A bill in Missouri would allow energy from large hydro facilities, like the Table Rock Dam, to count toward the state’s renewable standard. (Photo by jeff brown via Creative Commons)
Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable standards will be on trial again this year in the state’s legislature.
The Buckeye State is among a few Midwestern battlegrounds where lawmakers associated with a conservative policy group are working to freeze, repeal, or otherwise weaken renewable energy policies.
Others so far include Missouri and Kansas, where fossil-fuel-funded groups have actively attacked the state’s renewable standard at public events and legislative hearings.
The efforts follow a call to action last fall by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for its members to pass legislation repealing renewable standards in their home states.
“[ALEC] is definitely on the march,” says Gabe Elsner, who tracks oil and gas company lobbying for the Checks and Balances Project, a nonprofit watchdog group.
Solar panels at the University of Illinois, Chicago. (Photo by Adam Gimpert via Creative Commons)
When Chicago voters approved municipal aggregation on Election Day, some celebrated the possibilities offered by breaking with utility ComEd for alternative providers, while others worried whether it would be a wash or even a blow for renewable energy.
Paul Fenn, a Bay Area energy law and policy expert known as a father of the community choice aggregation (CCA) movement – roughly the same concept as municipal aggregation – cast his lot with the former group.
Chicago officials have stressed that cost savings are their priority, and local experts say the impact on renewables remains to be seen, especially since a fix to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is needed to spur renewable growth.
But Fenn thinks that with an aggressive and creative approach, Chicago can have its cake and eat it too – generating cost savings while sparking a boom of local and regional renewable energy construction; creating solar, co-generation, wind and other energy installations owned largely by the city and individual residents.
He thinks that in five years, Chicago could be getting 50 to 75 percent of its energy from local or regional renewables. He envisions rooftop solar PV on homes, businesses and municipal buildings; wind or solar installations on vacant land, co-owned by surrounding neighbors; waste heat captured from downtown buildings and factories to generate hundreds of megawatts of electricity. And massive investments in energy efficiency to greatly reduce the city’s overall energy demand.
A screen capture from an ad by the utility-backed Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan opposing Proposal 3.
In September, a Lansing, Michigan, based polling firm surveyed the state’s electorate, and found that 55 percent of Michiganders supported Proposal 3, a ballot measure that would have strengthened the state’s modest renewable energy standard by requiring the state’s utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. At the time, only 34 percent opposed it.
But on Election Day, 62 percent of the state’s voters rejected Proposal 3, stunning renewable energy advocates and forcing them back to the drawing board.
So what happened? And what lessons can be drawn from Proposal 3’s defeat?
A wind farm near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Renewable energy advocates are expecting another challenge to the state’s wind siting rules. (Photo by Digidave via Creative Commons)
Will changing political winds in Wisconsin mean another new direction for wind energy policy in the state?
Wisconsin Republicans reclaimed control of the state’s senate last week, five months after recall elections tipped the balance to Democrats. Republicans will now hold power by a wider margin in 2013 than they held in 2011.
Wind energy advocates are worried that might mean another attempt to repeal the state’s wind farm siting rules, which limit restrictions that local governments can place on proposed wind developments.
And one Republican state senator has already announced plans to seek a repeal of the state’s renewable electricity standard, though a renewable advocacy group doubts the bill will gain enough support to pass.
Hopes for bipartisanship
Overall, RENEW Wisconsin program and policy director Michael Vickerman expects less hostility and more acceptance of the fact that renewable energy plays a growing role in the state’s economy.
A ballot measure to expand Michigan’s renewable energy standard was soundly defeated at the polls Tuesday, after a hard-fought battle in which the measure’s opponents outspent supporters by a three-to-one margin and blanketed airwaves with ads.
As of this posting, early returns showed 73 percent of voters rejecting the measure. That figure closely tracks an exit poll of 800 people conducted by the Detroit Free Press and other media organizations showing 72 percent voting no. The measure had polled with 55 percent in favor as early as September. [UPDATE: Final returns show the measure failing with 62.3 percent voting no]
If the mandate had passed, the Michigan constitution would have been amended to require the state’s utilities to supply 25 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric by 2025, an increase from a current mandate of 10 percent by 2015.
“It’s a disappointment. Michigan had the opportunity in a very visible way to demonstrate leadership across the country in establishing a state policy to go to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025,” said John Sarver, executive director of Great Lakes Renewable Energy, an East Lansing, Michigan-based advocacy group that promotes renewable energy technologies.
A wind farm near Dodgeville, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dave Hoefler via Creative Commons)
A highly influential conservative policy group with strong ties to the fossil fuel industry plans to make repealing state renewable policies a “high priority” in the coming year, potentially raising the stakes for legislative elections across the country.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, promotes model legislation that’s drafted by committees of corporate sponsors and state lawmakers, who then work to pass the bills in multiple states.
“They can be devastatingly effective,” said Doug Clopp, deputy program director for Common Cause, a nonprofit government accountability group that tracks ALEC’s influence. “Their ability to take this bill and actually drive it into dozens of state legislatures is considerable.”
(Photo by Seth Anderson via Creative Commons)
In November, Chicago residents will vote on whether to allow the city to break with utility ComEd and negotiate to buy electricity from alternative retail electric suppliers (or ARES) for residential and small business customers.
The move could save ratepayers money, and many see it as a statement of environmental consciousness and independence – a chance to intentionally buy from smaller suppliers that promise they are providing renewable energy.
But due to a quirk in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), aggregation in Illinois has little chance of driving new construction of wind or solar power. Unless the RPS is fixed, clean energy advocates and energy policy analysts say, aggregation — especially by a major city like Chicago — could be a serious blow for in-state renewable energy development.
A wind farm near Dodgeville, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dave Hoefler via Creative Commons)
Wisconsin utilities since 2007 have spent nearly $1.7 billion on wind farms and other renewable projects, and passed the bill on to their customers.
The state’s renewable investments, however, have only caused electricity bills in go up an average of 1 percent, according to utility regulators.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin issued a report Friday on the rate impact of the state’s renewable portfolio standard.
Similar to what’s been reported in other states, Wisconsin officials found the policy’s affect on electricity prices to be relatively small.
Wisconsin’s renewable targets required utilities to provide 6 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010, and 10 percent by 2015.
All 118 electric providers in the state met the 2010 benchmark. In 2010, 7.37 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity came from renewables.
The PSC is required by law to issue biannual reports on how the policy is affecting ratepayers in the state. The new report covers data through 2010.