Since our founding in 1974, we have worked to rewrite the rules and empower communities to choose their own future. Across several vital economic sectors, we help break the corporate stranglehold that extracts wealth from local economies and undermines democracy. We … Read More
A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today highlights the increasingly common use of 100 meter wind turbines for new wind power projects, up from the previous 80 meter standard. The technological change grabs more wind energy, with consistently higher … Read More
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.
A great story of a city looking to – literally – take ownership of its energy future:
The Colorado Renewable Energy Standard, as amended last year by the state Legislature, requires Xcel Energy to get 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
…Boulder leaders — who let the city’s 20-year franchise agreement with Xcel Energy lapse at the end of 2010 — are now considering whether they can get an energy mix for their residents with a larger percentage of renewable energy than what Xcel is offering.
…At the “Clean Energy Slam” event in February, which gave participants two minutes to pitch a vision for Boulder’s energy future, a representative of Southwest Generation told the crowd that he believed his company could provide Boulder with an energy mix of 50 percent renewables and 50 percent natural gas by 2014. And by 2025, the company could provide up to 80 percent renewable energy to the city, the representative, David Rhodes, said.
…Jonathan Koehn, the city’s regional sustainability coordinator, said adding more renewables is only part of the equation.
“We’ve heard a lot of concern that, perhaps, more clean energy is driving this analysis,” he said. “But this is about long-term economic stability. When we talk about what our portfolio might look like in the future, we don’t have a predetermined notion of a certain percentage of renewables. What we want is to be able to analyze how we can have long-term stable rates.”
It’s not just about clean energy and stable rates, however. The decision to eschew a utility franchise was also about localization, described on a city website as “taking more control in determining:
- Where the energy supply comes from – Locally produced
- What types of energy are provided – Renewables over fossil fuels
- How much we pay for it – Rate control
Local generation of renewable energy will add more to Boulder’s economy than importing clean electrons, and if those projects can also be locally owned (perhaps via a community solar project like the Clean Energy Collective is doing in Carbondale, CO) then the economic benefits multiply significantly.
Photo credit: Flickr user respres (photo is of Denver, not Boulder, but I wanted a sunrise…)
The large transmission authority serving the upper midwest – the Midwest Independent System Operator – has plans for new high-voltage transmission lines leading from windy states like the Dakotas to places like Michigan. The purpose is to bring renewable energy from big western wind farms to places East.
Some of these places – like Michigan – would rather do it themselves.
The initial list of projects in the MISO region has an estimated cost of $4.8 billion. But MISO has pointed to additional projects over the next several years that could total between $16 billion and $20 billion. Michigan’s share of $16 billion worth of projects would be about $640 million annually. And most of these funds would be sent out of the state.
…This would happen even though Michigan already has its own state law requiring that 10 percent of its power must be generated using alternative sources by 2015. And all of that renewable-source energy must be generated within Michigan — which means electricity consumers likely won’t be buying or using power generated in other states.
The article doesn’t even get into the meat of the issue: that renewable electricity imports may be marginally cheaper than wind and solar power in Michigan, but that the economic impact of locally developed projects doesn’t show up on electricity bills.
Michigan isn’t alone in their desire for self-reliance. Ten East Coast governors signed a letter to members of Congress to protest visions for a new nationwide network of transmission that would have them importing Midwest wind at the expense of domestically built renewable energy. And the Canadian province of Ontario developed a comprehensive clean energy program with a requirement that all renewable energy and a majority of the actual components of new renewable energy facilities come from inside Ontario.
It may seem counter-intuitive that citizens would prefer more expensive electricity, but when weighed against the economic opportunity of local ownership and development, perhaps it’s no surprise.