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For this episode of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell is joined by Dan Juhl, Partner at E2SG Partners. Juhl and his partners develop clean energy projects — in particular, integrated systems that combine solar, wind, and/or battery storage. He discusses how commercial-scale, hybrid solar and wind systems are a “real match” that can circumvent transmission system concerns.
The Electricity Transportation System is Failing
High-voltage transmission lines are overburdened, lack regulatory oversight, and as a result, are poorly planned. Accordingly, rural energy projects often come up against costly transmission upgrades to get their electricity to consumers. The alternative of building wind and solar farms closer to consumption, Dan Juhl explains, often comes up against resistance from the community.
Developers can work around the transmission system, but high-voltage lines are not the only problem. New York Times op-ed contributors Justin Gillis and Tyler H. Norris recently raised the issue of more local, 115,000 to 230,000 volt power lines — identifying them as “What Is Really Strangling the Energy Transition.” But what about even more localized power lines?
However, in his two decades of developing commercial-scale renewable power, Juhl has found that community-scale renewable energy systems actually relieve some of the stress of energy transmission.
How can we economically put commercial scale power into the system and do it in a more efficient way and not really tax the transmission system, but actually help it.
The Case for Generating Power Where It Is Consumed
Juhl explains how building smaller-scale, distributed energy generation systems that blend into the community is a win-win. When the project is close to the electricity consumers, it does not require an updated transmission line. Avoiding transmission also makes better use of the electricity, as transforming and carrying electricity incurs losses.
Projects located within the distribution network act more as a reduction of electricity load than as a generator, says Juhl. They free up space on existing transmission lines, as the community no longer needs to import the electricity they generate. Juhl stresses the importance of combating load as consumers electrify their cars and buildings. When it comes to solar’s often-raised intermittency issue, Juhl believes that pairing wind and solar together is especially effective.
Working With, Against, and Around Utilities
Beyond technical and permitting restraints, most solar developers blame interconnection hurdles on the entity controlling the wires.
For-profit electric utilities, in particular, are trying to sell the electricity that they generate. They earn a guaranteed rate of return when they build power plants, so they do not want to buy electricity from self-generators — even if that electricity is cheaper for their customers. This conflict of interest carries the most weight in regulated markets, where one utility controls electric generation and the distribution.
Developing renewable energy in rural electric cooperative territory has its own challenges, explains Juhl. Because of “all-requirements” contracts, distribution cooperatives must buy nearly all of their electricity from one wholesale provider.
Still, Juhl says utilities would be better off to embrace distributed generation. When utilities are refusing to interconnect customer-owned generation systems, customers will be pushed to pair their generation with storage. And on the combination of energy conservation, wind generation, solar generation, and battery storage? “That’s when the wire clipper comes out,” says Juhl.
Juhl believes that his “solar bank,” a battery storage and energy management system, can scale up and provide energy consumers with more options. If the utilities are concerned about their monopoly, they should be very concerned about the advent of distributed renewables with storage becoming a real problem.
By: Maria McCoy
Juhl Energy’s wind and solar hybrid project in northwest Minnesota and listen to coverage of Juhl on Minnesota Public Radio.
ILSR posts about PURPA, the federal law that governs the rules and pricing connecting projects to the grid.
Episode 33 of local Energy Rules, where Ed Marston and John Farrell talk about a federal court ruling that laid the groundwork for projects like Dan’s Solar-Wind Hybrids.Read the New York Times opinion piece on
what’s really strangling the energy transition.Hear Ari Peskoe explain how
2021 Local Solar Developer Survey, which shows how electric utilities and policymakers are creating unexpected delays and added costs for solar projects.For more on the economic impact of community-owned generation facilities, read ILSR’s
Advantage Local report.Storing Solar Energy