Jay Miller, photo by Jeremy Kalin.
The company Crankshaft Supply takes old crankshafts and reconditions them for resale. Hence owner Jay Miller sees his operation as “an enormous recycler.” He wanted to get greener still by producing some of the energy his re-manufacturing facility consumes in large quantities.
Solar panels were appealing, but the capital cost was beyond his reach, and he couldn’t get enough financing from a banker he consulted.
“They wouldn’t have loaned us money for the entire project,” Miller said. He was told that photovoltaics in the upper Midwest “don’t have the track record” to justify the funding he sought.
But Miller was able to get his solar installation thanks to an increasingly popular funding mechanism known as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE.
The Flambeau River Papers mill in Park Falls, Wisconsin, uses combined heat and power to cut energy costs. (Photo by Wisconsin DNR via Creative Commons)
The hulking pulp and paper mills built many decades ago in Wisconsin, Michigan and other Midwestern states have had their share of environmental impacts.
But the mills were decades ahead of the game in adopting technology now seen as an effective tool to fight greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts. That would be the use of combined heat and power (CHP, also known as cogeneration), promoted by President Obama with a 2012 executive order and lauded by environmental and energy efficiency advocates.
Like any industry that generates electricity onsite, paper and pulp mills can take the heat from their generators to create steam that can be used to generate more electricity. More importantly, the heat can also be used directly for mills’ industrial processes, including for drying pulp.
“We were doing this before people were using the term ‘sustainability,’” said Jerry Schwartz, senior director of energy and environmental policy for the American Forest & Paper Association, a trade group. “A lot of it made economic sense.”
(Photo by Joseph Mietus via Creative Commons)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
Don’t reinvent the wheel.
That was the underlying message from two Minnesota agencies in recommending the Public Utilities Commission adopt federal “social cost of carbon” values to help guide utility decisions about electric generation.
A law enacted by the state more than two decades ago requires the PUC to establish “externality” values for carbon dioxide and other power plant pollutants to help shape planning decisions. The commission this year ordered an update to some of the values, including CO2, at the request of clean energy advocates.
Lignite coal is mined at the Freedom Mine in Buelah, North Dakota in 2007. (AP Photo / James MacPherson, File) Click to enlarge
North Dakota is famous for its shale oil and gas reserves – the Bakken Shale has created boom towns, fueled the state’s economy and even changed the railroad industry as trains transport the shale products cross-country.
But North Dakota is also heavily invested in another fossil fuel – massive reserves of lignite coal. And even as coal plants close nationwide and cities and states adopt policies curbing the use of coal-fired power, North Dakota is still fiercely protective of its coal – which provides almost 80 percent of the state’s energy, major electricity exports to neighboring states, and scores of mining and related jobs.
Elected officials and industry backers don’t plan to shift their focus on coal, they say, despite impending EPA rules for new and existing coal plants which could make things much more difficult for the state’s industry.
North Dakota is sparsely populated, with only about 700,000 residents. And while the shale boom has created significant electricity demand, North Dakota’s seven coal plants still export a majority of their energy to neighboring states – and such exports are crucial to the plants’ economics.
Stacy A. Cook, Vice President and General Manager of Koda Energy, at the combined heat and power biomass plant in Shakopee, Minnesota. Photo by Craig Lassig for Midwest Energy News. (click to enlarge)
When airborne dust ignited a silo explosion last spring at a biomass cogeneration plant in Minnesota, it was a major setback for the pioneering energy facility.
But the blast’s impact on Koda Energy’s bottom line was a blip compared to the prolonged strain of operating in an energy market that’s been turned upside down by fracking and cheap natural gas.
When a tribal government announced a partnership in 2006 to build the $60 million plant with one of the world’s largest malting companies, Rahr Malting Co., they were coming off a winter when spot prices for natural gas topped $13 per million Btu.
By the time the power plant began operating in May 2009, natural gas prices had plunged below $4. A few years later, in the spring of 2012, spot prices would briefly dip below $2.
(Photo by Prizmatic via Creative Commons)
A bill likely to be voted on today in the Minnesota legislature would establish the right of certain homeowners to put solar panels atop their roofs.
Specifically, the language – which is now included as part of a large omnibus environmental bill – would ensure that right for members of homeowners associations (HOAs) who own their roofs. [UPDATE: The bill was approved by the Minnesota House on Wednesday]
That amounts to about 20 percent of members of homeowners associations statewide, or an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 households, according to state Rep. Will Morgan, who introduced the bill. The rest live in multi-family units, in which they share ownership of the structure’s exterior.
Fresh Energy, where Midwest Energy News is based, has advocated on behalf of the legislation.
Homeowners associations and municipalities across the country have attempted to restrict the installation of solar panels, leading to conflict, litigation and legislation in many communities and states.
A federal judge on Friday struck down a portion of Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act, according to a report from Minnesota Public Radio.
Officials in North Dakota had challenged a provision of the law that required carbon emissions to be offset for new coal-fired electricity imported into the state. U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson sided with North Dakota, saying the law violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
In a news release, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said the state will appeal the decision.
“I will defend the State of Minnesota’s right to protect the quality of the air our citizens breathe. The State Statute does not prevent anyone from building and operating a new power-generating facility, whose toxic emissions will affect Minnesota’s air quality. It only requires that those new emissions must be offset by the same or greater reduction in emissions from other plants. In other words, Minnesota’s law encourages the replacement of older, more-polluting power plants with more efficient, cleaner facilities.”
Read the full story from MPR here.
Read additional coverage from the Minneapolis Star Tribune here.
Read the judge’s ruling here.
(Photo by Rob Rudloff via Creative Commons)
On its surface, Minnesota’s new value of solar law appears to contain a major loophole.
The law creates a methodology for utilities to calculate a rate for customer-generated solar power, based on avoided infrastructure, pollution and other costs.
However, the value of solar rate is voluntary. Utilities have the option of paying the new rate or continuing with the existing net metering policy, which compensates customers with small arrays at the retail rate.
The issue — whether customers or utilities should make that choice — was a bone of contention during the extensive stakeholder process to develop the policy, and remains so today.
In testimony to the Public Utilities Commission, Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest utility, estimated a value of solar rate of 14.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Meanwhile, Xcel’s residential retail rate is 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
So if the value of solar rate is higher than the retail rate, would utilities actually adopt it?
The answer, most likely, is yes, according to a new analysis released today by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
Connie Bonniwell of Robbinsdale, Minnesota holds a protest sign during a 2013 Public Utilities Commission meeting on an Enbridge pipeline expansion. (AP Photo / Star Tribune / David Joles)
Marty Cobenais has been to every state along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route, organizing resistance to the project from Montana to Texas.
He’s been arrested twice for civil disobedience during Keystone XL protests in front of the White House.
Now, the Bemidji man believes it’s time for pipeline activists around the country to turn their attention to his own backyard in northern Minnesota.
A trio of major pipeline projects proposed by Canadian fuel transporter Enbridge have been moving forward in Minnesota, mostly below the national radar.
“We need the national attention in Minnesota,” Cobenais said. Minnesota has sent busloads of protestors to Nebraska and Washington, D.C., he said. Now, “they should be here with us, too.”