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Oct 05, 2011

KySEA Member, Kentucky Conservation Committee, Welcomes New Director

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Oct 05, 2011 11:49 AM
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Re-posted from the website of Kentucky Conservation Committee, a KySEA member.

Frankfort, KY--October 5, 2011--The Kentucky Conservation Committee has appointed Art Williams, former director of the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District, as Executive Director.

KCC has lobbied the General Assembly for environmental and conservation legislation since 1975.  Two recent legislative achievements required LEED certification of new state buildings and established a foundation for the protection of more conservation lands.

In accepting the position, Williams said, “I look forward to working with the members of the General Assembly, citizens of the state, and other interests to bring progressive and workable solutions to tough issues facing our great Commonwealth.”

Until recently, KCC relied on volunteer work and a part-time lobbyist but times have changed. The President of KCC’s board, Dr. David Wicks of Louisville, said, “Kentucky’s legislature confronts a wide range of challenges related to energy and conservation -- climate change, the state’s dependence on fossil fuels, rampant development, and the limited role of renewable energy . All these threaten Kentucky’s celebrated bio-diversity and suppress opportunities for new, green jobs. Providing an effective voice for conservation of our lands, air, and waters requires a year-round effort.”

Art Williams, an attorney, brings 33 years of environmental and energy experience in the public and private sectors to this position.  He has been the Energy and Environment Advisor to the City of Louisville, served in the Office of General Counsel of the Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and as Commissioner of the Department for Environmental Protection, and was a partner and head of the environmental practice for the Louisville law firm Woodward, Hobson and Fulton. 

Wicks said, “Art has dealt effectively with difficult and complex energy, environmental and conservation issues in his career and helped bring people with opposing positions together to achieve positive results. We’re fortunate to contribute his collaborative talents to the legislative process on behalf of Kentucky’s environment.”

KCC will introduce Williams as its Executive Director to the public at an annual meeting to be held Saturday November 5, 2011, at the U of L Shelby campus from 10am to 4pm, where the association will discuss issues for KCC’s focus in the upcoming legislative session.

KySEA welcomes Art Williams to the work!

Oct 03, 2011

KySEA Members Populate the Governor's Energy Conference

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Oct 03, 2011 08:05 PM

Last Monday and Tuesday, September 26th and 27th, nearly 20 representatives of KySEA member groups attended the Governor's Conference on Energy and the Environment.

Member groups in attendance included: Kentucky Solar Energy Society, Solar Energy Solutions, Alternative Energies Kentucky, Center for Sustainable Cities Design Studio, Phinx LLC, Sierra Club, Wellhead Energy Systems and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

KySEA representatives also staffed a table promoting the benefits of clean energy in the Commonwealth and the Clean Energy Opportunity Act during the two days.

The KySEA table entertained quite a bit of traffic, having conversations with conference participants about topics ranging from green energy on schools to clean energy training opportunities to in-depth discussions about the Clean Energy Opportunity Act. Several KySEA member group representatives also took the time to get to know one another.

KySEA representatives attended the wide variety of conference sessions that were offered. The conference did advance the discussion about clean energy solutions compared to last year in that break-out sessions about distributed energy options in Kentucky, the Kentucky Home Performance efficiency program and the statewide Kentucky Recycling organization were offered.

Further, former Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado was invited to speak on a plenary session about the advances his state saw in job creation and renewable energy production during his tenure. He credited the success to the implementation of statewide energy policies that encouraged such growth.

Many speakers, including Energy Secretary Len Peters and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson, indicated that the most promising policy advancement potential in Kentucky, in their minds, is energy efficiency.

"There's a quiet revolution going on in conservation," Adkisson said.

The Clean Energy Opportunity Act, supported by KySEA, would increase the amount of energy that utilities offset through energy efficiency programs every year.

To learn more about the conference or to view the presentations from the conference, please check this page of the state's website soon.

Sep 28, 2011

Solar Farm To Be Built at Indianpolis Airport

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Sep 28, 2011 01:35 PM

Re-posted from the Associated Press

A solar energy farm that is expected to produce enough electricity to power 1,200 homes will be built at Indianapolis International Airport.

The Indianapolis Star reports that the project will cost an estimated $35 million to $45 million to build. The array is expected to be operational by the middle of 2012. Its power will be bought by Indianapolis Power and Light Co.

The Star reports the 41,000-panel solar array will be built by a partnership of 3 Indianapolis companies.

The Star said about 85 construction jobs are expected to be created and that the long-term operation of the array is expected to create about 18 positions.

Airport officials said Tuesday that no public money is involved in development of the solar farm.

Sep 21, 2011

Kentucky Celebrates More than 100 Energy Star Schools

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Sep 21, 2011 09:40 AM

Re-posted from the Alliance To Save Energy

On Thursday, Aug. 16, Millbrooke Elementary School in Christian County, Ky., hosted an awards ceremony to celebrate the certification of the 100th ENERGY STAR school in the state. Organized by County Energy Manager Bob Valentine, the event also honored four ENERGY STAR-certified schools in Christian County – all of which are partnered with the Alliance to Save Energy’s Green Schools program sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Keynote speaker and first lady of Kentucky Jane Beshear joined representatives from TVA, local officials and business leaders to honor the state’s ENERGY STAR schools. Since Gov. Steve Beshear took office in 2007, Mrs. Beshear has devoted herself to efficiency initiatives including the Kentucky Green Team and Energy Conservation, which aim to bring energy efficiency to homes, schools and businesses across the state. Kentucky schools have followed suit, increasing the number of ENERGY STAR schools from eight in 2006 to 105 in 2011.

Students Save Energy at School, Home
Students are the key element to a school successfully gaining ENERGY STAR certification. Accordingly, the Green Schools program focuses on giving students an active role in their school’s energy saving initiatives.

Each school has a “Green Team” comprised of students, teachers and staff who work to educate themselves and the school community about the importance of saving energy – at school and at home. Mrs. Beshear noted that students’ hard work on saving energy translates into more money for the school district.

ENERGY STAR Schools Save Thousands of Dollars
The Green Teams made great strides at all four ENERGY STAR-certified schools to promote energy-saving behaviors in students, teachers and parents.

Through campus and community education, the students promote such simple behavioral changes as turning off lights in unused rooms, changing the thermostat a few degrees, and turning off computers and appliances when not in use. Changes like these helped the schools save more than 120,000 kWh of power over the past year, which amounts to over $20,000 saved. Their effort is underscored by the fact that all four schools were built more than 45 years ago.

Green Schools: Growing in Kentucky
The savings continue to add up. Christian County now has eight K-12 schools participating in the Green Schools program, many of them returning for their second year with the program. With continued success of the program, Green Schools hopes to engage more students and the entire community in learning and living energy efficiency.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, chief sponsor of the clean energy bill KySEA supports, is a leader in the "Green Schools Caucus" effort in Frankfort. The caucus has helped to facilitate funding to make many of these schools possible. 

Sep 16, 2011

Green Jobs in the Bluegrass Are Growing

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Sep 16, 2011 09:13 AM

 A recent report on green jobs in Kentucky indicates that green employment in the state is expected to grow at a more rapid pace than the workforce as a whole, with anticipated growth of 6.8% over the next two years.

Excerpts from the executive summary:
"The survey indicates that approximately 4.6% of Kentucky’s workforce are performing green jobs. A majority (78%) of the green jobs in Kentucky are full time positions while approximately 9.4% of the organizations in Kentucky include green jobs of some type.

The majority of green jobs in Kentucky are in the Recycling and Waste Reduction core category, followed by Energy Efficiency, then Pollution Reduction and Cleanup. However, the Energy Efficiency and Recycling and Waste Reduction categories appear positioned for the most employment growth in the green core areas in the next two years. 

"While the state’s green workforce is poised for growth, approximately 9% of employers anticipate difficulty in finding qualified candidates to fill positions in the Energy Efficiency."

While the state’s green workforce is poised for growth, approximately 9% of employers anticipate difficulty in finding qualified candidates to fill positions in the Energy Efficiency, while an estimated 6% are anticipating similar challenges in finding qualified candidates... [in other green work areas.]

Certifications can have an impact on an employer’s interest in hiring candidates for green jobs. In making hiring decisions over the next two years, 15% of employers indicated a favorable response to hiring a job candidate with a certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and 10% of employers cited Build-It Green Certification as increasing the likelihood that they would hire a candidate. On the other hand, a modest 7% of employers stated that they would only hire “already trained” employees for green positions.

The dominant modes of preparing green employees include, in order of employer preference, on-the-job training (79%), in-house classroom (39%), and online training (30%)."

The report was authored by ICF International and the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training.


Sep 12, 2011

Solar Electric Classes Attract Participants from Across Kentucky

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Sep 12, 2011 02:48 PM

By Andy McDonald, Director, Kentucky Solar Partnership (A KySEA member)

In August the Kentucky Solar Partnership hosted four days of trainings in Frankfort on solar photovoltaic system design and installation. Thirty two participants attended the first two-day class, “Introduction to Solar Photovoltaics.” Eighteen participants stayed for day three, “Solar Site Assessments and PV System Design,” and fourteen people attended the final day, “PV and the National Electric Code.” The classes were taught by Chris LaForge of Great Northern Solar, a NABCEP-certified solar PV installer and an ISPQ-certified PV instructor.

Chris LaForge Instructing Solar Classes

Instructor Chris LaForge with students outside KSP's Solar Trailer

Our participants included electrical contractors, solar electric contractors, recent college graduates, engineers, and others exploring solar energy as a potential career path. Two students from the University of Louisville will use the knowledge they gained as they help design U of L’s entry in the international Solar Decathalon solar home design competition. Four participants will receive Continuing Education Units from the Kentucky Office of Housing, Buildings and Construction to support their electrician’s licenses.

Our participants came from a wide geographic area, ranging from Paducah to Prestonsburg to the Cincinnati Metro area. One person came all the way from Missouri and another from Evansville, Indiana.

andys solar home

Andy McDonald discusses his home's solar PV installation

On the second day of the training the class made a field trip to my home to view my recently-installed grid-tied solar PV system. This five panel, 1.125 KW array is a ground-mounted, battery-free system that was sized to meet 100% of my family’s annual electricity needs. Participants also had a chance to view KSP’s Solar Trailer, which demonstrates an off-grid, battery-based PV system. The chance to view operational PV systems in real-world applications was a highlight of the trainings for many participants.

Chris LaForge and Solar Pathfinder

Chris LaForge explains how to use a solar pathfinder

Nine of our participants were able to attend thanks to financial support offered by MACED (the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development). MACED supports the development of small businesses in eastern Kentucky and has a special emphasis on supporting sustainable energy enterprises. In addition to financial assistance to attend ASPI’s workshops, MACED also offers financing for business development investments, “energy microloans” for energy efficiency and renewable energy investments for eastern Kentucky businesses, and technical assistance to building trade contractors. MACED also has a Certified Energy Manager on-staff to provide energy consulting.

Coming up in October KSP will be hosting a five-day, hands-on installation training. Many of our participants from August will be returning to gain hands-on skills as we install an off-grid solar electric system on a mobile trailer. Registration for the October workshop is already full.

To learn more about MACED’s Energy Efficient Enterprises project, contact Elizabeth Graves at 859-986-2373 or

Sep 07, 2011

Worldwide solar panel oversupply knocking out U.S. manufacturers while making solar competitive with coal

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Sep 07, 2011 12:15 PM

By Dan Hofmann, RegenEn Solar (A KySEA member)

(Editor’s note: In the last two weeks, three large American solar panel manufacturers including Evergreen Solar and Solyndra have sought bankruptcy protection due to increasing competition from China and plummeting solar panel prices. There’s been a 70-percent decrease in solar panel prices over the last 24-month, according to industry sources.)

Global competition and Europe’s budget woes are having an unexpected effect on the residential solar-energy business, a trend that’s bad for U.S-based manufacturers, but great for consumers.

The price of solar panels has dropped so dramatically during the first six months of  2011 that now, for the first time, solar  is competitive in pricing coal-fired electricity from LG&E.
The way panel prices are falling, even without the federal tax credits that expire in 2016, solar has reached parity with coal-fired plants.

This is a big deal.

Many – if not most – contractors in the industry can install a solar panel system for 8 cents per kilowatt-hour (after tax credits), the same rate that LG&E residential customers currently pay.

And LG&E rates are set to increase by 19.2 percent during the next five years while solar customers would be locked in at 8 cents per kilowatt-hour for 25 years.

usa versus chinese loans to solarThe drop in solar panel prices is due to an unexpected reduction in government incentives throughout Europe that caused an oversupply for solar manufacturers worldwide.

Increased production from heavily subsidized Chinese manufacturers that can crank out solar panels at extremely low prices also contributes to the price drop.

As these solar panels prices fall, the U.S. industry is passing those savings directly to the homeowner.

There are economies of scale with solar, so the price per kilowatt-hour can range from 10 cents to 7 cents depending on the amount of kilowatt-hour usage per year. Some homeowners we talk to use 7,000 kilowatts per year while some people with large houses use 50,000 kilowatts per year,

The average LG&E residential customer uses about 11,500 kilowatts per year. This also applies to large commercial facilities where we can match the cost per kilowatt rate of around 3 cents.

The arithmetic behind the cost per kilowatt for solar is the amount of electricity the solar panels are guaranteed to produce while under warranty.

The industry standard is 25 years on the solar panels and, more recently, some inverters.

So, you take the upfront installation cost (after tax credits) and divide that by the total kilowatt-hour production over 25 years.
Another benefit is that solar panels can produce electricity for 40 or 50 years, so the actual cost per kilowatt-hour could end up being much less.

It will be interesting to see how the panel price war plays out, and whether consumers will proceed with long-planned solar projects, or hang back to see how low prices go.

Homeowners could buy a system now that pays for itself in 10 years, or wait five years for a system that pays for itself over five years – the ROI time horizon would be the same.

The take away here is, we now have an endless clean energy source that costs the same as fossil fuel energy.

Sep 05, 2011

Kentucky Home Performance Program Offers Kentuckians Improved Home Efficiency

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Sep 05, 2011 09:01 PM

KY Home Performance is a statewide HOME PERFORMANCE with ENERGY STAR program that offers Kentucky homeowners to invest in the comfort and energy efficiency of their homes with convenience and confidence. By enrolling in the program, homeowners can choose from a cash rebate of up to $2000 or a 3.99 percent loan of up to $20,000 for the recommended energy-saving work.

What do they mean by ‘Performance’?
We measure a car’s performance by miles per gallon or MPG.  Likewise, a home that stays comfortable using minimal energy is a high performing home. KY Home Performance helps lower improve home efficiency in a variety of ways, with a formula for improvement specific to each home.

How does a homeowner get started?
To get started, homeowners can log onto and use a free self-assessment program called Home Energy Compass. To get started right away, skip the diagnostic tool and use the website to select a KY Home Performance certified evaluator. Schedule a home evaluation with the auditor to get a whole house energy evaluation.

What does a KY Home Performance certified evaluator do?
KY Home Performance certified home energy evaluators will review the home in detail and find out precisely how the home is losing energy and money.  This is a ”whole-house” approach that does not look at just one system or component in isolation, but assesses all of them as part of an integrated system.  With KY Home Performance on-line software, evaluators can show how cost-effective improvements will raise the home’s comfort, air quality, and energy performance.

What happens next?
Once the KY Home Performance evaluation is complete, homeowners will be provided a list of cost-effective improvements.  A minimum set of these must be made in order to qualify for the program financial incentives.  Home energy improvements above this minimum standard are optional.  All work will be performed by a KY Home Performance-approved installer chosen from the website.  Homeowners can apply for either a cash rebate of up to $2000 or a low-interest rate loan of up to $20,000 for ten years at 3.99 percent to finance all KHP-approved work.

Ky Home Performance Quality Assurance
Once the energy improvements have been made, the homeowner will get a post-installation inspection to insure that the intended energy benefits were successful and meet Ky Home Performance standards for the loan or rebate. Ky Home Performance seeks to raise home energy efficiency by a minimum of 20 percent.

Interested? Want to learn more? Log on to and get started today!

Aug 30, 2011

Governor Beshear Signs Onto Letter Supporting Wind Development

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Aug 30, 2011 02:56 PM

Last week, a coalition of 24 governors from both major parties and each region of the country, including Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, asked the administration to take a series of steps to provide a more favorable business climate for the development of wind energy.

Read the full text of the letter here. Excerpts below:

“Although tax credits for wind energy have long enjoyed bipartisan support, they are scheduled to expire next year. Wind-related manufacturing will slow if the credits are not extended, and some of the tax credits’ benefit will be lost if Congress pursues a last-minute extension. It is important to have consistency in policy to support the continued development of wind manufacturing in the United States. Extending the production tax credit and the investment tax credit, without a gap, is critical to the health of wind manufacturing in our nation. The wind manufacturing industry in the U.S. would benefit even greater if the extension of these credits would be for at least seven years."

The governors’ letter also calls for:

    •    Establishing a combined intergovernmental state-federal task force on wind energy development to “ensure the Administration’s wind energy goals are met.”
    •    Expanding the Department of Energy’s renewable energy programs to “focus not only on technology research and innovation, but also on technology deployment and market development,” noting that, “these are precisely the types of efforts other nations are utilizing to successfully compete with the United States. We must recognize that a scientific breakthrough five or 10 years from now, plus several more years for commercial acceptance, will be of little value if our wind industry has been relegated to minor players in the global marketplace.”
    •    Improved collaboration on siting new wind turbines: “… [W]e believe wind energy and wildlife protection are entirely compatible and we urge a prompt resolution of the Wind Energy Guidelines and Eagle Guidance concerns.”
    •    Expediting deployment of offshore wind: “A new U.S. offshore wind sector would create tens of thousands of jobs in businesses ranging from R&D and engineering to manufacturing and marine construction.”
    •    Identifying transmission and grid integration priorities for Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) such as the Bonneville Power Administration

The 24 governors’ letter concluded, “We believe these actions will help address some of the national economic and energy challenges before our nation. We look forward to working with you and your Administration to further our nation’s wind energy development to help drive economic growth, energy development, and the creation of high-paying jobs.”

Read more about wind potential in Kentucky here.

Aug 25, 2011

GE To Create 400-600 Jobs at Solar Power Plant

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Aug 25, 2011 12:50 PM

Recently General Electric (GE) announced that it will build a 400 MW solar panel manufacturing facility in the U.S. The plant will be the largest power plant of its kind.

The $600 million plant is expected to employ 400-600 people and make enough solar panels each year to power 800,000 homes.

The announcement follows suit with market-wide acceptance that use of sustainable energy forms will continue to grow rapidly in coming years. This power plant is just one of several renewable energy and energy efficiency projects GE has underway.

GE's investment into sustainable energy has already had a sizable impact on Kentucky's green economy. A recent report about the green economy in Kentucky by the Brookings Institution stated that while jobs are being lost in other sectors, between 2003-2010, nearly 5,000 clean energy jobs were created in Kentucky. The largest job growth came in appliance manufacturing - primarily from GE investments into its high-efficiency appliance manufacturing operations based in Louisville.

When the decision to build the solar power plant was announced, GE indicated that the location would have been revealed by now - but they have made no such announcement as of today. What factors will impact their decision about the power plant's location? GE reported that the deciding factors, will include proximity to solar research facilities, labor availability, and state and local financial incentives.

GE is likely going to choose a state that has passed a Renewable Portfolio Standard and/or other market-based incentives - similar to the policies that the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance advocates to see passed in Kentucky.

Aug 17, 2011

KySEA Discusses Clean Energy Solutions With South Asian Delegation

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Aug 17, 2011 01:25 PM

KySEA representatives Nancy Reinhart (KFTC), Casey Sterr (FCAN) and Andy McDonald (ASPI / Ky Solar Partnership) met with seven members of a "Climate Change and Clean Energy" World Affairs Council tour group yesterday.

Group members included individuals working in the clean energy field from the countries Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Mr. Pankaj of Nepal said he appreciated the presentations from KySEA and said he found the KySEA perspective on Kentucky's energy future refreshing and important to hear.  He noted, "After talking to the state energy department (DEDI), you would think renewable energy is not an option for Kentucky for many years and that the only choices you have right now are using coal in new ways and nuclear."

Andy McDonald responded, "When you hear them say something like - wind isn't possible - what it means is, wind is currently more expensive than coal, not that wind isn't feasible."

In driving around Kentucky, Mr. Fazlur of Bangladash said he had seen many farmlands that were suitable for wind power. He encouraged the state to think more broadly about how to use wind power, stating that you don't need a very high or powerful turbine to make enough electricity for a farm. He said that small-scale renewables such as on-farm wind are "positively good investments and will pay back quickly."

Several in the room were struck by how little Kentuckians pay for electricity and Mr. Pankaj added "and there is no way that can be the true cost of the fossil fuel electricity you use. I pay 15 cents per kilowatt hour in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world. We are completely micro-hydropower driven."

Two youth from the Frankfort High School also participated and shared their hopes for the future. They told the group that many youth they know take climate change seriously and that they are doing what we can to make a change.



Aug 12, 2011

Kentucky’s Clean Energy Economy is Growing

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Aug 12, 2011 11:06 AM

While jobs are being lost in other sectors, between 2003-2010, nearly 5,000 clean energy jobs were created in Kentucky says a new report by the Brookings Institution, with the largest job growth coming in appliance manufacturing. The report identifies almost 37,000 total “clean economy jobs” in Kentucky.

And, with a median salary of $35,585 per year, clean energy jobs pay Kentucky workers $2500 more annually than average wages for all other jobs in the state.


In terms of overall size, Kentucky’s clean energy economy ranks 26th in the nation. Nearby states with clean energy standards in place – which KySEA advocates for in Kentucky – all have bigger clean energy economies than Kentucky. Ranking particularly high are neighbors Illinois (5th), Ohio (6th), and North Carolina (11th).

To learn more about clean energy standards and the positive impact they could have on Kentucky’s economy, read here.

Aug 09, 2011

The Weather Has Been Hot....

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Aug 09, 2011 04:45 PM

By Tim Darst, Executive Director of Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, a KySEA group member.

The weather has been the hot topic (pun intended) of many of our conversations these days, so it seems an appropriate time for me to talk about air conditioning.  The power plants are going full steam to produce enough energy to power all the AC we are demanding.  Finding ways to reduce our energy used for air conditioning can help reduce the air pollution and save money at the same time. 

Finding ways to reduce our energy used for air conditioning can help reduce the air pollution and save money at the same time.

Turning the thermostat up a few degrees is too obvious and often contentious so I won’t even mention it.  Instead let’s look at AC competition.  There are many things that are trying to heat up our house while the AC is trying to cool it, like appliances and windows.  These cause the condenser to run longer. 

Here are some of my suggestions:  Try running your washer, washing machine and dryer at night instead of during the day.  These appliances put off heat that not only competes with the AC, but uses electricity during the peak production hours.  If you can, dry your clothes outside on a clothes line.  Avoid using the oven if possible.  Heat things up using a microwave instead, or grill outside.  My neighbors have a portable single burner that they put on their patio to cook with.  Unplug computers, cell phone charges, televisions and other devices that can put off heat even when turned off.  Don’t use incandescent bulbs; they really put off some heat!  Turn off any lights you really don’t need.   Closing blinds and curtains to keep the sun out can make a big difference.  Have awnings installed.  When you take a shower run the exhaust fan to get rid of the humidity.  Likewise the fan on your stove top can expel the heat while cooking.  Using ceiling fans can circulate the air and make it feel cooler.  Dress down to stay cooler.  Drink lots of cold drinks and don't do things that require a lot of physical activity.  Here’s your permission to relax.  Take cold showers.  Before it gets hot, clean your air filters so that your AC runs efficiently.  Keep plants and debris from accumulating close to your central AC unit outside your house.  It needs room for air to flow.

Here are some more radical ideas if you’re up to it:  Buy a solar oven to cook with.  Open the windows at night when it cools down then seal in that cool air before the day heats up and avoid the AC all together.  Turn off the AC and spend your time at cool places away from the house like swimming pools, coffee houses or the library.  Put shutters on the outside of your windows to keep the sun out.  Plant shade trees on the south side of your house.  Shade your AC condenser, it runs better when not sitting in the blazing sun.  Install solar panels on your roof to provide shade while creating clean energy.

Good luck and stay cool!

Aug 02, 2011

Putting Damaged Land to Good Use Part II: A Transition From Coal To Solar

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Aug 02, 2011 03:15 PM

By Dan Hofmann, President of RegenEn Solar LLC, a solar panel installation company located in Louisville, KY and a KySEA member.

I had such a great response to my recent commentary that I thought it would be worth the time to take an in depth look at the implications of such a massive undertaking.

Now that we know it’s physically possible for solar photovoltaics (PV) to supply all of the electricity needs in Kentucky by covering only 1/5th of the land already cleared by mountaintop removal (MTR) with solar panels, I think it’s important to ask the following: How quickly could we make the transition from coal to solar? How much would it cost in the short and long term? How would this transition affect coal mining jobs and how many jobs would it create? Can our economy, and our environment for that matter, afford to stick with coal for the long term?

I think the only way to make a transition of this scale possible would be to spread it over many decades. In my previous assessment, I estimated that it would take a 69.1 GW solar array to provide all of the electricity needs in Kentucky today, but if this project is spread out over many years the size of the solar array would need to grow to match the expected increase in electric kWh consumption over time.

Figure 1 below shows what I believe would be a feasible transition from coal-fired electricity to solar PV over the next 50 years. If we start by adding roughly 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar each year and increase that amount by 7% per year for 40 years, we could achieve a net-zero carbon economy by the year 2050; powered entirely by solar PV. It also shows the expected increase in electricity consumption from a total of about 90 terawatt-hours (TWh) today to about 240 TWh in the year 2060. This increased consumption is based on the U.S. Department of Energy’s data that shows an average annual increase of around 2% in electricity consumption in Kentucky from 1980–2005.


Figure 2 below shows the solar PV capacity that would need to be installed per year and the cumulative in direct current (DC) megawatts. There would be a drop off in year 2050 as we achieved net-zero. But, new panels would still need to be manufactured and installed as the industry standard 25-year warranty would expire on earlier solar panels, thereby providing long-term jobs. However, manufacturers claim that solar PV panels can function well past their expiration date, producing electricity for 40 or even 50 years.


Figure 3 below shows the jobs that would be created over the next 50 years. This projection is based on a University of California report that claimed that in the solar industry "20 manufacturing and 13 installation/maintenance jobs [are created] per installed megawatt." As you can see, the 20,000 coal-mining jobs (represented in red in the graph) in Kentucky would pale in comparison to the potential of solar PV. In fact, more than 30,000 jobs could be created in year one with the installation of 1 GW of solar, already matching coal-mining employment. These would not be temporary jobs either. The maintenance jobs would be needed indefinitely and the manufacturing and installations jobs would be needed as some solar panels are retired and replaced by new panels.


Figure 4 below illustrates the corresponding gradual decrease and eventual elimination of coal-mining jobs in Kentucky.

Starting with my estimate from my last commentary, Figure 5 below shows the decrease in the cost per watt DC of installing solar PV and energy storage over the next 50 years. This is based on the fact that the cost per watt to install solar has historically decreased by about 4% per year over that past decade. Energy storage would not need to be added until solar PV electricity production exceeded around 10% of the total, at which point the volatile nature of solar energy can present issues to a stable grid.


Figure 6 below shows the cost per year in dollars to install solar PV, install energy storage, maintain the massive solar array, and build transmission grid infrastructure to get the electricity to residential, commercial and industrial consumers in Kentucky. I used this estimate of $1.5 million per mile to build the high voltage DC (HVDC) transmission lines and estimated an average of 100 miles per line with a maximum of 2,000 MW for each line.  As you can see, the annual payroll for solar manufacturers, solar installers, and solar maintenance jobs could be close to $13 billion a year by 2060, providing much needed employment income to the commonwealth.


Figure 7 below shows the decrease in the consumer price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for solar energy over time. This cost includes the cost to install solar, install energy storage (beginning in 2020), maintain the solar array, and building the transmission infrastructure. While this decrease may not look like much at first glance, it’s much more desirable than the dramatic cost increases in Figure 8 if we were to stick with coal. 


Figure 8 below shows the expected increasing cost of coal-fired electricity, which is sharply different from the expected decreasing cost of solar PV electricity over the same time period. This projection is based on a the 5% per year increase in the cost per kWh in Kentucky over the past 10 years for residential, commercial, and industrial sectors in Kentucky from empirical data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.


Figures 9 and 10 below show how costly it could be for Kentucky to ignore to potential of solar energy. While the annual cost of electricity during the transition from coal to solar could be similar to the cost of coal electricity by itself through the year 2030, the exponential increase in coal electricity could drain nearly $150 billion more per year than solar energy by 2060 with a cumulative cost of $1.78 trillion over 50 years. Kentucky has always used the cheap cost of coal electricity to lure business to the commonwealth, the same strategy could be used for solar electricity if we get a head start on competing states.



Figures 11, 12 and 13 show the environmental benefit of using solar PV electricity.





It’s clear that solar energy is superior to coal-fired electricity in this department. Imagine using solar electricity to manufacture solar panels right here in Kentucky!

Jul 29, 2011

Coming Soon - Berea Solar Farm!

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Jul 29, 2011 02:50 PM

By Steve Boyce, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth - a KySEA member group

Customers of Berea Municipal Utilities who want to invest in solar photovoltaic panels will soon have an opportunity to do so by choosing to participate in a program called Berea Solar Partners. 

The City is establishing the Berea Solar Farm, arrays of PV panels to generate electricity.  Customers will be invited to become Berea Solar Partners by leasing up to two 235-watt solar panels from an initial array of 60 panels.  The one-time lease fee of approximately $700 will cover a 25-year period.  In return, customers will receive credit every billing period for the electricity generated by their panels.

Program Details:

25 year lease contract

 One $700 investment per 235-watt panel

Panels are located on BMU property with ideal orientation to the sun and no shading

Participants receive a credit on their electric bill for the energy generated by their panel(s)

The farm’s production can be monitored at anytime from home

The Solar Farm is one of three projects supported by a $125,000 Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant to the City of Berea.  The purpose of the grant is to enable Berea to take small but critical first steps in a decades-long movement toward a better energy future. 

One of the other two projects funded by the grant will model improved energy practice in City operations by upgrading lighting in five municipal buildings.  The third project involves starting several energy efficiency programs at Berea Municipal Utilities (BMU) in hopes of making clear how such programs can return important value to the community.  With no history of energy efficiency programs in Berea, getting started in a way that demonstrates their potential value – to the City and its people - is as challenging as it is important. 

Getting back to the Berea Solar Farm, one of the major advantages of the program is that the utility will site, install and maintain the solar panels.  Participating customers will gain access to solar generation at less than $3 per watt, less than the typical installed cost of a home PV system after state and federal tax credits.   It is estimated that at current rates, one 235 watt panel will produce a little over $17 worth of electricity per year.  Assuming that Berea’s electricity rates increase 5% per year on average, the panels have estimated payback in the neighborhood of 23 years. 

Some benefits of the Berea Solar Partners Solar Farm:

• Allows more people at all income levels to participate in solar energy options, regardless of site issues such as shade or directional orientation.

•The program is self-sustaining and supported financially by only those customers who choose to become Berea Solar Partners.

•Participants get peace of mind for supporting renewable energy and receive credit  for the energy their panels generate

•The cost of participating is less than $3 per installed watt, less than the typical cost of installing home solar systems after state and federal incentives

•For BMU to generate some of its own electricity means less money leaving Berea to pay wholesale electric bills to our multinational corporate wholesale supplier

Steve Wilkins, a Berea KFTC member who plans to lease panels, says “The opportunity appeals to me in part because I’d like to reduce our carbon footprint through some solar PV generation, but we have a lot of shade all around our house.  So installing panels at home is not a possibility.  I also expect the price of coal-fired electricity to continue to sky-rocket, so I’m attracted to locking in 25-years worth of PV-generated electricity at today’s cost.  And I just like the idea of supporting Berea’s effort to make this kind of option available to its utility customers.”     

The program is ideal for customers who want local opportunities to invest in clean energy but have homes, apartments or businesses – owned or rented – not well suited for solar installations due to directional orientation or shade.  It also provides an opportunity for those who would like to invest in solar energy but can’t afford the relatively large cost of installing an entire system on their property. 

One of the exciting features of this Berea Solar Farm approach is the extent to which it is scalable, both for the City and for individual customers.  For the City, adding additional arrays to the 60-panel beginning can be done in small steps over time in response to customer interest.    The “pay as you go” model means that any future growth will be funded by customer participation.  Customers who choose not to participate will not be asked to subsidize those who do.

For some customers, the scalability could take the form of budgeting over time to offset some percentage – possibly all - of their electricity use by periodically adding one or more solar panels.  To enable broad participation, customers are limited to leasing no more than two panels among the first sixty.  But beyond that, if additional arrays are added, customers will be free to lease as many as they wish. 

Another major benefit of this panel-by-panel leasing approach is the ease of transferring credit for the electricity generated by leased panels.  Since the panels are maintained in a central location, the electricity they generate need not be tied to a specific address.  In the event a participating homeowner or renter moves within BMU’s service territory, the electricity credits can simply be transferred to the new location.  If the move is to a location outside the BMU service territory, the leaser would need to sell or donate the energy generated by the panels to a BMU customer.  If such a move involves selling a house, the house value could be enhanced to the extent that the panels serve increasingly to lower utility bills as coal generated rates increase over time.  Some may find it attractive to support a local non-profit – a school or church, for example – by leasing one or more panels and assigning the billing credit to that organization.

Another aspect of this approach to solar generation that seems exciting is the extent to which it lends itself to local effort.  We are hoping, for example, that many people in Berea will share Steve Wilkins interest in community members coming together to take greater responsibility for their own energy future. 

If this seems to go well in Berea, there may be other small towns around Kentucky attracted to establishing similar community-based efforts to move gradually toward greater reliance on clean, renewable sources of electrical energy. 

Jul 26, 2011

Owensboro-area Business Leader Invests in Solar

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Jul 26, 2011 11:20 AM

Interview with Malcolm Bryant, President of the Malcolm Bryant Corporation by Lauren McGrath, Sierra Club organizer - Sierra Club is a KySEA member.

The Malcolm Bryant Corporation (TMBC), a thriving real estate development and property management company, is about to take a new angle on innovation.

mbc logoBased in Owensboro, KY, the Malcolm Bryant Corp has prided itself with an exceptional customer-focused, entrepreneurial vision that has led to its continued successes including – conducting business in more then fifteen different communities and owning more than one thousand current, and past, property occupants. The company, among other things, specializes in office design, technology, industrial location and hospitality service.  They’re even fully staffed up with everything their clients might need  - a full time construction and remodeling crews, free in-house design experts, full time mechanical and repair personnel as well as office staff. 

From the youngest to the oldest all of us are interested in the future. Solar energy offers us a view to the future of our planet and how we take care of ourselves at home and work. - Macolm Bryant

And now they’re about to add a new twist to their image – solar panels on their headquarters building in downtown Owensboro.

The install, slated for later this month, will also be the first commercial install of photovoltaic (PV) or “solar” panels in Owensboro, KY.  Following is a brief interview with TMBC’s President, Malcolm Bryant.

Q:  What first interested you, or your company, in solar energy?

Solar panelsA: Our company is focused on learning. We are constantly trying to expose our customers to the latest ways to improve their business and make their guests interested and comfortable in their space. Solar energy is certainly interesting. From the youngest to the oldest all of us are interested in the future. Solar energy offers us a view to the future of our planet and how we take care of ourselves at home and work. We love the creativity it brings to our properties. And we can’t ignore that all traditional energy sources are increasing in costs.

Q:  Solar has a pretty hefty upfront cost, what factors helped weigh this initial investment out for you?

A: The building that we are installing solar panels has an interesting past, being Owensboro High School in the early 20’s. We have been trying creative additions to it for many years. We painted a tromp’ loi mural on the facade 15 years ago and KET did a documentary on it, so it has an interesting history. We added a cloth awning 25 years ago and we constantly replace it due to the ultraviolet rays. That’s expensive.  It is now interesting that the sun’s rays should now help the building.  And as we mentioned all energy costs are increasing, so it is a good test model for us in seeing if it can help more of our  properties as well.

But, most importantly we want to show our customers our interest in helping their business. If  this can bring the right curiosity to the property they occupy, it brings good intentions to their business and being green and occupying sustainable buildings, should be good business

Q:  What do you think needs to happen to see these newer clean energy industries thrive in Kentucky?

In the broad picture, I believe our leaders need to make a generation changing statement about energy, much the same way we said when we would put a man on the moon.

A: The State and Federal and Local governments need to partner with entrepreneurs such as ourselves that want to make a difference. In the broad picture, I believe our leaders need to make a generation changing statement about energy, much the same way we said when we would put a man on the moon. Simply educating ourselves on the installation and interface with the grid is important on the local front.

Q:  What do you hope to gain from this experience? What opportunities exist?

A: Primarily we hope to create curiosity in the community and introduce our properties consistently as cutting edge places to do business. We have many visitors to our community form other cities and I believe it is a good signal to them that our community is exploring worldly ideas. We want to start the discussions of “what if…”

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A:  We are pursuing our new convention hotel under design, being LEED certified, the first LEED project in the region. It may have alternative energy opportunities, also.  We certainly will be the pioneer in this region and that’s a good initiative for us and our customers.

To learn more about solar energy and state energy policies that can support its growth, contact KySEA.

Jul 25, 2011

The Myth of Baseload

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Jul 25, 2011 11:30 AM

By David Brown Kinloch, whose company - Shaker Landing Hydro Associates - is a member of KySEA

Originally published at

For years, advocates of cleaner power have offered up renewable energy as the solution to our environmental problems. With growing concern about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide, renewables are finally receiving serious attention abroad and in the United States.

With that attention has come pushback from those parties that have a lot invested in the status quo, especially those associated with coal. Originally they said renewables don't work, but renewable technology has become proven. Then they said renewable technology was not reliable, yet it has become very reliable. Then they said renewables could not be done on a large utility scale, and now the large wind farms have proven that wrong. Then they said there were not enough renewables to meet our energy needs, but studies show that there are ample sun, wind and water resources to meet our energy needs many times over, even without energy conservation, which itself will dramatically moderate our growing energy demands.

And now the naysayers have come up with a new reason: renewable can't meet our energy needs because "renewables cannot provide baseload power."

"Baseload" is a term that utilities use to describe their large centralized power plants, usually fueled with coal or nuclear fuel. Traditionally, these plants have been the lowest cost to operate, so they are used first, and usually run for long periods, making up the "base" of utilities' generation and handling the typical "load," with more expensive generators being used to meet the rest of demand on those days when it is higher than usual.

But this traditional way of operating a utility system is about to be turned upside down. Environmental and human health costs will likely make these "baseload" plants more expensive than other options, and as their costs are rising, the costs of renewable resources are coming down.

As we plan for the future, we must overcome the myth that the electric utility system cannot be operated without these "baseload" plants because renewable resources are too variable since the wind does not blow all the time and the sun does not shine at night.

While it is true that some renewable resources have different operating characteristics than current utility plants, some of those differences are positive, while others will require different operating procedures. The problem is not the variability or reliability of the renewable resources, but rather the desire by utilities to not change the way they operate their systems.

To understand this, we must first understand how an electric utility operates its system. Because such large volumes of Alternating Current (AC) electricity are being consumed all the time, it is very difficult and expensive to store this power in the volumes necessary to meet customer demand. So, instead, a utility performs a constant balancing act of making or purchasing just the correct amount of power at any moment to meet customer demand and correct for line losses. If the utility makes too much or too little for an extended period, the system voltage will rise or fall to the point that protective relays in the electric system will open up and the result will be a blackout.

Maintaining this exact balance between supply and demand, constantly 24/7, is the job of the dispatchers. They deal with customers adding or dropping loads, as well as generators coming on and off line. Customer load, which must be matched with generation, varies according to time of day (less power is used at night), time of year (more power is used in the summer and winter for heating and cooling) and by weather (very hot and cold periods require more power). Dispatchers do not look at the use of individual customers (except for very large industrial customers), but instead can fairly accurately predict how much power will be needed in the aggregate, hours or days ahead, using the season, time of day and forecast weather and temperatures.

The concept of "baseload" comes from the method that planners and dispatchers have used in the past to meet demand. Since a certain minimum amount of power will be needed no matter the time of day or year, dispatchers have used their lowest cost large units to meet this "base" demand, then added more expensive-to-operate generators to meet the additional demand during peak times of the day. But this is simply the way that the system has been operated in the past, not a requirement. The only real requirement is that the correct amount of power be provided as that power is demanded and needed by customers.

While these large centralized plants have in the past been used by dispatchers to meet around-the-clock demand, they also have their own set of problems for system operators. Their huge size causes major difficulties if they have a problem and a 500 megawatt plant suddenly trips off line. Dispatchers must scramble using a mix of spinning reserve, quick starting peaking units and borrowed power from neighboring utilities to quickly make up this deficit. To protect against the possibility of big generators tripping off-line, utilities have had to invest a lot of money in extra generating capacity, called a reserve margin (in the range of 20 percent more than their projected highest peak load), spinning reserve (capacity running, but not loaded, for quick emergencies) and interconnections with other utilities. All of these are parts of the ratepayer cost of using large "baseload" plants.

It is also difficult to replace one large unit for another. If a large coal generator trips off line with mechanical problems, getting a replacement unit on line can take a while. It can take 24 hours to start-up, synchronize and load a large coal-fired unit from a cold start. Even from a warm start, the process can still take 6 hours, so large coal units are not started and stopped as load varies. Instead, the units can be backed-down during lower use periods, and operated in a lower output mode, which is also less efficient.

Nuclear power plants add even more operational difficulties. For the most part, these units cannot safely be backed-down during low demand periods, so coal units also on the system must be backed-down even further making them even less efficient. This can cause some real operational problems during minimal demand periods (like spring and fall with no heating or cooling load, late at nights, on a weekend when industry is shutdown). If the nuclear plants can't be backed-down, and the coal units are backed down as far as they can go, the electric system can be threatened by too much power.

One way to deal with the problem of nuclear power plants' inability to safely reduce output during low use times was the development of pumped-storage hydro. In these plants, power is used during off- peak times when there is more power than needed, to pump water uphill to a storage reservoir, then the water is later run back downhill during peak times to generate electricity. While these plants are expensive, they have offered assistance in dealing with large fixed output nuclear plants. There are over 23,000 megawatts of pumped-storage hydro capacity in the U.S. today, located mainly where utilities are also using nuclear power. So utilities have developed expensive but effective ways to deal with the problems inherent in the use of large centralized coal and nuclear plants, and the ratepayers have paid these costs.

Renewable energy plants have their own set of issues that must be dealt with by system planners and dispatchers. Renewable plants tend to be much smaller, so the loss of an individual plant or even a group of plants does not cause the problems of a large centralized plant. Also, most renewable plants can be started and synchronized to the grid very quickly, unlike the large fossil and nuclear plants. So the challenges for planners and dispatchers associated with "baseload" generators generally do not occur with renewable generators. Instead, the major problem with renewables is the variable nature of the power. While no current fossil-fuel or nuclear power plant is available to the dispatcher all the time due to forced outages (something breaking) and planned outages (scheduled downtime for maintenance), renewable plants face longer outage periods due to a lack of fuel (sun, wind or water). Yet these periods are different from the unexpected forced outages that the large coal and nuclear plants experience. Just like expected customer loads can be predicted hours or days ahead by dispatchers using weather forecasts, sun, wind and water produced electric output can be predicted in the exact same way with weather forecasts. Also, geographic diversity of a lot of small renewable generators, like wind turbines, means that all the units taken as a whole have a much higher capacity factor than any individual unit alone.

The other complaint from utilities about wind and solar power is that they are not "dispatchable," meaning utility dispatchers cannot turn these units on or off like they can large centralized power plants. Yet because there is no fuel cost associated with renewable plants, using economic dispatch (which uses the plants with the lowest variable costs first), renewable plants would always be dispatched first, so that dispatchability is a non-issue. The real issue for dispatchers is knowing how much power will be produced by renewable plants in aggregate at any time in the near future and integrating this into their calculations of the amount of additional generation that will be needed. Like customer load that can be predicted using weather forecasts and other factors, renewable generation can also be predicted. So in a sense, this renewable generation will act as negative load, or a reduction in the amount of other load demand that the utility must supply at any given time. Today, future load (say the next day) is predicted by dispatchers, and then they determine which generating plants will need to be on line to meet that predicted load. In the future, the procedure will be the same, except the negative load from renewable generators will be subtracted from the positive customer load, and dispatchers will then need to have the generating assets available to meet the net load.

The question then becomes, with a large penetration of renewable generators, can the electric system be operated without the significant "baseload" units utilities rely upon today? The answer is absolutely yes. While utilities have characterized certain parts of the load they serve as "baseload," and have used large and inefficient centralized plants to meet this part of the load, the reality is that each hour of each day there is a certain amount of load that must be met with power generation, and that load can be met with any type of generation the dispatcher chooses. Today, utilities use large centralized coal and nuclear plants to meet a portion of the load, and then use more expensive gas fired generation to meet the balance. The gas fired generation is also used as a quick start substitute when one of these large plants fail and drops off line.

When renewables become a substantial part of the resource mix, these gas-fired units that now back-up the large "baseload" plants can be used to fill in holes when the mix of renewables is not sufficient to meet predicted load demand. Now that natural gas prices have been coming down as new resources have reached the market, and coal-fired generation is becoming more expensive as pollution controls are needed, many utilities are opting to rely more heavily on gas-fired generation, which should further help with the dispatch of utility systems with large penetrations of renewable generators.

There are also some types of dispatchable renewable plants, such as peaking hydro plants, which can be brought on-line in minutes (not hours), and biomass plants which can be ramped up and down like a large centralized plant. In addition, the pumped-storage hydro plants that have been built to deal with the fixed capacity nature of nuclear plants, can also be used to provide additional backup for renewable generation. And there are solar thermal generating plants being built that will have the capacity to store significant heat for use when the sun isn't shining.

Clearly the customer load can be met, hour by hour, primarily with renewables, without today's 'baseload" plants; in fact these plants may get in the way of renewables providing substantial amounts of the needed power in a given hour.

The problem here is not the nature of renewable resources or any technical hurdle, but rather it is getting utility planners and dispatchers to think outside the "baseload" mindset that they have been stuck in for so many years. Instead of thinking horizontally — adding strips of large "baseload" capacity to run for days or weeks or even months then filling in the gaps, instead the dispatcher needs to look vertically ahead — what will be my load minus my negative load from renewables and then how do I fill any gaps.

The need for large, centralized baseload capacity is not some requirement of the electric power system, but rather a desire to continue to do things as utilities have done in the past, the way they know. What is needed is not additional baseload capacity, but simply the willingness of utilities to look at meeting customer load with different resources, and the development of forecasting tools and dispatch methodologies that easily and reliably integrate clean power sources into their systems.

As the internalizing of the health and environmental costs of the "baseload" plants makes their power more and more expensive, and as it becomes ever more increasing difficult to get these dirty plants to operate under cleaner and cleaner requirements (especially in a carbon-constrained world), utility planners and dispatchers will be forced to think differently as theD switch to clean renewable generators happens, whether they like it or not.

David Brown Kinloch, a Louisville engineer, can be reached at

Jul 22, 2011

Solar Panels and Wind Turbine Installed at Kentucky's Capitol

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Jul 22, 2011 12:35 PM

Solar Capitol Install

A solar panel array, solar hot water collectors and a wind turbine were recently installed on the roof of the education center located on the grounds of the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfort. The building is highly energy efficient as well. The renewable energy systems are visible from the Governor’s office. The solar panels are expected to produce more than 8,000-kilowatt hours of sustainable electricity each year. Solar Energy Solutions, a Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance member, completed the solar installations.

Jul 13, 2011

Putting Damaged Land to Good Use

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Jul 13, 2011 01:25 PM

By Dan Hofmann

Dan Hofmann is President of RegenEn Solar LLC, a solar panel installation company located in Louisville, KY that is a member of the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance. This blog post was originally published at

Dan Hofmann  I was reading an article recently about mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining and got to thinking....

How many square miles have been cleared in Kentucky for MTR?

And, if we covered all that space with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, how much electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh) would be produced?

Would it be enough to match the electricity consumed in Kentucky each year?

What about MTR in the U.S.?

If we covered all the square miles that have been cleared for MTR in the U.S. with PV solar panels, what percentage of the national annual kWh consumption could be provided?

I decided to crunch the numbers and what I discovered was quite intriguing...

According to the Appalachian Voices website [1] (a non-profit committed to protecting the land, air and water of the central and southern Appalachian region), 574,000 acres (897 square miles) of land in Kentucky has been surface mined for coal and more than 293 mountains have been severely impacted or destroyed by MTR coal mining.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy website [2], the total electricity consumption in Kentucky (residential, commercial, and industrial) in 2005 was 89,351,000,000 kWh.

The following projection is based on experience from PV solar installations already in place here in Kentucky and from the fact that we get four and a half hours of sunlight per day on average, accounting for clouds. To produce that much electricity in one year from PV solar panels in this region, around 190 square miles of land would need to be covered by a 69.1 GW (gigawatt) solar array. And, 897 square miles of land has been has been flattened by MTR. Therefore, if we merely put PV solar panels on 1/5th of our already cleared land, we would supply ALL of the electricity needs for the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky!

If we covered the entire 897 square miles of cleared MTR space in Kentucky, we could supply nearly 10% of the electricity needs of the entire U.S.! 

If we covered the entire 897 square miles of cleared MTR space in Kentucky, we could supply nearly 10% of the electricity needs of the entire U.S.!

Additionally, according to Appalachian Voices website [1], a total of 1,160,000 acres (1,813 square miles) of land has been surface mined for coal in the central and southern Appalachian region.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency website [3], the United States consumed a total of 3.873 trillion kWh of electricity in 2008.

Solar panelsTo produce that much electricity in one year from PV solar panels in this region, 8,225 square miles of land would need to be covered. Accordingly, roughly 22% of the electricity consumed in America could be provided by PV solar panels if the 1,813 square miles of land cleared by MTR in Appalachia were covered.

At this point, you're probably asking yourself: that's great, but how much would it cost? And, what about energy storage so we can use that electricity at night?

I'll admit that projecting the costs for a solar array of this size if pure conjecture, but I'll do my best.

Currently, large scale, megawatt PV solar panel arrays cost around $3 per watt to install without tax subsidies. A GW scale solar array might be closer to $2 per watt installed. Using this metric, it would cost about $138 billion to install the 69.1 GW solar array required to produce 100% of the electricity consumed in Kentucky per year. If the solar panels have the industry standard 25-year warranty, the cost of electricity comes to 6.2 cents per kWh. That's cheaper than what consumers in Kentucky pay for electricity right now (e.g. LG&E residential customers pay 7.9 cents/kWh).

There are many options available now for grid level energy storage, including, but not limited to: pumped hydro, compressed air energy storage (CAES), sodium-sulfur batteries, lead acid batteries, nickel-cadmium batteries, flywheels, and lithium ion batteries.

Empty, abandoned coal mines in Germany are being looked at for pumped hydro energy storage for renewable energy systems [5]. Something I would assume we have plenty of in Kentucky.

Adding energy storage could cost around $1 per watt to the solar array [6]. This would increase the cost of the array for Kentucky to $207 billion with an electricity cost of around 9.3 cents per kWh. That price per kWh is a little above what LG&E customers are paying right now, but will soon be on par with current rates as LG&E recently requested the Kentucky Public Service Commission to allow rates to increase by 19 percent over the next five years.

Again, the cost projection is all conjecture and does not include grid transmission and maintenance. But it's a start.

This sounds like a lot of money until you consider that, according to a study by the Environmental Law Institute [4], the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. received $72 billion in subsidies from 2002 to 2008. Imagine using that money to fund a GW solar project in Kentucky!

Here's some proof that solar does work here, some public viewing of our solar installation's real-time and historical electricity production:

Highlands, Louisville, KY:

Radcliff, KY

Frankfort, KY


Jul 12, 2011

SACE: Cheers for Duke Energy and Progress Energy

by Kristin Tracz — last modified Jul 12, 2011 01:47 PM
Filed Under:

This blog originally posted on the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's Footprints on the Path to Clean Energy blog on 7/11.

Cheers for Duke Energy and Progress Energy

People in the Southeast do want energy efficiency! We had no doubts, but it is great to see strong participation in the first full year of new efficiency programs offered by Progress Energy Carolinas (PEC) and Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC). Our analysis shows that  both utilities achieved greater savings and spent less per kWh than they had anticipated. We were particularly pleased to see that both utilities achieved a “cost of saved energy” similar to some national leaders and lower than their Southeastern peers (Table 1).



All Carolinas energy customers are benefiting from low cost energy savings. After the first full year of data, it looks like Duke Energy is outperforming Progress Energy in terms of total savings, and as a percentage of retail sales (Table 2).

What made the difference for Duke Energy? The lower costs and higher savings are driven by large CFL programs, both in terms of number of bulbs installed and savings per bulb. While these programs are very successful and low-cost, the federal lighting standard that goes into effect in 2012 will reduce the amount of savings the utility can claim from a CFL bulb because the utility only gets credit for helping customers go “beyond standards.”

Both utilities are achieving greater savings and lower costs than their peers across the Southeast. This is no surprise to us - just like most business opportunities, energy efficiency programs operate best at an economy of scale.

The results come with some caveats. These are preliminary data: Some of the savings claimed by the utility are still subject to a “true-up”, or measurement and verification analysis. Another caveat is that many Carolinas utility customers are served by other utilities, whose data we haven’t obtained or analyzed yet. So in another year or so, we should have an even better picture of what utilities and their customers have been achieving, and at what cost.

What do these savings mean for customers? An easy way for customers to understand the cost-effectiveness of energy efficiency is to compare it to electricity rates. The “cost of saved energy” is like the cost to build a power plant, a power plant that operates for free for years afterwards. Assume that the “energy efficiency power plant” lasts ten years (a common result): if the cost of saved energy is $0.20, then the average cost of energy efficiency is just 2 cents per kWh. That’s cheaper than even the low, low rates that industrial customers pay (around 5 cents per kWh). It’s cheaper to pay for energy savings than to burn fuel in power plants!


Table 1. Comparison of Utility Cost of Saved Energy

Duke opens up with a strong residential lighting program

Duke Energy’s Residential Smart Saver program, which achieved the majority of its savings from residential CFLs, used low and no cost coupons to create an incentive for their customers to purchase and install energy efficient CFLs. They used targeted marketing and had a customer specific code on each coupon so they were aware of who was redeeming the coupons, and who wasn’t. Based on independent measurement and verification, for every 100 free bulbs that Duke Energy gave away, the program received credit for 107 bulbs due to customers purchasing additional CFLs when cashing in their CFL coupon.

Progress delivering energy savings to its business customers

Progress Energy’s commercial business program was successful as well. The program offered commercial, industrial, government and educational customers standard or prescriptive rebates for installing energy efficiency measures. The standard rebate is a set amount, for example, a $6-8 incentive for replacing a T12 light fixture with a T8 florescent light fixture. The custom rebate is for technologies that Progress Energy hasn’t included in its standard program thus far, and allows customers some flexibility in customizing the energy efficiency solution they need for their business.


Table 2. Progress Energy & Duke Energy efficiency savings as a percentage of retail sales

Ideas for improvements

While both of these programs were successful, and we hope will continue to be, there are a few improvements to Duke Energy and Progress Energy’s energy efficiency portfolio that could be made.

Elks Timberline Cool Roof Shingles dont look different from normal shingles, but they cut down on cooling costs.

Elk's Timberline Cool Roof Shingles don't look different from "normal" shingles, but will cut air conditioning costs.

First, neither utility offers a small business efficiency program. Several utilities have shown great results by designing specific programs that cater to small business. They may offer turnkey or similar implementation of energy efficiency technology.

Second, neither utility offers a complete design-to-commission new construction energy efficiency program for their commercial customers. It is critical to encourage contractors to install energy efficiency during the construction process because many of the measures, particularly with the building envelope, are no longer available cost-effectively after the construction is finished. Then when the building is complete, it is necessary to complete a proper “commissioning” to make sure the building systems are operating to design specs. Many buildings last for longer than 50 years, so it is very important the utilities try and capture these time sensitive savings.

Finally, we recommend that the utilities look at their implementation models. For example, neither of the utilities are offering upstream incentives. This is a program where the utility offers an incentive to the manufacturer, or retail store (“upstream” in the value chain from the customer) to produce or sell energy efficient measures. Often the goal of this type of program is to give the customer the option of purchasing an energy efficiency widget for the same price as the standard widget. One technology that we think would be well suited for an “upstream incentive” program are residential reflective roof shingles.


Program Ideas Description Examples
Small business efficiency program Small businesses often have not implemented energy efficiency measures because of time, cost and other market barriers. While Duke and Progress make program offers available to small businesses, best practice utility programs target small businesses with market niche specific solutions. Arizona Public ServiceSmall Business Program
Xcel Energy Minnesota –  One-Stop Efficiency Shop
Xcel Energy Colorado – Small Business Lighting


Commercial new construction New construction is an important time to install energy efficiency measures because many savings opportunities exist with low incremental costs that are not cost-effective as a retrofit. Progress Energy Carolinas offers incentives for energy efficient new construction, but not a complete design-to-commission program. Progress Energy CarolinasEE for Business
Interstate Power & LightCommercial New Construction
MidAmerican EnergyCommercial New Construction


Residential reflective roofs “upstream” incentives High quality, reasonably priced residential “cool roof” products have been available for many years. Studies suggest residential customers have a low response rate to rebate offers for cool roof shingles. Utilities have demonstrated that response rates to so-called “upstream” (distribution channel) incentives can be higher for measures that require a trusted installer. CaliforniaUpstream HVAC incentive program operated by Energy Solutions
Xcel Energy Colorado Upstream CFL program


- Natalie Mims co-authored this blog.

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Clean energy stories
Energy Efficient Affordable Housing Helps Families Thrive Energy Efficient Affordable Housing Helps Families Thrive

People's Self Help Housing has been providing affordable housing opportunities to families in Lewis County since 1982. PSHH knows that "affordability" is defined by more than just the mortgage. If a home is energy inefficient, the utility bills become too high for a low-income family to afford. As a result, PSHH has long-built highly energy efficient homes, helping the families they serve to thrive. PSHH has also recently built some of the first affordable homes in the region with renewable energy systems. Given that so many low-income KY families live in energy inefficient homes, combining affordability, efficiency and renewable energy is a recipe for success that benefits everyone.


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