Archive for Energy

Renewable Energy on Tribal Lands

This development could be very big in Arizona where the opportunity for a combination of wind and solar would help local tribes improve their economies and their health.

By, Karen Petersen, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

From the redwood forests of northern California to the green lowlands of upstate New York, from the high desert of southern Nevada to the frozen tundra of northern Alaska, visionary Native American leaders are forging a new path to economic vitality and community resiliency. It’s a new path that honors traditional ways, while addressing longstanding challenges and barriers.

There’s no denying the persistent gaps between American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations and the rest of the country in areas such as housing, healthcare, education, and employment. For generations, tribal leaders have worked to close those gaps and provide for their communities, and for some, gaming has provided one avenue for doing so. But forward-looking tribal governments are continually seeking new and innovative approaches to economic development. And increasingly, they are focusing on energy.

Within the broad swaths of mostly rural, often remote land Native Americans call “Indian Country” exist considerable untapped resources. Despite representing less than 2% of the total U.S. land base, Indian lands contain an estimated 5% of all U.S. renewable energy generation potential, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

When considered in light of the rapid decline in costs for clean energy technologies, the proliferation of policies that incentivize clean energy, and the increasingly urgent need for energy transformation, this disproportionate wealth in renewable resources represents a nascent opportunity—one not reserved for tribes alone.

“Indian Country is ripe with opportunity for profitable, mutually beneficial business engagements with tribes,” said DOE Office of Indian Energy Director Chris Deschene.

Positioning Tribes to Thrive

Deschene’s characterization of the opportunity for energy development on tribal lands is grounded in data-driven analysis and empirical evidence. In addition to funding technical resource and market analyses and contributing to intergovernmental energy and climate initiatives, the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs has an established track record of cultivating propitious – and practicable – tribal energy visions. Since 2002, DOE has invested more than $50 million in nearly 200 tribal energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

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We Need Stronger Fuel Economy Standards

Vehicles driving on a crowded freeway.Now that the power sector is making strong gains on reducing emissions, transportation is the greatest source of climate pollution – accounting for a third of US greenhouse gases.

How do we reel in pollution from millions of cars and trucks? The easiest way that’s a win-win is to make cars and trucks more efficient, so they use less gas. In exchange for being bailed out of bankruptcy by the Obama Administration, automakers – after decades of blocking progress – agreed to produce much more efficient vehicles; 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016 and 54 mpg by 2025. But now, they want the Trump Administration to relieve them those “expensive, hard to meet targets” and the heavy toll of “burdensome regulations.”

This is exactly why we need regulations. The private sector will not act on its own. All Americans benefit from vastly more efficient cars, trucks and buses – driving a car that gets 54 mpg is a huge step forward from the 24 mpg cars were stuck at for decades.

Individuals and businesses really like going further on a tank of gas. Americans have already saved $35 billion on gas, while avoiding consumption of 270 million barrels of oil, cutting cancer-causing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, all since 2011. The trucking industry actually ASKED for standards – turns out, getting 6 mpg isn’t great for trucking companies!

Fuel economy standards were the single biggest energy efficiency policy of the Obama administration and automakers successfully met the first milestone in 2016 – fleet-wide averages of 35.5 mpg.

Reaching 54 mpg requires innovation and selling lots of hybrids and plug-ins, but right now automakers are mostly selling very profitable gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks. Besides, electric car sales are slow, they opine. Have you ever seen an ad for plug-in or electric cars? The answer is No or Rarely. Have you seen ads for SUVs? Yes, Constantly.

Research on national TV ads confirms this, and there’s also a dearth of electric vehicles (EVs) at dealerships. They either don’t stock them or have a few hidden in the back. Forget a test drive! Salespeople aren’t trained on their benefits and often aren’t aware of state and federal tax credits and rebates. Another survey finds that 60% of Americans don’t even know that plug-ins exist and that 80% have never been in an EV.

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The Energy Of The Future Is Solar Power

Smart Energy in ArizonaNot so long ago, solar power was something of a dream for those who were ahead of the curve in the environmental movement. It appeared to be an option for the wealthy and for those who had committed themselves to environmentalism.

The idea that we could heat our homes and generate electricity from little more than sunshine seemed like a utopian ideal.

However, as the real and immediate effects of global warming are felt around the world in everything from droughts to mega-hurricanes, the implementation of solar power is now a feature of global policy and economics; it’s part of a combination of renewable energy sources which eliminate the use of fossil fuels that drive global warming.

Solar power has been steadily on the rise around the world, and as fossil fuels become increasingly scarce, we can expect to see solar power increasingly adopted.

Solar Power On The Rise

The surge in interest across the globe in solar power has largely been in response to the problem of carbon emissions and global warming. Solar power and other renewable sources of energy are the best ways to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.

As a direct result, global use and implementation of solar technology has been on a steady rise since the early 2000s. Solar is now the fastest rising source of renewable energy in the world, reaching about 1% of the total energy produced globally.

In fact, solar energy production now rivals nuclear power globally. Solar energy reached a capacity of about 350 GW (gigawatts) globally in 2015, compared to nuclear energy which topped out at 391 GW in the same year. In addition, it is predicted that at the current rate of conversion to solar energy, it will overtake the use of fossil fuels by 2050, with most of the globe running on energy produced by the sun.

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Crazy Utility Bookkeeping

Okay, here’s the thing. All over the USA, badly managed utilities with strong, well-financed political clout are doing their best to kill solar and other distributed energy systems. They claim that non-solar customers have to foot the bill for maintaining the grid that solar customers use at very little cost. Of course, this is completely false and ignores the financial benefits to utilities of grid-tied solar installations.

For example, I have a grid-tied 4.2 kW system on my roof. I received no subsides from anyone to install it. It’s my investment. As the “net metering” program now stands in Arizona, I’m saving around $600/year with my system. That nets me between 5 and 6% on my investment. That’s a good thing.

My little system also provides most of its electricity to the grid during peak energy demands – from 10 -4 each day. During that time, we use very little electricity, so most of it is flowing to the APS grid. There they can resell that electricity for anywhere between 6 cents to 26 cents per kilowatt hour for the time of use customers. That gives them a healthy profit because I’m giving them the electricity essentially for free. At the end of the year, if I’ve put more electricity into the grid, APS credits my account at less than 3 cents per kWh.

So, if I’m not paying the $20/month for the grid, APS is making more than that by selling the peak electricity I provide to them…free. Also, we residential and commercial solar owners help APS avoid the huge costs of increasing their power generation by building new plants to meet peak demands. That’s worth a lot to a utility. Of course, they do not share this with the utility commissions when they complain about the “costs of solar.”

Here’s an article about what’s going on in Nevada. You can bet that Arizona utilities are learning lessons from the anti-solar wins in their neighboring state.

Read Who Owns the Sun.

Here’s an overview about solar in Arizona.

The Twisted Economics of the Dakota Assess Pipeline

Given the bizarre and possibly corrupt decisions being made in the White House these days, I thought this excellent article was worth posting.

As the weather gets colder, the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline is heating up, in rather ugly ways. Just days before Thanksgiving, law enforcement officers tried to blast the protesters away with water cannons in 25-degree weather and employed other “less than lethal,” though still harmful, dispersal methods. One protester may lose her arm as a result of injuries suffered during the violence. And to top it off, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to close one of the camps of “water protectors” next week, which may embolden law enforcement to take a more forceful approach.

High Country News has reported what’s at stake for the Standing Rock Sioux tribal members and their allies trying to stop or re-route the project: Tribal sovereignty, water, environmental justice, holy lands, treaty-rights and antiquities. Add to that the prospect of more carbon spewing into the atmosphere, and one can see why activists are risking so much to stand in the pipeline’s way.

Less clear is what the $3.78 billion, 1,172-mile-long crude oil pipeline offers in return if and when construction is completed and it goes into operation. Energy Transfer Partners, the project’s main proponent, says that the pipeline will offer jobs, economic relief to a struggling region and, by spurring production of North Dakota Crude, it will take the U.S. closer to the lofty ideal of energy independence.

Construction on the pipeline is about 85 percent complete and it has, indeed, put people to work. Yet it is not clear how many new jobs have been created since the jobs are spread out over 1,000 miles. Rural towns along the pipeline’s corridor have reported a boost in hotel and campground occupancy rates as the contractors move through. That, in turn, generates sales and lodging tax revenues for the local governments. The boost, however, won’t last. In a few months, when (and if) construction is complete, the workers and their spending money will depart. The finished pipeline will require just 40 permanent maintenance and operational jobs along its entire stretch.

Once oil is flowing, property tax revenues — an estimated total of $55 million annually — will kick in. While it’s a big chunk of change, the impacts will be diffused, shared by four states. North and South Dakota are expected to receive about $13 million each, divided between several counties, a drop in the budget bucket (Colorado generates nearly $20 million per month from taxes and fees on marijuana). That said, it might be enough to buy the county sheriffs some more military gear from the Pentagon in order to squelch the next pipeline protest. It will not, however, cover the costs of such squelching: The current law enforcement effort has reportedly cost $15 million so far.

The fact is, pipelines, like transmission lines, don’t have a major economic impact except when they’re built. They otherwise go mostly unnoticed until they spill, burst or explode.

Read more by Jonathan Thompson at High Country News

Energy Efficiency Saves Billions in Maryland

Baltimore, MD—Maryland electric customers will save more than $4 billion due to energy efficiency improvements made at homes and businesses through a successful Maryland program, according to a first-of-its-kind study from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The study, co-authored by a former Maryland Public Service Commission energy analyst, highlights how the first phase of EmPOWER Maryland has yielded substantial economic growth and environmental benefits across the state.

EmPOWER Maryland, enacted in 2008, created energy efficiency programs that are offered through the state’s five largest electric utilities. The program helps homeowners and businesses save energy, partly by offering incentives and technical assistance for adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and installing more efficient appliances. It also facilitates efficient commercial lighting and other improvements at industrial facilities.

ACEEE’s study reveals that EmPOWER Maryland has produced significant benefits, including:

  • More than $4 billion in savings in total customer bills over the life of the improvements, which were made between 2008 and 2015;
  • $1.81 in benefits for every dollar spent on energy efficiency measures as a result of lower wholesale prices for energy, savings from reduced need to build new power plants and power lines, reduced air pollution, and reduced need for electricity production;
  • Total lifetime energy savings of more than 51 million megawatt hours, equivalent to the electricity used by 850,000 residential customers over five years;
  • Reduced emissions of nearly 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than 34 million pounds of nitrogen oxides, and nearly 78 million pounds of sulfur dioxide over the lifetime of the programs.

The full study can be viewed at: http://aceee.org/research-report/u1701

“EmPOWER Maryland is an unqualified success story for the state,” said Brendon Baatz, study co-author and utilities policy manager at ACEEE. Yet despite its achievements, Baatz believes the program’s future is not guaranteed: “With Phase One of the program complete, Maryland regulators must now renew their support for EmPOWER Maryland so that consumers and businesses can continue to reap the benefits of lower utility bills and cleaner air.”

“EmPOWER has proven critical for helping us improve the energy efficiency of our affordable multifamily properties, which lowers utility costs and provides healthy homes for our residents” said Trisha Miller, sustainability director for WISHROCK. “At Windsor Valley Apartments, EmPOWER helped fund efficiency improvements that are expected to reduce utility bills by as much as 20% per year. Without EmPOWER, the upfront costs of making these upgrades can be prohibitive in the affordable housing industry.”

The first phase EmPOWER Maryland aimed to reduce per capita electricity usage 10% and peak electricity demand 15% by 2015. The Maryland Public Service Commission, in its annual report to the legislature in 2015, concluded that state utilities achieved 99% of the per capita consumption goal and 100% of the per capita demand reduction goal.

Due in part to the EmPOWER Maryland program, Maryland now ranks as the ninth most energy-efficient state in the nation, according to ACEEE.

An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump on Clean Energy

Smart Solar EnergyDear President-Elect Trump,

For nearly two decades, we’ve been tracking and chronicling the transition to a clean-energy economy. While we know that we don’t see eye-to-eye with you on all of the issues, we wanted to send you the following “open letter” to update you on the clean-energy business opportunity, and what you might do as president to enable a massive infrastructure build out which supports American jobs and home-grown energy.

First, let us lay out some of the significant facts and figures regarding the transition to clean energy that’s taking place in the U.S. and across the globe:

  • Global investments in clean energy have grown from $62 billion in 2004 to $329 billion last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
  • In the U.S., clean energy, in the form of solar and wind power, now represents the largest share of new additions to electricity capacity. In 2015, wind, solar, and geothermal sources represented nearly 63% of all electricity capacity additions across the country, outpacing natural gas at 34%.
  • Many of the largest, most iconic U.S. corporations, such as General Motors, Google, Nike, and Walmart, are now working to achieve 100% renewable electricity in all of their U.S. and/or global operations. Companies that have reached at least one of these goals include Apple, Kohl’s, and Microsoft.
  • Five states now have mandates and target years to get 50% or more of their electricity from renewable sources. And clean energy deployment crosses the red state/blue state divide. In fact, among the top 10 states last year for percentage of clean-electricity generation, six voted for you in the 2016 presidential election (Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Idaho), and four for your opponent.
  • Americans of all political stripes resoundingly support clean energy. In the latest poll from Pew Research released last month, 89% of Americans favored expanding solar power, and 83% supported expanding wind farms. Backing this up, on Election Day pro-solar policies passed in Nevada, where voters moved forward a constitutional amendment that could break up utility NV Energy’s monopoly, and Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have prevented third-party ownership of solar.

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What Does the Election Mean for Energy Efficiency

Now that the hard-fought 2016 election is over, I think it is useful to consider its impact on energy efficiency policy. No doubt, a lot of uncertainty remains because of President-elect Donald Trump’s lack of specificity on many issues. Yet given the bi-partisan, good-for-business appeal of energy efficiency, I see potential paths forward and work to be done. Of course, we also need to be ready to defend against legislative or administrative attempts to roll back current energy efficiency policies, programs, and funding, which could wipe out the major energy bill savings, job growth, and health benefits that we have achieved.

President-elect Trump has said very little about energy efficiency, so what happens in a Trump administration is likely to depend on his senior appointments, such as the new secretary of energy and the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump has spoken a bit about climate change, which he called a “hoax” created by the Chinese to suppress the U.S. economy (although he’s tempered these comments more recently).  He’s pledged to end the Clean Power Plan and to withdraw from the Paris climate change treaty. To change either of these could well require a multiyear process but he could also not do much to follow through on either of these and let them be essentially unimplemented. And years ago, he said green buildings have not been perfected yet and that it takes 40 years to get your money back (see here).

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Some Utilities Embrace Distributed Energy

Smart Energy in ArizonaThe growth of distributed energy generation — particularly in the form of solar energy — leaves the aging, monopolistic electric utility system a daunting choice: Come out swinging in defense of the status quo or boldly jump into the cockpit, put on the co-pilot’s hat and fly toward the clean energy future.

The second choice is not only the best option, it’s also a vital move toward curbing climate change, serving customers with fair prices and, most important for the folks calling the shots, keeping utility companies in business.

In order to stay competitive, utility companies, grid operators and the people who regulate them need to do what’s right for people and planet — incorporate renewable energy, storage and software to modernize the grid.

The momentum for renewable energy builds as prices fall and emissions regulations tighten. Supporting this trend doesn’t stop at pro-solar policies. Innovating to keep up with the technology is essential for both wider adoption of renewables and a better, more resilient grid.

Breaking the common solar-versus-utility narrative, some utility companies are not only accepting the idea of a clean energy future — they’re ushering it in. For those who aren’t, the consequences will continue to grow. The question for utilities is, will they be leaders or laggards.

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Buy or Lease Solar

Smart home energyThat 30 percent tax credit on solar panels that was supposed to expire this year? It’s been extended, all the way to 2019. I feel like we just got an extension on a term paper — but if we don’t start writing now, the deadline is going to be here again before we know it.

To get the full Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), we’ve got to get our panels purchased and put up in the next three years. After that, the credit fades out: to 26 percent in 2020, and then to 22 percent in 2021. By 2023, the residential tax credit will be $0. And after that, who knows? We may all be living in egg-shaped, self-reliant, solar-powered tiny homes. The time really is now.

The price of solar panels — even for top-rated panels from SolarWorld and Canadian Solar — is down. It’s fallen by more than 75 percent since 2009, according to prominent environmentalist Bill McKibben. This drop reflects increased efficiency, both in the manufacturing process and in the panels themselves. Still, the initial cost of buying and installing a full system, including panels and supporting parts, can run between $10,000 and $40,000.

But, you don’t need to have a spare $10K to plunk down. Options like leasing and power purchase agreements (PPAs) from well-known solar names like Solar City and Vivint allow you to generate solar energy without up-front costs. Depending on where you live, there might even be a way for you to buy power from a solar farm.

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