For Chairman Albert: This Is “Steel in the Ground”

Here is what “steel in the ground” looks like in East Virginia, Chairman Albert:

That steel is there because in East VA, the SCC actually requires resource diversity.

Here’s the description from MTV Solar’s Facebook page:

The Salem Virginia VA Hospital’s 1.63 mW solar array is now creating electricity. The array,consisting of 6,084 solar panels, uses a “floating rack system”, and sits atop a capped landfill.

OK, I guess the steel isn’t exactly in the ground, but this is some serious generation capacity and it has ZERO fuel cost.  I guess we can call it “steel on the ground.”

This is MTV Solar’s largest installation to date.  MTV Solar is West Virginia’s largest solar power installer, but WV’s Alternative and Renewable Power Standard law is designed to suppress solar power production in our state, MTV Solar has to do a lot of its work in other states.

Our state government should be about building industries of the future instead of holding them back.  But that is what we have now.

Like the rest of us in the cutting edge of solar power production in WV, MTV Solar is thriving in spite of hostility from WV state government.

13 thoughts on “For Chairman Albert: This Is “Steel in the Ground”

    • There needs to be a solar carve out in the ARPS law. A solar carve out requires power companies to acquire a specific amount of credits FROM SOLAR POWER ONLY every year. Right now, AEP and FirstEnergy can meet their WV targets under the current ARPS law by burning coal gob, or by burning natural gas. The ARPS standards, as written, are designed to actively prevent solar power development by allowing fossil fuels to meet the current targets. A solar carve out “carves out” a specific standard for solar power credits.

      The result of a solar carve out would be the creation of a market in solar credits as exists in Ohio, PA and MD, where 1000 kwh worth of credits (1 Solar Renewable Energy Credit or SREC) sells for around $150. People or businesses that install solar power systems can then sell their credits into these markets for extra income as they produce electricity. In OH, AEP contracts with customers to buy the rights to collect future SREC income for a single up front payment which people can use to pay for their new systems. These payments run a couple of thousand dollars.

      So that’s the one thing. A solar carve out would turn WV’s ARPS law from an obstacle to an incentive for solar development in WV.

  1. We have a bill currently before the legislature, HB 3080, as introduced late in the session 2013 which will be re-introduced next session. We have a study resolution which addresses this as well SCR 77 and we will have an opportunity to present to the joint economic development committee prior to the start of the session in January 2014. I am looking to expand the bill to include a senate bill next session as well.

  2. These are great installations and terrific uses of otherwise useless space, but lets not pretend they’re all puppy dogs and sunshine. This huge array is only 1.63 MW. At a 15% capacity factor, that’s only about 0.24 MW. It would take over 8,000 of these installations to equal one Harrison plant, or almost 12,000 of these to equal one Amos plant. That’s saying nothing about the dispatch-ability issue as well. I don’t have time to calculate the area necessary for such a solar array, but needless to say, it’s astronomical.

    There’s certainly a place for these, but it’s not a replacement for dispatchable baseload power. The only replacement right now is natural gas plants — and due to EPA regs — that’s all that can be built in the future.

    • Chuck,

      Your comment about base load capacity is only true within the context of the current structure of the electricity industry in the US. That industry is characterized by large centralized generation for a load structure that has been built to promote ever expanding consumption to bolster power companies’ profits. If you have been reading The Power Line over the past few years, you would have seen my posts about what the advanced countries are doing to reshape their electrical systems. The trend toward orienting the entire electrical dispatch system around intermittent wind and solar, using expanded grid scale storage and natural gas generation to fill in is the future of large scale systems. Germany has achieved large scale renewable deployment by radically decentralizing generation and dramatically reducing consumption by reorienting their whole landscape and economy around efficiency and conservation.

      So your equating solar capacity directly to coal-fired generation makes no sense, because large scale solar deployment, to be effective, must take place within a broad restructuring of the entire generation, conservation and dispatch system.

      My quote about “steel in the ground” comes directly from WV PSC Chairman Albert at the hearing in the AEP Mitchell/Amos case. My point is that PSC Commissioners are not thinking broadly enough in their discussions of capacity issues in WV. Chairman Albert seemed truly scared to consider aggressively pursuing energy efficiency in WV to reduce the need for a chunk of AEP’s projected capacity needs. Chairman was clinging to what he perceived to be a more secure big power plant, just because it was a big power plant. All across the US, policy makers are looking beyond this kind of fetishistic thinking. Policy makers in the Pacific Northwest are meeting all of their future load growth with expanded efficiency and conservation.

      The other aspect of small scale renewable generation that is important to policy makers and rate payers is that solar generation can be expanded in small increments. In the case of the recent Harrison plant dump onto WV rate payers, we had to buy a huge amount of capacity that even FirstEnergy says we won’t need for over ten years. We are paying for a lot of capacity we don’t need, because FirstEnergy didn’t want to sell us a smaller part of Harrison. The situation is even worse with the construction of a new plant, because you go from zero capacity to 1200 MW even if you only need a few hundred MW. And what if your predictions of load growth were wrong? The plant might not be needed at all. That’s what many power companies are finding out right now as demand flattens and declines. Smaller decentralized generation reduces risk for everyone.

      Thanks for your comment. I would like to see more of this kind of discussion on The Power Line.

  3. I don’t think we’re saying different things…we’re just coming at it from different directions. You appear to be taking a long term idealistic view, and I’m taking a present day pragmatic view. You admit as much in your first sentence — “Your comment about base load capacity is only true within the context of the current structure of the electricity industry in the US”. Another word for the “current structure of the electricity industry in the US” is “present day”, or the “reality that we are living in”. I understand you want to change that reality pretty drastically, but that seems to be our split.

    Attempting to skewer a public official for not taking drastic measures to reach your idealistic future doesn’t strike me as a fair criticism. In my opinion, Albert would be rightly scared to rely on a couple thousand megawatts of energy efficiency in lieu of “steel on the ground”. He’s got a job to do. If the lights go out or prices skyrocket because the energy efficiency doesn’t materialize, he loses that job.

    As for “what if FE’s predictions of load growth were wrong?” — I guess they sell a few more megawatts into the market. That strikes me as a safer plan for ratepayers than hoping thousands of megawatts of energy efficiency, distributed generation, and other difficult to socially engineer grid products materialize. There will still be opportunities to expand those programs and determine the ratepayers appetites for them over the coming years.

    • No, I am not talking about some “idealistic future.” Look at the 2010 plan prepared by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council that manages capacity planning in the Pacific Northwest right here in the US. http://www.nwcouncil.org/media/6383/SixthPowerPlan_Overview.pdf

      Then take a look at a couple of examples of what is happening in Germany right now, here https://calhounpowerline.com/2012/06/06/germany-leads-the-world-in-base-load-renewable-and-distributed-generation/ and here https://calhounpowerline.com/2013/03/26/renewable-power-in-europe-causing-electricity-prices-to-fall/

      I’m talking about the real world, right now.

      And about FirstEnergy selling excess energy back into PJM markets – prices for electricity are now so low, and predicted to remain so for the foreseeable future that they are significantly below the cost of the Harrison plant to rate payers. So rate payers will receive much less in credit for that electricity than they are paying out for FE’s overpriced coal burner.

      By the way, I have never said on The Power Line that I want coal-fired generation to go away in the US. I just want it priced fairly in the market with all its real costs included in its market price. I want coal-fired power to compete fairly in the market place with other generation. Then we can let the markets determine coal’s real place in our electricity economy.

      • The NPCC doesn’t manage capacity planning in the PacNW. That responsibility falls to the WECC. The NPCC appears to manage salmon fisheries and their interaction with hydroelectric dams along the Columbia river basin.

        As for what’s happening in Germany right now, your links didn’t work, but that’s ok. Germany has the highest power prices in Europe at the moment. Berliners pay about $0.40/kWh (almost 4 times the price in WV!!!). If our prices tripled or quadrupled…I’m sure that would kickstart our energy efficiency and distributed generation! It would also severely harm our economy.

        Finally, I find it humorous that you want to let the markets decide things. Just a few posts above, you were advocating for laws which will mandate that currently uneconomic generation be built. Quite the tension there.

      • Sorry about the links. They all work now. You can read the NPCC’s plan for yourself now to see what I was talking about. You are right about the cost of electricity in Germany, but in Germany, farmers and home owners can easily install PV generation and can offset all of that cost. And yes, Germany has the best energy efficiency technologies in the world. It’s important to realize that the important number is not electric rates, but people’s total electric bill. Osha Davidson in his Clean Break, Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn from It points out that while Germany’s electric rates are higher, the average residential electric bill is $5 per month lower than the average US residential bill. That’s the impact of Germany’s efficiency.

        I see no contradiction in wanting all generation on the same level playing field. Many people who bear the costs of coal mining and burning would argue that coal fired generation is also uneconomic. If we are going to talk about a “free market” then we need to have coal subsidies eliminated. If we are going to subsidize all generation resources, then renewable power subsidies are not a problem. I don’t believe that free markets have ever existed, but if we are going to refuse subsidies to some generation resources, then we should refuse them for all, including coal.

  4. I’d also point out that if the WV PSC orders the utilities to implement energy efficiency programs, and the achievements aren’t as great as planned, that doesn’t mean that “the lights go out or prices skyrocket.” It means that the utility in question would end up buying slightly more energy off of the regional electricity grid – where, as Bill noted, prices are expected to remain low for the next several years. That seems to me to be a better bet than buying way more Harrison capacity than needed.

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