As reported in

NEW YORK (AP) – Electricity prices are probably on their way up across much of the U.S. as coal-fired plants, the dominant source of cheap power, shut down in response to environmental regulations and economic forces.

New and tighter pollution rules and tough competition from cleaner sources such as natural gas, wind and solar will lead to the closings of dozens of coal-burning plants across 20 states over the next three years. And many of those that stay open will need expensive retrofits.

Because of these and other factors, the Energy Department predicts retail power prices will rise 4 percent on average this year, the biggest increase since 2008. By 2020, prices are expected to climb an additional 13 percent, a forecast that does not include the costs of coming environmental rules.

The Obama administration, state governments and industry are struggling to balance this push for a cleaner environment with the need to keep the grid reliable and prevent prices from rocketing too much higher.

More coverage

“We’re facing a set of questions that are new to the industry,” says Clair Moeller, who oversees transmission and technology for the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which coordinates much of the electric grid between Minnesota and Louisiana.

Coal is the workhorse of the U.S. power system. It is used to produce 40 percent of the nation’s electricity, more than any other fuel. Because it is cheap and abundant and can be stored on power plant grounds, it helps keep prices stable and power flowing even when demand spikes.

Natural gas, which accounts for 26 percent of the nation’s electricity, has dropped in price and become more plentiful because of the fracking boom. But its price is on the rise again, and it is still generally more expensive to produce electricity with gas than with coal. Also, gas isn’t stored at power plants because the cost is prohibitive. That means it is subject to shortages and soaring prices.

During the brutally cold and snowy winter that just ended, utilities in several states struggled to secure natural gas because so much was also needed to heat homes. Some utilities couldn’t run gas-fired plants at all, and power prices soared 1,000 percent in some regions.

As Indiana has reduced its reliance on coal to 84 percent from 97 percent over the last decade, its power prices rose far faster than those of its neighbors and the rest of the country.

That makes things tough on customers, especially big power users like Rochester Metal Products Corp., in Rochester, Indiana. The hulking furnaces it uses to melt scrap iron consume enough electricity to power 7,000 households.

“As Indiana’s price of electricity becomes less and less competitive, so do we,” says Doug Smith, the company’s maintenance and engineering manager.

Burning coal releases toxic chemicals, soot and smog-forming chemicals, as well as twice the amount of carbon dioxide that natural gas produces. The Supreme Court last month gave an important approval to one Environmental Protection Agency clean-air rule. That cleared the way for a new rule expected to be announced by President Barack Obama early next month.

This rule, the first to govern emissions of carbon dioxide from existing power plants, could accelerate the move away from coal – if it survives the legal and political challenges that are sure to come.

Already, the current rules are expected to force power companies to shut down 68 coal plants across 20 states between 2014 and 2017, according to Bentek Energy, a market analysis firm.

The Energy Department estimates coal plants with the output to supply 33 million homes will close by 2020.

“We haven’t operated at those low levels (of generation) for at least 30 years,” says MISO’s Clair Moeller.

To meet high demand this past winter, American Electric Power, which serves 5 million customers in 11 states, needed to run 89 percent of the coal plants it will soon have to shut down, says AEP CEO Nick Akins.

This raises concerns that the power system soon won’t have enough wiggle room to handle extreme weather, making blackouts more likely.

“It’s a warning of what may be to come,” Moeller says.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, responding to critics, notes that pollution also imposes costs on the economy because it harms human health and the environment. And she has also forcefully promised that the coming carbon dioxide rule will keep costs in check and power flowing.

“EPA is not going to threaten electric reliability,” she told a gathering of executives in Houston in March. “That is our No. 1 priority.”

Richard Sedano of the Regulatory Assistance Project, which advises officials on regulatory policy, says the transition to cleaner sources can be smooth with proper planning.

States, utilities and the federal government have helped reduce the need for more power plants through efficiency programs and standards for energy-conserving lights and appliances. Utilities are building new transmission lines and updating grids. And customers are generating more of their own power with solar panels and managing their consumption through digital meters and other technology.

Also, power prices across the U.S. are relatively low compared to those in the rest of the developed world. Adjusted for inflation, the national average residential price is nearly 30 percent lower than in 1984.


AP Writer Rick Callahan contributed to this story from Indianapolis. Jonathan Fahey can be reached at


As reported By Christopher Martin Bloomberg News 3/21/12

NEW YORK – U.S. solar developers are luring cash at record rates from investors ranging from Warren Buffett to Google and KKR by offering returns on projects four times those available for Treasury securities.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., together with the biggest Internet search company, private equity companies, and insurers MetLife Inc. and John Hancock Life Insurance Co., poured more than $500 million into renewable energy in the last year. That’s the most ever for companies outside the club of banks and specialist lenders that traditionally back solar energy, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

Once so risky that only government backing could draw private capital, solar projects now are making returns of about 15 percent, according to Stanford University’s Center for Energy Policy and Finance. That has attracted a wider community of investors eager to cash in on earnings stronger than those for infrastructure projects such as toll roads and pipelines. “A solar power project with a long-term sales agreement could be viewed as a machine that generates revenue,” said Marty Klepper, an attorney at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, which helped arrange a solar deal for Buffett. “It’s an attractive investment for any firm, not just those in energy.”

With 30-year Treasuries yielding about 3.4 percent, investors are seeking safe places to park their money for years at a higher return. Solar energy fits the bill, with predictable cash flows guaranteed by contract for two decades or more. Those deals may be even more lucrative because many were signed before the cost of solar panels plunged 50 percent last year.

Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. agreed to buy the Topaz Solar Farm in California from First Solar Inc. on Dec. 7. The project’s development budget is estimated at $2.4 billion and it may generate a 16.3 percent return on investment by selling power to PG&E Corp. at about $150 a megawatt-hour through a 25-year contract, according to New Energy Finance calculations. It will have 550 megawatts of capacity and is expected to go into operation in 2015, making it one of the world’s biggest photovoltaic plants.

“After tax, you’re looking at returns in the 10 percent to 15 percent range” for solar projects, said Dan Reicher, executive director of the Stanford center. “The beauty of solar is, once you make the capital investment, you’ve got free fuel and very low operating costs.”

The long-term nature of solar power purchase deals makes them similar to some bonds. And because a solar farm is a tangible asset, these investments also function much like those for infrastructure projects, with cash flows comparable to toll roads, bridges and pipelines, said Stefan Heck, a director at McKinsey & Co. in New York who leads the firm’s clean-tech work. Once a project starts producing power, investors can earn a return that’s “higher than most bonds,” he said. “There are a lot of pension funds with long-term horizons that are very interested in this space.”

Governments remain the biggest backers of the solar industry; President Obama’s administration suffered criticism for investing in Solyndra, a solar manufacturer that went bankrupt last year. Worldwide, the U.S. Treasury’s Federal Financing Bank was the biggest asset-finance lender for renewable energy companies in the past year, arranging 12 deals worth $11.2 billion, according to New Energy Finance. The Brazilian development bank BNDES, Bank of America, and Banco Santander followed.

In 2009, solar technology was so unfamiliar that few banks would back projects that required billions in upfront investment and wouldn’t begin producing revenue for years, Klepper said. The biggest financiers for the industry that year were Madrid- based Santander, HSH Nordbank of Hamburg and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria of Bilbao, Spain, New Energy Finance said.

That year, the Energy Department began funding a program to guarantee loans for solar farms and other renewable energy projects that supported almost $35 billion in financing before winding down in September. The government’s endorsement assuaged investors’ concerns and built up a bigger community of people who understand how to make money from solar deals, said Arno Harris, chief executive officer of Sharp Corp.’s renewable power development unit Recurrent Energy.

“Solar is now bankable,” Harris said. “When solar was perceived as more risky, it required a premium,” and now it’s “becoming part of a much broader capital market.”

Long-term power-purchase contracts are the key to making solar a reliable investment, Harris said. Utilities in sunny states such as California, Arizona, and Nevada have agreed to pay premiums for electricity generated by sunshine.

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Long Beach, California (CNN) — Microsoft Corp. founder and philanthropist Bill Gates on Friday called on the world’s tech community to find a way to turn spent nuclear fuel into cheap, clean energy.

“What we’re going to have to do at a global scale is create a new system,” Gates said in a speech at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California. “So we need energy miracles.”

Gates called climate change the world’s most vexing problem, and added that finding a cheap and clean energy source is more important than creating new vaccines and improving farming techniques, causes into which he has invested billion of dollars.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last month pledged $10 billion to help deploy and develop vaccines for children in the developing world.

The world must eliminate all of its carbon emissions and cut energy costs in half in order to prevent a climate catastrophe, which will hit the world’s poor hardest, he said.

“We have to drive full speed and get a miracle in a pretty tight timeline,” he said.

Gates said the deadline for the world to cut all of its carbon emissions is 2050. He suggested that researchers spend the next 20 years inventing and perfecting clean-energy technologies, and then the next 20 years implementing them.

The world’s energy portfolio should not include coal or natural gas, he said, and must include carbon capture and storage technology as well as nuclear, wind and both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal power.

“We’re going to have to work on each of these five [areas] and we can’t give up on any of them because they look daunting,” he said. “They all have significant challenges.”

Gates spent a significant portion of his speech highlighting nuclear technology that would turn spent uranium — the 99 percent of uranium rods that aren’t burned in current nuclear power plants — into electricity.

That technology could power the world indefinitely; spent uranium supplies in the U.S. alone could power the country for 100 years, he said.

A “traveling wave reactor” would burn uranium waste slowly, meaning a 60-year supply could be added to a reactor at once and then not touched for decades, he said.

Gates also called for innovation in battery technology.

“All the batteries we make now could store less than 10 minutes of all the energy [in the world],” he said. “So, in fact, we need a big breakthrough here. Something that’s going to be of a factor of 100 better than what we have now.”

Gates called for more investment in climate-related technology. He said he is backing a company called TerraPower, which is working on an alternate form of nuclear technology that uses spent fuel.

Money that goes into research and development will pay bigger returns than other investments, he said, especially if money goes into energy sources that will be cheap enough for the developing world to afford.

Clean energy technologies must be installed in poorer countries as they develop, he said.

“You’d be stunned at the ridiculously low costs of innovation,” said Gates, who received a standing ovation for his remarks.

If he could wish for anything in the world, Gates said he would not pick the next 50 years’ worth of presidents or wish for a miracle vaccine.

He would choose energy that is half as expensive as coal and doesn’t warm the planet.

Written by Jeff Schweitzer As reported in Huffington Post Green

A sad fact of modern life is that our ability to plan for long-term energy independence is stymied by fluctuating oil prices. At $150 per barrel and $4.00 per gallon, gas-guzzling SUVs were being dropped faster than quarters at a slot convention in Las Vegas. Panic selling of large cars was fueled by punditry calling for permanently high fuel prices, with some talking heads ruminating about $200 per barrel. Politicians were falling over each other to demand a switch to renewable energies. We wondered with pious regret why the country had not invested more heavily in solar and wind power.

How quickly we forget. At $40 per barrel, we have developed an intense case of amnesia and have quickly mortgaged our future for more immediate gratification. We learned exactly nothing from the oil crisis of the 1970s or from any subsequent spike in oil prices. With every peak we express regret at our shortsightedness and promise to reform, never to drink again, and then with every valley we forget our commitment to a better future, and pick up the bottle once more.

We are behaving like alcoholics oscillating between bouts of sobriety and weakness because that is precisely what we are: oil addicts. Exhibit A is the precipitous decline in hybrid values, which are down almost 24% from the peak last summer simply because fuel is now cheaper. That rational market response is a rather pathetic reflection of our collective obsession with the short-term at the expense of a healthy future.

We need an intervention. We need to change our ways. We need help. Like all addicts, we will not get sober alone. Market forces alone will not come to our rescue. Ronald Reagan famously said that government is the problem, not the solution. He could not have been more wrong.

The immediate demands of the market cannot properly anticipate our longer-term future needs. The current price of oil, for example, does not incorporate the value of energy independence, and with that the commensurate benefits to national security. The cost of gasoline fails to include the future costs of climate change. Refineries do not consider the costs of protecting sources of oil in the Middle East in their price structure. The temporal gap between market forces and societal goals cannot be bridged by appealing to the magic of free enterprise. Government must play a catalytic role.

The time has come for society to pay the true environmental and national security price tag of burning fossil fuels. Even during these times of economic crises, gasoline must be taxed so that the actual costs to society are recovered and properly reflected in the price of fuel. The revenue generated from such a carbon tax must then be used to fund renewable energy infrastructure development and research.

Reliance on foreign oil from the world’s most unstable regions is one of our greatest national security threats. Dumping six billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year is one of our greatest environmental threats. We can solve both problems with an aggressive move to renewable energies. To do so, we must not fall prey to the bad habits of our addiction every time a bottle of our poison comes down in price.

We have a moral obligation to bequeath to our children a world that is at least as good as the one we inherited from our parents. We will not meet that obligation if we cannot see past the next fiscal quarter. Our government policies and personal actions must look toward a more distant horizon. We have to move beyond our ridiculous propensity to abandon our quest for energy independence with every dip in the price of oil. We can do better than this.

Our Perspective:

Alternative Energy is the new Buzzword. We are poised to enter a new energy era. Are we willing to take that step? We can’t afford not to!

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email

Written by Jesse Jenkins
Posted February 24, 2009 | 02:49 PM (EST)

Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

For those paying close attention, there was a nugget of critical energy and climate policy news buried at the tail end of a Saturday New York Times story focused on President Obama’s budget plans:

On energy policy, Mr. Obama’s budget will show new revenues by 2012 from his proposal to require companies to buy permits from the government for greenhouse gas emissions above a certain cap. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that would rise to $300 billion a year by 2020. 

Since companies would pass their costs on to customers, Mr. Obama would have the government use most of the revenues for relief to families to offset higher utility bills and related expenses. The remaining revenues would cover his proposals for $15 billion a year in spending and tax incentives to develop alternative energy.

Many climate advocates will no doubt read this with excitement at Obama’s apparent commitment to move forward with a cap and trade proposal, even during these tough economic times. But if you’re looking closely at the public investments Obama plans to pair with his carbon pricing proposal, you’ve got to start worrying: if Obama remains committed to spending just $15 billion per year to spur a new energy economy, America will fail in that endeavor. Cap or no cap, I’m not sure you can find one energy expert that thinks the public investments required to build a new energy economy will cost that little.

I know I may be chastised for criticizing Obama so soon after he delivered an unprecedented clean energy investment in the stimulus. But let’s be clear: those investments were just the beginning, and Obama needs to articulate a clear and viable plan to make the sustained commitment and ongoing public investments necessary to truly build a new energy economy.

The public is overwhelmingly behind President Obama right now, and if he was elected with a mandate to do anything beyond stem the economic crisis, it was a mandate to build a new, clean energy economy that finally secures America’s energy independence and averts potentially catastrophic climate change.

Yet once you start looking at the critical areas where public investment in a clean energy economy is necessary – research, development and demonstration, or RD&D; critical infrastructure, like a modernized electrical grid; deployment incentives to spur emerging technologies; and efficiency incentives, financing and other investments to retrofit American homes, businesses and factories – it’s not hard to see why the $15 billion per year Obama has pledged is simply not up to the task.

RD&D: There’s widespread consensus – including among Obama advisers like White House science adviser John Holdren, Sec. of Energy Steven Chu, and Obama campaign energy adviser Dan Kammen – that public investments in clean energy RD&D alone need to rise to $15-30 billion annually, putting them on the same scale as other national innovation priorities (e.g. health research at NIH, military R&D, etc.) and past R&D initiatives (e.g. Apollo, Manhattan, Project Independence, etc.).

Building a 21st century electrical grid: building a modern electrical grid, including long-distance transmission expansion and the integration of smart grid (and probably utility-scale energy storage) technologies will cost on the scale of hundreds of billions over the coming decade or two. Not all of that will have to come from the public sector, but a sizable chunk will, maybe $5-15 billion annually. Breakthrough proposes creating a National Electricity Modernization Authority to facilitate and finance grid modernization activities across the country, investing $50 billion in public seed money to get the Authority started. More on what it will take to build a 21st Century Grid in an upcoming post…

Driving clean energy deployment: Incentives to spur the deployment of emerging clean energy technologies and drive down their cost are also necessary, even with a cap and trade program in place. Denmark provides a perfect case study of the necessity of pairing carbon pricing with direct investments in clean energy technology deployment. Looking elsewhere in Europe, it’s also not hard to see that the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme doesn’t preclude Germany’s sizable investment in solar deployment, a roughly 50 cents/kWh feed-in tariff, for example, nor does it stop nations across the EU from putting in place more modest deployment incentives for wind, solar, biomass and other renewables. Here in the United States, the three-year PTC expansion in the stimulus is projected to cost $13 billion over the next ten years, and the cost of supporting emerging renewable energy technologies will only increase as the scale of their deployment ramps up.

If the United States launched a cohesive strategy to support a whole portfolio of emerging clean energy technologies (for both electricity and transportation), aimed at achieving economies of scale and improving price and performance, it could cost on the scale of $30 billion annually before long. Those are smart investments though to make clean energy cheap over time (in real, unsubsidized terms), especially when compared to the total expected cost of cap and trade ($100-300 billion/year). Since deployment incentives can be targeted strategically at specific technologies, they will cost our economy and taxpayers far less than the blunt instrument that is carbon pricing; why make all energy more expensive than solar (a three-to-five-fold increase in the price of energy) in order make solar competitive when you can design a deployment incentive specifically for solar that accomplishes the same goal at a fraction of the cost?

Rebuilding an efficient economy: Spurring widespread and ongoing energy efficiency retrofits and upgrades across multiple sectors of the US economy will require major public investments as well, particularly in the form of low-cost financing to bring down the high capital costs of efficiency retrofits – what I call the “Capital Barrier.” On the higher end, Architecture 2030 recently called for a $171 billion, two-year stimulus investment to bring down the Capital Barrier for efficiency, predominantly through low-interest mortgages and loans. Green for All, the Center on Wisconsin Strategies, and Center for American Progress have called for a much more modest investment of $15 billion over five years to underwrite the establishment of a $50 billion public revolving loan fund to bring down the Capital Barrier for efficiency retrofits. The stimulus bill, with at least $8.5 billion in annual investments in efficiency gives us another scale reference. And of course, those investments merely begin the task of building a more efficient American economy.

In summary, it’s no wonder the Breakthrough Institute is joined by the the Apollo Alliance, and the Center for American Progress in proposing public investments in clean energy on the scale of $50 billion annually. Obama’s plans to spend just $15 billion a year simply falls far short of what is needed (even after the good start he’s made in the stimulus).

So what will it take to get Obama to double, triple or even quadruple his commitment to the strategic public investments necessary to spark a clean energy economy?

Now, I’m not wedded to financing these investments entirely (or even at all) with money from carbon price revenue (especially since I’m not confident cap and trade will pass soon enough to provide a near-term revenue stream). But if the money doesn’t come from carbon auctions, it’s gotta come from elsewhere (and soon). Does Obama have a plan to finance the scale and type of clean energy investments on the scale we need?

Obama says that sparking a clean energy economy is his top priority (after getting the economy out of crisis). It’s time for him to put (real) money on the table.

Obama signs stimulus plan

February 25, 2009

Written by Martin Lamonica

Martin LaMonica is a senior writer for CNET’s Green Tech blog.

President Obama signed into law a government stimulus package Tuesday and said the energy provisions will pave the path for doubling the amount of renewable energy in the next three years.

Energy is a major piece of the massive $787 billion package, totaling about $38 billion in government spending and about $20 billion in tax incentives over the next 10 years, according to estimates.


President Barack Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in Denver.

(Credit: Screen capture by Martin LaMonica/CNET Networks)


Obama signed the bill, called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, into law at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science where he later took a tour of the museum’s solar-panel installation.

The energy portions of the law are intended to promote rapid development of renewable energy sources and increase energy efficiency in buildings, appliances, and other sectors of the economy.

The president said he hoped that the clean-energy-related portions of the bill will inspire Americans the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon did in the 1960s.

“I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama said before signing the bill.

The major energy-related portions of the law were largely left intact after Congressional debate. Overall, the plan will more than triple the amount of spending on clean-energy programs, said Daniel Weiss, a fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Major energy portions include:


  • A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
  • $4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
  • $6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
  • $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
  • $2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
  • $5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
  • $3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
  • A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.

(Click here for full summary from the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and from law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf.)

Measuring the impact
In general, companies in the green-technology field have welcomed the focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy production in the law.

The law gives renewable-energy project developers an alternative to the existing federal subsidy. Many renewable-energy projects have been stalled, or scrapped, because many investors don’t have enough income to take advantage of a 30 percent federal tax credit. The bill now allows renewable-energy project developers to effectively get the same credit by applying for a loan from the Department of Energy for 30 percent of the project, explained Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA).

The loan guarantees are designed to help companies to commercialize new energy technologies, by providing money for a manufacturing facility, for example. A number of green-tech companies, including flywheel storage company Beacon Power, electric-car company Tesla Motors, and battery maker A123 Systems have applied

More generally, investors and analysts said that the significance of the law is that it’s a step toward crafting a more comprehensive energy policy, based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency.

“For years, U.S. policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven,” said Michael Liebreich, the CEO of research firm New Energy Finance, in a statement. “No longer…the U.S. will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.

The spending on the bill on things like smart grid technologies and energy efficiency should have a rapid impact, said Dennis Costello, a venture capitalist at Braemar Energy Ventures. But he said that even with the economic stimulus of the government spending, the conditions for energy technology firms remains very difficult.

Specifically, he said the drop in the cost of oil over the past year makes it harder for a firm that is seeking to develop a replacement, such as biofuels. Also, the overall recession continues to dampen demand for products and financing remains challenging.

“It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” Costello said. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being overexuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.”

Analysts noted there are other challenges to a rapid change in the slow-moving energy sector.

The stimulus act gives the Department of Energy control over billions of dollars in loans and spending on research and development projects–more than the department’s annual budget. But the Energy Department has not dispersed money in the past few years because of its slow approval process, which Secretary Steven Chu said he intends to speed up.

Also, a sharp increase in renewable energy from wind and solar power requires building new power lines to bring electricity from windy and sunny areas to more populated regions.

Bramaer’s Costello said an industry association estimated that the stimulus act spending could lead to 3,000 new miles of transmission lines. However, siting these new lines is a contentious process and likely to meet local and state opposition.

“Siting of transmission lines is this going to be the Achilles’ heel of renewables,” said Elgie Holstein, a senior energy policy adviser in the Obama administration.

As reported in Huffington Post Green

H. JOSEF HEBERT | February 24, 2009 04:02 AM EST | 

WASHINGTON — Across the Great Plains the wind blows incessantly, while in the remote Nevada desert the sun bears down without relief. Each holds the potential of a vast new energy resource.

While wind turbine and solar projects are ready to capture this new, eco-friendly energy source, where are the transmission lines to get the power to where it is needed?

Democratic congressional leaders, a former president and his one-time vice president, several Obama Cabinet members, energy executives and business leaders thrashed out that very predicament at a high-profile clean energy conference on Monday.

After two hours, a consensus seemed to emerge: The outdated electricity grid must be modernized and expanded if President Barack Obama’s vision of dramatically increasing the country’s renewable energy resources is to be accomplished. And the federal government will have to play a bigger role in locating high-voltage power lines to overcome local and regional resistance.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a leading participant in the gathering, said he will soon introduce legislation to give federal regulators authority to override states when it comes to locating long-distance power lines.

“We cannot let 231 state regulators hold up progress,” Reid said, referring to the members of state public utility commissions that decide on transmission locations.

While states should be given every opportunity to participate, “there may come a time when the federal government will have to step in,” said Reid, whose state is a prime target for entrepreneurs building solar energy projects.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also called for expansion and modernization of the nation’s power transmission system, saying these improvements are “essential to all that we do” to promote renewable energy.

The clean energy conference _ which included former Vice President Al Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming, and former President Bill Clinton _ focused at length on the need for a national “smart” grid to transport electricity, and the need for grid expansion.

Gore said modernizing the transmission grid will allow for new ways to generate and distribute electricity.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he’s ready to open federal land to renewable energy projects, including wind farms in the waters off the U.S. coast, and map out energy corridors. But, he warned, the power grid of today won’t get the new energy to the markets that need it.

“In the end, unless we are able to solve this juggernaut and deal with the transmission issue we’re simply going to be standing in place,” Salazar told the conference, which was organized by the Center for American Progress.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that will craft energy legislation, said that while he has not seen Reid’s proposal, he agreed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should have more authority for planning and locating high-voltage power lines.

Bingaman said he hopes to have a bill in four to six weeks that will address the grid issue and establish a requirement for utilities nationwide to generate a certain percentage of electricity _ as much as 20 percent by 2020 _ from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass.

States have fought to maintain jurisdiction over locating the power grid.

Fred Butler, a New Jersey regulator who is chairman of National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said state officials are willing to work with the federal government on placement issues but oppose a federal takeover of the authority.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, one of the few Republicans at the conference, said the federal government must get more involved in establishing power transmission lines.

“If you try to run a wire through someone’s community, that becomes about as contentious as you get,” said Pataki. If that power is going through a state, he said, “you don’t have to take a poll _ no one is going to be for it.”

By VICTOR EPSTEIN Associated Press • February 23, 2009

As reported in the Courier Post

SECAUCUS – With a flip of the switch, one of New Jersey’s largest and newest solar panel projects began soaking up the sun Monday.

The 65,000-square-foot roof of the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus became a solar generator, capable of producing 412 kilowatts of electricity without the environmental concerns posed by oil tankers, nuclear waste, coal mine runoff and natural gas pipelines.


That’s enough juice to power about 50 single-family homes, according to Alfredo Matos, PSE&G’s vice president for renewables and energy solutions, or about 40 percent of the Exposition Center’s needs.


New Jersey’s largest utility is helping finance the $3 million project with a $1.6 million loan. It’s the first solar array to become operational under a PSE&G program to loan $105 million for solar projects over the next two years.


“This isn’t PR,” Matos said. “Solar systems are still out of the market – meaning they still cost more than traditional systems that rely on fossil fuel generation – but with the incentives available today, including our loan program, you can have a system that pays for itself in three or four years.”


Recipients of PSE&G solar loans will repay the utility in energy credits, not dollars. The utility will sell those credits to fossil fuel power plants seeking to offset their carbon emissions, Matos said.


The federal government covers another 30 percent of the cost of building a solar system through an investment tax credit, he said. That leaves pioneers like Hartz Mountain Industries Inc., the Secaucus commercial real estate firm that owns the Exposition Center, with only 20 percent of the cost.


Emanuel Stern, president of Hartz, said the decision to install the Exposition Center’s rooftop array was a solid financial move for the privately held company.


“I’d rather invest in my roofs than in the stock market right now,” Stern said. “It just seems like a no-brainer to me.”

If the Exposition Center array performs as expected over the next six months, Hartz intends to begin retrofitting four or five buildings a year with solar panels, Stern said.


Hartz has a portfolio of 39 million square feet of space in 200 buildings, many of which are warehouses with large roofs that are ideal for solar arrays. As the roofs reach the end of their useful lives, Hartz will look to install solar arrays while they’re being replaced.


Stern estimates that it will take about 10 years for the solar array on the Exposition Center to pay for itself. After that, Hartz will be getting 40 percent of the Exposition Center’s power from the roof, virtually for free.


New Jersey ranks second behind California among states generating electricity from solar panels, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.


As manufacturers of solar systems make more equipment, they’ll become more efficient and prices will come down, said Thomas Leyden, a managing director of Sunpower Corp., the San Jose, Calif.-based company that installed the Exposition Center array. Right now, the cost of retrofitting a typical single-family home is nearly $40,000, he said.


The PSE&G loan program and the federal incentives help bridge the gap between how much solar systems cost and how much people can afford, said Leyden. He estimates that the solar industry is probably only six or seven years away from grid parity with fossil fuel generation because of such programs.


“Solar is not only good for the environment and the country, it’s good business,” Leyden said

Our Perspective:

It is good to see New Jersey and the community make a commitment to alternative energy development. In the coming year, we hope to see more projects of this magnitude. As the demand for energy continues to grow, we need these types of projects to help us reduce the demand off the grid.

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email

5 Steps To a Solar Home

February 21, 2009

 Sun Run  by Lynn Jurich

It’s a lot easier and less expensive to take your home solar than most people think. Thanks to generous financial incentives from the government and innovative alternatives to purchasing a system, homeowners are discovering there aren’t really any risks remaining to going solar.

Like many things, home solar was first adopted by people who were concerned about their environmental and energy footprints. Now, others are following suit, primarily because it makes financial sense. Our electricity rates are going up: the price we pay for residential electricity rose on average 26.8 percent from 2002-2007 in the U.S. With home solar, you essentially lock in a low rate for all the electricity you’ll consume in the future–for instance, think about how much you’d save if you could lock in your gasoline price at $1 per gallon for the next twenty years. Over time, going solar today will save you serious cash.

Here are five easy steps to get you started.

1. Figure out your home’s solar potential

o If your electricity bill is higher than $100 on average per month, solar can save you money–depending on which purchasing option you choose and your prevailing utility rates, you could see savings of up to 60% within the first month of going solar.

o You’ll need enough sunlight on your roof. Geography, roof orientation, and shading are all factors an expert can assess for you.

2. Research your options

o There are a lot of resources on the web. States that offer incentives frequently have websites with good information, and many solar companies have good general information about going solar on their sites as well.

o Most people choose to work with a professional solar company to design and install a home solar system. You can get a good feel for a solar company from its website.

3. Decide what’s best for your home and finances

Questions to ask include:

o Should I purchase a system outright or pay as I go? There are alternatives to buying a system all at once that dramatically reduce the upfront costs of home solar and still provide the long-term benefits, including power purchase agreement (PPA) or leasing options.

o What’s the best return on my investment? Make sure to consider how your home solar solution will reduce your energy costs over time. Also, investigate how having home solar will factor in if you sell your house.

o Are maintenance and repairs included? Some companies take care of your system for you, others don’t.

o Does my solar company have happy customers? Talk to everyone you can before choosing a solar solution and installer. Ask to speak with recent customers to make sure they’re happy with their solar experience.

o How will the panels look on my house? Not all home solar installations are created equal when it comes to aesthetics. Choose the product you’re most comfortable with.

4. Install your system

o A typical home solar installation will take only four to six days. There will be some additional delays before your system can be turned on after it’s installed: your local utility company will need to come out to approve the system and properly connect it to the utility grid.

5. Enjoy your savings

o There’s nothing quite like seeing your utility meter spin backwards because of solar. In order to make sure your system delivers all the electricity (and resulting savings) you expect, however, you need to monitor it. Some companies will do this for you, and with others you’ll have to buy a separate monitoring solution.

I think the following statement from one of my company’s customers sums it up:

“I can’t complain. My utility bill dropped from $275 to $5.25 the first month I went solar.”
–Harry, Fresno, California.

Lynn Jurich is the president and co-founder of SunRun

Letter to T. Boone’s Army

February 19, 2009

From the desk of T. Boone Pickens


The battle for the stimulus package is over and – thanks to you – we were very successful on the wind side of the Pickens Plan.

Here is the list of items which are included in the stimulus package:

  • A 3-year Production Tax Credit (PTC) extension through the end of 2012
  • An option to elect a 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) in place of the PTC
  • An option to convert the Investment Tax Credit into a grant for projects placed in service in 2009, or 2010, or placed in service before 2013 provided construction begins in 2009 or 2010
  • A new $6 billion Department of Energy renewable energy and transmission loan guarantee program, which should fund around $60 billion in principal amount of guaranteed loans
  • Authority for the Western Area Power Administration to borrow up to $3.25 billion from the Treasury to build renewable transmission lines in the western United States, including western Texas

Did the New Energy Army have an impact?


Last summer, when we started this effort, no one would have believed that 1.4 million Americans would join together to affect energy legislation in the Congress of the United States.  But last week alone, over a 3 day period, we generated over 60,000 emails to Members of the United States House and Senate urging their support.

You can like or dislike the stimulus package, and I’m not qualified enough to speak to the entire package or its economic prospects.  But I do know energy, and I know the aspects of the stimulus plan that address this subject are critical and beneficial.  But they are also a first step.

We’ve still got more work to do to end our dependence on foreign oil, especially on the natural gas side of the Pickens Plan.  I said on CNBC that the battle now shifts to the House and Senate Energy Committees to begin moving the country from imported gasoline and diesel to domestic natural gas.

I’ll be coming back to you in the next few days with a plan to have a serious impact on foreign oil.

Pat yourselves on the back.  Take ten.  Then get ready to saddle up and start again.

Thank you.


P.S.  If you haven’t joined your District Group yet, now is the time.  Click here.

Our Perspective:

Kudos to Boone!!! He has been relentless is bringing his vision for alternative energy solutions to the public.

Some may say, “He is just in it for the money”. If he just wanted to make money he would just continue his current MO. He has nothing to lose.

He however, sees that there is a real issue looming. As the demand for energy continues to grow over the next 8 to 10 years, we are unable to support this  growing demand with our existing facilities.

Many states have devoloped plans to reduce the demand off the grid upto 20% by the year 2020. They have also set a target of having upto 22.5% of their energy being produced by American Clean Energy Solutions

This is an exciting time. The future of energy is in our hands. Let’s not drop the ball.

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