the technical hurdle for the interstate transmission superhighway may be overcome with a new “super” substation in New Mexico called Tres Amigas. One of the biggest barriers to the envisioned interstate transmission superhighway is that the U.S. actually has three separate grids: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Texas grid. Without power transfers between these grids, it’d be hard to do as many clean energy advocates desire – send green power from the Southwest and wind from the Great Plains to the coasts.
“Tres Amigas will serve as a renewable energy market hub by connecting all three of America’s power grids to enable the transfer of green power from region to region,” said Phil Harris, chief executive of Tres Amigas.
The problem? Most states have enough in-state renewable energy to meet their goals, and they like the economic rewards of tapping domestic renewable resources, especially in comparison to the cost of building a new high-voltage transmission network.
This spring, governors of ten states—including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Virginia—sent a letter to congressional leaders questioning the idea of a national transmission superhighway to bring juice from the Midwest to the Atlantic coast. Instead, they urged, Congress should support regional energy solutions—such as Atlantic offshore wind for those eastern states. It’s a line seconded by big utilities, such as PSEG of New Jersey. The argument: Renewable resources in the eastern U.S., such as wind and sun, may not be so abundant as in other parts of the country. But that resource advantage is more than offset by the huge expense of building thousands of miles of transmission lines to carry electricity.
The new Tres Amigas super substation might provide the technical potential for long-distance bulk transfer of electricity (as likely coal as solar or wind), but it won’t make many friends in the process.
Commentary by Neil Seldman October 15, 2009 I learned last week from Murray Fox that there is an effort to revive the National Recycling Coalition (NRC) by former NRC leaders. I wish them well, and would greatly appreciate an NRC that is not dominated by large corporations. Gary Liss feels it is an “important time… Continue reading
A satellite scan of Sunbelt city Austin, TX, revealed that there’s enough unshaded rooftop to power the entire city during peak demand on hot, summer afternoons. Continue reading