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Archive for the ‘Renewables’ Category

As renewable energy is expanding throughout the world in response to declining, insecure and climate changing fuel sources, the issue of intermittency has prompted the development and deployment of energy storage.  Below are just a few examples:

Australia

Less than a month after Tesla Inc. unveiled a new backup power system in South Australia, the world’s largest lithium-ion battery has already been put to the test.

Reports today say that it appears to be far exceeding expectations. In the first three weeks alone, the Hornsdale Power Reserve smoothed out at least two major energy outages, responding even more quickly than the coal-fired backups that were in place to provide emergency power.

The area where the battery has been deployed in South Australia is in the grips of an energy crisis. In 2016, an outage left 1.7 million residents in the dark and storms and heat waves have caused additional outages.  With the price of electricity soaring in Australia, this test of an industrial battery backup is being closely watched.

In March, Elon Musk vowed on Twitter to deliver a battery system for South Australia’s struggling grid. By early July, the state had signed a deal with California-based Tesla and the French-based energy company Neoen to produce the battery, and by Dec. 1, South Australia announced it had switched on the Hornsdale battery.

Fed by wind turbines at the nearby Hornsdale wind farm, the battery stores excess energy that is produced when the demand for electricity isn’t peaking. It can power up to 30,000 homes, though only for short periods — meaning that the battery must still be supported by traditional power plants in the event of a long outage.

Nonetheless, the Hornsdale reserve has already shown that it can provide what’s known as a “contingency or ancillary” service — keeping the grid stable in a crisis and easing what otherwise would be a significant power failure.

And, more important, the project is the biggest proof of concept yet that batteries such as Tesla’s can help mitigate one of renewable energy’s most persistent problems: how to use it when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

 

United Kingdom/Europe

In the UK, Pivot Power is not far behind, as they’ve just unveiled plans for an ambitious network of grid-connected energy storage and electric vehicle charging which could simultaneously balance supply and demand on the grid, and also provide electric vehicle rapid charging to hundreds of vehicles at once—without causing the kinds of surges in demand that naysayers were once so worried about.

Specifically, once built, the proposed battery network would be the world’s largest of its kind—consisting of 45 sites (already identified) with 50MW of stationary battery storage at each location. Each spot would be co-located with electricity sub-stations in order to maximize grid-stabilization services, but also happen to be near major towns, cities or roads—potentially supporting up to 100 rapid 150KW chargers, and even 350KW chargers once cars are around that can charge that fast.

Pivot Power is pretty explicit about their intention—and that’s to “accelerate the decline of petrol and diesel”.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing to hear clean technology advocates talking in such ambitious, absolute terms. Because there’s no doubt that this is what needs to happen in order to achieve a low carbon transition.

And for those folks who fear a shift from petrol/diesel car dependency to electric car dependency, it’s an encouraging sign that the Pivot Power network isn’t just focused on private car ownership. Alongside public charging, the network is also looking at providing services for “electric bus depots and bases for large transport fleets.”

 

The Middle East

There is increasing high-level interest in the potential for energy storage in the Middle East, with grid-connected systems forecast to reach 1.8GW in the region by 2025.

The region is at present a small market as far as energy storage and especially utility-scale advance battery energy storage is concerned. In fact, the majority of the Middle East’s installed base comes from just one project, a 108MW sodium-sulfur battery energy storage project for Abu Dhabi Electricity and Water Authority supplied by Japanese company NGK. While energy storage is in its infancy in the region, it is unlikely to remain so long term.

The UAE, Saud Arabia and Qatar are among the region’s countries that have enjoyed progress in solar PV in very recent times, with all of them adding significant utility-scale projects. Meanwhile Jordan, another of those countries to see large-scale PV rollout underway, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a 20MW battery-based energy storage system with AES Corporation in 2015.

 

Latin America

According to the World Economic Forum, energy storage in the form of large arrays of batteries is still in the early stages of deployment in Latin America. However, the role of electricity storage promises to become much more significant as the region diversifies its sources of power generation, and looks to batteries to help smooth out intermittent energy generation and mitigate the costs of peak demand.

Some policymakers and private companies in the region are already preparing for the rise of battery storage with test projects and new policies. In Mexico, General Electric has announced plans to develop five energy storage projects that will help integrate solar and wind projects into the grid. And in the Dominican Republic, two 10MW arrays of batteries, installed by AES Dominicana in August 2017, were credited with helping that country’s grid remain operational when Hurricane Irma struck a few weeks later.

Energy storage will affect the entire electricity value chain across Latin America as it replaces peaking plans, alters future transmission and distribution (T&D) investments, reduces intermittency of renewables, restructures power markets and helps to digitize the electricity ecosystem.

 

Africa: A great opportunity for a continent of developing countries

Namibia, a nation that’s considerably bigger than Texas but with only around 2.5 million people, installed almost 55 megawatts of generation from renewables and has projects under construction for another 121 megawatts, according to NamPower, the state-owned utility.  However, the total installed capacity combined with committed renewable generation is reaching a threshold, at least until their grid can catch up.

This illustrates how intermittent power generation penetration hits limits in these nations before bigger investments are required in the power distribution network.

Technically, Nambia can handle about 275 megawatts of renewables, which is about half of the midday load according to a 2017 study. The country relies on imports for about 60 percent of its electricity, mainly from South Africa’s state-owned Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., and even the import of baseload power does not guarantee grid reliability as some areas have daily power outages as a norm.

Africa presents huge opportunities for developers of renewable-energy plants, since wind and solar are quicker and sometimes cheaper to build than coal and natural gas plants. While renewable sources such as wind and solar can leapfrog traditional generation, they do not provide consistent 24-hour baseload electricity.

Namibia’s biggest domestic source of power is the Ruacana hydropower plant near the border with Angola. However, it has its own intermittency limit as it depends on the seasonal run of the Kunene River.

Reaching a bottleneck hasn’t deterred Namibia from adopting more renewables in the future as it aims to reduce power imports. The National Integrated Resource Plan includes an allocation for biomass power plants with capacity of as much as 200 megawatts.

Concentrated solar power is also called for in the plan. That technology concentrates the sun’s energy on heating a liquid that drives power turbines. Because the liquid can retain heat for a time after the sun goes down, those systems also can be used to store energy and deliver power to the grid at predictable times.

If African nations begin to adopt storage into their power distribution network, it could go a long way to stabilizing their grids and potentially their countries.

 

The USA

Stories like these are happening all over the globe.  Right here at home, the Department of Energy recently awarded $20 million in funding for nine projects to advance early-stage solar power electronics technologies. The projects chosen were deemed critical to addressing solar photovoltaic reliability challenges, lowering the cost of installing and maintaining a photovoltaic solar energy system and achieving the DOE’s goal of cutting in half the cost of electricity for a solar system by 2030.

Three million was awarded to engineering researchers at The University of Texas at Austin to overcome the same dilemma of overcoming the issues of intermittency with renewables.

Experts from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a way to integrate solar power generation and storage into one single system, effectively reducing the cost by 50 percent. The UT project will develop the next generation of utility-scale photovoltaic inverters, also referred to as modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverters.

Big Batteries Raise Texas-Sized Policy Questions at PUC

Utility-scale energy storage holds great promise both for energy conservation and grid reliability. But the quickly advancing technology also raises tough regulatory challenges, especially for complex power markets like that existing in Texas.

Look for a future guest blog post from Public Citizen’s retired director, Tom “Smitty” Smith on the history of deregulation in Texas and what the impacts of that policy change are having on this new technology.

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Look for this tear pad display at the register when you check out at any Texas HEB store.  Take this opportunity to make donations when you check out with your groceries.  Donations go to Earthshare, which supports Public Citizen.

Making a donation at the register when you check out with your groceries at any HEB store in Texas funds environmental organizations in the state.  This funds Public Citizen’s Texas office as well as several of our partner organizations, such as EDF, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club (among many).  If you want to help us and the many other organizations that are working to keep the Texas environment clean and healthy for all Texans, make a donation before Tuesday, May 1st.

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La Loma Community Solar Farm – Photo by RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Just northeast of Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard and adjacent to the Austin Energy’s Kingsbery substation, La Loma boasts more than 9,000 panels. The 2.6 megawatt project will produce at least 4,400 megawatt-hours of electric power per year. Community solar allows multiple customers to share the output of a central facility rather than installing solar on their own roofs. Customers include renters, people with shaded roofs, and residents who can’t afford the upfront costs of rooftop solar. More than half of Austin Energy customers are renters and have limited access to rooftop solar.

Following Austin City Council approval in December, Austin Energy dedicated half of La Loma’s capacity to low-income customers in the City of Austin Utilities’ Customer Assistance Program at a discounted rate. At the time of the opening, 130 had signed up for the 220 slots available in the discount program. The market-rate community solar option is fully subscribed with 220 participants and another 38 on the waitlist for future projects.

“Austin Energy’s Community Solar Program is another great example of what happens when the City Council, the community and the utility work together to drive value for all of our customers,” said Jackie Sargent, General Manager of Austin Energy. “Our new program will help bring the benefits of our local solar offerings to even more of our customers.”

Austin Energy has offered solar incentives to customers since 2004, and today more than 7,200 customers have solar panels on their rooftops. The Utility’s Community Solar Program launched more than a year ago with a 185-kilowatt rooftop solar array at the Palmer Events Center in Central Austin, which serves 23 customers. The program allows residential customers to meet their electric needs with 100 percent locally generated solar energy, and participants lock in the price for 15 years.

Austin Energy’s Customer Assistance Program provides utility discounts to some 37,000 energy customers who qualify by participating in at least one of seven specified social service programs.

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City owned Palmer Events Center features Austin’s first community solar project.  This and individual home solar installations are spurring solar employment nationwide.

The Solar Foundation recently released the National Solar Jobs Census 2017, an annual survey of solar employment nationwide and by state.

Download the report now or view the infographic on key findings. There is a lot of information in the report, including:

  • Solar jobs data by industry sector
  • A new analysis on installer efficiency
  • Solar workforce demographics
  • Wages, hiring, and education data
  • Profiles of solar employees

U.S. solar jobs declined 4 percent from 2017 as the industry scaled back installations, primarily because of changes in federal policies.  Nevertheless, the U.S. solar industry, which has outpaced other industries in job creation, remains strong.  Last year alone, the industry added 51,000 jobs, bringing the total number of Americans working in solar to more than 250,000  in all 50 states. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has also released 2017 data that puts the industry’s rapid growth into perspective and says the solar installer will be the fastest-growing job in America over the next  decade.  As the U.S. economy adds a projected 11.5 million jobs over the next decade, solar installer jobs will grow by 105 percent — more than any other occupation. (Note that The Solar Foundation’s Solar Jobs Census places any employee of an installer company in the “installer” category while the BLS considers just those physically getting on roofs to install panels.)  Solar is truly an American success story and will continue if the government leaves the market alone.

The solar industry is already adding jobs 17 times faster than the rest of the nation’s economy, and as the U.S. Solar Market Insight report has said, the industry is expected to triple in size by 2022. But this won’t happen if the government blocks the solar job wave by messing with the market through the pending Section 201 trade case. The case threatens to raise the cost of solar and cause tens of thousands of Americans in solar to lose their jobs.

As you can see in the Bloomberg chart above, wind turbine technician jobs followed closely at No. 2, showing that clean energy jobs are driving the U.S. economy forward.  We should keep an eye on the impacts of new trade agreements and tariffs on these booming industries.

 

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CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project, runs the global disclosure system that enables companies, cities, states and regions to measure and manage their environmental impacts. CDP has the most comprehensive collection of self-reported environmental data in the world. Of the 570 plus global cities reporting to CDP, over 100 now get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind.

Data on renewable energy mix is self-reported via CDP’s questionnaire.  These cities report at least 70% of their electricity is from renewables. Because this is a self-reporting survey, some cities (such as Georgetown, TX) may noy appear on the list.  Cities reporting they are powered by renewable energy are ‘city-wide’, not just municipal use only.   Read on to see the whole list. (more…)

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More Solar for Austin, Texas

 

The groundbreaking ceremony takes place at the site of Midway Solar project near McCamey, TX.
Photo by Midland Reporter-Telegram

Austin Energy customers will have an opportunity to get power from the new west Texas Midway Solar project that will generate enough power to run 50,000 home all of which has been purchased for Austin.

City owned Palmer Events Center features Austin’s first community solar project

In addition to this large solar farm, Austin Energy also has two community solar installations.

 

 

Palmer Events Center (functioning)

  • 185 kW
  • Enough to power about 25 homes

La Loma solar installation in east Austin (under construction)

  • 2.6 MW
  • Enough to power 400-450 homes
  • Features a battery the size of a shipping container to preserve energy when demand stays high but supply drops from passing shade clouds

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This week marks the six month anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, a catastrophic storm that killed 88 people and caused about $125 billion in damages. Scientists have shown that Harvey’s strength was fueled in part by climate change.

Houston Mayor Turner has voiced concerns about climate change and pollution, recently through an op-ed published in the Huffington Post entitled “Cities Must Get Creative In The Fight Against Air Pollution.” In this piece, Turner says that cities must address the poor air quality that too often disproportionately impacts low-income communities. Specifically, he states that he will protest permits for new concrete batch plants. Turner also plans to address climate change through using renewable energy to power city operations and through electric vehicle adoption.

Yet, the city of Houston can do more. The Houston Climate Movement came together last year before Harvey because we know that Houston is at risk for the impacts of climate change. The Houston Climate Movement advocates for a community-wide climate action and adaptation plan.

In response to Turner’s op-ed, we penned this letter to him:

(more…)

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New research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis details how nine major power markets around the world have achieved an outsized share of wind and solar generation while assuring the security of supply, and are providing compelling examples of the fast-moving evolution of electricity generation. 

 

California, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, South Australia, Spain, Tamil Nadu, Texas, and Uruguay are markets where they are embracing renewables.  The following was reprinted from IEEFA’s press materials on the new report.

 

The report, “Power-Industry Transition, Here and Now,” includes case studies of markets—ranked by relative share of reliance on variable renewables—that include Denmark, South Australia, Uruguay, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Texas, California, and the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

“The report shows that on the ground now and in a variety of markets these renewable-energy leaders have raced ahead of much of the rest of the world in proving how power grids can be readily sourced with up to 50 percent of their energy from wind and solar,” said Gerard Wynn, a London-based IEEFA energy finance consultant and lead author of the report.

“As we speak, renewables are being integrated into these states and nations at levels in excess of 10 times global averages by using a menu of options and actions to integrate these clean, low-carbon power sources into electricity markets,” Wynn said. “The tools exist now to spectacularly grow the global generation of wind and solar power worldwide.”

“We draw attention to actions that system operators can consider immediately, all of which can help ease the integration process and assure the security of supply,” Wynn said. “Other states and countries can follow the lead of these policymakers, investors, and regulators, according to their circumstances, and so avoid radical redesigns of their power markets,” he said.

Power outage data indicates that major cities in the national case studies have not suffered grid problems and that, to the contrary, suggests that they have among the world’s most robust electric grids and are performing better than peers.

The report details integration of wind and solar power equivalent to 14 to 53 percent of total net generation, depending on the market studied and describes a reality that stands in stark contrast to recent energy policies put forth by the U.S. government.

“The case studies in our report make clear that the Trump administration’s rhetoric on electricity generation is not grounded in market reality,” Wynn said. “Our research shows that the growing uptake of variable renewables can preserve energy security.”

(more…)

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Austin City Council adopted a resolution yesterday to direct $500,000 of Austin Energy’s fiscal year 2018 budget to prove solar to “multi-family affordable housing, low-income residents, renters, and non-profits.”  Austin Energy staff agree that this goal is achievable and have committed to develop programs to serve these customers.  Per the resolution, staff will report back to Council in February on progress made toward achieving this goal.

Expanding access to solar for low-income residents is the next generation of distributed solar policy.   As solar prices have dropped significantly and solar financing has become widely available, solar adoption among middle-income residents has increased.  But it is still difficult for low-income residents and renters to take advantage of these opportunities in Austin.

There are several barriers to adopting solar with these groups of customers.  Renters lack control over the decision and landlords often see no reason to invest in solar to reduce bills for tenants.  Low-income residents are more likely to lack access to credit, or sufficient savings to buy solar.  And multi-family properties require different billing arrangements than single family homes.

Affordable housing developed by Foundation Communities has been the one big exception to this deficit of solar for low-income residents in Austin.  The non-profit boasts 720 kilowatts of solar across many of its Austin properties.  Most of these installations are used to supply energy for common areas, or are at properties where Foundation Communities pays all bills for its tenants.

Foundation Communities Homestead Oaks Apartments in south Austin is the one example where the organization uses solar to reduce the bills of each of its 140 tenants.  Unfortunately, Austin Energy’s billing policy required that each unit have its own, independent solar array.  Instead of one big solar installation on the roof, there are 140 installations, each with its own production meter.  This drove up the cost by 15-20%, resulting in a large area of wall being filled with meters, and made the job more complicated.  It’s not an attractive model.

What is the solution?  Shared solar – similar to virtual net metering that exists in many other states.  Austin Energy needs to update its billing system to allow Value of Solar production credits (Austin Energy’s alternative to net metering) from a single solar array to be divided among multiple customer accounts.  Austin Energy has committed to making this change by September 2018.

The Shared Solar billing solution is just the start.  Much more will be needed to make solar accessible to low-income residents and renters.  Austin Energy could offer a higher residential solar rebate for installations on affordable housing properties where solar is used to benefit the individual residences (such as at the Homestead property).  The utility already offers a somewhat higher solar incentive for nonprofits with commercial customer accounts, but these is currently no such offer for residential accounts for multifamily housing.

Another option would be to implement a program similar to CPS Energy’s Solar Host program.  This program allows residents to benefit from rooftop solar without making any investment.  The utility contracts with a solar developer who installs solar on customer rooftops.  The utility pays the solar developer a set rate per kilowatt-hour of energy produced, and each participating customer receives a bill credit for each kilowatt-hour produced on their roof.  Essentially, the customer is renting their roof space.  The bill credits aren’t as high as if the customer owned the solar installation, but it requires no investment on their part, making solar accessible to low-income customers.

Implementing an on-bill repayment program could expand access to solar for renters.  This would tie a solar loan to a particular customer meter, as opposed to the customer themselves.   When one tenant moves out and another moves in, both the repayment of the loan and the bill credits from solar production transfer to the new tenant.  Ideally, such a program would ensure that average annual bill credits exceed annual loan repayment, meaning that a customer’s energy bill would not increase.

Buying down the community solar rate for low-income customers would also help renters.  Austin Energy is considering donating solar installations to affordable housing properties.  That’s how the Guadalupe-Saldana Net Zero Subdivision was able to incorporate solar.  Public Citizen fully supports this, but recognizes that this solution will always be limited by available funding.

The Austin City Council resolution was sponsored by Council Member Greg Casar and co-sponsored by Council Members Leslie Pool, Delia Garza, and Pio Renteria.  They were joined in support by Council Members Ann Kitchen, Alison Alter and Ora Houston, Mayor Pro Tem Tovo, and Mayor Steve Adler.  Public Citizen applauds City Council and Austin Energy for embracing this next step in local solar development in Austin and looks forward to engaging with staff and other stakeholders to make this effort a success.

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Janis and Evan Bookout speaking in support of renewable energy to protect the climate (Photo courtesy of Al Braden, www.albradenphoto.com)

Yesterday morning, Austinites took time out of their day to show up at City Hall and let the Austin City Council know that we expect real leadership when it comes to adopting an updated Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan.  Many joined us in a call for carbon-free by 2030, and 75% renewable energy by 2027 goals.  The other common theme we are supporting is the need for additional programs to make the benefits of distributed solar accessible to low-income residents, renters and those in multifamily housing.

Join us at the public hearing on August 10 to call for a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy, while improving equity.

This process started last November with the creation of the Electric Utility Commission Resource Planning Working Group (which was partially appointed by Austin Energy).  But after months of meetings, the working group recommendations (which have been endorsed by Austin Energy) fall well short of leadership on either climate protection or energy equity.  The recommendations call for only 65% renewable energy by 2027, limited or no increases for energy efficiency, local solar and energy storage goals, and no solid commitments to improve access to distributed solar.

Thankfully, the Austin City Council is the board of directors for Austin Energy, so we all get a chance to weigh in with our elected officials to call for a plan that represents Austin values – doing right by our planet and our neighbors

That’s what the public hearing is for, so please mark your calendar.

At least 32 U.S. cities have committed to a 100 percent renewable energy goal and 5 have already achieved this goal.  If Austin is to claim leadership on combating climate change, a commitment to 100% carbon-free energy is needed.  This, of course, implies that all of Austin Energy’s fossil fuel generators would need to be retired.  That would include the natural gas-fired power plants at Decker Creek and Sand Hill, both located on the east side of Austin.  This would improve air quality in the city and end our utility’s contribution to fracking, which is responsible for groundwater contamination, air pollution (including methane – a powerful greenhouse gas), earthquakes and destroyed roads in Texas and other states.  With all of these harmful side effects of energy production, it is those with the fewest options and opportunities – those with the least among us – who are hardest hit.  It’s on all of us – as Austinites – to stop contributing to these negative outcomes as quickly as possible.

Daniel Llanes, of PODER – People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources, speaking in support of a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy to protect the climate; and for greater and more diverse public input (Photo courtesy of Al Braden, www.albradenphoto.com)

As we transition to clean energy, we can and should ensure that the benefits flow to everyone in our community.  As the price of solar energy has increased, more residents and businesses are going solar to reduce their bills and their impact on the environment. There is now financing available for those who can’t pay up front, making solar accessible to middle-income residents.  That’s good news, but solar has still been out of reach for those with poor credit, renters and those living in multifamily housing (either apartments or condominiums).  Making solar accessible for these populations is challenging, but utilities, governments and non-profits around the country are digging in to find solutions.  San Antonio’s CPS Energy already has a successful solar program, called Solar Host, which is accessible to low-income residents.  What we want is for Austin Energy to take on these challenges and embrace new solutions.  Local solar goals should be expanded and incentive budgets maintained to make solar an option for Austinites at all income levels and in all types of housing.

If these ideas speak to your values, please come to the public hearing on August 10 to speak your mind.

Goals are only useful if they are high enough to spur innovation and action beyond what is already happening.  We want Austin to be ambitious in taking on climate change and equity.

Here’s what we’re asking for (3rd column):

 

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El Paso Electric (EPE) – which is a for-profit company with a monopoly in the El Paso area – is seeking higher rates for the utility’s west Texas customers and launching another attack on solar customers. Despite increasing rates last year, the utility wants to collect an additional $42.5 million each year from its customers. Under the new proposal, EPE’s customers would face an overall 8.7 percent increase, amounting to $8.25 per month for the average residential customer. Solar customers would be hit even harder under the proposal, which an average bill increase of $14.09 per month.

Under EPE’s proposal, residential customers with solar would be subject to demand charges, which factors in the customers maximum demand for electricity at a single point in time. Demand charges are almost never used for residential customers because they are complex and can lead to significant fluctuations in bills.  Demand charges also make it very difficult for customers to take action to control their bills.  Solar customers would also be subject to time-of-use rates, which means electricity rates are different based on the time and day of the week.  While time-of-use rates can be a good tool, there is no justification for forcing them on customers with solar, but not other customers.

The 2017 utility tries to justify its discrimination against solar customers by using the false “cost-shift” argument. EPE plans to put the solar customers in a special class to “establish a fair rate structure that reflects the cost to serve each customer class.” To put it simply, EPE and other utilities are using the false argument that solar customers do not pay their fair share of grid-upkeep costs. This has been proven to be a false assumption by numerous studies conducted to calculate the value of solar. The improper allocation of costs to solar energy users will reduce the number of people willing to invest in solar and will leave current customers with no way to recover their costs.

EPE’s persistence in targeting solar customers has raised concerns. Several solar industry and advocacy groups, including The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and Eco El Paso are going to fight the proposal at the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) . Public Citizen is supporting these efforts by pushing the City of El Paso to make fighting the unfair solar fees and preventing the attack on solar a priority.

If you live in El Paso, take a minute to email the city to voice your opposition to the proposed unfair rates for solar customers.

“Demand charges found unreceptive audiences among regulators in 2016, and last year, Texas residents clearly rejected El Paso Electric’s same drastic and unprecedented rate design that punishes solar customers,” says TASC spokesperson Amy Heart. Senator José Rodríguez also issued a strong statement in opposition to the proposal:

I’m disappointed that El Paso Electric insists on discouraging people from installing solar on their homes. The electric company once again wants to single out solar customers by increasing their rates at least two times the amount of their non-solar neighbors. Solar customers will no longer be able to save on their electric bills, which was the reason they installed solar panels in the first place…I strongly believe these anti-solar proposals contradict the intent of Senate Bill 1910, which I passed in 2011 to authorize solar net metering in El Paso Electric’s service territory.

Fortunately for solar customers and non-solar customers alike, the evidence clearly shows that solar customers are contributing at least as much value as they get from the grid. A recent report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center evaluated 16 “value of solar” studies, and all but a couple that were conducted by utilities showed that the value of energy solar customers contribute to the system is higher than the retail rate they offset with net metering.

If you live in El Paso, help us and Eco El Paso fight back by sending an email to the El Paso City Council.

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Public Citizen Honors Tom “Smitty” Smith

 

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After more than three decades of extraordinary work running Public Citizen’s Texas office, “Smitty,” formally known as Thomas Smith, is hanging up his spurs. Smitty is a Texas institution and a national treasure, and on February 1st, we celebrated him right.

Over 200 people attended a retirement dinner for Smitty at the Barr Mansion in Austin, TX on Wednesday evening.  Friends and colleagues from around the state who had work with Smitty on issues over his career that included clean energy, ethics reform, pollution mitigation, nuclear waste disposal, etc came to pay homage to a man who had dedicated his life to fighting for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed.

Mayor Adler and Council members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchens

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and Smitty

Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel and Smitty

During the evening, Austin Mayor – Steve Adler, Travis County Commissioner – Brigid Shea, and Dallas County Commissioner – Dr. Theresa Daniel presented Smitty with resolutions passed by the City of Austin, Travis County Commissioners Court and Dallas County Commissioners Court all of which acknowledge Smitty’s contributions to their communities and the state of Texas.

 

 

 

Adrian Shelley (front left) and Rob Weissman (front right) at Tom “Smitty” Smith’s retirement event.

Public Citizen’s President, Robert Weissman, thanked Smitty for his service to Public Citizen for the past 31 years and introduced the new director for the Texas office, Adrian Shelley, the current Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

Smitty’ impending departure fromPublic Citizen will leave a big hole in advocacy for progressive issues here in Texas, but both Smitty and Robert Weissman expressed confidence that Adrian would lead the Texas office forward into a new era of progressive advocacy.  Adrian is a native Texan from the City of Houston. He has served as the Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston since 2013. He first worked with Air Alliance Houston as a legal fellow in 2010, then as a Community Outreach Coordinator in 2012. In that time, Public Citizen has worked closely with Air Alliance Houston through the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), a coalition of nonprofits and community groups which advocates policies to improve public health and safety while encouraging economic growth.

So be assured that Adrian and the Texas staff of Public Citizen are committed to carrying on the battle for justice, for democracy, for air clean and  energy and for clean politics. We can and will protect our children and the generations to come. For this, we can still use your help.  You can make a tax deductible donation to the Texas office of Public Citizen to help us continue his vital work on climate, transportation, civil justice, consumer protection, ethics, campaign finance reform and more

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Freight ShuttleOn September 9th, Adrian Shelley and I went to Bryan, Texas, to watch the unveiling of the Freight Shuttle System (FSS), a technology  currently being built and tested by Freight Shuttle International. Dr. Stephen Roop, chief scientist at Freight Shuttle International and and professor at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, opened the unveiling with a press briefing sharing his vision. The FSS is an electric, autonomous shuttle powered by a linear induction motor, providing low friction to the steel wheels running on steel lines, similar to train tracks. The FSS combines elements of truck and train transport – single shuttles run on a track similar to a train track, and according to Dr. Roop’s vision, those tracks would be elevated from other modes of transportation to reduce congestion, provide a strong level of predictability and non-stop service, and reduce infrastructure damage often associated with truck transportation. 

Dr. Roop noted the emissions of the FSS are tied to the source of power. What that means is that the FSS itself would generate no point-of-source pollution like the cancer-causing pollution created by diesel engines currently on the road. Furthermore, because the FSS would operate under DC voltage, it could be tied easily to renewable energy. In that way, the FSS could take advantage of the increasing access to renewable energy in Texas and potentially be net zero in terms of carbon pollution.

Adrian and Stephanie with Freight Shuttle

Adrian and Stephanie with Freight Shuttle

The FSS is not designed to transport hazardous or toxic materials, and although it could possibly be used to transport people, it is intended now to be separate from people – that is to be contained within a separate line so that the roads and highways can be used for people, not cargo.

The Port of Houston Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with Freight Shuttle International and is planning to use the FSS to transport cargo between its container terminals, Bayport and Barbour’s Cut. Freight Shuttle International stated that the FSS line could be operational within 3 years.

 

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A rate case is fundamentally about determining how much money an electric utility needs to collect from ratepayers to pay for expenses (and make some return on investment), how those expenses will be divided among the different customer classes (residential, commercial, industrial), and how customers in those different rate classes will be billed.  It’s probably obvious that these decisions can impact affordability and equity among customers.  Rate cases can also have significant environmental impacts though.

The Austin Energy rate case is an opportunity to make changes that can allow the utility to transition away from fossil fuels and towards greater reliance on clean energy solutions, including solar energy at homes and businesses, energy efficiency, energy storage and demand response (temporarily reducing usage when energy demand and prices spike).  What the utility spends money on, what programs are offered, and how rates are designed have profound impacts on climate change, air quality, water pollution, water use, land use – all of which impact society in a variety of ways, including public health and vulnerability to natural disasters.  So, it might sound boring at first, but if you care about the environment or social equity, you should care about how your electric utility is doing business.

What we’re advocating for:

  • 2009-08-21-fayette

    Fayette Power Project

    Budget to allow Austin Energy’s portion of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project to retire.  It is responsible for 80% of Austin Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions (and over 28% of Austin’s greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors).  It’s also a major source of other air pollution that causes and worsens respiratory diseases (sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides – which contributes to ground level ozone formation) and cause neurological disorders mercury.  And it requires over 5 billion gallons of water to operate.  The latest adopted plan for Austin Energy calls for the retirement of the utility’s portion of Fayette by 2023, and Austin Energy staff say its remaining debt associated with the plant must be paid off before it can be retired.  The plan calls for that money to be collected in a dedicated fund through annual budgeting, but that isn’t happening, putting the retirement plan at risk.  Please use our action page to email City Council about budgeting to retire Fayette.

  • Maintain residential rates that encourage energy conservation and allow thrifty customers to keep their bills low.  Austin Energy has proposed to increase electric rates for those who use the least energy and reduce them for those who use the most.  For those trying to reduce their electric usage for environmental reasons or because their household budgets are strained, Austin Energy’s proposal will increase bills.  Austin Energy’s proposal will also make it more difficult to project from year to year how higher much summer rates will be from winter rates.  Both of these changes would reduce the incentive to conserve energy and invest in energy efficiency upgrade.  And these changes were proposed despite a study that Austin Energy commissioned that said that the existing rate structure is succeeding in encouraging conservation.  These proposed changes to how residential customers are billed would be a step backwards.
  • LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation - Meridian Solar

    LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation – Meridian Solar

    Adopt a policy to fairly compensate businesses for energy they produce from solar energy systems.  The City Council has adopted goals solar energy on homes and businesses, but Austin Energy’s current policy doesn’t include any way for most commercial customers to receive compensation for the energy they provide to the utility.  Incentives have temporarily filled that gap, but they are coming to an end.  The value of solar (VoS) rate is used to provide bill credits to residential customers, based on the calculated value of local distributed solar energy.  The same method should be used to compensate commercial customers.  Making this policy change will help grow solar adoption, while shifting away from incentives.

  • Ensure that enough money is collected to fully fund energy efficiency, solar energy and demand response programs.  Helping customers reduce their electric bills by making energy efficiency improvement or install solar energy systems doesn’t just benefit those customers who participate in those programs, it benefits all customers by allowing the utility to avoid purchasing expensive power that would drive all of our bills up.  The Energy Efficiency Services fee is used to collect money for this purpose.  With more people moving to Austin all the time, Austin Energy needs to ensure that budgets are set to match the need for local energy improvements.

Public Citizen and Sierra Club jointly participated in the Austin Energy rate case over the past several months, in an effort to push the utility to make environmentally sound decisions about both spending and billing customers.  That was just a warm-up for the real decision-making process though.  Because Austin Energy is owned by the city of Austin, the Austin City Council will make the final decisions about the rate case.  That’s where you come in.  City Council members, including Mayor Adler, need to hear from Austin Energy customers.  There will be a public hearing on Thursday, August 25th at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall.  Meet at 3:00 p.m. for a rally to support fair rates that meet Austin’s environmental goals.

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For 46 years the Longannet power station in Scotland, the largest coal plant in Europe, burned coal for energy.  The plant, the last of its kind in Scotland, closed last Thursday, bringing an end, after 115 years, of coal for electricity.
Scotland, a country of some 5 million people, is on track to have enough renewable energy to power 100 percent of its electricity demand by 2020.Renewable electricity output has more than doubled since 2007 and is equivalent to half of the electricity consumed. This surge in renewables follows a massive investment in onshore and offshore wind, which has established Scotland as a renewable energy leader in the region.
 scottish coal minersEnvironmentalists welcomed the end of Longannet, which burned around 4.5 million metric tons of coal a year, and was responsible for a fifth of Scotland’s climate change emissions. For a country which virtually invented the Industrial Revolution and for which coal had been central to the country’s economy for the past two centuries, this is a hugely significant step, marking the end of coal and the beginning of the end for fossil fuels in Scotland.  With the closure of Longannet, the only major fossil fuel plant in Scotland is a gas plant at Peterhead, in the northeast.In the U.S. moving beyond coal continues with 232 plants announced for retirement.
While fossil fuels continue to have a role in the power sector, renewable energy is expected to continue the surge it has been enjoying.  A new United Nations-backed report found that coal and gas-fired electricity generation drew less than half the investment made in solar, wind, and other renewables in 2015.
So we say slàinte to Scotland, for its leadership in ending fossil fuel use.

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