Category Archives: Research

Report: Kansas Utilities Run Coal Plants Year-Round Even Though It Costs Ratepayers Millions

By Brian Grimmett, KMUW, Wichita’s NPR Station

The way Westar Energy runs its coal plants in Kansas unnecessarily costs consumers millions of dollars a year through an obscure, if common, practice known as self-committing generation. The company essentially runs its coal plants year-round, even during the winter months when it’s not cost-effective. An analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates for reduced reliance on coal, says that’s been costing Westar customers $20 million a year in added fuel costs.

But market operators including the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) — Westar buys and sells wholesale electricity through the organization — worry that the practice hurts the market. Regulators in Missouri, where Westar’s parent company Evergy is headquartered, have opened up an investigation to see if it’s unfairly costing consumers. Continue reading here.

Photo: Joseph Daniel, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been studying self-committing or self-scheduling generation in power markets for years. Daniel recently completed an analysis screening of every coal-fired power plant that operates in the Southwest Power Pool (Nebraska’s Regional Transmission Organization) and other RTOs. He describes the analysis in an interview included in the following article on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ blog:

The Billion-Dollar Coal Bailout Nobody Is Talking About: Self-Committing In Power Markets
Markets are supposed to ensure that all power plants are operated from lowest cost to most expensive. Self-committing allows expensive coal plants to cut in line, pushing out less expensive power generators such as wind, depriving those units from operating and generating revenue.
– Joseph Daniel

Additional Recommended Reading

R-Project News & Website Link

OPPD Laying The Groundwork For A Bright Energy Future

OPPD News Release

As the utility industry evolves, Omaha Public Power District continues to lead the way the future is powered. At their monthly board meeting today, the OPPD Board of Directors received a strategic planning update from President & CEO Timothy J. Burke. Burke outlined five new strategic initiatives that are the building blocks for the district’s 10-year strategic plan based on OPPD’s guiding principles. Initiatives will include a long-term study to address the long-term balance of load generation, along with decarbonization options for the district’s generation mix. Vice President Mary Fisher spoke to the topic, noting that the energy generation landscape is changing rapidly. Fisher said the drivers are primarily improving renewable technology, and environmental considerations around carbon emissions and climate change, “something our customers clearly care about.” Read the entire news release here.

Previously Posted – Neighboring States’ Decarbonization Models
A Vision for Midwest Zero-Carbon Power Starts to Take Shape, Natural Resources Defense Council
Renewable energy, especially in the wind-rich Midwest, is now the cheapest form of new power, coupled with the fact that natural gas prices remain at record lows. With these favorable market dynamics, Iowa has realized the greatest growth in the Midwest’s renewable energy portfolio in 2018 by generating 5x the amount of wind and solar the state produced ten years ago. However, as observed in NRDC’s previous analysis, to achieve our climate goals and deliver the full suite of clean energy benefits (while avoiding a rush to natural gas-fired power), market forces will not be enough.  Keeping up the current momentum will require strong state, utility, and local commitment to the clean energy transition. And the good news is that Midwest states and utilities are increasingly showing remarkable leadership on that front.

New Survey Reveals 70% of Americans Support Nationwide Solar Panel Mandate on New Homes

Vivint Solar News Release, PRNewswire

LEHI, Utah, PRNewswire — As we approach the longest day of the year, a new survey reveals American adults are eager to harness the sun’s energy, with 70 percent saying they would support a nationwide mandate requiring solar panels to be installed on all newly built homes. The survey, conducted by CITE Research on behalf of Vivint Solar, a leading full-service residential solar provider, also revealed significant others and environmental experts are the most influential when deciding to install residential solar for the good of the environment, while politicians are the least influential by far. Read the entire news release and watch a brief video here.

Additional Resource

Solar Homes: The Next Step for Clean Energy, Environment America and Frontier Group Report 

America has a bold opportunity to speed the transition to a clean energy future by requiring solar power on new homes. Rooftop solar panels save homeowners money – even more so when they are installed during construction. Including this common-sense technology on all new homes would help the nation to build an electric grid that’s cleaner, more beneficial for consumers, and more resilient.

U.S. Solar Market Sees Best Q1 in History

SEIA News Release

BOSTON, Mass. AND WASHINGTON D.C., (June 18, 2019) – In the first three months of the year, the U.S. installed 2.7 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV), making it the most solar ever installed in the first quarter of a year. With the strong first quarter, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables forecasts 25% growth in 2019 compared to 2018, and it expects more than 13 GWdc of installations this year.

This data comes from the new U.S. Solar Market Insight Report from Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), whom together announced in May that the U.S. hit the 2 million solar installation milestone during the first quarter of 2019. Read more here.

Additional Recommended Reading
The Sunshine State finally delivers on its name, by Christian Roselund, PV Magazine 

AWEA Fact Check: Wind power remains affordable despite flawed study

By Michael Goggin, Into the Wind, AWEA Blog

The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” explains that analysis based on flawed input assumptions will result in flawed results and conclusions. A recent textbook example of that comes from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCE) and the special interest group Institute for Energy Research (IER). IER has been down this road before, and once again their analysis isn’t grounded in reality. Renewable energy increasingly saves consumers money even without the federal incentives, which are currently being phased out. The following table uses real-world performance data to calculate the unsubsidized levelized cost for newly installed generation.

Read more here.

Top Image: Interactive map created by researchers at the University of Texas Austin’s Energy Institute. “Check out all the green—that’s where wind is cheapest.” – Michael Goggin

ALSO OF POTENTIAL INTEREST

RESIDENTIAL SOLAR

Nebraska rancher’s solar system could offer power for grid, shade for cattle

Written by Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network

Solar panels are already a common sight on hog and poultry confinement barns in the Midwest. They could be coming soon to cattle feedlots as well. A Nebraska entrepreneur snagged a $200,000 federal grant to devise a solar array that could double as a shade structure in a cattle feedlot. Mitch Minarick, the founder of FarmAfield, believes his concept can address two needs simultaneously . . . Minarick, who grew up on a Nebraska family farm, thinks he can attach the roof and solar panels to existing long concrete feeding troughs. If his initial experiment succeeds, he said he likely will qualify for a second grant that could be as much as $1.1 million. That would support the construction of a prototype. Read more here.

Photo Credit: University of Minnesota-Morris. The University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center is primarily conducting research to see if green power can consistently meet the energy needs of a working dairy farm in northern latitudes.

Additional Recommended Reading

Abigail Ross Hopper: Welcome to the Solar+ Decade

By Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO,
Solar Energy Industries Association 

As part of our planning for the next decade, we will produce a roadmap that will outline the policy, social, environmental and economic considerations needed to make the Solar+ Decade a reality. If we achieve 20 percent solar by 2030, the potential payoff to our economy would be enormous. Picture this: solar could add more than $345 billion to the U.S. economy over the next ten years, reaching $53 billion annually. The solar workforce would grow to 600,000 professionals and Americans would enjoy greater energy choice, lower utility bills and cleaner air. Moreover, our success could prove that climate solutions don’t hurt the economy, but instead, are some of the strongest economic growth engines we’ve seen in decades. Read more here,

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READING & VIEWING

NEW GEOTHERMAL ENERGY REPORT

DOE Releases New Study Highlighting the Untapped Potential of Geothermal Energy in the United States

The Energy Department has released a groundbreaking analysis detailing how the United States can benefit from the vast potential of geothermal energy. The analysis culminated in a report, GeoVision: Harnessing the Heat Beneath Our Feet, summarizes findings demonstrating that geothermal electricity generation could increase more than 26-fold from today—reaching 60 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2050.

A radical idea to get a high-renewable electric grid: Build way more solar and wind than needed

The Conversation

Article contributed by Richard Perez, Senior Research Associate in Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, University at Albany, State University of New York and Karl R. Rabago, Professor of Law; Executive Director, Pace Energy and Climate Center, Pace University.

Excerpt: Once firmed up through a combination of overprovisioning and storage, variable renewable energy resources become effectively dispatchable – able to provide power when as needed – and functionally equivalent to traditional power plants. In this way, renewables can replace these generators without major grid reengineering.

Our team has modeled a high-solar and overbuilt solution for the not particularly sunny state of Minnesota. The goal was to determine the least costly combination of grid-connected solar, wind and storage necessary to provide round-the-clock, year-round energy services. Read more here.

Recommended Viewing: Richard Perez’s 3-minute YouTube video summarizes his scalable strategy to achieve 100 percent renewables, which he refers to as the “Perfect Forecast.”

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READING 

NEW IRENA REPORT

Renewable energy costs hit new lows, now cheapest new power option for most of the world, Electrek
The findings come from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its new report, Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2018

‘Stranded costs’ mount as coal vanishes from the grid

By Jeffrey Tomich, Reporter, E&E News 

study by consultants Vibrant Clean Energy LLC and Energy Innovation said the United States has reached “the coal crossover,” at which renewables could replace almost 75% of the U.S. coal fleet and at an immediate savings to customers. By 2025, the number is set to rise to 86%. But in most cases, what’s left behind as utilities pull the plug on old coal plants is more than industrial shells awaiting demolition. They’re also leaving behind millions of dollars of so-called stranded costs on the companies’ books — costs someone must shoulder . . . Environmental and consumer advocates, utilities, and regulators across other states in the coal-heavy Midwest are trying to find balance between cutting carbon and keeping utility bills affordable. A potential solution to accomplish those goals is securitization — refinancing higher-cost debt with low-interest, ratepayer-backed bonds. Read more here.

Photo Credit: We Energies

What are “stranded assets?”
Stranded assets are now generally accepted to be fossil fuel supply and generation resources which, at some time prior to the end of their economic life (as assumed at the investment decision point), are no longer able to earn an economic return (i.e. meet the company’s internal rate of return), as a result of changes associated with the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Source: Carbon Tracker Initiative

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READING

Securitization fever: Renewables advocates seize Wall Street’s innovative way to end coal, by Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

State legislation authorizing the use of securitization:

GREEN BONDS

U.S. Green Bank Act of 2019 Would Provide $10 Billion+ of Capital to State and Local Green Banks, Coalition for Green Capital. The Green Bank Act of 2019 would inject billions of dollars into the U.S. economy to accelerate clean energy deployment, grow clean energy businesses, and deliver affordable clean energy to all Americans. The members of the global Green Bank Network and the American Green Bank Consortium have already shown that public investment in clean energy deployment drives greater total investment, job growth and lower energy costs. The bill creates a new USGB as a wholly owned corporation of the U.S. government, housed within Treasury. It would be capitalized through the issuance of federal Green Bonds.

SUBSIDIES

According to the International Monetary Fund, the United States subsidizes fossil fuels at a cost of $649 billion a year.

OPINION

Thriving in a low carbon future: M&A and the new energy economy, Utility Dive
Contributed article by Mary Anne Sullivan, Sarah Shaw and Alex Harrison, Partners at Hogan Lovells.

Finding New Opportunity For Old Coal-Fired Power Plant Sites

By Jeff Brady, NET Nebraska

Nearly 300 coal-fired power plants have been “retired” since 2010 according to the Sierra Club, a trend that continues despite President Trump’s support for coal. That’s left many communities worried those now idled places will simply be mothballed. “We don’t want to see sites like this rust away, be eyesores on the community and offer no real tax revenue going forward, no employment opportunities,” says Denise Brinley, Executive Director at the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office of Energy. Her state has been hit with 14 coal plants shut down in the past 9 years, and so the Department of Community and Economic Development has created a plan for redeveloping some of them. Continue reading here.

Previously Posted