America’s electricity landscape is changing dramatically. Clean energy resources like solar and wind are becoming cost competitive with conventional coal, global corporations like Walmart, Google, and Facebook are pressuring utilities to increase their share of renewables, and the cost of investing in energy efficiency measures is now under half the cost of building dirty, coal-fired power plants.
While some in the utility industry are adapting their business models to accommodate these changes, others are fighting it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ohio, where Akron-based power company, FirstEnergy, recently gained regulatory approval to abandon its energy efficiency programs. While this move is expected to raise electricity rates for FirstEnergy customers and increase harmful emissions from the coal-fired power plants that will be needed to “fill the gap” of previously offset energy demand, FirstEnergy has much more in store for the Buckeye State. In fact, they are waging an all-out war on clean energy in a last-ditch effort to protect their inefficient, polluting, and unprofitable fleet of coal-fired power plants. Read More
In Dublin, Ohio, the Community Recreation Center decided to reduce its energy waste. Rather than rely on an electric utility to burn more coal or natural gas to provide electricity, as well as its own boilers to burn more fuel to provide heat, the facility decided to install a combined heat and power (CHP) unit.
The CHP or “cogeneration” project produces both electricity – allowing the Center to keep its lights on during power outages – and heat – keeping offices and swimming pools warm. The CHP unit is financed with private capital and will allow the Center to save roughly 10 percent on its energy bills.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Patrick Smith, a co-developer of the Dublin project. “It’s a generator, and we happen to capture the heat.”
Technology of the past…
Cogeneration is not a new concept or technology. In fact, Thomas Edison’s first power plants sold both heat and electricity to nearby buildings and factories. Yet to electrify America quickly in the early 20th century, policymakers and power companies created monopoly electric utilities that were protected from competition and guaranteed profits based on how much money they spent. As a result, for many decades, utilities favored larger and larger power plants that were placed far away from the buildings and factories that could have used their wasted heat. Read More
Imagine homeowners and businesses saving millions of dollars – and cutting pollution – without needing to do anything. Magic? No, but it does require electric utilities to take advantage of new technologies that better provide customers with just the right amount of voltage to their electrical outlets.
Many appliances, including incandescent lighting, work just as effectively, yet consume less energy, when the flow of electricity to them is reduced. Put another way, higher voltages generally make individuals and businesses needlessly use more energy, driving up electricity bills and air pollution. Therefore, if voltage was “right-sized,” residents would get enough power to run their appliances efficiently, but not so much that they use more electricity than needed.
What we’ve described above is “voltage optimization,” and a new study by Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd) looking at this technology’s potential within Chicago and northern Illinois found it could reduce the need for almost 2,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity (enough to power 180,000 homes) each year at an amazingly low cost of less than two cents per kilowatt-hour – more than is achieved now from the utility’s other efficiency programs. This translates to $240 million per year in savings for ComEd’s customers, of which 90 percent could potentially benefit. The study also suggested full deployment of voltage optimization would only take about five years. Read More
Clean energy advocates tend to maintain a bi-coastal focus. No doubt my California and New York colleagues often see their states as the bellwethers when it comes to new policy initiatives. But, real innovation is taking place in Illinois, a state that national clean energy advocates tend only to fly over.
For the next couple of months, Illinois’ legislative session will be in full swing, giving lawmakers the chance to craft policies that redefine an electric utility, establish markets that reward clean energy, and set the foundation for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which will put in place the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.
The best opportunity to achieve these goals is through legislation called the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. This legislation is backed by a broad coalition of groups that, in the past, have found themselves at odds, but are now pulling in the same direction. Read More
Ohio shot itself in the foot last year and we’re only now learning just how bad the damage is.
In May of 2014, the Ohio Legislature froze the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards as a result of political pressure from Ohio’s largest power company, FirstEnergy, and other groups. This freeze came after efficiency measures led to more than $1 billion in savings for Ohioans, clean energy companies invested more than $660 million in 2012 alone, Ohio boasted the nation’s largest number of wind-component manufacturing facilities, and the state created 43,000 in-state jobs within the clean energy sector.
Needless to say, from 2008, when Ohio enacted its clean energy standards, to 2014, when it froze them, the Buckeye State was a clean energy powerhouse. But, as the Center for American Progress reports, when Ohio put a freeze on its clean energy economy, it hit the pause button on its entire economy.
According to the report, the freeze cost Ohio millions of dollars in energy investment. That equates to job losses, cancelled projects that would have brought sustained tax revenue to Ohio, and shifting operations to other, business-friendly states. Read More
Energy efficiency may be the Rodney Dangerfield of electricity policy. Compared to bulky power plants, it gets little respect.
Part of the problem is efficiency is hard to visualize. A new refrigerator, even if it uses 50 percent less power, still looks like a refrigerator. And, insulation is buried within walls, whereas it’s hard to miss a nuclear reactor or even a wind turbine.
Another issue is power companies see efficiency as competition and want to limit its development. FirstEnergy, for instance, lobbied to freeze Ohio’s energy efficiency standards, abandoned its own conservation programs, and led efforts to do away with demand response, an innovative energy management program that rewards people and businesses for conservation.
So, the Illinois Power Agency’s (IPA’s) recent decision to put efficiency and generation on the same level provides some much needed respect. Read More