Workers for Mortenson Construction install solar panels at a work site in Arizona. (Photo courtesy Mortenson Construction)
Earlier this year, a major Minnesota construction company announced an agreement with the solar developer SunShare, LLC to collaborate on future projects in the budding community solar garden market.
It should come as no surprise that M.A. Mortenson Company would want a piece of the community solar action, as it has quietly become one of the nation’s leading builders of solar installations.
The company’s solar staff has increased from dozens to hundreds over the past three years, a clear reflection of the industry’s skyrocketing growth.
Solar adds to the company’s growing renewable energy workload, from wind turbines (9,000 turbines producing 15,000 megawatts of power) to transmission infrastructure (33 power line projects).
While Mortenson has agreed to build Sunshare projects in Minnesota the arrangement does not preclude it from working with other developers, said Trent Mostaert, general manager of the Renewable Energy Groups. “We want to help developers build as much solar as possible in Minnesota.”
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.
Energy savings at the Cleveland Clinic free up resources for patient care. (Photo by Steve Grant via Creative Commons)
Representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and the City of Cleveland were on hand Monday at the city’s Fire Station No. 1 to recognize local leaders in DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge.
Participants in the federal program publicly commit to decrease their energy consumption by at least 20 percent over a 10-year period and to share their know-how with others. Energy efficiency is a key part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan.
Monday’s program gave kudos to both the Cleveland Division of Fire and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority for reducing energy consumption and cutting costs for area taxpayers.
Also honored were the commercial real estate company Forest City Enterprises and the Cleveland Clinic. Both organizations have their headquarters in Cleveland.
Westar Energy’s headquarters in Topeka, Kansas. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
As utilities around the U.S. have sought to increase fixed charges in response to growing numbers of customers generating their own power, a Kansas utility is taking a more targeted approach.
In a case now pending before the Kansas Corporation Commission, customers of Topeka-based Westar Energy with their own solar, wind or other generation will pay a higher fixed charge than other ratepayers.
“We just want to make sure it’s fair to any customer, whether they decide to generate some of their own power or not,” said Jeff Martin, Westar’s vice president for regulatory affairs.
Opponents see the proposal as another effort to fend off competition from residential solar after Westar’s effort to kill net metering ended in a compromise last year.
“This is another attempt by the utility to kill solar in Kansas,” said Aron Cromwell, co-owner of Cromwell Environmental, a Lawrence-based solar installer.
Crews install a natural gas pipeline in southwest Michigan. The future price of gas is a critical variable in determining the cheapest way for states to meet EPA carbon rules. (Photo by Consumers Energy via Creative Commons)
Shifting natural gas prices are making it a challenge for states to place their bets on the most cost-effective and least risky ways to comply with impending carbon regulations.
Those prices could likely determine whether it makes sense to replace retiring coal generation with natural gas or renewable energy.
To help with that decision process, experts at the University of Michigan and a Lansing-based energy consulting firm have released a model to make that planning easier and more accessible to stakeholders beyond just utilities.
Specifically, the model considers the risks that would apply to ratepayers as states develop new combinations of energy sources and efficiency into their portfolios to meet requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
According to the study’s lead author, the model “changes a lot of the traditional arguments” about the costs utilities and ratepayers face for achieving compliance.
Firefighters from around Ohio fight a derrick fire during a training session at Wayne County Fire and Rescue Training Facility in 2008. (AP Photo/Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)
Ohio’s oil and gas industry and environmental groups are satisfied with a compromise reached this week on one bill before the state legislature, but both camps remain divided on controversial community right-to-know provisions in another pending bill.
Gov. John Kasich’s House budget bill, House Bill 64, would exempt oil and gas operations from providing hazardous chemical information directly to local authorities and emergency responders.
Critics say those provisions conflict with federal community right-to-know requirements. Similar terms were proposed last year.
HB 64 also renews efforts to raise taxes on oil and gas operations. The industry opposes those provisions.
(Photo by Paul Weimer via Creative Commons)
Several energy-related proposals in Minnesota face tough odds as they navigate a politically split legislature.
The bills that have risen to the top include an aggressive move to push for high renewable energy standard and a bill intended to clip state agency oversight of Environmental Protection Agency carbon rules.
It’s anyone’s guess at this point what the fate of proposed laws because of the political alignment of the legislature — a Republican House, a Democratic Senate, a Democratic governor. There are no slam dunks for bills from the right or left.
Legislative insiders say that not all the energy-related proposals have been submitted, but several significant proposals are already generating attention.
A Minnesota faith group will announce today an effort to make community solar more accessible to people with lower incomes.
Julia Nerbonne, executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, said that early discussions with solar garden developers in the Twin Cities revealed that they will be targeting potential customers with credit scores of 700 or above.
That would leave a substantial portion of the population without access to solar garden subscriptions due to modest to low incomes or past credit problems.
“That’s alarming and people are not talking about it,” she said. “It’s probably less than half the people in country who have a score that high.”
Engineers say an emergency cutoff switch is a redundant feature on inverter-equipped solar arrays. (Photo by mjmonty)
An Iowa bill requiring a safety feature that some engineers say is unnecessary has critics questioning whether the legislation is an attempt to stifle distributed generation.
The legislation, SF 406, would require customer-generators to install an external disconnection device. The device itself would add a few hundred dollars or more to the cost of a solar array or other system, but the bill also would impose daily fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 for any energy generator without one.
The requirement would apply to existing systems as well as new ones, according to state Sen. Tony Bisignano, who introduced the legislation.
Clean-energy advocates in the state have been focused on defeating the bill, which they see as an effort to discourage rooftop solar installations, in particular, by piling on an additional – and needless – cost.
“This is something that’s coming from the utility behemoths through the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers),” said Barry Shear, the president and owner of Eagle Point Solar in Dubuque. “They’re the ones pushing this.”
A proposal from FirstEnergy would guarantee income for the Davis-Besse nuclear plant and other facilities. (Photo by AlienCG via Creative Commons)
As FirstEnergy awaits a decision on its proposed electric security plan after a similar proposal from American Electric Power (AEP) was rejected by regulators last month, broader themes about Ohio’s energy future are emerging in the debate.
The plan recommended by FirstEnergy would have Ohio electricity consumers pay for operating costs of what critics deem two inefficient power plants; the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo and the W.H. Sammis coal-fired plant FirstEnergy operates on the Ohio River. An evidentiary hearing on the FirstEnergy proposal is scheduled to be held at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) offices on April 13.
The PUCO ruled last month that AEP’s similar proposal failed to promote rate stability or overwhelmingly prove that it was in the public interest. Opponents of FirstEnergy’s plan, who have characterized the proposals as “bailouts,” believe it should meet a similar fate.