In a new video released by the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, prominent state Republicans discuss the need for their party to be involved in clean-energy discussions.
Michigan Republicans announced this week that they do not support higher renewable energy targets and that they will seek to eliminate energy efficiency standards from state law.
Separate comprehensive energy packages emerging from the House and Senate — both of which have Republican majorities — differ on some topics, including electric choice, but committee chairs from both chambers are intent on removing efficiency standards that were adopted seven years ago. Neither packages call for a higher renewable portfolio standard, while one House Republican introduced a stand-alone bill Thursday to repeal the RPS.
State Rep. Aric Nesbitt and state Sen. Mike Nofs, the Republican chairs of the Legislature’s energy committees, say they don’t support mandates in energy policy and want to pursue a market-driven, “all-of-the-above” portfolio without targets.
Both say they support developing renewables and energy efficiency if it’s cost-effective for ratepayers through Integrated Resource Plans, which in other states are a years-long projection by utilities of their resource and capacity needs.
Larry Ward, executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, says he’s always been fascinated by the idea that “somehow Republicans can’t be in line” with renewable energy.
As a consultant and former political director for the state’s Republican party, Ward is experienced in statewide politics, and is well aware that the issue has become hyper-partisan. But he doesn’t think it should be. After all, he says, energy policy affects everyone who pays an electric bill.
“I’m just always mystified that we as a political party have let it get that bad,” he said.
So in late 2013, Ward launched the MCEF as a way to give Republicans a voice on clean-energy issues — an opportunity for those in the party to speak up on the merits of the issue without being lumped in with (and cast away as) liberals, he said. The group includes some of the state’s most prominent conservative activists.
While the MCEF publicly supports an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that includes natural gas and nuclear alongside renewables, Ward sees the benefits that the state’s 10 percent renewable energy standard has had economically. He supports removing state and utility barriers to entry for solar generation.
A few days before today’s municipal election in Chicago, there was big news about the controversial piles of petroleum coke, or petcoke, owned by a Koch Industries subsidiary and stored on the city’s Southeast Side.
“KCBX to eliminate coal and petroleum coke piles,” said the headline on a Feb. 19 press release from the company. For almost two years, local residents have been complaining about black dust blowing off the piles and asking elected officials to ban or place a moratorium on petcoke in the city.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and local Alderman John Pope have made strong statements opposing petcoke pollution. But residents are unhappy that the city has not done more to limit the operation, and that KCBX has asked for exceptions from city regulations.
The announcement would appear to mean that residents’ pleas have finally been heard and that city officials succeeded in taking action. However upon closer inspection, the headline-grabbing announcement largely just consists of the company saying it will comply with city regulations instituted a year ago.
By Bob Inglis
There’s still a long way to go, but conservatives may have begun to move on climate change.
Fifteen Republican U.S. Senators voted on January 21st for a Republican-offered amendment that said “human activity contributes to climate change.” Five Republican U.S. Senators were willing to go further that day, voting for an amendment that says “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk was a leader among the fifteen and the five.
Perhaps it’s the dawn of the 2016 presidential cycle and the facing of an expanded electorate. Perhaps it’s the 2016 Senate reelection map that’s home to large swaths of that expanded electorate, some of it in places like Chicago. Or maybe it’s that we’re beginning to see the back of the Great Recession, and the great and immediate fears of that dark time are receding.
By Alli Gold Roberts
Get consumer-brand companies, investors and state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle together in a room to talk about clean energy, and watch what happens.
Common sense prevails, and clean energy investments and policies come out on top.
At the recent NASEO Energy Outlook Conference in Washington D.C., Ceres and NASEO (the National Association of State Energy Officials) offered state energy officials a rare opportunity to connect with consumer brands and investors to discuss renewable energy and energy efficiency and the implications for state energy policies.
The response was overwhelming. Over two dozen representatives from 18 states, including Oklahoma, Utah, Minnesota, Michigan, and Missouri, packed the room. Unlike our national representatives in Washington, these state officials—representing red, blue, and purple states alike—managed to reach some key areas of agreement.
A drop in investments in Ohio’s clean energy industry could cost the state jobs, say industry experts. Matters could be made worse by continuing uncertainty about the future of Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
Last week the Pew Charitable Trusts released a report documenting the huge growth in investments in Ohio’s clean energy industry in the years following adoption of those standards in 2008.
That same report also shows a huge drop after state lawmakers began debating changes to those standards in 2013. The study’s authors expect investment levels will stay low through at least 2017.
©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
MADISON — Speakers at an all-day conference on energy policy in Wisconsin evoked two images of the state’s renewables sector. And neither is encouraging for clean energy advocates.
The first was “Rudy,” the inspiring 1993 film about a student’s quest to make the University of Notre Dame’s storied football program as a walk-on. The other reference was Sisyphus, the king in Greek mythology who was sentenced to push a large boulder uphill for eternity.
Whatever the metaphor, renewable energy advocates in Wisconsin are being forced to embrace the role of underdog with Republican Scott Walker staying put as governor, the state legislature awash in red and Walker appointees holding a majority on the three-member Public Service Commission.
Renew Wisconsin, the host of Friday’s meeting, sees the exponential growth in rooftop solar happening elsewhere across the nation, from neighboring Minnesota to red states such as Georgia. But the same is “just not happening in Wisconsin, and the major reason is policy,” said Tyler Huebner, the group’s executive director.
Wind energy development has largely been on hold in Wisconsin for a few years, Huebner said. And whatever momentum was building for adoption of more distributed solar generation was halted two months ago when the Public Service Commission approved a series of controversial proposals by We Energies, the state’s largest electric utility.
In a case that drew national attention, the PSC ultimately approved a reduction in net metering rates (the rates at which customers are credited for excess energy put on the grid) for We Energies customers, imposed a demand charge for recovery of fixed costs from customer generators and raised fixed charges for all customers (EnergyWire, Nov. 17). The commission also slightly reduced variable energy rates. But in sum, solar advocates say, the commission’s order effectively doubles the payback period on a residential solar energy system.
A poll last summer commissioned by an environmental advocacy group reflected strong support for energy efficiency and renewables. But without the ability to push through broad changes like an expansion of the state’s 10 percent renewable energy standard, furthering clean energy development must rely on more nuanced, targeted strategies, speakers said.
Those strategies include getting more large Wisconsin businesses on board and involved in policy discussions. Frequently cited was Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc., a global supplier to the building and automotive industries with $43 billion in sales last year. The company intervened in the We Energies rate case to oppose the utility’s proposal to increase fixed customer charges, arguing that the changes discouraged energy efficiency.
Brad Klein, an attorney for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, emphasized the need for clean energy advocates to work with investor-owned utilities to redesign an outdated business model focused on a centralized power grid. That business model too often pits utility shareholder interests with consumer interests and serves as a barrier to reduce energy use and deploy new technology.
Klein cited the Utility 2.0 reforms pursued by the state of New York. And there’s a similar but less developed effort underway in Minnesota, where Xcel Energy Inc., a participant, just proposed significant new additions of wind and solar energy over the next decade and a half.
“I think the key is figuring out some of these business model challenges,” Klein said.
Battling the ‘steamroller’
While some utilities are trying hard to reinvent themselves, “others are doubling down on the status quo” and flexing their political muscle by challenging changes in statehouses and utility commissions, he said.
Renewable advocates say We Energies and two other Wisconsin utilities that pushed through large fixed-charge increases last month didn’t provide sufficient proof to support the commission orders. A decision is coming soon on whether to seek judicial review, and if so on what grounds.
State Rep. Chris Taylor, who drafted a measure last year to expressly authorize third-party solar financing in Wisconsin, said the commission’s decision “made our state one of if not the most hostile to solar.”
Taylor, a Democrat who said she belongs to the American Legislative Exchange Council and attended ALEC’s annual meeting last spring just to stay up to date on what her political opponents are doing, implored environmental groups, businesses and others to work more closely. Otherwise, they cannot overcome a galvanized conservative movement.
“We need to get organized,” she said. “We cannot come to the battle with a fly swatter when they have a steamroller.”
Matt Neumann, an owner of Sunvest Solar, which has installed 10 megawatts of solar and does business in five states, said there’s no disputing that utilities see solar developers like his company as a competitive threat and the two industries will continue to butt heads.
“We’re diametrically opposed to each other, and there’s really no other way to say it,” he said.
Politically, though, the battle isn’t one defined by party lines. There’s strong support for solar expansion among some conservatives, he said. For instance, Georgia tea party activist Debbie Dooley as well as a solar advocacy group led by former Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. both opposed the We Energies proposal.
Neumann, the son of former Republican Rep. Mark Neumann, said distributed energy offers benefits that mesh with widely held conservative principles such as consumer choice and free markets, property rights, national security, and job growth (ClimateWire, Aug. 14).
“Those are just fun things to get Republicans thinking,” he said.
There are also subjects not to bring up.
“Do not talk about climate change, please,” Neumann said. “It’s a lightning rod topic, it’s not going to get you anywhere.”
Neumann said he’s met with Republican legislators and thinks that a measure to allow third-party financing for solar projects would be possible this session if framed as a consumer choice bill.
“A narrowly defined solar bill for financing I think has legs and can work,” he said. “Republicans would have to violate their own principles to deny it.”
Longer term, Wisconsin will have little choice but to transition to more renewable resources, especially if U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan is finalized, said Gary Radloff, director of Midwest energy policy analysis at the Wisconsin Energy Institute.
“The genie is out of the bottle,” Radloff said. “Our energy system is going to change, and you’re going to like it. But I have no idea how fast it’s going to happen.”
While embracing natural-gas-fired generation may help the state comply with greenhouse regulations and meet EPA’s 2030 target, the fuel would require significant upgrades in infrastructure, and history would suggest that prices for the commodity won’t stay cheap forever.
“We might have a couple of decades of reasonably priced natural gas,” Radloff said.
Ultimately, the most cost-effective strategy is to rely much more heavily on renewable energy and efficiency — a strategy that would require the scale of development underway in Minnesota.
“I don’t want to candy-coat this. It will cost us money,” Radloff said. “But it is achievable if you have the political will.”
Veteran Republican lawmaker Pat Garofalo has been driving to the Minnesota State Capitol and his private sector job in style in his Tesla Model S, which he purchased in November.
Electric cars are “where the future is,” Garofalo said. “Electric cars allow people to be in charge of their fuel bill and that money stays 100 percent in the local utility market. It’s about having better performance, being in charge of your own energy bill — if that’s not good enough for you, it’s also a lot better for the environment.”
The 43-year-old suburban legislator, who also works as a voice and network engineering consultant, won’t disclose the cost of his Tesla, which retails from $70,000 to $93,000. It replaces a more modest 2007 Ford Fusion as his primary means of transportation.
Even though they closed in 2012, Chicago’s controversial Fisk and Crawford coal plants are making an encore appearance in this year’s municipal elections, to be held Feb. 24.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first televised campaign ad featured the mayor on a park bench talking with Kim Wasserman, one of the community leaders who worked for more than a decade to try to force the coal plants to clean up or shut down.
The ad portrays Wasserman giving Emanuel credit for brokering a deal that shut down the Chicago plants, which immediately sparked outcry from many of the community activists who had been working on the issue since the early 2000s. They said they resented Emanuel taking credit for the plants’ closing. And they pointed out that the plants were likely to close anyway – and did close well before Emanuel’s deadline – because of competition from cheap natural gas. Additionally, the deal Emanuel brokered included the dropping of a lawsuit against the company Midwest Generation’s other Illinois coal plants.