Power lines in Kansas City. (Photo by Chris Murphy via Creative Commons)
Utilities across the Midwest and the nation in recent years have sought to hike the fixed portion of their customers’ bills, in what some observers interpret as an attempt to compensate for stagnant or flagging electricity sales and head off competition from solar.
Two such proposals are now pending before the Missouri Public Service Commission.
Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), one of the major utilities serving the state, is seeking to boost the fixed portion of customers’ monthly bills from $9 to $25, which would make it one of the higher fixed rates among 28 investor-owned utilities in the Midwest, according to a survey of rates done by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
KCP&L’s proposal is included in a rate case filed with Missouri’s Public Service Commission on Oct. 30, 2014.
By any measure, 2014 was a significant year in the energy world. the continued rise of fracking, impending EPA carbon regulations, and the ever-glacial pace of global climate negotiations are likely familiar stories to Midwest Energy News readers.
But our focus is more at the state and regional level, and over the past year we’ve helped surface and amplify stories that otherwise might have fallen under the radar.
Here are some of the biggest stories of the past year, based on readership metrics and other factors.
Crews install solar arrays at Fort Hunter Liggett in California in 2011. More military bases are moving toward energy independence. (Photo via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
In November 2013, President Obama issued an executive order that has steered the United States military onto a course for climate change resiliency.
The Army National Guard’s base at Fort Custer, about 15 miles east of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is one of the leading installations in the country preparing for the effects of climate change and could serve as a model for others. In October, it was one of three sites selected by the Department of Defense to launch a climate resilience pilot project.
Officials there are preparing a climate adaptation plan that centers around natural resource management. A component of that will be renewable energy development: $1.4 million worth of wind and solar rated at roughly 500 kW of capacity.
The military’s national security approach to energy independence also has a practical side: lower electricity bills frees up money in a defense budget for other resources.
A wind turbine and solar panels show advanced energy in action at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, where Ohio’s Energy Future Tour kicked off. FirstEnergy Stadium is in the background. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
According to a variety of industry and community leaders, Ohio still has a bright future ahead of it for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
That is the message of Ohio’s Energy Future Tour, which kicked off its first public forum earlier this week with a bright outlook for 2015 and beyond.
Companies have already invested millions of dollars and provided thousands of new jobs for the state, and Ohio has the potential to be a leader in multiple technologies, reported speakers at the December 15 program at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland.
Nonetheless, political setbacks in 2014 have placed Ohio at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis other states, speakers said, and uncertainty about energy policies could further limit the state’s prospects.
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.