Today, ILSR issued a report on Walmart’s rapidly expanding climate pollution and joined with leading environmental organizations in calling for change. The new report, Walmart’s Assault on the Climate: The Truth Behind One of the Biggest Climate Polluters and Slickest Greenwashers in America, finds: Nearly a decade after launching its sustainability campaign, Walmart’s greenhouse gas… Continue reading
Viewing the environment tag archive
In just three weeks, citizens of Boulder, CO, will vote on whether to begin a big, formal process to unplug from Xcel Energy’s system and plug into local energy self-reliance. The vote to form a municipal electric utility could set a precedent for communities across the United States to keep millions of dollars local instead of sending them to remote electric utilities each year.
The vote on ballot measures 2B and 2C is the culmination of a multi-year struggle by the city of Boulder meet the Kyoto greenhouse gas emission targets by getting less coal power and more renewable energy from its investor-owned utility.
At every turn, the utility has stalled local efforts.
When the city first considered municipalization, Xcel offered to finance and build a local smart grid but has since been allowed by the state’s public utility commission to charge Coloradans for significant cost overruns. When the city asked Xcel to bring in more clean energy, the utility offered to build a new wind plant and import its power from across the state only if Boulder citizens agreed to pay more when the wind blew and pay when it didn’t, too. Despite the ill nature of the offer, the city offered to put it on the ballot along with a vote to municipalize, but Xcel refused, demanding that the city also offer citizens a separate “status quo” measure.
In contrast, a Boulder-owned utility offers enormous clean energy and economic opportunity without having to beg a big, private company. The city could increase renewable energy production by 40% from multiple, local sources without increasing rates, according to a citizen-led peer reviewed study. The economic value of local energy ownership would multiply within the city’s economy to as much as $350 million a year, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
But with $100 million a year in revenues from Boulder ratepayers on the line, Xcel’s fight is getting as dirty as its nearby Cherokee coal plant. Xcel has dumped over $450,000 into a vote no campaign, 10 times the expenditures of the grassroots groups supporting the municipalization ballot measure. The utility’s front group has flogged a web advertisement that falsely asserts that electricity will be unreliable if the city has control, even though 1 in 7 Americans gets their (reliable) electricity from municipal utilities. Xcel has posted job notices on light poles offering residents up to $12 an hour to work as “grassroots” utility flaks. And in a purely spiteful move, Xcel also succeeded in banning Boulder resident Leslie Glustrom from participating at the Public Utilities Commission, where she had asked tough questions about Xcel’s new coal power plants and proposed rate increases.
Locals are fighting back. Citizens for Boulder’s Clean Energy Future has organized a crack team of technical and financial experts to model the impact of the municipal utility and is pounding the pavement to counter Xcel’s campaign of misinformation. The coalition has received endorsements from dozens of local elected officials and businesses, two local newspapers, and nearly one thousand residents. Even President Obama’s former green jobs advisor Van Jones starred in a video endorsing Boulder’s effort for local energy self-reliance.
The battle for local control isn’t just in Boulder. Recently a number of Massachusetts towns have pursued municipal electric plants when the private electric company took too long to restore power after Hurricane Irene. And in nearby Longmont, CO, citizens may vote to use their existing fiber optic network to provide better internet broadband services (if citizens can overcome the $250,000 being spent by private providers CenturyLink and Comcast).
The stakes are high. Buying electricity from Xcel sends $100 million out of the Boulder economy each year, and helps perpetuate a centrally-controlled grid reliant on coal-fired power (and often hostile to wind power). Ratepayers across America may not have the chance to weigh in on Boulder’s vote this November, but they should watch intently (and donate if they like), because Boulder citizens may be firing the first “shot heard round the world” for local control of their clean energy future.
A presentation I gave last Friday to the Arizona Corporation Commission.
In August 2011, ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell gave this presentation to a group of rural utilities and environmental organizations in Kentucky. The slides illustrate the enormous renewable energy potential in Kentucky and the cost-effectiveness of clean, local power in meeting the state’s electricity and economic needs. Clean Local Power for Kentucky View more presentations… Continue reading
Thanks to innovative energy policy, residents of Ontario can invest in local solar power projects by buying SolarShare bonds. The $1,000 bond provides a 5% annual return over five years and the money is invested in solar power projects across the province (as the chart below shows, this beats a savings account with 0.8% interest or even a 5-year U.S. treasury, with 0.91% interest). Continue reading
Find out why and how ILSR has been helping communities maximize the value of their local energy resources for nearly 40 years: ILSR’s Remarkable Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program View more presentations from John Farrell Continue reading
They should try 21 times. That’s how much more in-state economic benefit can be gained from developing local energy rather than trying to keep rates low with energy imports.
In 2008, voters approved – with 66% percent of the vote – a referendum establishing a 15% renewable energy standard. The law also required utilities to get the renewable energy within Missouri or surrounding states. In January, however, the state legislature stripped that part of the law, allowing Missouri utilities to import renewable energy from anywhere, even if that electricity never physically reaches Missouri ratepayers.
Renewable energy advocates even tried to reach a compromise with utility lobbyists, reducing the mandate by half but keeping the geographic restriction.
If the measure had passed, it would have guaranteed Missouri “a coal-sized plant of renewable energy over the next decade,” [Rep.] Holsman said. “That means a vast array of economic development, including sales, installation, service and manufacturing jobs for Missouri. It means not having to worry about EPA regulations or adjusted fuel costs for the investment.”
The measure failed, however, because consumer groups thought importing wind power from elsewhere would be cheaper and utilities wanted ratepayers to front the cost for permits for new nuclear power plants (despite the horrendous economics of such power plants).
The irony is that Missouri has strong, local renewable energy resources. According to a 2010 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Missouri could generate three times its electricity consumption from high-quality, in-state wind power. The cost for this wind power would be 6 to 7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) without the federal tax credit, and less than 5 cents per kWh including the incentive. This compares to average residential retail rates of 8-9 cents. Even solar PV is fairly affordable, with a levelized cost (including the 30% federal tax credit) of just 15 cents per kWh (with an installed cost of $3.50 per Watt). Missouri has enough sun and roofspace to get 21% of its electricity from rooftop solar PV.
The cost savings from importing cheaper wind power pale in comparison to the economic benefits of building locally. The cheapest wind power in the U.S. would be – at best – about 1.5 cents per kWh less than wind power generated in Missouri. If it could (impossibly) be delivered to the state with zero transmission cost, the savings to ratepayers of getting 100% of their electricity from wind would be $1.3 billion.
However, the economic impact of in-state wind power is $1 million per megawatt (MW), according to the American Wind Energy Association. The state would need 28,000 MW of wind power to match its electricity consumption (with a 35% capacity factor), for an economic impact of $28 billion, 21 times the savings from importing out-of-state wind. Furthermore, if those turbines were also owned by Missourans, the economic impact would rise 1.5 to 3.4 times higher, from $42 to $95 billion.
The repeal of the geographic requirement in Missouri’s renewable energy law is penny-wise and (21 times) pound-foolish.
Yet another Canadian province is showing a serious commitment to the economic benefits of renewable energy development. Ontario’s “buy local” energy policy has the promise of 43,000 local jobs from 5,000 MW of new renewable energy. Now Nova Scotia is completing rulemaking for a provincial goal of 40% renewable power by 2020 that includes a 100 megawatt (MW) set-aside for community-owned distributed generation projects. The policy promises to increase the economic activity from its renewable energy goal by $50 to $240 million. Continue reading
The use of tax credits as the primary federal incentive for renewable energy has often stymied cities, counties, and cooperatives from constructing and owning their own wind farm. But the temporary cash grant in lieu of the tax credit (expiring this December) has opened the door for one South Dakota cooperative and over 600 local investors:
The Crow Lake Wind Project, built by electric cooperative Basin Electric subsidiary PrairieWinds SD 1, Inc., is located just east of Chamberlain, S.D. With 150 MW of the project’s 162 MW owned by Basin Electric subsidiary PrairieWinds SD1, Inc., the facility has taken over the title of being the largest wind project in the U.S. owned solely by a cooperative, according to Basin Electric. [emphasis added]
The project is also distinguished for having local investors in addition to ownership by the local cooperative:
The entire project consists of 108 GE 1.5-MW turbines, 100 of which are owned and operated by PrairieWinds. A group of local community investors called the South Dakota Wind Partners owns seven of the turbines, and one turbine has been sold to the Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI), to be used as part of the school’s wind turbine technology program, which launched in 2009. PrairieWinds, which constructed the seven turbines now owned by the South Dakota Wind Partners, will also operate them. [emphasis added]
The key to success was the limited-time opportunity for the cooperative to access the federal incentive for wind power:
The opportunity became viable following passage of 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which created a tax grant option allowing small investors to access government incentives and tax benefits, making public wind ownership possible. Creating the Wind Partners for that purpose were Basin Electric member East River Electric Power Cooperative, the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation, the South Dakota Farmers Union and the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council…
“This development model created opportunity for small local investors to have direct local ownership in wind energy and access the tax benefits previously reserved for large equity investors,” said Jeff Nelson, general manager at East River Electric. “It offers a model for others to participate in community-based wind projects.”
The South Dakota Wind Partners consist of over 600 South Dakota investors, some who host the project’s 7 turbines and many who do not. Investors bought shares in increments of $15,000 (combinations of debt and equity). Brian Minish, who manages the project for the South Dakota Wind Partners, hopes to see future opportunities for this kind of development. “There’s a lot of political benefit in letting local people become investors in the project,” Minish said in an interview this afternoon, “local ownership can help reduce opposition to wind power projects.”
Photo credit: Flickr user tinney