Jul 31, 2013

Gaining Power By Going Green

5 min
By Jay Fremont As consumers become ever more sensitive to the plight of the environment, they are increasing their pressure on utility com...

By Jay Fremont

As consumers become ever more sensitive to the plight of the environment, they are increasing their pressure on utility companies to join the Green Revolution by replacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources.

Also helping to accelerate the green movement are incentives offered by the federal government and several state governments to reward utilities that take aggressive steps to go green.

In some cases, states have set specific deadlines by which utilities operating in their jurisdiction must be generating a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable energy sources.

For those who may not be clear about what is included under the umbrella description of renewable energy sources, the Natural Resources Defense Council offers a helpful list of subcategories.

These include wind and solar energy, biomass (generated from plant materials), biogas (from animal waste), geothermal, hydropower, and offshore wind, wave, and tidal energy. The NRDC describes itself as “the nation’s most effective environmental action group.”

Use of Renewables to Grow

Utilities surveyed by Black & Veatch for its “2013 Strategic Directions in the U.S. Electric Industry” report predict a 150 percent increase in the use of renewable energy sources by 2038. Although that sounds fairly ambitious, it’s relatively modest when one considers the very small percentage of electricity being generated from renewables at present.

On the downside, 3.4 percent of the respondents to Black & Veatch’s survey said technical limitations would prevent utilities from meeting their goals under state Renewable Portfolio Standard requirements. Another 14.5 percent think the renewables goal will be technically achievable but at a cost that would be too great for consumers.

Reducing Harmful Emissions

The switch to renewables is just one aspect of the so-called Green Revolution, which also focuses on the reduction of emissions that are harmful to the environment.

Utilities are gradually substituting cleaner fuels for higher-carbon fuels such as coal and oil.

In a 2013 report, the Energy Information Administration envisions the 2040 fuel mix of electric utilities breaking down as follows: Coal, 35 percent in 2040, down from 53 percent in 1993; Oil and Other Liquids, 1 percent, down from 4 percent in 1993; Nuclear, 17 percent, down from 19 percent; Renewables, 16 percent, up from 11 percent; and Natural Gas, 30 percent, up from 13 percent.

It’s worth noting that nuclear generation of electricity is comparatively clean but raises other environmental concerns relative to the disposal of nuclear waste and the possible consequences of a nuclear plant’s catastrophic failure.

Vermont Pushes to Go Green

A few utilities and regional initiatives are taking the lead in the Green Revolution, setting an example for others in the industry and other parts of the country.

Vermont has embarked on an ambitious program to speed up the use of renewable fuels in the generation of electricity. It is working toward a goal of generating 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2017.

To do this, Vermont utilities have 6 megawatts of installed wind power capacity and have 30 percent more electricity generated from solar power than Germany, one of the world’s leaders in the use of solar and other renewable energy forms.

The Green Mountain State is also looking at the possibility of converting some of the state’s brownfields into sites for the generation of electricity from renewable fuel sources. Brownfields are former industrial sites that have been contaminated by hazardous substances. They typically include former military bases, old industrial sites, and marginal agricultural land that has been allowed to go dormant.

Boulder May Municipalize Utility

The Colorado city of Boulder, home to the University of Colorado and long considered a bastion of liberal thinking, has taken an unusual step to signal its impatience with the slow pace of greening by the electric utility serving the city.

It has done so by moving to establish its own municipal utility to replace the services offered by Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis-based utility company that serves millions of electric customers in several states.

The dispute is ongoing and not yet resolved, but it reflects the pressure mounting on utilities to move as quickly as possible to green their operations, thus helping to protect the environment from further damage.

Change Coming in Rural Areas Too

Some hopeful signs of change are also being seen at the other end of the political spectrum in red-state rural areas served by electric co-ops. Because many of these co-ops are concentrated in areas where coal is king, their use of coal-fired electricity is generally higher than the national average.

Nevertheless, according to an article on the Yes! Magazine website, 90 percent of electric cooperatives have some form of renewable energy in their portfolios, and a whopping 96 percent of these co-ops offer some sort of energy efficiency program.

And, best of all, electric co-ops are getting 3 percent more of their energy from renewable sources than the U.S. electric utility sector as a whole.

As an example of rural co-op efforts to increase energy efficiency, the Yes! article cited the case of a Jackson Energy Cooperative customer in rural Kentucky.

The utility retrofitted the customer’s home and heating system to make it more energy efficient. Specifically, the company replaced his old furnace with a more efficient heat pump and installed a plastic moisture barrier under his house to help keep out the cold.

The result was a warmer house and a lower utility bill.

And the lower utility bill represented not only the cost of the electricity used but an additional charge that goes toward repayment for the cost of the retrofit.

About the Author: Jay Fremont is a freelance author who has written extensively about personal finance, corporate strategy, social media.

Share article

Apr 23, 2021

Drax advances biomass strategy with Pinnacle acquisition

Dominic Ellis
2 min
Drax is advancing biomass following Pinnacle acquisition it reported in a trading update

Drax' recently completed acquisition of Pinnacle more than doubles its sustainable biomass production capacity and significantly reduces its cost of production, it reported in a trading update.

The Group’s enlarged supply chain will have access to 4.9 million tonnes of operational capacity from 2022. Of this total, 2.9 million tonnes are available for Drax’s self-supply requirements in 2022, which will rise to 3.4 million tonnes in 2027.

The £424 million acquisition of the Canadian biomass pellet producer supports Drax' ambition to be carbon negative by 2030, using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and will make a "significant contribution" in the UK cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 (click here).

Drax CEO Will Gardiner said its Q1 performance had been "robust", supported by the sale of Drax Generation Enterprise, which holds four CCGT power stations, to VPI Generation.

This summer Drax will undertake maintenance on its CfD(2) biomass unit, including a high-pressure turbine upgrade to reduce maintenance costs and improve thermal efficiency, contributing to lower generation costs for Drax Power Station.

In March, Drax secured Capacity Market agreements for its hydro and pumped storage assets worth around £10 million for delivery October 2024-September 2025.

The limitations on BECCS are not technology but supply, with every gigatonne of CO2 stored per year requiring approximately 30-40 million hectares of BECCS feedstock, according to the Global CCS Institute. Nonetheless, BECCS should be seen as an essential complement to the required, wide-scale deployment of CCS to meet climate change targets, it concludes.

Share article