Clemson Goes Big With Wind Turbine Testing

Yesterday Clemson University announced they’d landed a big deal for testing a huge wind turbine. The world’s most powerful wind turbine, the MHI Vestas V164-9.5 MW, will be tested at Clemson’s world-class energy innovation center in North Charleston, SC. The facility, equipped with large test rigs, will be able to simulate 20+ years worth of field conditions on the turbines and measure their response and interaction with the grid in just a few years’ time, and then MHI Vestas will be able to optimize the turbines’ performance and reliability.

The V164-9.5 MW is the most powerful wind turbine in the world, with a rated capacity of 9.5 megawatts, enough to power hundreds, if not thousands, of homes per year with just one turbine. Last year, the turbine broke the record for amount of electricity produced in one day at an installation in Denmark, when it generated 216 MWh in 24 hours–enough to power about 15 Southern homes for an entire year. When the Clemson Energy Innovation Center opened in 2013, the largest deployed turbine at the time was 6 MW, however, with an eye to the future, Clemson designed the facility to allow testing of up to 15 MW turbines. That’s a good thing since this turbine is already more than one and a half times bigger than the commercial turbines of just 5 years ago. Read more…

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Who Pays When FPL Pollutes and Loots?

If a multi-billion dollar monopoly utility messes-up and creates a pollution mess that costs over $200 million to clean up, should its customers have to pick up the tab? Voice your opinions to this question to the Florida Public Service Commission by this week!

That’s the question before the Florida Public Service Commission this week as it considers Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) request to stick Florida families and businesses with the costs for cleaning up contamination that occurred on its watch at its Turkey Point plant in south Florida. FPL customers, here’s what you need to know.

FPL's Turkey Point cooling canal system (c) DERM

The company operates a ten square mile cooling canal system for its aging Turkey Point plant 3 & 4 reactors. FPL is the only utility in the country to use this system for cooling water for power generation. The miles of canals are unlined, and due to the porous geology of south Florida, water from canals has leached underground to form a plume of hyper-saline and contaminated water spreading westward in the Biscayne Aquifer towards drinking water wells and eastward into Biscayne National Park. The Biscayne Aquifer is the sole drinking water source for Miami-Dade County and the Keys.

Last year, FPL entered into a “consent order” with the FL Dept. of Environmental Protection for a plan to clean up it’s mess - after FPL violated its permit by contaminating the drinking water aquifer.  An expert says that this plan won’t even solve the problem (more on that later). Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) filed a Clean Water Act lawsuit last year asking a federal judge to find that FPL violated its environmental discharge permit and require a remedy that stops the source of the pollution.  A hearing is scheduled for next year.


FPL has filed a request with the Florida Public Service Commission to recover more than $100 million from its customers for alleged clean-up expenses and investments that it has already racked up to try to clean up its mess. It will seek to ultimately recover over $200 million dollars from families and businesses in its territory. FPL earned record profits last year - taking home $1.7 Billion from electricity sales to customers. Let that sink in for a moment.

A Commission hearing in the Environmental Cost Recovery Docket is scheduled for October 25th in Tallahassee to determine whether these costs were “prudently” incurred. If not, FPL will have to cover the costs to clean up its own mess. Read more…

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Winter is coming! Which prediction should you trust?

In the battle of the winter weather predictions, what a great showdown we have in store this year!

The “timeless” Farmers’ Almanac says, “the Southeast will see below normal winter temperatures with an unseasonable chill reaching as far south as the Gulf Coast, with above-average precipitation.” According to Mother Nature Network, its prediction is based on “sunspot activity, tidal action, planetary position, and other ‘top secret mathematical and astronomical formulas.’”

Don’t order new winter slickers just yet, though. The National Weather Service says the odds favor a warmer-than-average, drier-than-average winter. Yep, just the opposite.

Scientists tell us that our addiction to fossil fuels is gradually making winter wonderlands as scarce as an on-budget nuclear power plant. As the Washington Post reports,

Climate warming from rising concentrations of carbon dioxide is exerting an effect on winter temperatures, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center. “It does, undoubtedly, play a role,” he said in a call with reporters. “The increase in CO2 factors into our model forecast.”

Wait, just when you think you had an easy choice to make, there is also the Old Farmer’s Almanac – which splits the difference. It says the Southeast will be “milder-than-usual” (like the National Weather Service), but also wetter-than-usual.

Read more…

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JEA’s new solar program: The good, the bad, and the ugly

The JEA board yesterday approved a new solar package that was put together by its staff on a very tight timeline despite a months-long stakeholder process. JEA is the largest municipal utility in Florida with about 450,000 customers. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of JEA’s new solar initiatives.

The Good – significant utility scale additions, and batteries

JEA is planning to add another 250 megawatts (MW) of utility scale solar with a projected in-service date of 2020. The systems (five 50MW projects) will be on geographically dispersed JEA-owned land and the power procured through power purchase agreements with independent power producers. The solar additions will give JEA about 300MW of total utility scale solar, which is significant relative to its size. The additional utility-scale solar will make JEA a leader in Florida in solar development on a solar watts-per-customer basis – which is an apples to apples comparison of solar development by utilities across the state.

Utility scale solar is clean, plentiful, and as JEA staff has discovered – also dirt-cheap.  It projects the levelized cost of the power purchase agreements to be the same as its current 3.25 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) fuel rate costs.  That’s great news for customers, as those low rates will be locked in long term.  Additionally, the utility has introduced its SolarMax program that will allow large commercial customers to lock-in their energy rate at the projected solar power rate of 3.25-cents kWh rate – helping them meet sustainability goals.

The utility is also offering a 30% rebate on batteries of up to $2,000 to its customers. The utility expects 500 customers annually to take advantage of the offer and the program has a $1 million annual cap. In theory, JEA says that customers will be able to store excess energy produce by their system in their batteries and use it later in the day to offset their power use at the retail rate. It expects 4 MW of customer owned solar to be added annually. BUT, the devil is in the details.

The Bad – limiting customer solar choice

Here’s where things start heading south. JEA staff didn’t engage with stakeholders to determine if its plan is economically viable for new solar customers. It’s not clear if any meaningful analysis was done to determine the value proposition for new customers of the program. Existing net metering customers will remain on the retail rate for 20 years. The utility will drop the credit for providing power to the grid from its current retail rate of 10.5 cents to its fuel rate of 3.25 cents kWh effective March 31, 2018 for all new customers.

That’s right: JEA is operating under the primitive paradigm that customer-owned solar value is limited to avoided fuel costs. We reject that utility industry talking point – as it’s been clearly disproven by a number of reputable studies. Read more…

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PACE Can Spur Expansion of Clean Energy in Florida

Florida is continuing its clean energy leadership with the expansion of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing to more cities and counties across the state. This innovative financing model advances many of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s goals, namely, supporting climate solutions and creating local job opportunities. With recently-enacted state policy advancing the will of the voters to support solar power, and the current response to improve structures post-Hurricane Irma, PACE is one way to boost widespread adoption of clean energy in Florida.

PACE provides funds for property owners to install renewable energy systems and add energy efficiency, as well as wind resistance upgrades, then pay for the work over time through their property tax bill. Homeowners can use PACE financing to, for example, add solar panels, replace failing AC units with high-efficiency models, or install wind-resistant roofing.

The combination of competitive interest rates, approval based on home equity, fast processing, and stringent consumer safeguards makes PACE a compelling financing option for many homeowners and brings these energy and efficiency renovations within reach for many homeowners who may otherwise be unable to afford them. Communities where PACE is active have seen their collective carbon emissions decrease, the value of their housing stock increase, and their homeowners save money on utility bills.

There are now four companies offering PACE within the state, bringing healthy competition and broader opportunities for property owners to access clean energy improvements.

One of the core beliefs of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is that communities should not have to choose between a healthy environment and a stable economy. PACE supports this belief by partnering with local governments to help them reduce their carbon emissions while creating local jobs. By stimulating home improvement activity, PACE creates local jobs in the contracting sector. These are jobs that are not easily automated or sent offshore.

Despite the policy advances and the abundant sunshine, fewer than 1% of Floridians own renewable energy systems. Fortunately, this number is growing, and with the expansion of new PACE options to more communities, the Sunshine State is poised to up the pace of combatting climate change and advancing the clean energy economy in Florida.

Energy efficiency is trending up and down in the Southeast

Yesterday we reported on how Duke Energy leads the Southeast in energy efficiency, and Florida Power & Light is providing the worst results in the region. But what about the rest? There are a lot of great stories to tell, but first here’s a reminder of the overview.

2016 Energy Efficiency Savings by Southeast Utilities

SACE compiles utility data filed in regulatory proceedings and with the Energy Information Administration to report the annual energy efficiency savings using percent of prior year retail sales, a commonly used regulatory benchmark. An asterisk represents data not yet available from the Energy Information Administration.

We report on the recent performance of Southeastern utilities’ energy efficiency programs in the blog series Energy Savings in the Southeast

As discussed in yesterday’s blog, across the region SACE works in, utility management commitment, state regulatory or legislative policy, and stakeholder engagement are the critical factors that determine success. Today’s blog will review the rest of the Florida utilities, Southern Company, and the South Carolina utilities.

Read more…

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Duke Energy leads the Southeast on energy efficiency

Duke Energy Carolinas has reached the 1% energy savings benchmark in 2016, a nationally recognized indicator of success in providing customers with energy efficiency programs. Congratulations to all the staff at Duke Energy for that achievement!

Since we last reported utility energy efficiency savings in 2014, we have seen some remarkably good as well as some regrettable changes. Energy efficiency ties in to virtually every energy policy story in the Southeast – from the V.C. Summer / Westinghouse scandal in South Carolina to the unregulated monopoly utility known as Alabama Power. Yet we still remain confounded that while energy efficiency is – by definition – cheaper than building and running power plants, utilities in the southeast continue to under-invest in energy efficiency.

2016 Energy Efficiency Savings by Southeast Utilities

SACE compiles utility data filed in regulatory proceedings and with the Energy Information Administration to report the annual energy efficiency savings using percent of prior year retail sales, a commonly used regulatory benchmark. An asterisk represents data not yet available from the Energy Information Administration.

We report on the recent performance of Southeastern utilities’ energy efficiency programs in the ongoing blog series Energy Savings in the Southeast. A table with these data may be viewed here.

Read more…

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Trump Admin Begins Rollback of Clean Power Plan

SACE Southeast Energy Research Attorney Angela Garrone contributed to this post.

Following through on a campaign promise, the Trump administration signed a rule this week to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever national limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants. An historic public health regulation, which wasn’t scheduled to begin implementation until 2022, the Clean Power Plan was projected to save Americans $12 billion to $34 billion in health cost savings.

By setting modest carbon reduction goals and providing maximum compliance flexibility, including carbon reductions achieved through increased use of natural gas and nuclear, the Clean Power Plan established a balance of environmental and economic development goals. In fact, the rule would have provided relief in the form of utility bill savings, with an estimated $7/month savings realized by 2030 thanks to reduction in power demand thanks to increased energy efficiency.

Instead of capturing these life-saving public health and financial benefits for Americans, the Trump Administration is choosing to reward fossil fuel interests and push onto the public the costs of less efficient, more expensive and polluting energy sources. Energy efficiency, solar, and wind are now the cheapest ways to provide for our energy needs, and in the Southeast, we could save more than a hundred million dollars per year by retiring inefficient coal plants and building wind or solar instead. Read more…

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UCS “Dwindling Role for Coal” Report: Wind and Solar Could Help Replace Coal in the Southeast

A recording of our October 24, 2017 webinar with UCS report authors is posted here.

The past decade or so has seen a dramatic shift away from coal for producing electricity in the United States. According to a new analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), that trend is set to continue.

The analysis identified 51 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired generating capacity that is slated to retire or convert to another fuel (mostly natural gas) through 2030. And it found that an additional 57 GW (or 20 percent of the coal capacity that was operating at the end of 2016) is uneconomic compared to existing natural gas. Strikingly, most of those uneconomic coal units are located in the Southeast.

A surprising number of coal plants in our region are also uneconomic compared to new wind power, or even solar energy. And new developments in the wind industry, such as high-voltage transmission lines, could make wind even more accessible than the report assumes. Read more…

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Georgia is whupping Tennessee in more than just football this year

Let’s talk about the ridiculously lopsided football game at Neyland Stadium last week. The University of Georgia (UGA) pummeled the University of Tennessee (UT) 41-0…in UT’s own backyard. This annual match is usually competitive, but this year, UT suffered their first shutout in over 20 years. But have you noticed that Georgia is whupping Tennessee in more than just college football this year?

Let’s talk solar power: At the end of 2016, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) had only 100 megawatts of solar in the Tennessee system. Georgia has five times that amount.  Tennessee ranks just 24th in the nation in installed solar power, while Georgia is 8th. Just like the college football rankings this year, Georgia continues to rise and Tennessee continues to fall.

Read more…

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