Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 8th 2017 Contents tobagotoday.co.tt February 8 - 2017
US utilities eye solar energy
The plunging cost of solar power is leading U.S. electric
companies to capture more of the sun just when President
Donald Trump is moving to boost coal and other fossil
Solar power represents just about 1 percent of the elec-
tricity U.S. utilities generate today, but that could grow
substantially as major electric utilities move into smaller-scale
solar farming, a niche developed by local cooperatives and
It's both an opportunity and a defensive maneuver: Sun-
shine-capturing technology has become so cheap, so quick-
ly, that utilities are moving to preserve their core business
against competition from household solar panels.
"Solar growth is so extensive and has so much momen-
tum behind it that we're at the point where you can't put
the genie back in the bottle," said Jeffrey R.S. Brownson, a
Pennsylvania State University professor who studies solar
adoption. "You either learn how to work with this new
medium, solar energy, or you're going to face increasing
The transition away from coal-burning power plants now
seems unstoppable, even if Trump scraps rules requiring
utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The average
lifetime cost for utility-scale wind and solar generation in
the U.S. is now cheaper than coal or nuclear and compa-
rable to natural gas, according to financial advisory firm
Lazard, which compared the fuel costs without their fed-
eral tax subsidies.
Wind and solar were expected to account for about two-
thirds of the new electricity generation capacity added to
the nation's power grid in 2016, outpacing fossil fuel expan-
sion for a third straight year, according to the U.S. Energy
And even though big investor-owned utilities operate as
legal monopolies in many states, the bill-lowering appeal
of rooftop solar for many homeowners could eventually
threaten their ability to finance and manage the power grids.
These trends help explain why utilities are increasingly
adopting a model called "community solar," or "shared
solar," which involves customers agreeing to buy or lease
solar panels on large arrays built for the utility, or to buy
the power they produce. That electricity is then credited
off utility bills under contracts that can lock in power
prices for 10 years or more.
Utility-run shared solar also can address competition
from independent solar companies that install and operate
rooftop solar panels, harvesting and providing the energy
at a fixed cost to the individual consumer or some other
These projects also could appeal to the roughly half of
American households that can't install solar panels because
they don't own their homes, lack the good credit needed
to finance an installation, or lack sufficient roof space where
the sun shines consistently, the Energy Department's Nation-
al Renewable Energy Laboratory reported.
Like the much larger solar operations covering large rural
tracts with dark photovoltaic panels slanted toward the sky,
electricity from the utilities' smaller-scale arrays feed into
the local power grid, not directly to individual homes or
Membership-based electric cooperatives, municipal util-
ities and even non-profit groups run most of these "solar
gardens" around the country, but utilities are moving in. In
California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota, they've
been pushed into the space by state law.
Investor-owned utilities now back about 20 percent of
the country's community solar programs across 32 states,
and represent about 70 percent of the potential output, said
Dan Chwastyk of the Smart Electric Power Alliance, a group
providing utilities information about shifting into clean-en-
Charlotte-based Duke Energy Corp., the largest electric-
ity company in the United States, this year plans to launch
a community solar program in South Carolina and seek
regulatory permission to do the same in North Carolina,
Florida, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, utility vice president
Melisa Johns said.
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc., Topeka, Kan-
sas,-based Westar Energy, and California's three largest
investor-owned utilities are among other power companies
moving into community solar.
Duke Energy's plan "just opens it up for a lot more peo-
ple to go solar," said Sara Hummel Rajca, chairwoman of
the South Carolina Solar Council, which brings local coop-
eratives, solar installers and academics together with the
state's three major utilities.
Duke Energy's South Carolina residential customers would
pay $70 upfront for each subscribed kilowatt slice of power
potential from a solar array and get credit for their share
of what's produced, an investment that should pay for itself
three years into the 10-year program.
These households would continue paying conventional
power prices for any electricity they consume beyond what
their share generates, spending to keep the transmission
lines and backup plants working when the sun doesn't shine.
"We do have customers that want (community solar) and
customers who are willing to pay for it, but it's not like we
have every single customer that wants that," Johns said.
At the moment, switching from coal-fired power plants
to natural gas is a cheaper way to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions, said Stanford University economist Frank Wolak.
But utilities also need to hold onto their customers as
solar power becomes more popular, said Wolak, who directs
Stanford's Program on Energy and Sustainable Development.
Utilities think: "If a customer signs up for community
solar, we get the money. With rooftop solar, that money is
going to the solar installer," he said. (AP)
Zologists find dead whale full of plastic bags
Norwegian zoologists have found about
30 plastic bags and other plastic waste in
the stomach of a beaked whale that had
beached on a southwestern Norway coast.
The visibly sick, 2-ton goose-beaked
whale was euthanized, Terje Lislevand of
Bergen University said Friday.
"The (whale's) stomach was full of plas-
tic," Lislevand said, adding that its intes-
tine "had no food, only some remnants of
a squid's head in addition to a thin fat
Lislevand says the non-biodegradable
waste was "probably the reason" why the
male whale repeatedly beached last Sat-
urday in shallow waters off Sotra, an island
west of Bergen, 200 kilometers (125 miles)
northwest of the capital of Oslo.
It size - about 6 meters (20 feet) - showed
the whale was an adult.
The U.N. estimates that 8 million tons
of plastic trash are dumped into the world's
oceans each year, he said. (AP)
Trump prefers coal, fossil fuels
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