Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Renewable Energy Advancements of 2015

This 944-kW solar farm serving Peterborough, NH went online early November, 2015 . Courtesy photo

This 944-kW solar farm serving Peterborough, NH went online early November, 2015 . Courtesy photo

By George Harvey

Over 64% of all new electricity-generating capacity added in the United States in 2016 was renewable, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This is up from 50% in 2014. The agency only counts utility-scale installations, so new small solar capacity, roughly half of the total for solar, was not counted, and with it, the renewable capacity could be over 69%,

One renewable energy story came from New Hampshire. At the beginning of 2015, it had only ten megawatts (MW) of solar capacity. A large increase in the net metering cap, intended to keep solar installers busy for quite a while, was quickly met, and many solar installers began having trouble proceeding on projects.

A solar project commissioned in early November in Peterborough, New Hampshire, deserves attention. This array, in a town of fewer than 7,000 people, has a capacity of 944 kilowatts (kW). Lacking financial incentives, New Hampshire has lagged behind other states, and this project is the largest in New Hampshire to date. It should save the town between $250,000 and $500,000 over the next twenty years.

In New York, Governor Cuomo set a goal to get to 50% renewable power by 2030. The state is also trying to get 150,000 families supplied by solar power by 2020. New York’s solar initiative, NY-Sun, has a program designed to help families of below-average income get their own solar systems.

New York has banned fracking for the purpose of gas extraction. It is supporting the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in court. It is taking legal action against ExxonMobil for allegedly deceiving both stockholders and the public about climate change for decades.

Interesting projects include a 472-kW system belonging to four wineries in the Finger Lakes, getting them 50% to 100% of their electricity from the sun. Three ski resorts will rely on solar power for their lifts and snow-making equipment. And New York will have the tallest Passive-House building in the world, a Cornell University dormitory on Roosevelt Island, in New York City.

In Massachusetts, whose new governor seems uninterested in renewable energy, the state has been slipping from its leadership role. Solar incentives were not renewed by the legislature, leaving the solar industry very much adrift. Some people blame lobbying by utilities.

Massachusetts’ Attorney General commissioned a study to find out whether new natural gas lines coming into the state would really be in the interest of the citizens. The study says they are not needed.

Vermont, like Massachusetts and New Hampshire, has hit its net-metering limit. Green Mountain Power asked the Public Service Board to extend the credit by 7.5 MW. This is clearly not enough to keep solar installers going or to keep the state on target for its renewable energy goal of 90% by 2030. The timing is not good, since the federal tax incentive ends on December 31, 2016.

Chris Recchia, the Commissioner of the Vermont Public Service Department, pointed out that the renewable capacity installed in Vermont over the past four years exceeds what the state used to buy from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. “Okay. I get it,” he added, “The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.” But it shows progress.

Phil Coupe of Maine’s Revision Energy says that without solar incentives and with a rather hostile governor, renewable energy has still been making progress, even if it is slow going. He cited a number of interesting projects, including a Maine’s first 100% solar-powered food processing plant, belonging to GrandyOats.

The price of solar has never been lower; the Paris Climate talks have set the goal to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels greatly. Solar is not likely to slow down any time soon, despite all these problems. We wish you all a solar filed new year in 2016.

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