Solar panels at the Audubon Center of the North Woods near Sandstone, Minnesota. (Photo by CERTs via Creative Commons)
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday signed into law an energy bill that’s projected to give the state a more than thirtyfold increase in solar generation by the end of the decade.
The Solar Energy Jobs Act was rolled into a larger, omnibus economic development bill and approved by the state’s legislature last week.
The section that’s drawn the most attention is a 1.5 percent by 2020 solar electricity standard for large utilities that is on top of the state’s existing 25 percent by 2025 renewable mandate.
But the bill has several other components that could rival the solar standard’s impact, from expanded incentives and net-metering reforms to the creation of shared, community “solar gardens.”
An infrared scanner used in home energy audits. (Photo by Green Energy Futures via Creative Commons)
A new report suggests that Wisconsin’s energy efficiency incentives are back on track following an administrative shake-up two years ago that brought major changes to the program.
An independent evaluation released last week says Focus on Energy achieved greater electricity savings and a higher participation rate in 2012 than any other year in the program’s history.
Wisconsin utility customers last year conserved about 650 million kWh of electricity — enough to power about 92,000 homes — through Focus on Energy’s appliance recycling, lighting discounts, energy audits and other programs.
And more than a million residential and business customers received direct incentives for energy efficiency or renewable energy projects, a nine-fold increase from the previous year.
(Photo by missrivs via Creative Commons)
FirstEnergy’s Ohio utilities face challenges that they overpaid for renewable energy credits and passed the excess costs on to consumers, but confidentiality claims make it hard to know how much money is at stake.
Environmental groups and the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel say the utilities’ “unreasonable” and “imprudent” management decisions distort the cost of renewable energy in the state.
The confidentiality claims are especially contentious because some of the alleged overpayments went to the utilities’ unregulated affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions. The utilities say the information should stay confidential for competitive reasons.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will review appeals from confidentiality orders in the case as it decides the merits of the challenges. Meanwhile, bidders’ names, numbers of credits, and purchase prices are all blacked out in public versions of briefs. Case testimony contains numerous redactions too.
A worker installs solar panels at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 2012. (Photo by NAIT via Creative Commons)
For many people, checking out online reviews is a standard step before selecting a restaurant, hotel, spa, mechanic, even a hospital or place to buy a pet.
The sprawling review website Yelp has been one of the main places where people looking to install solar systems vet or search for companies; and many solar companies have felt compelled to list their services there.
But the founders of SolarReviews, launched in November, think they can offer a more specialized and more valuable option, with reviews of solar products and services in a variety of categories, curated by staff with industry experience and also offering free quotes online.
In February, Lakewood, Colorado-based SolarReviews acquired Solar-Estimate.org, which provides free estimates on the finances of wind, solar PV or other solar systems based on where people live, their energy use and type of building.
“There are other online directories of solar companies, but there are no other sites who are focused on customer reviews,” said Jesse Truax, SolarReviews co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development. “Up until this point, solar installers have had to rely on a hodgepodge of reviews websites to promote their customer reviews, although none of them were optimal for the solar industry.
Fog enshrouds the Oak Creek Power Plant in Wisconsin in this 2010 photo. (Photo by jonnyfixedgear via Creative Commons)
A new report warns that Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness could be at risk if the state doesn’t diversify its electricity sources.
The Badger State is already burdened by the second highest electricity prices in the Midwest, with only Michigan customers paying more on average.
Those rates are likely to climb faster than inflation and prices in surrounding states in the next decade due to Wisconsin’s dependance on coal-burning power plants, according to Gary Radloff, director of Midwest policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute.
His recent paper, “How to Keep Wisconsin and the U.S. Competitive in a Changing Energy World,” says better planning and more investment are needed to shield the state’s economy from fossil fuels’ risk and volatility.
Workers install solar panels on the roof of the Maj. Gen. Emmett J. Bean Federal Center near Indianapolis in 2011. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Alan Petersime)
Indianapolis is seeing a boom in solar development, with at least three major solar farms in the works, numerous other significant solar projects proposed and a city initiative to create installations on municipal sites.
March 15 was the groundbreaking of a 12 MW solar farm at the Indianapolis International Airport that is slated for completion by end of the year and billed as the largest airport solar farm in the country; meanwhile another 10 MW solar farm at the airport is also planned. A solar farm of up to 9.6 MW is planned at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A 30 MW solar farm planned for the south side of the city, developed by Minnesota-based Sunrise Energy Ventures LLC, is expected to begin construction this summer and be operating by 2014, as the largest such farm in the Midwest. And the city has a program underway to lease space on the rooftops and grounds of public buildings to solar developers for 10-year contracts, after which point the city might buy the solar panels.
The airport installations are among numerous proposed and in-the-works projects aided by a voluntary feed-in tariff (VFIT) that Indianapolis Power and Light Company (IPL) launched in March 2010, offering to pay above-market rates to producers of solar energy.
But solar advocates fear the nascent boom could be stalled in its tracks, since the VFIT was a three-year pilot program that expired at the end of March. Clean energy backers are asking IPL to renew the VFIT and also to allow projects on a “waiting list” that were not approved during the program timeline to replace any approved projects that don’t end up happening.
David Wilhelm made his name as a political strategist managing campaigns for President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, among others. In 1993 he was the youngest ever chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Now Wilhelm has turned his focus to renewable energy investment, particularly in economically distressed areas like his native Ohio. He is a driving force behind Turning Point Solar, a 50 MW solar farm proposed in southeastern Ohio, on the site of a reclaimed strip mine.
Wilhelm’s firm, New Harvest Ventures, initially planned to develop the project with AEP Ohio, but in January Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission denied AEP’s request to pass the cost of the project on to ratepayers, leaving the power company no way to pay for the $130 million project. The Columbus Dispatch declared the project “all but dead” in January.
Now the developers are seeking other buyers for power and renewable energy credits from the solar farm, and Wilhelm said he is still confident it will come to fruition. Wilhelm is a board member of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and spoke on a panel in Chicago on Wednesday celebrating the organization’s 20th anniversary.
(Photo by David Ingram via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Nick Juliano
A proposal to allow renewable energy developers to take advantage of a tax structure that has long been popular among fossil fuel companies is gaining traction among lawmakers tasked with overhauling the tax code.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who is leading a working group examining energy tax provisions, praised the idea of opening master limited partnerships (MLPs) to renewable energy companies. The structures have been popular among oil and gas, pipeline and coal companies as a way to attract investors, but current law does not allow renewable companies like wind and solar developers to use them.
Legislation allowing wind, solar and other renewable energy companies to establish MLPs will be reintroduced in the House and Senate later this month, and the idea has emerged as a key focus of the renewable energy industry and policy watchers as Congress pursues its overhaul of the tax code.
Solar panels installed by Eagle Point Solar atop Dubuque’s municipal building. (Photo courtesy Eagle Point Solar)
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a response from Alliant Energy.
An Iowa district court ruling March 29 could be a “landmark decision” for solar development in the state, in Eagle Point Solar President Barry Shear’s words, by allowing the company to sell electricity directly to the Dubuque city government to power the municipal building where the panels are located.
Previously, the Iowa Utility Board had prohibited Eagle Point from selling electricity to Dubuque from the rooftop installation. The utility board ruling came after the local utility, Alliant Energy, had complained to the Dubuque City Council in summer 2011 that the then-in-the-works project violated their exclusive right to provide electricity to the city.
The utility argued that Eagle Point would be acting as a utility and encroaching on Alliant’s monopoly territory by selling electricity from its panels to power the building. The Utility Board agreed with Alliant in a March 2012 ruling.
But the Polk County District Court found that Eagle Point would not be acting as a utility, so the company can sign what is known as a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) with Dubuque to sell the city electricity from the panels, which are owned by an investor and managed by Eagle Point.
Experts consider the ruling crucial to the development of solar installations on the rooftops or grounds of city buildings, universities, churches, hospitals and other non-profit institutions in Iowa.
A rendering of a SkySpecs unmanned aircraft, which developers say can help with maintenance of wind turbines and other hard-to-reach places. (Photo via SkySpecs)
While the initial sheen of the clean tech industry may have worn off for investors, that’s not necessarily bad news.
At the Clean Energy Challenge last week in Chicago, experts including venture capitalist Ira Ehrenpreis and U.S. Department of Energy official Dr. David Danielson acknowledged the challenges and dropping investment clean tech has faced in the past year, due in part to the economy and political maneuvering.
But they indicated that while there is less giddiness over the sector, it is moving into a more mature phase that could result in important breakthroughs in batteries and other technology.