FutureGen officials say Sierra Club complaint jeopardizes project

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

Efforts to develop the FutureGen “clean coal” demonstration project in western Illinois cleared a major hurdle last month with a legal victory that will force consumers to purchase the $1.65 billion project’s output.

But a different legal challenge — a Sierra Club complaint filed with the Illinois Pollution Control Board — is keeping jittery investors on the sideline and threatens to derail development of the plant, a FutureGen executive said in testimony filed with the board.

FutureGen 2.0 is the second iteration of a federal clean coal demonstration project originally proposed by the George W. Bush administration more than a decade ago. The original, more ambitious plan was scrapped after years of planning and political rancor because of massive cost increases.

Clean Line transmission project gets chilly reception in Missouri

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

MONROE CITY, Missouri — A plan to string high-voltage transmission lines 200 miles across the state of Missouri got a chilly reception from area landowners during the first public airing of the project Tuesday.

Over the course of several hours, farmers, business owners, politicians and organized labor representatives aired opinions about the $2.2 billion project, which aims to deliver 3,500 megawatts of cheap wind energy from the southwest Kansas plains to more populated areas hundreds of miles to the east.

The hearing was the first of a series of public meetings on the project being held across the state. While some in attendance support the jobs, taxes and clean energy that developers promised, coalitions of landowners opposed to the project, most of them wearing neon green T-shirts or stickers that said “Block GBE,” dominated the hearing.

Minnesota case puts value of solar in spotlight

(Photo by Oregon DOT via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Oregon DOT via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

There’s a new cash crop coming soon to the Twin Cities — electric power from community-owned solar gardens.

But just how much interest there is in harvesting the sun’s rays from jointly owned solar-electric systems could be dictated by state regulators in a key decision today. [UPDATE: Regulators sided with Xcel Energy in the case, updated story coming later today]

A 2013 law requires Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc. to administer a program for community solar gardens — centralized solar electric systems whose production is shared by people to buy stakes and get a credit on their power bills.

Xcel CEO charts steady course to lower-carbon future

Xcel CEO Ben Fowke. (Image via YouTube)

Xcel CEO Ben Fowke. (Image via YouTube)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Rod Kuckro

Xcel Energy Inc. Chief Executive Officer Ben Fowke may have found the sweet spot as the leader of one of the nation’s largest utility holding companies.

It’s not that his four regulated utilities with operations in eight states aren’t challenged by the multiple trends shaking up the electricity industry across the U.S. They certainly are.

It’s that Fowke, 56, views the challenges more as opportunities as he navigates a careful course toward a less carbon-intensive future.

Minnesota agencies advise using federal carbon cost estimate

(Photo by Joseph Mietus via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Joseph Mietus via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

Don’t reinvent the wheel.

That was the underlying message from two Minnesota agencies in recommending the Public Utilities Commission adopt federal “social cost of carbon” values to help guide utility decisions about electric generation.

A law enacted by the state more than two decades ago requires the PUC to establish “externality” values for carbon dioxide and other power plant pollutants to help shape planning decisions. The commission this year ordered an update to some of the values, including CO2, at the request of clean energy advocates.

Kansas program brings ‘pay as you go’ option to electricity

(Photo by Mike DelGaudio via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Mike DelGaudio via Creative Commons)

© 2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

The term “feeding the meter” just took on a new definition in Kansas, where Westar Energy Inc. has won regulatory approval to offer prepaid electric service on a limited basis.

The Kansas Corporation Commission approved a pilot program for up to 1,000 of the utility’s customers after the state’s consumer advocate negotiated additional consumer protections.

Prepaid electric service isn’t new, but it’s still rare among investor-owned utilities. So far it’s been mostly limited to electric cooperatives and municipal utilities that fall outside the scope of state regulators. Such programs have generally been criticized by consumer advocates for providing little if any benefit while often costing customers more money in the long run and targeting low-income groups.

Illinois resolution would help Exelon nuclear plants

Exelon's Byron Generating Station in northern Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)

Exelon’s Byron Generating Station in northern Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

by Jeffrey Tomich

Illinois House leaders Friday filed a resolution urging federal and state agencies to adopt policies and rules that would enhance the competitiveness of Exelon Corp.’s nuclear fleet in the name of preserving thousands of Illinois jobs and millions of dollars in taxes paid annually to the state.

The resolution, scheduled for a hearing before the House Environment Committee today, is the latest signal that the financial health of Exelon’s six nuclear plants in its home state is going to loom large as state agencies craft a plan to meet carbon standards for existing power plants to be issued by U.S. EPA in a week.

“It’s increasingly likely that the Legislature is going to deal with this issue,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based consumer advocacy group.

“What we would like to see here is a comprehensive discussion of the least-cost way to meet the carbon rules,” he said. “What we wouldn’t want to see is a bailout that sticks consumers with all the risks of markets.”

Oil-by-rail loophole keeps emergency spill plans in the dark

(Photo by Roy Luck via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Roy Luck via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Blake Sobczak

U.S. transportation officials don’t review how railroads would handle worst-case oil train disasters like last summer’s derailment in Quebec, which killed 47 people in a fiery explosion.

While railroads must keep “basic” emergency response plans in their own files, the Federal Railroad Administration does not monitor or review those plans.

That’s because railroads are required to provide “comprehensive” oil spill response plans to the FRA only if they use tank cars that hold more than 42,000 gallons of crude. In an April 10 letter responding to a Freedom of Information Act request from EnergyWire, FOIA officer Denise Kollehlon said the FRA’s files “do not contain any records related to the active comprehensive ‘oil spill prevention and response plans’ for oil shipments.”

‘Internet of things’ turns up the heat on utilities

(Photo by Ben Terrett via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Ben Terrett via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By David Ferris

Like most people, Sean McBriarty has always been less than thrilled with his thermostat. Programming it involved using an instruction manual and pushing tiny buttons. He would set it to an energy-saving mode, only to be countermanded by his daughter, who liked it hotter.

Now the Tulsa, Oklahoma, resident has a Nest thermostat. It has a cool-looking dial that, strangely enough, he doesn’t need to use very often. The embedded motion sensor knows when he’s home, and after a few initial adjustments, the unit has learned his family’s comfort zone. He hears no complaints from his daughter, and he realized savings on his energy bill of around $150 a month.

What he might not fully realize is that his thermostat — this wireless, cloud-connected, attentive gadget on the wall — is much more than a thermostat.

In Missouri, industry wants off the ‘solar coaster’

Solar panels at Elixir Farm in Brixey, Missouri. (Photo by SARE Outreach via Creative Commons)

Solar panels at Elixir Farm in Brixey, Missouri. (Photo by SARE Outreach via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

Solar installers, the businesses supposedly causing heartburn for old-school utilities across much of the country, are staring at their own “death spiral” in Missouri.

A utility rebate program authorized by voters in 2008 is making Missouri into a solar leader in the Midwest. But $175 million set aside to subsidize solar installations is fully subscribed in most parts of the state where it was available, and the same small businesses that scrambled to add workers last year to help meet surging demand are facing layoffs.

Several bills have been filed with the Missouri General Assembly to fully or partially revive the rebate program. But none really has traction, and with just over a month remaining in the legislative session, time is running out.