Nov 13

Update on the Status of the Solar Array for the Capped Landfill

The Energy Committee and Ameresco have been moving forward with the solar PV array.

The Select Board voted unanimously to approve the project and voted to hold a Special Town Meeting to approve three articles relating to the lease, a power purchase agreement, and a power purchase agreement.  They also voted to grant Ameresco access to the site until the lease is finalized.

On June 28, 2018, Ameresco submitted a Site Use Permit Application under the joining bylaw passed as part of the Green Communities Act for an expedited approval process for solar PV projects.

The Finance and Energy committees voted unanimously to recommend the three town meeting articles.  

Town Meeting voted to approve all of the three articles. Two of the votes were unanimous, one had a single nay vote.

The town submitted a post closer permit application provided by Ameresco.  This extensive application of over one hundred pages, details how the landfill will be protected during construction and operation of the solar array.  The Department of Environmental Resources after a two-month review by technical experts has approved a Post Closure Permit for the project at the capped landfill.

Eversource, after a two-month review, has approved the interconnection of the proposed array to the electric grid.

The planning board has yet to hold a meeting on the merits of the Site Plan Review Application.

 

Apr 17

Solar Array at the Capped Landfill

Solar Array on the Capped Landfill

The Wellfleet Community Forum and the Energy Committee will conduct a public forum on May 21 at 7:00 PM at the Senior Center. Come find out more and have input into the plans.

Wellfleet is planning a solar photovoltaic (PV) array on the capped landfill.  After issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) and receiving three proposals, the town has decided to enter into negotiations with Ameresco for an energy services contract to design, obtain permits, construct, operate, maintain and decommission a 1.2 Megawatt array of 2500 panels on top of the landfill.

Ameresco has built, owned and operated at least twelve solar PV landfill projects for municipal customers in Massachusetts.

The array will meet and exceed the town’s electric requirements.  The town will also receive lease payments for the use of the site, payment in lieu of taxes, and electricity at a reduced rate for a net savings to the town of about $60,000 per year for twenty years or $1.2 million over the life of the program.

The array will conform to the zoning bylaw on the warrant for the upcoming town meeting (Article 42).  It will meet or exceed the 100-foot setback requirement from the town property line.  The array itself makes no noise and the electrical equipment will operate quietly and make less noise than two people in a normal conversation would make at a distance of ten feet.  The array will face south towards the transfer station, so there will be no glare for abutting houses.

A tentative schedule is

  • Complete 30% design – May 2018
  • Present to Wellfleet Residents/Homeowners – May or June 2018
  • Execute a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) & Lease – June 2018
  • Submit Interconnection Application – June 2018
  • Obtain Local and MASS DEP Permits – July – November 2018
  • Obtain Interconnection Agreement – November 2018
  • Solar Incentive Application – November 2018
  • Acceptance into Solar Incentive Program – November 2018
  • Final Design – December 2018 to January 2019
  • Construction – February to May 2019
  • Commercial Operation – June 2019

Jan 18

Outer Cape Energize encourages use of solar panels

Outer Cape Energize encourages use of solar panels

http://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20180117/outer-cape-energize-encourages-use-of-solar-panels

By Mary Ann Bragg

Jan 17, 2018

 

PROVINCETOWN — Albert Carey moved to town in August from New Orleans with his sister, and they were paying their monthly electric bill of about $100 easily enough for their small house. But a shock came last week when their December bill of $721 arrived.

“I love living here,” Carey said Wednesday evening at the informational meeting of Outer Cape Energize. “But I’m seeing what we can do to lower the bills.”

Given the 20 or so citizens at the meeting at the Center for Coastal Studies, one of several planned by Outer Cape Energize, Carey and his sister appeared to not be alone in their concerns about staying warm in the winter at a reasonable cost. The brother and sister had talked to their neighbors about solar panels, and had spent the last week investigating them, primarily interested in saving money over any overarching concern about carbon emissions.

“I’m interested in the bills,” Carey said.

Outer Cape Energize, which is an all-volunteer collaboration of the energy committees in the towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown, is launching an effort to encourage residents and small businesses to invest in solar panels. The more solar panels purchased means a greater discount for everyone in the program.

Jay Gurewitsch, a member of the Provincetown Recycling and Renewable Energy Committee, moved from New York to Provincetown with his husband “to be able to live our values.”

“Part of that was to live sustainably,” Gurewitsch said, who has 20 solar panels on his house. “We actually need to install more.”

In December the Outer Cape solar-panel program — part of the statewide Solarize Mass — received a boost from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (CEC) and the state Department of Energy Resources to help with marketing and technology. Each town can receive up to $5,000 for marketing, said CEC Solar Senior Project Manager Elizabeth Youngblood.

Since its launch in 2011, Solarize Mass had increased the adoption of what are considered small-scale solar arrays in 63 cities and towns, amounting to 3,200 new installations at homes and business.

The towns of Bourne, Wellfleet and Provincetown participated in earlier rounds, but the latest cooperation of the energy committees in the four outermost towns on Cape Cod is important, Youngblood said. A few other examples of collaboration come to mind, including some “very tiny towns” in western Massachusetts, she said.

“They usually do find additional value working together as a group,” Youngblood said.

The Outer Cape group does have bigger plans, said Outer Cape Energize member David Mead-Fox of Wellfleet, who is also a member of the Wellfleet Energy Committee.

“We hope this is the beginning,” Mead-Fox said Wednesday as the presenters described electric cars, rebates for new home appliances, low-interest loans for energy efficiency upgrades and home energy assessments.

Jan 16

Cape Light Compact wraps year of advocacy, transitions

Cape Light Compact wraps year of advocacy, transitions

Jan 14, 2018

Geoff Spillane

http://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20180114/cape-light-compact-wraps-year-of-advocacy-transitions

SOUTH YARMOUTH — The Cape Light Compact has spent much of the last year advocating for ratepayer’s rights in cases of proposed utility price hikes and new state regulations, even as it has transitioned to a new independent operational structure since ending its administrative and fiscal agent arrangement with Barnstable County midyear.

The compact, which serves approximately 139,000 customers in all 21 towns on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, was created in 1997 to buy power in bulk for customers, provide energy efficiency programs for local residents and businesses and advocate for ratepayers.

Last week, the compact filed an appeal challenging a Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities ruling that would no longer automatically enroll new electric customers on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard into the compact’s programs.

The order, issued last year, intends to ensure that participation in an aggregation program is voluntary and consumers have the right to opt-out. It mandates that new electric customers, unless they have preciously informed Eversource that they want to be a part of the local aggregation program, be placed on the utility’s basic service plan. This would mean electric customers on the Cape and Vineyard would have to make a concerted effort to become a customer of the regional aggregator.

The compact is appealing the order for due process, since it was not provided the opportunity to be heard in the decision-making process.

“It will lead to customer confusion,” said Margaret Downey, executive director of the compact. “We want customers to be knowledgeable, but in a fair and equitable manner.”

According the appeal, the compact does not object to changes that enhance the voluntary nature of municipal aggregation, but there are technical issues that have not been addressed; it seeks a technical session with the DPU to work on them.

A change in the enrollment process would likely have a negative financial impact on the compact and its customers and increase the administrative workload of the compact to reach out to these new customers, according to the compact.

“I think consumers always benefit through notification, and if the compact is required to notify customers when they join Eversource service that is a good thing,” said Christopher Powicki, a renewable energy advocate and frequent critic of the compact. “In the notification, the compact has the opportunity to talk about its energy efficiency programs to educate new consumers and the benefits of participation. I think not informing customers is counterintuitive to consumer advocacy.”

The compact has also been deeply involved in efforts to soften the blow of a proposed $56 million rate hike by Eversource.

“Fighting the Eversource rate case was a huge effort for Cape Light Compact in 2017,” Downey said during an interview at the organization’s new South Yarmouth offices on Thursday.

The compact’s ratepayer advocacy efforts, which included filing legal arguments and briefs against the increase and participating in DPU public hearings, have paid off.

When the DPU issued its order in the rate case in December, it gave Eversource approval to only raise its annual electric revenues by $12.2 million, a 78 percent decrease in the amount the utility had initially requested.

The rate hike could be decreased further in coming weeks, once Eversource takes into consideration the impact of the new federal tax bill signed into law last month.

The compact also successfully argued to the DPU to have stakeholder involvement with Eversource energy storage projects on the Vineyard and in Wellfleet, raise the utility’s low-income discount rate to a consistent 36 percent, and reduce proposed increases to monthly customer charges.

It also had a significant impact in the DPU’s decision to deny Eversource’s request to consolidate commercial and industrial rates, to the point the DPU referenced a Cape Light Compact brief, advocating for seasonal businesses on the Cape and Vineyard, in its decision.

 

Nov 18

Legal fight over shuttered Falmouth turbines drags on

Legal fight over shuttered Falmouth turbines drags on

By Christine Legere

http://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20171117/legal-fight-over-shuttered-falmouth-turbines-drags-on

Fog enshrouds one of Falmouth’s wind turbines located at the wastewater treatment plant in July. In the summer, a judge ruled that both of the town’s turbines should be shut down after deeming them a nuisance to neighbors, and town officials subsequently decided not to continue the legal battle. Now, other Falmouth residents are arguing to be allowed to intervene in the case.

 

FALMOUTH — A Hatchville-based group, seeking reconsideration of a court judgment that permanently shut down two town-owned wind turbines, does not have the standing needed to file a motion to intervene and has made its move too late, according to an attorney representing a neighbor of one of the turbines.

Both sides filed their positions in Barnstable Superior Court late this week.

At issue is a June 20 ruling by Barnstable Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty to uphold a decision by the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals that the turbines were a nuisance to Barry and Diane Funfar.

The ruling resulted in both turbines being shuttered.

Wind 1 went online in 2010 and Wind 2 began operating in February 2012. Their operation almost immediately drew intense opposition from neighbors, who said they were experiencing turbine-related health issues and were concerned about their property values. Several neighbors filed lawsuits to get the turbines shut down.

Wind 1 has been shut down since 2015 when it was denied a special permit by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Wind 2 was ordered permanently shut down in June when Moriarty deemed the operation of both turbines a nuisance to neighbors.

Selectmen, who had filed the court action to overturn the zoning board’s decision, decided not to appeal Moriarty’s ruling.

Late last month, the Green Center and a dozen citizens filed the motion asking to be allowed to intervene, arguing taxpayer interests had not been adequately protected by town officials.

The group emphasized it is not trying to overturn the court’s ruling, but is seeking a court hearing to present some alternative remedies to a total shutdown of the machines.

On Friday, Barry Funfar expressed frustration that the debate over the turbines continues.

“To me, the ones who filed the motion aren’t just regular citizens,” he said. “It’s more like a political coalition advocating for green energy.”

Paying the attorney costs for turbine suits has forced the 71-year-old to remortgage his house three times.

“We’ve essentially lost our home,” Funfar said. “I have the feeling my best years were used fighting the turbines. I’m never going to be able to reclaim what I had.”

Attorney James Rosenblum, representing the Funfars, argued in his submission that the people looking to intervene have no stake in the issue other than as local taxpayers and town residents, which isn’t sufficient to give them legal standing.

“What they have is a sort of generalized interest in wind power that qualifies for resolution in the political sphere alone, e.g. by petitioning their elected town representatives for action — which they did — or by voting those representatives out of office, which they can try to do,” Rosenblum wrote.

In his rebuttal, Green Center’s attorney George Boerger wrote that his clients don’t need to establish standing to file a motion to intervene in an existing case.

Rosenblum argued the motion comes too late in any case.

“The case has already been decided on judgment, the time for motion for a new trial and for reconsideration of judgment has elapsed, and the time for appeal has elapsed,” he wrote.

In response, Boerger argued the motion filed by the Green Center was made five months after Moriarty’s ruling. A motion for relief from judgment can be made up to a year after a decision, in certain instances, and within “a reasonable time” for all others.

The motion was not filed earlier because it wasn’t apparent that taxpayers weren’t being properly represented during the trial, according to the filing. It only became evident when the selectmen decided not to appeal Moriarty’s ruling, they argued.

In addition to the Green Center, the list of proposed intervenors includes Earle Barnhart, John Carlton-Foss, Rhona Carlton, James Churchill, Hilde Maingay, Pamela Pelletreau, Robert Pelletreau, Christina Rawley, Allison White, George Woodwell, Katharine Woodwell and Ron Zweig.

If the motion is granted, Rosenblum wrote, it could delay the settlement of several other wind turbine court cases Falmouth officials are trying to address.

Boerger said such reasons don’t meet the standard for a decision in the case. The aim of the motion “is to seek changes in the Court’s order that could save the town millions of dollars,” he wrote.

The Green Center has calculated the town’s costs at about $10.5 million.

That amount includes $4.62 million left in debt on the construction of Wind 1, $2.9 million for the loan on Wind 2, $1.4 million to $1.8 million for electricity to operate the wastewater treatment plant over the next 12 years, and $1.65 million owed to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center over the next 15 years in place of renewable energy credits.

 

Nov 08

Installation Begins in Cape Cod Canal for Tidal Turbine Test Site

 

Installation Begins in Cape Cod Canal for Tidal Turbine Test Site

November 8, 2017

https://www.capecod.com/newscenter/installation-begins-in-canal-for-tidal-turbine-test-site/

BUZZARDS BAY – A nonprofit dedicated to helping develop marine renewable energy technology is working this week to install a test site for small turbines in the Cape Cod Canal.

The Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative is installing pilings and a platform near the Buzzards Bay railroad bridge which will allow companies to test smaller energy generating turbines in tidal flows around 5 knots.

Collaborative Executive Director John Miller said the test site will help developers save money by eliminating the permitting process.

“In this industry the cost of doing a test site involves an awful lot of permitting and doing something in the ocean is difficult,” Miller said. “Our idea is to develop pre-permitted test sites that allow developers to come in and be able to test in a very cost effective manner.”

The test site will be able to test turbines up to 3 meters, or 10 feet, in diameter.

“To do that in this kind of water you have to have a very strong structure,” Miller said.

Piles are being driven about 40 feet into the seabed near the railroad bridge on the mainland side of the canal and extend above the water line. A platform will then be able to raise and lower a turbine for testing into and out of the water.

The tidal flows in the canal are about 5 knots, which is quick but not as fast as in areas where permanent tidal turbines are being installed.

Much larger tidal turbines are currently generating energy in Northern Scotland and the Bay of Fundy in Canada, where tidal flows are up to 10 or 12 knots.

“Those turbines are being put on the bottom to be able to survive in that kind of environment they have to be very large and very robust,” Miller said. “We are talking 100 tons of steel and something that is 30 meters in diameter.”

The canal test site will allow engineers to test turbines that are at least half scale to those being installed permanently.

Miller said the canal is fairly constrained in size and would not be a location for a permanent tidal turbine installation.

“For testing it is perfect,” he said. “It allows us to test a turbine in fast water fairly close to shore so it can be easily accessible and do testing for prolonged periods of time.”

 

Nov 03

Google’s Project Sunroof

https://www.google.com/get/sunroof#p=0

https://www.google.com/get/sunroof

 

 

Nov 03

How Solar Panels Work

Oct 31

Federal trade panel calls for restrictions on imported solar cells — which Trump could soon implement

 

Federal trade panel calls for restrictions on imported solar cells — which Trump could soon implement

 

By Chris Mooney
October 31, 2017

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/10/31/federal-trade-panel-calls-for-protections-against-imported-solar-panels-which-trump-could-soon-implement/

An installer from Baker Electric installs a solar panel on the roof of a home in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, Calif.

In a closely watched trade case, the four commissioners of the U.S. International Trade Commission on Tuesday voiced their support for tariffs and other import restrictions to protect domestic solar companies from an influx of cheap solar panels being produced overseas.

However, the proposed remedies were not consistent among the commissioners and did not go as far as the two companies that brought the action before the board had requested — leaving few parties happy with the outcome along with lingering uncertainty over the ultimate endpoint of the process, which will be determined by President Trump.

“The remedy recommended by the ITC is disappointing because it will not heal the damage suffered by this American high-tech manufacturing sector from what has been a tidal wave of imports,” said a statement from Suniva, the now-bankrupt Georgia-based panel manufacturer that brought the original trade case with SolarWorld Americas, based in Oregon.

The case has divided the solar energy industry.

Most of the U.S. solar industry has strongly opposed the two companies’ claims, suggesting that the remedies they seek would be disastrous for the domestic industry. Tariffs or import restrictions, they say, would raise overall panel prices, costing solar jobs, particularly in panel installation.

“The commissioners clearly took a thoughtful approach to their recommendations and it’s worth noting that in no case did a commissioner recommend anything close to what the petitioners asked for,” countered Abigail Ross Hopper, the president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, an industry trade group that has consistently opposed the commission’s moves to protect two solar firms. “That being said, proposed tariffs would be intensely harmful to our industry.”

The two companies supporting the protections, however, say that they cannot compete with a flood of cheap solar cells from China and other nations. The largest U.S. largest solar firm, First Solar, actually backed the companies earlier this month, contradicting the larger Solar Energy Industries Association on the issue and increasing dissension within the industry.

In late September, the trade commission unanimously found that cheap solar imports were causing “serious injury to the domestic industry.” The four commissioners took their next step at a hearing on Tuesday, offering opinions on how the government should remedy the damage caused.

Next month, the commissioners will send a report to Trump, who has the choice to reject, accept or even go beyond the panel’s chosen recommendations. Many in the solar industry are worried about what the president will do, given his strong support for one of solar’s key competitors — the coal industry — and his apparent warm feelings toward trade restrictions.

The ITC commissioners recommended a variety of remedies. Meredith Broadbent, a Republican, backed modest import limits, starting at current levels, even as she said she was worried that import restrictions could “adversely affect the hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers employed in installing solar projects, manufacturing other equipment . . . and providing a range of services, including cutting-edge research and development, in support of this market.”

Broadbent recommended a four-year restriction of crystalline silicon photovoltaic panel imports, beginning with a limit of 8.9 gigawatts annually, with the allowed amount rising each year — as well as a sale of import licenses to foreign companies wishing to sell foreign-made panels in the United States. (The United States imported 12.77 gigawatts of panels in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.)

Two other commissioners, Republican David Johanson and Democrat Irving Williamson, both supported a 30 percent tariff on solar cells after 1 gigawatt had been imported and a 30 percent tariff on imported solar modules. Both duties would last for four years and decline annually, while allowed imports would slowly increase. Democrat Rhonda Schmidtlein, the chairman of the commission, recommended a similar arrangement but after only 0.5 gigawatts had been imported and a 35 percent tariff on solar modules.

Suniva had requested a stronger tariff of 40 cents per watt on solar cells, and a price floor of 78 cents per watt for modules.

Critics of tariffs cited the lack of unanimity in their responses Tuesday.

Today’s three different recommendations demonstrate Suniva’s request was not permissible under law,” said Ed Fenster, chairman of the U.S. solar firm Sunrun, in a statement. “We believe the Administration will go the next step, look past the narrow legal lens of this process and see what is plainly visible: the best move for America’s workers is to reject entirely this bailout of two bankrupt companies.”

The current complaint is about competition from cheaply priced crystalline silicon photovoltaic solar cells. The panels made by First Solar use a different technology, cadmium telluride, and so are not affected by the ITC’s decision.

But another large U.S. solar company, SunPower, could be badly hurt by the final outcome based on the panel’s ruling, according to its chief executive, Tom Werner. SunPower both manufactures and installs solar panels. But its manufacturing plants are in Malaysia and the Philippines and therefore would be subject to tariffs, raising prices for U.S. consumers.

Werner said his firm spends about $100 million annually on research and development in the United States, and would have to cut into that budget if tariffs are imposed.

“What you have is two companies that failed to compete in the marketplace that now are going to get support from companies that succeeded,” he said.

“The future of solar and the way to differentiate solar is the integration of solar in with the grid through storage and software, and fighting for solar cell manufacturing is yesterday’s game,” Werner said.

But SolarWorld had a different reaction Tuesday — hoping that Trump will make the move the company is looking for.

“We are pleased that a bipartisan majority of the Commission has recommended tariffs, tariff-rate quotas and funding for the domestic industry,” said Jurgen Stein, the chief executive and president of SolarWorld Americas, in a statement. “This is a useful first step. The process will now move forward to the President, and we continue to believe that the remedies SolarWorld has recommended are the right ones for this industry at this time.”

 

Oct 31

A bitter scientific debate just erupted over the future of America’s power grid

 

A bitter scientific debate just erupted over the future of America’s power grid

 

By Chris Mooney
June 19, 2017

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/06/19/a-bitter-scientific-debate-just-erupted-over-the-future-of-the-u-s-electric-grid/

A man looks at solar panels on a roof at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

 

Scientists are engaged in an increasingly bitter and personal feud over how much power the United States can get from renewable sources, with a large group of researchers taking aim at a popular recent paper that claimed the country could move beyond fossil fuels entirely by 2055.

In 2015, Stanford professor Mark Jacobson and his colleagues argued that between 2050 and 2055, the United States could be entirely powered by “clean” energy sources and “no natural gas, biofuels, nuclear power, or stationary batteries are needed.”

That would be a massive shift from the current power makeup, as in 2016, the United States got only 6.5 percent of its electricity from hydropower, 5.6 percent from wind and 0.9 percent from solar. Nonetheless, the paper excited proponents of renewable energy, and has been embraced by Sen. Bernie Sanderscelebrity backers such actor Mark Ruffalo and many environmental groups.

But Jacobson’s idea was always contentious. And now, no fewer than 21 researchers have published a study in the influential Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (which also published Jacobson’s original study in 2015) arguing that the work “used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions.”

“We thought we had to write a peer reviewed piece to highlight some of the mistakes and have a broader discussion about what we really need to fight climate change,” said lead study author Christopher Clack, who is the founder of the firm Vibrant Clean Energy. “And we felt the only way to do it in a fair and unbiased way was to go through peer review, and have external referees vet it to make sure we’re not saying anything that’s untrue in our piece.”

Clack is backed in the study by a number of noted colleagues including prominent climate research Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution, energy researcher Dan Kammen of the University of California at Berkeley, and former EPA Science Advisory Board chair Granger Morgan.

In a simultaneous letter in the journal, meanwhile, Jacobson and three Stanford colleagues fire back that Clack’s critique is itself “riddled with errors” and “demonstrably false.”

Jacobson also argued that his critics are biased in favor of carbon-based fuels such as oil, gas and coal, as well as nuclear energy.

“They try to falsify this thing by claiming that there are errors. This is what really bothers me with this paper. I don’t have any problem with people trying to quibble with our assumptions.”

The fight between researchers comes as the Trump administration has signaled it does not believe the nation’s electric grid can support a quick and thorough shift toward renewable energy, as Jacobson suggests that it can. As soon as this week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry is expected to release a study of the grid that renewable energy advocates fear will be used to criticize wind and solar and how they affect the grid.

The debate is crucial because, while it’s great to talk about wind and solar in theory, the reality is that the electrons that they generate have to be sent through wires and transmission stations to satisfy needs at particular places and at particular times — or else, we’ll have to come up with a way of storing electricity on a large scale, which remains a mostly unsolved problem right now.

And critics have contended that while you can add some wind and solar to the grid without any problem, if you add too much, it can be destabilizing and the electric grid will always require some “baseload” sources of energy, such as nuclear or coal or gas, which generate power continuously, rather than intermittently depending upon the availability of the sun or the winds.

In a 2015 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jacobson and his Stanford colleagues Mark Delucci, Mary Cameron and Bethany Frew laid out their clean energy vision. They used a model of the electric grid to show that the Lower 48 United States could be entirely powered by wind energy, solar power and hydroelectric energy, as long as there were various forms of energy storage available as well as “demand response,” in which major users of electricity are paid to curtail their use at key times when the grid is facing high demand.

The study also included a small role for geothermal energy and tidal and wave energy, the latter two of which are both fledgling technologies at this point.

Still, the study found that it could all work and, moreover, would be affordable. “The resulting 2050—2055 US electricity social cost for a full system is much less than for fossil fuels,” they wrote. The research, said Jacobson and his co-authors, should put to rest fears that adding large amounts of wind and solar to the grid would be destabilizing because these variable or “intermittent” sources of electricity would not always line up their production with the times when people need them most.

Particularly notable in the study was what Jacobson and his colleagues didn’t include — nuclear energy, which does not produce any greenhouse gases and runs 24/7 without intermittency issues; carbon capture and storage, which could help reduce the emissions from coal and natural gas plants; and bioenergy, which has also often been held out as critical to greening the electricity and transportation sectors.

But Clack and his colleagues contend that the study fails to prove that such a dramatic energy transition can be accomplished in an affordable way, in light of the constraints that occur when you have solar energy unavailable at night and wind energy also unavailable at certain times. They say it assumes a massive adoption of energy storage technologies that may not be feasible, and the possibility of huge volumes of hydroelectric generation.

The researchers actually suggest that 80 percent of the nation’s electricity could be produced without carbon dioxide in the future if you include nuclear energy and bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage to sequester the emissions from the burning of biomass. But their conclusion on the Jacobson study is quite blunt.

“The study’s numerous shortcomings and errors render it unreliable as a guide about the likely cost, technical reliability, or feasibility of a 100% wind, solar, and hydroelectric power system,” they write. “It is one thing to explore the potential use of technologies in a clearly caveated hypothetical analysis; it is quite another to claim that a model using these technologies at an unprecedented scale conclusively shows the feasibility and reliability of the modeled energy system implemented by midcentury.”

Jacobson has, in turn, published a response in the journal and shared a line-by-line rebuttal to the study. In addition to his objections to how they have characterized his work, he adds that the authors are more focused on cutting carbon dioxide emissions than other social benefits that he and his co-authors care about. “We’re interested in air pollution, health, energy security, nuclear weapons proliferation, reducing the risk to society of all the dangerous considerations,” he said.

But Jacobson also suggests that he is being unfairly treated, writing, in a rebuttal he shared with The Washington Post, that “Clack’s analysis is riddled with intentional misinformation.” For instance, the critique asserts that Jacobson assumed that hydroelectric dams would have the capacity to generate over 1,000 gigawatts, or billion watts, of electricity, vastly more than exists today. Jacobson counters that that’s because the paper assumes that dams would add turbines, but only for peak usage; their average usage would still be much lower.

“They’re trying to make it as if it’s a model error,” said Jacobson. “And I have to respond to dozens of reporters who think that because they claim that it’s an error, it’s actually an error. It’s just ridiculous.”

Clack counters that it is indeed an error, “plain and simple.” “This notion that you can install 10 times the generating capacity at existing dams is a nonsense, because studies have been done to show that there is only about 12GW of capability for that in the US,” he said by email. There are numerous similarly complex claims and counterclaims at issue in the debate — which is part of the problem, says David Victor, an energy policy researcher at the University of California at San Diego and one co-author of the new critique.

“These are studies that seem to be anchored technically, lots of complexity to them, all of which point to the idea that the problem is solvable with a set of options that are frankly politically very palatable,” he said of Jacobson’s studies. That, says Victor, is why the research has been so influential.

“Our analysis suggests … that none of that work holds up,” Victor said. “So I can totally understand that emotions are high, but we have a duty as scientists to call the facts as we see them.”

Christopher Clack was previously with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory and the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences while authoring the paper, but now works with Vibrant Clean Energy. 

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