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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on May 5, 2011

Solar Gardens Sprouting Everywhere

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/solar-gardens-sprouting-everywhere/

Community solar projects (called “solar gardens” under a new Colorado law) are blooming like wildflowers in spring, reports the Solar Gardens Institute.  The 2010 state law, discussed in our Community Solar Power report, creates a new legal structure for community solar projects and requires utilities to buy 6 megawatts (MW) of energy from community solar projects by the end of 2013.

The beauty of solar gardens is that they allow people without sunny roofs (e.g. renters, shade-dwellers) to go solar by subscribing as part of a group of people to a local distributed solar project.  Since most estimates of rooftop solar capacity indicate that only 20 to 25 percent of roofs are suitable for solar, community solar gardens can significantly expand the constituency for solar.

The spread of projects and interest in solar gardens is impressive, and has expanded far beyond Colorado.  In their recent news update, the Solar Gardens Institute published a map indicating where there is interest in solar gardens, either for hosting a solar project or interest in pursuing a solar gardens state law.

The growth of solar gardens means more potential, more capital and more public support for solar.  Check out the Solar Gardens Institute  or our 2010 report on Community Solar Power for more information!

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on May 3, 2011

State Energy Self-Reliance Potential

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/state-energy-self-reliance-potential/

The following map was the headline graphic to our 2009 report, Energy Self-Reliant States, the report that inspired this blog.  I re-created the map for web viewing, so it’s now even easier to share how each state can meet its electricity consumption with in-state renewable energy resources. 

The renewable resources considered include on- and off-shore wind, rooftop solar PV, hydro, combined heat and power, and high-temperature geothermal.  Read the Energy Self-Reliant States report for more details.

Click the image for a larger version or here for an interactive one.

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on May 3, 2011

Solar PV Pays for Itself on California Homes

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/solar-pv-pays-itself-california-homes/

For many improvements (e.g. kitchen, bath), you can capture a significant fraction of the value back when you sell your home.  For solar PV, you can get it all back:

This premium sales price was slightly higher than the installation cost, the study determined: “These average sales price premiums appear to be comparable to the investment that homeowners have made to install PV systems in California, which from 2001 through 2009 averaged approximately $5 per DC watt… homeowners with PV also benefit from electricity cost savings after PV system installation and prior to home sale.” [emphasis added]

As the article goes on to illustrate, the homeowner also receives the free electricity from the PV system. 

Go solar: it’s one heck of a money back guarantee!

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | 1 Comment | Updated on May 2, 2011

Solar market moving toward distributed generation

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/solar-market-moving-toward-distributed-generation/

We think over the next three to five years the solar business will migrate heavily from a utility-sized solar business to a more of a distributed solar model driven by consumer demand not by government largesse.

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on May 2, 2011

Boulder Colorado Charts Course for Energy Self-Reliance

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/boulder-colorado-charts-course-energy-self-reliance/

When is it time to break up with your utility?  Perhaps it’s when they come to ratepayers for $30 million in cost overruns on a “free” smart grid project.  Or when they fail to meet deadlines to propose a new franchise agreement.  Or when they cite national security in an effort to avoid sharing load information.  Or when they crash your office with 9 employees to present their delayed franchise plan.  Or perhaps when the propose raising rates again to keep up with rising fossil fuel prices.

The citizens of Boulder, CO, have put up with a lot from Xcel Energy, the investor-owned utility that spans several states and currently provides the city’s mostly-coal-powered electricity.  So it was energizing to be invited to Boulder by Clean Energy Action last week to share how the city could move forward.  (my presentation below)

 

The city’s saga began in 2003, when it first began studying the option of municipalizing their electricity system, to have more control over the grid and increase clean energy production.  The city dropped the plan in 2007 when Xcel offered to build a free smart grid network, called SmartGridCity, a program that deployed advanced meters and fiber optic cables to improve information flow on the local electricity grid.  However, with a dubious cost-benefit ratio from the Xcel program and a desire for more clean energy, the city leaders are once again considering their options.

In 2010, the city of Boulder chose not to renew its franchise agreement with Xcel, essentially a monopoly charter that gives Xcel the exclusive right to serve Boulder’s customers for an annual fee.  The citizens of Boulder voted to tax themselves to replace those funds for five years, giving the city time to evaluate alternatives.  They’re taking it seriously.

For one, their current electricity costs keep going up, according to Anne Butterfield of the Boulder Daily Camera:

In Colorado, plunging costs for renewables are furled against the steady upward march of fossil fuels. In March, Xcel filed for an 18 percent increase in the “electric commodity adjustment” (the ECA on your bill) which allows fuel costs to get passed through to customers. This hike would increase a typical monthly bill by about $3 — with a resultant boost to the RESA of only six pennies. Every buck paid to fossils on Xcel’s system leads to two pennies sent to cost-saving renewables.

For another, they’ve already learned about options to dramatically increase the portion of electricity from renewables.  At a Clean Energy Slam, one company proposed providing 50% of Boulder’s energy from renewables by 2014, up to 80% by 2025.  Their planning process has also revealed new ways of thinking about the grid.  Freed from the paradigm of big, centralized baseload coal power plants, they’re looking at electricity from the “top down.”  They start with a load curve, throw in renewables and storage, and then see what gaps need filling, a process that prioritizes renewable energy instead of trying to shoehorn wind and solar into the gaps where fossil fuels fall short.

City officials aren’t just interested in clean, reliable electricity.  They also want to learn more about the potential for generating electricity locally.  While any new energy generator can add jobs and grow the economy, locally owned renewable energy creates job and economic multipliers. 

Local activists are also strongly committed to changing the status quo.  They’re not only looking for ways to green the local electric grid, but for ways for citizens and businesses to finance significant energy efficiency improvements as well as distributed renewable energy generation.

Boulder may end up joining the 2,000 existing municipal utilities in the United States and chart their own energy future or perhaps Xcel will finally bring them an attractive offer.  But by taking the issue into their own hands, Boulder will definitely do better than before.

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Featured Article filed under The Public Good, The Public Good News | Written by David Morris | 5 Comments | Updated on Apr 29, 2011

All Hail the PUBLIC Library

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/all-hail-the-public-library/

“The word “public” has been removed from the name of the Fort Worth Library. Why? Simply put, to keep up with the times.“From the Media release on the rebranding of the Fort Worth Library Fort Worth, you leave me speechless.  You’re certainly correct about one thing.  The public library is indeed an institution that has… Continue reading

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Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | 2 Comments | Updated on Apr 28, 2011

Wal-Mart Could Easily Pay $12 an Hour

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-could-easily-pay-12-hour/

Raising the pay of Wal-Mart’s U.S. workers to a minimum of $12 an hour would lift many out of poverty and cost the average consumer, at most, $12.49 a year, according to a new study published by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.  Continue reading

Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Apr 28, 2011

Nevada Senate approves feed-in tariff

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/nevada-senate-approves-feed-tariff/

By a vote of 13 to 8, the Nevada Senate earlier this week approved a feed-in tariff to boost renewable energy develoment in the state.  The bill, SB184, now heads to the House where it is expected to pass.  Unfortunately, a gubernatorial veto is also expected, so supporters are hoping for a 2/3 majority in favor.

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Apr 27, 2011

Really, Really Astonishingly Low Distributed Solar PV Prices from German Solar Policy

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/really-really-astonishingly-low-distributed-solar-pv-prices-german-solar-policy/

Last week I shared a graphic illustrating the dramatic fall in distributed solar PV prices in Germany, down to $4.11 per Watt installed, for rooftop systems under 100 kilowatts.  As it turns out, the graphic was out-of-date.  In Germany, the average installed cost for rooftop solar PV under 100 kW is $3.70 per Watt (update 7/13/11: $3.40 per Watt).  It’s a 50% drop in price since 2006, an average of 13% per year.

For comparison (as in the first post), here’s the average installed cost for under 10 kW rooftop solar PV in the United States, by state.

Chart is from page 19 of the brilliant report, Tracking the Sun III: The Installed Cost of Photovoltaics in the U.S. from 1998-2009 (large pdf).

Also from the previous post:

Did I also mention that the German policy (a feed-in tariff) driving solar costs down only costs German ratepayers the equivalent of a loaf of bread per month?  In the U.S., the federal renewable energy incentives cost $4 billion in 2007, or about $3.17 per household per month (or about the same price as an Italian baguette).

There’s only way to describe this German success: wunderbar!

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Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Apr 26, 2011

FERC’s High Voltage Gravy Train

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/fercs-high-voltage-gravy-train/

Even as distributed generation shows economical and political advantages over centralized renewable energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is running a high voltage gravy train in support of expanded transmission.  FERC’s lavish program is expanding large transmission infrastructure at the expense of ratepayers and more economical alternatives. Since 2007, FERC has had 45 requests… Continue reading