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.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments from MISO and Gov. Rick Snyder.
Wisconsin-based utility We Energies and its major mining company customer in the Upper Peninsula reached an agreement today that effectively ends the need for ratepayer subsidies to keep an aging coal plant open in Marquette.
Cliffs Natural Resources announced today that it will stay on as a We Energies customer until the Presque Isle Power Plant is sold, allaying the utility’s concern that Cliffs would leave for an alternative energy supplier before that happened.
Out of that concern, We Energies said it needed to keep collecting System Support Resource payments to keep Presque Isle open, despite claims last week by top Michigan officials that We Energies was “double dipping” by doing so.
©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
Illinois legislators will file a widely anticipated bill within the next month aimed at giving a financial lift to Exelon Corp.’s fleet of six nuclear reactors in the state, the nuclear giant said Friday.
William A. Von Hoene Jr., Exelon’s chief strategy officer, told analysts and investors during the company’s fourth-quarter conference call that company officials are working with legislators to draft the measure, which should have broad support.
“We anticipate Republican and Democratic sponsors in significant numbers,” Von Hoene said.
Lissa Pawlisch, statewide director of the Clean Energy Resource Teams, has been tracking community solar development in Minnesota closely. (Photo by CERTs via Creative Commons)
The shape of what might be called the community solar garden industry in Minnesota has begun to form.
Many of the state’s power cooperatives already have solar gardens up and running or being actively marketed. Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community Program received more than 400 applications totaling 420 megawatts in the first week its program opened, about four times the most optimistic projections suggested.
Many of those proposals involve large installations that get around a 1 megawatt restriction on solar gardens by placing several of them together on one site. Xcel complained to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission last week that developers are proposing projects 10 times the limit and using the program to skirt regulations intended for large projects.
We Energies says it has made an offer to one of its large industrial customers in the Upper Peninsula that, if agreed to, would end the latest dispute over ratepayer subsidies keeping the utility’s aging coal plant open in Marquette.
The most recent dispute over System Support Resource (SSR) payments keeping the Presque Isle Power Plant open surfaced when Cliffs Natural Resources — which left We Energies for an alternative energy supplier in 2013 because of steadily increasing rates — returned to We Energies as a customer on Feb. 1.
However, the utility has continued to collect SSR payments in escrow out of fear that Cliffs would leave for a different supplier again.
©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Manuel Quiñones
Numerous industry and environmental interests are weighing in on high-profile federal litigation over the legality of what is widely known as Minnesota’s anti-coal law.
Last year, a federal judge said the Next Generation Energy Act ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause — which gives the federal government power to regulate interstate commerce — by restricting the purchase of carbon-intensive energy from other states.
Neighboring North Dakota, which mines coal and is reliant on the fuel for power generation, sued Minnesota in 2011 over the law. It said Minnesota’s law would, in effect, regulate its own generating portfolio (Greenwire, April 21, 2014).
A wind turbine near Brookings, South Dakota. (Photo by Randy Geise via Creative Commons)
When wind-farm developers look for a promising site for new turbines, they usually bypass windblown South Dakota in favor of North Dakota, Minnesota or Iowa.
The tax burden in South Dakota, it turns out, makes the neighboring states look like bargains.
Adam Sokolski, the manager of regional market structure and policy for wind farm developer Iberdrola Renewables, has done the math. He concluded that the state taxes on a 100 MW wind farm operating for 20 years would amount to $8.9 million in North Dakota, $9.6 million in Minnesota and $13.9 million in South Dakota.
He called South Dakota’s tax burden nothing short of punitive.
Chris Kunkle, a regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, an organization that lays the technical and policy groundwork for more wind energy, concurred on that point.
“From what I hear,” he said, “the tax climate is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, problem in South Dakota now.”
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.
Presque Isle plant in the U.P. Photo by Kari Lydersen
An official from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office says that We Energies is “double-dipping” by collecting a ratepayer subsidy to keep a power plant open in Marquette while also collecting rates from a returned industrial customer whose previous departure was one of the reasons We Energies got the subsidy in the first place.
“That is Michigan’s official position: We absolutely believe they are double-dipping,” Valerie Brader, Snyder’s deputy legal counsel and senior policy adviser, said Wednesday.
In fact, Brader believes that the company may be “triple-dipping” by recovering costs as part of the System Support Resource (SSR) payments that We Energies is receiving to keep the troubled plant open. The state does not believe We Energies is actually incurring all the costs it is being reimbursed for, Brader said.
“I personally don’t understand why they are triple-collecting,” Brader said.
The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station at Oak Harbor, Ohio, would have a guaranteed buyer for all its output if the PUCO approves a FirstEnergy plan. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
Papers filed last week by FirstEnergy in one of Ohio’s utility “bailout” cases suggest how approval of the plans could potentially give companies an edge in upcoming capacity auctions for the PJM grid area.
The proposals could mean more profits for utilities and their affiliated coal and nuclear plants. It could also mean problems for competitors, including natural gas generation, wind energy, solar power and alternative retail electric suppliers.