California grid prepares for solar eclipse

Monday, July 31, 2017

As a total solar eclipse approaches for North America, California electricity regulators have launched a voluntary demand response program designed to reduce power consumption during the eclipse while solar panel output is reduced.

The eclipse will occur on August 21, 2017, and is projected to reduce solar photovoltaic production in the California ISO region by 4,194 megawatts.  Taking gross load increases and estimated wind production into account, CAISO has been told to expect a net load increase of 6,008 MW during the eclipse.

According to the nation's electric reliability organization, NERC, the August 21 eclipse "is not expected to impact the reliability of the bulk power system."  But as NERC also noted, "As the number of photovoltaic generators on the power system increases, the risk created by solar eclipses to reliable system operations will increase as well."

Now, the California Public Utilities Commission has launched a "Do Your Thing for the Sun" or "Cal Eclipse" program.  On its website, the Commission asks, "While our utilities and grid operator have all the tools necessary to manage the grid during the eclipse, what if millions of Californians stepped in to allow our hard working sun to take a break, rather than relying on expensive and inefficient natural gas peaking power plants?"

The website asks consumers to "Take the Pledge", emphasizing the value of "joining a movement of Californians who are taking action during the eclipse to give the sun a break by saving energy and reducing GHG emissions." According to a two-page FAQ posted on the website, consumers can reduce electricity consumption by turning off electronics when leaving, and permanently decrease electricity consumption with energy efficiency measures.  Actions suggested on the pledge website include replacing light bulbs with LEDs, reducing lighting use and electronics charging, unplugging unused appliances, and increasing air conditioning temperature setpoints by 2-5 degrees.

According to the Commission's FAQ, "There is no reason to anticipate any eclipse-related electric service outages because of the reduced solar generation."

Vail Resorts announces sustainability, net zero plan

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Vail Resorts, Inc. -- the largest ski and mountain resort operator in the world -- has announced a comprehensive sustainability commitment that calls for "zero net emissions by 2030, zero waste to landfill by 2030 and zero net operating impact to forests and habitat."  According to the company, Vail Resorts' "Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint" will give resort guests and employees "the opportunity to enjoy the natural environment and resources without leaving an impact."
Vail Resorts' subsidiaries operate 11 mountain resorts and three urban ski areas, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada; Perisher in Australia; Stowe in Vermont; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan. The company also owns and operates hotels as well as a real estate planning and development subsidiary.

In a July 25, 2017, press release, Vail Resorts announced its "Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint" sustainability commitment.  Pointing to Whistler Blackcomb's environmental commitment as inspiration, Vail Resorts announced its intent "to go beyond setting a partial emissions reduction target by executing on a more expansive and ambitious plan."

With respect to net zero emissions from operations by 2030, the Vail Resorts plan calls for continued reduction of the company's electricity and gas use by improving operating practices and investing $25 million in innovative, energy-saving projects, such as low-energy snowmaking equipment, green building design and construction, and more efficient grooming practices and equipment.  Among other measures, it envisions purchasing 100 percent renewable energy equivalent to Vail Resorts' total electrical energy use and working with utilities and local, regional and national governments to bring more renewable energy to the grids where the company operates its resorts. As an interim goal, the plan states the company's intent to achieve a 50 percent reduction in its net emissions by 2025, based on 2016 levels.

Other 2030 goals set in the Vail Resorts plan include "zero waste to landfill" (by diverting 100 percent of the waste from its operations to more sustainable pathways) and "zero net operating impact to forests and habitat" (by measures including mitigation, tree planting and forest restoration, and minimizing or eliminating the impact of any future resort development). 

FERC issues license for Monongahela Locks and Dam 4 project

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

U.S. hydropower regulators have issued an original license for a proposed 12-megawatt hydropower project, to be located at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Monongahela Locks and Dam 4 facility on the Monongahela River, in Pennsylvania.

On February 27, 2014, FFP New Hydro, LLC subsidiary Solia 4 Hydroelectric, LLC filed, pursuant to Part I of the Federal Power Act, an application for a license to construct, operate, and maintain the Monongahela Locks and Dam 4 Hydroelectric Project No. 13767.  The company is affiliated with US Renewables Group.

The project would be located at one of the nine existing lock and dam sites on the Monongahela River, which the Army Corps operates for commercial and recreational navigation.  If developed, new facilities for the project would include an intake channel, spill gates, a powerhouse housing two equally sized Kaplan turbine-generator units with a combined capacity of 12 MW, a tailrace channel, a substation, a transmission line, and an access road.  The project will operate in a run-of-release mode, using flows made available by the Corps that would normally be released through the Corps’ spillway gates

Under the Federal Power Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is charged with regulating and reviewing applications for most non-federal hydropower projects.  Because the project uses the water power or surplus water of a government dam, occupies federal land, and is located on the Monongahela River, which is a navigable waterway of the United States, the Commission concluded that the project is required to be licensed pursuant to section 23(b)(1) of the Federal Power Act.

On July 21, 2017, the Commission issued its Order Issuing Original License for the Monongahela Locks and Dam 4 project.  The license authorizes the installation of 12 MW of new, renewable energy capacity, while requiring a number of measures to protect water quality, fish, wildlife, recreation, and cultural resources at the project.  It bears a 50-year term, the maximum allowable for an original license under Section 6 of the Federal Power Act.

According to the order, as licensed with mandatory conditions and staff-recommended measures, the levelized annual cost of constructing and operating the project will be about $3,563,340, or $72.88/MWh.  Its expected average annual generation will be 48,894 MW. 

The Commission noted that the project as licensed is best adapted to a comprehensive plan for improving or developing the Monongahela River, "because: (1) issuance of an original license will serve to provide a beneficial and dependable source of electric energy; (2) the required environmental measures will protect and enhance fish and wildlife resources, water quality, recreation resources, and historic properties; and (3) the 12 MW of electric capacity will come from a renewable resource that does not contribute to atmospheric pollution."

Commercial building efficiency opportunities

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that the nation's commercial building sector has significant potential to save energy by improving control measures and eliminating common HVAC faults.

The May 2017 report, "Impacts of Commercial Building Controls on Energy Savings and Peak Load Reduction", notes that commercial buildings in the U.S. consume approximately 18 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) of primary energy annually.  While previous studies have suggested significant potential for energy savings by deploying sensors and controls, the lab says its report is the first to provide a comprehensive estimate of the national energy savings potential available by fixing building operational problems with efficiency measures.

Overall, after considering a variety of commercial building types and hypothetical sensitivity cases, the report estimated the annual building energy savings from energy efficiency measures to be 29%, and the "best estimate" of total primary energy savings to be 2.74 quads.  According to the lab's model, three building types -- secondary schools, standalone retail, and retail dealership -- each achieved more than 40% savings nationally.

Overall, the report concludes "that commercial building controls improvements are strategically important to meet and sustain reductions in national energy consumption."