Clean Power 50 Ways to Leave Your Utility

Published on February 9th, 2016 | by John Farrell


Clean Power Plan: 50 Ways To Get More Clean, Local Energy

February 9th, 2016 by  

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Six months ago, the Obama administration released the Clean Power Plan, requiring substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the electricity sector. The Plan sets targets from the top down, but largely leaves the details to states, providing a significant opportunity to craft rules that encourage energy development and ownership from the bottom up.

These 50 state plans have huge stakes.

Collectively, U.S. electric customers spend over $360 billion each year. Most of that is generated from fossil fuels, frequently extracted outside their own state. In other words, most of that money leaves their community to pay for dirty energy. But the electricity system is in the midst of an enormous transformation from the bottom up just as the federal plan pushes utilities to cleaner energy from the top down.

Driven by improvements in energy efficiency, electricity consumption peaked in 2007 and has been stagnant ever since. Distributed solar, like that found on home rooftops, has provided more than 5% of newly added power plant capacity from 2011 through 2015. In 2013, nearly one-third of all new power plant capacity was from solar energy. The profusion of smartphones is giving customers innovative ways to control energy use, from web-connected thermostats to light bulbs. Consulting firm Accenture estimates that these “disruptive” and economical technologies could save electric customers up to $48 billion over the next 10 years.

Electric utilities are aware of the threat. Already, they’ve mounted serious fights against rooftop solar in over two dozen states, despite ample proof that it’s of benefit to electric customers and the grid. Once they’ve exhausted their legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan, utilities (and some of the states that are beholden to them) will be interested in compliance strategies that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and threats to their business model. That’s likely to mean big infrastructure investments—utilities have traditionally made their profit by earning a return on new power lines and power plants—and utility control or ownership of cleaner power generation. But with the increase of 21st century decentralized technology, electric customers shouldn’t settle for last century’s centralized electric monopoly ownership.

For example, several cities and counties in California are forming community alternatives to incumbent electric utilities, delivering cleaner (often local) power at a comparable or lower cost. Grassroots action in Minneapolis, MN, has driven its utilities into a novel clean energy partnership with the city. Community solar programs are expanding rapidly, allowing electric customers to reduce their energy bills, even when they lack ownership of or sunshine on their rooftop. And community energy projects are allowing Americans to pool their resources and own a share in the clean energy transformation.

The Clean Power Plan is a breath of fresh air from the federal government too often known for climate inaction, but it shouldn’t reinforce an increasingly un-natural electric company monopoly over the electric system. Instead, each state’s unique implementation of the Plan is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for individuals and communities to take charge of their energy future.

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About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy 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 seminal 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 (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

  • Mark

    Let’s not be so naive as to think utility America will not do everything in their power to keep us from being independent. I.E. Force the passage of legislation to keep rooftops cleared (for community aesthetic reasons), not allow wind power (noise annoyance, tall towers could fall on a neighbors house), etc. It just depends whose pockets get appropriately lined.

    • Martin

      Yes I agree, from personal point, except with me it is not the utility, but the local government.

    • Bob_Wallace

      There’s a solution. I people on both sides of “the issues” agree that they will vote only for people who promise to take the money out of elections.
      Move to publicly funded campaigns or another system which lets us look at each candidate on an equal basis. If that takes a constitutional amendment then amend the Constitution.

  • Tint Depot

    If utilities get in the way; we’ll have to figure out how to bypass them completely w/ solar, wind & battery storage. And cut the cord with these monopolies and get off the grid.

    • Bob_Wallace

      That is not realistic.

      • Henk

        That is realistic Bob

        • Bob_Wallace

          What percentage of consumers do you think could go off line and run their own utility companies?

          • Mike Dill

            My guess is 1% or 2%, until the cost of storage is low enough that generation + storage is lower than retail. Look at Australia and Hawaii for examples.

            The 5% or 6% of the year when the sun does not shine enough to refill the storage will cause enough concern to make most of the people stay with the utility for now. Inexpensive long-term storage would push a lot more people into making that decision.
            This only applies to places where the grid is there and reliable. Over half the world does not fit into this description and will be ahead of us.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Australia has very high electricity prices largely because the utilities made a bad guess and spent a lot of money upgrading their hardware. It’s sounding like the government is going to work governmental magic and make most of the debt go away in order to bring prices down.

            Hawaii’s high electricity costs are due to them using oil to generate electricity and it costs a lot to ship oil there. But as they install renewables their oil consumption will drop and the price of electricity will follow the downward path.

            At this point in time I’m not willing to predict that more than a very small percentage of all grid users will find it worthwhile to store their own electricity. I’ll need to see some very low storage prices.

            People with o grid access, that’s a different issue. The cost of hooking up can be extreme. (I know that from personal experience.)

          • Eric Lukac-Kuruc

            That is not realistic for people living in big cities where you can’t put enough PV panels and no wind turbines.

      • Matt

        What I do think is realistic is a restructuring of the monopoly utility market in the USA. The vertical integration where one company is given complete control of all customers in a region is past it point of usefulness. We need to split, local distribution, from generation, from transmission.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Restructuring would probably make the transition off fossil fuels faster and easier.

          The actual business of splitting up the utilities is (I think) unrealistic. Things don’t get done simply because a few people think it a good idea. It takes enormous effort to create change in a well established organization.

  • Martin

    That is one problem with big business and big government, they do not like people to become more independent., it cost they profit/taxes.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I don’t see ‘big governments’ opposed to people becoming more independent. I suppose it depends on how one defines independent.

      Free to not pay your taxes?

      Free to use taxpayer owned property without fair payment?

      Free to walk around displaying weapons and threatening people?

      What sort of independence did you have in mind?

      • Martin

        Because most governments support large businesses not the joe blow taxpayer with our taxes.
        I have a problem when somebody pollutes and makes somebody else pay for it.
        And I live in Canada, our gun laws are different.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m having problems seeing how pollution and who pays for it has anything to do with independence

          • Martin

            Perhaps I should have worded my comment a bit different. My beef is a lot of large business get “welfare” from taxpayers, without asking those taxpayer if they are willing to pay,
            For example in BC, were I live, our carbon tax gets funded to a larger percentage from people, but a bigger percentage goes to business,
            But then is live fair?
            My personal opinion I have more fun spending the money that I earn that the government doing it for me(taxes).
            Or is it that I am just too naive?

          • Bob_Wallace

            “My personal opinion I have more fun spending the money that I earn that the government doing it for me(taxes).

            Or is it that I am just too naive?”

            I’m sure we could all have a fine time spending the portion of our money that we pay in taxes. And I’m sure we all have some governmental activities we don’t mind funding and others that to which we object.

            A downside of living in a democracy is that each of us does not get 100% of what they want. We have to compromise with others and give them some of what they want so that they will consent to give us some of what we want. Ideally we each get a fair share of what we want and tolerate others getting a fair share of what they want.

            That said, things do get out of balance from time to time.

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