Iowa: The #1 Solar Utility in America. Iowa? Kudos to Iowa!

by John Farrell.

It may be one of the oldest cooperative utilities in the country, but in the next six months, Farmers Electric Cooperative (FEC) of southeastern Iowa will be leading the nation in this 21st century energy source. Upon completion of a new solar array, the 640-member cooperative will have over 1,500 Watts of solar per customer on their system, nearly double the #2 utility. It’s also the most reliable utility in Iowa. How can a small, member-owned utility be “America’s Most Progressive Utility“?

Find out in this interview with FEC Manager Warren McKenna, recorded via Skype, on November 18, 2013.

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Flexibility

Unlike many small cooperative or municipal utilities, Farmers Electric Cooperative only buys 30% of its energy on long-term contracts. Instead, McKenna explains, they buy power on the spot market, using local power generation and demand management to avoid price spikes. This leaves them open to buying power from local generators, especially solar.

Creativity

FEC hasn’t limited itself to just one strategy for adding solar to the grid. In fact, they don’t even have net metering, the most common policy for connecting small-scale solar projects.

Instead, they have a feed-in tariff at pays 20¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for solar energy, as long as it’s 25% or less of a customer’s own use. For solar energy produced that is between 25 and 100% of a customer’s monthly usage, customers still get 12.5¢ per kWh (the retail electricity rate for residential customers). Surplus generation is purchased by the utility at 6¢ per kWh.  Participating customers still buy all their electricity from the utility

FEC also has a 25 kW community solar project, selling shares to new customers in phase 2 for just $1.63 per Watt. Current participants can buy additional panels for $2 per Watt.

Finally, the cooperative has also commissioned a new 750 kW solar array which will sell power to the utility for its first 10 years, and the revert to cooperative ownership thereafter.

Participation

Since it’s a cooperative, technically every FEC member is an owner in a local solar project. But ignoring that for the moment, about 20% of the cooperative’s members either have their own solar array, own shares in the community solar project, or participate in the Green Power Project (a $3 per month green pricing program for purchasing local renewable energy).

Replicable?

The big question is, could your local utility do what Farmers Electric is doing?  If your utility happens to be locally owned, says McKenna. Cooperatives are often very open to comments from their members, and if not, you can run for the board.  Municipal utilities are overseen by elected officials, who are always looking for examples of strategies to increase local jobs, particularly from clean energy.

It’s inspiring to see what FEC has accomplished, regardless.  Most of the greenest utilities in the U.S. are among the largest, and Farmers Electric shows that you don’t have to be a big utility to do big things with locally owned renewable energy.

This is the 12th edition of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Senior Researcher John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.

It is published twice monthly, on 1st and 3rd Thursday.  Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes or RSS/XML

Sign up for new podcast notifications and weekly email updates from ILSR’s energy program!

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This article, The #1 Solar Utility Is In…Iowa?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy. John Farrell.John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

Apple Headquarters With Huge Solar Array Gets Final Approval

by Guest Contributor Adam Peck

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Originally published on Climate Progress.

The Cupertino, California city council granted final approval to Apple Inc. on Tuesday for the consumer electronics company to begin construction of a new, 176-acre corporate headquarters.

The building, dubbed Apple Campus 2, will feature the largest solar panel array in the U.S. dedicated to a single corporate campus, and among the largest in the world.

The campus is anchored by a massive, circular building 1200 feet in diameter and providing approximately 2.8 million square feet of office space. That translates to more than 750,000 square feet of space on the building’s roof, nearly all of which will be comprised of solar panels.

Combined with on-site fuel cells and use of grid-purchased renewable energy during peak hours, Apple says that its new campus will be powered 100 percent by renewable energy and will not result in any net additional greenhouse gas emissions.

Apple has emerged as a leader in the tech industry — and among the most notable in the entire corporate world — for its commitment to sustainable energy to power its facilities. Earlier this month, the company announced that its new manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona would also be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, mostly in the form of another large solar panel array to be constructed in the city limits and a separate geothermal power source on site. Its current corporate campus currently utilizes 100 percent renewable energy as well.

The new construction project, including the introduction of the photovoltaic panels, will also add an estimated 7,400 quality jobs to the city of Cupertino and generate an additional $11 million in revenues annually.

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This article, Apple Headquarters With Huge Solar Array Gets Final Approval, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

 

About the Author

Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀

Renewable Energy cost reductions of 50% since 2008

by Silvio Marcacci

That renewable energy is becoming more cost-competitive with fossil fuels isn’t news — as technology improves and more clean power generation comes online, electricity without emissions gets cheaper.

But one new analysis reveals just how shockingly cheap it’s gotten.

The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from wind and solar sources in America has fallen by more than 50% over the past four years, according to Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis 7.0, recently released by global financial advisor and asset manager firm Lazard Freres & Co.

Lazard’s analysis compared the LCOE for various renewable energy technologies to fossil fuels on a cost per megawatt hour (MWh) basis, including factors like US federal tax subsidies, fuel costs, geography, and capital costs.

Unsubsidized LCOE for US energy
Unsubsidized LCOE for US energy graph via Lazard

Utility-Scale Solar, Wind Lead LCOE Charge

The LCOE analysis shows that even during one of the most turbulent times in recent memory for renewables, the environmental and economic benefits of clean energy continue to spur technological innovations and utility-scale deployments across the globe.

According to the analysis, utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) and leading types of wind energy are leading the surge — the LCOE of both power sources has fallen by more than 50% since 2008. Lazard estimates that utility-scale solar PV is now a competitive source of peak energy compared to fossil fuel power in many parts of the world without subsidies.

In fact, Lazard finds certain forms of renewable energy generation are now cost-competitive with many fossil fuel generation sources at an unsubsidized LCOE, even before factoring in externalities like pollution or transmission costs.

Specifically, solar PV and wind energy both fall within the range of $68-$104 per MWh, making them extremely competitive with baseload power from coal ($65-$145 per MWh), nuclear ($86-$122 per MWh), and integrated gasification combined cycle ($95-$154 per MWh).

Financial Incentives, Energy Storage Could Boost Fortunes

The LCOE of electricity from those renewable energy sources falls even further when US federal tax subsidies are included in the equation. Lazard realistically admits incentives are key to pushing renewables toward grid parity without subsidies, but finds wind ($23-$85 per MWh) and thin-film utility scale solar PV ($51-$78 per MWh) especially competitive.

LCOE for US energy with tax subsidies
LCOE for US energy with tax subsidies chart via Lazard

While wind is progressing quite well — generally speaking — against fossil fuel generation in Lazard’s analysis, it could get much cheaper much faster in the near future when combined with energy storage. The report cites numerous examples of existing battery storage combining with off-peak wind production to demonstrate value in load shifting and peak power applications.

And while utility-scale solar PV leads the LCOE charge, rooftop solar PV remains expensive by comparison — a trend evident in recent summaries of the US market. Ironically, Lazard says this may be attributable to the generous combination of multiple levels of tax incentives, which distort resource planning by excluding externalities in long-term outlooks.

Power generation rates for US metro areas
Power generation rates for US metro areas chart via Lazard

Interestingly enough, solar is becoming an economically viable peaking generation source in many geographic regions of the US. This trend is especially apparent in transmission-constrained metropolitan areas like New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Lazard estimates solar could become even more competitive as prices continues to fall, but the observation is somewhat muddled by factors like system reliability, stranded costs of distributed generation for existing systems, and social costs/externalities of rate increases.

“Increasingly Prevalent” Renewable Energy Use

But the most promising potential for the future of renewable energy sources may be their value as distributed small-scale generation. Lazard estimates that the expensive capital construction costs of fossil fuel generation boost their LCOE when utilities consider future resource planning across an integrated system, and make them less cost-competitive — without even considering externalities.

US energy capital cost comparison
US energy capital cost comparison chart via Lazard

Lazard concedes that the future of renewable energy is far from set though, and still faces significant challenges like establishing long-term financing structures in the face of falling subsidy levels, excess manufacturing capacity, and the globalization of markets.

However, renewable energy’s role in America’s energy mix is likely to continue growing despite these challenges, concludes the analysis.

“We find that alternative energy technologies are complementary to conventional generation technologies, and believe that their use will be increasingly prevalent for a variety of reasons.”

This article, Analysis: 50% Reduction In Cost Of Renewable Energy Since 2008, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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Deutsche Bank Predicting Huge Distributed Solar PV Uptake

Top 20 Utility Scale Solar Countries Graph Of The Day

by Giles Parkinson – Special to JBS News

This article originally published on RenewEconomy

The latest update of utility scale solar developments round the world shows that the US has just joined China as the second country to have installed more than 3 GW of “big solar” and will soon be joined by Germany.

But Australia still does not make the big solar top 20 list compiled by Wiki-Solar – although countries such as Ukraine, Portugal, Thailand, the Czech Republic, Peru, Romania and Bulgaria do.

Screen-Shot-2013-09-03-at-8.09.45-AM

[Although there are thousands of small rooftop installations in the country] Australia has only one utility-scale solar installation at present — the Greenough River solar farm in WA — that meets the 10MW qualification for inclusion in the table, although four other projects are due to be built over the next two years. One, the 20MW Royalla project, reached financial close last week and will be the first to obtain bank finance in the country.

Two others are to be built in the ACT under that government’s solar auction program and the other, the 155MW AGL Energy project at Broken Hill and Nyngan, will begin construction next year.

Wiki-Solar says it is thinking of redefining the cut-off for “big solar” to 5MW, given that many projects in Germany and other countries are being built in that range.

If that were to happen,  China, Germany and the USA would still be the only three countries in the 3-4GW range, and India and Spain would rank next with between 1 and 2GW. It would double the number of projects world wide to be included in the table, but would not change Australia’s ranking. It doesn’t have any projects between 1.5MW and 1.0MW either.

This article, Top 20 Utility Scale Solar Countries – Graph Of The Day, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

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