Archive for May 2015

Power bill gets green makeover in CA Senate

With almost no public attention, the California Legislature took a significant step yesterday (May 28) that could help corporations and universities make a complete transition to renewable energy. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve SB 286 with a major amendment requiring that all power sold under the bill to be 100 percent renewable.

Overall, the bill would allow large electricity users to contract with independent power providers through the state’s Direct Access (DA) program, circumventing their local utilities, for an additional statewide total of 8,000 GWh of all-renewable power.

The bill now does exactly what I’ve worked with others to advocate — in a Sacramento Bee op-ed (co-authored with Greg Staple, my colleague at the American Clean Skies Foundation), in the halls of the State Capitol and on this blog.

The text of the amended bill isn’t out yet, and I will post it as soon as it’s available. But the staff analysis published online today summarized the new amendment this way: “Require that all additional DA service be from renewable sources as defined in the RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) program.”

What does this really mean? No, it isn’t a complete game-changer. But yes, it will be an important addition to the state’s overall strategy. Consider that the extra 8,000 GWh would lead to greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to a 2 percent rise in the RPS, while renewables now comprise about 24 percent of the statewide power mix. Democratic leaders will need all the help they can get to reach their new goal of 50 percent by 2030.

Yesterday’s decision reflects complex legislative maneuvering. The Appropriations vote moved the bill off the committee’s suspense file and sent it to the Senate floor for a full vote. The suspense file is essentially a legislative black hole, in which the fate of all bills in the file is decided by the Senate leadership before the meeting with zero transparency. It’s the proverbial smoke-filled back room. Whether this process is good or bad is not my point here. But the decision to drastically amend SB 286 suggests that the bill was carefully evaluated by the Committee chair, Sen. Ricardo Lara, and his close ally, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, according to its potential impact on de León’s top legislative priority this year: SB 350, his landmark bill on greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Their apparent conclusion was that any new Direct Access should give the maximum boost to SB 350 — i.e. by being all-renewable. The bill’s author, Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles), had no choice but to go along.

The switch to 100 percent marks a sharp turnaround for Hertzberg. He introduced SB 286 in February as a mostly brown-power bill, supported by a conventional brown-power alliance of industry groups that simply want cheap electricity with only the legal minimum of renewables. It was a largely Republican, pro-deregulation coalition very similar to the backers of the state’s big deregulatory leap in the late 1990s — which crash-landed in the power crisis of 2000-01. The additional power sold under the bill’s initial version would only have to comply with the state’s RPS, which currently mandates about 24 percent renewables. Then in early May, Hertzberg raised the bar to 51 percent renewables after he ran into opposition in the Senate Energy Committee. The new move to 100 percent risks alienating some of the bill’s industry supporters, some of whom quickly indicated that they are unhappy and may withdraw their backing.

So the bill’s politics have changed along with its substance. A much greener support coalition needs to be organized to help push the bill through the remaining Senate and Assembly votes and to persuade Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it. This effort will be a key test of California’s clean-energy companies as well as the environmental organizationsthat have doggedly pushed the state’s tech firms to go green. Until now, California firms that have seen the light on renewables have found it surprisingly hard to green their in-state power sources, as I have written here and here. But if the amended SB 286 can become law, these firms can become real drivers of the state’s clean-energy transition. They will be able to demonstrate their environmental leadership where it counts most — at home in California.

California Set To Give Solar Panels To Low-Income Families For Free

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California is the best state in the country if you want to go solar – but only if you’re rich enough. Due to the steep upfront costs of around $15,000, only those from middle- to upper-income families can afford to install solar arrays. A novel initiative is, however, looking to change that. This new project hopes to help disadvantaged communities see the sun in a different light.

Using money raised by the government to help fight global warming, the Grid Alternativesproject aims to get polluting companies to pay for putting solar panels on the roofs of those who cannot afford them. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the plan is to use the cap-and-trade money raised by the state from companies who have to pay per ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The cost to the disadvantaged families: nothing.

Grid Alternatives has been made project manager of the $162 million Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) project, the country’s first dedicated solar repayment system for low-income families. They want to install solar arrays to over 1,600 homes by the end of next year. Using job-training programs and donations from solar companies, they aim to keep the costs as low as possible. Whilst it is totally free for the families getting them installed on their houses, they do ask that the families either offer to feed the crew, or help them install the panels.

The state government in California will use $14.7 million raised through the cap-and-trade system, aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, to use toward installing solar arrays. In total, the cap-and-trade system has totted up to an impressive $1.6 billion.

By ploughing at least 10% of this money back into solar, the project aims to kill two birds with one stone – saving lower income families money, whilst also making big fossil fuel polluting companies help cut energy emissions in the state even further.

Anyone who is currently living in a neighborhood in California that is classed as disadvantaged is qualified to apply to get the arrays installed. Grid Alternatives predicts that it could save individual families up to $1,000 a year, which they hope could then be spent on other essentials such as food. The sun sets on the initiative in 2021, so if you’re living in the state, you might want to jump on board soon.

 

Campbell: City looking into community choice aggregation

The city of Campbell reportedly was set to deliver a signed resolution to Sunnyvale before April 30 agreeing to participate in a feasibility study for a plan that could bring more choices when bringing power to the city.

Campbell along with the cities and towns of Los Altos, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Milpitas and many others are investigating the possibility of forming a Community Choice Aggregation in the South Bay. Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Mountain View and unincorporated parts of the Santa Clara County are currently partner cities that are discussing the risks, opportunities and costs associated with having new cities join.

The communities formed would have the option to purchase electricity from developers and competitive alternative-energy suppliers. PG&E would still continue to deliver power and customer billing, according to staff’s report. If customers do not want to participate, there is an opt-out option.

Established by law in seven states and authorized by AB 118 in California, CCA’s allow local governments or groups of them to pool the electricity demand of their residential, business and municipal accounts in order to purchase or develop power on their behalf, according to the April 21 city staff report.

CCAs in California typically seek competitive or cheaper electricity rates, consumer choice, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, new renewable power development, new jobs and energy programs for communities.

If the cities choose to form a CCA, then they will be able to judge their residents’ energy needs and find the right alternative energy source for residents.

According to the city staff report, a study is scheduled for release some time later in May.

“Once the study comes back, then the cities will come together and discuss what the findings are,” Aki Snelling, the city’s planning manager, told the council on April 21.

Snelling added that the cities of Gilroy, Saratoga, Los Altos and Campbell have agreed to participate in the study. Confirmation from Los Gatos had not been announced as of the April 21 meeting.

Two cities currently operate a Community Choice Aggregation: Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power.

For more information visit leanenergyus.org.

Supervisors consider community choice aggregation program to reduce power costs for county residents, businesses

LAKEPORT, Calif. – On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors is set to consider a contract with a Windsor-based firm to provide a program that would allow the county to save residents money on power costs while increasing the mix of renewable and green power that’s used locally.

The agreement with California Clean Power Corp. is timed for 9:20 a.m. during the board’s meeting on Tuesday in the board chambers on the first floor of the Lake County Courthouse, 255 N. Forbes St., Lakeport.

California Clean Power Corp., http://cacleanpower.com/ , is offering the county community choice aggregation services. Community choice aggregation, which was set up under state law, allows jurisdictions like counties and cities to purchase or generate electricity for businesses and residents, while power continues to be delivered through existing utility systems by investor-owned utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric.

Last week, the board heard a presentation by Peter Rumble, chief executive officer of California Clean Power Corp., on the proposal. The discussion starts two hours and 47 minutes into the video shown above.

He explained that the genesis of community choice aggregation programs was the energy crisis in 2000; the state’s goal was to use community choice to protect communities in a market dominated by PG&E. Rumble said currently there are programs in Sonoma and Marin counties, and the city of Lancaster.

His company was formed after a team of experts – which now composes its leadership – saw a great need for a company to help communities establish their own community choice aggregation programs.

“Community choice is the ability for local communities to control where their energy comes from,” and isn’t about creating generation assets or becoming a power company, he said. “The delivery of power remains exactly the same.”

The transition is seamless, said Rumble. “The only thing you get is lower rates, cleaner power and money that stays in the community.”

His company generated a feasibility report for the county to consider. California Clean Power won’t require the county to go out and get financing for startup costs or ongoing infrastructure operation. He said all of that infrastructure is provided under the proposed public-private partnership.

Rumble said the Board of Supervisors would control the benefits, determine the mix of renewable power and control the revenues that come in from the program. There would need to be at least one annual meeting to set rates.

In Lake County’s case, Rumble said his firm is proposing rates for Lake County residents that would be 2-percent below PG&E’s rates. Those lower rates – set for the life of the proposed 10-year contract – would equate to $750,000 a year in savings, Rumble said.

In addition, the county would get a 33-percent renewable power mix in its energy portfolio, which he said would put it about five years ahead of state mandates to increase renewable power use.

As part of the contract, the county would be guaranteed to receive $2 million annually in revenue, with Rumble explaining that those funds would be unrestricted. In the case of Marin and Sonoma counties, Rumble said they have chosen to channel those funds into energy efficiency program.

If the board approves the contract, Rumble said that beginning this December and into the early months of 2016 his firm would get a program up and running that’s specifically tailored to Lake County’s needs.

Rumble’s firm will oversee the program’s ongoing operation, including regulatory filings, and handle public outreach. “There’s a lot of day-to-day that goes into operating a community choice program.”

He said his firm makes money if it does a good job managing the program. The company takes on the market risk by contractually guaranteeing the county’s benefits.

Even in the worst case scenario – in which California Clean Power goes away – county residents and businesses would simply return to the existing service with PG&E, with no penalties or repercussions, Rumble said. “You really are taking on very, very little risk.”

Board Chair Anthony Farrington said county staff has been working to shape a proposal. He asked what’s not to like about reducing utility rates for ratepayers, moving from fossil fuels to at least 33 percent renewable and green energy, and giving local geothermal and solar sources priority, with the county able to consider doing its own energy project down the line.

He said the $2 million in estimated revenue was “very historic,” adding, “This is a very big, broad, bold vision.”

Supervisor Jim Comstock asked if the power can be purchased from anywhere. Rumble said yes; he added that the county can prioritize purchasing power from local resources and isn’t obligated to purchase it from PG&E.

Supervisor Jim Steele said he was concerned about the proposal moving forward too fast, with not enough public input. “We need a public engagement effort. I would not want to go forward next week.”

He said he saw a conflict of interest with Rumble’s firm completing the feasibility study, with Rumble replying that they worked hard to present an impartial feasibility report. Regarding community engagement, Rumble said his company was happy to move forward in the way the county wanted. “This is really your call, your program.”

Steele said during the discussion that he was taking the stance based on his community outreach efforts. “The board gets criticized a lot for what he public doesn’t understand, and this is a huge change in direction for the county.”

Farrington questioned at what point in time Steele would decide there was enough public outreach, adding the program has been analyzed by county staff and there exists an opt-out component to program for residents who don’t want reduced utility rates.

Steele said the devil is in the details. “This just looks too smooth, that’s all that I’m saying.”

He asked Rumble what outreach effort took place in other counties. Rumble said Sonoma and Marin counties undertook “multiple year” community engagement efforts, but Lancaster’s was much quicker, lasting under a year.

Steele wanted Rumble to commit to a town hall meeting in each of the five supervisorial districts, which Rumble said he would do, but Farrington raised issue with whether there would be such town halls held in districts other than Steele’s.

He said approving the agreement didn’t end public engagement, with Steele replying that public input needed to take place before it came back to the board. “This just seems like the kind of thing that gets us in trouble,” Steele said.

Supervisor Jeff Smith called the proposal a “no-brainer,” adding that his constituents elected him to look for ways to save money whenever possible. As such, he wanted to move forward quickly to prevent his constituents from losing savings.

“We could take everything that comes before us and completely vet it and i don’t think we’d get anything done,” Smith said.

Comstock said he wouldn’t have supported the plan if it meant adding a large number of staff to run the program, and noted that he thought the opt-out provision was “huge.”

Supervisor Rob Brown said the program would allow the county to support Calpine and The Geysers geothermal steamfield by purchasing power from the company.

Brown said he was prepared to move forward. “I don’t want to minimize public input at all, but I’ve also seen how it works just the opposite. we could be here two years from now still having this discussion,” he said, adding he’s not willing to let that happen.

Running a quick calculation based on the projected savings, Brown said Lake County residents and businesses pay $37 million a year for utilities. “I’m not waiting for them to save money. We need to do this as soon as we possibly can.”

Special Districts Administrator Mark Dellinger told the board that he’s been involved with the program review, and he noted that the county government is one of the largest consumers of electricity in Lake County. At the same time, it also owns one of the largest public solar installations.

He said California Clean Power has technical expertise to help the county dig in and look at purchasing its solar facilities, which in turn would allow the county to generate surplus power and make it available locally.

“It’s a significant thing from my perspective,” Dellinger said.

Brown said the program offers an opportunity for county facilities and schools to have further reduced rates, with Farrington adding that there also is the opportunity for the cities of Clearlake and Lakeport to implement similar programs.

Lakeport resident Heather Powers wanted there to be a community engagement process, adding there should be a lot of investigation. Farrington responded that he was comfortable moving forward because of the opt-out option.

Steele said he wanted to hold at least one town hall in his district before moving forward. Farrington asked him about his conflict concerns regarding California Clean Power’s feasibility study.

“Read the feasibility study,” Steele said.

“I did,” Farrington replied.

“We have consultants and contractors come before this board all the time providing their own analysis. You’ve done that,” Farrington said, referring to Steele’s work as a consultant for the county on quagga and zebra mussel prevention before he ran for office.

“I did not come to this county with any proposal. The county came to me and asked me. That’s a difference,” said Steele.

Farrington replied, “How many town hall meeting did we have?”

Steele insisted that the county came to him. “I did not,” Farrington said.

“The hell you didn’t,” said Steele, adding he should ask Water Resources Director Scott De Leon. “He was the one who did. And by the way, I didn’t take any pay for that.”

Comstock asked if residents can opt out at any time, “The short answer is yes,” said Rumble, noting there are some windows for opting in and out based on how the program was set up by the state to work.

Rumble noted during the discussion that the community choice program “is very, very popular, no matter where it’s at.”

County Administrative Officer Matt Perry told the board that the ordinance would need two readings, so the soonest it could be approved was two weeks out – putting final approval possible at the board’s first June meeting.

Brown, Comstock, Farrington and Smith agreed by consensus to have the proposed ordinance brought back for its first reading on Tuesday.

Birthday for the Wind Turbine that Shook the World; FITs in Vietnam, Turkey, Egypt & Mauritius; Why Solar Costs Less in Germany than in the US

By Paul Gipe

News on Wind Energy

May 9, 2015,   by Paul GipeMay 30th Danish wind pioneers are gathering at the Tvind school in northwest Jutland to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the start of construction for the world’s oldest operating wind turbine–Tvindkraft.[more]

News on Nuclear & Renewable Energy Policy

May 17, 2015,   by Karl-Friedrich LenzIt would work exactly like the successful solar tariff, with one small change. There would be a cap on the fossil fuel electricity bought under the system. That cap would be calculated from the already existing goals for renewable. Look at the renewable goal, subtract that from 100 percent, and you get the cap for fossil fuel under the feed-in tariff.

May 15, 2015,   by Dave TokeUsing the Government’s own contract prices for nuclear power and wind power we can demonstrate how nuclear power is more expensive than both onshore wind AND offshore wind.

May 8, 2015,   by Alan SimpsonFormer parliamentarian Alan Simpson bemoans the paucity of serious debates of public paucity in the recent British election concluded today. Beginning in Churchillian tones, he laments “What infuriated me most about this general election was that never has so much been missed by so many.”[more]

April 30, 2015,   by Craig MorrisSo the auction has just resulted in a large group of losers, a higher price than with feed-in tariffs, and a two-year postponement of the roughly 150 megawatts just awarded.

April 29, 2015,   by Craig MorrisIn a nutshell, the UK overpays wind power in particular because big utilities with big expectations for returns run the show, whereas new players and communities have largely driven the German wind sector up to now – and they were more interested in getting the transition moving than in increasing their personal profits.

April 29, 2015,   by Sheila PrattWhile political parties differ widely on their approach, most call for phasing out coal-fired electricity

News on Feed-in Tariffs

May 18, 2015,   by Voice of America”There’s nothing that can make up for a feed-in tariff that’s in the single digits,” said Daniel Potash, chief of party at the Private Financing Advisory Network for Asia program, under the U.S. Agency for International Development.

May 16, 2015,   by Chetan ChauhanGermany was one of the first countries to allow grid-connected solar rooftops by the way of feed in tariff, which meant that people got more money for the green power they generated than the power they consumed.

May 12, 2015,Under the current setup, companies with end consumers make a monthly contribution towards the feed-in tariff which is set in US dollars and paid in Turkish lira at the exchange rate on the day of settlement.

May 11, 2015,   by Craig MorrisHere, we see that the price of a completely installed solar array has been and continues to be considerably cheaper in Germany than in the US. The gap seems to have been around two dollars all along. Now that the price in Germany has fallen to two dollars, solar is now twice as expensive in the US as it is in Germany.

May 11, 2015,They spoke at a seminar styled ‘Feed-in Tariff (FIT) regulations: promotion and development of renewable energy in Bangladesh’, co-organised by the Dhaka University’s Institute of Energy, The Asia Foundation and Australian Aid.

May 7, 2015,The ‘Removal of Barriers to Energy Efficiency and Conservation in Buildings in Mauritius’ project is a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-implemented, Global Environment Facility (GEF)-financed project . . . Feed-in-Tariff for small scale producers of electricity and the setting up of the EEMO.

May 7, 2015,   by Verity RatcliffeCairo has therefore decided to introduce feed-in tariffs for renewable energy projects. Under the new system, private companies will receive a fixed tariff for the power they produce from renewable resources.

May 4, 2015,   by Piotr MrowiecWhile the EU countries are witnessing a retreat from feed-in tariffs, Poland is for the first time in history introducing feed-in tariffs to support its renewable energy sector.

April 30, 2015,   by Karl-Friedrich LenzSo I noted with interest the failure of the first test case for the auction model. The auction price turned out to be above what the current feed-in tariff is, as this article at PV Magazine explains. Those first 154.97 MW will be built at €0.917per kWh, which is higher than the current €0.0902 of the feed-in tariff.

April 29, 2015,   by Alena Mae S. FloresThe Energy Regulatory Commission approved a solar feed-in tariff of P8.69 per kilowatt for an additional capacity of 450 megawatts

News on Electric Vehicles

May 13, 2015,   by Paul GipeAs part of our continuing exploration of the Nissan Leaf’s range, we took a one-day get-a-way and drove up to scenic Kernville deep in the heart of the southern Sierra Nevada.[more]

May 12, 2015,   by Paul GipeWe had about a dozen cars, so there’s a dozen drivers there. Leafs, MiEV, two BMWi3s, a Ford, Rav 4, and a Tesla. There was quite a line up of vehicles–the Tesla attracting the most attention naturally.[more]

May 7, 2015,The California Energy Commission has updated the locations of DC Fast Chargers in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. [more]

May 2, 2015,   by Kevin MershonHow the traction battery of a plug-in hybrid may have saved a life.[more]

News on Community Power

May 18, 2015,   by Craig MorrisThis month, construction of the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm was completed. In the next few months, three 3 MW Enercon wind turbines are expected to start power production. A comparison with a recent German committee project is illustrative.

May 11, 2015,   by Craig MorrisA few weeks ago, 360 German citizens completed and 82.3 MW wind farm consisting of 24 wind turbines. The project even included a transformer station, which the community project financed completely on its own.

March 18, 2015,In Germany, citizen cooperatives have long been investing in the production of renewable energies and some are now looking at how to buy back the energy grid from the energy companies. They failed to do so in Berlin, but have succeeded in Hamburg, creating a new business model that many other countries would like to emulate.


 

Marin Clean Energy focused on promoting local power projects as it celebrates its fifth service year

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By Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal

Marin Clean Energy officials are highlighting the joint power authority’s efforts to stimulate the creation of local renewable energy projects and local jobs as the authority celebrates its fifth year and the opening of its new San Rafael headquarters.

“Survival of the agency is no longer at issue,” said Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly, a Marin Clean Energy board member. “The debate has changed; now it’s about continuing to meet goals and benchmarks that we set for ourselves.”

Marin Clean Energy is the first successful attempt in California to launch a new, public model for providing electricity to residents. It was founded to jump-start the use of renewable energy sources by stimulating demand; it offers customers the opportunity to buy electricity that is supplied by 50 to 100 percent renewable sources. It competes with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. as a retailer of electricity, but PG&E continues to maintain power lines and other electrical power infrastructure.

Marin Clean Energy serves about 137,500 customers in Marin County, the city of Richmond and the unincorporated areas of Napa County. It is adding the cities of San Pablo, Benicia and El Cerrito and expects to have a total of about 165,000 members by the end of this month.

Marin Supervisor Kate Sears, who heads Marin Clean Energy’s board of directors, said “we are extremely proud to announce that 10 new local projects will be providing service for our customers.”

Sears said that since Marin Clean Energy began serving customers it has generated more than 2,400 California jobs. She said Marin Clean Energy’s new solar projects will create more than 750,000 union work hours in just 12 months.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said, “I’m especially excited about the new clean energy production that is now under construction here locally. That has always been one of the better parts of the promise of Marin Clean Energy, and it’s happening now.”

The agency has its naysayers, however. Jim Phelps of Novato, who has worked as a consultant to the electric and petrochemical industries, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, which represents PG&E’s electrical workers, have hammered MCE for its use of renewable energy certificates, typically referred to as RECs. RECs are tradable commodities that certify that 1 megawatt-hour of electricity has been generated from an eligible renewable energy resource.

Critics of the use of RECs assert that they are priced too low to effectively stimulate the creation of new, renewable energy production. Marin Clean Energy and others who use RECs acknowledge their shortcomings but say they are currently the only game in town.

Projects announced Thursday will produce about 63,000 megawatt hours per year, sufficient energy to meet the average electricity consumption of about 10,400 Marin Clean Energy residential customers, said Jamie Tuckey, a Marin Clean Energy spokeswoman.

In most cases, Marin Clean Energy has encouraged development of the projects by agreeing to purchase a certain amount of electricity at a specified price over the next 20 to 25 years. The largest project, 30,000 megawatt hours per year, is being financed by Waste Management and will convert landfill gas at Redwood Landfill in Novato to energy. The project is scheduled to begin generating energy this year and the contract is for 20 years.

The second-largest project, 19,800 megawatt hours per year, is slated to go online this year on land in Richmond that Marin Clean Energy will lease from Chevron. Marin Clean Energy is investing $125,000 from its local renewable development fund to help cover predevelopment costs for this project. Marin Clean Energy has an agreement to purchase the project from developer Stion in its seventh year.

Four of the projects will be in Novato, and one will be in Larkspur. The Larkspur project, 600 megawatt hours per year, will be a rooftop solar project.

Connolly said that since Marin Clean Energy began serving customers it has doubled the amount of renewable energy purchased for homes and businesses in its region, reduced greenhouse emissions by 59,421 tons, sourced green power from more than 30 California suppliers and saved customers more than $5.9 million in energy supply costs last year alone.

Marin Clean Energy, which has 23 full-time employees, celebrated its service anniversary with a party at its new headquarters at 1125 Tamalpais Ave. in San Rafael. It has moved from a 2,188-square-foot space to offices with 10,710 square feet. The meeting room in the new headquarters is named after former Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan, one of Marin Clean Energy’s founders who died of a sudden heart attack in 2011.

Connolly said Marin Clean Energy would not exist today if not for McGlashan’s “passionate dedication and leadership.”