Posts Tagged ‘Renewable Energy’

Energy Efficiency Made Affordable

Monday, July 13th, 2015 - posted by Cody Burchett

Giving Credit to Energy Efficiency

The Warehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans is a self-sustaining lending platform for home energy financing. WHEEL helps states leverage funds from public and private investors to increase the number of low-interest loans available to homeowners through the ReHome Loan Program for energy efficiency upgrades.

The low interest rates offered by the program create an incentive for homeowners to make the most energy-efficient choices, says Colin Bishopp, who oversees WHEEL, and the customer’s monthly payments more closely resemble amount of money saved on their utility bill. WHEEL is currently operating in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and will soon launch in Virginia, Florida and Indiana. Visit: renewfinancial.com/financing-solutions/rehome

Solarize Success in WV

A grassroots effort to make solar panels more affordable for homeowners has taken off in the Southeast. Through the Solarize model, homeowners interested in installing rooftop solar can join together to apply for discounts, free energy audits and solar panel assessments.

Using this model, a solar cooperative in West Virginia installed seven new systems last fall, adding about 36 kilowatts of solar power to Fayetteville, W.Va. Now, two solar cooperatives in Wheeling and Morgantown are accepting applications, while cooperatives in Fayette and Monroe County filled their membership, with 30 and more than 80 members signed up, respectively. Sixteen Solarize programs in North Carolina and eight in Virginia have run or are currently running, while three programs in South Carolina are receiving applications.

Access to Energy Savings

Financing programs are helping homeowners invest in upgrades that make residences more comfortable while lowering electric bills and reducing a home’s carbon footprint. Read more here.

Another Community Solar Farm Sprouts

Leasing solar panels provides rural electric cooperatives with a way to incorporate solar into their energy portfolio, and for homeowners to invest in solar, with lessened costs to both. The cooperative builds a solar farm and offers a lease on a panel or half-panel to members. Those members receive credit on their utility bill for the energy generated by their leased panel.

Duck River Electric Membership Cooperative in southern Tennessee funded a 26-kilowatt solar farm in 2012 and members have already become partial owners of 87 of its 108 panels. Once the rest are sold, the cooperative plans to double the solar farm’s capacity, says Steve Odell of Duck River EMC. In April, the Appalachian Regional Commission granted BARC Electric Cooperative in rural Virginia $500,000 to build a 250 to 350-kilowatt solar farm and a community learning center that will offer leasing options. Electric cooperatives in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina are using this model as well.

Energy Savings Launch in Harlan County, Ky.

The town of Benham launched an on-bill energy efficiency financing program in April. Benham$aves, modeled after Mountain Association for Economic Development’s How$mart program, will pay for energy efficiency upgrades upfront, and members will repay the loan on their utility bill with their energy savings. A resolution passed by the Benham Power Board formally recognizes community partners including Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Appalshop and MACED.

Turning down the heat: A collaborative effort to reduce energy bills

Friday, July 10th, 2015 - posted by rory

This piece was co-authored by Jen Weiss, a senior finance analyst at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The North Carolina On-Bill Working Group seeks to facilitate the development of programs that educate homeowners about energy efficiency and put financing easily within reach for all income levels.

The North Carolina On-Bill Working Group seeks to facilitate the development of programs that educate homeowners about energy efficiency and put financing easily within reach for all income levels.

There’s no doubt about it. June was HOT.

While extreme temperatures can make outdoor activities unbearable, they can also send electric utility bills skyrocketing across most of North Carolina and place high demands on the state’s electric utility infrastructure.

As heating and cooling equipment are pushed to the max, the demands are made even more significant due to inefficiently insulated and poorly weatherized houses that lose cool air as quickly as it is generated. But the cost to weatherize a home can make energy efficiency improvements unaffordable — particularly for homeowners who are already burdened with basic housing costs that can outweigh their limited income.

With the aim of providing these homeowners with a solution that will reduce their energy bills and improve home comfort, a collaborative working group was recently been formed by leading energy advisors in the Southeast. Working with multiple stakeholders across the state, the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group seeks to facilitate the development of programs that educate homeowners about energy efficiency and put financing within reach for all income levels.

The Challenge: High Energy Costs

High energy costs can be particularly challenging for lower income Americans. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average North Carolinian spends $3,714 annually on energy costs. With a median household income of $46,334, this equates to 8 percent of the average residents’ annual income. This is nearly three times the national average of 2.7 percent in 2012. In rural communities where median household income tends to be much lower, averaging $22,000, energy expenditures as a percentage of household income can be as much as 17 percent or higher.

This situation is only going to get worse as it is predicted that energy costs will continue to rise in coming years. Energy efficiency improvements for North Carolinians can alleviate the impact of current and future energy costs. Unfortunately, many homeowners cannot afford the upfront cost to weatherize their properties or purchase energy-efficient appliances that will reduce their energy bills. North Carolina residents of all income levels need access to streamlined and simple energy efficiency finance programs that can help make energy more affordable.

A Solution: Utility On-Bill Programs for Energy Efficiency Financing

Fortunately, proven models exist that expand access to financing for energy efficiency improvements for everyone, including people who may not qualify for loans under traditional underwriting criteria. Known as “on-bill” programs, these financing models provide a mechanism whereby the upfront cost of energy saving improvements and equipment is funded by the electric utility or a third-party financier, and ratepayers are able to pay down the cost through a monthly payment on their electric bill.

Depending on the structure of these programs and the initial source of capital used to finance the program, on-bill programs offer a number advantages to participants, particularly low-income consumers. Advantages include performance-based repayment schedules that align the monthly payback with projected savings achieved, creating a net savings for the consumer. In other words, even with the new charge added to their electric bill, the customer will still pay less on an annual basis than they would have without the improvements. Additionally, on-bill programs can be structured so that they are available to renters and businesses.

Partners in Efficiency: North Carolina’s Rural Electric Member Cooperatives

Together, North Carolina’s 26 electric member cooperatives (co-ops) serve roughly 937,000 members, provide electric service to rural areas in 93 of the state’s 100 counties, and account for 23.7 percent of total electric sales in the state. Many of the state’s electric co-ops and municipal utilities serve communities characterized by ratepayers with lower than average median household incomes and limited access to low-cost financing.

A 2014 study of census data found that these utilities serve the highest concentrations of low-income communities across the Southeast, making co-ops and municipal utilities key stakeholders and powerful allies in addressing this issue. Dedicated to improving the lives and communities of those they serve, many co-ops have developed or are exploring energy efficiency finance programs. It is the goal of the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group to support all of North Carolina’s electric co-ops who are interested in developing an on-bill program for their own members.

Benefits to North Carolina Residents

  • Expanded access to capital for ratepayers at all income levels including homeowners, renters and businesses.
  • Performance-based repayment schedules that align the monthly payback with energy savings.
  • Low- to no-cost opportunity to improve energy performance and home comfort.

Benefits to North Carolina Utilities

  • Reduced complaints from customer regarding high bills and problems paying electric bills.
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction.
  • Reduced need to build new generation facilities by reducing peak demand.
  • Helps to achieve energy efficiency and/or renewable energy goals

About the North Carolina On-Bill Finance Working Group

The North Carolina On-Bill Finance Working Group — a partnership of Appalachian Voices, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance — has been formed to work with North Carolina co-ops and other community stakeholders to provide the education and support resources needed to establish on-bill programs and expand access to energy efficiency programs for residents across the state.

As the Working Group ramps up its efforts, we will be reaching out to electric co-ops, community partners and other stakeholders to identify the needs and challenges faced by co-ops, and to work toward solutions that facilitate the development of new on-bill programs throughout North Carolina. If you are interested in learning more about the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group or supporting our efforts, send an email to NCOnBill@seealliance.org.

Duke Energy to close aging Asheville coal plant

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 - posted by brian

Duke Energy plans to retire its Asheville coal plant and build a natural gas-fired facility in its place. The announcement should be celebrated as progress, but it also represents another precarious step toward a future reliant on fossil fuels.

A plan to “end an era of coal” in Asheville and enter an era of natural gas.

In a surprise announcement that some predicted and many have long advocated for, Duke Energy shared plans today to “end an era of coal” in Asheville, N.C., by retiring the coal-fired power plant that sits on the banks of nearby Lake Julian.

The aging power plant, which began operating in 1964, has been a constant target for Appalachian Voices and many of our allies in North Carolina working to address coal ash pollution and promote investments in cleaner energy.

The company plans to spend around $750 million over the next four or five years to retire the coal plant and replace it with a 650-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant, nearly doubling the current plant’s capacity. The plans also include building solar generation on the site, but it’s unclear how large — or small — the size of the renewable portion of the project will be.

While the news should be celebrated as progress, it also represents another precarious step along a dangerous road that will prolong our region’s over-reliance on fossil fuels and saddle consumers with long-lived investments in natural gas.

Duke, more than any other southeastern utility, has been at the forefront of the coal-to-gas fuel-switching trend, retiring seven of its 14 North Carolina coal plants in the past five years. The utility is also slated to be the largest customer of the proposed 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but, in this case, plans to upgrade an existing natural gas pipeline to supply the new plant.

Even though the company has brought on large-scale solar projects in recent years, Duke’s enthusiasm for clean energy doesn’t come close to its eagerness to expand natural gas generation and infrastructure. That fact is reflected in the mixed responses of environmental groups and clean energy advocates to today’s news.

“The retirement of the Asheville Plant is a step in the right direction, but it is a half measure, undermined by continuing reliance on an economically unpredictable and polluting source of power. Duke can do better, and our community deserves better,” a coalition of groups made up of MountainTrue, Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center and Waterkeeper Alliance announced in a joint statement. “We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to fight for clean energy solutions for Western North Carolina.”

According to Duke, electricity demand in the Asheville area has doubled over the past forty years and the Asheville plant is a “must run” facility, meaning it operates around the clock to maintain reliability. But data charted by SNL Energy shows the plant’s capacity factor has been trending down since 2010, likely due to new capacity at the more-economical Cliffside power plant coming online.

Closing the plant will dramatically reduce harmful emissions of sulfur dioxide and mercury, and the new natural gas plant will emit about 60 percent less carbon dioxide per-megawatt hour. But its larger generating capacity could mean overall carbon emissions stay about the same.

The cost of retrofitting the plant’s coal ash ponds to comply with the state’s Coal Ash Management Act is sure to have played a role in the decision to retire the plant. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources also cited Duke in February for contaminating groundwater at the facility, which could lead to fines.

The Asheville plant is the only facility out of the four deemed “high priority” by the coal ash law that still burns coal. It is also one of the few still-operating plants involved in the federal lawsuit over coal ash pollution that led Duke to plead guilty to nine misdemeanors under the Clean Water Act.

The case for closing the Asheville coal plant is clear. But Duke must do more to meet its promises to North Carolinians. At a time of tremendous opportunity to expand clean energy, America’s largest electric utility has the obligation and more than enough influence to lead.

PJM Analysis Makes Economic Case for Clean Power Plan

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Eliza Laubach

A region-wide electric grid operating company, PJM, released a report in March analyzing how states could comply with a proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule requiring that power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions.

The company, which extends into 14 states across the Northeast and Midwest, described lessened costs if states work together to mitigate climate change through increased renewable energy exchanges. These allow states to trade credits for renewable energy produced, which advances solar or wind power where it is already well-established and helps states that cannot easily meet the new carbon regulations.

In doing so, the region may see lower wholesale energy prices, the PJM report said, due to the investment in renewables, whose prices are steadily dropping. Natural gas will factor into overall energy prices as power plants switch to burning the more abundant, less costly fossil fuel. The report encouraged states to address energy efficiency potential, the cheapest source of energy, in both grid transmission and in homes and businesses where electricity is used.

Clean Line Wind Project Clears Hurdle

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - posted by molly

Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners LLC received initial approval from Tennessee regulators to construct a 700-mile transmission line that would deliver wind power generated in the plains of western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle to customers in the Tennessee Valley.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides power to approximately 9 million people in seven southeastern states, signed a letter of support for the project last November, and would become the largest buyer of the projected 3,500 megawatts of clean power.

Clean Line hopes the project will begin operation in 2018, but the energy developer still must obtain final federal and state approval.

West Virginia Repeals “Alternative” Energy Law

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - posted by molly

By Brian Sewell

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill to repeal the state’s Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, a law ostensibly aimed at promoting adoption of renewable sources.

In the opening days of the 2015 legislative session, West Virginia legislators moved quickly to dismantle the standard, arguing that they were standing up for the state’s weakened coal industry by putting clean energy on the chopping block. But the law has had a negligible effect since it was passed in 2009. A broad interpretation of what constitutes “alternative” energy under the law has allowed West Virginia’s largest utilities to easily meet the law’s requirements by relying on coal and natural gas without adding new solar or wind capacity.

Even though the West Virginia Coal Association helped craft the standard, it now supports repeal, citing regulatory and legal pressure on the coal industry.

Clean energy advocates reacted with indifference, since the doomed law did little to expand renewable generation, but they say there is a silver lining: lawmakers approved an amendment to the bill that allows West Virginians who have solar panels to continue receiving credit for the excess electricity they generate and put back into the grid.

Editor’s note: The online text of this article is longer than the print version.

Update from the Virginia General Assembly

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 - posted by hannah

Attacks on the EPA escalate, and rate freezes don’t consider customers.

A slew of bad bills to stymie the EPA and safeguard corporate polluters have been brought up in the first weeks of Virginia's brief legislative session.

A slew of bad bills to stymie the EPA and safeguard corporate polluters have been brought up in the first weeks of Virginia’s brief legislative session.

Virginia’s legislative session may be brief, but many bills with major implications for our future energy mix have already been acted on. Two weeks into this year’s session, here is a look at where our top issues stand.

Rate freeze controversy heats up

It’s been in the news around the state: Dominion Power has enlisted the help of utility-friendly legislators, in particular Senator Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, in an effort to pause regulators’ scrutiny of the utility’s revenue for eight years.

The legislative patron says his bill is necessary to keep customers from seeing rising energy costs due to the mythical high price of compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon pollution standard. Attorney General Mark Herring, who is tasked with looking out for ratepayers, notes that the measure would actually prevent rebates of overcharges to customers.

Anyone familiar with the system in which Virginia’s investor-owned electric providers operate will be struck by the way this would remove State Corporation Commission oversight and, with it, Dominion’s accountability to customers. In another troubling wrinkle, if cost-effective clean energy resources such as energy efficiency are deployed over this time resulting in saved energy and Dominion over-earns on its rate of return then customers are deprived of the those savings. Despite opposition from many sides, the bill has passed out of subcommittee.

Attacks on Virginia potential to achieve large-scale carbon-free power

For reasons ranging from pure political grandstanding to reactions to a perceived federal overreach in state affairs, many legislators are taking part in the rush to apply tactics pioneered by the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity to stymie the implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in Virginia. One strategy is to interrupt what would be a smooth process of the Department of Environmental Quality preparing and sending Virginia’s implementation plan to the EPA. Legislation of this type gives the General Assembly a middle-man role able to approve the plan, which effectively obstructs the process and robs the executive branch of its control.

Other ways of slowing or stopping the EPA’s efforts to limit carbon pollution and drive investment in clean energy are plentiful: from Senator Wagner’s proposition prohibiting action in response to the standards until 18 criticisms of the standards are rectified, studying whether the plan on the whole benefits Virginia at all before taking action, or giving the General Assembly power to do what the Attorney General has not done: sue the EPA on behalf of Virginia.

Common-sense steps to make solar accessible and affordable for more Virginians

The main piece of legislation we’ve watched that would put an end to indiscriminate carbon pollution and lead to investments in clean energy and climate adaptation is the Virginia Coastal Protection Act. The bill did not manage to get the support it needed this year to make it out of committee.

Still, as we fight the bad bills above, we have a chance to make progress on several clean energy bills that will make a real difference to bring more renewable energy online in Virginia. Several will be heard in the House Energy Subcommittee on Tuesday, Feb. 3, be there to support solutions like community solar, larger net metering, and more!

Decent news for N.C. solar power

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 - posted by molly

According to a report by Environment North Carolina, the state ranks fourth nationally for installed photovoltaic solar power in 2013.

According to a report by Environment North Carolina, the state ranks fourth nationally for installed photovoltaic solar power in 2013. Solar Panel image from Bigstock

During the last business hours of 2014, the N.C. Utilities Commission issued a decision with big implications for the state’s strong solar industry.

The ruling wasn’t exactly a fireworks display for clean energy, but it does allow solar developers to start the new year on steady footing. On Dec. 31, the commission renewed a set of rules governing the contracts between electric utilities and independent power producers despite objections from North Carolina’s largest utilities.

The order requires that state utilities provide standard contracts for buying electricity from independent producers such as solar companies, methane-to-energy operations and some hydroelectric facilities. According to the order, all qualifying facilities that generate 5 megawatts of power or less are eligible for standard contracts in five,10 or 15-year periods.

Duke Energy and Dominion Power had requested that the Utilities Commission reduce the cutoff for standard contracts to 100 kilowatts and require any power generators over that limit to negotiate custom contracts with the utilities. Solar energy proponents argued that negotiating custom contracts with Duke and Dominion would cripple solar development in the state. Instead, solar advocates had proposed extending the cap from five to 10 megawatts and extending maximum contract terms from 15 to 20 years.

Jim Warren, director of the pro-clean-energy organization NC WARN, expressed disapproval with the Utilities Commission’s decision not to expand the standard contracts to apply to larger solar installations.

“Prior to July hearings, during the hearings, and since the hearings, solar industry companies have made clear that Duke Energy’s practices are already seriously harming them – and that they need regulators to improve contract conditions in order to force Duke to quit stalling large independent solar projects,” he said in a press statement.

Other renewable proponents were encouraged that the state commission didn’t bow to utility pressure to weaken the rules.

“We’re pleased that the Commission rejected attempts by Duke Energy and others to roll back long-standing policies that allow independent solar power producers to compete in a market that is dominated by monopoly utilities,” Katie Ottenweller of the Southern Environmental Law Center commented in a press statement.

The renewable energy industry also requested that the utilities pay more for the energy they buy from independent solar developers to reflect the social and environmental benefits of solar power. In turn, the utilities asked to pay less to reflect the extra cost of connecting independent solar power sites to the grid. The Utilities Commission rejected both requests and ruled that it was premature to change the payment rates.

Ottenweller also noted that the commission left the door open to considering the social and environmental benefits of solar in the economic calculus in the future. “In [the] order, the Commission recognized the potential for solar energy to bring major benefits to North Carolina customers, and signaled a willingness to make utilities pay fair value to independent solar power producers once those benefits are quantified,” she said.

Crowdfunding Solar in West Virginia

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - posted by allison

In a state known for coal, solar energy emerges through a grassroots effort

By Eliza Laubach
Dan Conant affectionately calls his first successes cutting solar installation costs “barn raisings.” After years of political organizing in college and shortly after, he wanted to use community organizing strategies for solar power.

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“Community-supported solar builds awareness about where electricity comes from,” says Than Hitt, center, holding his daughter Hazel at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Sheperdstown Presbyterian Church’s solar array. Photo by Mary Anne Hitt.

Policies that have helped to nurture the solar industry, such as affordable leasing options, tax credits and requirements for utilities to purchase renewable energy credits aren’t offered in his home state of West Virginia.

“I was trying to move back home, but there weren’t any jobs available at that point,” says Conant. He instead worked in Virginia and Vermont, helping pioneer innovative neighborhood-scale methods for going solar. He found ways to lower prohibitive upfront costs, which he describes as an effort to “crack the code for personal financing.”

As he gained a deeper understanding of solar financing, Conant saw how difficult it is for nonprofits and municipal organizations to buy solar panels, especially in West Virginia. Nonprofits don’t receive a tax credit, government entities are unable to take out loans, and commercial buildings receive less compensation than homeowners do for surplus power generated by their solar panels. After researching how to bring solar to these community groups with a model that could be duplicated in any state, he created Solar Holler.

The solar financing project raises funds to place solar panels on nonprofit or municipal buildings. The process mirrors crowdfunding, which depends on donations from interested parties, usually solicited online. But crowdfunding is less practical among small communities and low-income residents, so Conant brainstormed an alternative revenue stream.

He partnered with Mosaic Power, a company that pays homeowners for their hot water heater to be hooked up to Mosaic’s remote system. Creating a smart grid, Mosaic can then turn the hot water heater on and off in response to electricity demand. The utility pays Mosaic Power for helping them use electricity more efficiently, and the profit is transferred back to the homeowner through a $100 yearly payment. Residents can sign up for Mosaic’s program through Solar Holler, pledging their return to help fund a solar installation on a community building.

An investor will buy the solar panels after enough residents of a community pledge their revenue to a Solar Holler project to guarantee the investor a return. The pledged hot water heater payments will cycle to other Solar Holler projects once the initial project is paid off. “We’re using energy efficiency to fund the solar,” Conant says.

Conant launched the pilot project in his hometown at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. The congregation considered solar in the past but could not afford it. Than Hitt, church member and community organizer, spent three years working with the congregation and Shepherdstown community. He provided the initial investment in the solar panels. “Self-reliance is a big thing in West Virginia and we’re tapping into that,” says Hitt.

Pastor Randy Tremba set up a table by the church’s hot water heater for people to sign up for the Mosaic Power program in April. “A trusted community leader is a crucial ally,” he adds. Within three months, enough people signed up for the program to guarantee the solar installation.

Main story_SPC Installation

Mountainview Solar crew members install the solar panels. Photo by Dan Conant.

With 100 people signing on to participate, plus the sale of renewable energy credits to various Pennsylvania utilities, the project quickly moved forward. Mountainview Solar, a local solar contractor, installed a 16.2-kilowatt solar array on the church this past August, providing about 40 percent of the church’s electricity. The Shepherdstown Elementary School principal brought the fourth and fifth grade classes to the ribbon-cutting ceremony and pledged to incorporate solar energy into the educational curriculums. “I think it’s the start of something big,” says Conant.

Solar Holler’s goal is to have a project in each of West Virginia’s 55 counties within the next five years. Two more projects are currently underway: the city hall in Lewisburg and the public library in Harpers Ferry, which achieved its quota for Mosaic Power sign-ups in mid-November.

Conant sees the importance in diversifying the economy of a state that has largely been powered by coal extraction. “We can still be an energy state, we just need to stop thinking of ourselves as a coal state,” he says. Ninety-six percent of West Virginia’s energy comes from coal, and mining has a continued legacy of destructive health, environmental and financial impacts. “Solar in West Virginia is more powerful than anywhere else in the country,” says Conant.

Visit SolarHoller.org to learn more.

Southeast Solar Updates

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - posted by allison

By Eliza Laubach

Virginia utility to charge homeowners with large solar arrays

Appalachian Power Company will impose a fee on homeowners with solar power systems exceeding 10 kilowatts. Most residential solar systems are not affected, but environmental groups decried the standby charge for its implications on future residential solar development. The charge also weakens the incentive for net metering, which allows a utility customer who generates their own electricity to sell surplus power into the grid.

Experimental solar power plant may add power to Fluvanna County

Steve Zenman, founder of Virginia-based solar research nonprofit Zenman Energies, obtained approval from Fluvanna County in October to build a concentrated solar power plant. These utility-scale systems reflect sunlight from a large surface area into a small area to create steam that spins turbines, generating power. Zenman is developing a low-cost prototype, and will license the project as open-source to give other designers an affordable blueprint. If funding is secured and construction moves forward, he hopes to connect the plant to the Dominion Power grid.

Solar battery production to breathe new life into vacant cigarette plant

In a $68.5 million deal, Swiss start-up Alevo Group plans to convert a Phillip-Morris cigarette plant in Concord, N.C., to manufacture a lithium-ion and graphite battery system called the GridBank. Alevo expects to create up to 2,500 jobs over the next three years. Made up of multiple battery cells, the system can store up to one megawatt-hour of energy, which will make renewable energy distribution more efficient. The first shipment of batteries will go to China by the end of this year, The Guardian reports.

Duke Energy invests $500 million in utility solar, may suppress residential solar

In September, Duke Energy announced plans to invest in 278 megawatts of solar energy, all scheduled to be on-line by 2016. This will help Duke meet North Carolina’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, which requires investor-owned utilities to generate 12.5 percent of total electricity from renewables by 2021. While Duke invests in large-scale solar farms, the utility has indicated that it wants to pay homeowners less for the energy rooftop solar panels provide to the grid. This has had a chilling effect on rooftop solar installers, according the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.

Cellphones get a free charge in Knoxville, community solar on Tennessee horizon

On Market Square in downtown Knoxville, cellphone users could get a free charge from the sun in 15 minutes. The Tennessee Valley Authority installed their first solar-powered charging kiosk in October. It can charge up to six phones or tablets at a time and power devices for up to two days without sun. TVA’s next step in solar will fund a minimum 500-megawatt community solar project for a local power company. In another recent announcement, TVA said that they will buy up to 4 megawatts of solar energy at two cents above market rate from community solar projects built by local power companies.

Josh Bills and Steve Boyce at the Berea Solar Farm. Photo courtesy Josh Bills

Josh Bills of Mountain Association for Community Economic Development and Steve Boyce, former chair of the Berea Utilities Advisory Board, at the Berea Solar Farm. Photo courtesy Josh Bills

Berea community solar farm doubles in size

A community solar farm established in 2011 by Kentucky’s Berea Municipal Utilities doubled in size this past summer to 246 panels. A homeowner or business can lease a panel for $750 and be credited monthly for the energy generated by a solar panel. The utility has leased 31 of 126 new panels since July. In October, the solar farm produced almost 6 megawatt-hours of energy, enough to power about five average Berea homes.

Solarize initiative spreads across Virginia and North Carolina

A movement toward solar-purchasing cooperatives is helping more homeowners go solar. A minimum of ten people pledging to buy solar panels together get a discount on the parts, while local contractors competitively bid for the installations. Eleven communities in Virginia and seven in North Carolina have launched solar cooperatives. Solarize Chatham celebrated the highest support of any North Carolina Solarize program in November with 56 installations.