An oxford-style debate hosted by the Information Technology Innovation Foundation in Washington DC. Jim Baller and Christopher Mitchell defend local authority to build community networks over the course of a two hour debate. This is an excellent policy discussion. Continue reading
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Despite the ample publicity Wal-Mart has engineered for its "buy local" efforts, the company in fact has zero interest in cultivating local suppliers beyond stocking a few token local veggies suitable for a nice photo-op. Continue reading
I just got a copy of a utility bill for a Minnesota business that has a 40 kilowatt (kW) solar PV array. I’d hoped to get a sense for how quickly he’d pay off his array with the net metering revenue. I was shocked. Payback time was 30 years. Even if the business owner had… Continue reading
John Farrell is on leave to spend some quality time with his new daughter. Look back June 6 for more great distributed generation content and an announcement of a new report on distributed generation!
We’ll give you some time insensitive material this week we’ve been saving.
Power plants use a stunning amount of water. In 2005, thermoelectric power (e.g. coal, natural gas) accounted for half of all water use in the United States. Across the country and particularly in the arid West, the water savings from renewable energy are as important as the pollution-free energy.
That makes the distinction in water use between centralized solar and decentralized solar a big deal, especially since centralized solar is only planned for the dry Southwest.
The following graphic illustrates water consumption for common types of power generation per MWh of electricity produced (additional reference here):
Traditional power generators are water hogs. For example, a nuclear power plant consumes 720 gallons of water for each megawatt-hour of electricity produced. Powering a single 75-watt incandescent light bulb for an two hours on nuclear-generated electricity would consume 14 ounces of water (more than a can of pop).
While most of that water is returned to the environment, this report by the Alliance for Water Efficiency and ACEEE notes that it’s not undamaged:
Water is returned to its original source, even though its qualities have changed, especially temperature and pollutant levels.
Nuclear and coal may be big offenders, but wet-cooled concentrating solar power uses even more water per MWh of electricity generated. Dry-cooled CSP cuts water consumption significantly, but it’s still far more than solar power from photovoltaics (or wind power).
If it were solely a question of cost, CSP and PV come out relatively close (see updated chart below) despite the former’s frequent need for transmission access.
But if the tradeoff is significant water consumption versus none, then decentralized PV may make more sense everywhere, including the sunny Southwest.
Photo credit: Flickr user Shovelling Son
Some nice news from Connecticut, where the state’s commitment to increasing distributed generation is increasing on-site generation and helping hold rates down:
Distributed generation is becoming more popular in the state and throughout New England, especially among businesses foreseeing the financial and environmental benefits of decreasing their reliance on the electric utilities.
As a result, the regional grid will be comprised of fewer large commercial ratepayers and more small business and residential ratepayers. The long-term effect will dampen rates, said Phil Dukes, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control.
A business generating its own power decreases the overall need for electricity on the New England power system. When the peak load drops, the regional system needs less electricity and eliminates its use of the most expensive power plants. These peaker plants tend to run inefficiently and burn less environmentally-friendly fuel, Dukes said.
“There is certainly more upside than downside to distributed generation,” Dukes said. “That is why the state has invested so heavily in it.” [emphasis added]
In a press release earlier this week, WWEA released this definition of community power alongside a new study on the public acceptance of community-owned wind:
A project can be defined as Community Power if at least two of the following three criteria are fulfilled:
1. Local stakeholders own the majority or all of a project
A local individual or a group of local stakeholders, whether they are farmers, cooperatives, independent power producers, financial institutions, municipalities, schools, etc., own, immediately or eventually, the majority or all of a project.
2. Voting control rests with the community-based organization:
The community-based organization made up of local stakeholders has the majority of the voting rights concerning the decisions taken on the project.
3. The majority of social and economic benefits are distributed locally:
The major part or all of the social and economic benefits are returned to the local community.
The press release also references this recent study of community ownership that we covered last week: Community Ownership Boosts Support for Renewables.
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
“They do cost more,” he said of purchases from small producers. “But on the other hand you don’t have to build a lot of transmission to get the power to the grid.”
Luke Busby, Lobbyist for Nevada feed-in tariff (SB 184 in 2011)
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