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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Dec 1, 2011

Gainesville, Florida, Uses CLEAN Contracts (aka feed-in tariffs) to Become a World Leader in Solar

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/gainesville-florida-uses-clean-contracts-aka-feed-tariffs-become-world-leader-solar/

You don’t have to be big to go big on solar power.  That’s the lesson from the Gainesville Regional Utilities, the electric utility whose feed-in tariff solar policy has brought over 7 megawatts (MW) of solar to the city’s 125,000 residents.  The raw number isn’t much, but it puts Gainesville among the world leaders in solar installed per capita, beating out Japan, France, and China (and besting California, with 32 kilowatts -kW- per 1000 residents).

chart of solar installed per 1000 residents for many nations and gainesville, fl

The basic premise behind the feed-in tariff program is that anyone who wants to be a solar power generator can connect to the grid and get a 20-year contract for their power from the municipal utility.  The long-term contract makes getting financing for solar projects easier and the prices are attractive.  The utility pays 24 cents per kilowatt-hour generated for large-scale ground-mounted systems and up to 32 cents for small, rooftop systems.

The price differentiation helps accommodate solar arrays of various sizes, from residential to larger commercial installations, spreading the economic opportunity.  The differentiation may also help small-scale residential projects that can’t use federal tax incentives for businesses (depreciation).

Thus far, approximately one-third of the city’s 7.3 MW of solar power is in relatively small systems, 100 kW and smaller.  About half the installed capacity is in projects 500 kW and larger.

The solar feed-in tariff program also brings value to the local community and electricity system.  A report released earlier this year found that the grid benefits and social benefits of solar power far outweigh the typical valuation of solar power by utilities.  These benefits include reduced stress on the utility distribution system and reduced transmission losses.

The feed-in tariff program also means local economic development.   With a rule of thumb of 8 jobs per MW, according to a University of California, Berkeley, study of the jobs created from renewable energy development, Gainesville has already generated 56 jobs.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that each megawatt of solar adds $240,000 to the local economy, and if Gainesville’s solar projects are locally owned, the value could be much higher.

More than anything, Gainesville provides an important lesson in local energy self-reliance.  While many communities must await action by a state legislature or investor-owned utility, the municipal utility has the authority to act quickly in support of the community.  And when the utility is locally controlled, it can mean big things for local solar power.

For more information on feed-in tariffs and their success in supporting solar power, see CLEAN v. SREC: Finding the More Cost-Effective Solar Policy.

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Vacant Walmart
Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | 2 Comments | Updated on Nov 29, 2011

Can you say ‘Sprawl’? Walmart’s Biggest Climate Impact Goes Ignored

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/can-you-say-sprawl-walmarts-biggest-climate-impact-goes-ignored/

Even as Walmart has been hyping its supposed environmental epiphany, it has continued to unroll vast, low-rise supercenters at breakneck speed. Since 2005, Walmart has added more than 1,100 new supercenters, almost all built on land that hadn’t been developed previously. Continue reading

Walmart store aisle green label
Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Nov 22, 2011

Walmart’s promised green product rankings fall off the radar

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/walmarts-promised-green-product-rankings-fall-off-the-radar/

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

farrell mdv seia presentation sample slide
Article, Resource filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | 1 Comment | Updated on Nov 22, 2011

Democratizing the Electricity System: A Vote for Local Solar

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/democratizing-electricity-system-vote-local-solar/

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

Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Nov 18, 2011

Bigger Subsidies Make Bigger Solar a Bad Bet

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/bigger-subsidies-make-bigger-solar-bad-bet/

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

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Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Nov 18, 2011

Think Walmart uses 100% clean energy? Try 2%

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/think-walmart-uses-100-clean-energy-try-2/

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

Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | 1 Comment | Updated on Nov 17, 2011

Solar Power is Not a Land Use Problem

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/solar-power-not-land-use-problem/

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.

infographic-solar-land-use

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Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Nov 11, 2011

Is your stuff falling apart? Thank Walmart

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/is-your-stuff-falling-apart-thank-walmart/

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

Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Nov 10, 2011

Community Wind Act: More Locally Owned Wind Power

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/community-wind-act-more-locally-owned-wind-power/

Wind TurbineThe 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.

Click here for the full bill (pdf) or a 1-page summary from Sen. Franken’s office.  Click here to track S. 1741 on Govtrack.

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Nov 8, 2011

The 21st Century Electric Grid: Matching Production and Consumption

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/21st-century-electric-grid-matching-production-and-consumption/

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.

From Matt Wald in the NY Times Green blog:

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.

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