Building solar and wind farms has started to become a cheaper proposition than running aging coal and nuclear generators in parts of the U.S., according to financial adviser Lazard Ltd.
Take wind: Building and operating a utility-scale farm costs $30 to $60 a megawatt-hour over its lifetime, and that can drop to as low as $14 when factoring in subsidies, according an annual analysis that Lazard’s been performing for a decade. Meanwhile, just keeping an existing coal plant running can cost $26 to $39 and a nuclear one $25 to $32.
Two years ago, “what was interesting to us was the lifetime cost of renewables on an energy basis reached parity with conventional resources in a bunch of geographies in the U.S.,” said Jonathan Mir, head of the North American power group at Lazard. “Now, what we are seeing is that renewable technologies on a fully loaded basis are beating” existing coal and nuclear plants in some regions.
The report by Lazard, whose estimates are widely used in the power sector as benchmarks, comes as President Donald Trump’s administration is vowing to stop the “war on coal” and put America’s miners back to work. Hundreds of power plants burning the fuel have shut in recent years amid escalating competition from natural gas, wind and solar. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has proposed rewarding coal and nuclear plants with extra payments for their dependability, touching off a national debate over the country’s future power mix.
“We still need, in a modern grid, fuel diversification and a diverse generation stack,” Mir said. “So someone has to think hard about how to organize this transition.”
Solar power is clean, affordable and popular with the American people. The amount of solar energy currently installed in the U.S. can power one in 14 American homes; that amount is expected to triple within the next ve years.
The growth of American solar energy in the past decade has been the result of smart solar-friendly state policies like net metering and tax incentives for solar infrastructure, putting clean energy within nancial reach of millions more Americans. The recent appointment of officials favored by electric utilities and fossil fuel interests to key positions within the Department of Energy and other federal agencies makes the preservation of strong solar policies in the states more important than ever.
In 2017, utilities continue to chip away at key state policies that put rooftop solar on the map in the United States, making it harder for Americans to invest in clean energy.
This report documents 20 fossil fuel-backed groups and electric utilities running some of the nation’s most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy in 12 states, including eight attempts to reduce net metering bene ts and seven attempts to create demand charges for customers with solar power. Citizens and policy-makers must be aware of the tools that utilities are using to undermine solar energy across America and redouble their commitment to strong policies that move the nation toward a clean energy future.
A national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel-backed think tanks has provided the funding, model legislation and political cover to discourage the growth of rooftop solar power.
• The Edison Electric Institute, the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, launched the current wave of attacks on solar in 2012. Since then, EEI has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council to create model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and attack net metering.
• The American Legislative Exchange Council also provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislators, and its anti-net metering policy resolution has inspired legislation in states like Washington and Utah.
• The Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonpro ts. The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has carried out anti-solar organizing exorts.
• The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is a Houston-based front group for the utility and fossil fuel industry, representing companies like Florida Power and Light, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell Oil. CEA has spent resources and shipped representatives across the country to help utilities fight their battles in states like Florida, Indiana, Maine and Utah.
• The state industry group Indiana Energy Association successfully lobbied on behalf of the state’s biggest electric utilities to end net metering, replacing it instead with a new solar policy that limits consumer compensation for generating rooftop power.
At the state level, electric utilities have used the support provided by national anti-solar interests, as well as their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies.
• In Florida, Florida Power and Light, Gulf Power Electric, Tampa Electric Company and Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., spent millions of dollars funding the front group, Consumers for Smart Solar, which was the primary backer of a failed 2016 ballot initiative that would have restricted rooftop solar growth. In 2017, Florida Power and Light drafted language for a new bill to restrict solar growth in Florida.
• Two major Arizona utilities – Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project – have success- fully pushed for anti-rooftop solar policies. Arizona Public Service, the biggest utility in Arizona, has also been accused of improperly cultivating in influence with the state commission that regulates utilities and funneling dark money into recent commissioner elections.
• In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power tried once again to eliminate net metering and charge additional fees to its 20,000 customers that generate rooftop power. Public outcry from ratepayers and the solar industry forced Rocky Mountain Power to settle, grandfathering all current solar customers into net metering.
• In Texas, El Paso Electric renewed its past attempt to create a separate, and more expensive, rate class for solar customers. In 2015, the utility spent $3.1 million on filing and negotiating fees, an amount ultimately charged to ratepayers, before dropping the proposal, only to pick it up again this year.
• In 2015, Nevada Energy successfully campaigned the Nevada utilities commission to eliminate net metering, a move that e ectively halted the growth of rooftop solar in its service territory for two years. After widespread public protest, state legislators e ectively reinstated net metering in 2017.
As of mid-2017, there were at least 90 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states with the potential to a ect the growth of rooftop generation, such as limits on net metering or new utility fees that make solar power less a affordable.
State decision-makers should resist utility and fossil fuel industry in influence, and reject policies such as
• Elimination of, restrictions on, or unfair caps on net metering;
• Discriminatory surcharges or tariffs for solar customers;
• Utility rate designs that discourage solar adoption;
• Unnecessary regulatory burdens on solar energy; and
• Rollbacks of renewable electricity standards.
In addition, state leaders should embrace ambitious goals for solar energy and adopt policies that will help meet them, including:
• Considering the bene ts of distributed solar energy to the grid, to ratepayers and to society in any rate making or policy decisions about solar energy;
• Implementing strong net metering and interconnection standards, which enable many customers to meet their own electricity needs with solar power;
• Encouraging community shared solar projects and virtual net metering, which can expand solar access to more customers;
• Enacting or expanding solar or distributed renewable carve-outs and renewable electricity standards;
• Enabling financing mechanisms to allow for greater solar access to businesses and residents;
• Allowing companies other than utilities to sell or lease solar to residents and businesses; and
• Making smart investments to move toward a more intelligent electric grid that will enable distributed sources of energy such as solar power to play a larger role.
Policymakers should also uphold our country’s commitment to reduce carbon pollution. Solar power will play a major role in any strategy to reduce global warming pollution and the carbon footprint of the energy we generate and consume.
Xcel decision fortifies calls for 100 percent renewables
The Sierra Club has been pushing Durango to commit to 100 percent locally produced and renewable electricity by 2050.
The argument of petitioners, reports the Durango Herald, is that in addition to cutting carbon emissions, the local, renewable energy would create local jobs and stabilize energy rates as the cost of fossil fuels continues to rise.
The petition in Durango fits in with a broad pattern across the country of calls for municipalities to embrace goals of 100 percent renewables during the next few decades. In Utah, for example, Salt Lake City, Moab, and Park City have all embraced that goal. In Colorado, so have the Front Range communities of Fort Collins, Boulder, and Pueblo.
That goal no longer seems so far-fetched. Major, investor-owned utilities have been rapidly investing in renewables not because they have to, but because of tumbling prices for wind, but also solar. Cost of utility-scale storage has also started sliding.
Last week, Colorado’s largest utility, Public Service Co., a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, announced that it would seek approval of state regulators to retire two coal-fired generating plants at Pueblo, which began operations in 1972 and 1974. The retirements, if approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, will mean Comanche I and II will be retired a decade earlier than previously scheduled.
Xcel wants to replace the lost power with some natural gas-fired electricity but mostly with renewables, with up to 1,000 megawatts of wind and 700 megawatts of solar. It wants to move fast, too, to take advantage of federal tax credits that are scheduled to expire in 2020.
Cost to consumers will stay the same or more likely go down, explained David Eves, the utility’s president of Colorado operations. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions are a bonus.
After the switch, Xcel expects its will be at 55 percent in carbon-free generation. This year, it will be completing conversion of a coal-fired power plant in Denver to natural gas. It had also converted a plant in Boulder last year.
Xcel delivers power to Colorado’s Summit County, where Breckenridge elected officials recently heard from a local group that wanted a commitment to 100 percent renewables, first in city operations and then a few years later in the community at large. Town officials weren’t ready to commit, lacking a clear path to achieve these goals. This was a week before the Xcel announcement.
Mark Truckey, a town planner in Breckenridge who is a member of the local 100 percent group, called the Xcel announcement “huge.”
“This has to speak volumes about how the cost is coming down,” he said. Yet he concedes it’s not exactly clear how Breckenridge can achieve what his group advocates.
In Utah, it’s the same story. Rocky Mountain Power last week reached a deal with solar advocates about a transition. The utility, which serves Park City, has a plan for adding more wind generation from southern Wyoming and upwards of 1,000 megawatts —the equivalent of a giant coal-fired power plant—in solar generation from Utah.
It used to be that renewables came with a price premium. As the Xcel and Rocky Mountain Power cases illustrate, that has changed. Aspen also proves the case.
Aspen Electric was an early adopter. The utility serves half to two-thirds of Aspen. More than a decade ago it invested in two wind turbines in Nebraska. It has also invested heavily in hydroelectric. As a municipality, it is also eligible for electricity from the giant dams of the West.
Several years ago it was able to achieve 100 percent renewables. Despite the renewables—or maybe because of them—residential customers in Aspen pay 20 percent less per kilowatt-hour than co-op members such as those serving Durango.
The rest of Aspen, including the ski area, gets its electricity from Holy Cross Energy. If moving briskly toward renewables, Holy Cross still gets a substantial amount of its electricity from another coal-fired power plant at Pueblo. Although news as of 2010, it increasingly looks archaic.
Solar panels have become abundant on rooftops. Even so, solar delivered just 2 percent of Colorado’s electricity in 2016. Solar energy proponents expect that will change. Costs of panels have declined 64 percent in the last five years, points out the Summit Daily News, citing the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association. Too, utilities like Xcel, Rocky Mountain Power, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission are increasingly investing in giant farms of solar panels.
Tri-State provides electricity for the co-operatives that serve the Colorado mountain towns of Winter Park, Grand Lake, Crested Butte, and Telluride. The power for Durango also comes from Tri-State through La Plata Electric Association.
Last year, 53 percent of Tri-State’s electricity came from coal, although 27 percent came from renewables, and more is coming on line all the time, says Lee Boughey, spokesman. He points to 75 megawatts of wind generation from southeastern Colorado that will go on-line later this year.
About 4 percent of Durango’s power comes from local renewable sources, but a major solar plant on the Southern Ute reservation has also been added, reports the Durango Telegraph.
Can Durango get to 100 percent renewables, as the Sierra Club petition seeks? La Plata hasn’t said no, although there are many challenges. Most illuminating is a white paper from the co-op’s chief executive, Mike Dreyspring. The paper describes the evolution of markets that will allow slow-cost electrons from renewable sources to be moved around the grid to match demands. That other changes are poised to disrupt old business models—including the centralized power generation of the last half of the 20th century.
Locally produced power, called distributed generation, “shifts the balance sheet risk from owners of central station bulk power generation assets to DG owners,” the paper says. “The traditional, vertically integrated electric utilities that adapt to this changing market place will financially thrive.”
Another way of saying this is that yes, the train is out of the station. It’s just a matter of accommodating the new renewables. Whether 100 percent renewables is possible is a discussion for another day.
“A growing number of organizations and institutions are interested in solar, and it’s not necessarily about sustainability,” said Henderson, who also is the president of the board of directors of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA), a trade group for the state’s solar sector.
“They’re seeing the opportunity to reduce operating costs and impact the bottom line,” he said.
To that end, COSEIA has organized the Clean Energy Means Business Corporate Summit, to be held Nov. 7-8 at the History Colorado Center in downtown Denver.
The two-day summit is aimed at executives and energy management professionals interested in using clean energy to lower operations costs and support sustainability efforts.
“You can go renewable and reduce your operating costs, but people are surprised by that. They want to learn more about it,” Henderson said.
Since 2012, businesses in the U.S. and Mexico — including IKEA, Google, Apple, Kaiser Permanente, 3M and Microsoft — have purchased nearly 9,000 megawatts of renewable energy supplies, according to the Business Renewables Center in Boulder, part of the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Despite Trump, train has already left the station, says former Obama aide
U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy recently as he cited three major reasons for optimism.
Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.
Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.
The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the developed countries, including the United States, and China, Indian and other still-developing countries. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.
But now, those same countries — Chna, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.
“China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”
That same day, the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”
The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.
In the telling of the change Deese said this shift came about at least partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.
Enter the smart phone, which became ubiquitous in China around 2011 to 2012. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of millions of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.
A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.
To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.
He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”
Here’s a report about religious groups in Colorado and New Mexico working to abate the climate crisis from Sarah Tory writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Last year, [Pastor Jim Therrien] joined the Interfaith Power & Light campaign, “a religious response to global warming” composed of churches and faith communities across the U.S. Since 2001, the network had expanded its membership from 14 congregations in California to some 20,000 in over 40 states. The group provides resources to churches and other faith communities for cutting carbon emissions — helping install solar panels, for instance, and sharing sermons on the importance of addressing climate change.
Therrien says he is merely “following the Scripture.” In the process, however, he has joined a growing environmental movement that brings a religious dimension to the problem of climate change…
Here at his hardscrabble New Mexico parish, Therrien continues to practice what he preaches. On a hot day in July, he herded 28 visitors into the mission’s two white vans for a drive out onto the Navajo Nation. The group, mostly Easterners, ranged in age from 8 to over 60 and had traveled to the Lybrook mission as part of a weeklong fact-finding trip. Like Therrien, many were members of the Church of the Brethren, a Protestant denomination with a history of activism. More recently, their focus had shifted to environmental issues — especially climate change.
“It’s concerning that our government is pulling back from what we should be focusing on,” one of them, Jim Dodd, told me. Recently, the giant Larsen Ice Shelf had broken off from Antarctica, and Dodd was worried. “Villages already at sea level are going to get flooded,” he said.
Leading the group was David Radcliff, director of the New Community Project, a Vermont-based organization. “It’s a fairness issue for the rest of God’s creatures,” he told me. Radcliff has led “learning tours” around social and environmental justice issues for church groups, most recently, to the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Radcliff, a small, wiry man with an intense blue gaze, wore a white T-shirt with a very long slogan on the back. “Earth is a mess,” it said, and “God’s not amused.” If you aren’t satisfied, it added, “do something about it.”
For Radcliff, discussing the facts of climate change isn’t enough. That’s where religion comes in. “At a certain point, you have to talk about the consequences, and past that it becomes a conversation about morality,” he said. Take moose in the Northeast: They are dying from tick infestations exacerbated by a warming climate, caused by humans taking more from the Earth than they need, he said. “We are stealing from other living things.”
The Morgan County Commissioners voted 3 to 0 Tuesday to approve a conditional use permit and variance for the construction of a solar farm on 20 acres of land near the intersection of County Road 21 and County Road N southeast of Fort Morgan.
The farm is being built by Starlight Energy Corporation on land owned by Peter V. and Karen V. Anderson. Commissioner Mark Arndt said Starlight is proposing to sell the electricity that is generated from the farm to the Morgan County Rural Electric Association to provide power for Morgan County residents but a power purchase agreement has not been finalized. Arndt said Starlight has also talked about Fort Morgan Light and Power as a possible buyer of the electricity that will be generated.
The facility is expected to generate about 2 megawatts of solar power per year and a half of a megawatt of natural gas power. Though the number of homes powered by a megawatt of solar energy depends on average sunshine, electricity consumption, temperature and wind in a given area, it is estimated that one megawatt can power about 650 homes.
Starlight Energy CEO Brian Bentley said the company was hoping to have the solar farm constructed and operational in the first quarter of 2018. Bentley said a portion of the facility that will generate natural gas when not enough solar power is being generated should be operational by the fourth quarter of this year.