Tag Archives: Renewable Energy

PG&E Free: Revolutionary Energy at Stone Edge Farm in Sonoma, California

By Jonah Raskin, CounterPunch

Pacific Gas & Electric has never had many loyal friends, not since 1905 when the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company and the California Gas and Electric Corporation merged to form the utility giant usually referred to as PG&E.

The company has been increasingly unpopular ever since gas leaks led to a big explosion and the death of consumers— eight people in San Bruno just south of San Francisco. Nor has the company made new friends ever since its power lines were found to have caused wild fires and huge property losses in California.

Earlier this year—to protect its profits and stockholders— the company filed for bankruptcy, though it still has citizens in a chokehold otherwise known as a monopoly. If consumers want electricity and gas in their homes and businesses they have little choice but to rely on PG&E, which owns and controls the power lines.

There are alternatives, including Sonoma Clean Power that sources clean energy from renewables: geothermal, water, wind, solar, and biomass. But Sonoma Clean Power doesn’t have its own power lines. PG&E has said it will cut off all power if and when there’s wild fire and high winds. That could save lives and protect property, but it also sounds like PG&E letting Californians know that it’s still the all-powerful boss.

With big bucks, access to the latest technology and technological wizards, citizens can by-pass PG&E. That’s what Mac and Leslie McQuown have done at Stone Edge Farm, a model of organic agriculture and a center for innovation in the field of energy. The farm is on Carriger Road, outside the town of Sonoma, where olives and grapes are grown. Not long ago, the visionary McQuowns had a big dream: reduce their carbon footprint. They’ve realized that dream and gone beyond it. Now, Stone Edge generates electrical power on a micro-grid that serves all its energy needs. 

Read full article from CounterPunch

Los Angeles has lined up record-cheap solar power. But there’s a problem

By Sammy Roth, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles has been sitting on a contract for record-cheap solar power for more than a month — and city officials declined to approve it Tuesday because of concerns raised by the city-run utility’s labor union, which is still fuming over Mayor Eric Garcetti’s decision to shut down three gas-fired power plants.

Under the 25-year contract with developer 8minute Solar Energy, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power would pay less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour — a number city officials and independent experts say would be the lowest price ever paid for solar power in the United States, and cheaper than the cost of electricity from a typical natural gas-fired power plant.

In addition to 400 megawatts of solar power, the Eland project would include at least 200 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries, capable of storing solar power during the day and injecting it into the grid for four hours each night. The combined price to L.A. ratepayers of the solar and storage would be 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour — also a record low for this type of contract.

But LADWP’s Board of Commissioners voted not to send the contract to the City Council for approval, after utility staff said concerns had been raised by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents utility employees. In recent months, IBEW Local 18 has run television and radio ads attacking Garcetti’s Green New Deal initiative, which includes the retirement of three coastal gas plants that employ more than 400 LADWP workers.

…The Eland project, which is planned for the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles, wouldn’t replace those gas plants. But it could help L.A. reduce its reliance on gas, which has become California’s largest electricity source as utilities look for evening power sources to fill in for solar after the sun goes down.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Times

Amazon Joins Walmart in Blaming Tesla Solar Panels for Fires

By Dana Hull and Matt Day, Bloomberg

Walmart Inc. isn’t the only corporation that has seen its Tesla Inc. solar panels catch fire.

On Friday, Amazon.com Inc. said a June 2018 blaze on the roof of one of its warehouses in Redlands, California, involved a solar system that Tesla’s SolarCity division installed. The Seattle-based retail giant said by email that it has since taken steps to protect its facilities and has no plans to install more Tesla systems.

Tesla also said in a statement it worked with Amazon following the “isolated event” last year that occurred in an inverter at one of the sites. “Tesla worked collaboratively with Amazon to root cause the event and remediate,” it said. “We also performed inspections at the other sites, which confirmed the integrity of the systems,” adding that all 11 Amazon sites are generating energy and are monitored and maintained.

News of the Amazon fire comes days after Walmart sued Tesla, accusing it of shoddy panel installations that led to fires at more than a half-dozen stores. The claims threaten to further erode Tesla’s solar business as the company is fighting to gain back market share.

Read full article from Bloomberg

Related Article: Amazon Echoes Walmart’s Claims That Tesla Solar Panels Sparked Rooftop Fire (Gizmodo) – Aug. 24, 2019

Opinion: An uncertain path to a cleaner future – Zero carbon electricity legislation in New York and California

By Thomas R. Brill & Steven C. Russo (Greenberg Traurig), Utility Dive

Last month, New York passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which calls for a carbon free electricity market by 2040. With passage of this law, New York became the sixth state to pass legislation calling for a carbon free electricity market. Just one year earlier, California passed similar legislation, SB100, adopting a state policy to achieve a zero-carbon electricity market by 2045.

These goals will have to be pursued notwithstanding the fact demand for electricity is projected to increase as other sectors pursue beneficial electrification to comply with ambitious emission reduction goals they face. Whether these goals can be achieved, and at what cost, will depend on technology advancements and how these laws are interpreted and implemented by regulators.

New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires 70% of electricity consumed in New York be generated by renewable resources by 2030 and the state must be carbon free by 2040. California’s SB100 requires 60% of electricity come from renewable resources by 2030 and adopts a state policy of a 100% zero carbon electricity by 2045.

The New York legislation explicitly conditions meeting these extraordinarily ambitious renewable energy mandates on maintaining reliability and affordability. This leads to obvious questions: Can a zero-carbon electricity market be achieved in a manner that maintains reliability and affordability, and if so, how? What flexibility exists under these laws to ensure these emission reduction goals can be achieved even if new technologies or significant price declines fail to materialize?

Read full article from Utility Dive

As PG&E faces uncertainty, Sonoma Clean Power sees a bright future in green energy

By Bill Swindell, The Press Democrat

The troubling saga of PG&E has been well chronicled along its path that led to a bankruptcy filing in January. Massive liabilities from wildfires caused by transmission lines. A push to increase already high energy prices to ratepayers. Public outrage over bonuses paid by executives during a period of turmoil.

Yet during the same time, the fortunes of Santa Rosa-based Sonoma Clean Power could not be more different while much less heralded. Five years since first providing electric service to customers, the nonprofit public agency now has 87% of its eligible customers in both Sonoma and Mendocino counties, totaling 224,000 accounts. It claims to have saved approximately $80 million for its customers in reduced rates compared to the investor-owned PG&E, which still provides natural gas locally.

The local company — which has only about 25 employees — also has made tremendous strides in curbing carbon emissions. It sources green energy with a standard service that now provides 91% carbon-free power and has almost 2,000 customers enrolled in its premium EverGreen service, which offers 100% renewable energy sourced locally from solar panels and geothermal plants at The Geysers. Two years ago, it got into the production side by breaking ground on two solar-panel projects in rural areas located in Petaluma, and it is on a course to have a total of six such projects in the region. It also purchases power from a wind farm in the Altamont Pass.

Indeed, Sonoma Clean Power officials said they believe their agency is nicely positioned to play a leading role in curbing carbon emissions at the local level while also serving as a role model for other Golden State communities to accomplish that same goal.

Read full article in The Press Democrat

Opinion: How Lackluster Grid Maintenance Jeopardizes California’s Green Energy Future

By Ariel Cohen (Contributor), Forbes

In Part I of this story, I examined the factors that led to California’s now infamous ‘Camp Fire’ and the bankruptcy of the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E). It turns out that while climate change, forest mismanagement, and overzealous lawmakers share some of the blame, PG&E is at the center of this multibillion-dollar catastrophe.

But in California, it is ratepayers, shareholders, and green energy that will pay the greatest price. PG&E has been a key partner in California’s green energy agenda, investing aggressively in solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects over the past decade. Last year renewables accounted for 33% of PG&E’s power mix — an impressive amount by industry standards. However, PG&E’s bankruptcy in the wake of the Camp Fire means that a lack of trust (and credit) in the utility could imperil the state’s green energy sector, and with it dreams of 100% carbon-free power by 2045.

Green power is now an uncertain space to do business in California, and we are already seeing the consequences: a major PG&E solar farm – Topaz – had their credit rating downgraded even before PG&E officially filed for bankruptcy, imperiling the clean electricity it provides to roughly 180,000 homes in California. The credit agency Fitch Ratings recently downgraded NextEra Energy’s 250-megawatt Genesis Solar project in the Sonoran Desert, citing its link to PG&E. Others are on the chopping block.

More critically, bankruptcy court might also jeopardize PG&E’s many long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with renewable energy providers. From a financial perspective, it makes sense for PG&E to tear up these contracts and start anew. The falling cost of wind and solar means that energy prices negotiated in 2012 and 2013 are three to four times higher per megawatt hour (MWh) than they are today. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (NEF), the estimated remaining obligation on these PPAs are more than $2 billion, though they would be worth only around $800 million at current market rates. Restructuring these contracts in court would increase cashflow, affording PG&E a much-needed liquidity boost to help deal with mounting liabilities.

Read full article at Forbes

 

The $2.5 trillion reason we can’t rely on batteries to clean up the grid

By James Temple, MIT Technology Review

A pair of 500-foot smokestacks rise from a natural-gas power plant on the harbor of Moss Landing, California, casting an industrial pall over the pretty seaside town. If state regulators sign off, however, it could be the site of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery project by late 2020, helping to balance fluctuating wind and solar energy on the California grid.

The 300-megawatt facility is one of four giant lithium-ion storage projects that Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility, asked the California Public Utilities Commission to approve in late June. Collectively, they would add enough storage capacity to the grid to supply about 2,700 homes for a month (or to store about .0009 percent of the electricity the state uses each year).

The California projects are among a growing number of efforts around the world, including Tesla’s 100-megawatt battery array in South Australia, to build ever larger lithium-ion storage systems as prices decline and renewable generation increases. They’re fueling growing optimism that these giant batteries will allow wind and solar power to displace a growing share of fossil-fuel plants.

But there’s a problem with this rosy scenario. These batteries are far too expensive and don’t last nearly long enough, limiting the role they can play on the grid, experts say. If we plan to rely on them for massive amounts of storage as more renewables come online—rather than turning to a broader mix of low-carbon sources like nuclear and natural gas with carbon capture technology—we could be headed down a dangerously unaffordable path.

Read full article from MIT Technology Review

 

City of Los Angeles wants to turn Hoover Dam into world’s largest pumped energy storage facility

By Steve Hanley, CleanTechnica

Hydroelectric power has many advantages. It is renewable and has no carbon emissions, but there is a catch. After the water passes through the turbines, it is discharged into the Colorado River and can no longer be used to make electricity until it is absorbed by the atmosphere, blown by prevailing winds upstream of the dam, falls as rain, and is redeposited in Lake Mead to begin the process all over again.

According to the New York Times (“$3 Billion Plan to Turn Hoover Dam Into a Giant Battery”-  Jul. 24, 2018), the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has a better idea. It wants to build a pumping station about 20 miles downstream from the Hoover Dam, recapture some of the water, and pump it back into Lake Mead where it can be used to generate more electricity once again. The proposed plan would cost about $3 billion.

The problem is that California has so much renewable energy available now, thanks in large measure to aggressive state mandated policies, that much of its is “constrained.” That’s utility industry speak for having to give it away or simply let it go to waste. In some cases, utilities in California actually pay other utility companies to take the excess electricity off their hands.

Why not store it all in some of Elon Musk’s grid scale batteries? Simply put, pumped hydroelectric storage is cheaper than battery storage, at least for now. Lazard, the financial advisory and asset management firm, estimates utility scale lithium-ion batteries cost 26 cents per kilowatt-hour compared with 15 cents for pumped hydro storage.

Read full article from CleanTechnica

 

California Has Too Much Solar Power — And That’s a Good Thing

By Travis Hoium, The Motley Fool

No business wants to create a solution in search of a problem, particularly in the slow-changing energy industry. Instead, businesses want to find solutions for problems that exist and create ways to make money off their solutions.

Enter the exigent problem California is facing: it has too much solar energy. First, who thought that would be a problem in the country’s largest state? Second, why isn’t there a solution if utilities and regulators knew this problem was coming? The short answer is that energy innovators weren’t going to create and install solutions for solar energy’s variability until they knew the utilities and regulators had recognized the problem.

California has made a big push into renewable energy in an effort to meet a 50% renewable energy goal by 2030. It’s built wind and solar plants rapidly over the past decade, which combines with hydropower to provide clean energy to the state. The problem is that solar energy, in particular, isn’t created evenly throughout the day or year and that’s a challenge for the grid.

In March, before peak air conditioner season in the state, there was so much solar energy on the grid that the California Independent System Operator had to tell some solar farms to shut down because there was too much energy for the grid to handle. And that could lead to a blackout.

Read full article from The Motley Fool

San Diego Vows to Move Entirely to Renewable Energy in 20 Years

By Matt Richtel, The New York Times

Last weekend, representatives of 195 countries reached a landmark accord in Paris to lower planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. On Tuesday, local leaders in San Diego committed to making a city-size dent in the problem. With a unanimous City Council vote, San Diego, the country’s eighth-largest city, became the largest American municipality to transition to using 100 percent renewable energy, including wind and solar power.

In the wake of the Paris accord, environmental groups hailed the move as both substantive and symbolic. Other big cities, including New York and San Francisco, have said they intend to use more renewable energy, but San Diego is the first of them to make the pledge legally binding. Under the ordinance, it has committed to completing its transition and cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035.

The steps to get there may include transferring some control of power management to the city from the local utility. Officials said they would also shift half of the city’s fleet to electric vehicles by 2020 and recycle 98 percent of the methane produced by sewage and water treatment plants. Many details have yet to be determined, including how the new power sources will be delivered and managed.

Under the Paris accord, nations offered general, nonbinding plans to reduce their carbon emissions. Officials in the United States envision reaching the nation’s goals mainly through higher fuel-economy standards for cars and a move to cleaner sources of electrical power, something states could help oversee. This is where the actions of a city like San Diego fit in. As the city moves to renewable energy, the State of California can begin to build its bank of carbon reductions and contribute to global goals.

Read full article in the New York Times