Friday, January 21, 2011

Decentralized Solar Creates More Jobs

The New Energy Economy is the shining star of Governor Ritter's term in office and a central theme of Colorado's national leadership role in the Obama administration. Obama tapped many Coloradoans, including the San Luis Valley's former Senator Ken Salazar who now heads the US Department of Interior. 

Colorado is proud to be the first state in the Union to pass a voter-approved Renewable Energy Standard (RPS or RES).   Faced with four failed legislative attempts and strong opposition from utilities, including Xcel Energy, voters took things into their own hands in 2004 by passing Amendment 37.  We now have one of the nations most ambitious RES requirements that Investor Owned Utilities (IOU's) like Xcel Energy must generate 30% of its electricity renewable sources by 2020. 

The purpose of Amendment 37 and subsequent RES legislation was to break our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign imports.  Six years later, have Colorado IOU's succeeded in replacing dirty energy sources with clean, renewable energy? 

According to Minnesota utility attorney Carol Overland, who recently visited La Veta and Adams State College in Alamosa, the answer is a resounding No.  Utilities are using RES mandates to increase the size of the whole energy pie and create new markets for both clean and dirty energy, says Overland.  But there's a catch, "To sell it, they have to ship it." Which means new transmission lines.

If Overland is right, its no accident that utilities have successfully transformed the RES mandate into a costly, deceptive and unlegislated transmission mission. While the call for new transmission lines is echoing across the nation, its heard most clearly from a normally quiet and forgotten rural outpost where Colorado has thrown all of its solar energy eggs into one basket - the San Luis Valley. 

In 2007, the Department of Interior targeted 22,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in the San Luis Valley as solar study areas.  This, followed by the Governors Energy Office (GEO) report, "Connecting Colorado's Renewable Resources to the Markets", and the Renewable Energy Development Infrastructure Report (REDI), put the San Luis Valley squarely in the bulls-eye of solar energy development in Colorado. 

Bolstered by NREL studies that 5.5 Gigawatts of Concentrated Solar Power would be enough to power the whole state, solar energy developers started scouting the SLV for large tracts of suitable land to develop.  In the meantime, dozens of massive solar energy power plants were being fast-tracked on public land in the deserts of southern California. Remote central industrial renewable energy development has become the new government/industry/IOU energy mantra greased by RES mandates across the nation.

But the Big Solar party seems to be coming to an end. In California, where dozens of massive concentrated solar power plants were fast-tracked on public lands, the nations first Big Solar projects are being challenged by Native Americans, Labor Unions and now even Sierra Club on the grounds that they destroy sacred cultural resources and endangered species.  Power line proposals needed to connect remote solar powered plants to urban demand centers were being opposed by landowner and citizens groups across the board.  As a result, very little solar power has been added to the grid from remote centralized solar power stations. 

Here at home, the media has focused on opposition from "billionaire NIMBY" Louis Bacon who opposes construction of a new high voltage transmission over La Veta pass into the San Luis Valley.  Less well know is the fierse local opposition to the Valley's first industrial solar power plant proposals now under permitting in Saguache County.   
 Long story, short, Xcel Energy, the GEO and industry blame billionaire Louis Bacon, who in turn blames Xcel Energy for backing away from solar energy goals when the Administrative Law Judge directed the PUC to make Xcel "put its money where its mouth is" and return half the cost of building a new line to ratepayers if it fails to purchase 700 MW from the San Luis Valley within 10 years.  

But the real question is - why the San Luis Valley?  Colorado has excellent solar resources throughout the state. 
NREL says SLV has superior solar insolution
oberlands says transmission losses are significant
transmission line costs also large
industrial solar too destructive and costly
Germany installed 8 GW in 2010
What is really stopping us?
Same thing as in Germany, Hermann Scheer, utiltity opposition,
can't rely on utility companies or gove to lead the way
Same people who led the fight for Amendment 37 need to demand an end to this stalling
Fix RES to require replacement of dirty with clean energy on existing transmission infrastructure
Restore PACE and pass an meaningful FIT to allow communities (including farmers and communities in the SLV), businesses, to install solar PV more cheaply and faster.

Best of all, DG creates more jobs and local economic benefits at results in lower, clean energy costs!!!

We need Community Power NOW
(post script, can meet local SLV needs with standard transformer upgrades)