It is fitting that President Obama announced his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan on the 30th anniversary of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s decision to do the same. The two events are joined at the hip. In 1978, the Afghan army overthrew the existing government and made the head of the country’s Communist Party… Continue reading
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This is a response to a Renewable Energy Focus article claiming that transmission is at the top of the U.S. renewable energy agenda.
What would transportation advocates say if someone suggested that the solution to traffic congestion in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles was the creation of a new interstate superhighway system? Nonsense! But that’s exactly what’s happening with proposals for a new, nationwide high-voltage transmission superhighway for renewable energy development.
Advocates of this new system see grid-constrained renewable energy hot spots and distant big cities and envision an interstate network connecting them. They see the national natural gas pipeline system and dream of mimicking that system with the same federal preemption and oversight. But the proposal for a new interstate network of new high voltage lines and the pipeline preemption strategy indicate a myopic view of renewable energy.
Take the supposed limitations on renewable energy development. In a few areas of the country, renewable energy is facing constraints on the electric grid. Too many wind projects in a few, remote windy areas have put a stop to development in these areas. But unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy is everywhere. A report we recently released at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance – Energy Self-Reliant States – shows that every U.S. state can reach its renewable goal or mandate and 60 percent of states could get all their electricity using solely in-state renewable resources. Utility studies of the Minnesota’s lower voltage transmission system found that 600 megawatts of dispersed wind projects could be added with no additional transmission expenditures and that hundreds more megawatts could be added at a fraction of the cost of new high voltage transmission lines.
To put it mildly, the constraints on the transmission system are a matter of perspective.
The transmission advocate vision of the replicating the nation’s natural gas pipeline network in a new transmission superhighway deepens the renewable energy myopia. At a 2009 national conference on the electric grid hosted by Google in Washington, DC, a representative from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUS) illustrates the difficulty of applying the national gas pipeline model to a renewably powered electric grid.
“With gas pipelines we kind of knew where the gas was. It’s in a few places so to get it from there to the market is a pretty simple exercise. With renewables you can put it up in a lot of places. Thousands of places. And then where exactly do you run the line, it’s like the old question from the 1800s, where do you run the railroad? If you run the railroads here you get a whole lot going on here and nothing over there because you’re going to run one line. That’s the difficulty.”
Natural gas pipelines move from Point A (gas field) to Point B (cities) and lent themselves to federal preemptive powers. But renewable energy has millions of point A’s, making an interstate transmission network a political choice rather than a practical one. Once again, it’s a matter of perspective.
In a New York Times Op Ed, the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, wrote:
“Lawmakers should resist calls to add an extensive and costly new transmission system that would carry electricity from remote areas like Texas, the Great Plains, and Eastern Canada to places with high energy demands like Boston, Chicago, and New York … Renewable energy resources are found all across the country; they don’t need to be harnessed from just one place.” [emphasis mine]
In May 2009, the governors of 10 East Coast states wrote to senior members of Congress to protest. Requiring their residents and businesses to pay billions of dollars for new transmission lines that would import electricity from the upper Midwest and Southwest into their region “could jeopardize our states’ efforts to develop wind resources … “ They added, “it is well accepted that local generation is more responsive and effective in solving reliability issues than long distance energy inputs.”
Nine of the 10 Eastern states whose governors signed the May 2009 letter could get over 80 percent of their electricity from in-state renewable resources, according to Energy Self-Reliant States.
Transmission may have risen to the top of the national renewable energy agenda in the United States, but its priority is a matter of perspective. Transmission is the only option for expansion if we choose to myopically see renewable energy only in select hot spots. But the real vision is a vast and dispersed renewable energy resource that can be tapped anywhere. And enabling the development of that resource everywhere – and the sharing of its attendant economic benefits – should the clear priority.
Despite growing public support, local businesses are likely to remain on the economic margins without fundamental changes in public policy. In this lecture, delivered at the Bristol Schumacher Conference in Great Britain, Stacy Mitchell proposes a set of new rules — policies that would foster local self-reliance and refashion the economy for long-term viability.
A survey of over 100 independent retailers in New England has found that almost all would like to source more of their inventory from local and regional producers, but there are barriers to doing so, including, most notably, a lack of an easy and efficient way for retailers to identify New England companies manufacturing the kinds of goods they carry. Continue reading
Credit card processing is not only highly concentrated – MasterCard, Visa, and American Express control 93 percent of the market – but competition among the card processors tends to raise, not lower, the fees they charge merchants, according to a new report from the U.S. General Accounting Office. Continue reading
This story of a the proposed 2300 MW Tyrone nuclear power park (two power plants) for Minnesota is informative. Starting with the original proposal in the 1970s, Northern States Power (now Xcel Energy) was stopped by sharply falling demand in the late 1970s, and they shifted to an alternative proposal to build a 750 MW coal plant. Again energy consumption fell short of projections and Xcel will now be using a combination of Manitoba Hydro power and new wind projects to get 375 MW of new generation. The success in transforming the original dual nukes into a much smaller package of renewable energy was the result of local citizen opposition and state policy on conservation and renewable energy. The author, Dean Abrahamson, notes:
As with almost all major reforms, the movement to more sustainable power has been the result of actions taken by individuals and by states — Washington continues to reluctantly follow, not to lead. [emphasis mine]
As it grows, wind power can increasingly displace expensive fossil fuel generators. In Texas (and also in Germany), wind is already helping to drive down electricity prices.
This is commonly known as the “merit order” effect, as sources with greater social merit (wind and solar power) are taken first by the grid, displacing dirtier and more expensive energy sources. The following two illustrations, from Feed-in Tariffs in America, illustrate the effect.
The report [Synapse Energy Economics Inc.: Costs and Benefits of Electric Utility Energy Efficiency in Massachusetts] is worth reading in full, but this paragraph is absolutely vital:
Synapse recently undertook an extensive review of numerous utility and third party EE programs from across the United States in order to explore the empirical relationship between the cost of saved energy (CSE) per kWh saved and program scale in terms of first year energy savings as a percentage of annual energy sales. In the analysis, we found that the CSE tends to decrease as energy savings increase relative to annual energy sales. This finding is contrary to the idea of an energy efficiency supply curve that is often constructed to estimate economic potential of energy efficiency measures. These supply curves generally indicate that the CSE increases as energy savings increase, much like a generation supply curve would. In English: Energy efficiency gets cheaper the more you spend on it. [emphasis original]
As the Federal Communications Commission continues to formulate a National Broadband Plan, ILSR has responded to a recent request for comments about the relationship between broadband and government.
We highlight the importance of publicly owned broadband networks by noting success stories and offering details on networks from Chattanooga, Burlington, Monticello, and Powell, Wyoming. We also discuss lessons from publicly owned middle-mile networks and networks that connect core anchor institutions, like libraries and schools. Continue reading
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