renewable energy

Frank Carini: Time for municipal renewable-energy-based utilities?

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Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

More than a decade ago, Rock Port, a small farming community in northwest Missouri, reportedly became the first U.S. municipality to be powered almost exclusively by renewable energy. Four large wind turbines are connected to the power grid and provide the town’s nearly 1,400 residents with most of the power they need. The turbines produce about 16 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

When the wind isn’t blowing, residents buy power from the grid. But on most days, the turbines generate enough wind power for the town to get paid to export energy.

Members of the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America are hoping to create a similar energy situation in Cranston. The group is raising money to have a study done to determine if a municipal renewable-energy utility would work in Rhode Island’s second-largest city.

The group’s broader idea is to create an energy plan that would transform the Ocean State into a sizable producer of solar, tidal, and onshore wind power. The group’s aim is to generate 200 percent of the power that the state needs and to return energy profits to Rhode Island as citizen dividends and municipal funding.

ecoRI News recently spoke with Nate Carpenter, the group’s state coordinator, and Wil Gregersen, its environmental co-coordinator, about Rhode Island’s renewable-energy potential and its ability to address climate change. While they admitted that the project, which is in its infancy stage, is ambitious, they also noted that it’s an excellent way to fight climate change.

Gregersen said the idea is to “build a pressure from underneath” to move legislators to address the issue.

“We really want to sell this to every person who lives here,” he said. “We know that all the pieces for doing this kind of thing exist … renewable-energy technology, models for setting up a municipal utility, all these pieces are out there they just need to be assembled.”

“We want to make switching to renewable energy an attractive offer,” Carpenter added. “We want to incentivize people to make this change.”

Rhode Island currently spends about $3 billion annually on energy, most of it from outside sources and most of it from fossil fuels. As an energy producer, Gregersen said, Rhode Island could keep that money in the local economy.

The Rhode Island chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America are partnering with Ocean State Community Energy, a collaborative of Massachusetts-based ReVenture Investments and 4E Energy, to develop a plan to build municipal utilities across Rhode Island, starting with a scalable design for a utility in Cranston. The design will use existing city infrastructure, will avoid green space, and will employ the latest innovations in renewable technology, they said.

With a well-researched plan that shows what such a utility would look like and how it would work, Gregersen and Carpenter say they will be able to start large-scale fundraising for a statewide plan and to advocate for similar projects across Rhode Island. The idea is strong, but they noted proof of concept is needed before any additional steps can be taken. The study will cost $26,000.

Gregersen said the study will determine how much renewable energy Cranston could produce and the amount of profit that could be generated. He said Cranston is a good model, because it has both urban and suburban areas.

“Rhode Island, the Blackstone valley, was the site of the Industrial Revolution and this was an incredibly powerful and wealthy place,” Gregersen said. “We’d like to do that again for our state by creating an energy revolution.”

Both Gregersen and Carpenter noted that they are disheartened by the time and effort that has been wasted dealing ineffectively with climate change. They said the issue needs to be addressed immediately. To address the ongoing lack of urgency, Carpenter said the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America has elevated addressing climate change/reducing fossil-fuel emissions as its core issue. He noted that worsening climate events will overstretch vulnerable communities and tear societies apart.

“We see with absolute clarity that if we don’t solve climate change we won’t solve anything we care about,” he said. “Everything that progressives are fighting for will come to nothing if climate change is allowed to continue. We’re not here to scare people. These things are real but we do have the ability to fix this, or at least mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Frank Carini is editor of ecoRI News.

Seth Handy: Paper's censorship vs. the facts of renewable energy

 

 

 It is sad and ironic that the opportunity for good legislation on the interconnection of renewable energy to Rhode Island’s electricity-distribution system was squandered by utility lobbying and The Providence Journal’s one-sided coverage of one developer’s (Wind Energy Development LLC) alleged undue influence (“Favor to wind-project developer could cost electric rate payers,” June 12; “Republicans want provision that aids R.I. wind-power developer removed,” June 13; “{House Speaker Nicholas} Mattiello removes provision to benefit big donor, cost rate payers,” June 14; and “Wind power favor yanked” and the editorial “No favor to R.I. ratepayers,’’ both on June 15).  I was quoted in one article and write to correct the record.  

I sent this column to The Journal's editorial-page editor, Edward Achorn, but he declined to run it.

Interconnection legislation is needed and good for the people of Rhode Island. I explained that to the reporter but he neglected to report it.  Our utility, National Grid, administers interconnection to protect its interest in the existing energy system, to the detriment of a new-energy economy that greatly benefits Rhode Island.  The utility has a history of inflating interconnection costs and delaying interconnection to an extent that many good projects cannot withstand and others are severely overburdened. 

The assertion that this bill was to benefit one developer is wrong; interconnection obstructs many good projects.  Sadly, too many developers are scared to speak out, because the utility still controls too much of the fate of their projects.  National Grid’s abuse of its discretion on interconnection was especially obvious in response to the proposed large Coventry wind project. National Grid refused to interconnect some turbines and sought to charge Wind Energy Development $13 million  as part of the process of replacing much of Coventry’s antiquated poles and wires. 

But interconnection problems are rampant in Rhode Island and across America.  When our “regulated utility” is inadequately regulated, as it has been on interconnection, it is the General Assembly’s duty to protect Rhode Island’s interests through legislation.  The interconnection bill put necessary parameters on utility control over interconnection.  It was supported by the state Office of Energy Resources and passed the House of Representatives twice by nearly unanimous vote because it is good policy.

National Grid is not a benign steward of ratepayer interests; it is a corporation based in England.  When its shareholders’ interests conflict with those of our ratepayers, it favors its shareholders.  That is why, for instance, National Grid reported $8 million in annual profits for operating Rhode Island’s municipal streetlights all made while it refused to authorize conversion to more efficient LED fixtures that have much lower maintenance costs.  

National Grid’s conflicting interest on local renewables was evident in its proposal to charge Wind Energy Development an access fee to use the distribution system that was put forth without even considering the General Assembly’s order that it first weigh the economic benefits of local generation.  Unanimous opposition led National Grid to withdraw that access fee just before the state Public Utilities Commission hearing.

Studies consistently show that local renewables benefit all ratepayers by reducing the costs of energy, capacity, transmission, distribution, line-loss, operating risk, environmental, and other known and measurable costs of our energy system.  A national expert presented this information at the State House on March 24, 2016; you can watch it on Capitol TV.  The Journal’s reporting that an interconnection policy that fairly allocates responsibility for system upgrades benefitting all customers would cost us all and unduly subsidize renewables ignored that ratepayers already pay National Grid to maintain and improve its distribution system.  Most importantly, it overlooks the savings that renewables produce for our energy system.  The reporter that interviewed me chose to ignore all that.

National Grid spent at least $84,000 on lobbying this legislative session. Their reporting  of their lobbying is unclear and it is hard to track their legislative contributions apparently made through their lobbyist’s Political Action Committee (PAC), “Advocacy Political Action.”  Those of us regularly pushing for good energy legislation face the utility’s resistance, not so much in the hearings but late in the session from back rooms of the State House.

 Last year, this interconnection law that unanimously passed the House was victim to the Senate’s early adjournment.  This year, after very supportive hearings and near unanimous approval from the House, National Grid worked to strip it through the Senate.  I deplore the impact of money in politics, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s free speech cases, like Citizens United, protect such spending to sway government action.  For The Journal to deride influence sought by a renewable- energy developer awkwardly overlooks the massive influence such developers are up against.   National Grid spends huge sums of ratepayer dollars on advertising, much of which is in The Journal.  Such well-funded speech evidently earns greater protection. 

At the end of this legislative session, strategic and poorly reported last-minute flame-throwing beat down a good bill.  The utility still holds its strings on interconnection.  Now that the dust has settled we can reflect on that.  Much may be vested in our existing energy system, but our people are not well served by its exceptionally high cost, insecurity and other bad impacts.  To change that, we need to correct the mechanics under which alternatives are delivered.  Those of us who are passionate about Rhode Island’s energy future remain confident that justice ultimately will be served through policies that promote the public good, despite all the financial interests that obstruct them.

Seth Handy is a lawyer in Providence.

Tough flowers; facing Putin's fascist mobocracy

March 22, 2014 rwhitcomb51@gmail.com

The ground is mostly open, if brown, except for some old clumps of dirty snow. Last year's oak leaves crinkle in the big old ugly trees, waiting to be pushed out by the new crop. Anyway, if we get two days of 60 degrees, the greenery on the ground will explode. The stuff higher up will take longer, of course.

It never ceases to amaze me that even with it below freezing at night, the green shoots of bulb flowers keep pushing up. On a south-facing slope two weeks ago, I saw crocuses starting to bloom  even though it had been 10 above a couple of nights before.

The older I get, the more I like walking in the very early morning, not long after dawn. It's so quiet and unpeopled that the direction of one's life and even the world in general suddenly becomes clearer.

I think about geo-politics, and these days about how the Cold War never really went away (not that I thought it did) -- and that some countries, such as Russia, are run by gangsters who make plans with the assumption that nations that should be their forthright foes will put off a strong response to the gangsters with the always doomed hope that they can be satisfied.  For gangster leaders, no  quantity of power and money is ever enough.

More attention should have been  paid to Putin's statement a few years back that the collapse of the Soviet Union "was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century.'' The Soviet Union was responsible for killing tens of millions of people. But then, there's little indication that former KGB man Putin has anything against killing, whatever the retention of power requires.

With Putin's promises not to invade more countries, I think of Hitler's vow at Munich in September 1938, as the British and French were giving him Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland -- "This is my last territorial demand in Europe.'' He marched into the rest of Czechoslovakia a few months  later and invaded Poland in September 1939.

Of course, as with Putin "rescuing Russians'' who didn't previously seem to need rescuing by  the mobster Russian regime, Hitler had to "rescue'' the German speakers in the Sudetenland and put them under the "protection'' of his psychopathic regime. Putin is eyeing the rest of the Ukraine and the Baltic Republics for similar rescues.

Because of  his vast narcissism, cynicism and power drive, Eastern Europe has much cause to be worried unless the soft European Union shows some backbone. But there is one thing that the current Kremlin has much more to fear from than the Soviet regime did. The Russian government and the billionaire oligarchs (but I repeat myself!) have far more investments in the West than the Soviets had.  And despite the oligarchs' claims of being Russian (or at least Putin) patriots (claims necessary to avoid being brought down, or even dumped in the river, by Putin's boys) they'd much rather have their money  in the vibrant West than under the current cold Russian fascist dictatorship where policies are set by the whim of Putin and his associates. Russian businessmen and pols (and they are often the same thing) can be squeezed hard if the West has the will to do so.

I also think that the Russian aggression should help pull European heads out of the sand on renewable energy. The Europeans import far too much gas and oil from Russia, which is so corrupt and inefficient, and so lacking in the rule of law, that extractive industry comprises most of  the profits in its economy. It is less and less an attractive place to do business.  Loyalty to Putin, not creativity, is what counts.

So the  more Western and Central European renewable energy the weaker the mobsters in Moscow.