Frontlines & Op-Ed

Rooftop Tsunami

Utilities sound the alarm as PV nears grid parity.

A growing wave of rooftop PV projects is starting to look ominous to some utilities. Will lawmakers accept utilities’ warnings at face value—or will they suspect they’re crying wolf?

The Methane Myth

Incompetence and overreach at the EPA.

The EPA’s new method for measuring the amount of methane that escapes from natural gas wells is based on flawed data. Oklahoma’s attorney general says this misguided policy decision treads on state regulatory authority and stifles resource development.

Facing Facts About Solar

Distributed solar might be a game changer, but at what cost?

My friend Reggie recently asked me for advice about installing photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof of his boathouse on the river. It has no electricity now, but he wants just enough PV to power a few lights, an automatic garage door opener, and the occasional power tool. I told Reggie the same thing I tell everybody who asks me about rooftop solar: it's exciting but still expensive. Then Reggie explained why I was wrong.

What Happened at Beacon

Election politics almost killed a great idea.

Beacon Power filed bankruptcy last fall, amid a political firestorm sparked by Solyndra’s demise. But should the company have received a bailout, so it could continue operating until FERC’s new pay-for-performance rules take effect?

Edison Under the Hood

Can utilities put EV batteries in the rate base?

Thomas Edison once hoped to make a fortune in the auto business—selling electric cars. Of course it never happened; he and Henry Ford tried and failed to bring a low-cost electric car to market. They scuttled the project after investing $1.5 million toward the effort—more than $32 million in today’s dollars. Edison’s nickel-iron batteries just couldn't match the performance of Ford’s petrol-powered bang-bang.

Technology Wins

Economics, not politicians, will determine what tools are best.

Today’s utility business model depends chiefly on big power plants and long transmission lines—and federal and state policies reinforce that model. But as photovoltaics technology advances and systems get ever cheaper, distributed generation eventually might become the more competitive option. At that point, upstart companies might be better positioned than utilities to capture a share of this growing market, because they won’t be constrained by Edison-era economics.

Race to the Bottom

Two Eastern governors make war against markets.

The governors of New Jersey and Maryland have embarked on a crusade that could topple competitive energy markets in their states—and perhaps beyond. Glen R. Thomas, former chairman of the Pennsylvania PUC, challenges policy makers in the two states to stand up for free markets and stop a destructive race to the bottom.

Partners in Power

Complex problems call for collective measures.

Among all of the investment priorities in the U.S. electric power industry, one stands out as having the greatest momentum: transmission. This is interesting because transmission is perhaps the most difficult type of power infrastructure to develop, and has been for decades. Editor Michael T. Burr talks with executives at Xcel Energy and Great River Energy to learn how the CAPX2020 consortium has managed to succeed where others failed.

A Year of Fear

Resuming progress after 2011’s uncertainty.

From the Fukushima disaster and its repercussions, to the raging battle over new EPA regulations, 2011 was one of the most volatile years on record for the electric power business. Will 2012 be better or worse than 2011? Cost factors make this a great time to invest, but overhanging uncertainties might bring another year of fear.

Solar Pink Slip

Election politics portend painful cutbacks.

Whether it deserves it or not, the solar energy industry can’t count on continued government largess, thanks in part to the Solyndra mess. But in the end, Solyndra’s demise might be exactly what the industry needs to wean itself off heavy subsidies and become a mainstream resource.