Bill White is a senior advisor at Americans for a Clean Energy Grid and the president of Norton White Energy.
By Bill White
Over 33 million Americans tuned in to watch President Obama reiterate his commitment to an “all of the above” climate change strategy in his State of the Union address. As advocates clamored to promote solutions from energy efficiency to carbon capture and storage, viewers in the Lone Star State were silent, even though they may have already uncovered the best climate protection investment of all: high voltage transmission.
Thanks to a series of far-sighted policy decisions to open the way for transmission investments, Texas recently completed 3,600 miles of new high-voltage lines connecting wind in the panhandle and west Texas to cities like Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin. Texas now accounts for 20 percent of installed U.S. wind capacity – more than all but five countries worldwide and double the amount in California (in second place). The Electric Reliability Council of Texas predicts the new lines will spur another 30 percent increase in the state’s wind capacity, to 16,000 MW, by 2016. That’s powerful evidence for how transmission paves the way for explosive renewable energy growth – exactly what we’ll need to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and avoid catastrophic climate change.
Missouri state Rep. T.J. Berry represents a district just outside Kansas City. (Courtesy photo)
A Republican from an exurban district in the red state of Missouri, Rep. T.J. Berry is also a self-described “green champion.”
Berry, who represents an area just outside Kansas City where cul-de-sacs give way to farm fields, is known as the leading advocate for renewable energy in the Missouri House of Representatives. This session, he’s introduced three bills which would advance solar energy.
Last year, the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association formally celebrated Berry for his support of solar power.
However, Rep. Berry hasn’t always been such a friend to solar in particular, nor to renewables in general.
A rooftop solar installation in Minneapolis. (Photo via Sundial Solar/Minnesota Solar Challenge: Creative Commons)
Minnesota utility regulators on Wednesday approved the nation’s first statewide formula for calculating the value of customer-generated solar power.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 3-2 in favor of a proposal aimed at settling the perennial debate over how much solar power is worth to a utility and its ratepayers, as well as society and the environment.
“I think that consensus is really beginning to emerge,” said Lynn Hinkle, policy director for the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association. “There’s no doubt what happened today was a step forward.”
Investor-owned utilities will now have the voluntary option of applying to use the value-of-solar formula instead of the retail electricity rate when crediting customers for unused electricity they generate from solar panels.
Solar panels at the Audubon Center of the Northwoods in Sandstone, Minnesota. (Photo by CERTs via Creative Commons)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
The value of rooftop solar energy systems goes on trial in Minnesota today in a case drawing attention across the country as regulators, utilities and clean energy advocates grapple with how to integrate customer-generated energy into the century-old utility business model.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will hear arguments from at least a dozen parties on how to devise a formula to compute solar power’s value, including its contribution to stemming greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change (EnergyWire, Jan. 2).
Minnesota’s Legislature passed a law last spring that required the state Department of Commerce to propose methodology for computing a solar tariff that investor-owned utilities could offer their customers to compensate them for self-generated power.
Solar panels help run irrigation equipment on the Spring Valley Farm in northeast Iowa. (Photo via USDA)
As Iowa faces a potential surge in distributed generation, advocates and some legislators are concerned the state isn’t prepared.
In recent comments to state regulators, MidAmerican Energy, one of the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities, says that to date this year inquiries about interconnections for distributed generation are coming in at twice the rate they did in early 2013.
However, the utility forecast that substantial growth in distributed power will cause a raft of problems, at least in the current policy environment.
The Iowa Utility Board, sensing a growing interest in renewables, in January invited feedback about where the potential and the pitfalls might lie. While dozens of people expressed a desire for more distributed energy in the state, they also identified significant issues that stand in the way.
Many cities, like Asheville, North Carolina, used federal stimulus funds to install LED streetlights. (Photo via City of Asheville)
A federal infusion of energy efficiency and conservation funds to cities, counties and tribal governments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was a smashing success, according to a recent report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The report, released February 27, also bemoans the fact that the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program funded by the federal stimulus was not renewed, and since then local partnerships with the federal government on efficiency and renewable energy projects have plummeted.
The EECBG was created by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, based on the community development block grants awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. About a year after the EECBG was created, it was funded by Congress under the stimulus program.
After being funded, the EECBG provided $2.7 billion for energy efficiency and conservation initiatives to cities larger than 35,000 people, counties larger than 200,000 and tribal governments, along with giving money to states to distribute to municipalities. Also as part of the stimulus the U.S. Department of Energy awarded another $400 million for energy efficiency and conservation projects.
Oberlin College’s solar array was completed in 2012. (Photo by Kelly Ricks, used with permission)
Oberlin College wanted to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by producing solar energy, but it had no way to move the power from where it would be produced to where it could be used.
Meanwhile, the city of Oberlin’s electrical utility, with a network of power lines and a power portfolio already heavy on renewables, was also looking to further shrink its carbon footprint.
The two of them formed an unusual union, and spawned a mutually-beneficial offspring: a 2.27-megawatt solar array located on the college campus, and connected by the city utility’s distribution lines to the power grid.
What at first seemed an unlikely partnership now has yielded results well beyond expectations.
“The Chicago metropolitan market is the largest untapped solar market in the U.S.,” according to a firm that specializes in networked energy storage modules. (Photo by Jennifer Wang via Creative Commons)
Cross-posted from Greentech Media with permission
By Katherine Tweed
When GTM Research recently looked at some of the most interesting state markets for distributed storage, Illinois did not make the top of the list.
But northern Illinois, which is the westernmost part of PJM territory, is exactly where Intelligent Generation is looking to make inroads with its behind-the-meter energy storage and software-as-a-service package.
“We are all about monetizing storage when it’s combined with solar,” said Jay Marhoefer, founder and CEO of Intelligent Generation. IG integrates client-owned storage assets with the grid to cut demand charges, as well as to provide frequency regulation or other services based on the owner’s needs.
If a grocery store in Ohio is talking to a solar developer, the store owner may find that the payback is simply too long, explained Marhoefer. A solar developer partner will then call IG, which will run analytics to size a solar system integrated with storage to serve the load so that it has a more attractive payback.
(Photo by Melissa via Creative Commons)
Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday answered most but not all questions about the shape of a new community solar gardens program.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission indicated that it would reject a proposal by the state’s largest electric utility to limit the number of community solar gardens that can be installed per quarter.
The board also voted to set a higher rate for electricity purchased from the shared solar projects than the one originally sought by Xcel Energy, and it said the company must pay for renewable energy credits associated with the solar gardens.
After a full day of deliberations, the board adjourned until next week.
“What the commission has determined now is better than what Xcel proposed, but there’s still some concern about the level of uncertainty,” said Ken Bradley, CEO of MN Community Solar, one of the state’s first solar garden developers.
(Photo by Satoshi Kaya via Creative Commons)
Utilities are often at odds with environmental advocates over how to advance clean energy and efficiency goals without falling into a “death spiral” of declining demand and shrinking revenue.
However, a new agreement between a major environmental group and an organization representing investor-owned utilities shows there is also a lot of common ground.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Edison Electric Institute on Wednesday released a document, simply titled “EEI/NRDC Joint Statement to State Utility Regulators,” in support of policies to help guide a rapidly changing electrical grid.
While the organizations have issued joint statements in the past, the latest version is noteworthy because it wades into the thorny issue of distributed generation, which many see as posing an existential threat to traditional utility business models.
The agreement recognizes the continuing trend of customers installing their own generation, while calling for policies to ensure utilities are fairly compensated for maintaining those customers’ access to the grid.
“This agreement helps chart a path to success,” said David Owens, an EEI executive vice president, in a news release.