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

State Energy Self-Reliance Potential

Date: 3 May 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

The following map was the headline graphic to our 2009 report, Energy Self-Reliant States, the report that inspired this blog.  I re-created the map for web viewing, so it’s now even easier to share how each state can meet its electricity consumption with in-state renewable energy resources. 

The renewable resources considered include on- and off-shore wind, rooftop solar PV, hydro, combined heat and power, and high-temperature geothermal.  Read the Energy Self-Reliant States report for more details.

Click the image for a larger version or here for an interactive one.

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Boulder Colorado Charts Course for Energy Self-Reliance

Date: 2 May 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

When is it time to break up with your utility?  Perhaps it’s when they come to ratepayers for $30 million in cost overruns on a “free” smart grid project.  Or when they fail to meet deadlines to propose a new franchise agreement.  Or when they cite national security in an effort to avoid sharing load information.  Or when they crash your office with 9 employees to present their delayed franchise plan.  Or perhaps when the propose raising rates again to keep up with rising fossil fuel prices.

The citizens of Boulder, CO, have put up with a lot from Xcel Energy, the investor-owned utility that spans several states and currently provides the city’s mostly-coal-powered electricity.  So it was energizing to be invited to Boulder by Clean Energy Action last week to share how the city could move forward.  (my presentation below)


The city’s saga began in 2003, when it first began studying the option of municipalizing their electricity system, to have more control over the grid and increase clean energy production.  The city dropped the plan in 2007 when Xcel offered to build a free smart grid network, called SmartGridCity, a program that deployed advanced meters and fiber optic cables to improve information flow on the local electricity grid.  However, with a dubious cost-benefit ratio from the Xcel program and a desire for more clean energy, the city leaders are once again considering their options.

In 2010, the city of Boulder chose not to renew its franchise agreement with Xcel, essentially a monopoly charter that gives Xcel the exclusive right to serve Boulder’s customers for an annual fee.  The citizens of Boulder voted to tax themselves to replace those funds for five years, giving the city time to evaluate alternatives.  They’re taking it seriously.

For one, their current electricity costs keep going up, according to Anne Butterfield of the Boulder Daily Camera:

In Colorado, plunging costs for renewables are furled against the steady upward march of fossil fuels. In March, Xcel filed for an 18 percent increase in the “electric commodity adjustment” (the ECA on your bill) which allows fuel costs to get passed through to customers. This hike would increase a typical monthly bill by about $3 — with a resultant boost to the RESA of only six pennies. Every buck paid to fossils on Xcel’s system leads to two pennies sent to cost-saving renewables.

For another, they’ve already learned about options to dramatically increase the portion of electricity from renewables.  At a Clean Energy Slam, one company proposed providing 50% of Boulder’s energy from renewables by 2014, up to 80% by 2025.  Their planning process has also revealed new ways of thinking about the grid.  Freed from the paradigm of big, centralized baseload coal power plants, they’re looking at electricity from the “top down.”  They start with a load curve, throw in renewables and storage, and then see what gaps need filling, a process that prioritizes renewable energy instead of trying to shoehorn wind and solar into the gaps where fossil fuels fall short.

City officials aren’t just interested in clean, reliable electricity.  They also want to learn more about the potential for generating electricity locally.  While any new energy generator can add jobs and grow the economy, locally owned renewable energy creates job and economic multipliers. 

Local activists are also strongly committed to changing the status quo.  They’re not only looking for ways to green the local electric grid, but for ways for citizens and businesses to finance significant energy efficiency improvements as well as distributed renewable energy generation.

Boulder may end up joining the 2,000 existing municipal utilities in the United States and chart their own energy future or perhaps Xcel will finally bring them an attractive offer.  But by taking the issue into their own hands, Boulder will definitely do better than before.

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Centralized v. Decentralized Clean Energy – We May Have to Choose

Date: 7 Apr 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 1 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In the clean energy community, collaborative meetings often reveal a unity around goals (maximizing clean energy production and use) but a disagreement over the means.  It’s not that people oppose distributed generation, but rather they see it as a secondary … Read More

FERC Affirms that CLEAN Contracts (Feed-in Tariffs) are Legal

Date: 27 Jan 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Overruling a utility challenge, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) affirmed today that states have the right to set prices for mandated renewable energy purchases and that these prices may vary by technology:

“[W]here a state requires a utility to procure energy from generators with certain characteristics,” the state may set the wholesale rate (known as ‘avoided cost’) for that specific type of energy.  Id. at para. 30. Therefore, a state can require utilities to purchase electricity generated from differentiated technologies (wind, solar, wave, etc.) and set the rate for purchases from each of these generators.

Photo credit: Flickr user KeithBurtis

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Turkey Adopts Feed-in Tariff with Buy Local Provision

Date: 18 Jan 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

The country of Turkey recently adopted a new feed-in tariff policy for several renewable energy technologies including wind and solar.  What’s notable is not the base rates (the prices are likely too low) but the bonus payments for “made in Turkey” projects.  For a solar PV project, for example, a fully local solar PV system could increase their payment per kilowatt-hour by over 50%.

The policy mimics the highly successful FIT Program in Ontario, where a buy local rule requires participating projects to source at least 60% of their content in the province.  The rule has meant that the 5,000 megawatts of projects in the pipeline have generated the promise of 43,000 jobs.  For more on Ontario’s program, see our recently released report: Maximizing Jobs From Clean Energy: Ontario’s ‘Buy Local’ Policy.

Turkey’s policy is noteworthy for using bonus payments, a strategy that is more likely to pass legal muster for U.S. states looking to emulate Ontario’s job creation success.

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