A rooftop solar installation in Edina, Minnesota. Costs of permitting solar projects can vary widely from city to city. (Photo by Karl Schwingel/Innovative Power Systems via Creative Commons)
The cost of municipal solar permits varies widely and continues to be a barrier to wider and faster expansion of solar energy in Minnesota, according to a recent report.
The Sierra Club looked at 77 Minnesota cities and found that building permit fees for solar photovoltaic installations range anywhere from $0 to $531, or from 0 to 4.4 percent of the pre-rebate cost of a hypothetical $12,000 system. The average permit cost was $308.
“I think the report shows it really matters where you live in how much you’ll pay for your solar permits,” said Michelle Rosier, senior campaign and organizing manager for the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The primary driver of higher costs is the practice of including the cost of the solar panels in calculating the permit fee, she said.
The Sierra Club is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.
The 64 cities that figure in a project’s total cost when calculating fees charged $333 on average while the 10 cities that did not had an average permit cost of $240. The result is that higher fees serve as a “disincentive” for homeowners to purchase higher quality, Minnesota-made solar panels from tenKsolar or Silicon Energy, Rosier said.
The fee can increase dramatically even as the electrical output stays the same. A homeowner installing a $12,000, three kilowatt PV system in St. Paul would pay $425 for the permit, the report stated. If the homeowner bought more expensive panels valued at $26,000 the permit fee would jump to $816 even though the work of the city permitting staff would remain the same.
Bloomfield, Iowa could save millions on utility costs through increased efficiency and renewable energy, according to a new study. (Photo by Pete Zarria via Creative Commons)
A pair of Iowa studies found that both utilities and their customers in small towns can substantially cut costs if they invest in deep efficiencies and, to a lesser extent, in renewable sources of generation.
The analyses, done by energy consultant Tom Wind and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities with some funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, explored whether the communities of Bloomfield and Algona could become energy independent.
The conclusion: in about 15 years, Bloomfield could get to net-zero — generating as much energy as it consumes over a year — but not necessarily always at the times needed.
Algona could get about half that far, cutting current electricity use by about 50 percent.
In this 2013 file photo, Debbie Dooley speaks at a hearing before a Senate Rules Committee in Atlanta. Long a political activist, Dooley is now extolling the conservative virtues of distributed renewable energy. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated Dooley’s itinerary.
Debbie Dooley is not a tree-hugger – in fact she bills herself as a radical right-wing grandmother, and she is a founding member of the national Tea Party and a leader of the Atlanta Tea Party.
But Dooley is also an outspoken proponent of distributed solar generation and other forms of renewable distributed energy. Dooley will be the featured speaker next week at the Wisconsin Solar Energy Industries Association’s Solar Social Speakers series – as advocates in the state say solar is under attack by elected officials, regulators and major utilities.
This transparent solar collector is the latest in a string of technology breakthroughs in Michigan, a state that advocates say still lags on solar policy. (Photo via Michigan State University)
Last month, researchers at two Michigan universities announced innovations tackling aesthetic and intermittency obstacles for solar energy systems.
At a third university here, researchers are using a centuries-old Japanese art form to address what is perhaps the biggest barrier to solar development: cost.
These efforts, together with what some regard as pioneering solar technology from the private, Michigan-based company Dow Chemical Co., suggest that Michigan is on the front lines of the evolution and growth of solar technology.
However, deployment of solar innovations still lags statewide, which some experts say is a public policy problem, not one of technology. These newly engineered products, at various stages of development, are emerging into a marketplace that has plenty of room for expansion.
Nick Hylla is the executive director of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
By Nick Hylla
It is hard to argue against the merits of energy efficiency for your home or business. The old adage “A penny saved is a penny earned” applies fully in this regard.
Beyond the immediate positive influence on our budgets, efficiency measures have social and environmental benefits since the less electricity we waste, the less we have to produce from increasingly expensive fossil fuel resources. Wise energy use increases the affordability of both current and future electric rates. And, as we begin to understand the costs of pushing the frontiers of fossil fuel extraction, it seems obvious that we should be using our resources wisely.
If this argument seems logical to you, then you will be as frustrated as I am at the current proposals that three investor-owned electric utilities have pending before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (WPSC). Madison Gas & Electric, Wisconsin Public Service, and WE Energies (all regulated utilities) are advancing separate, but similar, proposals that would dramatically increase the fixed cost that each of us pay to have an electric meter, while at the same time, slightly reducing the per unit costs of the energy we use.
In addition, these and other pending utility proposals contain measures that add on extra fees for customers with renewable energy systems, restrict the leasing of solar electric systems, and pay less for customer production over consumption on a monthly basis.
If this is the first you’ve heard about this, it will be worth your time to research further. If you need convincing, here are five reasons why the proposals are a bad deal for Wisconsin electric users:
While utilities in the Midwest and elsewhere have often been resistant to the incursion of rooftop solar and other distributed energy sources, a new survey shows their customers have a very different view.
A recent bipartisan poll of Midwest voters found that an overwhelming majority — 93 percent — say they should be allowed put solar panels on their property and to pay for them as they choose. Asked whether utilities should be allowed to block customers from installing solar panels, energy storage systems and the like on their property, only 9 percent agreed.
The team of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican-affiliated firm, and FM3, a Democratic pollster, conducted a telephone survey of 2,477 voters between July 26 and Aug. 3 in six states: Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. The consultants also conducted focus groups in July with swing voters in the suburbs of Milwaukee and Detroit.
Tim Johnson, pastor of Cherokee Park United Church in St. Paul, says visitors frequently inquire about the church’s solar array. (Photo by Ken Paulman / Midwest Energy News)
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran and Minnesota Community Solar came together earlier this year to promote a solar garden that will sit atop the roof of the Minneapolis church.
Without a panel yet installed, the 40-kilowatt (kW) solar garden attracted enough support from the church’s members and surrounding Bancroft neighborhood to be fully subscribed. The project encapsulated for Rev. Brenda L. Froisland a deeper spiritual tug that speaks to her faith and the teachings of Christianity.
“Part of our vision is that in gratitude, Bethel amplifies God’s grace, nourishes God’s creation, reaches out and builds community,” she said. “This is very much a manifestation of those points and our vision. “We’re noting this incredible resource called solar energy God gives us, and we’re nourishing God’s creation by reducing our carbon footprint and consuming less coal — all that’s connected to global warming, sustainability and simplicity.”
(Photo by CeeDave via Creative Commons)
Cross-posted from Greentech Media with permission
By Martin LaMonica
Utility industry pros often say Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla would recognize today’s electric grid because the basic architecture has changed so little over the past 100 years. The same could be said for electricity pricing.
And that’s a problem if distributed energy is to be deeply integrated in today’s power grid, according to a report from the Electricity Innovation Lab.
The paper, released on Tuesday, seeks to offer a way forward for electricity pricing, an arcane issue for most consumers but vitally important to how several emerging distributed technologies are valued. That includes solar, storage, demand response, efficiency, microgrids and home automation.
A single solar panel prior to installation at the Lester Public Library in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. (Photo by Lester Public Library via Creative Commons)
A closely watched battle over utility policy in Wisconsin could determine the fate of solar development throughout the region, advocates say.
The dispute is over three major rate cases recently filed by We Energies, Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Public Service Corporation. The three utilities cover much of the eastern half of the state as well as its largest cities.
If the state Public Service Commission (PSC) approves the cases, solar experts say there will be a massive chill over solar development in these utilities’ service territories. And they expect other utilities in Wisconsin and beyond will file similar requests.
Workers for Ailey Solar install panel mounts on a Chicago rooftop. (Photo courtesy Ailey Solar)
Two years ago, Dorian Breuer waited six months to get permits to install solar panels on his home on the south side of Chicago.
At that same time, Breuer was in the heat of the battle to close Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants, as a leader of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.
Today the coal plants are closed and Breuer, along with Jack Ailey, another leader in the campaign, run one of the four companies chosen to implement the city’s Solar Chicago program offering discounted solar installations through a bulk buy.
The program is administered by the organization Vote Solar, in partnership with the Environmental Law and Policy Center and World Wildlife Fund. It is meant to jumpstart residential rooftop solar energy in Chicago, and if projections go as planned it will mean a raft of new orders for Ailey Solar, founded by Breuer and Ailey two years ago.