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Microgrids Flourishing in Spite of Regulatory Barriers


Developers look to utility projects as regulatory ambiguity hinders private-sector growth.

Omar Saadeh
Omar Saadeh is a senior grid analyst with GTM Research and lead author of the report North American Microgrid 2015.

August 27, 2015

There's been an uptick in U.S. microgrid activity as developers discover new ways  to monetize value streams outside of remote and island communities. According to GTM Research's recently published North American Microgrid 2015 report, approximately 50 percent of the current domestic microgrid operational capacity of 1.2 gigawatts has been commissioned since the start of 2013.

And although we expect microgrid capacity to exceed 2.8 gigawatts by 2020, there are still significant market and regulatory barriers which need to be addressed.

FIGURE: U.S. Microgrid Capacity Forecast by End-User Type, Base Case


Source: GTM

Top microgrid barriers: All regulatory

The roles, rights and responsibilities of electric utilities are protected by a long-established set of regulations that has not yet adapted to a changing power supply landscape. While some efforts do support microgrid development, most legacy regulation provides support for building out large interconnected power networks rather than pockets of high-reliability, flexible systems. This has prevented third-party-owned and -operated microgrids from functioning as small-scale utilities.

In April 2014, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a report recommending that state utility commissions take a more active approach to defining the role of microgrid owners and operators in the distribution network. Other agencies including the state of Maryland and NYSERDA (PDF) have also published extensive documents outlining their perspectives on utility and third-party microgrid ownership structures, as well as applicable financing models.

Despite these ongoing efforts, no regulatory concept for commercial multi-user microgrids has yet emerged. The following list summarizes the most pressing regulatory barriers to wider development of large microgrids.

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Smart Utility Rates Could Slash Grid Investment Costs and Monthly Bills


$9 billion in annual savings in the residential sector alone

Katherine Tweed
August 26, 2015

Homeowners could save up to 40 percent on their electricity bills and utilities could slash billions of costs every year in grid upgrades if demand-flexible rate plans were widely available, according to a new study from Rocky Mountain Institute.

The study looks at demand flexibility -- the ability to shift energy usage across the day based on price signals. Adopting a conservative approach, RMI looked only at residential air conditioning, domestic hot water heaters, clothes dryer timers and timed electric-vehicle charging.

A new market for third parties

RMI found that the savings could be substantial if third parties stepped in to offer guaranteed bill savings by pairing available technology with dynamic utility rates. The rates included structures like real-time pricing, demand charges and avoided-cost compensation for exported PV.

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Energy efficiency was projected to cut electric consumption, power companies told the state

By John Funk, The Plain Dealer

on August 27, 2015 at 6:00 AM, updated August 27, 2015 at 6:53 AM


The price of household LED bulbs is falling. Philips Lighting is now selling an 8.5 watt LED bulb that produces as much light as an old-fashioned 60-watt incandescent bulb. The bulbs comes in a two-pack and is sold at Home Depot for $4.97. Life expectancy is 10 years.

Plain Dealer file

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Ohio's electric companies were on course to help their customers cut overall power use by as much as one-third in coming years before lawmakers froze state energy efficiency mandates.

Filed and forgotten at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the analyses and projections were drawn up by FirstEnergy, AEP Ohio, Duke Energy and Dayton Power & Light.

Now, a nationally recognized group that advocates energy efficiency has taken another look at the utility reports in the PUCO's files.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE, Wednesday issued its own report, a white paper making the case for a return of the state standards, based on those utility projections.

The four companies were asked to figure out how much power their efficiency programs could help customers save over 10 to 20 years.

Each utility projected the savings in at least two ways -- maximum achievable, without consideration of the cost of the programs, and what could be achieved with "cost effective" programs, meaning the savings in using less electricity would be greater than the costs of the programs.

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Xcel proposal for natural gas rate hike goes before judge

Energy company wants $108 million increase over three years to fund pipeline repairs

By Alicia Wallace

The Denver Post

POSTED:   08/25/2015 06:27:45 PM MDT



An Xcel Energy crew packs up their equipment after working in an alleyway. (Paul Aiken, Daily Camera)

Xcel Energy is closer to getting a decision on its proposal to increase its natural gas rates by $108 million for Colorado customers over three years.

Xcel wants to increase rates to pay for upgrades to its transmission and distribution pipelines. The Minneapolis-based company, which has more than 1 million natural gas customers in Colorado, filed a rate request with the state Public Utilities Commission in March.

A hearing on the proposal with an administrative law judge and the Public Utilities Commission wrapped up Tuesday. Closing statements must to be submitted by Sept. 14, and the judge will make a recommendation to the commission Oct. 8.

Xcel originally had sought a $109.1 million increase and held meetings for public comment in June in Grand Junction, Pueblo and Denver.

The company's revised proposal would result in the average customer's bill increasing by more than 9.6 percent over three years to $56.38 per month.

Yearly increases would be in the range of 2.75 percent to 3.48 percent.

Xcel aims to upgrade its existing pipelines and replace 275 miles of pipe by 2017. Xcel's plan also includes programs to more quickly conduct repairs and reduce damages by other entities, said Mark Stutz, an Xcel spokesman.

Xcel operates more than 2,100 miles of transmission-grade pipeline in Colorado and more than 21,600 miles of distribution-grade pipeline.

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Dear Gov. Brown: Energy and Cleantech VCs Talk NEM Policy in Calif.


Venture investors Pfund, Doerr, Vassallo, Ehrenpreis, Kortlang, Atluru and Prend make a NEM policy case on behalf of DG.

Nancy Pfund
August 26, 2015

Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

RE:  California Distributed Power

Dear Governor Brown and Senator de Leon:

As leading investors in California’s cleantech industry, we greatly appreciate your leadership to establish strong renewable energy goals that will reduce climate pollution. With only three weeks left in this year’s legislative session, we wish to bring to your attention an important gap in current state policy efforts.

As Governor Brown noted in his January 2015 State of the State address, deriving 50 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030 will require transforming our electricity grid and distributed power must play an important role. This means expanded deployment of rooftop solar, which is occurring across the state in large part because of the availability of net energy metering (NEM).

The NEM policy has helped California’s solar industry grow into a world leader and leverage billions of dollars in private investment in the installation of distributed solar energy systems across the state. This policy has helped create more than 54,000 solar jobs all over California -- greater than the total number of persons employed by the state’s five largest utilities. The NEM policy is also spurring innovations that have enabled the solar industry to scale, bring down costs substantially, and save energy consumers in California billions of dollars.

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Diversity and Inclusion in Solar: What’s Good for Business Is Good for the Nation


GRID Alternatives

Erica Mackie and Ahmad Chatila on why diversity is so important for the health of the solar industry

Erica Mackie and Ahmad Chatila
August 27, 2015

When Terrell Smith walks through his neighborhood in East Baltimore, he sees boarded-up windows, empty lots and trash-strewn alleys. But now, he also sees solar -- and not just solar panels, but people working in solar jobs.

Terrell is one of a cohort of young African-American men from Baltimore’s Civic Works job training program who have spent the last month learning how to install solar with GRID Alternatives, helping 10 families here go solar as part of a pilot program in partnership with Baltimore, a city that could greatly benefit from the economic opportunities solar can bring.

“It’s great for people in the neighborhood to come out and see solar on their rooftops, and see young people like me working,” he said. “It shows that the community is improving.”

For Terrell and countless other people in economically struggling communities, solar is not always an obvious career option. But with the solar industry adding high-quality, living-wage jobs at a rate of 20 percent a year, solar is a growing force for economic empowerment in the places that need it most.

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Mexico’s Solar Market Still Faces Obstacles After Energy Market Reforms

Mexico’s solar market leads Latin America. But it’s still a difficult one for installers and investors.

Adam Critchley
August 26, 2015

Despite Mexico opening up its electric-power sector to private players, unclear rules are holding back installers and investors from tapping much of the country’s solar power potential.

Mexico's energy reforms, approved last year, are expected to bring up to  USD$9 billion in investment in the electric power sector to 2019, according to the energy ministry. But investors and companies bemoan that red tape and regulatory uncertainty are hindering the sector’s growth.

GTM Research predicts that Mexico will lead Latin America in solar power generation by 2020, with the market likely to almost triple in size this year to 194 megawatts. The country’s solar energy association, ANES, announced this week it is targeting a total installed capacity of 3 gigawatts by 2025.

Progress is underway, with the government having set targets for renewables to account for 25 percent of power generated by 2018, 30 percent by 2021, 35 percent by 2024, and 60 percent by 2050 as part of the reform’s energy transition law.

Investment in the solar sector so far this year totals around USD$2.5 billion, while the number of solar companies operating in Mexico has leapt to around 600 -- a 1,200 percent increase from 46 in 2010, according to ANES.

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Troubled California oil field regulator faces major overhaul

By David R. Baker

August 25, 2015 Updated: August 26, 2015 11:50am

Steven Bohlen, left, Gas Supervisor for the Conservation Departments Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources answers a question during a joint hearing of the Senate Natural Resources and Water and Environmental Quality Committees at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Lawmakers questioned why regulators allowed companies to inject steam underground at pressure high enough to fracture rocks, which could violate federal safe drinking water rules. At right is former Conservation Department Director, Mark Nechodom, who left the department in June, 2015.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California’s embattled oil field regulatory agency will undergo a sweeping overhaul following revelations that the office for years let petroleum companies dump their waste water into federally protected aquifers.

The state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources will reorganize its staff into teams focused on specific technical areas, such as hydraulic fracturing or wastewater disposal. The division’s nine field offices will be consolidated into four, each staffed with members of the different technical teams.

“We have a renewal plan that will put a sharp focus on all the activities we’re doing,” the division’s supervisor, Steven Bohlen, told legislators Tuesday during a hearing in Sacramento. “Our field staff are very, very busy, and I’m holding them to a higher standard.”

The division has come under intense criticism this year for allowing oil companies to drill hundreds of wastewater disposal wells into aquifers that could have been used for drinking or irrigation — groundwater that was supposed to be protected under federal law. The problem, which stretches back decades, was explored in a Chronicle investigation in February.

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Environmental groups threaten lawsuit over drilling wastewater rules

Posted on August 26, 2015 | By Jennifer A. Dlouhy

Fracking and natural gas drilling


Associated Press

Mike Shuster, left, and Lisa Zaccaglini, both of Sharon Springs, N.Y., hold signs during a rally against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of the state, at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Monday, April 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

WASHINGTON — Environmental groups on Wednesday announced plans to take the Obama administration to court with the goal of compelling tough new government standards for disposing waste from oil and gas wells.

The move — formalized with a notice of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency — is the latest bid by conservationists to prod greater scrutiny of oil and gas drilling and the industry’s handling of millions of gallons of water and other waste that can spring from individual wells.

Under existing federal law, the Environmental Protection Agency is obligated to review and possibly revise regulations governing the handling of oil and gas waste every three years. But the agency’s last review was 27 years ago.

And though the EPA decided then that it may need to better tailor its waste regulations for the oil and gas industry, it has not touched the issue since — even as domestic drilling has surged, said the organizations, including the Environmental Integrity Project and Natural Resources Defense Council.

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EPA: Waste pressure evidently never checked before Colorado mine spill

Agency says Gold King Mine adit was apparently not checked for water volume

By Jesse Paul

The Denver Post

POSTED:   08/26/2015 10:59:02 AM MDT



August 13: One of the retention ponds underneath the Gold King Mine on August 13, 2015. The San Juan County and the city of Silverton have a rich mining history with hundreds of mines being in the county including the Gold King Mine which spilled wastewater into the Animas River. Many of these mines were left abandoned or not properly bulkheaded which opens the possibility of wastewater draining into the rivers and creeks below. (Brent Lewis, Denver Post file photo)

Dangerously high levels of water pressure behind the collapsed opening of the Gold King Mine were never checked by the Environmental Protection Agency, in part because of cost and time concerns.

The revelations came Wednesday as the EPA released an internal review of a massive Aug. 5 blowout at the mine above Silverton. The report called an underestimation of the pressure the most significant factor leading to the spill.

According to the report, had crews drilled into the mine's collapsed opening, as they had done at a nearby site, they "may have been able to discover the pressurized conditions that turned out to cause the blowout."

The EPA-triggered wastewater release sent yellow-orange sludge cascading through three states and the land of two American Indian tribes. The internal review for the first time reveals what the EPA believes went wrong at Gold King, which 14 months before the spill they knew was at risk for blowout.

"It is not evident that the potential volume of water stored within the (mine's opening) had been estimated," the review said. "Given the maps and information known about this mine, a worst-case scenario estimate could have been calculated and used for planning purposes."

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Filed under: Water Comments Off

Oil industry needs half a trillion dollars to endure price slump

Posted on August 27, 2015 | By Bloomberg

Biggest second quarter losses of 2015

At a time when the oil price is languishing at its lowest level in six years, producers need to find half a trillion dollars to repay debt. Some might not make it.

The number of oil and gas company bonds with yields of 10 percent or more, a sign of distress, tripled in the past year, leaving 168 firms in North America, Europe and Asia holding this debt, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The ratio of net debt to earnings is the highest in two decades.

If oil stays at about $40 a barrel, the shakeout could be profound, according to Kimberley Wood, a partner for oil mergers and acquisitions at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP in London. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 4.5 percent to $40.32 a barrel at 10:51 a.m. in London.

“The look and shape of the oil industry would likely change over the next five to 10 years as companies emerge from this,” Wood said. “If oil prices stay at these levels, the number of bankruptcies and distress deals will undoubtedly increase.”

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Famous folks call for noisy climate activism ahead of Paris talks

By Clayton Aldern on 26 Aug 2015

Le dérèglement climatique tue, proclaims a new campaign. “Climate change kills.” It’s the message being pushed in a new essay collection by the likes of Naomi Klein, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, and Desmond Tutu — a book that seeks to inspire ambitious civil action before the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris this December. The collection, called Stop Climate Crimes!, features a joint statement signed by these high-profile characters and others, including Vivienne Westwood and Noam Chomsky.

“In the past, determined women and men have resisted and overcome the crimes of slavery, totalitarianism, colonialism or apartheid,” reads the statement. “They decided to fight for justice and solidarity and knew no one would do it for them. Climate change is a similar challenge, and we are nurturing a similar uprising.” The signatories are expected to issue an official call to action on Thursday, components of which could include calls for large street protests in Paris during the climate negotiations.

The Guardian reports:

Bill McKibben, founder of environmental movement, which has launched the project with the anti-globalisation organisation Attac France, described the move as a “good first step” towards Paris.

“It’s important for everyone to know that the players at Paris aren’t just government officials and their industry sidekicks. Civil society is going to have its say, and noisily if need be. This is a good first step,” he said.

There are now less than 100 days until the UN’s Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, where leaders from more than 190 countries will gather to discuss a potential new agreement on climate change. Last week the EU’s climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete warned that negotiations ahead of the conference must accelerate if any agreement is to be meaningful.

The statement demands an end to fossil fuel subsidies and the freezing of fossil fuel extraction. It also singles out trade liberalization and emission-heavy corporations as instrumental in causing the world’s climate woes. The statement and book constitute a portion of Attac France’s “Let’s change the system, not the climate” campaign, an anti-globalization effort that seeks to mobilize citizens against free trade initiatives in favor of climate security.

Of course, drastically altering our consumption habits and corporate power structures is a tall order. “We know that this implies a great historical shift,” the signatories state. But their call is steadfast. “We will not wait for states to make it happen. Slavery and apartheid did not end because states decided to abolish them. Mass mobilisations left political leaders no other choice.” As some would say, it’s a move that requires changing everything.


Tutu, Klein and Chomsky call for mass climate action ahead of Paris conferen

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How carbon credit scheme resulted in even more greenhouse gas emissions

A UN-backed carbon offsetting program enriched Russian and Ukrainian companies but made climate change worse, according to a new study.

By Beatrice Gitau, Staff writer AUGUST 25, 2015 Save for later

The use of carbon credits – offsetting pollution from one source by preventing it at another – under the Kyoto climate treaty may have worsened climate change instead of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, a new study indicates.

The authors of the study say that offsets that were created under the United Nations' scheme significantly undermined the efforts to address climate change and estimate it actually increased emissions by some 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The study, from the Stockholm Environment Institute, reveals that the majority of the credits from Russia and Ukraine were a sham and no actual emissions were reduced.

The researchers analyzed 60 projects and discovered that a massive 73 percent of credits didn’t meet the key provision of “additionally,” which means that the projects would have occurred anyway without the added incentive of carbon credits.

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You Can Wipe Out Coal, but You Can’t Bring the Mountains Back

The coal industry in West Virginia is collapsing, leaving uncertainty and a drastically altered skyline in its wake.


Laura Gottesdiener



Kayford Mountain is one of many sites in Appalachia that has undergone mountain-top removal, the final stage of coal extraction. (Photo by Kate Wellington, CC BY-NC 2.0)

In Appalachia, explosions have leveled the mountain tops into perfect race tracks for Ryan Hensley’s all-terrain vehicle (ATV). At least, that’s how the 14-year-old sees the barren expanses of dirt that stretch for miles atop the hills surrounding his home in the former coal town of Whitesville, West Virginia.

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“They’re going to blast that one next,” he says, pointing to a peak in the distance. He’s referring to a process known as “mountain-top removal,” in which coal companies use explosives to blast away hundreds of feet of rock in order to unearth underground seams of coal.

“And then it’ll be just blank space,” he adds. “Like the Taylor Swift song.”

Skinny and shirtless, Hensley looks no more than 11 or 12. His ribs and collarbones protrude from his taut skin. Dipping tobacco is tucked into his right cheek. He has a head of cropped blond curls that jog some memory of mine, but I can’t quite figure out what it is. He’s pointing at a peak named Coal River Mountain. These days, though, it’s known to activists here as “the Last Mountain,” as it’s the only ridgeline in this area that’s still largely intact.

We continue picking our way along a path on topless Kayford “Mountain,” a few miles from Hensley’s hometown (population 514, according to the 2010 census), as he resumes chronicling his adventures on ATVs. Nearby is the Seng Creek mine, still semi-active and one of Hensley’s favorite racing spots. Active mines are always the best race tracks, he assures me, since you get the added thrill of outrunning security guards and watching explosions, which sound, he tells me, like hundreds of dump trucks emptying their loads all at once.

As we walk, we’re careful to step over crevices known as “mine cracks”—deep narrow drops into the earth most often formed by the caving in of old underground mines. Hensley stops to peer into one crack filled with broken Bud Lite bottles and I joke that it leads straight through to China.

But Hensley knows better. At his young age, he’s already an expert on everything about mountain-top removal: how companies blast the peaks with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil—the same chemical combination that Timothy McVeigh used to detonate the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. He knows that the process fills the air with toxic coal dust, benzene, and carbon monoxide, while contaminating nearby streams with arsenic.

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New Jersey’s $225 Million Settlement With Exxon Mobil Is Approved


New Jersey’s widely debated $225 million settlement of a pollution lawsuit with Exxon Mobil Corporation was approved on Tuesday by a state judge who called the deal fair, reasonable and in the public interest.

The ruling comes in a longstanding legal battle in which New Jersey demanded $8.9 billion in compensation for natural resource damage to more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes and waters at refinery sites that Exxon once owned in Bayonne and Linden.

Environmental groups, federal and state politicians, and others had sharply criticized the administration of Gov. Chris Christie for accepting just a small fraction of the damages that the state had long sought.

But in an 81-page opinion, the judge, Michael J. Hogan of Superior Court, found that “although far smaller than the estimated $8.9 billion in damages, Exxon’s payment represents a reasonable compromise given the substantial litigation risks” that the state faced at trial and would face on appeal.

The settlement, he added, “was the product of arm’s-length, adversarial negotiations between two highly motivated, sophisticated parties.”



An oil refinery in Linden, N.J., in 1990. It is one of two Exxon sites that were at issue in lawsuits the State of New Jersey filed over long-term environmental contamination.


Mike Derer/Associated Press

Criticism of the decision was almost immediate. Margaret Brown, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the organizations that filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the deal, said, “This is a multibillion-dollar gift to ExxonMobil from Gov. Christie and his administration, at the expense of New Jersey residents.”

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