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Showing posts with the label Distributed Generation

California Does Not Need More Fossil Fuels

The California Public Utilities Commission is considerng whether to offset the loss of the failed San Onofre nuclear power plant with new natural gas power plants.  San Onofre's twin reactors generated over 2,250 megawatts of electricity.  We will need to take affirmative steps to offset the loss of that generating capacity, but we should find the most sustainable way to fill this gap without creating more environmental problems. 

As the Sierra Club notes, replacing San Onofre with natural gas plants is unnecessary because energy forecasts for California indicate that roughly half of San Onofre's generating capacity will be offset with energy efficiency gains; we can fill the rest of the gap with improvements in transmission or added rooftop solar capacity in the Los Angeles basin.  Consider that solar panels on California rooftops already generate over 1,880 megawatts of  clean energy.  Instead of wasting ratepayer money on new fossil fuel plants that will pollute our commu…

Solar Decathlon Where It Belongs

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The Solar Decathlon is being held in California at long last.  The competition was first held in 2002, and features homes powered by rooftop solar panels, and built by teams from across the country and overseas competing to be the most sustainable in various categories.  The overall winning team must design and build a home that meets the following general criteria:

Is affordable, attractive, and easy to live inMaintains comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditionsSupplies energy to household appliances for cooking, cleaning, and entertainmentProvides adequate hot waterProduces as much or more energy than it consumes. Consider the "DesertSol" entry designed and built by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).  The DeserSol house uses a solar thermal system to heat water and the home itself, photovoltaic panels to supply energy, and advanced engineering that reduces framing materials by nearly 20%.  The entry will be on display at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve …

Will the California Legislature Save or Punish Ratepayers?

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California's legislature is considering a bill (A.B. 327) that may solidify the monopoly status of investor-owned utility companies by charging all ratepayers a fixed fee.  Not only would this unfairly penalize ratepayers who invest their own money to make their homes and businesses energy efficient, it would strangle nascent efforts to democratize our energy grid with rooftop solar.  California ratepayers are already being taken to the bank by utility companies; each utility collects a guaranteed return of over 10% from ratepayers.  No matter what they build or destroy, they can earn a profit.  Even when utility companies make bad decisions, they expect to be compensated and rewarded.  For example, now that Southern California Edison shut down its failed nuclear plant at San Onofre, it wants to collect 2.4 billion dollars from ratepayers, enough money to pay for its misguided investment and earn at least 5.5% extra. 


Apparently utility companies don't want to give up this go…

Fighting for Local Clean Energy

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I wrote earlier this week about a misguided approach to clean energy that accepts - and applauds - the unnecessary destruction of our wildlands.  Until we change the system, we will continue to be at the mercy of giant and monopolistic utility companies whose business model involves the destruction of our environment and health.

Well here is an opportunity to change the system.  The Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign in California is stepping up its efforts against utility companies, and you will have an opportunity to join the fight on August 21.  Why?  Because utility companies are lobbying California legislators to prevent the expansion of rooftop solar programs, including a bill that would have brought rooftop solar and jobs to underrepresented communities.  Apparently utility companies want us to obediently pay our electric bills and let them decide where, and how to generate our electricity.  This is a new age, however, and solar allows average folks like you and I to becom…

Demanding Sustainable Clean Energy in Nevada

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Industry leaders, government officials, and environmentalists gathered today in Las Vegas at the National Clean Energy Summit to discuss policy and business developments affecting the renewable energy industry.  The Sierra Club's national office used the occasion of the Clean Energy Summit to celebrate K Road's Moapa solar project, which will destroy three square miles of intact desert habitat located over thirty miles from the energy guzzling Las Vegas strip.   In a Facebook posting earlier this evening, the Sierra Club thanked its followers for supporting the "large solar farm" outside the city, featuring a photo of Sierra Club members rallying in front of the desert lands that are destined for the bulldozer.   The Sierra Club could have celebrated plans to close the dirty Reid Gardner coal plant, and the announcement of one of the largest rooftop solar projects in the world planned for a Las Vegas resort.
It is sad when a government official is quicker to promote s…

How Much More Transmission Do We Need?

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All of the transmission cables you see strung across the western United States and Canada could wrap around the Earth four and a half times.   New Federal policies and a utility industry emphasis on connecting cities to some of the most destructive energy projects on remote wildlands has resulted in plans to add up to seven thousand circuit miles of new transmission lines in the west, alone, including several new lines in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.  The White House's latest directive on transmission seeks to institute a fast-track approval system for these lines, ostensibly to reach renewable energy projects, but fails to establish an institutional incentive for the energy industry to invest in efficiency or distributed generation as a less costly alternative to new transmission and remote power plants.

Abusive RelationshipThe transmission system is complex, and we will be mostly dependent on a healthy grid for quite some time, even under an ideal scenario with aggressive dep…

Update on Utility-Scale Energy Projects in the Desert

Although distributed generation continues to chart a sustainable path to produce clean energy, many poorly-sited renewable energy projects threaten to continue the fragmentation and industrialization of our southwestern deserts.  If all of the projects are built, they would rival the destructive impacts of climate change and urban sprawl on desert species.  As long-time readers of this blog know, there have been plenty of bad projects approved on public lands in the desert, with some good news sprinkled here and there.  The list below - not at all comprehensive - provides an update on the status of some of the most significant projects.

Projects that are completed or under construction will be in Red; projects approved but not yet under construction in Yellow; and still pending environmental review and approval in GreenAll told, the list below represents over 100 square miles of intact desert that has now been destroyed or industrialized, and over 150 square miles that could be des…

Solar University

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I was reading about NRG Energy, whose CEO has spoken enthusiastically about the potential of distributed generation, and came across a fairly impressive array of solar on rooftops and over parking lots that the company has installed. Although I disagree with the company's investment in the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the distributed generation project at Arizona State University is proof of the clean energy we can generate in our cities.  ASU's facilities boast over 20 megawatts of solar panels, and they plan to expand to 25 megawatts.  You can even monitor real time generation statistics at the campus' website.

Back in my own hometown of Victorville, Victor Valley College recently received an award for its own solar installations over parking lots and on already-disturbed lands.  The efficiency and solar investments have so far yielded an annual savings on utility bills of 500 thousand dollars.  The college is also taking out water guzzling lawns and re…

How To Avoid An Ecological Disaster While Solving Another

President Obama announced today his administration's Climate Action Plan, which includes a long overdue directive to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, calls for improving vehicle fuel economy standards,  and raising the bar for energy efficiency in our homes and businesses.  All of these are urgent and smart ways to fix our destructive energy paradigm.  In a surprisingly positive shift,  the President also signaled that he may not approve the Keystone oil pipeline if it results in a net increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the President also outlined plans for continued utility-scale renewable energy expansion; these plans must be reconciled with his administration's unfortunately overlooked effort to protect wildlands and wildlife. The Climate Action Plan only vaguely refers to the fairly comprehensive National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy released by the …

Wolves, Watts and Washington

The past few weeks have brought a depressing onslaught of "more of the same" from Washington, but I will start with a couple nice morsels of good news.  A new report from GTM Research provides some relief in the form of good news on distributed generation.   I'll give you a gist of the research - in the first three months of 2013, the United States added over 405 MW of solar panels to residential and commercial rooftops.   In addition, many of the utility scale projects completed over the past few months probably were built on already-disturbed lands, judging by the report's description of the general sizes and locations of the installations.   It's nice to know that somehow there is a segment of the energy market that is on a sustainable and clean path, and it makes companies that destroy pristine desert habitat look bad (ahem, like BrightSource Energy, K Road, and Next Era).  The report also reiterates that rooftop solar is going to change the way we do busines…

Utility Company Makeover

David Roberts at Grist has a rather thought-provoking article on how utility companies can be transformed to take advantage of new, cleaner technologies.  Mr. Roberts asserts that distributed generation will not mean the downfall of the grid, but that distributed generation and energy efficiency beg for a new model, one where the utility companies may facilitate an energy marketplace, but do not control the source of energy.  I would recommend reading this in conjunction with an article by High Country News titled "Haywired."  Although a subscription is required for the article, the gist of it is that the transmission system in this country is built around an old paradigm that cannot take advantage of the flexibility offered by clean energy, including rooftop solar.  
Essentially, both articles argue that we need a new energy paradigm.  Utilities want to replace old coal power plants connected to a behemoth transmission line grid with new natural gas and wind facilities plu…

Nevada Embraces the Bridge, Not the Solution

The Nevada legislature introduced a bill (S.B. 123) that would drastically reduce the state's dependence on coal power plants, but introduce an equal amount of natural gas generation and additional transmission lines that will continue to wreck Nevada's wild landscapes.  The bill proposes to eliminate no less than 800 megawatts of coal-fired generation capacity, but requires utility companies to acquire or construct 700 to 800 megawatts of natural gas generation, in addition to 600 megawatts from renewable energy sources.  The bill does not contain specific provisions that would encourage distributed generation,  and offers only meager encouragement for utility companies to improve energy efficiency.

So not only will Nevada continue to draw a large portion of energy from fossil fuels, Nevada's most significant step into renewable energy is almost certain to be guided by utility companies that profit the most when they build destructive infrastructure on public lands, inste…

Solar Awakening

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An article in Renewable Energy World discusses natural gas as a "bridge" to renewable energy sources, such as utility-scale solar and wind, showing how energy companies are exploiting demand for renewable energy to double down on investment in fossil fuels and unnecessary infrastructure, such as transmission lines.   As long as we draw the majority of our energy from giant utility companies, you can bet on an unhealthy mix of fossil fuels in the grid.  Utility companies are guaranteed a fixed return on the massive transmission lines that link expensive and dirty central station power plants to our cities from far away, and the companies that build those power plants are heavily invested in fossil fuels.

Wind turbines spoiling desert landscapes require new transmission lines, and the "intermittency" of the wind requires a new natural gas plant, and more transmission lines.  These companies collect a guaranteed profit from you,  and then turn around and invest that m…

Breaking Ground: The Future of Moapa

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The Moapa band of Paiutes showed solidarity yesterday - along with Sierra Club President Allison Chin, and Congressman Horsford of Nevada - against the continued toxic emissions of the Reid Gardner Coal plant, situated along the Muddy River.  Reid Gardner has been hurting this community since 1965, and the Environmental Protection Agency recently disappointed us by giving the power plant a reprieve from the stricter pollution controls last year.

The demonstration march held on Saturday symbolically walked away from the coal plant, and ended up at the site of the future K Road Power Moapa Solar project, which will destroy over three square miles of intact desert habitat to produce roughly 350 megawatts of solar energy using the same photovoltaic panels that can be installed on rooftops and already-disturbed lands.  The power from the K Road Moapa Solar project will be sold to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, whose customers live nearly 300 miles away.  K Road's lack of…