The Michigan Public Service Commission announced this week that it will be the first state energy agency in the country to use Property Assessed Clean Energy financing for efficiency projects at its new headquarters.
The agency will lease the building from a private owner, who has agreed to finance just under $500,000 for LED lighting, a 20 kW solar array and variable speed motors for heating and cooling.
The property owner, Saginaw Plaza Ltd., will receive a 20-year fixed-rate loan that will be paid for through the MPSC’s energy savings. It’s anticipated that the building will save more in reduced energy consumption than the cost of the loan.
“The commission thought it would be a good idea to set an example when it comes to energy efficiency,” MPSC spokeswoman Judy Palnau said.
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell speaks at a benefit in 2009. (Photo by Steven Depolo via Creative Commons)
Grand Rapids, Michigan Mayor George Heartwell is counting down the days until he has to leave office: “419 days, seven hours and 20 minutes,” he smiled at the end of an interview last week.
But it’s not for a desire to leave — in a local election this month, voters approved term limits for citywide elected officials, leaving Heartwell as a lame duck in 2015. He will have served 12 years on the job.
Heartwell, 65, sat down with Midwest Energy News to talk about his time in the mayor’s office, a part-time job in a weak-mayor system that gives most policy control to a board of commissioners.
Yet Heartwell has elevated the city as a model for sustainability, renewable energy and energy efficiency. It includes an aggressive 100-percent renewable energy goal by 2020 (it’s at 25 percent now) and an entire city lighting system comprised of LEDs.
During his time in office, the United Nations recognized the city as a “Regional Center of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development” (one of two in the U.S.) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named it the most sustainable city in the country in 2010.
(Photo by jdickert via Creative Commons)
Although all Ohio ratepayers benefit from energy-efficient home weatherization programs for low-income families, future benefits could suffer from recent changes to state law, says a new report.
Investments in those programs have been producing $2.51 in savings and other benefits for every $1 they cost, reports the study from Policy Matters Ohio.
Yet while Ohio’s energy efficiency standard had been increasing private spending on the programs, changes under Senate Bill 310 threaten to severely limit those investments, the study says.
The law, which became effective this fall, freezes for two years any increases in the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, while also weakening the standards. Meanwhile, a study committee is considering the future of the standards after the two-year freeze.
Some state legislators and utilities have said they want to eliminate any increases in the energy efficiency standard altogether.
In Cook County, which includes Chicago, 41 percent of households are renters. (Photo by sabrina via Creative Commons)
Making the case for energy efficiency investments seems relatively straightforward for homeowners who will reap the benefits directly in lower utility bills. But for rental, multi-unit buildings where landlords pay for infrastructure and appliance upgrades while tenants pay all or most of the utility bills, it’s much more complicated.
This situation is referred to as a “split incentive,” where the party making the investment won’t directly reap all or any of the financial benefits.
Landlords who don’t live in a given building also don’t have the personal incentive of seeking a more comfortable dwelling free of drafts and temperature swings.
But energy efficiency measures like insulation, new furnaces, smart appliances and efficient lighting do pay off for building owners, a message the Chicago-based group Elevate Energy is working to convey statewide. Elevate Energy has a program specifically to educate multi-unit building owners about energy efficiency and assist them with free energy audits and advice on contractors and upgrades.
A propane tank at a home near Baraga, Michigan. (Photo by hyperboreal via Creative Commons)
Propane users, as was apparent during last winter’s price spike, can get hit by a double-whammy.
“On the one hand, you have to pay more,” said Andy Johnson, director of the Winneshiek Energy District in Decorah, Iowa. “On the other hand, you have no help.”
Customers of natural-gas and electric utilities typically get that help in the form of ratepayer-funded efficiency benefits. With the exception of a few New England states, however, efficiency benefits for propane customers usually are modest, at best.
Compounding that is the fact that propane heating usually costs at least twice what natural gas does.
The higher cost of propane looms particularly large in the Midwest, where it plays a more prominent role in heating than it does in the nation overall.
Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation grantees tour Ameren facilities in downstate Illinois. (Photo courtesy ISEIF)
The smart meters being delivered to Illinois homes under the state’s 2011 smart grid law could potentially spark significant energy savings – relieving burden on the grid and on power supplies and saving money for residents.
But that’s only if people use the information provided by smart meters to modify their habits, by shifting when they use energy, installing more efficient appliances and the like. Figuring out how to use a smart meter and respond to the data it provides is a complicated and intimidating task for anyone.
It is especially challenging for renters and public housing residents who don’t own their appliances or even pay their own energy bills; or for senior citizens who don’t know how to use the internet; or for immigrants who don’t speak English. And for people in low-income and marginalized neighborhoods in general, beset by violence, decrepit housing, and a lack of well-paying jobs, understanding and modifying energy use is likely to be a very low priority.
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Minnesota led Midwest states in energy efficiency in a recent study while two of its western Dakota neighbors scored among the worst in the country.
The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard rankings — which includes the District of Columbia — shows four other Midwest states in the top 20 in its State Energy Efficiency Scorecard: Minnesota (10), Illinois (11th), Michigan (12) Iowa (14) and Wisconsin (17).
The ACEEE lauded Wisconsin for being among the top four states for improving its energy efficiency environment. The rest of the region had a much more mixed scorecard, with both Ohio (25) and Indiana (40) falling substantially in the rankings due to legislative decisions that backtracked on energy efficiency standards.
Nancy North and John Gaddo moved into their near-passive house in Lanesboro, Minnesota, in July. The house has about has a little more than 1,500 square feet of living space and is expected to achieve net zero. (Courtesy photo)
When John Gaddo and Nancy North set out to build a small, energy-efficient house in southeast Minnesota, they found themselves gravitating to passive house, a rigorous design standard that aggressively slashes energy use.
But computer modeling showed their plan would fall just short of the standard, which was devised in Germany, unless they made some onerous changes. Among them: eliminating most north-facing windows, piling on to the already copious insulation, and adding unwanted floor space in order to satisfy a limit on heat demand per square foot.
“All of those compromises just didn’t make sense to us,” said Gaddo, a manager at Wisconsin Public Radio. North runs a strategic communications firm that specializes in environmental conservation projects.
The standard also wouldn’t credit the couple for using solar panels to offset their energy use, even though PV was an affordable way to make the house net-zero.
Like some other sustainability-minded homeowners, they decided it wasn’t worth sacrificing some great design features and their pocketbook to meet the passive house benchmarks.
“We’re a little disappointed,” Gaddo said. “Even though we don’t have a piece of paper that says it’s certified, it does everything that a passive house can and should do.”
A solar thermal system is installed on a Minnesota barn in 2008. (Photo by Clean Energy Resource Teams via Creative Commons)
While soaring propane prices last winter helped build interest in solar thermal systems, results from a Minnesota rebate program show the market is still lukewarm.
The state’s Department of Commerce has enough rebate money left over to fund dozens more solar hot water or solar thermal projects through its Made in Minnesota (MiM) program. Meanwhile, a much larger pool of money for PV has been exhausted.
Although the deadline for rebates has formally passed, MiM’s coordinator Kim Havey said the department has extended the program until the end of the year. Solar thermal could be particularly attractive to rural customers using propane, which may be in short supply again this winter.
Workers install a municipal geothermal system in West Union, Iowa. (Photo courtesy Main Street West Union)
District heating and cooling, typically powered by steam, is going underground in a small Iowa town.
The community of West Union, with a population just shy of 2,500, has completed a geothermal system beneath its town square, and early this year began providing heating and cooling to nearby businesses. About a dozen now are connected to the system, and more are expected to join.
While several universities have installed large-scale geothermal systems to serve multiple buildings, the West Union project is believed to be one of the first of its kind for a municipality.