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"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you,

then they fight you, then you win."

-- Mohandas Gandhi

Vermont Seizing the Lead in Microgrid Development

September 2, 2014

Vermont is doing it.

Green Mountain Power Corp. and NRG Energy Inc. on Sept. 2 rolled out a series of utility programs and infrastructure projects in Vermont that the companies described as the foundations for a modernized electric grid.

Using NRG Energy’s technical capabilities and funding from Green Mountain Power, the companies said they are facilitating an evolution of the grid, starting with a network of electric vehicle charging stations, community solar plants, energy-management programs and micro power generators that can provide battery storage for onsite solar systems.

The ultimate goal is to create clusters of self-sustaining microgrids in the state that are more flexible and resilient than an existing power system that depends on “130 million wooden poles,” NRG Energy President and CEO David Crane said at a news conference.

“What it really means is that you’re moving toward a local system versus this very vast regional system that operates now,” Green Mountain Power President and CEO Mary Powell said. “As I stand here today, all I know is that I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I will say that we’re certainly going to see a lot of change in the next five to 10 years.”

How much change do you think we will see in WV’s electrical system in the next five to 10 years?  Other than it getting a lot more expensive, I mean?  We’ll still be dependent on obsolete coal plants and all those “wooden poles.”

Brattle Group Says Stagnant Demand Is Here to Stay

September 1, 2014

The Brattle Group is an industry consulting firm that knows what it is talking about, most of the time.  Here is a link to a presentation by a Brattle Group engineer, Ahmad Faruqui, at a June 2014 electric industry conference.

Mr. Faruqui starts with something what we have been saying on The Power Line for the last six years, but that a lot of industry people still won’t let themselves admit:

Normal electricity growth has not resumed four years after the Great Recession ended

  • According to Dr. John Caldwell of the Edison Electric Institute, normal growth usually resumes within five months after the recession ends; the longest it has ever taken has been twelve months
  • The EIA’s May 2014 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) projects that electric retail sales will grow by 2.3% in 2014 and 0.0% in 2015; in the residential sector, the corresponding growth rates will be 3.1% and -1.5%
 The graph on the next slide tells the tale clearly -
screenshot-www brattle com 2014-09-01 20-44-08
So all that stuff we heard from PJM back in 2010 and 2011 about how demand would recover when the “recession” ended just hasn’t happened.
And, of course, this is all part of a long term trend that started back in 1950.
screenshot-www brattle com 2014-09-01 20-46-46
Mr. Faruqui was speaking to an industry group, so he tried to point to four solutions that electric utilities could employ to save themselves in this new future of stagnant demand.  After identifying the five forces that have combined to create the industry’s nightmare scenario, he posits four responses that utilities could take:
What are the options for electric utilities?
To deal with the five forces, utilities can pursue one of four strategies
1. Stay the course
2. Push electrification
3. Become a wires company
4. Become an energy services utility
Mr. Faruqui essentially dismisses the first three options as all having failed to save utilities’ bacon in the past.  The rest of his presentation describes what he means by an “energy services utility.”  You can go to the power point slides and see his description for yourself.  I think you will come away, as did I, with the feeling that this really isn’t a practical solution either, for most utilities.
The fact that a very smart engineer from the Brattle Group can’t really come up with any good solutions to utilities’ current problems is a sign that power companies are in real trouble.

Charleston’s Yeager Airport Looking at Going Solar

August 30, 2014

Here’s the story.

Yeager Airport officials will explore a solar panel project that could make the airport the first in the nation to run entirely on electricity it generates from solar panels.

The project stems from Yeager’s sustainability efforts trying to lower the airport’s energy costs and carbon footprint.

“It’s an exciting project,” airport director Rick Atkinson said.

At Thursday’s board meeting, members approved a motion to find the lowest bid on the project.

The money for the roughly $15.3 million project, that would place solar panels atop the parking garage closest to the airport’s terminal and in the airfield near the runway, would come from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Atkinson said the money and project is not a guarantee. The FAA has money left over from projects that are divided out at the end of the fiscal year in October for sustainability projects known as 512s.

“We would be a net producer of electricity instead of a consumer,” Atkinson said. “We’d eliminate basically our electricity bill, which is about $450,000 a year.”

Now that is leadership.

Shepherdstown Home to WV’s Largest Community Supported PV System

August 26, 2014

Here’s the press release from Solar Holler.  Congratulations Shepherdstown.  Congratulations Solar Holler.  If you want one in your community, contact Solar Holler.  Let’s do this all across WV!


­Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church dedicates largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia

Launches new model making solar possible for any community group in West Virginia


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For Immediate Release

Contact:          Dan Conant, Solar Holler                                          (802) 595-0338

Than Hitt, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church  (304) 268-4886

Shepherdstown, WV—In a first of its kind project, residents and businesses in this West Virginia small town have come together to do what was once out of reach—making solar power accessible for any church or non-profit in one of the most coal-dependent states in America.

Tuesday morning, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church members, project organizers, and local leaders held a ribbon cutting for the completed project, the culmination of a year-long, community-wide effort. Not only is the installation the largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia, but it also launches a new financing model that makes solar possible for non-profits across the state. The solar panels will produce nearly half of the electricity the church uses in a typical year.

“Today we come together to dedicate the largest community-supported solar project in West Virginia,” said Than Hitt, a church member and project organizer. “This project is good for the environment, good for our church’s financial health, and good for the Shepherdstown community.”

Working with Shepherdstown-based Solar Holler, West Virginia’s first solar financing company, the church developed a project plan that allowed it to go solar at no cost and without a traditional fundraising campaign.

“Financing solar power in West Virginia faces several obstacles, but we’ve overcome them by developing a new model that taps into existing community support,” said Dan Conant, founder of Solar Holler. “For the first time, West Virginia’s non-profit organizations can go solar with help from their members and friends – protecting our environment while lowering electricity bills.”

Using the Solar Holler model, nearly 100 families and businesses in and around Shepherdstown made the project possible through an innovative crowd funding campaign. Funding for the project was raised through the installation of ‘demand response’ controllers on community members’ electric water heaters.  The water heater controllers have been installed and operated by Mosaic Power, a smart grid technology company in Frederick, Maryland.  Mosaic Power manages water heaters as a virtual power plant—responding to the electricity grid in real time to make it more efficient. Through this service, Mosaic Power reduces blackouts and pollution.

Mosaic Power pays property owners $100 per tank per year for participation in their virtual power plant. In Shepherdstown, project participants agreed to donate those funds to pay off a loan taken out to install the church solar project. The project loan will be paid off in under 5 years through revenue from the water heater installations. The Church will benefit from lower electrical bills while generating electricity that reduces air and water pollution, consistent with the church’s commitment to creation care.

Randy Tremba, pastor of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, said “The earth and its wondrous web of life is clearly not of our own making. It’s a gift and we know it. Or should. It’s our job to sing its praises, photograph its wonders, and treat it with utmost gratitude and respect. It is sacred. Every step we take is on holy ground.

The installation was completed by MTV Solar of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.  Julie Litwin of MTV Solar, a Shepherdstown resident, described the economic potential for West Virginia in renewable energy. “Solar power creates good jobs in West Virginia and has the potential to produce many more,” Litwin said. “The new financial model created by SPC and Solar Holler, opens the door to more solar industry development across the state.”

Solar Holler’s next project is with Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library; 75 water heaters are needed to fund that project. Homeowners and businesses who would like to learn more and support the project can go to

Jim Auxer, mayor of Shepherdstown, said “As the oldest town in West Virginia, in Shepherdstown we pride ourselves in both our history, and being ahead of the curve.  This project is a first of its kind in West Virginia, blazing a trail for all of West Virginia’s communities to follow.  It has been an incredible demonstration of community spirit.  In particular, I want to thank the volunteers of the Historic Landmarks and Planning Commissions for seeing through a project that maintains our historic spirit while leading our state into the 21st Century.”

Rebecca Barnes, PC-USA Earthcare Program coordinator, said “This is a day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! The faithful stewardship of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, and their trust in—and care for—future generations to come, is such a great model of a church discerning God’s call in this time and in this place. More and more churches across the PCUSA want to add solar panels to their building as part of their ministry, so having this success story is such an asset to the denomination. I do indeed rejoice in what God is doing in and through this congregation as they care for God’s creation.”

For more information about the project, or to support other West Virginia solar projects, go to

July 19 Interview, 7 Generations on WSCH

August 25, 2014

Joe Gray interviewed me on his 7 Generations radio show on July 19.  Joe has posted audio of the interview at this link.

In the interview, I refer to a number of trends and posts I have done about them on The Power Line.  Here are some links below that can serve as footnotes to the interview.

Here is the RMI scatter plot graph that I referred to in the interview which plots age against size taken from Reinventing Fire -

Lovins graph

  • Here is a link to the Forbes article about Co-op City’s microgrid.  I was wrong in my interview.  I claimed the story was in the NY Times.  It was in Forbes magazine.
  • Here is my post on the NY PSC’s new microgrid initiative.
  • Here is a link to a one pager put out by the MA Dept. of Energy Resources on its new $40 million microgrid grant program.
  • Here is a post with some good links to other articles on the decline of power company investment in our state’s electrical distribution system.
  • And finally, here are two posts about my experience in the derecho General Investigation at the WV PSC, here and here.

I also appeared on 7 Generations last Saturday, August 23.  I’ll post a link to that interview and some more footnotes when Joe posts it on the 7 Generations site.

Good Summary of the MD Offshore Wind Blocks Auction

August 22, 2014

Here is a much better description of the just completed auction of offshore wind blocks off the MD coast than the description in my earlier post.  It’s not surprising that the winning bid went to a European-based company.

MD Governor Martin O’Malley is a strong supporter of offshore wind for his state, because he understands that a strong marine wind generation industry could revive the economy in Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay region.  Note also that MD has a real RPS.

In addition to federal support, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has promised a $1.7 billion, 20-year taxpayer subsidy for a 210-MW offshore wind farm at the site, the first subsidy created for a lease site. Once the project is commissioned, household electric rates will increase up to $1.50 per month and businesses will see a 1.5 percent monthly surcharge. The bill was signed into law after several years of debate, and coincides with Maryland’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which calls for 20 percent of its electricity to come from renewables by 2022. O’Malley hopes the law will not only help reduce emissions, but also boost the economy.

“We need a jobs agenda to match our climate challenge,” said O’Malley in a statement.  “Expanding renewable energy, like we’re doing here, will bring Maryland’s vision for clean energy one step closer to reality and clearly set our State apart on the country’s renewable energy landscape.”

The Renewable Energy World article also notes that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold other lease auctions for offshore blocks in MA and NJ in the next year.

The article also provides a good summary of past auctions.  Note that New Bedford, MA, a formerly important port city, has already begun rebuilding its industrial infrastructure in anticipation of offshore wind power development.

Last year, BOEM held two offshore wind auctions. Deepwater Wind won the first auction for two parcels off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island with a $3.8 million bid. The 164,000-acre area holds an estimated 3.6 GW of potential. Dominion Virginia Power won the second auction for land 23 miles off the Virginia coast with a $1.6 million bid, which amounts to 2 GW of potential on 112,000 acres. BOEM also has a hand in facilitating the 454-MW Cape Wind project, which will likely be the first U.S. offshore wind farm, and the 30-MW Block Island Wind Farm, which is following close behind. Hoping to capitalize on these developments, the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts is constructing an offshore wind port to facilitate the construction and transportation of materials for the U.S. Atlantic coast.

Look especially at the capacity numbers in the paragraph above.  The estimated potential of the Deepwater Wind and Dominion blocks in New England and VA together totals 5.6 gigawatts.  That is serious generation capacity, all of it available right next to some of the most constrained regions of the US electrical grid.

How strong do you think the wind off the New England coast was blowing last January when New England was starving for power as natural gas plants couldn’t buy fuel and coal plants were shutting down because their coal piles were frozen?  Too bad that offshore wind capacity wasn’t available then.

UWUA Local 304 Wins Contract at Harrison Power Station

August 21, 2014

This story got by me while I was away on vacation.  Congratulations to Local 304 of the Utility Workers Union of America.  They now have their first contract at the Harrison Power Station, after a hard fight against union-busting FirstEnergy.

Here’s a link to Local 304’s Web site.


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