Fact of the Week:
The average American car emits a pound of carbon dioxide per mile travelled.
Feed-In Tariffs: Gainesville Shows California the Way
Imagine a sunny state without hurricanes, the world's fifth largest economy, the world's most sophisticated universities, technologies, and industries. You have California. But the Golden State is being one-upped in the solar race by Gainesville, a college town in Florida.
Gainesville Regional Utility serves a metro area with a population of 257,000. GRU has 89,000 customers and is the fifth largest municipal utility in Florida. It provides electricity, gas, water, sewer, and telecommunications. It is committed to being a national leader in energy efficiency. Recent programs have included $1 CFL sales, TREE-mendous, and a Home Makeover contest with the winner getting $100,000 for efficiency upgrades!
Assistant General Manager Ed Regan has been the driving factor. He visited Germany and shortly thereafter, proposed a solar feed-in tariff "based on the highly successful models in Europe." GRU aimed to guarantee that it would buy all of the electricity produced by a customer at a fixed rate for 20 years. The goal: Greater demand that would increase competition and capacity, resulting in falling prices in classic market transformation.
On December 18, 2008, Gainesville Regional Utilities announced its FIT program. On February 28th, the program was unanimously approved by its board, the City Commission. The incentive model will be run in parallel with GRU's current upfront incentive of $1.50/watt for PV systems. It was then presented to the Florida Public Service Commission with this FIT schedule
Days prior to its official launch, GRU had received 4 MW of applications, fulfilling its 2009 target and cap. It will continue to accept applications for up to 4 MW for 2010. A 32 cent per solar kilowatt-hour incentive for twenty years (26 cents for ground mounts) has successfully brought the solar industry to Gainesville. Initially, GRU had proposed a 26 cent incentive that was later raised to reflect a tightening economy. GRU's solar incentives drop each year and the utility guards against capacity hoarding. GRU gets Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) credits and keeps the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).
Was at a Sustainable Works Board retreat last weekend, and heard about "Transition Towns." Several people nodded; I took note.
Transition Town is a "movement" and "network" started in Kinsale, Ireland by a student of Professor and permaculture designer Rob Hopkins. As a professor at Kinsale Further Education College, he presented his "Energy Descent Action Plan" to address peak oil and climate change. The student, Louise Rooney created a community process called Transition Town, took it to the local town council, resulting in "a heroic decision by the Councillors to adopt the plan and work towards energy independence."
Her professor, Rob Hopkins, took Transition Town to the next level in his home town of Totnes, England. Over 150 cities now are Transition Town members. Hopkins has championed the steps to energy independence in England, and now Australia, the United States, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and Chile. The fundamental idea is to address energy and climate, appreciating that life without oil would be more enjoyable.
Totnes has created a local currency - the "Totnes pound" - that can be redeemed in local shops, supporting local farms, products, entertainment, etc. A Business Waste Exchange provides for networking, as one business waste can often be used productively by another, for instance, food wastes supporting local farming. What began with community gardens has been fleshed out with twelve initial steps to being a Transition Town, fundamentally decreasing energy dependence, and increasing local self reliance.
12 Key Steps to Embarking on Your Transition Journey
1. Create a steering group and design its demise from the onset
2. Expect awareness raising
3. Lay the foundations - networking
4. Organize a "great unleashing" (kick-off event)
5. Form sub groups
6. Use open space technology (a meeting technique developed by Harrison Owens)
7. Develop visible practical manifestations of the project
8. Facilitate the great reskilling (training new collaborative techniques)
9. Build a bridge to local government
10. Honor the elders
11. Let it go where it wants to go
12. Create an energy descent plan
In the United States, Transition Town uses an open social network. Reducing food miles is a key concept, and one that stems from its roots. In the United States, cities like Boulder joined first, but it spread from Sandpoint and Ketchum, Ashland and Sebastopol, to Montpelier, and back to Santa Cruz, Laguna Beach, Denver, and Los Angeles, a Transition Town "city hub."
For more information, see www.transitiontowns.org
California's Feed-In Tariff Situation
California, to be fair, does have a feed-in tariff for renewables. It's open for systems up to 1.5 MW in size and for 500 MW of capacity, 125 times Gainesville's. Great? Hardly, for it has not attracted a single participant. Why? Because its "tariffs" or prices are too low. Why? Because they are based on what a utility would have to spend otherwise for carbon-emitting power, instead of the price necessary to move a market, to create a market transformation.
Thus far rate makers have focused on prices that utilities need to continue down a path to failure (what is ironically being called the "value-based" price), versus what investors need (the "cost-based" price) to ramp up a sagging solar market ready for prime time.
Currently, there are a half dozen feed-in tariff bills at Legislative Counsel in Sacramento. Most bills would establish new FIT parameters, but leave the ratemaking to the California Public Utilities Commission, a process that may result in insufficient values for "environmental attributes," as well as economic development, carbon offsets, and national security benefits.
SB 32 is sponsored by the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CalSEIA). It seeks to increase the maximum system size from 1.5 MW to 3 MW. Other bills support systems in the 3 - 20 MW range. Systems above 20 MW bid into utilities' offering for RPS capacity. Clearly and sadly, the solar industry is factionalized along lines of vested interests: Those advocating FITs for big systems do not want the FIT concept tainted (and perhaps doomed) by high prices for small systems. Some take a neutral position on small systems. Meanwhile a growing number of cities with CO2 reduction goals want FITs specifically for small systems, to encourage comparatively costly distributed generation at the household level. They are convinced that the multiple benefits of DG outweigh the costs.
EcoMotion is directly involved with two feed-in tariff bills in the Sacramento legislative session right now.
Councilman Jim Ferguson of the City of Palm Desert traveled with EcoMotion to Spain in 2008 to witness its solar explosion. Ferguson believes that property owners in Palm Desert ought to get paid for their excess generation, particularly as their homes are often empty for months out of the year. Thus Assembly Member Brian Nestande has introduced AB 432. In the vernacular of the trade, it's an "excess generation net energy metering approach" to maximize rooftop potential for personal, utility, city, state, and global gain. (The CSI limits production to the level of on-site generation.) To assure investor returns, the bill's proponents seek to fix the price at the higher tiers of the utility rate structure.
Solar Santa Monica has been promoting the California Solar Cities Act of 2009. With 8,000 single-family homes, and 40,000 apartments, the City seeks solar incentives such that multi-metered properties can be covered with solar. They have been all but "boxed out" of the CSI. The bill carried as SB 523 by Senator Fran Pavley (lead author of California's infamous AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) and Assembly Member Julia Brownlee would enable cities to achieve their energy and climate protection goals. It advocates only small systems for the urban environment -- "building mounted systems up to 1 MW in size."
China U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance
A few weeks ago I was invited to a meeting of the China U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance. High in downtown Los Angeles tower, Asians and Americans gathered. Without marked success in China's fledgling efficiency business, California's efficiency prowess is all for naught. After a bountiful reception, a panel cleverly hosted by Edison's Gene Rodrigues (Director of Energy Efficiency) provided perspective on the need for exchanges and for strengthening the Alliance.
CPUC Commissioner Dian Grueneich has been a strong Alliance champion, currently presiding over China's first major DSM conference in Beijing. Grueneich is committed to exchange of policies, programs, and technologies. Her presentation drew from California's brand-new Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, and repeated her desire to transfer California's efficiency preeminence to China.
California's per capita electricity consumption has remained flat since the 1970s. This has resulted in savings of more than $56 billion for consumer spending on electricity and gas since 1978, averting building 15 large power plants. A set of "big and bold efficiency strategies" are presented, such as all new residential construction in California to be net zero energy by 2020, the same for commercial buildings by 2030.
Dominic Ng, President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of the East West Bank, lent his perspectives. Green is big business. His bank is investing in green businesses, what he sees as the biggest growth industry since the rise of the information age. Working with Edison, he launched an employee efficiency program that has boosted morale, giving employees meaningful links to the community. When asked how his bank could do more, he welcomed more deposits.
The China U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance is on course with its byline of "Supporting the largest CO2 reduction project in the world." China has 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, staggering economic growth, and it is now the world's number one CO2 emitter. Funded with contributions from utilities, companies, and individuals, the non-profit Alliance welcomes those eager to participate in its mission. To plug in, please visit: www.chineseuseealliance.org
The "Net Zero" Skyscraper
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill - one of America's foremost architecture firms founded in 1936 in Chicago - has designed a 2.3 million square foot, "net-zero" energy skyscraper. When completed in 2010, the "Pearl River Tower" will be the most efficient skyscraper in the world. The building will produce as much energy as it consumes.
Located in Guangzhou, China, not far from Hong Kong, the iconic, 71-story Pearl River Tower will house the Guangdong Tobacco Company. A combination of orientation, conservation, lighting efficiency, geothermal systems to precondition water, energy reuse, and storage, achieved efficiency levels 65% greater than the Chinese building code. The building is oriented to minimize external heat gains from southerly and westerly faces. Exhaust air from the building is routed into double-wall cavities. Under-floor cooling systems use 40% less energy than conventional ducted systems.
The remaining power requirement is supplied in a unique way: The building's curvy form channels prevailing winds into two giant openings inside which turbines generate electricity. The giant inlets may also relieve the building of wind stress, providing a new form of "structural relief," as the wind passes through.
An Energy Blogger commented: "Imagine the mayhem when a developer builds a skyscraper to the south." This would block the prevailing wind. Apparently a skyscraper can cast a wind shadow twice as long as its height.
Meanwhile, on a suburb island of Shanghai, Chongming, the City of Dontan is being redeveloped over the next 20 years to be China's first eco-city. It will feature organic farming, restored wetlands, and a light rail system. A series of lakes will filter water for the island's 650,000 residents.
The Firepower of the Caulk Gun
Rick Phelps heads the High Sierra Energy Initiative in Mammoth Lakes, California. Rick has long claimed that of all energy-saving measures, none is more cost effective and comforting that caulk. Plain, simple caulk. A McKinsey Company study validates the claim: Caulk can save as much energy as national solar and wind initiatives create. Weatherization is immediate, impactful, and inexpensive.
The Wall Street Journal reported on March 6 that, "Marketers, politicians, and consumers like to imagine a world of solar panels, wind turbines, and cars fueled by wood chips. But none of that gadgetry packs the here-and-now punch of a decades old option: plugging leaky homes with a caulk gun."
Homes use 21% of all energy used in America, more than cars. By some accounts, they waste about 30% of the energy they use. A third of that could be easily trimmed using caulk and insulation, plugging holes and using energy efficiency.
In normal years, a million homes are built each year, comparatively very efficiently. But there are 115 million existing homes, many in need of retrofits, a massive opportunity. Stimulus funds for weatherization partially address this need. For many of us, the lesson is that the least glamorous ways to save energy and money may be the most effective of all.