Most folks in the United States would be forgiven for never having heard of a feed-in tariff. While quite popular -- and effective -- in nations like Germany, England (just see Sami's recent post for a testimonial), and around 50 others, renewable energy advocates have had trouble drumming up mass support for the idea here in the states. Which is too bad -- FITs hold the potential for spurring a surge in mid-to-small scale renewable energy projects, and invigorating the market for cleantech. German parliamentarian Ulrich Kelber helped usher in the FIT in his country, and in the video above (via Climate Progress), he explains what made it so successful: Namely, that it "empowers people".
Here's why:Climate Progress's Stephen Lacey does a good job of explain how feed-in tariffs work in case you need a refresher:
FITs guarantee an owner of a renewable energy project a premium price for every unit of electricity or heat generated over a 15-20 year period of time. That premium is designed to give the owner "a reasonable rate of return" and is changed on a set schedule as technology costs come down, with room to make immediate changes when needed. (In fact, Germany and other European countries have made major changes to their FITs over the last year as the price and cost of solar PV has dropped dramatically.)FITs also have the added bonus of encouraging a development framework that's more amenable to distributed generation, and makes it easier, eventually, to decentralize from power grids that currently rely primarily on huge central producers like those 500 MW coal plants.
The payments come from utilities, which raise the funds by charging ratepayers a small fee each month. This only costs a few dollars-- or, as is often said: "About the price of a loaf of bread." FITs also give clean energy projects of any size priority access to the grid -- meaning that a 5 kilowatt solar PV system has just as much right to plug into the grid (if not more) as a 500 MW coal plant.
Perhaps just as importantly, it gives people an opportunity to participate in hooking safe, clean energy up to the grid -- as Kebler says, it "empowers people". And way more so than buying a Prius does, that's for sure. The downside is that it does raise rates a smidge, but Dave Roberts has a great post about why this doesn't seem to bother anyone in Germany.
The one thing that doesn't rule about Feed-in Tariffs is the name: It's dry, unexciting, and overly wonky. Commenters on the CP post suggest things like 'pay your future' and "Advanced Renewable Tariff". Any other ideas? It's time to start getting people excited about this promising way to push renewables further into the mainstream.