Although an Iowa utility’s new five-year plan will add some potentially effective tools to its efficiency toolkit, critics worry that the target has been set low enough that the utility has little incentive to market those options. Alliant Energy, which does business in Iowa through its subsidary, Interstate Power and Light, is making some substantial additions to its suite of efficiency benefits. It will significantly expand subsidies for purchases of LED light bulbs, and will for the first time provide benefits to customers that invest in combined heat and power facilities. But since the state’s utility regulator is requiring Alliant to reduce electricity sales by only about 1.1 percent annually for the next five years, some people wonder how hard the company will strive to get customers to reduce their energy use. “What’s important is the effort” that goes into getting customers to take advantage of the new benefits, said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in Des Moines for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Goals set too low, he said, tend to result in only half-hearted outreach and marketing efforts.
Nebraska is rated third among the states for its wind-energy potential. And yet a year ago, it ranked only 26th for its actual wind-energy production.
It’s a long-debated issue that came to a head earlier this year, when neighboring Iowa’s vast wind farms helped it beat out the Cornhusker State to land a $300 million Facebook data center.
In fact, among Midwest states, only Ohio has less installed wind capacity than Nebraska.
Utility-run efficiency programs have led to reduced energy use by homeowners and other energy customers — as well as lower rates — but some industries want out of the programs.
In Ohio, at the behest of a large number of the state’s industries, lawmakers are considering a bill that would, among other provisions, allow industries to stop participating in efficiency programs of any kind.
In Illinois, a group of large industries has asked Commonwealth Edison to create a pilot program that would allow certain industrial customers to put their efficiency payments into an escrow account, and to use the funds to pay for their own, self-directed efficiency initiatives. Typically, utility customers are required to pay into a fund that finances efficiency improvements throughout the utility’s service area.
And in October, a group of a half-dozen industries failed to persuade the Iowa Utilities Board to exempt them from the efficiency program run by Interstate Power & Light.
The Iowa industries sought an “opt out,” meaning they wouldn’t have to pay for the utility’s efficiency program, and wouldn’t be required to invest in any efficiency efforts on their own, either.
The board told them if they wish to do an end-run around the utility efficiency program, they’ll have to get the legislature’s permission, according to Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, which objected to the industries’ request.
Development of energy-storage systems, which some consider essential to the growth of renewable energy, has trailed behind the installation of wind turbines and solar panels. However, it appears that is about to change.
Regulatory changes at the federal and state levels are likely to give a big boost to energy-storage projects, whether they stash electricity in batteries, pumped hydro, compressed air or some other technology.
Joe Spease, who’s developing several compressed-air storage projects in Texas and in his home state of Kansas, says he’s “ecstatic” about the developments. There’s a dawning recognition, he said, that energy storage is “the best thing that can happen for the economy and the environment. It’s inevitable that there will be a speedy movement towards these projects.”
Chris Shelton, president of AES Energy Storage in Arlington, Virginia, put it this way: “Key stakeholders – regulators and policymakers – are beginning to see that storage is part of the equation. That’s a big deal.”
Renewable energy has been on a roll in the Midwest until recent months, and the whims of federal policy could slow things even further, according to a new report.
The American Council on Renewable Energy is in the process of surveying the state of renewable energy in the U.S., region by region. Their latest report, titled Renewable Energy in the 50 States: Midwestern Region, looked at 12 states: Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana. The survey catalogs state policies, recent renewable developments in the marketplace, and the employment and investment stimulated by renewables.
Although it still relies heavily on coal, the nation’s midsection is noteworthy for its production of wind energy and biofuels, author Lesley Hunter wrote. More than one-third of the nation’s wind capacity is located in the 12-state region. Of the nine states nationwide that produce at least 10 percent of their electrical power from wind, five are located in the Midwest. In 2012, she wrote, installed wind capacity in the Midwest grew by 29 percent.
As smart meters enable utilities to vary the price of electricity throughout the day, will consumers change their patterns of energy use in response?
If pilot programs in Michigan, Illinois, and other places so far are any indication, they very likely will.
DTE Energy, which serves Detroit and southeastern Michigan, has installed smart meters in the homes and businesses of about 1.1 million customers. It’s projected that by 2017, all 2.1 million DTE customers will have the meters, according to spokesman Scott Simons.
Forty years after the first OPEC oil embargo left Americans stunned, vulnerable and waiting for their turn at the gas pump, the United States is getting more than twice as much productivity out of every barrel of oil and every kilowatt hour of electricity.
According to a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), huge advances in energy efficiency have meant that:
• Total U.S. energy use has fallen since peaking in 2007;
• Americans used less energy in 2012 then in 1999, even though the economy grew by more than 25 percent (adjusted for inflation) over that period;
• Although electricity use more than doubled between 1973 and 2000, the growth rate tumbled to about 6 percent between 2000 and 2012, meaning it increased more slowly than the U.S. population;
• and Americans used less oil in 2012 than in 1973, even though the economy tripled in size over that period.
While cost and technological barriers are commonly seen as the primary factors holding back clean energy, a new report says outdated utility business models are the real culprit.
The report, dubbed America’s Power Plan, argues that rewarding utilities primarily for building and maintaining fossil fuel-driven power plants is putting a drag on a burgeoning revolution in the way the U.S. meets its energy needs.
Published Sept. 17, the eight-part report was produced by the Energy Foundation and Energy Innovation, an energy and environmental policy firm. The Energy Foundation is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News, and also directly funds MwEN’s original reporting.
While one of Ohio’s investor-owned utilities has been pushing for the past year to dismantle the state’s energy-efficiency requirement, another has just agreed with several environmental and consumer groups on a five-year efficiency plan that will exceed the energy savings required by the law.
Duke Energy, which serves about 645,000 residential and 63,500 business customers in the state, last week filed a plan with the Public Utility Commission of Ohio to reduce electricity use among its customers by 5.7 percent by the end of 2018. The state standard requires it to reduce power use by only 4.9 by that time.
Five years after Ohio’s renewable energy standard took effect – and a few months before it will be challenged again in the state legislature – an economist with the state’s utility regulator tried to assess how the law was working out.
Tim Benedict’s verdict: “We’re seeing more of the good than of the bad.”
More specifically, his study concludes that the addition of renewable sources of power is modestly pushing down the wholesale cost of power in the state, while also reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced.
According to Benedict’s calculations, the renewable generators now producing power have reduced the cost of wholesale power by about 0.15 percent. When his study looked at the projected power from all renewable projects that the state has approved, including those not yet operational, the figure is closer to 0.5 percent.
“This confirms what other studies have found,” said Rebecca Stanfield, a deputy director for policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “As we add renewables, the wholesale price of electricity goes down.”