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June 14th, 2017 Archives


Owner threatens to close Three Mile Island nuclear plant as natural gas boom cuts profits

Five years of losses has prompted the parent company to consider shuttering the infamous plant as nuclear power plants around the US fail to compete with generating stations that burn plentiful and inexpensive natural gas to produce electricity.

  1. Marc Levy
    Associated Press

MAY 30, 2017 HARRISBURG, PA.—Cheap natural gas could do what the worst commercial nuclear power accident in US history could not: put Three Mile Island out of business.

Three Mile Island's owner, Exelon Corp., announced Tuesday that the plant that was the site of a terrifying partial meltdown in 1979 will close in 2019 unless the state of Pennsylvania comes to its financial rescue.

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Big solar projects potential boon for rural areas

By Ryan Maye Handy, Houston Chronicle Published 10:49 am, Tuesday, June 13, 2017


OCI Solar Power is building the 110-megawatt, Alamo 6 solar farm in Iraan in West Texas to provide renewable power to the city of San Antonio. The project is slated to come online by the end of the year. OCI ... more

Utility-scale solar power is poised to become a boon for Texas' rural economies, particularly those hit by the oil downturn.

In Pecos County in West Texas, just south of Midland, the oil and gas industry accounted for about 90 percent of the county's tax revenues, said Helen Brauner, director of origination strategy for 7x Energy, an Austin-based utility-scale solar company. But that tax revenue plunged during the oil bust, she said, and has yet to recover.

But renewable energy is helping to restore some of Pecos' lost tax base, said Brauner. The county already hosts 400 megawatts of solar power and 700 megawatts of wind power.

"The typical 100 megawatt solar project should give the county about $30 million in property tax revenue per year," Brauner said  Tuesday at a summit on solar power in Austin.

Most of the solar power in Texas comes from utility-scale projects, which are greater than one megawatt, or enough to power 200 homes on a hot Texas day. Texas has lagged behind in the spread of solar energy, in part because the state offers no incentives for solar power. Nonetheless, solar industry analysts and executives expect utility-scale solar to grow in Texas.

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Building the ‘Solar Protection Factor’ Into an Increasingly Green-Powered Grid


A new ScottMadden report describes the challenges of balancing renewables and natural gas with retiring baseload power plants.

by Jeff St. John

June 12, 2017

Utilities need to prepare for the rise of wind and solar power and the retirements of baseload power plants, and that includes building “solar protection factors” into their long-term planning.

That’s one of the recommendations from consultancy ScottMadden in its latest energy industry update. The report, which covers subjects ranging from Trump administration energy policies, to blockchain, to smart cities, also gets into detail on today's key grid paradigm shift -- the increasingly frequent retirements of coal and nuclear power plants and their replacement by natural gas and renewables.

In the past decade, for the first time ever, baseload retirements outpaced baseload additions, with 23 gigawatts of net retirements since 2010, the report found. Of the 84.2 gigawatts of retirements, 61 percent were coal and 29 percent gas steam turbine plants, while the 61.1 gigawatts of additions have been 74 percent combined-cycle natural gas and 24 percent coal steam turbines.

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Today’s Top Solar Developers Have Become Storage Developers Too


Photo Credit: Cypress Creek Renewables

All this talk of solar-plus-storage is converting into action.

by Julian Spector

June 13, 2017

The solar industry is no longer just talking about pairing energy storage with solar generation.

An increasing number of solar-plus-storage projects have been cropping up around the country, as lithium-ion prices drop lower and customers get more comfortable with storage technology. The AES plant in Kauai set a record low price in January, only to be beaten by Tucson Electric Power's sub-4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour PPA announced in May -- proving this technology isn't just for islands and remote microgrids any more.

For the large developers in particular, storage makes the solar product more appealing to a utility by giving the power plant flexibility and mitigating its effects on grid operations. On the islands of Hawaii, storage has already become necessary for adding major solar capacity; on the mainland, its value increases along with renewable penetration.

To get a handle on just how extensive the interest in storage-backed solar is, I got a list of the 10 largest utility-scale solar developers from my colleagues at GTM Research, and tracked down the storage status of each one.

Seven of the top 10 solar developers have incorporated storage into their business strategy, and have either deployed storage alongside PV or are pursuing hybrid installations. The remaining three did not comment on how storage fits into their plans.

"This is well beyond one developer -- this is really a trend we're seeing in the industry," said Colin Smith, a solar markets analyst at GTM Research. "Solar-plus-storage has become a forced differentiator in the industry."

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With Tesla founder’s help, Chinese automaker comes to Bay Area

By David R. Baker

June 13, 2017

  1. pastedGraphic.pdf

Photo: David Mcnew, AFP / Getty Images

An electric car is plugged into a charging station. While many U.S. consumers have shown little interest in electric vehicles, Californians have been an exception. By the end of last year, the state had about 270,000 electric cars and plug-in hybrids on its roads.

Another Chinese automaker aims to break into California’s growing electric vehicle industry, with a little help from one of Tesla’s founders.

Sokon Industry Group has opened its U.S. headquarters in Santa Clara, the company reported Tuesday. It has also established a research center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Formerly known as Chongqing Sokon Auto Industry Group, the company last year created a U.S. subsidiary called SF Motors and announced that it had lined up Tesla co-founder and former CEO Martin Eberhard as a consultant.

“As we expand our operations and R&D efforts, we hope to partner with like-minded corporations and recruit the top automotive and tech talent to ensure attainable, clean mobility for future generations,” said John Zhang, CEO of SF Motors.

The Santa Clara office, which will focus on business operations and product planning, employs about 50 people and should have 150 by the year’s end, according to the company.

California has seen a recent influx of electric vehicle companies either from China or backed by Chinese investors. The roster includes Faraday Future, LeEco, Lucid Motors and NextEV.

None of those companies, however, has succeeded so far in bringing an electric car to market.

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