A wind farm near Worthington, Minnesota. (Photo by Seward Inc. via Creative Commons)
A new report suggests Minnesota could supply more than 50 percent of its power needs through renewable energy by 2030 while creating more jobs and meeting federal carbon targets.
The Wind Energy Foundation’s “Powering Up Minnesota: A Report on The Benefits of Renewable Electricity Development” offers a scenario in which Minnesota could produce 6,884 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity under a more aggressive high growth scenario.
The report noted Minnesota has long been a player in sustainability, with $11 billion having been invested from 2004 to 2013, according to a Department of Employment and Economic Development study.
Solar panels on a Colorado barn. (Photo by Les Stockton via Creative Commons)
On a farm in the middle of Iowa are two hog- confinement barns, identical in most every respect, and both belonging to the same farmer.
But when the owner decided to install solar panels, he put a 75 kilowatt system on one barn, and only 20 kilowatts on the other.
The reason for the difference in sizes? Solar installer Ben Ganje explains that the barn with the 75 kW system gets its power from Alliant Energy, a state-regulated utility that allows distributed generators on its system to carry over excess production indefinitely to use as a credit against future bills.
The barn with the 20 kW system, located nearby, is served by the Butler County Rural Electric Co-op, which is not subject to any state requirements or regulations when it comes to the treatment of customers with solar panels. So Butler County’s policy is this: customers may use solar panels to offset their electricity use, provided the production and consumption occur at the same time.
That doesn’t amount to very much electricity.
An infrared image from an energy audit. (Photo by prc1333 via Creative Commons)
There’s at least one bipartisan piece of legislation moving through Michigan’s lame-duck session: A streamlined loan program for residential customers looking to install renewable energy or efficiency systems on their property.
The Municipal Utility Residential Clean Energy Program Act is modeled after the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy financing law of 2010, bringing to homeowners a similar loan program that until now has only been available to commercial and industrial property owners.
However, the law would apply only to residential customers of municipal utilities — about 260,000 households, according to the Michigan Municipal Utility Association. The law would apply to residents in cities such as Lansing and Traverse City after local governing board approval.
“It gets down to the fact that energy efficiency is common sense: It reduces energy waste and saves money,” said Jack Schmitt, deputy director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “This legislation allows for and promotes greater opportunities for energy efficiency throughout Michigan.”
Expectations are high today as Minnesota’s largest utility begins accepting applications for community solar projects at 9 a.m. today.
It’s anyone guess show many solar garden developers will submit on the first day of business for Xcel Energy‘s Solar Rewards Community program. Some developers have already marketed and sold out projects that have been not formally approved.
“We see high interest in this and we expect we’ll see a lot of applications but we don’t know what the pace will be,” said Laura McCarten, regional vice president. “One estimated guess is we could get 100 megawatts of applications, but we’ll see how it unfolds. Time will tell.”
Mid America Bank in Baldwin City, Kansas has developed a new financing mechanism that makes solar viable in a state with few incentives. (Photo courtesy Aron Cromwell)
In Kansas, where state and utility policies offer almost no incentives for the development of residential solar energy, one solar installer and a small-town banker have cobbled together an unusual financing system that is leading to a statewide solar boom.
“We are pioneers in a state that hasn’t had a lot of solar,” said Aron Cromwell, who owns Cromwell Solar in Lawrence. “We are making solar available where it hasn’t been available before.”
Cromwell got together with Mid America Bank, and together they devised a leasing program that has remade Cromwell’s business model. Until recently, 95 percent of his work was for businesses in Missouri, located about 40 miles to the east. In recent months, Cromwell said, his business has flipped: about 95 percent of his installations are for homeowners in Kansas.
“We were doing a couple residential systems a year. Now we’re doing a couple residential systems a week,” he said.
NIck Hylla is the executive director of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
By Nick Hylla
As the year draws to a close, it is becoming more and more apparent that 2014 will be remembered as a landmark year for renewable energy in the United States.
The current narrative is quite captivating… the rise of community solar, the utility death spiral, the Tesla Gigafactory, renewable energy “fairness,” the value of solar, the Clean Power Plan, the shale revolution, the US-China climate agreement, the end of cheap coal, fossil fuel divestment, and more.
Interestingly, the Midwest will surely be of significant note. The Minnesota Clean Energy Jobs Act, the Iowa Supreme Court ruling on third party ownership, and the Wisconsin utility rate cases have all set precedents with trajectories that will define whether our energy markets become more opaque, centralized, and monopolized or more open, distributed, and shared.
Minnesota is already well on track to meet a solar power goal established by the legislature last year, according to a report released today by Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center.
The state currently mandates that investor-owned-utilities produce 1.5 percent of their electricity by solar by 2020. The legislation includes a goal — but not a requirement — of producing 10 percent from solar by 2030.
The photovoltaic capacity in Minnesota increased 61 percent per year from 2010 to 2013, states Star Power: The Growing Role of Solar Energy in Minnesota. By merely seeing that figure sustained at 43 percent annually between 2013 and 2030, Minnesota could achieve the 10 percent level.
South Dakota state Rep. Paula Hawks. (Courtesy photo)
While Republicans made substantial gains in the midterm elections, Democratic state Rep. Paula Hawks has so far just barely managed to retain her seat in the South Dakota House of Representatives.
If Hawks survives a recount challenge from Republican Bob Deelstra, then legislation calling for net metering likely will live to see another session in South Dakota, one of only a half-dozen states without a law requiring major utilities to offer it.
South Dakota, with significant hydropower resources, is actually above average for renewable energy production. But the state offers few policies or incentives aimed at fostering efficiency or other types of renewable energy generation, and there’s little enthusiasm for shifting away from fossil fuels.
(Photo by David Goehring via Creative Commons)
At a recent solar conference in suburban Minneapolis, a jam-packed ballroom of more than 100 people gathered for standing room-only presentations on community solar gardens.
Perhaps no other renewable energy opportunity has gathered so much excitement so quickly, in part because no other state has so far taken the route Minnesota has.
Community solar garden customers pay a fee based on the cost of panels they buy. In return they receive a reduction on their monthly utility bills based on the energy generated by those panels. It provides a lower point of entry for people who lack either a suitable location or sufficient funds for a full solar array.
Sponsored by the Minnesota Solar Energy Industry Association (MnSEIA), the two-day conference featured a brief talk by J.W. Postal, senior vice president of sales for SunShare, a major community solar player in Colorado.
The reason for Minnesota’s likely fast uptake on community solar is that the legislation does not cap the number of projects that can be built annually or for the duration of the program.
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell speaks at a benefit in 2009. (Photo by Steven Depolo via Creative Commons)
Grand Rapids, Michigan Mayor George Heartwell is counting down the days until he has to leave office: “419 days, seven hours and 20 minutes,” he smiled at the end of an interview last week.
But it’s not for a desire to leave — in a local election this month, voters approved term limits for citywide elected officials, leaving Heartwell as a lame duck in 2015. He will have served 12 years on the job.
Heartwell, 65, sat down with Midwest Energy News to talk about his time in the mayor’s office, a part-time job in a weak-mayor system that gives most policy control to a board of commissioners.
Yet Heartwell has elevated the city as a model for sustainability, renewable energy and energy efficiency. It includes an aggressive 100-percent renewable energy goal by 2020 (it’s at 25 percent now) and an entire city lighting system comprised of LEDs.
During his time in office, the United Nations recognized the city as a “Regional Center of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development” (one of two in the U.S.) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named it the most sustainable city in the country in 2010.