Michigan’s capitol building. (Photo by David Defoe via Creative Commons)
A surplus of electric power in the Midwest, low wholesale power prices, a jump in retail rates, and the dramatic growth in customer choice participation in Illinois and Ohio are prompting at least two states in the Midwest to look again at the merits of letting retail customers pick their electric supplier.
On April 30 in Indiana, Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill that among other things requires a state legislative committee to perform a study on the merits of retail electric customer choice.
Meanwhile in Michigan, which has the highest electric rates in the region, lawmakers are hearing testimony on whether to lift that state’s choice cap of 10 percent of total retail load.
A computer rendering of a proposed coal-to-gas plant near Rockport, Indiana. (Image via Indiana Gasification)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Christa Marshall
A major “clean” coal project that was once viewed as a keystone for cleaning up the Midwest’s greenhouse gas emissions appears near collapse.
Wednesday, a spokesman for the Indiana Gasification project — which envisioned the capture and storage of carbon dioxide from a coal-to-gas facility in Rockport, Indiana — said the initiative was suspended and “likely dead” after passage of a bill in the state Legislature last weekend.
The $2.8 billion project’s suspension also stalls a first-of-its-kind CO2 pipeline from Denbury Resources that was considered a potential emissions game changer because it would have provided a link for additional, emissions-heavy Midwestern projects to carry captured carbon dioxide to enhanced oil recovery operations in the Gulf Coast.
Workers install solar panels on the roof of the Maj. Gen. Emmett J. Bean Federal Center near Indianapolis in 2011. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Alan Petersime)
Indianapolis is seeing a boom in solar development, with at least three major solar farms in the works, numerous other significant solar projects proposed and a city initiative to create installations on municipal sites.
March 15 was the groundbreaking of a 12 MW solar farm at the Indianapolis International Airport that is slated for completion by end of the year and billed as the largest airport solar farm in the country; meanwhile another 10 MW solar farm at the airport is also planned. A solar farm of up to 9.6 MW is planned at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A 30 MW solar farm planned for the south side of the city, developed by Minnesota-based Sunrise Energy Ventures LLC, is expected to begin construction this summer and be operating by 2014, as the largest such farm in the Midwest. And the city has a program underway to lease space on the rooftops and grounds of public buildings to solar developers for 10-year contracts, after which point the city might buy the solar panels.
The airport installations are among numerous proposed and in-the-works projects aided by a voluntary feed-in tariff (VFIT) that Indianapolis Power and Light Company (IPL) launched in March 2010, offering to pay above-market rates to producers of solar energy.
But solar advocates fear the nascent boom could be stalled in its tracks, since the VFIT was a three-year pilot program that expired at the end of March. Clean energy backers are asking IPL to renew the VFIT and also to allow projects on a “waiting list” that were not approved during the program timeline to replace any approved projects that don’t end up happening.
(Photo by Michael Sarver via Creative Commons)
A bill that would would allow Indiana utilities to pass along the costs of new transmission, distribution, and storage infrastructure investments directly to ratepayers – without filing a rate case before state regulators – is advancing through the state legislature.
The omnibus regulatory reform bill (SB 560) is supported by the Indiana Energy Association, a trade group that represents the state’s investor-owned utilities. It passed the state House in March and was sent back to the Senate with amendments.
Among other things, the legislation would facilitate a new utility cost recovery “trackers” for infrastructure including distribution, transmission, and storage facilities. Currently, such costs are allowed for recovery only via rate case filings, which can take a year or more to process.
A simulated control room at the visitor’s center for the Cook Nuclear Plant in Michigan. (Photo by John Grabowski via Creative Commons)
The future of a Michigan nuclear plant lies in the hands of Indiana regulators, as they decide whether ratepayers should be responsible for funding work needed to extend the plant’s life.
The Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in southwest Michigan needs $1.17 billion worth of upgrades to continue operating for another two decades, according to Indiana Michigan Power (I&M), a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP).
In 2005 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted license renewals allowing the plant’s two reactors to keep running through 2034 and 2037. I&M wants to bill ratepayers for 117 separate projects it categorizes as “life cycle management” necessary to extend the reactors’ lives.
In order to undertake the upgrades, the utility needs the go-ahead from Indiana and Michigan public utility commissions agreeing that the projects are needed and that ratepayers in the two states can be billed for the work as it progresses.
In late January, the Michigan Public Service Commission decided that Michigan customers can be billed for their proportional share of up to $851 million worth of upgrades on the 35- and 29–year-old pressurized water reactors. That figure represents projects that the commission decided would fall within the state’s six year pre-approval window; and it includes a 10 percent cushion for cost overruns.
Michigan customers buy about 15 percent of the 2,100 MW plant’s power, while Indiana customers buy about 65 percent. The rest is sold on the wholesale market, according to AEP spokesperson Sarah Bodner.
The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is currently considering the utility’s request, with the fate of the plant essentially hanging in the balance.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is arrested in front of the White House Wednesday during a Keystone XL protest. (Photo by cool revolution via Creative Commons)
Detroit resident Rhonda Anderson is heading to Washington D.C. to join thousands of people from across the nation in a protest Sunday calling on President Obama to take action on climate change, including by rejecting TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Anderson opposes Keystone XL, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast, but she says other Midwesterners are already being impacted in other ways by the industry.
Residents who live near pipelines and refineries already handling tar sands say their experiences raise red flags about Keystone XL; and they are also calling for increased regulatory scrutiny for existing tar sands pipelines and infrastructure.
“There are instances of tar sands projects affecting communities all across the country,” said Kady McFadden, an associate organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “The Keystone we see as the biggest offender, which is why so much attention has been given to it, but we’re also giving (Sunday’s event) a local focus and face, saying these are places tar sands are already being brought and already having effects.”
(Photo by Justin Leonard via Creative Commons)
Despite Indiana’s abundant wind resources, renewables provide just 3 percent of the state’s electricity, far less than in other states, and 85 percent of the state’s electricity is generated by burning coal.
Not coincidentally, the conservative state legislature has rejected state renewable energy mandates that have spurred wind development elsewhere in the Midwest.
But a wind-energy coalition thinks they’ve found another way to expand renewable energy in the state, without government mandates.
The Indiana Power of Wind coalition is pushing legislation that would allow wind and natural gas to compete directly with coal on the basis of price when utilities procure new generation. Under the plan, when a utility needs new generation capacity, an independent entity would evaluate all possible sources of new electricity generation, including renewables.
“We want competitive procurement for all forms of energy,” Tony Samuel, a lobbyist for the organization, tells Midwest Energy News. “That speaks to our confidence that wind will be competitive,” he added.
The BP Whiting refinery looms over Marktown, a neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana surrounded on all sides by industry. (Photo by Kari Lydersen / Midwest Energy News)
EAST CHICAGO, Indiana — Billowing plumes of white steam swirl around the towering steel matrix at the BP Whiting oil refinery, while blossoms of orange flame from flares light up the cold night sky.
This is the backdrop to Marktown, an unusual enclave built in 1917 to house employees of a nearby steel mill owned by Chicago industrialist Clayton Mark.
About a quarter of the pastel, stucco Marktown homes are now vacant and crumbling. There is a general appearance of abandonment and decay. But on the evening of Jan. 23 the Marktown community center was bustling, packed with residents confused and alarmed about the news circulating over the past few days.
“This is more people than I’ve ever seen in Marktown,” remarked one local, who declined to give his name.
Kim Rodriguez, a 54-year-old lifelong resident, had called the meeting to try to save the neighborhood.
That’s because BP officials recently acknowledged they are looking to buy up and raze Marktown homes.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard poses with an electric Ford Focus in December. Indianapolis plans to replace its entire fleet with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025. (Rich Callahan / Associated Press)
INDIANAPOLIS — In December, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard made national news by announcing that Indianapolis would be the first U.S. city to shift its entire fleet, including police cars, to electric and natural-gas powered vehicles, and that it would do so by 2025.
But that was hardly the first move he’d made toward sustainability.
Soon after taking office in 2008, Ballard created the city’s first Office of Sustainability. His administration has conducted energy-efficiency retrofits on 61 city-owned buildings; created bike lanes all over the city; and outfitted the 28-story Indianapolis City-County building with solar panels, wind-powered lights, low-flow toilets and a geothermal chiller.
These days many big-city mayors are moving to reduce energy and water usage. But Ballard, a Gulf War veteran who served more than two decades in the Marine Corps, is a Republican mayor in a conservative state where the coal-mining industry and coal-burning utilities are potent political forces.
Midwest Energy News wanted to know more about what drives Greg Ballard’s sustainability efforts, and his larger vision for sustainability of the nation’s 12th-largest city (responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity).
The Gibson Generating Station in southwest Indiana. (Photo by Duke Energy via Creative Commons)
Coal-fired power plants around the country are closing due to environmental regulations and competition from cheap natural gas, but during hearings before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission earlier this month, officials from one of the state’s largest utilities sought to buck the trend.
Duke Energy Indiana is seeking permission from the state regulatory commission to bill ratepayers for making retrofits to three of its Indiana coal-fired power plants in order to comply with looming federal environmental regulations, most importantly the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) with a 2015 deadline.
Environmental groups that submitted testimony at the hearing argued that investing in the aging coal plants is a bad deal for ratepayers, who will pick up the cost since Indiana is a regulated energy market. And, they say, it unwisely continues a dependence on electricity sources that emit high levels of carbon dioxide, further contributing to climate change.
Instead, they told the commission, Duke should invest in natural gas, energy efficiency and other options. The Indiana Citizens Action Coalition, Valley Watch, Save the Valley and the Sierra Club intervened in the regulatory proceedings (the Sierra Club is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News).
The commission is currently considering Duke’s request to pass on about $400 million worth of pollution control investments to ratepayers for its Cayuga, Gibson and Gallagher coal plants, as phase two of an ongoing retrofit program. Duke told the commission it plans to close a fourth coal plant, the Wabash River station, though there is a possibility one of its units would be retrofitted as a natural gas plant. The average age of the four coal plants is 45 years.