Arguing for Locally Produced Electricity in Rural Communities

Date: 30 Jun 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Rural areas aren’t just for energy export.

 

Dylan Kruse (Sustainable Northwest) at 2011 Rural Assembly from Center for Rural Strategies on Vimeo.

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The points in this great presentation are echoed in a recent Böll Foundation report called Harvesting Clean Energy on Ontario Farms, which notes that some farmers in northern Germany make $2.5 million in a good year growing wheat. They make $15 million harvesting the wind.

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The Electric System: Inflection Point

Date: 23 Jun 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

A serialized version of our new report, Democratizing the Electricity System, Part 1 of 5 The 20th century of electricity generation was characterized by ever larger and more distant central power plants.  But a 21st century technological dynamic offers the … Read More

Listen: John Farrell talks distributed generation and local authority on Boulder, CO’s KGNU

Date: 22 Jun 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States, Media Coverage | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

I was on the air with local attorney and renewable energy guru Susan Perkins, interviewed by host Duncan Campbell.  A great conversation about Boulder’s effort to municipalize in order to have more control over its electricity system and energy sources. … Read More

Nova Scotia Boosts Economic Development with Community-Owned Renewables

Date: 24 May 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

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. … Read More

Change in Federal Incentive Enables Cooperative to Own Wind Project

Date: 19 May 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 7 Facebooktwitterredditmail

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

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Community Ownership Boosts Support for Renewables

Date: 16 May 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

A new article in the journal Energy Policy supports the notion that local ownership is key to overcoming local resistance to renewable energy.  The article summarizes a survey conducted of two towns in Germany, both with local wind projects, but only one that was locally owned.  The results are summarized in this chart:

Guess which town has the locally owned project? 

If you guessed Zschadraß, you win.  With local ownership of the wind project, 45% of residents had a positive view toward more wind energy.  In the town with an absentee-owned project (Nossen), only 16% of residents had a positive view of expanding wind power; a majority had a negative view.

Ownership matters, and U.S. renewable energy policy typically makes local ownership more difficult.

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Marin Clean Energy Illustrates the Benefits of Local Energy Self-Reliance

Date: 12 May 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

After 10 years of battling incumbent utilities, Marin Clean Energy became California’s first operational community choice aggregation authority in 2010.  Already, local ratepayers can opt to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable resources. 

Community choice aggregation (CCA) offers an option for cities, counties, and collaborations to opt out of the traditional role of energy consumers.  Instead, they can become the local retail utility, buying electricity in bulk and selecting their power providers on behalf of their citizens in order to find lower prices or cleaner energy (or even reduce energy demand).  Marin Clean Energy started operations last year:

“When it launched last fall, Marin Energy Authority’s goal was to offer 20% renewable energy to its customers,” said Ms.Weisz. “We were able to offer 27.5% compared to the state-mandated 20%.”  The state recently increased the mandate to one third.  PG&E has about 17% under contract, according to Ms. Weisz.

Customers can also opt for the “deep green,” 100% renewable service for a 10 percent premium. 

Marin Clean Energy not only contracts for a higher portion of renewable energy than PG&E, it’s trying to increase its share of local, distributed generation. 

“We are filling a niche market for mid-sized renewable energy generation in the 20 to 60 MW range,” said Dawn Weisz, interim director…  “When we went out to solicit renewable power offers, Pacific Gas & Electric told us we would not get any bids. We were looking for 40 MW. We were offered over 600.  Almost all was solar.” 

The local “utility” is also trying to maximize energy efficiency.  Currently, a public benefits fund pools ratepayer dollars for energy efficiency programs run by PG&E.  However, such programs tend to work against the bottom line of the utility, but not against Marin’s CCA. 

Marin Clean Energy thinks it can do a better job and create more local jobs with the money.

It’s a promising start for California’s first community choice authority.

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