Call it a tale of two renewable portfolio standards (RPS). North Carolina’s renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standard has just scored a major investment in solar power by the state’s major utility. But in Ohio, a new law freezing that state’s renewable energy standard has already put the local solar industry in a deep freeze.
Duke Energy announced on Monday that the utility would be investing $500 million in solar in North Carolina to meet the state’s requirements. The money would go toward building three new solar farms, as well as purchasing power from five other facilities being built by investors.
“That’s why we’re doing this, for renewable portfolio standard requirements,” said Rob Caldwell, Duke Energy’s vice president of renewable generation development. “One of the objectives of this [process] is to get as many megawatts as attractively priced as we can for our customers, since our customers are paying for this,” he said to Fox Business News. To Greentech Media, Caldwell put it somewhat differently: “Solar prices are coming down. We can make it work at an attractive price.”
While North Carolina’s RPS is bringing in major investment, Ohio has seen what happens when an RPS is stopped in its tracks. Earlier this year, Ohio’s state legislature pushed through a law that froze the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. The law went into effect last week, and it appears those chickens are already coming home to roost. As Midwest Energy News reports, Ohio’s market for solar energy credits (SRECs), which utilities have to buy from solar installation owners to meet their compliance obligations, has already tanked. As a result, projects have stalled and Ohio solar energy companies have started to look for opportunities elsewhere.
“Projects were put on hold almost immediately,” said Eric Scheier, a portfolio analyst with Sol Systems, a financing and investment firm in Washington, DC.
“Indianapolis, a city just two hours away in driving time from Columbus and Cincinnati, is one of the largest markets for solar,” said Steve Melink, whose Melink Corp. recently completed two projects there. “And here in Ohio we’re saying oh, we can’t do it,” said Melink, a board member of Ohio Advanced Energy Economy. “It shows, I think, that Ohio is heading backwards.”
Nationwide, however, new reports reveal solar energy is making competitive gains. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released three reports focused on solar energy this week, showing that the price of electricity from large-scale solar generators under long-term contracts has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2008. The reports also show that costs of residential solar are also down, falling 70 cents per watt in 2013 alone.
Prices of wind and solar are falling across the board, according to the Financial Times, becoming cost-competitive with more traditional fossil fuel-based power plants in many parts of the U.S. without government intervention. Falling costs and rising efficiency are increasingly making solar and wind energy sources a financially attractive model.
“We used to say some day solar and wind power would be competitive with conventional generation. Well, now it is some day,” said George Bilicic, global head of power, energy & infrastructure for Lazard, one of the world’s leading financial advisory and asset management firms.
Regulators in California this week approved another enormous solar thermal power plant, similar to Ivanpah. Developers BrightSource Energy and Abenoga Solar were seeking approval for two of the 750-foot-tall monoliths, but the California Energy Commission approved only one. The single approved tower could come online as soon as 2017.
Finally, two new electric vehicle concepts to keep an eye out for. Silicon Valley-based Motiv Power Systems announced that the company’s first fleet of all-electric garbage trucks had been delivered to Chicago and is now in use on city streets. The electric garbage truck not only saves fuel, it’s also incredibly quiet – which could come in handy on early morning trash rounds. And the market for electric motorcycles is heating up, with traditional bike-maker Harley Davidson entering the market. Harley is going toe-to-toe (or wheel-to-wheel) with newcomers like Zero Motorcycles and Mission Motors, both based out of California’s Bay Area. Bloomberg Businessweek says that Harley’s move into electric motorcycles lends credibility to what has been considered a niche market.
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Image courtesy of Harley Davidson.