Monthly Archives: October 2014

Energy Symposium in CA Reveals Collapsing Business, Technical, and Political Obstacles to Explosive Renewables Growth

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The Business of Clean Energy Symposium held on Oct 23 in Petaluma, CA, featured green tech experts from around California and across the country. The event, sponsored by the Center for Climate Protection, revealed opportunities arising from the Community Choice utilities that are literally gaining steam in California. Government agencies from across California reviewed the striking success of Marin Clean Energy (MCE), especially that agency’s recent rapid increase in signing renewable energy contracts with local sources. A second new agency, Sonoma Clean Power (SCP), warranted special attention at the Symposium because during its first six months of operation it turned a seven million dollar debt into a five million dollar cash positive position. The success of these agencies is inspiring other California communities to take up the community choice utility challenge, a path that promises lower utility rates and a greener mix of energy for local electricity consumers.

In Marin Clean Energy’s first three years of operation the agency signed only one renewable energy contract with a local supplier. But in its fourth year, MCE evolved rapidly, concluding eleven local energy projects. Meanwhile, MCE’s purchase of 177 megawatts of renewable energy capacity outside of their service area has created more than 1800 jobs. Marin has expanded its geographical service area from Marin County to the City of Richmond, a diverse, working class community which is across San Francisco Bay from Marin’s upscale enclave. MCE reports that the percentage of Richmond customers opting out of their service is lower than in Marin County. Notably, the percentage of Richmond customers opting to pay a premium price for MCE’s 100% renewable energy product is higher than MCE’s Marin base.

A loose coalition of groups that fought against California legislative bill 2145, which would have made traditional investor owned utility companies (IOUs) the default electricity provider when Community Choice is established, are now cooperating to expand the adoption of the new community choice agencies statewide and beyond.

The Local Energy Aggregation Network (LEAN), a group focused on promoting community choice, tracks communities across the six US states where community choice agencies are allowed by statute. Shawn Marshall, the group’s director, points out that while other states like Illinois have more community choice utilities, California’s agencies uniquely pursue fighting climate change, and thus increased use of renewable energy, as part of their business mission.

Jigar Shah, who established the pioneering solar company SunEdison and also ran Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, spoke to attendees of the high likelihood that renewable energy could be almost universally adopted in the USA by 2030. He emphasized the structuring of new businesses in the sector to meet demanding bank loan standards, thus ensuring large scale financing of the green tech market.

Robyn Beavers, Sr. VP at NRG Energy, spoke of the development of a “multi-dimensional” energy economy, where diverse local and technological innovation could transform the energy landscape.

David Hochschild, a member of the California Energy Commission, also predicted the fast and widespread adoption of solar and other renewables. He likened the current situation to early forecasts for cell phone use made in the late 1980s, forecasts that vastly underestimated an adoption rate that has led to seven billion cell phones now being used worldwide. Hochschild sees the adoption of solar and other renewables as entering a period of similar explosive growth.

Jigar Shah and others discuss political, financial, and technological obstacles on the @pathtonetzero

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In his book Creating Climate Wealth: Unlocking the Impact Economy Jigar Shah grapples with the essential question of scaling already available green technology to its needed level quickly. While efficient and relatively inexpensive green technology that cuts carbon emissions is available, the required financing and political roadblocks to its wide-scale deployment remain daunting. According to Shah, these aspects of the problem are often mismanaged by entrepreneurs who falsely imagine that simply having a better technological mousetrap is enough to move the ball down green business playing field. Importantly, Shah focuses on the political aspects of the problem. He argues that the traditional role of IOUs (Investor Owned Utilities) works against the “small is beautiful” philosophy that must play a critical role in releasing thousands of entrepreneurs to exploit the “$10 trillion dollar” business opportunity Shah claims awaits them. He claims that, like in politics, “…all energy solutions that will build our climate-wealth economy are local.”

The upshot is that Shah, along with many other well known green tech titans and entrepreneurs, are moving to embrace the distributed energy model, whose political expression is the creation of Community Choice Aggregation utilities. Experts point to CCA utilities like Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power in California as promising vehicles for local business development. CCA plays the middleman in electricity sales that can apply utilitiy bill profits toward local renewable energy development. Local energy projects provide local businesses and jobs as well as better energy security. This approach does not displace big utility companies, who retain a key role by maintaining and developing the electricity grid to accommodate the emerging green energy economy.

Moving to smaller scale, local energy has another important advantage. This was again reinforced for me recently when I flew into LAX from the East Coast and happened to open my airplane window shade as we passed south of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert. The radiant glare from that facility, probably forty miles north of our plane, was annoyingly bright. I recalled reading about the complaints from airline pilots about the facility. This is yet another of the “unintended consequences” of big, capital intensive projects. Whether it’s nuclear power, big hydro, or big solar, the unintended and harmful consequences over time of large, capital intensive projects are consistently impossible to foresee. This is one more reason Jihar Shah points out that many one million dollar projects are far better than big multimillion dollar projects. Clearly, rooftop solar is one type of small scale project whose deployment avoids calamitous environmental problems.

Yet, while rooftop solar is playing an ever greater role in the movement toward renewables, a large number of homes and businesses whose roofs are not optimal for solar panel power generation. Thus, local energy projects, including solar arrays, wind generation, geothermal, and other renewables need to be incentivized and exploited by CCA utilities to reduce carbon emissions and create “climate wealth” in the process. Part of the political solution to the problem may lie in applying energy credits or offsets to residences and businesses that invest in renewable energy projects in the CCA’s jurisdiction.

On October 23, Jigar Shah and other high profile green tech experts like Robyn Beavers, Jeff Byron, Stephan Kelley, and about thirty others will converge on Petaluma, CA for a “Business of Local Energy” symposium. There they will discuss the intersection of politics, finance, and technology that must be navigated to move the new energy economy to front and center in the world economy. Geoff Syphers of Sonoma Clean Power and Jaime Tuckey of Marin Clean Energy will address the critical role that CCA utilities can play in the conversion to local energy. Public registration for the event is at this site: http://climateprotection.org/local-energy-symposium/

CA Climate Summit Adds Robyn Beavers to High Profile Speaker Agenda

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The Oct 23 Petaluma, CA symposium entitled “Business of Local Energy” has improved on an already impressive speaker list with the addition of Robyn Beavers of NRG Energy, a high profile player in the Green Energy economy.

Robyn started her career off as an energy efficiency consultant and then joined Google in 2004 as a direct report to the co-founders to help support on strategic initiatives as they took the company public. With the founders’ support, Robyn went on to found Google’s Green Business and Operations Strategy Group, the first business unit focused on sustainability strategy at the company. During her 3 years in this role, she spearheaded the approval and installation of the 1.7 MW solar PV project on the rooftops of the Mountain View HQ, created progressive green building guidelines for global Google offices, kick-started the corporation’s renewable energy project finance strategy, and served as a sustainability advisor on Google products. In 2008, she returned to Stanford for graduate school, during which she served as a Recovery Act Fellow for the Department of Energy in 2009. Robyn has since lived in Denmark, where she helped create a global NGO called WindMade on behalf of Vestas Wind Systems, and also served as Director of Commercialization for Distributed Power & Water products for Dean Kamen’s DEKA research. In 2013, Robyn joined NRG Energy to create the Station A Group, an internal innovation team focused on advancing microgrid strategy for NRG.

For information and registration at the Petaluma, CA conference visit:
http://climateprotection.org/local-energy-symposium/

Can Clean Energy be a Local Economic Development Strategy? Oct 23 Symposium in SF Bay Area Explores this Question

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by Barry Vesser of the Climate Protection Campaign

Can cleaner energy be an economic development strategy? In Sonoma County, CA they are making the case, and soon will host a symposium that will bring some of the best minds in the country together to figure out how to make the value proposition even better, more jobs, more locally developed clean energy, all at a competitive price.

According to Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) project in Sonoma County, CA more than $6 million will stay local and multiply in that county’s economy in 2014. All this thanks to this new locally controlled and managed community power company. Ann Hancock from the Climate Protection Campaign, the nonprofit that spearheaded the initiative to develop Sonoma Clean Power says, “If we invest wisely, there will be more savings and economic benefit down the road.” How we build the energy system of the future, increasing local renewable generation and stimulating our economy, will be the subject of the Business of Local Energy symposium, hosted by Climate Protection Campaign and held on Thursday, October 23 at the Petaluma Sheraton Hotel.

The event, sponsored by Sonoma County General Services Department, will bring together cleantech entrepreneurs, operators of Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy, and representatives of other jurisdictions and communities throughout the state, to discuss how to increase local renewable power generation while keeping rates competitive.
Speakers at the event include: author Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison and CEO of the Carbon War Room; and California Energy Commissioner David Hochschild, co-founder of the Vote Solar initiative and former director of a national consortium of solar manufactures. Sonoma Clean Power CEO GeofSyphers will also speak.

The symposium will address how to balance efficiency, demand response, and storage of energy using low cost financing and state-of-the-art communications and data processing to keep our rates competitive while significantly increasing local renewable energy. It will also include lessons learned from both the Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy, which has successfully operated a CCA program program for four years. The Sonoma County Energy Independence program’s Liz Yager will be represented on a panel that will discuss financing innovations for clean energy deployment.

Investing in local clean energy will make our energy system more resilient and will keep costs stable by reducing our dependence on the volatile fossil fuel market. Locally produced clean energy also reduces the need for massive transmission systems that move energy long distances and are difficult and costly to establish and maintain.
Can it be done? Come to the symposium and hear the leading experts in the field tell you what is possible right now and where we are going in the near future, with innovative programs for residential and commercial clean power customers.
Sonoma Clean Power customers are already paying 5 percent less than PG&E basic rates, for power that significantly greener, while keeping dollars local. We are developing a modern, clean, and resilient energy system that will boost our economy, allow us to compete locally and globally, and tackle the threat of climate change. California companies and local governments are leading the way in this effort. There are powerful local benefits, for workers, investors, and ratepayers, and we invite you to join us and meet the pioneers who are working to make this vision a reality.
Learn more at: www.localenergybiz.com
Early Bird rates on tickets end October 10
Barry Vesser, Climate Protection Campaign