Build More to Drive Down the Price of Wind and Solar

Spring Canyon Wind Farm

Turbines at the Spring Canyon Wind Farm outside Peetz, Colo. The farm is owned by Invenergy, and produces energy under contract to Xcel Energy. Credit Ryan David Brown for The New York Times

According to a recent NY Times article, one electric utility is embracing wind and solar, not for environmental reasons, but because “In parts of the country, wind and solar plants built from scratch now offer the cheapest power available, even counting old coal, which was long seen as unbeatable…

How, exactly, did the cleanest energy technologies get on path to become the cheapest?  In a way, the story is as old as Henry Ford and his Model T, or in more recent times, the amazing progress of computer chips.  As they scale up, new technologies often follow a ‘learning curve’ that cuts the cost.  But it’s not automatic.  You have to build more and more units to drive the prices down.  That happened naturally with consumer products like Model Ts and cellphones, since everybody who saw the things wanted one.  But the electricity system was a hidebound, monopolistic industry that used to spend virtually nothing on innovation…

But most utilities are still only doing what governments have required of them.”  Luckily, we can still help promote building more and more clean power units and help drive the cost down further.


“Solar is not just expanding today because it’s green or clean — those are side benefits”

“Solar is not just expanding today because it’s green or clean — those are side benefits,” Lamon says. “Look at what it can help do to the overall U.S. economy. … We find people making $8, $9 an hour flipping burgers, and we bring them to a solar plant and pay them $18.”  This quote is from the Time magazine article, “A Coal Executive Switched to Building Solar Plants…

The article goes on to say, the aforementioned coal executive, Jim Lamon’s, company, “Depcom Power employs more than 1,600 people designing, building and operating solar farms with projects spread across the country from blue states like California to red states like Mississippi. Across the industry, more than 250,000 people in total work in solar in the U.S. typically in rural areas.”

DEPCOM construction crews assemble solar modules during the construction of the 55 megawatt Idaho Solar plant. Rusty Hill- SkyBlue Media

“…Lamon believed that low-cost solar would continue to serve as a more affordable energy source than coal and often natural gas no matter what came policy emerged from the White House. Indeed, that’s why he began building solar power plants in the first place. Without subsidies, electricity from large-scale solar power plants currently costs about a third the cost of coal and is about even with natural gas, according to data from the financial advisory firm Lazard. It’s even cheaper with subsidies.” the article continues.

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Massachusetts should raise its net energy metering caps

Massachusetts State HouseA recent article in pv magazine states that “Massachusetts is at a crossroads. To keep the state’s solar market moving, the Massachusetts State Legislature must raise the state’s net energy metering caps before the year is out. Despite progress being made to finalize the new incentive program by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), called Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART), the Legislature must act to keep support for solar projects intact.”

According to the article, “Massachusetts policies have helped create nearly 15,000 solar jobs in Massachusetts. That is an impressive number, but it’s also a mere fraction of what’s possible with a long-term, stable NEM policy in place. Furthermore, these policies have made the Bay State a national leader in solar. Massachusetts now ranks 7th in cumulative solar capacity installed, with enough solar energy to power 244,000 Massachusetts homes. All of that solar is lowering customer bills, reducing pollution and helping the Commonwealth meet its electricity needs.”

Massachusetts residents can contact their state reps and senators and tell them to support raising the net metering caps to keep Massachusetts economy moving forward in the right direction.  To find your elected representatives contact info, go to this link.