Over the past decade, Michigan communities have been hit with a one-two financial punch. One from declining property values and the subsequent loss of tax revenue, the other from steady declines in statutorily shared revenue from the state.
So it hasn’t exactly been easy for municipalities to pursue meaningful energy efficiency upgrades intended to save taxpayer money in the long run.
“When it comes to political willingness to do energy efficiency projects, that is a very low bar. Most communities want to make their buildings and their systems more energy efficient and when you talk to them about it, you don’t come across people who say we want to waste more energy,” said Conan Smith, executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, which helps facilitate projects through the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office. Smith is also a county commissioner in southeast Michigan who represents Ann Arbor.
“Where the challenge arises is the financing structure. The way municipal financing structures work, it’s not likely they’re going to have a lot of excess revenue in the next decade. The question becomes: How do you get money to capitalize on these kinds of projects?” →
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. →
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 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. →
A rural Minnesota co-op is offering customers who participate in a demand-response program a hard-to-beat deal on community solar.
Customers of Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric (SWCE) who want to own a photovoltaic panel in a community solar garden and add a new electric water heater to their homes can have both for just $170. →
Less than three years after it began offering substantial rebates to customers for investing in certain energy-efficiency improvements, a Missouri utility is proposing to throttle back on its efforts.
In late December, Ameren Missouri filed with state’s Public Service Commission (docket #EO-2015-0055) a proposed three-year efficiency plan to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Compared to the 2013-2015 efficiency plan, the budget would be about 8 percent lower, and the energy-savings goal would be just 54 percent of the current goal.
“Ameren has left substantial amounts of savings on the table and is not close to performing at the level of leading utilities,” said John Hickey, director of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club. “Ameren can, and should, make energy efficiency a larger part of its resource portfolio.” →
Indiana’s legislative session is scarcely a week old, but a pair of bills has already re-established a wedge between utilities and clean energy advocates.
One of the measures would allow utilities to propose their own energy efficiency goals and programs. The other would alter terms and impose demand charges for utility customers who choose to generate a share of their electricity with solar energy systems.
The bills dive into two of the thorniest energy policy issues facing states today — how to encourage reductions in energy use and give consumers the ability to generate energy with rooftop solar arrays while keeping utilities financially strong and able to reinvest in the grid. →
Peter Lindstrom, mayor of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, is promoting a new state efficiency program.
For two years, the Minnesota Department of Commerce has been showcasing a new approach to financing state and municipal sustainability projects around the state.
Called the Guaranteed Energy Savings Program (GESP), the concept offers organizations a way to reduce energy costs and use the savings to help pay for projects. The state created documents to help agencies and municipalities manage the program, which involves an “Energy Services Company” that develops, installs, and provides financial assistance for the projects.
It’s not an easy concept to explain even to large agencies, much less city officials. Helping to attract municipalities to the program is now the job of Peter Lindstrom, 43, former assistant director of Science Technology and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Power lines in Kansas City. (Photo by Chris Murphy via Creative Commons)
Utilities across the Midwest and the nation in recent years have sought to hike the fixed portion of their customers’ bills, in what some observers interpret as an attempt to compensate for stagnant or flagging electricity sales and head off competition from solar.
Two such proposals are now pending before the Missouri Public Service Commission.
Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), one of the major utilities serving the state, is seeking to boost the fixed portion of customers’ monthly bills from $9 to $25, which would make it one of the higher fixed rates among 28 investor-owned utilities in the Midwest, according to a survey of rates done by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
KCP&L’s proposal is included in a rate case filed with Missouri’s Public Service Commission on Oct. 30, 2014.
An infrared image from an energy audit. (Photo by prc1333 via Creative Commons)
There’s at least one bipartisan piece of legislation moving through Michigan’s lame-duck session: A streamlined loan program for residential customers looking to install renewable energy or efficiency systems on their property.
The Municipal Utility Residential Clean Energy Program Act is modeled after the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy financing law of 2010, bringing to homeowners a similar loan program that until now has only been available to commercial and industrial property owners.
However, the law would apply only to residential customers of municipal utilities — about 260,000 households, according to the Michigan Municipal Utility Association. The law would apply to residents in cities such as Lansing and Traverse City after local governing board approval.
“It gets down to the fact that energy efficiency is common sense: It reduces energy waste and saves money,” said Jack Schmitt, deputy director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “This legislation allows for and promotes greater opportunities for energy efficiency throughout Michigan.” →
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