NewEnergyNews: SolarCity Putting Teachers in the Classroom and Cops on the Streets; The city of Lancaster, California is making solar work for its citizens and government.

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The new challenge: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

  • THE STUDY: THE DOE LOAN PROGRAM PAYS OFF
  • QUICK NEWS, November 25: THE PRESIDENT’S CLIMATE CHANGER; SOLAR AND WIND BEAT COAL, GAS ON PRICE; LED LIGHTING TO DISRUPT, TRANSFORM THE INDUSTRY
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: RUNNING OUT OF GAS
  • QUICK NEWS, November 24: NEW ENERGY DOMINATES THE U.S. NEW BUILDS AGAIN; SIERRA CLUB, UNITED STEELWORKERS WANT WIND JOBS; THE ABUNDANCE OF SOLAR
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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

  • Weekend Video: Much More Inhofe Now
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart Talks Keystone, Politics, And Jobs
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart On How Keystone Opponents May Be Caught In Their Own Trap
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-A NEW WAY TO SEE CLIMATE CHANGE
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-EU OCEAN WIND TO CUT COSTS, KEEP GROWING
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-COST-COMPETIVE NEW ENERGY, GERMANY’S ‘GIFT TO THE WORLD’
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-NEW ENERGY MATCHES COAL ON COST, CAPACITY IN TURKEY
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, November 20:

  • TTTA Thursday-TOP REPUBLICAN DROPS CLIMATE DENIAL
  • TTTA Thursday-FORD ELECTRIC CARS FOR ‘THE MASSES’
  • TTTA Thursday-MIDWEST SOLAR MAKES SENSE AND CENTS
  • TTTA Thursday-NEW ENERGY JOBS BY THE BAY
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • THE STUDY: THE MIDWEST GRID IS READY FOR 40% NEW ENERGY
  • QUICK NEWS, November 19: OHIO NEW ENERGY JOBS REPORT SUPPRESSED; SOLAR GIANT BUYS WIND DEVELOPER; BUSINESS TO MAKE IT BIG IN SMART CITIES
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    2013-11-05-Figure_ES2_FULL.jpg

    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-butterfield). Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    Your intrepid reporter

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      A tip of the NewEnergyNews cap to Phillip Garcia for crucial assistance in the design implementation of this site. Thanks, Phillip.

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    Pay a visit to the HARRY BOYKOFF page at Basketball Reference, sponsored by NewEnergyNews and Oil In Their Blood.

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  • Thursday, November 15, 2012

    SolarCity Putting Teachers in the Classroom and Cops on the Streets; The city of Lancaster, California is making solar work for its citizens and government.

    SolarCity Putting Teachers in the Classroom and Cops on the Streets; The city of Lancaster, California is making solar work for its citizens and government.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 29, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    It's a tale of two cities: Stockton, CA, population 290,000, has a deficit of $26 million and is about to be the biggest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy. Lancaster, CA, population 150,000, has a budget of $109 million, a solar program that will earn it a revenue stream of $1.5 million annually through 2017 and $800,000 annually for the following twenty years, and a plan to turn itself into the solar capital of the nation.

    Since July 2010, when it began Solar Lancaster, a partnership with third-party financepioneer SolarCity, the city has facilitated approximately 27 megawatts of installations, including at its baseball field, its performing arts center, City Hall, Lancaster City Park, and an array of businesses and residences.

    Buoyed by Solar Lancaster’s success, the city took up a bigger solar ambition. It set out to solarize its school districts with an innovative financing plan.

    “The City of Lancaster has been forward-thinking,” observed SolarCity Southern CaliforniaRegion Vice President Jim Cahill. “Some of this stuff has not been done before.”

    “Solar Lancaster was dipping our toes into the water,” explained Public Works Projects Coordinator Heather Swan, who moved into the city’s solar program from the local office of the state’s Redevelopment Agency. “With the SolarCity partnership, we got a little more familiar.

    Then we moved into the school districts, getting deeper into the water. And now we’ve jumped in all the way.”

    Two of Lancaster’s school districts are now guaranteed an electricity rate reduction from eighteen cents per kilowatt-hour to 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Their solar will save them $325,000 or more annually for 25 years.

    Thanks to those savings and the City’s revenue stream, solar will keep teachers in classrooms, cops and firefighters on the job, public parks and museums available to kids, and so on.

    Lancaster’s staff speaks of Mayor R. Rex Parris’s leadership. “The Mayor has said,” noted Communications Manager Joe Cabral, “the Middle East is sitting on oil. We’re sitting underneath the sun. Why in the world wouldn’t you monetize it?”

    To build the school district’s solar, Mayor Parris and the City Council took the risky step of issuing a tax-exempt municipal bond. Now fully sold, it raised $27 million.

    The successful close of the bond sale proved the concept, said Deputy City Manager Jason Caudle, a former investment banker who worked out the financial details of Mayor Parris’ vision.

    Wedbush Securities underwrote the bond at an average 4.4 percent interest, Caudle explained.

    “They have an obligation to buy all the bonds from us, but they also have the opportunity to sell the bonds in the open market.” And, he added, “as long as we keep paying on the bonds, they make at least 4.4 percent, tax-free.”

    Because of that low cost of capital, Swan said, “we have a cheaper cost of power and can offer a cheaper cost of power to the school districts, providing them their savings.”

    The school districts continue to pay Southern California Edison (SCE), but their combined bills are significantly less than if they were buying all their power from SCE. And, Swan added, “the amount of money they pay us in total is greater, every year, than the amount of money we owe in debt service on the bonds. The difference is the amount of the city’s revenue.”

    The bond funded 7.5 megawatts of solar, built at 25 school district sites, Swan said. “We pre-paid the power for 25 years. SolarCity is paid.”

    “Sometimes when we talk to a city about this degree of going solar,” SolarCity’s Cahill said, there is “an aversion to doing a new structure.” There was, he said, no aversion in Lancaster.

    SolarCity guaranteed the city a minimum amount of kilowatt-hours and took responsibility for system installation and maintenance. SolarCity benefited from the 30 percent federal investment tax credit and from accelerated depreciation of the system, both unavailable to the non-taxpaying city and school district.

    What has emerged is Lancaster’s California Clean Energy Authority (CCEA). Through it, Lancaster will partner with developers like SolarCity and form Joint Powers Agreements (JPAs) with other California cities. It is a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)-like structure that benefits municipalities but avoids the Federal Housing Authority objections that stopped PACE’s initial success.

    “This is basically taking the model of what we have done with our school districts and doing the same thing with other school districts and others, fire departments, police stations, waste treatment plants, and so on across the state,” explained Mayor Parris. “We are already in talks with five or six other cities.”

    “We’re talking to cities,” Swan added, that are “too financially strained to put people on it or that may not have the political will to do their own program.” The business model, she said, could work anywhere.

    "The basic core of any solar deal,” Cahill said, is “the utility rates have to be high enough. The sun resource has to be great. In Lancaster, it’s better than almost anywhere. And you have to have the physical space.” If those points are met, he said, “then you start working on the financing end.”

    The Lancaster representatives spoke highly of SolarCity but would not rule out working withother developers. “There are so many megawatts out there to build,” Swan said, “I don’t know that any one developer can do it all.”

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