Workers for Mortenson Construction install solar panels at a work site in Arizona. (Photo courtesy Mortenson Construction)
Earlier this year, a major Minnesota construction company announced an agreement with the solar developer SunShare, LLC to collaborate on future projects in the budding community solar garden market.
It should come as no surprise that M.A. Mortenson Company would want a piece of the community solar action, as it has quietly become one of the nation’s leading builders of solar installations.
The company’s solar staff has increased from dozens to hundreds over the past three years, a clear reflection of the industry’s skyrocketing growth.
Solar adds to the company’s growing renewable energy workload, from wind turbines (9,000 turbines producing 15,000 megawatts of power) to transmission infrastructure (33 power line projects).
While Mortenson has agreed to build Sunshare projects in Minnesota the arrangement does not preclude it from working with other developers, said Trent Mostaert, general manager of the Renewable Energy Groups. “We want to help developers build as much solar as possible in Minnesota.”
Westar Energy’s headquarters in Topeka, Kansas. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
As utilities around the U.S. have sought to increase fixed charges in response to growing numbers of customers generating their own power, a Kansas utility is taking a more targeted approach.
In a case now pending before the Kansas Corporation Commission, customers of Topeka-based Westar Energy with their own solar, wind or other generation will pay a higher fixed charge than other ratepayers.
“We just want to make sure it’s fair to any customer, whether they decide to generate some of their own power or not,” said Jeff Martin, Westar’s vice president for regulatory affairs.
Opponents see the proposal as another effort to fend off competition from residential solar after Westar’s effort to kill net metering ended in a compromise last year.
“This is another attempt by the utility to kill solar in Kansas,” said Aron Cromwell, co-owner of Cromwell Environmental, a Lawrence-based solar installer.
Crews install a natural gas pipeline in southwest Michigan. The future price of gas is a critical variable in determining the cheapest way for states to meet EPA carbon rules. (Photo by Consumers Energy via Creative Commons)
Shifting natural gas prices are making it a challenge for states to place their bets on the most cost-effective and least risky ways to comply with impending carbon regulations.
Those prices could likely determine whether it makes sense to replace retiring coal generation with natural gas or renewable energy.
To help with that decision process, experts at the University of Michigan and a Lansing-based energy consulting firm have released a model to make that planning easier and more accessible to stakeholders beyond just utilities.
Specifically, the model considers the risks that would apply to ratepayers as states develop new combinations of energy sources and efficiency into their portfolios to meet requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
According to the study’s lead author, the model “changes a lot of the traditional arguments” about the costs utilities and ratepayers face for achieving compliance.
A Minnesota faith group will announce today an effort to make community solar more accessible to people with lower incomes.
Julia Nerbonne, executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, said that early discussions with solar garden developers in the Twin Cities revealed that they will be targeting potential customers with credit scores of 700 or above.
That would leave a substantial portion of the population without access to solar garden subscriptions due to modest to low incomes or past credit problems.
“That’s alarming and people are not talking about it,” she said. “It’s probably less than half the people in country who have a score that high.”
Engineers say an emergency cutoff switch is a redundant feature on inverter-equipped solar arrays. (Photo by mjmonty)
An Iowa bill requiring a safety feature that some engineers say is unnecessary has critics questioning whether the legislation is an attempt to stifle distributed generation.
The legislation, SF 406, would require customer-generators to install an external disconnection device. The device itself would add a few hundred dollars or more to the cost of a solar array or other system, but the bill also would impose daily fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 for any energy generator without one.
The requirement would apply to existing systems as well as new ones, according to state Sen. Tony Bisignano, who introduced the legislation.
Clean-energy advocates in the state have been focused on defeating the bill, which they see as an effort to discourage rooftop solar installations, in particular, by piling on an additional – and needless – cost.
“This is something that’s coming from the utility behemoths through the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers),” said Barry Shear, the president and owner of Eagle Point Solar in Dubuque. “They’re the ones pushing this.”
This former GM plant site in Lansing, shown here in 2006, is among the locations being considered for a 20 MW solar array by the city’s utility. (Photo by Keith Kris via Creative Commons)
Developers and Michigan’s largest municipally owned utility could nearly double the state’s solar energy portfolio by partnering in what would decidedly be the largest single solar project here.
An official with the Lansing Board of Water and Light confirmed with Midwest Energy News Wednesday that the utility has selected a developer for a 20 MW solar project.
The original request for proposals, which was sent out last summer and attracted more than a dozen responses, was for a 5 MW project. The state’s largest solar projects operating or under development are less than 1.5 MW, while roughly 23 MW of commercial-scale solar statewide is tracked by the Michigan Public Service Commission.
Solar currently makes up roughly 1 percent of Michigan’s 2,300 MW renewable energy portfolio, according to the PSC.
(Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
Two months after his inauguration, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has made national headlines for his aggressive efforts to get the state’s budget crisis under control.
Energy and related environment issues have so far taken a back seat, but experts and advocates are watching closely for signs of what the new Republican gubernatorial administration will mean on that front.
Rauner’s draft budget released in February raised serious concerns that money for state energy efficiency and renewable energy projects will be cut and swept into the state’s general fund, as Midwest Energy News reported.
Rauner’s transition report released in January expressed support for a diverse energy mix including renewables, natural gas from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), nuclear and also “clean” coal. It specifically pledged support for energy efficiency, though the draft budget has cast doubts on that commitment.
Workers pose at a Wyoming wind farm in 2009; the turbine blades were manufactured by Siemens in Fort Madison, Iowa. (Photo by Duke Energy via Creative Commons)
Wind and solar energy support about 30,000 jobs at about a thousand companies in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, according to a series of reports released by the Environmental Law & Policy Center over the past two weeks.
The reports show the jobs created not only by the manufacture of wind turbine components, the building of wind farms and the installation of solar panels, but also in related businesses from banking to making cables and glass.
“We continue to be impressed by the robustness and the diversity of these jobs,” said ELPC executive director Howard Learner. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all. There are headquarters and manufacturing and construction jobs, retrofitting jobs, legal and insurance jobs, design and engineering, it’s really a diverse mix of skills for all types of companies.”
Residents of Leelanau Township, Michigan, help install solar trackers at the Northport Creek Golf Course in October. (Photo courtesy Steve Smiley)
Ten percent of Michigan’s power will come from renewable sources by the end of this year. For a small community in the western tip of the state’s lower peninsula, though, that’s not enough.
A group of residents in Leelanau Township, which includes the village of Northport, are finalizing a goal of becoming a 100 percent clean energy community. A Renewable Energy Community Plan for the area, which has a total population of about 2,000, is meant to be a template for other small towns to use.
The community is already on its way toward the 100 percent goal, with a previously constructed community wind turbine that helps power a local wastewater treatment plant. There’s also the Northport Creek Golf Course, dubbed as the first solar powered golf course in the country. Other solar energy systems are planned for local agricultural operations, wineries and government facilities.
Minnesota’s largest utility wants to prohibit large large-scale projects comprised of smaller community solar gardens from being built in the state.
Xcel Energy made the formal request in a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in a letter Wednesday after raising several concerns last month over the Solar Rewards Community program, which has drawn 431 megawatts (MW) in proposals so far.