Renewable Energy Update -- March 13, 2012

by Allen Matkins
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Renewable Energy Focus

Senate to vote on renewable energy PTC extension amendment

North American Windpower - Mar 8

After attempts to add a renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) extension to other legislation failed to gain traction, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich) has introduced an amendment to the transportation bill currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate that would extend the PTC for renewable energy for one year. The amendment also includes the 48 C manufacturing tax credit and an extension of the Section 1603 cash-grant program.

Saving desert tortoises a costly hurdle for solar projects

Los Angeles Times - Mar 4

At the $2.2-billion BrightSource Energy solar farm in the Ivanpah Valley, the endangered desert tortoise brought construction to a standstill for three months when excavation work found far more animals than biologists expected. BrightSource has spent $56 million so far to protect and relocate the tortoises, but the work has met with unforeseen calamity. And, unless current recovery efforts begin to gain traction, the threatened species could become collateral damage in the war against fossil fuels. BrightSource's project is the first large-scale solar plant to enter the desert tortoise regulatory maze. Its experience is a case study for how the booming solar industry must deal with the reptile.

Rep. Mike Thompson introduces bipartisan bill to improve renewable energy storage

U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson - Mar 3

Congressmen Mike Thompson and Chris Gibson have joined together to introduce The Storage Technology for Renewable and Green Energy 2012 Act (STORAGE) in the U.S. House of Representatives. The STORAGE Act would provide a tax credit to individuals and businesses when they invest in energy storage systems. Businesses and factories that generate energy via large compressed air systems, flywheels and large arrays of fuels cells and batteries would be eligible for a 20% tax credit. Households and businesses that purchase energy storage systems for their property would be eligible for a 30% tax credit.

Analyst: California solar auctions are sector model

Reuters - Mar 6

As renewable energy nears competitiveness with fossil fuels and nuclear power, California-style auctions of supply contracts may be a better way to drive value for consumers than calculated subsidies, according to Gerard Wynn, a Reuters market analyst. None of the proposals in other countries are based on the true cost of generating renewable electricity -- they depend on government bureaucrats calculating that cost, rather than forcing project developers to reveal it. Such schemes may learn from an auction approach in California that has come closest yet to revealing the cost of solar power, which turns out to be below calculated support rates.

EIA: Even if PTC expires, wind energy generation will double by 2035

North American Windpower - Mar 2

Wind power and biomass dominate projected increases in U.S. renewable energy generation, excluding hydropower, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2012 Early Release Reference case. In the EIA's outlook, increased generation from non-hydro renewable energy resources in the electric power sector accounts for 33% of the overall growth in electricity generation from 2010 to 2035. The reference case assumes implementation of current laws and regulations as specified, including the scheduled expiration of some tax credits at the end of 2012. Wind generation nearly doubles between 2010 and 2035, but the growth slows following the expiration of the production tax credit (PTC).

House approves bill easing hydropower development rules

The Hill - Mar 7

The House approved legislation making it easier for western states to develop hydropower in canals and ditches. The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act was hailed by Republicans as a way to encourage hydropower development in western states that face environmental restrictions. In a debate, they argued that these restrictions only delay the development of this power at a time when energy prices are spiking, and that there is no real risk of environmental damage. The bill would exempt small hydropower installations from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Wind turbine prices at an all-time low

North American Windpower - Mar 6 The average price for utility-scale wind energy equipment hit a new low in the second half of 2011, according to BNEF's Wind Turbine Price Index. The price drop was due to excess capacity and new low-cost competitors. According to BNEF, contracts signed in the second half of 2011 for 2013 delivery fell to $1.2 million per MW, down 4% from six months earlier and well off the five-year high of $1.6 million per MW in 2009. Prices dropped most sharply for older, less-efficient turbines to $1.38 million per MW on average, down 10% from six months earlier. The survey revealed that most procurement officers and wind turbine manufacturers anticipate further moderate declines in turbine prices in 2012 and 2013, and do not expect prices to recover until at least 2014.

Rising temperatures in Northwest may impact hydro, California

OPB News - Mar 2

In the coming decades, warmer temperatures could hamstring hydropower production in the Pacific Northwest, forcing California to look elsewhere for an electricity boost, according to this article. The Pacific Northwest largely powers itself with dams on several major rivers. In fact, 70% of the electricity generated in Washington State comes via hydropower. In the summer, when local demands for electricity are at their lowest, Washington, Oregon and even British Columbia produce more hydropower than they can use, so they sell it to California. Within the next several decades, however, "the ability to transfer electrical energy from the Pacific Northwest to other regions is likely to decrease in May, June, July and August," warns a study from the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group.

Installed wind energy capacity in North America to top 125GW by 2017

Pike Research - Mar 6

North America presently accounts for more than 22% of the world's total installed wind power capacity, and the region will more than double its current installed capacity to reach 125GW by 2017, with onshore installations expected to represent more than 97% of that total, finds a new report from Pike Research. Overall, approximately $145 billion will be invested in onshore and offshore wind energy installations between 2011 and 2017, the firm says. According to the report, one factor powering the wind industry is consolidation. Over the past three years, numerous high-level mergers and acquisitions have resulted in more dynamic, vertically integrated companies.

University of California working on building a smarter, greener power grid

Renewable Energy Magazine - Mar 2

University of California researchers are building a smarter, greener electric grid for the future, which will be predominately powered by solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. Expanding such a model to the U.S.'s current electrical grid is challenging and a renewable energy-based system will require new technology to facilitate the large-scale transmission and storage of solar and wind power. The researchers are working on a myriad of projects to develop and deploy systems to modernize the nation's electrical system into one that relies on renewable energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The so-called smart grid is part of President Obama’s clean energy initiatives and is needed to implement Gov. Jerry Brown's call for installing 12,000MW of renewable power generation in California by 2020.

Palo Alto approves feed-in tariff for renewables

SustainableBusiness.com - Mar 6

The City Council of Palo Alto, Calif., unanimously approved a renewable energy feed-in law, dubbed the Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (CLEAN) Program. The city will purchase locally-produced solar energy at a fixed rate of 14 cents per kWh for 20 years. During 2012's pilot stage, the city is targeting 4MW of solar on systems 100kW or more. Starting in 2013, the program will expand to other types of renewables as well as to more eligible project sizes. Applications for the program open April 2.

Senators seek to give hydro power the renewable label

Modesto Bee - Mar 5

A year ago, Sen. Anthony Cannella tried to get the Legislature to change the definition of renewable energy to include hydro power, but it did not happen. This year, he is taking a more modest approach -- trying to get hydro power factored into the new state mandate requiring utilities to get a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Back in 2002, when the Legislature defined the Renewables Portfolio Standard, it deliberately excluded large hydro facilities. Under 2012's revised bill, hydro would be factored into the formula. It is anticipated that Cannella will have a hard time getting SB 971 past the Democrats, as he has no Democratic co-sponsors for the bill. If the bill is successful, it will mean some relief for residents and businesses all over California.


Notable Renewable Energy Projects and Deals

San Jose's SunPower to provide solar panels for Apple's new data center in N.C.

Silicon Valley Mercury News - Mar 6

San Jose-based SunPower has landed a contract to provide the solar panels that will generate electricity for Apple's new data center in Maiden, N.C., according to a filing with regulators in that state. Apple has said renewable energy -- solar panels and fuels cells -- will power a "high percentage" of the data center's overall electricity needs, leading to speculation in Silicon Valley's clean tech industry about who its technology partners are. Apple has not yet announced which solar company got the contract.

U.S. solar panel maker MiaSole raises $55M

MarketWatch - Mar 7

Solar-panel maker MiaSole said it has raised $55 million in venture capital and plans to continue making panels as it seeks a buyer or one or more partners to expand production and sales. The company has a 150MW factory at its Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters where it makes thin-film solar panels using copper, indium, gallium and selenium. MiaSole CEO John Carrington said he is confident the company and its thin-film technology will prevail because its panels cost much less to make than rivals and several larger companies have expressed interest in the California company.

GDT Tek closes escrow on 109 acres of solar energy farm land in California

GDT Tek - Mar 2

GDT Tek announced that escrow has closed on 109 acres of prime solar farm property in Desert Hot Springs, Calif. The company plans to develop the property with traditional PV commercial solar panels and its own waste heat-to-electricity technology combined with solar concentrating panels on a portion of the land. The company is also looking into using wind power on the land as well. The land has accessibility to the grid.

PsomasFMG, NRG Solar to build distributed solar projects in California

PsomasFMG / NRG - Mar 7

PsomasFMG and NRG Solar plan to jointly develop an initial portfolio of solar projects totaling over 11MW. The two largest projects are a 7.3MW project for the William S. Hart School District in Santa Clarita, Calif., and a 3.3MW project with the County of Orange, Calif. All of the projects include signed PPA with the facility owners. PsomasFMG will design and manage the construction of the projects through an EPC contractor, while NRG will provide raw materials such as solar panels and power inverters, plus financial resources. The companies will split revenues according to the contributions made for each project.

SEC investigating First Solar for information release

Solar Industry - Mar 6

The SEC began an investigation into First Solar last fall, a new SEC filing from the company reveals. The Topaz solar plant, a 550MW project under development in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., received a conditional commitment for a DOE loan guarantee on June 30, 2011. However, on Sep. 22, the company announced that there would be "insufficient time to process all requirements" before the loan-guarantee program's Sep. 30 deadline. The SEC investigation was initiated to determine whether a disclosure breach caused the news of the loan-guarantee's failure to be released early. First Solar responded to the potential disclosure violation by conducting an internal investigation. However, in November, the SEC announced it would forge ahead with its own investigation.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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