Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Long Dawn

It's totally amazing but this November marks 10 years of Earthfamilyalpha. When I started it, George Bush had just been reelected and the thought of 4 more years was just plain brutal.  Over the next four years, I posted over 1300 posts on technology, philosophy, advanced tech, and the earthfamily.

My ideas about large scale human coops still hold true to me, but there time is still not upon us.  But they are coming.

Also during this November I gave the luncheon speech at the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association 30th annual meeting.  I cofounded TREIA and led it actively for its first decade.  The two part video of the speech follows:

Here is the first



And here is the second


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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Predictable Renewable Energy

Here is another clip from Climate Crock of the Week  on Predictable Renewable Energy.

I should also make a correction here.  Predictability three days out to the hour is not 90% for wind resources.  It is for solar.  Renewables as a whole are highly predictable 24 hours out, so they can be dispatched into the day ahead market with relative accuracy.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Vehicle to Grid

Last spring, a friend of mine and I brought Peter Sinclair of Climate Denial Crock of the Week into town to try to raise some money for his Dark Snow project in Greenland.  We spend several days together and he shot video of me in my office.

Recently he posted them on Crock of the Week.

Here is the one on Vehicle to Grid.



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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Second Act



















Austin Energy's response to the Austin City Council regarding the adoption of the resolution that called for 50% renewables by 2020 was presented to Council several weeks ago.  It is a far cry from generation plan that had been offered before the recommendations of the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force.

"Based on a yearlong study, staff is recommending the “500+ Plan” that would have Austin Energy achieve 50% renewable generation resources and 75% carbon-free production by 2025. This plan includes the following:
  • Adding 500 MW of solar, 375 MW of wind, and 500 MW of Natural Gas from a Combined Cycle power plant to Austin Energy’s generation portfolio
  • Reducing power plant carbon dioxide emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020
  • Achieving 800 MW of additional peak demand savings through energy efficiency and demand-side management by 2020
  • Keeping rates in the lower half of the Texas retail market and ensuring annual rate changes do not exceed 2%
The Austin Monitor reported it this way:


Skeptical Council hears new AE generation plan

Despite disagreements over exactly how much solar energy Austin Energy should purchase by 2020, both sides in a tug of war over the utility’s generation plan agreed Thursday that Austin Energy should move forward with a request for proposals for more solar power.

City Council members, sitting as the Committee on Austin Energy, heard more about Austin Energy’s new 500+ Plan generation mix proposal, raising several questions about the merits and drawbacks of adding a 500 megawatt combined-cycle natural gas plant to its portfolio. That would most likely be placed at the Decker Power Station.

Michael Osborne, chair of the Austin Generation ResourcePlanning Task Force, also commented on the 500+ Plan, looking at it through the lens of the task force’s July report on increasing renewable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions.

Osborne challenged some of the assumptions that Austin Energy used in its analysis. “We’re not saying the methodology that they used is wrong, we’re saying it’s flawed,” Osborne said.

Council Member Laura Morrison told the Austin Monitor after the Council Committee on Austin Energy meeting that Austin Energy staff and task force members are providing “different answers” to Council questions. “I don’t believe that we’ve laid out where those differences come from,” she said.

“We just need to keep digging away until we can make sure we understand the decision that we’re making,” Morrison said, noting that it needs to happen before the end of the year.

Council Member Mike Martinez told the Monitor that Austin Energy’s presentation did not lead him to support constructing the gas plant AE has proposed to replace the aging plant at Decker, but he wants to hear more information and is open to continuing the conversation.

Austin Energy Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Mele said the biggest driver behind the 500+ Plan is Council’s August resolution that includes task force recommendations, which she referred to as Resolution 157.

“We’ve got a plan that adapts to many of the desires and many of the outcomes of Resolution 157,” she said, “with the key difference being that we have to look at our ability to produce revenue to support the other things that we want.”

Mele said that the utility’s ability to meet stringent goals “does depend on additional gas generation that’s very efficient to be able to balance the customers’ costs.” She added that “in the short term, having more efficient, cleaner generation locally is going to be a good thing for the customer bills.”

Osborne said that he would like the city put out a request for proposals on the 600 megawatt solar project included in Resolution 157.

“When it really comes down to it, we’re not going to know whether this plan is affordable until we see those bids,” Osborne said. “Once we see those bids, then we can have an independent, third-party group look at it and we can determine whether this plan is affordable or not.

Skeptical Council hears new AE generation plan

Despite disagreements over exactly how much solar energy Austin Energy should purchase by 2020, both sides in a tug of war over the utility’s generation plan agreed Thursday that Austin Energy should move forward with a request for proposals for more solar power.
City Council members, sitting as the Committee on Austin Energy, heard more about Austin Energy’s new 500+ Plan generation mix proposal, raising several questions about the merits and drawbacks of adding a 500 megawatt combined-cycle natural gas plant to its portfolio. That would most likely be placed at the Decker Power Station.
Michael Osborne, chair of the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force, also commented on the 500+ Plan, looking at it through the lens of the task force’s July report on increasing renewable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions.
Osborne challenged some of the assumptions that Austin Energy used in its analysis. “We’re not saying the methodology that they used is wrong, we’re saying it’s flawed,” Osborne said.
Council Member Laura Morrison told the Austin Monitor after the Council Committee on Austin Energy meeting that Austin Energy staff and task force members are providing “different answers” to Council questions. “I don’t believe that we’ve laid out where those differences come from,” she said.
“We just need to keep digging away until we can make sure we understand the decision that we’re making,” Morrison said, noting that it needs to happen before the end of the year.
Council Member Mike Martinez told the Monitor that Austin Energy’s presentation did not lead him to support constructing the gas plant AE has proposed to replace the aging plant at Decker, but he wants to hear more information and is open to continuing the conversation.
Austin Energy Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Mele said the biggest driver behind the 500+ Plan is Council’s August resolution that includes task force recommendations, which she referred to as Resolution 157.
“We’ve got a plan that adapts to many of the desires and many of the outcomes of Resolution 157,” she said, “with the key difference being that we have to look at our ability to produce revenue to support the other things that we want.”
Mele said that the utility’s ability to meet stringent goals “does depend on additional gas generation that’s very efficient to be able to balance the customers’ costs.” She added that “in the short term, having more efficient, cleaner generation locally is going to be a good thing for the customer bills.”
Osborne said that he would like the city put out a request for proposals on the 600 megawatt solar project included in Resolution 157.
“When it really comes down to it, we’re not going to know whether this plan is affordable until we see those bids,” Osborne said. “Once we see those bids, then we can have an independent, third-party group look at it and we can determine whether this plan is affordable or not.”
- See more at: http://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2014/10/skeptical-council-hears-new-ae-generation-plan/#sthash.PUZbV3Q5.dpuf

Skeptical Council hears new AE generation plan

Despite disagreements over exactly how much solar energy Austin Energy should purchase by 2020, both sides in a tug of war over the utility’s generation plan agreed Thursday that Austin Energy should move forward with a request for proposals for more solar power.
City Council members, sitting as the Committee on Austin Energy, heard more about Austin Energy’s new 500+ Plan generation mix proposal, raising several questions about the merits and drawbacks of adding a 500 megawatt combined-cycle natural gas plant to its portfolio. That would most likely be placed at the Decker Power Station.
Michael Osborne, chair of the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force, also commented on the 500+ Plan, looking at it through the lens of the task force’s July report on increasing renewable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions.
Osborne challenged some of the assumptions that Austin Energy used in its analysis. “We’re not saying the methodology that they used is wrong, we’re saying it’s flawed,” Osborne said.
Council Member Laura Morrison told the Austin Monitor after the Council Committee on Austin Energy meeting that Austin Energy staff and task force members are providing “different answers” to Council questions. “I don’t believe that we’ve laid out where those differences come from,” she said.
“We just need to keep digging away until we can make sure we understand the decision that we’re making,” Morrison said, noting that it needs to happen before the end of the year.
Council Member Mike Martinez told the Monitor that Austin Energy’s presentation did not lead him to support constructing the gas plant AE has proposed to replace the aging plant at Decker, but he wants to hear more information and is open to continuing the conversation.
Austin Energy Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Mele said the biggest driver behind the 500+ Plan is Council’s August resolution that includes task force recommendations, which she referred to as Resolution 157.
“We’ve got a plan that adapts to many of the desires and many of the outcomes of Resolution 157,” she said, “with the key difference being that we have to look at our ability to produce revenue to support the other things that we want.”
Mele said that the utility’s ability to meet stringent goals “does depend on additional gas generation that’s very efficient to be able to balance the customers’ costs.” She added that “in the short term, having more efficient, cleaner generation locally is going to be a good thing for the customer bills.”
Osborne said that he would like the city put out a request for proposals on the 600 megawatt solar project included in Resolution 157.
“When it really comes down to it, we’re not going to know whether this plan is affordable until we see those bids,” Osborne said. “Once we see those bids, then we can have an independent, third-party group look at it and we can determine whether this plan is affordable or not.”
- See more at: http://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2014/10/skeptical-council-hears-new-ae-generation-plan/#sthash.PUZbV3Q5.dpuf

Skeptical Council hears new AE generation plan

Despite disagreements over exactly how much solar energy Austin Energy should purchase by 2020, both sides in a tug of war over the utility’s generation plan agreed Thursday that Austin Energy should move forward with a request for proposals for more solar power.
City Council members, sitting as the Committee on Austin Energy, heard more about Austin Energy’s new 500+ Plan generation mix proposal, raising several questions about the merits and drawbacks of adding a 500 megawatt combined-cycle natural gas plant to its portfolio. That would most likely be placed at the Decker Power Station.
Michael Osborne, chair of the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force, also commented on the 500+ Plan, looking at it through the lens of the task force’s July report on increasing renewable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions.
Osborne challenged some of the assumptions that Austin Energy used in its analysis. “We’re not saying the methodology that they used is wrong, we’re saying it’s flawed,” Osborne said.
Council Member Laura Morrison told the Austin Monitor after the Council Committee on Austin Energy meeting that Austin Energy staff and task force members are providing “different answers” to Council questions. “I don’t believe that we’ve laid out where those differences come from,” she said.
“We just need to keep digging away until we can make sure we understand the decision that we’re making,” Morrison said, noting that it needs to happen before the end of the year.
Council Member Mike Martinez told the Monitor that Austin Energy’s presentation did not lead him to support constructing the gas plant AE has proposed to replace the aging plant at Decker, but he wants to hear more information and is open to continuing the conversation.
Austin Energy Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Mele said the biggest driver behind the 500+ Plan is Council’s August resolution that includes task force recommendations, which she referred to as Resolution 157.
“We’ve got a plan that adapts to many of the desires and many of the outcomes of Resolution 157,” she said, “with the key difference being that we have to look at our ability to produce revenue to support the other things that we want.”
Mele said that the utility’s ability to meet stringent goals “does depend on additional gas generation that’s very efficient to be able to balance the customers’ costs.” She added that “in the short term, having more efficient, cleaner generation locally is going to be a good thing for the customer bills.”
Osborne said that he would like the city put out a request for proposals on the 600 megawatt solar project included in Resolution 157.
“When it really comes down to it, we’re not going to know whether this plan is affordable until we see those bids,” Osborne said. “Once we see those bids, then we can have an independent, third-party group look at it and we can determine whether this plan is affordable or
- See more at: http://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2014/10/skeptical-council-hears-new-ae-generation-plan/#sthash.PUZbV3Q5.dpuf

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Affordable Energy Resolution




















Serving as Chair of the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force has not only been a mouthful to say, it has been a great opportunity to participate in local government and to experience first hand the importance of our community processes.

Created in March, the Task Force didn't get going until mid April.  For the next 14 weeks, we met weekly, holding two public meetings, with a final meeting on July 9th.  You can view The Plan on our web site.  But just as important as the plan are the various reports and presentations that were given to the Task Force that are also posted on the web site.

Almost immediately after the plan was published in print form, a City Council Resolution containing many of the recommendations in the plan began to get traction at Council.  It also included elements of other actions by the Electric Utility Commission and other environmental groups.  Another resolution, which included other Task Force elements dealing with efficiency and weatherization also gained support.

 Meantime, Austin Energy, the utility that was being told what to do, went nothing short of postal in its position on the Task Force Report.  Even though the Task Force Report made it clear by the endorsement of the affordability metrics adopted by Council as the first  recommendation in the report, the utility went on a scare campaign.  The second recommendation on zero carbon by 2030 was equally constrained with the same affordability language.   

Yet, the Utility continued to appear on the front pages of the local newspaper, mailing to its commercial energy customers, and speaking openly that the adoption of the main elements of the plan would be a financial disaster.  "I can tell you that replacing Decker with solar power contracts would be an economic disaster for rate payers", said the Austin Energy general manager.

This was in contradiction to his statement in March 2014 when he said that the 150 MW west Texas solar deal would have a "very small but favorable impact to the power supply adjustment."

Yet, in a rather famous evening at Austin City Council, The Affordable Energy Resolution was passed on a vote 5 to 0 with the Mayor and Council Member Spelman off the dias.

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club reported it this way:

Historic Affordable Clean Energy Plan Adopted 
City sets ambitious solar goal, path to zero carbon pollution from Austin Energy by 2030

    Austin, Tex. – A diverse coalition of groups representing workers, people of faith, low-income residents, clean energy supporters and environmental advocates united in their of goal of expanding affordable clean energy and protections to public health cheered the Austin City Council for adopting the Affordable Energy Resolution late Thursday evening.

    The resolution comes after years of community-led work to study Austin Energy’s portfolio and generation plan, identify opportunities to strengthen the municipal utility’s clean energy and climate commitments while meeting the needs of low-income communities and after community members demonstrated strong demand for more affordable clean energy and less pollution on a reasonable but aggressive timeline.

     The Affordable Energy Plan calls for Austin Energy to generate more than 60 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025 and eliminate carbon pollution from its generator fleet by 2030. It directs the utility phase out the Decker gas-fired power plant by investing in 600 megawatts of solar power, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.

     Solar is now cheaper than building a new natural gas plant. Our analysis shows that 600 megawatts of solar will save Austin Energy between $12 and $33 million per year,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group.  “We’re grateful for the strong leadership shown by Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.”

     The landmark resolution also takes significant steps to expand local solar power.  It doubles Austin’s local solar goal to 200 megawatts, with half of that goal reserved for distributed residential and commercial solar projects. And the resolution expands access to rooftop solar projects by including solar leasing as an option for residents and businesses and by refining Austin Energy’s innovative value of solar tariff.

 I was in Mexico in the mountains when the vote came.  But since it was so late, the internet was working good enough to see it all come down.  It was a thing of beauty. And don't let any one tell you differently.  A hundred people had waited all day to speak in support  of the resolution and were now being told that they must come back the next day.  An alert Council member Martinez saw that there was no one signed up to speak against the resolution and so he made a motion to reconsider the postponement and bring the resolution up.

That motion passed over the Mayor's objection.  After some brief comments from supporters and one activist who had signed up neutral on the resolution, the resolution passed 5 to 0.

The next day there was a lot of hubbub about it all and so a reconsideration motion was made by the Mayor pro tem.  That failed 3 to 3.

Thus the first act ended.




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Thursday, July 31, 2014

America's Clean Energy Maverick























In the middle of July, I found myself headed for Calgary, Canada.  I had been invited by some Clean Energy Advocates to make a speech at their clean energy speaker series.

Calgary is in Alberta and yes, that is where the Tar Sands are.  Did you know that the so called overburden of those sands is Boreal Forest?  I didn't go see them but apparently you can see it from space anyway.

Calgary is pretty nice in July.  We had a great dinner down on the river a few blocks from the Hotel the first night I was there.  Next day, I started early with an interview on a popular radio show at 6:45.  My speech was at noon, and apparently it  sold out. And the audience was not the choir.  One person had a copy of a letter from the Chairman of the Texas PUC bemoaning how Texas wind had dropped prices so much that the market could no longer support the building of fossil fuel plants.

He didn't seem to understand that that was a good thing.

The idea of the visit was to share with Albertans how Texas, an oil  and gas state,  has become a great renewable energy state... and to lay the foundations and create a roadmap for how Alberta can do the same thing.

Here's the story as Clean Energy Canada reported it:

America's Clean Energy Maverick Comes to Alberta

To put it mildly, it’s not easy to shift something as deeply entrenched as an electricity system. You need a willing public, committed entrepreneurs, and supportive policy, which helps create the needed business case.
 But above all, you need elected leaders willing to get the ball rolling, and stick with it. Which is what they had in Texas, back in the early 1990s, according to Michael Osborne.
 “You’ve got to give credit to the leadership of politicians, of both stripes,” said the cofounder of the Texas Renewable Energy Association at “America’s Clean Energy Maverick: How and Why Texas Grabbed the Renewable Energy Bull by the Horns,” a sold-out lunch event that we hosted last week in Calgary.
 As outlined in the presentation below, Osborne shared the story of the politics and policy that have made Texas a renewable energy leader.
 Both Sides of the Aisle
More than two decades ago it was Governor Ann Richards, a Democrat, who first invited renewable energy developers to the table. She determined renewable energy had a role to play in the state and established the Sustainable Energy Development Council to advise on making it happen.
 But Texas was just getting started: the next governor (and future President), Republican George W. Bush continued to redefine Texas as not just an “oil and gas state” but an “energy state,” and when he deregulated the electricity market and put in place a Renewable Portfolio Standard.
 Bush’s successor, and the current Governor, Rick Perry—another Republican—built on the momentum by creating Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, a system of transmission lines designed to bring the state’s renewable energy bounty from all corners of the state to Houston, Dallas, and other cities.
 And this leadership has paid off.  Texas now leads the United States in wind power with 12,354MW of installed capacity, and the state has blasted through the targets set in the Renewable Portfolio Standard by a country mile (5,880 MW by 2015; with a goal of 10,000 MW by 2025). As Osborne noted, this growth hasn’t just meant a cleaner power grid, it has created 12,000 jobs in the wind sector and 4,000 jobs in the solar sector—and Texas shows no signs of slowing down.
 Solar is the New Wind
The most recent Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s (ERCOT) Long Term System Assessment, a biennial report submitted to the Texas Legislature on “the need for increased transmission and generation capacity throughout the state of Texas,” found that—alongside natural gas—about 17,000 MWs of wind and 10,000 MW of solar power would be built in future years.
 As Osborne said, “solar is the new wind”, and with plummeting prices it seems likely that photovoltaics will continue to surpass wind in global energy investment, as the sector did for the first time in 2013.
 From the Calgary luncheon to the government briefings we had in Edmonton, Michael Osborne proved open and insightful about his state’s accomplishments, and his perspective on how Alberta could similarly reap the benefits of its renewable energy bounty. 

The next day we worked the capitol in Edmonton, we worked the press, the opposition, and the Minister of Energy.

I have to tip my hat to the folks at Clean Energy Canada.

They work hard and they work smart.

Alberta certainly is not going green,

but it just might become a little less Brown.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Future is not what it used to be




Early in April, I was appointed by the City Council of my town to the Generation Resource Planning Task Force. We met every week for 14 weeks and are about to publish our report.

Here is a little bit of it.



THE INTEGRATED UTILITY

Austin Energy is one of the premier electric utilities in the country.  It is known for its leadership in energy efficiency, renewables, and green building.  By reaching the 35%  renewable energy goal  by 2016, and by being on track to reach our 1600 MW efficiency goal on schedule by 2020, it is a leader in clean, affordable, and reliable energy.

But these are demanding, challenging times for the Electric Utility Industry and for Austin Energy.

Just last month in Barrons, they reported that “Barclays has downgraded the entire electric sector of the US high-grade bond market, largely over evidence that solar and other disruptive energy technologies are proving to be increasingly viable competition.

They are not the first people to say this. The former Duke Energy CEO says he'd want to work in solar if he was starting out today. Some utilities are making decisive moves away from fossil fuels, and financial giants ranging from Norway's sovereign wealth fund to the Bank of England are hearing murmerings about a potential "carbon bubble".

As Barclay's credit strategy team emphasizes, this is less about solar alone, and more about a confluence of technologies—most notably solar and battery storage combined—which have the potential to fundamentally reshape how energy is produced, distributed and used (or not used):

“In the 100+ year history of the electric utility industry, there has never before been a truly cost-competitive substitute available for grid power. We believe that solar + storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the electric power business over the coming decade. We see near-term risks to credit from regulators and utilities falling behind the solar + storage adoption curve and long-term risks from a comprehensive re-imagining of the role utilities play in providing electric power.”

In a world where some of the utilities' most profitable corporate customers—from Apple to Ikea to Mars—are investing massively in their own electricity generation capacity (and imposing carbon prices on themselves); where smart home technology promises to cut bills, even for those folks who can't be bothered in programming their thermostat; where LEDs are becoming so cheap they are a no-brainer, even for the anti-environmental crowd; where solar prices keep dropping dramatically and battery-storage innovation is just ramping up, there's good reason for investors to consider alternative options to traditionally "safe" investment in utilities.”

The marker for a safe investment or bond rating is moving away from the former conventional wisdom.

Just as denial of climate science does not change the physics of climate change, denial of the coming reality where demand response and zero energy structures begin to weather away growth, will not change the reality of coming reduced profits.

Austin Energy must face these challenges and see the opportunities that reside within them.

As the transportation sector becomes more and more fueled by the product that AE sells, there will be opportunities that fall outside of the traditional utility model. As distributed solar penetration moves from 3,000 structures to 100,000 structures, and panels become roof toppings, building siding, and fenestration, there will be opportunities for the utility to provide service and/or capital.

Some of these new opportunities will require regulatory or statutory fixes or  third party workarounds.

Austin and its citizens deserve a community utility that can meet the challenges of the future with intelligence and creativity.

The  Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force offers this report to the City Council and the Citizens of Austin in that spirit.

As Paul Valery, the French poet and philosopher said in his 1937 essay “Notre Destin et Les Lettres”,

“The future is not what it used to be.”

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