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Category Archives: ‘Other Renewables’


Renewables Generated More Power Than Nuclear in March and April 

Utility-scale renewable electricity generation surpassed nuclear for the first time since Reagan was president.
by Eric Wesoff
July 07, 2017

Solar farms planted on an abandoned nuclear plant site or powering a coal museum or atop a strip mine offer stark images of the ascendance of renewables.   
But forget metaphorical images -- utility-scale renewable electricity generation in March and April actually surpassed nuclear for the first time since July 1984. (Ronald Reagan was president, and "When Doves Cry" was the No. 1 hit on the radio.)
Recent months have seen record generation from wind and solar, as well as increases in hydroelectric power because of 2017's wet winter (note that these numbers, from the Energy Information Administration, do not include distributed solar). Most of the time, conventional hydroelectric generation is still the primary source of renewable electricity.
But one of the takeaways from this data set is the emergence of wind in the last decade as a material slice of the energy mix. The U.S. wind industry installed more than 8 gigawatts in 2015 and did it again in 2016. The country now has over 84 gigawatts of installed wind capacity.
Another takeaway is the relatively diminutive contribution from solar, which falls between geothermal and biomass in its annual contribution. The U.S. installed 14.5 gigawatts of solar last year, up 95 percent over 2015. 
And still, more than 60 percent of all utility-scale electricity generating capacity that came on-line in 2016 was from wind and solar technologies, according to EIA.

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California grid sets record, with 67% of power from renewables

By Dominic Fracassa Updated 5:10 pm, Thursday, May 18, 2017

A stretch of sunny, windy days, combined with brimming reservoirs at hydroelectric plants across the state, helped California reach a renewable energy milestone last weekend.

Early Saturday afternoon, renewable sources produced a record 67.2 percent of the electricity on the portion of the state’s power grid controlled by the California Independent System Operator. That figure does not include large hydropower facilities, which added another 13.5 percent. Based in Folsom, the ISO runs 80 percent of the state’s grid.

More than half of the renewable energy flowing across the grid at that moment on Saturday came from large solar facilities and wind farms. The ISO’s numbers do not even account for electricity from rooftop solar arrays.

Overall, renewables accounted for 42 percent of the California grid’s power on Saturday, not counting the large hydropower plants.

“The fact that the grid can handle 67 percent renewable power from multiple sources — it’s a great moment, and it shows the potential we have,” said Sachu Constantine, the director of policy at the Center for Sustainable Energy, a nonprofit clean energy advisory firm in Berkeley.


Sustaining such high levels, however, will be challenging, he said.

California law requires utilities to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, rising to 50 percent by 2030. Last year, California's three large electric utilities collectively got 32.3 percent of their electricity from renewables. (Neither the state requirement nor the 2016 figure includes large hydropower facilities.)

Saturday’s numbers are the latest benchmark in what is expected to be a record-setting year for renewable energy production in California, because of the growing number of solar power plants in the state, the seasonal increase in sunshine and the flush hydroelectricity reserves produced by last winter’s rain.

For a span of three hours on March 11, solar power met roughly half of all electricity demand across much of the state, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s statistics division. The proportion of power produced from renewables that day peaked at 56.7 percent — a record at the time.


The torrents of rain that fell in the state have filled hydroelectric dams to levels not seen in decades. Up to 21 percent of the state’s total electricity output could come from hydroelectricity this year, according estimates from the California Energy Commission.

And on Tuesday, the state set a new record for wind power generation, producing 4,985 megawatts. A megawatt is a snapshot figure roughly equal to the amount of energy used by 760 homes at any given moment.

“It’s going to be a dynamic year for records,” said Steven Greenlee, a spokesman for the ISO. “The solar records in particular are falling like dominoes.”

It is possible, Greenlee said, that the state could cross the 70 percent threshold for renewable production this summer.

The steady stream of record-breaking days is a positive sign that the grid is adapting well to the influx of renewable energy, according to Greenlee. “That shows how our grid is shifting from the old paradigm, the old grid we used to have,” he said.

Given current weather forecasts, it is not out of the question that the state could push past the new record by this weekend, Greenlee said.

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Oroville Dam spillway shutting down for summer repairs

MAY 17, 2017 4:40 PM



Water will stop flowing from Oroville Dam’s badly damaged spillway on Friday, in the hopes it’s the last time it will be used before the next rainy season.

Even with a heavy snowpack waiting to melt in the mountains above Lake Oroville, state officials say they’ve drained the reservoir down to the point where they can manage its level through the dam’s primary powerplant outlet. The lake was at 74 percent of its total capacity Wednesday.

Department of Water Resources officials say they have a contingency plan in place to use the spillway one more time in case their snowmelt runoff calculations are incorrect.

With no more water gushing down the spillway, contractors working for DWR will start working full-time to shore up the spillway before next winter.

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Another giant California dam has downstream residents worried

APRIL 29, 2017 11:56 AM


Bee Correspondent



Deep in the Trinity Alps, 130 miles northwest of the troubled Oroville Dam, local officials are raising alarms about another earthen dam with documented weaknesses and limited capacity for releasing the water that has poured in from storms and melting snow.

Trinity Lake, the state’s third-largest reservoir, was filled to 97 percent of its storage capacity Tuesday, and a snowpack estimated at 150 percent of normal still looms over the watershed.

If the reservoir were to overtop the dam, the results would be catastrophic, said Keith Groves, a Trinity County supervisor representing the district that includes Trinity Dam.

“It would take out bridges … and a big section of (Trinity County) would be wiped off the face of the planet,” Groves said. He said 3,500 people live in the immediate pathway of potential flooding.

More than a month ago, on March 21, the Trinity County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation asking for a public presentation about the safety of Trinity Dam, climate change and the possible need to build another spillway. This week, Groves said the bureau has agreed to make a presentation for the supervisors on June 6.

Bureau officials are aware of the accumulation of snow above the reservoir and the mounting water levels, but they are not concerned about water overtopping the structure, said Russell Grimes, acting public affairs officer for the Bureau’s mid-pacific region in Sacramento.

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New study: California drought increased electricity bills and air pollution


PUBLISHED: April 26, 2017 at 12:01 am | UPDATED: April 26, 2017 at 6:00 am

California’s brutal five-year drought did more than lead to water shortages and dead lawns. It increased electricity bills statewide by $2.45 billion and boosted levels of smog and greenhouse gases, according to a new study released Wednesday.

Why? A big drop-off in hydroelectric power. With little rain or snow between 2012 and 2016, cheap, clean power from dozens of large dams around California was scarce, and cities and utilities had to use more electricity from natural-gas-fired power plants, which is more expensive and pollutes more.


“The drought has cost us in ways we didn’t necessarily anticipate or think about. It cost us economically and environmentally,” said Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit group that researches water issues, and author of the report.

California has 287 hydroelectric dams — from small reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada to massive hydroelectric operations at its largest reservoirs like Shasta, Oroville and Folsom. Water spins turbines and creates electricity as it is released into rivers and creeks, and although dams are expensive to build and can harm salmon and other species, once constructed, their electricity costs less than power from many other sources.

From 1983 to 2013, an average of 18 percent of California’s in-state electricity generation came from hydroelectric power. But during the drought, from 2012 to 2016, that fell nearly in half, to 10.5 percent. In the driest year, 2015, hydroelectric power made up just 7 percent of the electricity generated in California.

Although solar and wind power increased during the drought years, grid operators and other power managers still needed to boost electricity from natural gas-fired power plants. Natural gas generates less pollution than coal, which is nearly entirely phased out in California following decades of laws to reduce smog. But the extra natural gas burned during the drought increased greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in California by about 10 percent, or 24.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2012 and 2016.

That’s the same amount of heat-trapping pollution as adding 2.2 million more cars to the road over that time — or roughly doubling all the cars currently registered in Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties.

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Fixing Oroville Dam will cost hundreds of millions. Who should pay the bill?

APRIL 25, 2017 12:01 AM



The damage has been done and the repair contract awarded. Yet more than two months after damaged spillways at the Oroville Dam prompted authorities to order the evacuation of 188,000 people, the question of who will ultimately pay the bill remains murky.

How much will be the responsibility of homeowners, businesses, farmers and other customers of the more than two dozen local and regional agencies that contract with the State Water Project? The 700-mile network of canals, pipelines and lakes, including Lake Oroville, brings water mostly from Northern California to parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California.

What will be the cost to state taxpayers, who have approved billions of dollars in borrowing to pay for flood prevention and dam-related work, most of which has already been spoken for? Will the federal government have a role after the Trump administration’s recent approval of $274 million to cover emergency repair costs from mid-February through May?

Government officials and water policy experts say they don’t know who will end up on the hook for a cost some believe ultimately could approach $1 billion. Despite its importance to the lives of millions of Californians, the system exists outside California’s normal state budgeting process.

“That’s a question that even I don’t know the answer to,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, the top Republican on the Senate’s budget subcommittee that oversees the water project and other resources programs, and whose district includes Oroville. “There will be substantial costs.”

27 The number of local and regional water agencies that contract with the State Water Project

Water project costs are allocated under a doctrine that calls for the beneficiary to pay. Contractors and their customers are responsible for water supply-related expenses. Federal, state and local governments have historically shared the water project’s flood-control expenses. And state government and user fees have covered the tab for water project recreation, fish and wildlife costs.

Disagreements regularly arise.

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Sierra Institute wins award for proposal to turn logging waste into energy

APRIL 17, 2017 3:04 PM


Bee correspondent



Sierra Institute for Community and Environment, a research organization focused on education and community collaboration, has won a $100,000 national competition for its entrepreneurial approach to solving challenges facing national forests across the country.

The institute’s winning business plan capitalizes on California’s alternative energy markets and the woody material available in local national forests, which occupy two-thirds of the land base in Plumas County, where the institute is located.

The proposal calls for a three-megawatt facility that would produce both heat and electricity. Located in Plumas near other wood-products businesses, it would be fueled by small diameter trees and logging waste and sell electricity to California’s energy market, said Greg Peters, a spokesman for the National Forest Foundation, the contest’s sponsor.

The heat generated by the biomass plant would be sold to other wood-product facilities located on a campus envisioned to include a firewood production facility, a wood-chip processing facility, cross-laminated timber production and a greenhouse heated by the biomass energy plant.

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California’s jammed highways hold hope as power source

By Kurtis Alexander

April 16, 2017

    California’s famously congested freeways may soon do more than create headaches.

    State officials agreed last week to fund an initiative to generate electrical power from traffic, a plan that involves harnessing road vibrations with the intent of turning the automobile, like the sun and wind, into a viable source of renewable energy.

    The technology is peculiar but proven. Devices that convert mechanical force into electricity are used in watches and lighters and are being tested for power generation on sidewalks and runways. A San Francisco nightclub has even leveraged the pulses of a dance floor to power its lights and music.

    But it remains to be seen whether the science can be employed on a large scale — threaded beneath the state’s sprawling highway system and rigged to produce significant, cost-effective electricity.


    “There’s a lot of traffic in California and a lot of vibration that just goes into the atmosphere as heat. We can capture that,” said Mike Gravely, a senior electrical engineer and head of the research division at the California Energy Commission. “The technology has been successfully demonstrated.”

    Gravely helped draft the proposal approved Wednesday by the Energy Commission’s governing board, which will direct $2.3 million to two independent road projects designed to test the viability of scaling up piezoelectricity.

    Piezo” is Greek for “squeeze” or “press” and refers to using pressure to create power.

    Both of the state’s pilot programs are expected, within two to three years, to be far enough along to give California officials an idea whether the effort should be expanded. By developing new technologies like piezoelectricity, the Energy Commission is looking to help meet the Legislature’s target of producing 50 percent of the state’s power from renewable sources by 2030.

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    Fate of flows in Russian and Eel rivers rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project


    THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | April 8, 2017, 11:29PM

    | Updated 19 hours ago.

    Even the record rainfall that dowsed the North Coast this winter, filling reservoirs and streams, will not be enough to head off a looming clash over the water that courses down two of the region’s largest rivers, the Russian and the Eel.

    Together, they drain a swath of territory, including cities, forests and vineyards, that stretches from central Sonoma County to Fortuna, in Humboldt County — an area larger than Connecticut.

    A key link between the two rivers, a small powerhouse more than 100 years old, is now the focal point in a fight over the water that flows down these rivers. It’s a standoff with many of the main players in western water wars — farmers, environmentalists, water districts serving urban customers and fishermen. And it raises many of the same questions: Who benefits and who loses from water taken for decades from one river — at over 20 billion gallons a year — and funneled into another river?

    In this case, it is the Eel River that has been tapped, its water sent down a milelong tunnel through a mountain in Mendocino County, into a PG&E powerhouse and ultimately into a fork of Russian River, which flows down through Sonoma County.

    Water drawn from the Eel River sustains Lake Mendocino, the main source of drinking water for residents along the Russian River from Redwood Valley down to Healdsburg.

    Turning off that supply could devastate agriculture and diminish that primary water source for thousands of people, according to interests on one side of the tug-of-war.

    The vast majority of the more 600,000 North Bay residents who depend on the Russian River for drinking water are unaware of the plumbing arrangement and the controversy that has long swirled around it and two related dams on the Eel River, where once-prolific runs of salmon and steelhead trout have dwindled amid various human impacts, water diversion among them.

    But for the partisans — the water managers, environmentalists, public officials, ranchers and scientists — the dilemma of parsing out this water between competing interests, between people and fish, between town and country, is revving up again over the relicensing of the PG&E powerhouse, called the Pottery Valley Project.

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    Surge of hydropower could force cutbacks of solar, wind

    By Dominic Fracassa

    March 31, 2017 Updated: April 2, 2017 7:55pm

    An abundance of rain and snowfall this winter has teed up what’s expected to be a bountiful year for hydroelectricity production in California, as reservoirs recover from five years of drought.

    But the projected rise in hydropower could force the state to sharply cut back on the amount of power produced from other sources, particularly renewable energy, according to the California Independent System Operator, the organization that manages most of the state’s vast energy system.

    The system operator forecasts on some days it will have to block between 6,000 and 8,000 megawatts of electricity from the grid as a result of the profusion of hydropower. That’s the equivalent output of six to eight nuclear reactors.

    In order to keep pace with the supply and demand of the state’s moment-to-moment energy needs, as one power sources rises, others have to be dialed down, in a process known as curtailment.

    Steven Greenlee, a spokesman for the system operator, said that California’s policies requiring increasing amounts of energy to be produced from renewable sources have boosted the amount of solar power.

    “If the amount of excess supply we have on the grid is during the mid-morning and mid-afternoons, it’s likely that solar will be high on the list to curtail,” Greenlee said, adding that wind power production is likely to be curbed as well. Natural gas plants could also be affected.

    Hydroelectric output could also be curtailed, Greenlee said, but only when dams are beneath their “spill levels,” the safety threshold that determines when water must be released. The system operator must accept power from hydroelectric sources that are above their spill levels. That could happen as snowmelt pours into reservoirs.

    “Now we’re seeing a record amount of hydro plus a record amount of solar,” Greenlee said. “And so that’s shaping up to be a potential for more excess on the grid than what we’ve ever encountered before.”

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    Record snowfall in California increasing hydro power generation

    Posted by ryanhandy

    Date: March 24, 2017


      Snow is blown from a taxi-way at the airport in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., March 2, 2017. Using measurements gathered by a NASA program, scientists have been able to gain an unprecedented understanding of the amount of water present in the Sierra’s snow. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

      Hydroelectric power in California is expected to decrease the state’s reliance on natural gas this year, after a year of record snowfall gives way to large runoff, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

      California has been in a relentless drought since 2011, but this year’s record precipitation has finally reversed the trend. The state is not drought-free, but snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains is 158 percent of normal — a vast improvement from near zero levels years ago.

      Hydroelectric generation has already been higher in 2017 than it was a year ago, according to the California Independent System Operator, the electricity grid operator for much of the state. Power generated from hydro is double what it was this time last year, and natural gas generation is down 20 percent compared with the same time last year.

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      How hydroelectric power has roared back in California

      By Dominic Fracassa

      March 20, 2017 Updated: March 20, 2017 6:40am


      Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

      Ice covers the eastern end of the French Meadows Reservoir, part of the watershed managed by the Placer County Water Agency. Energy from hydroelectric plants is expected to rise sharply.

      After slowing to a trickle during the past five years of punishing drought, hydroelectric power in California is poised to make a major comeback this spring and summer, thanks to the wet winter.

      Across Northern California, hydroelectricity producers say their reservoirs are brimming at levels not seen in decades. Together, their dams should produce as much as 21 percent of the state’s total electricity output this year, according to projections from the California Energy Commission.

      That would be the highest percentage for hydropower since 2011, according to the commission’s Energy Almanac. That was the last wet winter before the drought.

      Hydroelectricity is relatively cheap, and a surge in production could help restrain rising utility bills in California, although the effect would probably be small. An increase in hydroelectric production should also curb California’s greenhouse gas emissions, by lessening the need for electricity from power plants that burn natural gas.

      According to a closely watched Department of Water Resources index that tracks precipitation around Northern California dams, the region has seen 202 percent of its average annual rainfall. The agency’s measure of snowfall in the northern Sierra is also about 145 percent above average; that will help hydroelectricity producers, which rely on melting snowpack as a key source of water during warmer, drier months.

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      Garcetti calls for state of emergency amid concerns that flooding could damage DWP facilities



      A winter scene from January near Bishop, Calif. Los Angeles officials are concerned that melting snow along the eastern Sierra Nevada could harm Department of Water and Power facilities.


      March 20, 2017, 7:00 p.m.

      Mayor Eric Garcetti proclaimed a state of emergency Monday, citing concerns that melting snowpack in the eastern Sierra Nevada could flood homes and highways in the Owens Valley and damage the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

      The proclamation, which takes effect immediately and lasts seven days, is designed to help the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power protect its pumps, pipes and reservoirs in the Owens Valley and surrounding areas.

      Although the head of the DWP downplayed the immediate threat level, Garcetti called the potential for infrastructure damage “very, very high,” adding that he doesn’t “want lives to be upended, families hurt, jobs lost because we waited too long and didn’t take action.”

      Recent storms have dumped record levels of snow in the Sierra Nevada, helping ease the drought and swelling reservoirs. But melting snowpack and heavy rains have also sparked alarm about flooding.

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      Hydro power facilities are oldest power plants in the U.S.

      Posted by ryanhandy Date: March 15, 2017

        The oldest power generating facilities in the U.S. are hyrdoelectric plants, which are on average 64 years old. But some are even older–dating to before 1908, according to analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy.

        Hydroelectricity remains the primary source of renewable energy in the U.S., and it now generates around six or seven percent of the country’s power. In 2015, renewable energy contributed around 14 percent of the country’s power, driven by hydro, wind and solar.

        Most states have hydroelectric plants, but half of the country’s hydro power capacity is in three states, Washington, California and Oregon.  Texas has few hydro plants that together generate only about 500 to 1,000 megawatts. (One megawatt is enough to power 200 average homes on a hot Texas day.)

        The pitfalls of the country’s aging hydroelectric plants have been highlighted recently by California’s Oroville Dam, which state officials worried would fail following heavy rain. Damage to the dam could affect it’s hydroelectric facility, which dates from 1968 — old by modern standards for electricity generators, but newer than most of California’s hydro power facilities.

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        Why solar panels bloom in Southwest’s land of hydropower


        Electric utilities are seeking a new power mix, as shifts in precipitation diminish the role that dams have long played for western states.

        MARCH 14, 2017 PANACA, NEV.—It didn’t really matter that Kyle Donohue hadn’t built an array of solar power panels before: Lincoln County wasn’t getting the same amount of electricity from the Hoover Dam as it used to.

        The lake behind the dam had dropped amid a historic drought, pushing up power costs for Lincoln County. At the same time, the community asked more about solar.

        So Mr. Donohue, a staff engineer at the Lincoln County Power District that sits about 150 miles north of Las Vegas, and Dave Luttrell, the general manager, began looking into the idea.

        At first blush, solar didn’t seem cheap enough to rival natural gas as an alternative to hydropower. Hiring an outside company to build the panels would be too costly.

        But what if Donohue’s team built it in-house? As Mr. Luttrell penciled out the math, comparing with projected future natural gas prices, building a 1 megawatt community solar system would be cost competitive.

        All they had to do was learn how to build the thing.

        “It was a real learning curve – definitely – for us. But it’s not the hardest thing we’ve done out there,” says Donohue.

        Now the utility is drawing some of its power from these arrays, just off a main state highway. Especially when they get full sun. “It’s a little brighter, so the minute that cloud cleared out those things kicked into full gear,” says Luttrell, surveying his new little empire of sun.

        Across the West, utilities and federal officials are planning for a future with less of a mainstay energy source – hydropower – to draw on, as climate change pushes up temperatures and alters patterns of rain and snow.

        Utilities like Seattle City Light and Lincoln County Power District are increasingly supplementing their hydropower with renewable electricity. Meanwhile, hydropower itself is being upgraded for a new era, as federal dam operators and users invest in wringing whatever electricity they can from rivers like the Colorado.

        This shift is monumental. The federal buildout of cheap, affordable hydroelectricity through massive, ecosystem-altering public dams projects is one of the fundamental building blocks for the West, vitalizing cities and far-flung rural enclaves alike.

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