Cap and Trade is one approach for limiting our global warming pollution but there is a different climate change proposal in Congress called the CLEAR Act. It’s simple, deserves to be looked at closely and looks to be the start of a winning alternative to the complicated system of cap and trade. Continue reading
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This December 2009 report was prepared for the RE-AMP network (120+ organizations in eight Midwestern states). The scoping report outlines and makes recommendations on a variety of policy issues related to expanding electric vehicles. The report illustrates the relationships between electric vehicles and other GHG reduction strategies such as fuel economy standards (CAFE), low carbon fuel standards (LCFS) and efforts to reduce vehicle miles traveled. Because of their energy storage capability, electrified vehicles will also play an increasingly important role in the expansion of renewable energy and the future elaboration of smart grid technologies.
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.
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]
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
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
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.