Friday, December 28, 2012

Largest Community Solar Projects

     We often hear of a solar project being touted as the first, largest, or best of its kind. It's understandable - people put a lot of passion into solar projects, the industry is competitive - often with little differentiation between developers, and superlatives win press.  The Solar Gardens Institute can help with the fact-checking!

     The word "community" itself is ill-defined. Is New York City a community?  Just what makes a project somehow special enough to be considered community-like?

      A community solar project might be in a single array or multiple arrays throughout an area. It might be a solar garden - shared solar, operating on a subscription model. It might use virtual net metering to supply people in a given housing complex, town, or utility service area. It might be crowdfunded, with money from many small investors. It might be community-controlled, owned by a cooperative where members have some degree of say.

      Some definitions give a size range. Colorado's Community Solar Gardens Act tops out at 2 Megawatts (2000 kilowatts).  California's proposed SB43 places the maximum size for a shared solar project at 20 MW (20,000 kW).  Distributed solar is connected to the distribution grid, as rather than the transmission grid - at a maximum 30 MW.

     Here's a tour of a few of the largest, from the largest "largest" project down to the smallest largest project. Please let me know at if I have left out yours!

Copper Crossing Solar Ranch, Arizona - 20.0 MW

      This is about as big as you can get and still be called community solar. This 144-acre project, built for the Salt River Project by Ibedrola Solar, supplies a hundred schools. Impressive!

Hall's Pond Solar Cooperative, Ontario, Canada (Proposed) - 7.5 MW

    In the solar industry, we spend a lot of time out standing in various fields. This Ontario cooperative has raised CA$200,000, and intends to raise 30% of its money from its members.

Keystone Solar Project, Pennsylvania - 6.0 MW

     The "other" Keystone, this lovely project was designed "to support both farmland preservation and agricultural soil restoration." Built by Community Energy Inc. and supplying power through Exelon Energy, subscribers include Franklin & Marshall College, Eastern University, Clean Air Council, the Philadelphia Phillies, Millersville University, and most recently, Marywood University and Juniata College.

Westmill Solar Co-Op, Oxfordshire, England - 5.0 MW

     The world's largest cooperatively-owned solar project resides in rainy old England. This really demonstrates how a feed-in tariff or CLEAN program can promote local solar development! Shares in this project sold out rapidly - the project was build by Blue Energy.

Mesa County Solar Garden, Colorado (Proposed) - 2.0 MW

     One of the largest projects under the Community Solar Gardens Act, Ecoplexus Inc. is actively developing an array on XCEL Energy territory near Grand Junction, Colorado. Terry Franklin, utility manager for the city of Grand Junction, said, "Colorado Mesa University wants to be a subscriber, the City of Grand Junction wants to be a subscriber, School District 51 wants to be a subscriber and then a minimum of five percent of low-income families are a requirement through the Xcel Process."

SMUD Solar Shares, California - 1.2 MW

     The grandaddy of 'em all, this 2008 project was one of the first solar gardens in America, and remained the largest for a considerable period. The program allows customers of the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District to purchase blocks of solar power which are credited to their electric bills.

SMPA Community Solar Array, Colorado - 1.1 MW

     The largest solar garden currently under operation in Colorado, this project on the San Miguel Power Association will provide power to over 200 subscribers. The SMPA Community Solar Array is located on seven acres in the northwest corner of Paradox Valley along U.S. Highway 90, about 15 miles west of Naturita, Colo. Customers in the SMPA territory will purchase individual panels for $705, net of rebates from SMPA. Customer can purchase as few as one panel or enough to offset 100% of their electricity needs, and receive credit for the power produced directly on their monthly utility bills.

Valencia Gardens Solar, California - 0.7 MW

     California's largest virtual net metered solar project, this 700-kilowatt grouping of arrays provides power to an affordable housing complex in San Francisco. Under California's Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program, the power will be allocated to each apartment proportional to square footage.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Solar Crowdfunding in California: Part 3, San Francisco Energy Cooperative

As the price of solar has plummeted and leases have become more widespread, many more Americans have been able to go solar. But what about the 75% who can’t?

More options are emerging for solar for the rest of us -- including Mosaic’s new online marketplace, which is making it possible for people to invest in community solar projects and earn solid returns.

This three-part series profiles some other startups that are paving the way to spread solar to all.

Just across the bay from Mosaic in San Francisco, three young entrepreneurs are finding new ways to crowdfund solar projects -- and include the 75%. Not content to wait for someone else to do something, they’re taking matters into their own hands, rolling up their sleeves, and making projects happen.

Empowering the 75% through co-ops

Evan Wynns founded the San Francisco Energy Cooperative in 2011 with the 75% in mind. He began with the question of why we don’t have more green energy in the United States: “It’s frustrating because we have this technology which can take off a lot of the load of consuming fossil fuels, and we have the will -- we see green energy growing in popularity all the time -- and the question is why don’t we have more. We thought about that, and the benefits of green energy, and how can we distribute those benefits to more people.”

In keeping with the philosophy of the Sharing (or Access) Economy, Wynns is seeking to give people who don’t own green energy technology access to the services the technology provides.

The SF Energy Co-op has found a way to make the benefits of green energy available to anyone, through the power of collective investment and organization. As Wynns puts it, “Say it costs $20K to put solar on your roof, but you can’t do that, for whatever reason. So you go to your neighbor and say, ‘I’ll pay to put it on your roof, and then you pay me what I would have been saving, and you’ll still be saving money on your power bill.’ And say instead you go to 100 friends and you all pay $200 to do the same thing. You can do the same good when people pool together small amounts of money.”

Read more:

Embark, Lend Lease unveil plans for 400kW community solar park in Sydney

The first large community solar project in the city of Sydney is to be unveiled today when the not-for-profit community advisory group Embark and property giant Lend Lease announce plans for a 400kW rooftop solar PV system in the convention centre to be built in Darling Harbour.
The $1 million project will be hosted and installed by Lend Lease at its Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct (SICEEP), but will be entirely owned by members of the local community, who will be able to purchase shares equivalent to around 1kW each, and obtain returns of around 5-7 per cent per annum.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Emergency at the North Pole

Santa Claus
Vicinity of North Pole
Christmas, 2012

Dear Humanity,

I know you’re supposed to be the ones writing the letters to me.  But this is important.  Let me start  by explaining a couple of things:

People wonder how we manage to deliver to everyone on a single night.  Think about it - the post office does that every day, and we only have to do that once a year.  What most people don’t know is we move the workshop every year with Sno-Cats® as the ice drifts across the North Pole.  When you’re doing distribution by air you can’t beat the central location in middle of the northern hemisphere.

It’s a good thing we’re almost never at the actual geographic North Pole, with those submarines coming up from under the ice, and explorers showing up all the time now.  Elves consider humans to be walking germ-bags – they’re the last surviving population of Homo floresiensis, and one flu germ could wipe them out.  I may be the physical manifestation of the spirit of Christmas, but my physiology is human.  I have to get so many shots before I go out, and even then, I have to go into quarantine for two weeks afterward. It’s okay - I need the rest.

But what I really need to talk about is Carbon Dioxide.  I need to talk about the oceans turning to acid, and the ice melting.  There’s going to be some kind of ice at the North Pole for a long time – at least most of the time.  It won’t be all of a sudden that the ice will melt off and the North Pole will be open water, but what we’re seeing is the ice getting thinner and breaking up more and more each year.  Nowadays we keep the workshop and all the employee housing on pontoons because we really are out in the ocean, the ice can open up at any time and swallow you up.  You can tell the ice is getting thinner; we really need multi-year ice to put down the four-foot anchors for our buildings.  We really notice when we get on some of this goofy first-year ice that’ll break at the first little wave, and we see that more and more.

The summer of 2007 was really something else – we had a crack in the ice sheet a mile wide go across the pole and through the middle of our operation, and about a third of our buildings including the stables wound up on the other side.  Our operations have been slowed down a bit ever since, and you know how important we are to the economy!  That was rough, but nothing compared to last summer, 2012, I couldn’t believe the ice reports – so much melted off that it started changing the weather and we got hit with an arctic cyclone.  Employee housing took a really big hit, some of the bolts came out of the ice and the buildings went over with the elves inside.  Luckily, no one was really hurt, but the cyclone broke up the ice even more, and we lost about half the ice cap. Half!

We’re a big operation in a harsh place.  Ain’t no holiday up here.  The ice has gotten so unstable, we’ve been contracting with the Russians to bring up one of these big bergs that’s breaking off of Greenland, they call them ice islands.  They’ll tow it with icebreakers and submarines.  The problem is how are we going to keep it from drifting?  No one has ever anchored a billion-ton object, especially not elves.  But if we can manage it, I’ll make it a refuge for the rest of the walruses and polar bears.  BP has let us know if we lease the North Pole for drilling, they’ll let us set the workshop up on one of their platforms, but I don’t think the Russians would like that. Maybe that’s why they’re so willing to help.

A melting arctic affects your weather as well. It breaks my heart when I get down there, and the chimney is all that’s left of the house, and I have to track down the kids in a hurricane shelter.  I live forever, and if you guys don’t get your act together I’m going to have to watch your beautiful cities fall beneath the seas.  It might turn out that Atlantis was not a legend of your past but a warning of the future you face.

You’ve been bad, but I am not going to give you any coal – I have to reduce my own carbon footprint. I’m a spirit of giving, and I don’t have a choice but to bring you all the stuff you’re asking for.  It’s bitterly ironic, being a saint that magically brings presents, now threatened by the very excess of that giving.  My back is hurting from carrying all this stuff, and you guys are hurting too, with your houses and garages and storage units packed full of stuff you don’t need and never will be able to use.

So I have to think, what if Santa stopped coming?  No more gifts as you face ruin in the whirlwind before Sandy’s claws.  What if you face ruin to measure your wastefulness, and eight reindeer forsake you for four horsemen?  Because I can’t just give, and give, and give – I have come to represent the myth of endless growth that without fail will lead to ruin.  People, I can’t do it for you. You have to put Santa on a diet.

The giving of a gift lasts just a moment, but the object itself is made out of matter.  Mater, that’s the Latin word for mother, and all you have temporarily in your ownership is a little bit of Mother Earth.  They come from her body, the temples of her forests, the dirt and stones that make her flesh.  To her they, and you, will return.  An object is touched by many hands - the hands that make it, your hands that keep it and care for it, and the hands that take it when you are done with it, and it embodies the time and life energy of all these people.  So if it is an object you give, make sure it will serve well, serve for a long time.  Become a culture of few things, beautiful things, useful things to pass to the next generation.  Such objects are expensive, and worth it.

Why do we give?  A gift is a celebration of our love, something people can remember and think fondly on our relationship, our shared experience.  We can de-materialize Christmas without reducing the love by one bit.  That’s why I like the Internet.  I can let the elves telecommute from home and write apps that you can give.  A book today will not require a tree to be cut down.  A photograph will not require chemicals to develop.  It sure cuts down the work if I only have to drive a virtual sleigh.

Give a subscription to solar power.  Give recycled.  Give a hand-me-down with a story attached.  Give good, healthy food and drink that can be enjoyed with love – especially if you grew or prepared it yourself.  Best of all, give of your heart, a poem or story or piece of art, the gift of your singing voice.  Give them a massage, a coupon for double digging the garden in the spring, or the right to borrow a favorite thing whenever they like.  Give your love.

And folks, we’ve got to shoulder into the hard work ahead, and give our most precious gift of all – our time.  When you take just the time to stop and think of what you really need, you are saving not just Santa Claus but your own dear children.  Celebrate each hour you volunteer shoveling the muck from Sandy, each solar panel you put up, every object you borrow or lend to your neighbors.  I’ll be a happy, skinny Santa with a smaller sack of gifts, twice the twinkle in my eye, and maybe, just maybe, enough ice to land my reindeer.


Santa Claus

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Research: Wind, solar power paired with storage could be cost-effective way to power grid

Renewable energy could fully power a large electric grid 99.9 percent of the time by 2030 at costs comparable to today’s electricity expenses, according to new research by the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College.

A well-designed combination of wind power, solar power and storage in batteries and fuel cells would nearly always exceed electricity demands while keeping costs low, the scientists found.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Are Microgrids the Key to Energy Security? | Scientific Americam

Because of the regulatory and economic challenges, microgrids will likely remain a niche application over the next several years. But as the costs for energy storage, renewable generation, and smart grid automation become more competitive, microgrids will play an expanding role in the quest for energy security.

read more:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Solar Crowdfunding in California: Part 2, Everybody Solar

As the price of solar has plummeted and leases have become more widespread, many more Americans have been able to go solar. But what about the 75% who can’t?

More options are emerging for solar for the rest of us -- including Mosaic’s new online marketplace, which is making it possible for people to invest in community solar projects and earn solid returns. 

This three-part series profiles some other startups that are paving the way to spread solar to all.

Just across the bay from Mosaic in San Francisco, three young entrepreneurs are finding new ways to crowdfund solar projects -- and include the 75%. Not content to wait for someone else to do something, they’re taking matters into their own hands, rolling up their sleeves, and making projects happen.

Empowering the 75% through nonprofits

Youness Scally founded Everybody Solar in 2011. Its mission is to help nonprofits go solar, thereby benefitting not only the environment but also the nonprofit’s budget. By reducing its power bills, a nonprofit can focus resources on its programs instead of on operating costs. And that helps the community the nonprofit serves. Everybody Solar focuses on local nonprofits that work to help the people with the greatest need in the community or who are doing environmental work.

Scally’s motivation to start his own organization arose from frustration with the political process: “You hear a lot of doom and gloom about the environment, and I wanted to do something about it. A lot of organizations are doing environmental work, but much of it is focused on policy. For me, and for many people, it’s important to have a tangible effect.”

Read more: 

Friday, December 14, 2012

California Tries Again For A "Community Clean Power' Bill | Renewable Energy News Article

SAN FRANCISCO -- The idea of giving the masses more access to solar energy has taken shape in a newly drafted bill in California that will allow renters to buy renewable electricity that is produced away from where they live and get credit on their utility bills.

Sen. Lois Wolk introduced the bill yesterday, a second attempt by her and solar energy proponents to pass such renewable energy sharing legislation. SB 43 will allow renters, along with homeowners who don't have good enough credit or have roofs that aren't suitable for solar panels, for example, to sign contracts with owners of solar power generation projects for a portion of the electricity produced. The amount they pay for will show up as credits on their utility bills. Businesses that lease office space will be able to do the same.

Read more:

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Solar Crowdfunding in California: Part 1, RE-volv


As the price of solar has plummeted and leases have become more widespread, many more Americans have been able to go solar. But what about the 75% who can’t?

More options are emerging for solar for the rest of us -- including Mosaic’s new online marketplace, which is making it possible for people to invest in community solar projects and earn solid returns.

This three-part series profiles some other startups that are paving the way to spread solar to all.

Just across the bay from Mosaic in San Francisco, three young entrepreneurs are finding new ways to crowdfund solar projects -- and include the 75%. Not content to wait for someone else to do something, they’re taking matters into their own hands, rolling up their sleeves, and making projects happen.

A revolving fund that grows quickly

Andreas Karelas founded RE-volv in 2011. He started the organization, he says, “out of a sense of frustration felt by many of us working for clean energy. The change isn't happening fast enough and if it's going to happen now, we'll have to do it ourselves. There's a huge opportunity here to mobilize people who care about renewable energy to take meaningful action that will help deliver renewables to more and more communities." RE-volv’s mission is to empower people and communities to invest collectively in renewable energy.

What makes RE-volv unique is that they’re using crowdfunding to create a revolving fund for community solar installations. This fund is crucial in supporting the organization’s mission.

Read more:

UK Community Power Cooperative | Northumberland Today

COBOURG AND HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - Local community solar-power generating projects are getting well off the ground, so to speak, with both Cobourg and Hamilton Township council's agreeing to lease infrastructure space on the roofs of some of their arenas.

The township's council endorsed the project for the roof of the Baltimore Recreation Centre proposed by Northumberland Community Power Co-Operative Inc. last week, and the town's council did the same several weeks earlier for the two older arenas on Hibernia, the power co-operative's spokesman Rich Tyssen told Northumberland Today.

Read more:

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Distributed Wholesale Solar Performing Better Than Expected | KCET

SunPower, a developer of solar generating projects working with 26 water agencies and districts in California, said its solar installations have provided 102 percent of the power the company had projected.

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

On-Bill Repayment Bill Introduced In California

This kind of financing mechanism could be really powerful if combined with offsite programs such as solar gardens (community shared solar).



Yesterday, California Senator Kevin de León introduced a bill, SB 37, which would create the first On-Bill Repayment (OBR) program entirely financed by private capital. OBR allows property owners to finance energy efficiency and renewable generation upgrades and repay the obligations through their utility bills.

Senator De León said that "every Californian should be able to participate in the clean energy economy, and OBR helps us achieve this goal." He believes that "OBR will lower utility bills, reduce pollution from dirty energy, and put thousands of Californians back to work. I am proud to be working with a broad coalition dedicated to moving this bill forward."
Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Resilience and Renewables

Resilience and Renewables
By Joy Hughes

How can our renewables policy at all scales respond to the lessons of the floods, droughts, winds, and ice storms of 2011-2012? The value of on-site solar systems with storage that can provide backup power is now crystal clear. Microgrids including community scale solar and battery storage might be able to take entire neighborhoods off-grid when necessary. Happily, the same steps that can make communities more resilient will also provide a path to a society powered by 100% renewables. It’s important to take the lessons of hurricane Sandy into account when designing community solar policy.

Climate Adaptation and Solar Policy

Catastrophic climate change is upon us. Recent measurements show that the climate is more sensitive to increased carbon dioxide than was previously thought. Paleoclimate data show that even under natural conditions, the Earth’s climate doesn’t always change smoothly – sometimes, huge changes in ocean and atmospheric patterns can occur in the space of a decade or less. Under such conditions, human infrastructure is pushed past its tolerances. The electric grid in particular is vulnerable to extreme weather events, solar storms, and intentional attack. Personnel and resources are stretched thin as the infrastructure endures climate extremes, and as it ages.

Sustainability involves re-envisioning our relationship to our environment, urban and rural. Solar panels serve multiple purposes – climate change mitigation through reduced carbon emissions, climate change adaptation by providing backup power in the case of storms, and immediate disaster relief by providing solar-powered generators in impacted areas. Solar installations have an intimate relationship with the people, animals, and plants that live among and around them.

Solar policy has most often been based around a mitigation-only approach that involves getting as many green electrons onto the grid as possible in the most cost-effective way. This can lead to outcomes like grid-tied panels that can’t power your house when the grid goes down – right when you need them most! These decisions were made in the 2000s, before the “age of consequences” really got under way. Sandy has awakened us to the need for a new approach.

Changing assumptions around renewables

Let’s look at how assumptions around renewables have changed since the mid 2000s, which can help us decide where course corrections in policy are needed.

1.     Climate change impacts have accelerated faster than most predictions.
2.     Solar PV costs have declined rapidly, and European countries have demonstrated the potential of distributed solar.
3.     According to Secretary of Energy Steve Chu, new battery technologies promise a similar decline in energy storage costs.
4.     A community solar movement has emerged, with an emphasis on local control, stakeholder inclusion, and socioeconomic parity.
5.     Crowdfunding and microfinance have moved into the mainstream.
6.     A number of utilities have developed prototype projects with some combination of high solar penetration, battery storage, and islandable microgrids.

Solar policy based on the Resilience Paradigm

The following changes in solar policy can help us make communities more resilient and at the same time provide a path to a society powered by 100% renewables.

Solar gardens

  • Opportunity: Community shared solar installations (“solar gardens”) allow multiple subscriptions to a single offsite solar array, making solar power available to the majority of homes and businesses that have shaded roofs, to businesses and people who rent, and to those who occupy multi-unit buildings. Through the use of virtual net metering, subscribers receive credit for the power produced by their panels on their electric bills.

  • Policy changes: Solar gardens legislation and policy can help provide resilience everywhere; it would be particularly fitting for states affected by hurricane Sandy to enjoy the benefits of such resilience. Feed-in tariffs, or CLEAN programs (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now), can be combined with virtual net metering to provide pricing for community solar programs.

Aggregating installations into solar gardens

  • Opportunity: With microgrids in place in Lower Manhattan, generators in a private office building could provide power for hospitals and relief centers. Solar gardens can be located over parking lots and as “solar tunnels” over roads, and provide multiple benefits including runoff management. Solar panels can work with green roofs, providing additional cooling shade and wind protection. Solar can be worked into the urban environment as awnings, dining umbrellas, streetlamp reflectors, bus shelters, and more. Each grid-connected distributed panel can be part of a single community-owned “virtual solar garden” which aggregates the output of multiple installations within a microgrid. Roofs that have extra space for solar beyond the building’s own needs can add extra panels and include them in the virtual garden at a fairly low marginal cost.

  • Policy changes: At the state and utility level, the ability to aggregate multiple installations into a solar garden should be encouraged, especially for complexes of multi-unit buildings.

Emergency backup power

  • Opportunity: Community solar crowdfunding projects often provide solar for community centers, houses of worship, and schools – just the sort of places that can serve as shelters, relief distribution centers, information hubs, and charging stations. Battery standby power can make this possible, thereby increasing the value of these projects.

  • Policy changes: Philanthropic organizations and government entities can provide grants to enhance community scale on-site renewable energy projects to include emergency backup power.

Energy storage systems

  • Opportunity: Energy storage can increase the amount of solar power the grid can take by reducing spikes in power, and by making the output of solar arrays more predictable. During heat waves, when air conditioners are on after dark, battery storage can extend solar’s ability to support peak power into the evening. Utilities pay premium rates for power in these situations, and can see economic value in having storage on-line. Community-level finance can create “battery gardens” that sell power to the utility when supplies are tight.

  • Policy changes: The federal government can extend the 30% investment tax credit to energy storage systems (the STORAGE Act), and utilities can provide incentives for grid-connected battery storage. Solar gardens laws can be extended to include energy storage.


  • Opportunity: Existing feeder circuits (which usually serve a few hundred to a few thousand people) may be converted into microgrids, containing solar panels, storage, backup generators, and combined heat and power (CHP), as well as supporting demand response programs. Microgrids can go off-grid and provide emergency power when the larger grid goes down, or isolate a fault within the microgrid from the larger grid, if necessary. A great example of this “self-healing” grid is Portland General Electric’s Smart Feeder project, which includes solar power, battery storage, and generators. Switches are installed to isolate the feeder line from the main grid, when needed. A citizen’s group in North Westchester County in New York State has proposed a feeder-to-microgrid project.

  • Policy changes: The conversion of feeder lines to microgrids should be encouraged by providing incentives to utilities at the state or municipal levels.

Solar that supports the local grid

  • Opportunity: The Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s Community Renewables Model Program Rules provide a framework for state legislatures, public utilities and municipal utilities to establish community solar programs. According to the rules, “…the value of the kWh credits for the host Subscriber and those Subscribers on the same distribution feeder” are at retail electric rates, while other subscribers pay a charge to the utility for delivering electricity.

  • Policy changes: Incentives for subscribers on the same feeder as the solar garden can encourage the development of solar that can support the local grid.

Financing models for all

  • Opportunity: The Occupy Sandy outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street movement has demonstrated how wealth inequity has an impact on disaster preparation, relief, and recovery. Solar power should be made available to all, not just in times of emergency. With the right financing models, solar subscriptions can be made available to the “middle middle” class as well as the working poor, disabled, and retired people. Everyone uses electricity – making solar available to all is good business.

  • Policy changes: Municipalities and counties can act as guarantors – subscribers of last resort – making possible bankable community solar for all. Municipal bond issues can support community solar projects.

The Future of Community Solar

As community solar policy is developed in more and more states, let’s keep resilience in mind while designing a solar policy that supports small scale, local, community owed facilities, and includes all cultural and socioeconomic groups. Let’s plan carefully to build a new grid that is resilient to the future impacts of climate change.

Special thanks to Becky English and Rosana Francescato for their work on this paper.

World's largest mining company admits climate change is real

Sure, those of us who call ourselves environmentalists take those as truths, but a major coal company? Yet that’s exactly what the Australian BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, has just copped to.

Explaining the company’s decision to retrofit one if its coal-exporting facilities against significant weather events, BHP Billiton executive Marcus Randolph was quoted as saying, “As we see more cyclone-related events ... the vulnerability of one of these facilities to a cyclone is quite high. So we built a model saying this is how we see this impacting what the economics would be and used that with our board of directors to rebuild the facility to be more durable to climate change.”

Yes, you read that right: climate change. You gotta love the irony. Not only is this major coal company acknowledging that climate change is real, but they’re investing in protections against the effects of said climate change -- which they helped cause. They’re making a significant investment to protect themselves -- from themselves.

At what point will a company like this decide that the costs of producing coal and other fossil fuels are no longer worth the return on investment? Weak prices have already led some coal companies, including BHP Billiton, to cut jobs. Add to this the cost of protecting their facilities from storms, and the ROI diminishes even more.

And there are other costs, as we’ve seen recently with Superstorm Sandy. We can’t put a value on people’s lives, the damage to communities, and the emotional effects of the storm. In pure financial terms, though, Sandy could cost $50 billion. What amount of retrofitting would it take to make cities like New York safe? Won’t we get a better ROI by investing in prevention?

Prevention would mean moving from fossil fuels to renewables. And Randolph seems to agree that we must at least limit fossil fuels. Referring to Australia’s carbon tax, he says, “there is not a qualifier saying it is okay to emit more greenhouse gases if the carbon tax is eliminated. An absolute ceiling is an absolute ceiling. Even if there isn’t a carbon tax, it still needs to be an issue we devote a lot of attention to.”

Randolph has even gone so far as to state, “In a carbon constrained world where energy coal is the biggest contributor to a carbon problem, how do you think this is going to evolve over a 30- to 40-year time horizon? You’d have to look at that and say on balance, I suspect, the usage of thermal coal is going to decline. And frankly it should.”

Strong words from a major contributor to the “carbon problem.” Why is BHP Billiton taking this position? Because climate change is affecting what the company cares about the most: their bottom line. Their main concern is profitability. Climate change is a threat to profits. So they’re doing what any sensible hard-nosed ballsy capitalist would do: they’re protecting their profits by investing in more durable facilities.

Could that same concern for profits lead beyond protecting against the effects of climate change to actually trying to prevent it? Maybe the lesson for environmentalists and policy makers is to understand what motivates fossil fuel companies. Forget about appealing to a green economy, solving world energy needs, and so forth. Tell them climate change is going to rob you blind unless you invest against it. And that means first admitting that climate change is real -- real enough to affect your profits and maybe even put you out of business.

Randolph’s statements, and the company’s actions, are already making news -- and they’re sure to make waves. If a large coal company like this one acknowledges the effects of fossil fuels, who are the climate deniers to turn to? Perhaps it’s time they faced reality and started working to reverse climate change. Perhaps concern for profits will force them to do so.
Looking to invest against climate change? Check out MosaicSunfunderRE-volvThe San Francisco Energy Co-op, and Everybody Solar.
This post was originally published on Mosaic.

California Solar Gardens Legislation Reintroduced

California's community shared solar bill SB43 is a similar to SB843, which narrowly failed last year.

Here is the fact sheet, with final text due in 30 days:

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

PV Magazine Australia: community solar goes live

A community solar project on the roof of the South Melbourne Market building, in the Victorian state capital in south eastern Australia, hopes to attract investment to install 3,000 photovoltaic solar panels on the recently renovated roof of the building. The project is called LIVE Community Power and is being organized by a non-profit climate change initiative called LIVE.

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Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Monday, December 3, 2012

Federal facilities get off the grid | Federal Times |

Here in the San Luis Valley, we can put refrigerated warehouses and other critical infrastructure onto microgrids. Neighborhoods everywhere can declare independence from the grid.


"Every year we have big outages, and not all are weather-related," said Julieta Giraldez, an electrical engineer at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. "The grid is aging; it's a big, interconnected grid that can create big outages."

The result is agencies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars building and maintaining their own backup "microgrids" — miniature replicas of larger commercial power grids that generate and transmit energy from multiple sources.

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Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Community Solar Shouldn’t Be This Hard | Grist

Sunlight falls almost anywhere, in every community.  So it would make sense for any number of people in that community to team up to harness the sun and make clean, local power.

Sadly, it isn't as easy as it should be, as illustrated by the Vashon Community Solar Project in Washington State.

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Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct