Citizens give “going Boulder” a new meaning: local energy self-reliance

Date: 2 Nov 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 5 Facebooktwitterredditmail

By a razor-thin margin, Boulder citizens gave the city a victory for energy self-reliance on Tuesday, approving two ballot measures to let the city form a municipal utility.  If the city moves ahead, it would capture nearly $100 million currently spent on electricity imports and instead create up to $350 million in local economic development by dramatically increasing local clean energy production.   

The stage was set over several years, as the city’s multiple pleas for more clean energy were given short shrift by the incumbent electric utility, Xcel Energy.  Instead of meeting local demands for more wind and solar power, Xcel instead financed a new coal power plant and told Boulder that it could have more wind power only if it paid extra, and paid when the wind didn’t blow.  In response, the city authorized two measures for the Nov. 1 ballot to allow the city to pursue municipal clean energy production.

The campaign was enormously lopsided.  Xcel dumped nearly $1 million into a vote ‘no’ campaign,  outspending local clean energy supporters by a 10-to-1 margin and spending nearly $77 for each no vote.  On the flip side, nearly every local business or newspaper endorsement (and nearly 1000 individual citizen endorsements) supported a ‘yes’ vote.  Despite the financial disadvantage, the local grassroots groups won, though their margin of victory was less than 3%.

The victory margin was small, but the clean energy and economic opportunity is enormous.  According to a citizen-led and peer reviewed study, the city could increase renewable energy production by 40 percent from multiple, local sources without increasing rates.  In contrast to the $100 million in revenue sent to Xcel under the current arrangement, the economic value of local energy production and ownership could multiply within the city’s economy to as much as $350 million a year, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.   

If the city uses its new authority to become a utility, future generations may look back at 11/1/11 as the shot heard round the world – a shot fired for clean, local energy – and ask why more Americans didn’t “go Boulder” sooner. 

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Watch: Sun Power Minnesota

Date: 19 Oct 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

This is a presentation given to the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society in October 2011.  With costs dropping rapidly and value rising, solar can make enormous contributions to Minnesota’s electricity system and economy.  That’s the spirit of this presentation ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell gave last week to the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society on the potential for … Read More

Utility Fights Dirty in City’s Battle for Clean Local Energy

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

Banner from Boulder's Clean Local Power campaignIn 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.

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What Renewable Energy Policy Works Best? Feed-in tariffs

Date: 5 Oct 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 1 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Feed-in tariffs are responsible for two-thirds of the world’s wind power (64 percent) and almost 90 percent of the world’s solar power.  With simplified grid connections, long term contracts and attractive prices for development, that’s policy that works. Click to see more of our feed-in tariff (also known as CLEAN Contracts in the U.S.) coverage on … Read More

California Governor to Western Grid: No Imports of Renewable Energy Needed

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

Western grid operators have been making plans for large-scale renewable energy imports into the California electricity market, prompting the governor’s Senior Advisor for Renewable Energy Facilities to write a “self-reliance” response.

Here are a few highlights of his letter to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC):

California has plenty of in-state development: “The California Independent System Operator indicates that renewable projects totaling 70,000 MW of installed capacity [nearly enough to meet all of the state’s peak summer demand] are seeking to connect to the CAISO-managed grid.”

Transmission costs are up, waaay up.  In particular, “the developer of at least one significant line, TransWest Express, expects the project to cost about 70 percent more than WECC’s original assumptions…we thus appreciate the ongoing efforts of WECC staff to review these and other assumptions and to revise capital cost assumptions upward.”

Transmission line risks: “transmission lines proposed to stretch hundreds of miles over private and public lands face significant permitting and development risk – perhaps most so in the case of DC lines, which offer few electrical benefits to the states they cross.”

In summary, California has a robust in-state market for renewable energy and sufficient in-state renewable resources to serve its entire electricity needs, so Western states would do well to temper their export optimism.

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PACE Financing: A 101 and Status Update

Date: 6 Sep 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 1 Facebooktwitterredditmail

A short slide deck providing a “101” on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, a status update on the legal challenges, and some of the policy design issues we explored in our report on Municipal Financing Lessons Learned.

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Putting the Sun to Work for Minnesota

Date: 2 Sep 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 1 Facebooktwitterredditmail

This is the best video you will ever see supporting a state solar energy standard, submitted for a contest hosted by Environment Minnesota.

 

For more information on the solar energy standard for Minnesota, see Environment Minnesota’s website as well as Solar Works for MN.

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PACE Financing Takes a Step Forward in Court

Date: 1 Sep 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

With a ruling that the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) must do a formal rulemaking on its 2010 decision to torpedo the innovative local finance tool for energy efficiency and clean energy retrofits, a federal judge gave Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing new life.

Earlier this year, it looked as if prospects were bleak for PACE in 2011, with some progress on Commercial PACE and a new director at advocacy organization PACENOW, but agonizingly slow steps on federal legislation and litigation. 

Today’s ruling means FHFA has to start over, but it does not overturn the agency’s 2010 advisory against PACE, leaving the program in limbo until the formal rulemaking is complete.  Here’s hoping PACE finally wins through, a great tool for saving energy and creating jobs at the local level.

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