Solar panels help run irrigation equipment on the Spring Valley Farm in northeast Iowa. (Photo via USDA)
As Iowa faces a potential surge in distributed generation, advocates and some legislators are concerned the state isn’t prepared.
In recent comments to state regulators, MidAmerican Energy, one of the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities, says that to date this year inquiries about interconnections for distributed generation are coming in at twice the rate they did in early 2013.
However, the utility forecast that substantial growth in distributed power will cause a raft of problems, at least in the current policy environment.
The Iowa Utility Board, sensing a growing interest in renewables, in January invited feedback about where the potential and the pitfalls might lie. While dozens of people expressed a desire for more distributed energy in the state, they also identified significant issues that stand in the way.
Many cities, like Asheville, North Carolina, used federal stimulus funds to install LED streetlights. (Photo via City of Asheville)
A federal infusion of energy efficiency and conservation funds to cities, counties and tribal governments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was a smashing success, according to a recent report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The report, released February 27, also bemoans the fact that the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program funded by the federal stimulus was not renewed, and since then local partnerships with the federal government on efficiency and renewable energy projects have plummeted.
The EECBG was created by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, based on the community development block grants awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. About a year after the EECBG was created, it was funded by Congress under the stimulus program.
After being funded, the EECBG provided $2.7 billion for energy efficiency and conservation initiatives to cities larger than 35,000 people, counties larger than 200,000 and tribal governments, along with giving money to states to distribute to municipalities. Also as part of the stimulus the U.S. Department of Energy awarded another $400 million for energy efficiency and conservation projects.
Oberlin College’s solar array was completed in 2012. (Photo by Kelly Ricks, used with permission)
Oberlin College wanted to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by producing solar energy, but it had no way to move the power from where it would be produced to where it could be used.
Meanwhile, the city of Oberlin’s electrical utility, with a network of power lines and a power portfolio already heavy on renewables, was also looking to further shrink its carbon footprint.
The two of them formed an unusual union, and spawned a mutually-beneficial offspring: a 2.27-megawatt solar array located on the college campus, and connected by the city utility’s distribution lines to the power grid.
What at first seemed an unlikely partnership now has yielded results well beyond expectations.
“The Chicago metropolitan market is the largest untapped solar market in the U.S.,” according to a firm that specializes in networked energy storage modules. (Photo by Jennifer Wang via Creative Commons)
Cross-posted from Greentech Media with permission
By Katherine Tweed
When GTM Research recently looked at some of the most interesting state markets for distributed storage, Illinois did not make the top of the list.
But northern Illinois, which is the westernmost part of PJM territory, is exactly where Intelligent Generation is looking to make inroads with its behind-the-meter energy storage and software-as-a-service package.
“We are all about monetizing storage when it’s combined with solar,” said Jay Marhoefer, founder and CEO of Intelligent Generation. IG integrates client-owned storage assets with the grid to cut demand charges, as well as to provide frequency regulation or other services based on the owner’s needs.
If a grocery store in Ohio is talking to a solar developer, the store owner may find that the payback is simply too long, explained Marhoefer. A solar developer partner will then call IG, which will run analytics to size a solar system integrated with storage to serve the load so that it has a more attractive payback.
(Photo by Melissa via Creative Commons)
Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday answered most but not all questions about the shape of a new community solar gardens program.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission indicated that it would reject a proposal by the state’s largest electric utility to limit the number of community solar gardens that can be installed per quarter.
The board also voted to set a higher rate for electricity purchased from the shared solar projects than the one originally sought by Xcel Energy, and it said the company must pay for renewable energy credits associated with the solar gardens.
After a full day of deliberations, the board adjourned until next week.
“What the commission has determined now is better than what Xcel proposed, but there’s still some concern about the level of uncertainty,” said Ken Bradley, CEO of MN Community Solar, one of the state’s first solar garden developers.
(Photo by Satoshi Kaya via Creative Commons)
Utilities are often at odds with environmental advocates over how to advance clean energy and efficiency goals without falling into a “death spiral” of declining demand and shrinking revenue.
However, a new agreement between a major environmental group and an organization representing investor-owned utilities shows there is also a lot of common ground.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Edison Electric Institute on Wednesday released a document, simply titled “EEI/NRDC Joint Statement to State Utility Regulators,” in support of policies to help guide a rapidly changing electrical grid.
While the organizations have issued joint statements in the past, the latest version is noteworthy because it wades into the thorny issue of distributed generation, which many see as posing an existential threat to traditional utility business models.
The agreement recognizes the continuing trend of customers installing their own generation, while calling for policies to ensure utilities are fairly compensated for maintaining those customers’ access to the grid.
“This agreement helps chart a path to success,” said David Owens, an EEI executive vice president, in a news release.
(click to enlarge)
Solar installers, manufacturers, and suppliers added employees in the Midwest last year at a rate more than double the national average.
The solar industry now directly employs an estimated 17,044 people in the Midwest, according to the latest State Solar Jobs Census, released Tuesday by The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit research group. That’s a 51 percent increase from the 11,300 jobs it counted in the region in 2012.
Nationally, the number of solar jobs grew by almost 20 percent to an estimated 142,698, nearly half of which are located in Arizona, California, Massachusetts or New Jersey.
The foundation also took a more in-depth look at Minnesota’s solar industry so that it will have a baseline for evaluating the impact of that state’s recently passed solar policy, including a 1.5 percent solar mandate.
Ameren is currently meeting most of its share of Missouri’s renewable energy standard with electricity from this century-old dam in Iowa. (Photo by Ian Petchenik via Creative Commons)
More than five years after Missouri residents approved a renewable-energy standard, very little has changed about the state’s power supply.
The 2008 law, known as Proposition C, requires the state’s three large investor-owned utilities to gradually phase in renewable power, starting with 2 percent of the electricity sold in 2011 to 2013, and gradually ramping up that proportion to 15 percent by 2021. The law also requires that 2 percent of that total be derived from solar.
However, not long after voters approved the law by a two-to-one margin, state officials removed language requiring that energy to be generated in Missouri.
As a result, “the utilities are not building renewables,” said P.J. Wilson, director of Renew Missouri, a non-profit that advocated for Proposition C. “They have found ways around it. We’ve been challenging that.”
Workers install solar panels at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 2012. (Photo by Imsouchivy Suos/Luther College – used with permission)
Solar energy, already on a roll in Iowa, could get another boost from three bills under consideration in the state legislature.
One bill, introduced on Wednesday, requires Iowa’s major investor-owned utilities to install 105 megawatts of solar power by the end of 2020, among other provisions.
Another would appropriate $18 million to the state’s three major universities, requiring each of them to install at least two megawatts of solar capacity by June 2017.
A third bill would double the money in the state’s tax credit fund for solar or other renewable energy systems. The fund was created in 2012 with $1.5 million in tax credits to be made available each year. Iowans collected about $620,000 in 2012, and claimed the full $1.5 million in 2013.
In fact, 94 applications in 2013 came in after the fund was depleted for the year, according to an Iowa Department of Revenue spokeswoman, and will be the first applications processed in 2014.
Solar Skies manufactures solar-thermal heating systems in Alexandria, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy Solar Skies)
While sky-high propane prices are causing hardships for many businesses and homeowners, they’re also helping generate interest in renewable alternatives such as wood, solar and geothermal.
Companies that sell solar thermal, geothermal and wood furnaces are reporting an uptick in phone calls and inquiries over the past few weeks as propane customers in the region suffer through near-record prices and localized shortages.
The evidence is only anecdotal at this point, and most said the buzz hadn’t yet translated into new sales, but at least one shop is ramping up production in anticipation of new orders.