Archive for the ‘solar’ Category

I’ve been trying to think of a word to describe the recent republican de-bate more precisely.  I have heard some people refer to the flashy spectacle as an eleven-ring circus.  That imagery does not allow that a few hopefuls did in fact speak about real societal concerns and reforms.  Until I think of a better term I’ll simply refer to it as a “trump-bait,” providing space for the variety of crafty, yet factually-suspicious remarks.

I was not surprised that clean, renewable energy industries did not get spoken about by the candidates even though a majority of republican voters favor them.  I’m still mystified by this!  Renewable technologies are some of the fastest growing industries in this country and especially so elsewhere on the planet.  Solar PV and wind turbines are mainstream energy conversion sources!  Wake up, candidates!

Germany now celebrates on the days when virtually all their electricity is produced from renewable sources.  Iowa is getting 27% of their electricity from wind power right now.  California gets 25% of their electricity from renewables and last week they passed a measure seeking 50% by 2030.  Texas, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Arizona: the list of states with fast growing RE markets keeps getting bigger.

Here in Florida Algenol Biofuels has announced plans to begin distribution of their algae-derived ethanol and build a larger production facility in Central Florida.  Protec Fuel has opened its fourth E15 station in the state bringing their total to 28 in the Southeast.  The Florida Supreme Court is weighing who will control the profits brought by anticipated PV sales and installations.  Will the Court give outsiders a shot at the money investor owned utilities are claiming?

Alternative energy systems were not invented as a response to the atmospheric effects of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.  Candidates have no need to apologize to their global warming denying peers that renewable energy is a good thing.  Alternative energy was researched and commercialized largely because scientists know that carbon deposits will someday be exhausted.  Peak dates for oil and coal are constantly being pushed back because new drilling technologies are allowing us to find and sip from the very bottom of these submerged, frozen barrels.  Nevertheless, they are finite!

How can the presidential candidates not be excited by the financial and job opportunities that are underway in these RE markets?  They don’t even have to reveal a position on what many scientists describe as the most critical issue facing the earth.  Isn’t “economic growth” the republican byword?  I suspect that The Donald may be keeping quiet about it, but that he knows where to put HIS money.

Sam Kendall



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A utility in Arizona (APS) has asked their Public Service Commission to allow them to pay homeowners $30/month to install solar systems on 3000 homes.  The total nominal electrical generation of this rooftop power plant would be 20 megawatts.  This would be valuable to the utility because the electricity would come during peak daylight hours when customers are demanding cooling A/C.  The cost of this PV plant would be distributed among all customers just like any new power plant (including their regulated profit, of course).  The Arizona PSC said it would respond by September.

Compare this to FPL’s idea to let customers pay them $9/month to build solar plants in this state.  FPL estimates that enough customers will dig deep to build a mere two and a half megawatts.  The state legislature and Florida PSC gave FPL permission for a special rate increase some years ago to construct an innovative hybrid solar/gas power facility. With the experience from this plant and the dramatic reduction in PV prices during the last four years, it would be reasonable to expect FPL to start advancing clean energy with solar power plants as their primary 21st century fuel source.

Instead, the utility got approval from the governor to build two nuclear plants down at the bottom of the peninsula pretty much in the direct path of hurricanes and rising sea level.  The cost of concrete and insurance liability is not likely to decline in the next 8-10 years, nor is the cost of nuclear fuel.  Even so, the company has narrowed the total cost down between $12 and $18 billion.  South Florida public officials are in agreement that sea level is rising.  If federal officials approve the plan construction won’t begin until 2022.

FPL could start adding solar capacity and energy efficiency right now.  PV panels could be added to each of their electric poles as is done by a utility in New Jersey.  They could lease rooftops for solar panels on homes and large commercial buildings.  Solar arrays could be constructed in their vacant right-of-ways.  The company knows that polls show Floridians want more clean and safe energy.  Why are they resisting with this modest, feel-good, volunteer plan?  Is their monopolistic business model at risk?  Do smaller, distributed, zero-fuel-cost solar plants have greater lifetime costs than two nuclear plants?  Show me the truth.

Sam Kendall


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Duke Energy has been tipped into supplying the North Carolina Google Data Center with renewable energy.  Google is going to pay the power company a “Green Source Rider” for the clean electricity; in other words a tariff.  The Search Company said it made more sense for Duke to provide the renewable energy than to build it themselves.  Evidently, the plan is going to be used by other big Duke customers that want to go green.  Duke said it might match some of the applicants with third-party solar and wind suppliers through Power Purchase Agreements.  In all, 700 megawatts of solar could be added in Duke’s North Carolina territory alone.

Google may already be more invested in solar and wind than any other company.  But fortunately, there is competition for that honor.  Apple, Facebook, Walmart, IKEA and others are putting out $billions to power their shops with clean energy.  Facebook wanted clean energy for their data center in Iowa.  Their utility has now invested $1.9 billion in wind farms.  Of course we want to thank Duke but let’s not forget their environmental record; coal ash spills and eagle deaths on poorly located wind turbines.  North Carolina should boost Duke’s RPS requirement as part of the settlement for those offenses.

The term corporate power has not always been associated with good things.  The influence of corporate money and their lobbyists have usually worked against the interests of citizens, especially in delaying beneficial health regulations.  We are witnessing now the decline in influence of coal companies but the Goliaths of oil and gas are still standing.

Now the 21st century twist.  We have large corporations influencing a better choice of energy supplied by the entrenched electric utilities.  For years, concerned citizens and environmental groups have asked utilities to close down their coal and nuclear plants and “go solar.”  Corporate money still speaks the loudest but this time the voice is sweet.  Investor owned utilities are finally finding ways to get into the solar business and this is going to bring the cost of PV down even more.

What corporation is going to squeeze more solar out of Florida Power and Light?  Last week FPL introduced their own version of a Green Source Rider and we can only wish it had been the result of corporate pressure.  They’re going to see how many of their customers will be willing to pay an extra $9 on their monthly bills to finance solar energy projects.  A company spokesman said polling indicated that enough customers will volunteer to fund 2.4 megawatts of solar perhaps in three years.  FPL announced this program a short while after a bill designed to promote solar on commercial buildings such as warehouses and data centers was killed in the Florida legislature.

Only .06% of the FPL fuel mix currently comes from solar.  This modest pilot program on the backs of solar volunteers will hardly improve that percentage.  Combine this half-hearted initiative with the Florida legislators who oppose common-sense solar policies for businesses.  Add in the legislators who want to exempt Florida from the proposed EPA carbon pollution standards for new power plants.  This is corporate power in the sunshine state.

Sam Kendall

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On the website Think Progress I found an interview with representative Ron Desantis (R-FL).  He used the word “crass” to describe the all-night session in the senate last week where members of the Climate Action Task Force brought much needed attention to the present and future dangers of climate change.  Desantis claimed the event was just a gimmick devised by senators to show their big Silicon Valley donors that they were doing something about the issue.  Their real intent was to raise taxes, he said, but they knew the House would block any such effort.  His contradictory performance left me wondering if he understands the science which describes how greenhouse gases contribute to overheating and disruption of the atmosphere.

One piece of evidence presented during the session was a map showing recent average rainfall amounts compared to the past.  Virtually one quarter of the country is presently experiencing 25% less than average rainfall.  The drought extends from what has been one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas in California across the southwest into most of Texas.  Florida looks green on the map with some areas showing above average amounts.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson pointed out that low-lying Florida is vulnerable to too much water.  Hurricanes can move higher sea levels further inland than previously.  The result will be catastrophic, as we saw with hurricane Sandy up north.  Nelson mentioned also that our state is one of the most susceptible to heat-related deaths.  We can also expect a reduction in tourism dollars as businesses are forced to close by extreme weather events.  You can find brief summaries of all the senators remarks here.

For an up-to-date understanding of the present costs related to rising sea levels Mr. Desantis should visit his local government colleagues in south Florida.  Thoughtful and pragmatic municipal and county officials have been working on the problem there for four years.  In a bi-partisan consensus the county commissions of Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe have come together to form a Regional Climate Change Compact.  Salt water flowing over their lawns and streets and intruding into their fresh water supplies convinced them to begin collaborative action.  Together the commissioners and staff members are moving forward to implement greenhouse gas mitigation and climate adaptation strategies for their region.

Sam Kendall


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President Obama might get a reprieve from the politically fired Keystone XL decision.  Last week a Nebraska judge ruled that the governor didn’t have the legal right to grant the pipeline company eminent domain.  She said that authority rested with the Public Service Commission.  Appeals will be filed but that all takes time.

Moving tar sands oil through a pipe is not going to produce much CO2.  Moving the oil by rail would be less efficient and would produce CO2.  The rail option has more problems.  There are not enough tanker cars presently available to transport the more than 800,000 gallons of bitumen anticipated every day.  Up to six times as many cars will be needed to do the job.  Last year’s tanker car accident up in Canada and a more recent one in Montana spotlight the inherent dangers.  I doubt that towns along the route will be happy to have six times as many trains rolling through.

A decision to block the pipeline will probably delay the movement of the tar sands oil into the US for a while. Approving the pipeline will accelerate the rate of energy intensive tar sands extraction, CO2 emissions and ecological destruction.  The possibility for polluting pipeline spills has already been shown to be a reality in existing infrastructure.

Meanwhile England is having historic flooding, California and Brazil are having historic droughts, a polar vortex stranded motorists and slowed winter economic activity from Atlanta to New York and Olympic skiers have petitioned the UN to take action to save the source of their sport.  Are members of congress hearing anything from their constituents about these extreme weather events?  How much time is left before the weather straight jackets all of us at once?

The president has moved aggressively to promote clean energy alternatives.  New CAFE standards are improving emissions per driven mile.  Regulations will soon go in place on coal power plants.  California and the states in the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are meeting their goals with cap and trade policies.  Cities are taking action to reduce greenhouse gases.  Greenlighting the production and burning of tar sands oil would be stepping back from the path established toward carbon reduction.

The president’s best action to reduce CO2 emissions from tar sands exploitation would be to impose an import tax on this toxic gunk.  Money from the tax would not accrue to the government.  It would not be a revenue source but a pure pollution abatement tax.  Money raised would be distributed out to taxpayers and not used to fund any government program.  Last year respected republican economist and more recently a climate activist, George Shultz, urged lawmakers to adopt a revenue neutral tax on carbon from all sources.  Revenue neutrality would give concerned republicans a way to take action on climate change.

The president should turn down the Keystone pipeline application.  This would keep the tar sands exploitation process a present levels and force the oil barons to build more cars and contend with the public’s new awareness of safety issues.  Then he should work with any members of both parties to build support for a carbon tax.  A pollution tax barrier is necessary now because climate disruption is upon us.

Sam Kendall

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It’s clear that renewable energy mandates are working.  The states that have passed measures mandating percentages of renewable energy are building clean energy businesses and jobs faster than the states without mandates.  It’s also clear that the states of the old south are lagging behind.  When you look at a map of the 37 states that have legislated standards or voluntary goals for renewable energy the old south looks like it’s still in rebellion.  Except for Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, the states still holding out against mandates are the same ones that gave Abe Lincoln heartburn.

Repealing the Florida ethanol mandate must have made the legislators and governor stiffen with state pride.  They fired some buckshot at the federal government.  Big Deal!  What they’ve done won’t change the federal mandate.  Much worse is they shot a hole in the foot of the nascent Florida advanced biofuel industry.  Senators of both parties joined the governor with their non-alcoholic toast.

But why would they want to repeal when the evidence shows that mandates create new businesses and jobs; when polls show people want cleaner energy choices?  Adam Putnam’s explanation why he chose not to oppose the ethanol repeal bill this year helped me understand.

“A year ago, my concern was we would be sending a message to potential investors in the state that Florida was no longer concerned about working on biofuel-related projects.”  Very good.  This was a legitimate concern.  Then this: “Since then, there have been several high-profile private sector decisions to walk away from biofuel investments in the state of Florida, not because of anything related to Florida, because the sector itself, the private capital has gravitated to fracking and natural gas development.”

Huh?…Fracking?…Natural gas development?  The purpose of the ethanol mandate was to draw entrepreneurs to Florida to make a renewable biofuel.  That is happening.  Innovators have designed more efficient methods of production and without using corn as a raw material.  Ethanol is now being produced in the state!  The company that “walked away” from a Florida commitment was none other than BP, the giant fossil fuel company now plagued by enormous financial obligations with which we are all familiar.

One of the largest energy companies in the world has decided that their relatively small investment in Florida biofuels no longer suits their prospects for profits.  And this makes the Secretary of Agriculture feel better about dropping his opposition to the ethanol repeal bill.  Meanwhile, smaller start-up companies that are making good on their commitments have lost their trust in state government.

This sounds to me like the old south where public servants took their orders from high-profile plantation owners.

Sam Kendall

Putnam Expects Little Backlash From End Of Ethanol Law

NRDC Report: State RE Standards Create Jobs

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Now it is possible to imagine solar energy (photovoltaics and concentrating solar thermal) contributing 20 to 30 percent of total energy on the grid in 10 or 12 years.  This is mind shattering.  This will be a jump from less than one tenth of one percent only a few years ago.  The industry is growing at an annual rate of 13 percent.  These are the words from Energy Secretary Steven Chu.  It’s sad to see him leaving the Department but he has successfully set a winning direction for his successor.

During his administration at the DOE large scale solar has become “bankable.” Investors such as Warren Buffet are taking positions in solar farms.  Power Purchase Agreements are proving successful financing tools for mid-size systems. The reliability, certainty and rate of return of solar have elevated it to investment grade.  Installed utility scale solar cost $8 per watt in 2004.  Now the cost is about $3.  The dramatically declining costs are following a track similar to what we saw in the computer industry.

Thanks to the Secretary’s “Sunshot” Program the technical / manufacturing /storage hard costs of solar are now less than the soft costs of permitting and installation.  The goal of the Program is to make solar competitive with all fossil and other forms of energy without subsidy by the end of the decade.  This includes natural gas.  Chu says “the goal is within our grasp.”

Watch this interview with the Secretary and a panel of solar experts.  Learn about the 392 MW solar tower project coming on line in California this summer and how Broward County here in Florida is making it easier for homeowners to cut the red tape on their own solar installations.  The states with renewable procurement standards will see the biggest boost to their economies.  Florida isn’t one of them.

Sam Kendall

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