Larry Ward is the executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum.
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.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the Budget address to lawmakers on Feb. 18. (AP Photo / Seth Perlman)
New Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has promised to make energy efficiency and renewable energy a priority. And clean energy advocates are hopeful the governor will support sweeping legislation introduced Feb. 19 that would increase mandates for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
But in trying to address the state’s current budget crisis, Rauner is proposing to cut existing energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, and to sweep money already collected for those programs into the state’s general coffers.
The administration’s draft budget released in February calls for shifting $175 million worth of energy programs from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity into the state’s general revenue fund. (See chapter 4-12 of the draft budget).
That money is collected from ratepayers on their utility bills, and by law it is supposed to be used exclusively for specific energy projects, namely the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS) fund and the Renewable Energy Resources Trust Fund.
(Photo by Rob Rudloff via Creative Commons)
A cost-benefit study of net metering in Missouri recently arrived at the same conclusion as similar studies in Vermont, New York, Texas and Nevada: for utility customers, net metering is a net benefit.
While utilities often argue that net metering amounts to ratepayers subsidizing solar installations for a handful of customers, the Missouri Energy Initiative found otherwise.
Even accounting for increased utility administrative costs and the shifting of some fixed expenses, the MEI study found that in each year from 2008 through 2013, customers overall came out ahead.
The study “was meant for policymakers and rate-makers to dive into with an open mind and open eyes, and to know what key questions to ask,” said MEI’s executive director, Josh Campbell.
(Photo by Pieter Morlion via Creative Commons)
While Minnesota’s largest utility pushes back against the scale of proposals filed under the state’s new community solar program, energy developers and their proponents say those concerns are overblown and based on potentially inaccurate assumptions.
Although no projects have been publicly approved, Xcel Energy raised several issues about community solar gardens in a Feb. 10 letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comments from solar developers are due Tuesday, with answers from Xcel slated for March 2.
When rooftop solar systems generate more power than can be used on site, the local utility typically ends up acquiring the excess – often for very little money or none at all.
Iowa state Rep. Mary Mascher, who has been investigating the best way to have solar panels installed at her Iowa City home, has come up with an alternative: why not donate that power to low-income customers in peril of having their electricity shut off?
She recently introduced a bill to do just that. House File 149 would require any utility that has to periodically file an efficiency plan to include within that plan a system for giving excess solar energy to people who’ve fallen behind in their utility payments.
Will Kenworthy, VP of regional operations for Microgrid Solar speaks at an event introducing new clean energy legislation in Illinois. (Photo courtesy Illinois Environmental Council)
Illinois legislators are introducing a sweeping bill today that would “fix” the state’s troubled Renewable Portfolio Standard, create ambitious goals and policies for energy efficiency and solar energy and, backers say, create 32,000 clean-energy jobs per year.
The bill is being sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook). It realizes the stated goals of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, a group of 26 organizations and 33 businesses that launched earlier this month (and includes members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News).
The bill extends and ramps up the state’s renewable standard by requiring 35 percent of energy consumed in Illinois to be generated by clean renewable sources by 2030. The current standard calls for 25 percent by 2025, and experts were worried the state would not meet these goals because of problems with how the standard is currently structured.
A solar array at a campground in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. (Photo via USDA)
The escalating battle between utilities seeking to guard against the rise of distributed generation and proponents of solar power played out in a heated committee hearing in Indiana’s House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee passed HB 1320, with an amendment introduced during the hearing, in a 9-4 vote along party lines.
The arguments aired were largely the same as those made in controversial rate cases in Wisconsin and other places where utilities have sought to strictly control the economics of solar and other distributed generation – policies that renewable energy advocates argue could “kill” solar power.
Proponents of Indiana HB 1320, authored by Rep. Eric Allan Koch (R), adhered to the same talking points seen in other similar fights, framing the initiative as a way to protect ratepayers and particularly low-income people from solar installation owners who they say are freeloading and not paying their “fair share” to maintain the grid.
Lissa Pawlisch, statewide director of the Clean Energy Resource Teams, has been tracking community solar development in Minnesota closely. (Photo by CERTs via Creative Commons)
The shape of what might be called the community solar garden industry in Minnesota has begun to form.
Many of the state’s power cooperatives already have solar gardens up and running or being actively marketed. Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community Program received more than 400 applications totaling 420 megawatts in the first week its program opened, about four times the most optimistic projections suggested.
Many of those proposals involve large installations that get around a 1 megawatt restriction on solar gardens by placing several of them together on one site. Xcel complained to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission last week that developers are proposing projects 10 times the limit and using the program to skirt regulations intended for large projects.
Exelon’s Byron Generating Station in Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
Cheap natural gas has upended the nation’s energy landscape and made aging nuclear power plants increasingly uncompetitive.
Yet the nuclear industry, which generates almost a fifth of the nation’s energy, has declared war not on gas but on wind and solar, which represent about 4 and 0.2 percent of our energy mix, respectively.
Nuclear generators have successfully fought against renewable and energy efficiency standards on the state level, and lobbied against tax incentives for wind and solar on the federal level. They’re in the process of securing changes in regional capacity markets that would benefit nuclear and harm solar and wind.
And as states develop their Clean Power Plans to fulfill the federal mandate to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear is often pitted against renewables.
While solar energy is sometimes thought of as only accessible to wealthy homeowners, a recently announced solar project, if approved, will benefit some of Minnesota’s poorest residents.
The St. Paul Public Housing Agency will be the main subscriber for a proposed $40 million community solar garden project that will be built by Geronimo Energy just outside the Twin Cities.
Under a pending agreement the housing agency would buy enough solar energy from a proposed solar garden to offset 85 percent of the electric consumption of 16 residential high rises housing more than 2,550 low income residents, many of them senior citizens. In addition, the agency’s headquarters would be covered by the agreement.