Renewables International, March 7, 2013
The Institute for Local-Reliance (ILSR) has begun publishing a series of Local Energy Rules podcasts. Installments will be added twice a month on the first and third Thursday of each month. The third installment shows how community ownership is a great option for Americans – but also how unnecessarily complicated the process is.
As regular readers of Renewables International know, community ownership is the driving force behind investments in renewable energy in Germany, but the market remains more corporatist in the US (a recent article at the Atlantic found that two thirds of Germans are employed at SMEs, compared to only 50 percent in the US). Nonetheless, a lot of Americans are working hard to promote local renewables, and one of the best addresses is the Institute of Local-Reliance of Minneapolis and Washington DC.
Episode 3 of the new podcast on Local Energy Rules features Steve Johnson, who managed to get a 660-kilowatt ground-mounted array of tracking PV set up on farmland in Wisconsin with consumer investments. Johnson says that the project allowed a lot of people who could not invest in solar for one reason or another – either they do not own their own homes or their homes are shaded by beautiful trees that are not to be cut down, etc.
Community ownership is behind most of the investments in solar, wind, and biomass in Germany, and the same success could be repeated in the US with proper federal legislation.
But as the title of the podcast series illustrates, the US market is divided up into at least 50 states in terms of regulations, with countless local rules splintering the market even further. In this case, Johnson says the project was able to go forward because local net-metering rules did not actually require any consumption to take place; in other words, the project received the local retail power rate for everything produced without having to offset any consumption. Along with a number of federal and local incentives, the retail rate was enough for the project to pay for itself.
As long as the US remains without an overriding federal policy to promote renewables, the ILSR’s podcasts on local rules will be a crucial source of information. (Craig Morris)