Category Archives: Solutions

In Europe, Renewables Come First — Fossils/Baseload Suffer

In the United States intermittent power such as wind and solar must be curtailed (thrown away) when current demand does not meet existing baseload power generation.  In other words, the burning of coal at coal plants, the leading source for energy generation in the U.S., is not something that can be easily ramped up or down:  it is an expensive and time-intensive process to turn down a coal plant and, therefore, coal is burned to meet a baseload rate constantly.  If wind and solar are available, but the baseload of coal power exceeds demand, the renewable energy sources suffer, not the fossil fuels.

However, in Europe, it is the other way around.  Europe’s biggest power markets give preference to renewable energy which is  forcing some utilities to use their fossil-fuel plants less.  “With Europe’s wind and solar farms set to triple by 2020, utilities investing in new coal and gas-fired power stations no longer face stable returns. As more renewables come on line, a gas  that may cost $1 billion to build will be stopped more often from running at full capacity.”

“Even by 2014, gross profit from burning coal in Germany may skid by as much as 41 percent, according to Barclays Plc.”

European renewables are largely being driven by a policy mechanism called Feed In Tariffs (FITs).  FITs are subsidized power rates given to renewable energy developments.  “Britain plans to install more than 8,000 offshore wind turbines by 2020 to get 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources. Germany installed 7.4 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity last year, the most of any nation, driving total capacity to 17,200 megawatts. Spain aims to get 20.8 percent of its total energy from marine energy, geothermal and offshore wind projects, as well as hydropower, by 2020.”

Government Investments in Renewables Significantly Lower than “Traditional” Energy Sources; Solar Company, Solyndra, Fails

Solyndra, the Fremont, Calif.-based thin-film manufacturer that received a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to ramp up to a 450-megawatt (MW) factory, declared bankruptcy in August of 2011.

With the downfall of Solyndra, doubt in American capability to compete globally in renewable energy development was a leading headline.  However, according to the American Solar Energy Society  “It’s not that Western manufacturers can’t make competitive, well-made products. The problem is that they can’t get competitive financing.”

The price for pure polysilicon, the raw material for Solyndra’s novel, thin-film solar panels, had dropped 85%  from its competitive price of $250/pound four years ago.   This significant drop in cost, by in large, has been attributed to China’s influence on the global market and their vigorous investments in solar manufacturing.

Since January 2010, Chinese banks have offered Chinese solar companies a staggering $40.7 billion.  In comparison, solar manufacturers in the United States have received $1.4 billion in DOE loans since roughly the same time.  This lack of front-end investment in the United States’ renewable energy industry is making global competition in many clean energy developments increasingly difficult.  Read more on China and America investment in renewable energy and its impact on Solyndra at this American Solar Energy Society.

According to the 2011 report from the venture capital firm, DBL Investors, “[In the United States], all new energy industries – timber, coal, oil and gas, nuclear – have received substantial government support at a pivotal time in their early growth, creating millions of jobs and significant economic growth. Subsidies for these ‘traditional’ energy sources were many, many times what [the U.S.] is spending today on renewables.” According to the same report, “America’s support for energy innovation has helped drive U.S. growth for more than 200 years, yet government support for new energy sources is much lower today than it has been at any other point in U.S. history.”

Even with the bankruptcy of Solyndra, however, consumers are still showing strong support for investment in renewable energy research and development.  In a bipartisan study conducted in Oct, 2011, “62 percent of U.S. residents favored investments in clean energy, while only 31 percent thought that such an investment was a waste of taxpayer money.”  Read more results of the poll showing bipartisan support for clean energy investment.

Update–Windsource Transparent Recalculation Postponed

Submitted by Leslie Glustrom on December 28, 2010 – 12:50am

Many supporters of Clean Energy Action are subscribers to Xcel’s “Windsource” program. In recent years, the “Windsource” program has been modified to include not just  wind but also solar and other clean energy sources that are used to meet Xcel’s Renewable Energy Portfolio standard under Colorado law. Consequently, the quotations around the “Windsource” name reflect that “Windsource” can also be providing solar or other non-wind clean energy sources.

The cost of Windsource is approximately $2 per 100 kwh–or about 2 cents/kwh. This is close to a 20% bill impact (on a 10 cent/kwh) charge while Xcel is meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard with less than a 2% bill impact, as called for in Colorado law. The reason why Windsource has a 20% bill impact while meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard has only a 2% rate impact are unclear.

In Docket 09A-772E I worked hard to understand how the Windsource premium was calculated. Despite numerous questions (called “Discovery Requests”) to Xcel and many days of hearing and cross-examination, the basis for the $2 per 100 kwh charge was still completely unclear.

Both the Administrative Law Judge and the full Public Utility Commission agreed that the “Windsource” calculation was not clear and in two separate decisions Xcel was directed to recalculate the “Windsource” premium as part of its 2011 Renewable Energy Standard filing.

After the issuance of these decisions calling for Xcel to recalculate the “Windsource” premium, Xcel asked the Commission to excuse it from filing a 2011 Renewable Energy Standard plan and the Commission granted Xcel’s request. As a result, the recalculation of the “Windsource” premium in a transparent fashion has again been postponed until at least Xcel’s 2012 Renewable Energy Standard filing expected in May 2011 with testimony and hearings expected to last through much of 2011.

Xcel was directed to make a “compliance” filing of the Windsource calculation, which it did on December 14, 2010 and that filing is attached. Once again, the numbers in Attachment B of this compliance filing are completely unclear–particularly Columns 2 and 3 which are the incremental costs and the incremental GWh (Gigawatt hours) for the Windsource program–but which do not have any supporting spreadsheets or calculations.

Xcel’s compliance filing from December 14, 2010 shows (on Attachment B) that the Windsource premium should be about $1.86 per 100 kwh (instead of the $2.12 per 100 kwh that is being charged) but since the difference between the two rates is less than 20%, Xcel does not have to make a change to its “Windsource” premium.

The key decisions in the 09A-772E docket are attached and the key “Windsource” provisions are summarized below. All documents in the 09A-772E docket can be found by searching the PUC website for the 09A-772E docket number and specifying that it is for the electric industry.

Recommended Decision R10-0586 (June 11, 2010)–See Paragraph 135 on page 32 for the Adminstrative Law Judge’s decision that Xcel should recalculate the Windsource premium.

Decision C10-1033 (September 23, 2010)–See Paragraph 12 on page 5 and Paragraph 43 on page 14 for the full Commission’s decision requiring Xcel to “clearly explain how the Windsource premium is calculated”  in the 2011 Renewable Energy Standard filing.

Decision C10-1221 (November 10, 2010)–See Paragraphs 8-11 on pages 3-4 allowing Xcel to not submit a 2011 Renewable Energy Standard filing and allowing Xcel to recalculate the “Windsource” premium in a “compliance filing.” Compliance filings are not typically subject to questioning or cross-examination.

At this time it appears that it will likely be late 2011 before the Commission will once again rule on whether the “Windsource” premium has been calculated in a transparent and proper fashion.

[The CEA website is having problems with file attachments. Please contact Clean Energy Action or Leslie Glustrom if you would like the documents discussed in this blog. Thank you.]

Constuction Begins on the World’s Largest Solar-Thermal Plant in CA’s Mojhave Desert

Submitted by amyguinan on December 21, 2010 – 10:30am

The 370-megawatt solar-thermal Ivanpah project, located just over the California border, 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas, is the world’s largest power plant project currently under construction.  By year’s end, California and federal regulators expect to approve additional projects that will produce a total of 4,143 megawatts. At peak output, that’s the equivalent of several nuclear power plants and more than seven times the solar capacity installed in the United States last year.

The power plants licensed so far will cover some 39 square miles of desert land with a variety of new and old solar thermal technologies. Unlike rooftop photovoltaic panels that directly convert sunlight into electricity, solar thermal uses the sun to heat liquids to create steam that drives electricity-generating industrial turbines.

BrightSource, the company behind the construction of Ivanpah, received a $1.37 billion loan guarantee from the United States Department of Energy to build the project, which will deploy 347,000 large mirrors that will surround three towers on 3,500 acres of federal land. The mirrors will focus the sun on a water-filled boiler that sits atop the tower to create high-temperature, high-pressure steam.

According to BrightSource CEO, John Woolard, “In the U.S. we’re lucky. The southwestern U.S. has high desert, which means it’s closer to the sun, less atmosphere to go through. It’s the best solar resource anywhere, outside the Atacama Desert in Chile or a few places. Harnessing that resource effectively is the most important thing. So we don’t have a quantity and energy problem; it’s a collection and distribution problem.”

Colorado Citizens Spoke, Governor Ritter Listened

Submitted by amyguinan on December 16, 2010 – 4:47pm

Colorado Governor, Bill Ritter, has been named America’s greenest Governor for his leadership efforts in transitioning Colorado to a “new energy economy” and Colorado citizens can take pride in knowing their bottom up activism related to clean energy and job creation was heard at the state level and helped to drive policy.

In a recent interview, Governor Ritter stated that “cultivating a competitive edge in energy and sustainable development is what we should be doing” and that these goals meet job creation and environmental concerns – both of which Colorado citizens has expressed concerns about.

Amendment 37, approved by Governor Ritter, sets Colorado’s renewable energy standard at 30% by 2020 – one of the highest standards in the country.  Furthermore, Ritter supports HB-1365 and belives that a transition off of coal and onto renewables or natural gas helps to address human-caused climate change and improves energy security.

In addressing citizen concerns about the stalemate in a national clean energy policy, Ritter said, “This isn’t Democrats versus Republicans so much as lobbyists and special interests standing in the way. If you see someone opposed to something like energy efficiency, they are probably hanging onto an industry that has seen its day.”

For more information on Governor Ritter’s new energy economy plans, click here: http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2010/12/06/americas-greenest-governor-discusses-smart-growth-clean-energy