Author Archives: John Farrell

Big Wind Farms Cost More Than Small Ones

October 20th, 2011 | by John Farrell

It seems obvious: every extra turbine in a wind farm comes at a lower incremental cost, making the biggest wind power projects the most cost effective. If you bet $20 on that proposition, you just lost $


Utility Fights Dirty in City’s Battle for Clean, Local Energy

October 19th, 2011 | by John Farrell

In just three weeks, citizens of Boulder, Colo., will vote on whether to begin a big, formal process to unplug from Xcel Energy’s system and plug into local energy self-reliance. The vote to form a municipal electric utility could set a precedent for communities across the United States to keep millions of dollars local instead of sending them to remote electric utilities each year


SolarShare Bonds Let Citizens Make Money and Finance Local Solar

October 10th, 2011 | by John Farrell

You’re an earth-friendly person and want to go solar, but a large tree shades your house; or you’re a renter; or you don’t have $20,000 to drop on a solar power system. Or maybe you just want to get more than 0.5% interest on your savings account while getting a piece of the clean energy economy


Local Solar Could Power the Mountain West Right Now, All of America in 2026

October 7th, 2011 | by John Farrell

The Germans have installed over 10,000 megawatts of solar panels in the past two years, enough to power 2 million American homes (or most of Los Angeles, CA). If Americans installed local solar at the same torrid pace, we could already power most of the Mountain West, could have a 100 percent solar nation by 2026, while enriching thousands of local communities with new development and jobs


Can Cash Payments Win Over Wind Project Opponents?

October 3rd, 2011 | by John Farrell

A 50-turbine wind farm in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota has met with stiff local resistance, a frequent tale in the wind industry. Recently, the project developer won a key court case to move forward, after making concessions about the distance ("setback") between the wind farm and local homes. However, many residents remained unconvinced that the project was in their best interest


German Small Solar Cheaper Than U.S. Big Solar

September 28th, 2011 | by John Farrell

The U.S. has a hodge-podge of utility, state and federal tax-based incentives. The Germans have a comprehensive feed-in tariff, providing CLEAN contracts (in the U.S. parlance) to anyone who wants to go solar (or wind, or biogas, etc). What does that mean for the price of solar


Could California Save 30% or More on Solar Power?

September 14th, 2011 | by John Farrell

The Golden State has covered over 50,000 roofs with solar PV in the past decade, but could it also save 30% or more on its current solar costs? Renewable energy guru Paul Gipe wrote up a study last month that found that Californians pay much more per kilowatt-hour of solar power than Germans do (accounting for the difference in the solar resource). The following chart outlines the various ways Californians pay for solar, compared to the Germans (averaged over 20 years, per kilowatt-hour – kWh – produced)


Energy Self-Reliance Worth 20 Times the Economic Benefit for Missouri

September 6th, 2011 | by John Farrell

In a stunning reversal of popular wisdom, overzealous state legislators and interest groups are jeopardizing over $4 billion in economic activity and thousands of jobs promised in Missouri’s 3-year old renewable energy law. Missourians should override their mistaken legislators, reaffirming their commitment to local renewable energy and even consider the benefits of maximizing the state’s clean electricity production


Mapping Solar PV CLEAN Contracts in the U.S.

August 25th, 2011 | by John Farrell

The price of solar is dropping fast, opening new opportunities for community-scale renewable energy across the country. But despite the improving economics and tremendously sunnier skies, the United States lags far behind Germany in installing new solar power. The biggest difference is policy. The U.S. has two major federal incentives (a 30% tax credit and accelerated depreciation) for solar power, and a few state programs for solar power. Germany and most other developed countries use a feed-in tariff for renewable energy, a policy responsible for three-quarters of the world’s solar power capacity


Solar PV Makes Most Sense at Modest Size

August 18th, 2011 | by John Farrell

Is bigger better when building solar PV power plants? When looking at historic data in the U.S., no. But when considering other sources, perhaps. Ultimately, “community scale” solar is likely to provide the best combination of affordability, speed, and opportunity for local economic benefit


Gas is Greener? Smearing Renewables Over Land Use Exposes Ignorance of Fossil Fuel Lovers

August 15th, 2011 | by John Farrell

A recent column in the New York Times suggested that land use is the greatest environmental problem facing new renewable energy. While getting the facts terribly wrong, it opens a door to talk about the advantages of distributed generation rather than large, central-station power generation. A prime example is a unique proposal by Republic Solar Highways to put solar PV on highway right-of-way in California


When Picking Solar Power Options, It’s the Water, Stupid

August 5th, 2011 | by John Farrell

Concentrating solar has promised big additions to renewable energy production with the additional benefit of energy storage - saving sun power for nighttime - but there's a catch. Most of the new power plants are big water users despite being planned for desert locations


Solar Gardens Sprouting Everywhere

August 3rd, 2011 | by John Farrell

Community solar projects (called "solar gardens" under a new Colorado law) are blooming like wildflowers in spring, reports the Solar Gardens Institute. The 2010 state law, discussed in the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Community Solar Power report, creates a new legal structure for community solar projects and requires utilities to buy 6 megawatts (MW) of energy from community solar projects by the end of


Local Ownership Means Local Love for Wind Power

July 29th, 2011 | by John Farrell

A new article in the journal Energy Policy supports the notion that local ownership is key to overcoming local resistance to renewable energy. The article summarizes a survey conducted of two towns in Germany, both with local wind projects, but only one that was locally owned. The results are summarized in this chart


Cooperative South Dakota Wind Farm Nets 600 Local Owners

July 26th, 2011 | by John Farrell

With the right renewable energy policy, hundreds of individuals can have a stake in a renewable energy future. That's what happened with a cooperatively-owned wind project in South Dakota, where 7 turbines from a larger wind project are shared by over 600 local investors


Big Banks Inflate Solar Project Value to Boost Tax Credits

July 18th, 2011 | by John Farrell

Solar leasing has offered thousands of homeowners a “no money down” route to go solar, broadening participation in the distributed generation revolution. Unfortunately, this revolution has been co-opted by high finance. Big banks have been able to write off millions in taxes by over-reporting the cost of financed solar PV projects in what may be the country’s next banking scandal


31 States Can be Self-Sufficient with Local Renewable Energy

July 14th, 2011 | by John Farrell

The following map was the headline graphic to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's 2009 report, Energy Self-Reliant States, unveiling the enormous potential for each state to meet its own electricity needs internally. I re-created the map for web viewing, so it's now even easier to share how each state can meet its electricity consumption with in-state renewable energy resources


Support Local Wind Power on Your Utility Bill?

July 14th, 2011 | by John Farrell

Although Americans overwhelmingly support renewable energy, it's usually much harder to find a way to support the development of renewables close to home. This innovative proposal offered last session in the Minnesota state legislature could change that


When Is It Time to Break Up with Your Utility?

July 12th, 2011 | by John Farrell

When is it time to break up with your utility? Perhaps it’s when they come to ratepayers for $30 million in cost overruns on a “free” smart grid project. Or when they fail to meet deadlines to propose a new franchise agreement. Or when they cite national security in an effort to avoid sharing load information. Or when they crash your office with 9 employees to present their delayed franchise plan. Or perhaps when the propose raising rates again to keep up with rising fossil fuel prices


We Don’t Need More Electricity, Just Cleaner Electricity

July 7th, 2011 | by John Farrell

The United States doesn't need another nuclear or coal power plant. Instead, it's time to abandon our 20th century electricity system, dominated by large, centralized utilities, for a 21st century electricity system: a network of independently owned and widely dispersed renewable energy producers



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