For hospitals, capturing waste heat is a natural fit

Gas from a nearby landfill helps fuel a combined heat and power system at Gundersen Health System's Onalaska, Wisconsin campus. (Photo courtesy Gundersen Health System)

Gas from a nearby landfill helps fuel a combined heat and power system at Gundersen Health System’s Onalaska, Wisconsin campus. (Photo courtesy Gundersen Health System)

Last fall, the Gundersen Health System hospital campus in La Crosse County, Wisconsin, generated more energy than it used and became the first hospital in the country to attain “energy independence,” as Gundersen’s sustainability program “Envision” describes it.

The hospital did this thanks in part to two combined heat and power (CHP) projects that generate electricity and use the waste heat from that generation. CHP is an important way industrial, commercial and other institutions nationwide can greatly increase their energy efficiency and reduce emissions from fossil fuels, and hospitals are often especially suited to embrace the technology.

Hospitals use massive amounts of energy, both electricity and heat, in part because of the rigorous sterilization, air circulation, food service and waste disposal practices they must employ. Hospitals operate around the clock, and serve large numbers of people.

Under Rauner, Illinois’ energy direction remains unclear

(Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)

Two months after his inauguration, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has made national headlines for his aggressive efforts to get the state’s budget crisis under control.

Energy and related environment issues have so far taken a back seat, but experts and advocates are watching closely for signs of what the new Republican gubernatorial administration will mean on that front.

Rauner’s draft budget released in February raised serious concerns that money for state energy efficiency and renewable energy projects will be cut and swept into the state’s general fund, as Midwest Energy News reported.

Rauner’s transition report released in January expressed support for a diverse energy mix including renewables, natural gas from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), nuclear and also “clean” coal. It specifically pledged support for energy efficiency, though the draft budget has cast doubts on that commitment.

Wind and solar supply chains thrive in Midwest states

Workers pose at a Wyoming wind farm in 2009; the turbine blades were manufactured by Siemens in Fort Madison, Iowa. (Photo by Duke Energy via Creative Commons)

Workers pose at a Wyoming wind farm in 2009; the turbine blades were manufactured by Siemens in Fort Madison, Iowa. (Photo by Duke Energy via Creative Commons)

Wind and solar energy support about 30,000 jobs at about a thousand companies in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, according to a series of reports released by the Environmental Law & Policy Center over the past two weeks.

The reports show the jobs created not only by the manufacture of wind turbine components, the building of wind farms and the installation of solar panels, but also in related businesses from banking to making cables and glass.

“We continue to be impressed by the robustness and the diversity of these jobs,” said ELPC executive director Howard Learner. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all. There are headquarters and manufacturing and construction jobs, retrofitting jobs, legal and insurance jobs, design and engineering, it’s really a diverse mix of skills for all types of companies.”

Illinois governor seeks to slash efficiency, energy programs

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the Budget address to lawmakers on Feb. 18. (AP Photo / Seth Perlman)

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the Budget address to lawmakers on Feb. 18. (AP Photo / Seth Perlman)

New Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has promised to make energy efficiency and renewable energy a priority. And clean energy advocates are hopeful the governor will support sweeping legislation introduced Feb. 19 that would increase mandates for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

But in trying to address the state’s current budget crisis, Rauner is proposing to cut existing energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, and to sweep money already collected for those programs into the state’s general coffers.

The administration’s draft budget released in February calls for shifting $175 million worth of energy programs from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity into the state’s general revenue fund. (See chapter 4-12 of the draft budget).

That money is collected from ratepayers on their utility bills, and by law it is supposed to be used exclusively for specific energy projects, namely the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS) fund and the Renewable Energy Resources Trust Fund.

Chicago petcoke announcement raises more questions

Locals think barges are bringing piles of petcoke from the BP Whiting oil refinery. (Photo by Kari Lydersen / Midwest Energy News)

Locals think barges are bringing piles of petcoke from the BP Whiting oil refinery. (Photo by Kari Lydersen / Midwest Energy News)

A few days before today’s municipal election in Chicago, there was big news about the controversial piles of petroleum coke, or petcoke, owned by a Koch Industries subsidiary and stored on the city’s Southeast Side.

“KCBX to eliminate coal and petroleum coke piles,” said the headline on a Feb. 19 press release from the company. For almost two years, local residents have been complaining about black dust blowing off the piles and asking elected officials to ban or place a moratorium on petcoke in the city.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and local Alderman John Pope have made strong statements opposing petcoke pollution. But residents are unhappy that the city has not done more to limit the operation, and that KCBX has asked for exceptions from city regulations.

The announcement would appear to mean that residents’ pleas have finally been heard and that city officials succeeded in taking action. However upon closer inspection, the headline-grabbing announcement largely just consists of the company saying it will comply with city regulations instituted a year ago.

Groups pursue time-of-use electricity pricing in Illinois

(Photo by daniel via Creative Commons)

(Photo by daniel via Creative Commons)

Energy prices are at their highest at times of peak demand – hot summer afternoons or evenings as people get home from work. That’s when extra power plants are fired up to meet the spiking demand.

But for most ratepayers, there is no financial incentive to avoid using energy at these times.

In Illinois, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) are asking regulators to demand that utilities ComEd and Ameren Illinois institute “time of use” pricing to charge customers more accurately for the price of electricity at the time they use it.

That means energy used at night or other low-demand times would be much cheaper, and energy used at peak times more expensive. People would theoretically then shift nonessential electricity uses like running the dishwasher or charging batteries to low-demand times, saving money on their bills and curbing energy demand, potentially cutting the need for extra carbon-emitting generation.

Illinois legislators introduce groundbreaking clean energy bill

Will Kenworthy, VP of regional operations for Microgrid Solar speaks at an event introducing new clean energy legislation in Illinois. (Photo courtesy Illinois Environmental Council)

Will Kenworthy, VP of regional operations for Microgrid Solar speaks at an event introducing new clean energy legislation in Illinois. (Photo courtesy Illinois Environmental Council)

Illinois legislators are introducing a sweeping bill today that would “fix” the state’s troubled Renewable Portfolio Standard, create ambitious goals and policies for energy efficiency and solar energy and, backers say, create 32,000 clean-energy jobs per year.

The bill is being sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook). It realizes the stated goals of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, a group of 26 organizations and 33 businesses that launched earlier this month (and includes members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News).

The bill extends and ramps up the state’s renewable standard by requiring 35 percent of energy consumed in Illinois to be generated by clean renewable sources by 2030. The current standard calls for 25 percent by 2025, and experts were worried the state would not meet these goals because of problems with how the standard is currently structured.

In Indiana House solar debate, echoes of Wisconsin fight

A solar array at a campground in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. (Photo via USDA)

A solar array at a campground in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. (Photo via USDA)

The escalating battle between utilities seeking to guard against the rise of distributed generation and proponents of solar power played out in a heated committee hearing in Indiana’s House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee passed HB 1320, with an amendment introduced during the hearing, in a 9-4 vote along party lines.

The arguments aired were largely the same as those made in controversial rate cases in Wisconsin and other places where utilities have sought to strictly control the economics of solar and other distributed generation – policies that renewable energy advocates argue could “kill” solar power.

Proponents of Indiana HB 1320, authored by Rep. Eric Allan Koch (R), adhered to the same talking points seen in other similar fights, framing the initiative as a way to protect ratepayers and particularly low-income people from solar installation owners who they say are freeloading and not paying their “fair share” to maintain the grid.

Blowing away myths: Study says wind energy could be even more reliable than baseload power

Photo by Steve Hoefer courtesy of Creative Commons.

Photo by Steve Hoefer courtesy of Creative Commons.

What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?

That’s a question that wind power skeptics or critics frequently ask. While coal, nuclear and gas plants theoretically run uninterrupted whenever they are called upon, humans have no control over when wind turbines stop and start spinning. Some utility and power company officials say this is a reason that “reliable,” baseload power should be valued more than wind.

But in a report released Thursday and an accompanying webinar, experts with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) explained how wind can actually be seen as a more reliable source than conventional power plants — one that contributes to rather than inhibits the stability of the grid as a whole.

Indiana BP refinery workers join nationwide strike

(Photo by Kari Lydersen)

(Photo by Kari Lydersen)

The towering machinery and fiery flares of the BP oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana were largely obscured by a cold fog Sunday morning, as refinery workers clustered around barrels of burning wood and held picket signs at 10 different spots around the sprawling perimeter.

About 1,100 members of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-1 – more than half the refinery employees – went on strike at 12:01 am Sunday, joining a nationwide strike of USW refinery workers negotiating a national contract with the industry.

USW Local 7-1 president Dave Danko told reporters that contract negotiations broke off Friday, though they still hope to return to the bargaining table next week. He said that wages are not a contested issue, but rather the union is concerned about “understaffing,” excessive amounts of overtime work, and reliance on outside contractors who he said are not as familiar as they should be with the plant.

“Instead of providing jobs in the community they’d rather run short-staffed and have people work onerous amounts of overtime,” said Danko. “For people to work sustained amounts of overtime leads to worker fatigue.”