(Photo by Laura Gilmore via Creative Commons)
Starting in 2014, large commercial building owners in Minneapolis will be required to annually report data on their properties’ energy use to the city, which will make that information available to the public.
For many, meeting the requirement will be no big deal. Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager tool is already used to track energy consumption for about 40 percent of U.S. commercial building space.
But adding up energy use can be an administrative hassle for multi-tenant building owners, who may need signed waivers from every renter and manual calculations by their utility to reach a total.
The city of Minneapolis and the U.S. Department of Energy hope that won’t be the case for long.
Duluth, Minnesota’s steam plant, upper right, provides heat for much of the city’s downtown. (Photo by Nic McPhee via Creative Commons)
Since the 1930s, Duluth, Minnesota, has continually drawn frigid water from Lake Superior, heated it to steam in a coal-fired boiler, then pushed that steam through a network of pipes to provide heat for downtown businesses.
The district heating plant, by the city’s account, has been well maintained and extremely reliable over its 81 years of operation. The pipes are leakier and less insulated, but the system still works about the same as it did in 1932.
Which is to say, not very efficiently by today’s standards.
The city is now studying its options for modernizing the aging system to make it more flexible, economical and sustainable. A consultant’s master plan (pdf) presented Monday to the City Council recommends adding sawdust as a fuel source and converting steam lines into a more efficient, closed-loop hot water system.
“If we are going to own this, we are going to bring this steam plant into the 21st century,” David Montgomery, the city’s chief administrative officer, said in an interview. “We want to turn this into a real asset, which we think it can become, from an economic development standpoint … and from a sustainability standpoint.”
As a red-state Republican who also acknowledges global warming, Gary Hanson needs to tread carefully in conversations about the environment.
Hanson, a former Sioux Falls mayor who chairs the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, shared his views on climate change, distributed generation and other energy-related topics last Thursday at an event hosted by the Sierra Club’s eastern South Dakota chapter.
“I try to look for safe islands; islands where I can get people to agree to work together,” Hanson said.
For him, that’s meant a focus on energy independence, planetary stewardship, and a “responsible” roll-out of renewable energy that doesn’t add costs for utilities or their customers.
Manitoba Hydro’s Seven Sisters Dam. (Photo by Darren Fast via Creative Commons)
Norway has been called the “battery” of northern Europe because of its huge potential to store energy in its hydro power facilities, which produce virtually all of the country’s electricity.
When generation ramps up at Danish wind farms, Norway can slow production at its hydro facilities, storing water in reservoirs to be released later when electricity is in shorter supply.
As much as 40 percent of Danish wind power is “stored” like this behind Norwegian hydro dams, according to a 2012 paper by Norwegian energy economist Johannes Mauritzen.
In northern Minnesota, an electric utility is proposing a 500 kV, cross-border transmission line that would let it tap Canadian hydropower under a similar arrangement.
Minnesota Power says the Great Northern Transmission Line would allow it to balance intermittent power from its North Dakota wind farms with dispatchable power from Manitoba hydro facilities.
“I think we here at Minnesota Power have coupled together what I like to call the holy grail of renewable resources,” said Dave McMillan, the utility’s executive vice president.
Peppermint Energy’s portable solar energy systems are finding a market in developing nations. (Photo courtesy Peppermint Energy)
Brian Gramm’s goal was to build a portable solar generator so rugged that it could survive in one of America’s harshest environments: a stadium parking lot.
The sports fan and serial entrepreneur came up with a product he says can withstand spilled beer, flying footballs, even a fall from your SUV roof should your inebriated buddies accidentally knock it over.
Gramm co-founded Peppermint Energy, a Sioux Falls startup company that originally planned to market solar power to sports tailgaters who wanted to watch TV or blare stereos without risking a dead car battery.
As he shared the designs with friends and mentors, though, others pointed out that a device as simple and durable as theirs might have another purpose: helping in disaster recovery and other humanitarian missions.
“It became apparent that we had the right idea, but we were not quite solving the right problem,” Gramm said.
Construction of an offshore wind turbine off the coast of England in 2010. (Photo by DECC via Creative Commons)
Offshore wind energy development in the Great Lakes could create thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs in the region — if lawmakers get the policy right.
A new report by an Illinois economist concludes that the economic impact of offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes greatly depends on whether the industry can grow at a steady pace.
Offshore wind developers are more likely to open regional offices and manufacturing facilities if they view the Great Lakes as an opportunity for sustained, long-term growth, it says.
But if incentives and permitting turn out to be as choppy as Lake Superior during a wind storm, those companies would probably import parts and expertise from elsewhere instead.
Wind turbines north of Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Michael Leland via Creative Commons)
Wisconsin legislators are scheduled to take up a bill next week that would make it easier for people to sue for perceived health symptoms and property value impacts they attribute to wind turbines.
Under the proposal, anyone living within 1.5 miles of a wind turbine could sue for damages related to physical or emotional suffering, loss of property value, moving expenses, or lost profits, and the wind farm owner or operator would be forced to pick up the tab for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees.
It would also prohibit as a defense the fact that a project has already been legally permitted to operate by the state or a local government.
Opponents say the bill (SB167), if passed, would effectively put an end to wind development in Wisconsin and potentially drive up electricity rates in the state.
“The real intention of this is to kill wind [energy] in Wisconsin, and I would say it would do that,” said Joe Sullivan, regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a nonprofit that advocates for policies that support wind energy and transmission development.
(Photo by Mike Baker via Creative Commons)
As customers begin putting money down to join one of Minnesota’s first community solar gardens, new comments to state regulators reveal significant disagreements about how the program should work.
A new state law requires Xcel Energy to develop a program that will allow customers to buy shares of power produced at nearby solar installations, known as community solar gardens.
The idea is to make solar power accessible to the majority of Minnesotans who either don’t own their home or have a rooftop that isn’t sunny enough, strong enough, or angled correctly for installing solar panels.
Xcel unveiled its plan for the program on Sept. 30, and last week solar developers responded with several objections over proposed fees, rates and restrictions the utility would place on the projects.
MN Community Solar started accepting deposits a few weeks ago for a 40-kilowatt solar garden to be built on the roof of a south Minneapolis warehouse. But it expects it will have to refund that money if major changes aren’t made to Xcel’s proposal.
(Photo by Grant Hutchinson via Creative Commons)
Minnesota’s largest electric utility is asking state regulators to change the way it sets electricity rates so that it isn’t penalized when customers conserve energy.
As part of a rate increase request filed Monday, Xcel Energy is proposing to partially separate its revenue from electricity sales starting in 2015, a policy known as “decoupling.”
If electricity sales were lower than forecasted for a given year, the utility would be allowed to make up the difference by charging a higher rate the following year.
The reverse would also be true: if electricity sales exceeded forecasts, the utility would have to refund the surplus to customers through a lower rate the next year.
Energy conservation advocates say the decoupling arrangement removes a historical disincentive for utilities to invest in energy efficiency programs.
“It’s a very big deal. This fundamentally changes the nature of the business if it happens,” said Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s energy program.
Power lines and streetlights in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by manyhighways via Creative Commons)
Utilities face a flurry of threats to their business model, from rising expectations and falling sales to new competition and aging infrastructure.
Bill Grant, Minnesota’s Deputy Commissioner for Energy, summarized the pressures in his opening remarks Friday at a policy forum in St. Paul called “The Future of Minnesota’s Electric Utilities,” organized by the Environmental Initiative, a Twin Cities nonprofit organization.
For decades, utilities have operated by borrowing money to built new power plants, transmission lines and other infrastructure to meet society’s constantly growing demand for electricity, the sales of which paid down the debt and eventually turned to profit.
A wrench has been thrown in that once reliable pattern, though.