• 63°

The Optimistic Futurist: A fresh look at how to meet electrical needs

By Francis Koster
www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org
Our electrical utility system works so well that headlines are made only when it fails. In many other parts of the world, the headlines celebrate when the system works continuously for more than a few days!
Until recently, almost half of all electricity generated in the United States came from burning coal. Another quarter came from natural gas, a fifth from nuclear power and about one-twentieth from hydroelectric dams. As the public health, environmental and weather changing impacts of coal and natural gas have gotten clearer, much attention has focused on finding better ways of keeping our televisions and refrigerators humming along.
In some parts of the country, renewables are making a noticeable contribution. Entrepreneurs can use windmills, the sun or burn waste to make electricity and feed it into the utility grid for use by their neighbors. These enterprises might be called “non-utility generators.” In many parts of the country they are unwelcome.
There are many different kinds of state regulations that utilities have to operate under. Some states, like New Jersey, encourage small “non-utility generators,” while others, like North Carolina, discourage them by their rules and regulations. Additionally, regardless of the state regulations, some utilities have internal policies that encourage the addition of new generation capacity by citizens, while others have policies that limit or discourage it. We do not have a national plan — we have a mess, and an opportunity.
In those areas that want to encourage small-scale, dispersed power generation, one technique is called a renewable energy power purchase Agreement. A non-utility company builds and owns the generation station (could be solar, wind, geothermal) on the property of an energy user like a school or shopping center. They sell the power to the property owner at a fixed price under a multiyear contract priced cheaper than buying the electricity from the local utility.
One example of this is the city of Pendleton, Ore., which used a power purchase agreement in partnership with Honeywell Building Solutions to construct a solar system at its sewage treatment plant. The business deal allowed the taxpayer to pay less for electricity while laying out no upfront capital. At the end of the 20-year contract, the city can buy the system, renew the contract under amended terms or have Honeywell remove it.
Another technique is called a “feed in tariff.” This is an agreement between an electric utility and a small private power producer (could be a homeowner or a business) that the utility will buy any cleanly produced power at a preset price for a fixed length of time into the future. The largest program of this type is in Germany. More than 80 countries now use this technique, including China, which started aggressively implementing it in 2011. The Chinese pay a premium for the power produced because they have very dirty coal which causes a lot of air pollution, and they want to create a national system of alternatives. Some people who are concerned about the public health costs of the dirty coal think this is a good tradeoff; others, who focus more on the price per unit of energy only, are critical.
These countries have other motives as well. By guaranteeing homeowners an income stream, they were encouraged to buy power generation systems from local renewable energy vendors, thus creating “blue collar” jobs dispersed through the country.
Globally, these strategies and others like them have been proven to unleash a lot of decentralized electrical generation and entrepreneurial energy.
Some criticize the contracts because the rates paid to the owners of the renewable generation systems are higher than the price a person buys electricity for now. However, the fair comparison is between a new centralized generation plant with good pollution control systems and a new renewable energy system. In many parts of the world, and parts of our own country, some renewables have proven to be cheaper to install and run than new coal or nuclear plants, for example. All signs are that this will be increasingly true.
We are faced with many challenges as a country, including the need to create jobs, protect the public health and hold down the full cost of producing power,while creating a diversified energy system that can be resilient in the face of unanticipated tragedy such as Japan is experiencing. These tools can help us.
• • •
Francis P. Koster lives in Kannapolis. For more information, visit www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.

Comments

Comments closed.

News

Catawba College hosts three in-person commencement ceremonies

Local

With high case loads causing numerous staff departures, Child Protective Services seeks more positions

Education

Livingstone College graduates celebrate ‘crossing the finish line’ during commencement celebration

Coronavirus

Rowan sees 4 new COVID-19 deaths as mask mandate lifted, vaccines administered continue decline

Local

Spencer is latest town updating its development ordinance

Local

Salisbury native Kristy Woodson Harvey makes NY Times bestseller list

Local

Board of Commissioners will convene for third time in May

Local

Cheerleading team competes at Disney

Business

Biz Roundup: Salisbury, Kannapolis among recipients of Region of Excellence Awards

Education

Salisbury High to celebrate football, swimming champions with parade

High School

High school girls soccer: Isley, Webb lead all-county team

Local

Spencer awarded $10,000 to develop trails at Stanback Forest

Books

‘Tails and Tales’ coming to library this summer

Local

Public Records: March Deeds

Entertainment

Salisbury Symphony’s ‘Return to the Concert Hall’ available May 24-31

Coronavirus

Salisbury teen becomes one of first in age group to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Business

Local farm and creamery poised to add goat yoga, artisan goat cheese to offerings

Local

Pandemic’s impact, uncertainty of transit funding prompt request to eliminate Rowan Express service

Lifestyle

New Waterworks’ exhibit opens June 1

High School

High school football: Walsh accepts the South football challenge

Lifestyle

Price of Freedom Museum gets donated landscape project

Lifestyle

Rowan Museum will have Upscale Yard Sale Saturday

Business

Seventh dragon boat festival set for July 24; deadline for sponsorships is May 28

Nation/World

‘Shocking and horrifying’: Israel destroys AP office in Gaza