Local power revisited

November 14, 2012

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Recently, Kari Lydersen of Midwest Energy News contacted us about our ideas on local power and our connection to Paul Fenn from California.

We became aware of Fenn about 10 years ago when we came across his website. When an opportunity to be in San Francisco arose, we met with him and discussed his energy ideas. While we don’t agree with all his views, we were intrigued by his thoughts on the possibility of local power. He was advocating using a community’s bonding power to initiate efforts to implement energy efficiency practices and use renewable energy sources.

We were familiar with the early efforts in Osage, Iowa, to introduce improved levels of energy efficiency in their community as a means to avoid purchasing new generators to meet their peak power needs. By investing the money in energy efficiency, Energy Manager Wes Birdsall, with the assistance of Amory Lovins, estimated they could save more than $1 million a year in energy costs. By being more energy efficient, retaining the savings in the community and lowering energy costs, they could attract more industry.

Another example at the time was the new business district being developed in Soldiers Grove, Wis., designed to capture the sun’s energy for heating the very highly insulated buildings.

We were also aware of around 40 Illinois communities that retained municipal power facilities and the installation of a new hydro facility at the dam in Rock Falls. Those who retained power-producing facilities often use them at times of peak power demand to cut the cost of buying utility power.

It reminded us of efforts to produce and consume local foods as a means to enhance local food security, provide organic foods, increase local employment opportunities and retain more food dollars within the local economy.

With the arrival of the community aggregation option for units of government, we once again examined Fenn’s website and found he saw such efforts as an excellent opportunity to consider how renewable energy sources could be included in a community aggregation program. We saw he was involved in initiating such projects, was proceeding with efforts to pass bonding authority in San Francisco to implement local power strategies, and was working to introduce similar ideas in Boulder, Colo.

Fenn spoke at this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair and met with some public officials in the area as well as energy officials in Chicago. Since he already is involved with large communities, he is looking for a small Midwest community to test his approach to implementing local power strategies. On a simplified level, his approach involves securing access to a community’s energy bills and designing an overall strategy of reducing energy consumption and selecting the most appropriate and cost-effective strategies for that community, taking into consideration its energy demands, opportunities to improve energy efficiency and what renewable energy sources would best serve it. He claims his approach can meet or beat existing energy costs and pay for itself over six years.

It is a concept at this time and remains to be proven. We think it is interesting enough to merit further consideration. The existence of the community aggregation program offers a path through which renewables and efficiency could be expanded.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@-essex1.com.

From the Nov. 14-20, 2012, issue

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