Installers say farms like this one in central Minnesota make ideal locations for solar arrays. (Photo by CERTs via Creative Commons)
Solar installations have been taking off in many areas of the Midwest, but perhaps nowhere more so than in farm country.
“It’s a huge buzz now throughout the agriculture industry,” said Todd Miller, sales director for CB Solar in Ankeny, Iowa.
In Washington County, Iowa, for example, farmers with access to an unusual and lucrative combination of federal, state and utility incentives were anticipating payback periods of as little as two years, according to Ed Raber, director of the county’s economic development corporation.
Consequently, he said, “There are more solar panels in Washington County than in any other county in Iowa.”
A solar panel at Elixir Farm near Brixey, Missouri. (Photo by Daniel Roth/SARE Outreach via Creative Commons)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
A rebate program intended to make solar power more attractive in coal-dependent Missouri has become a victim of its own success.
Authorized by a ballot initiative in 2008, the $2-a-watt rebates became a powerful incentive. Together with falling equipment prices and the federal production tax credit, the rebates put rooftop solar systems within reach of thousands of consumers who couldn’t otherwise afford them.
But an end-of-the-year rush to qualify for rebates has exhausted most of the $175 million of funds available in the state, leaving a backlog of millions of dollars of applications and an uncertain future for the state’s nascent solar industry.
Marc Lopata, left, is president of Microgrid Solar in St. Louis, and Jeramy Shays is Policy Manager at the American Council On Renewable Energy.
By Marc Lopata and Jeramy Shays
Reliable, affordable electricity is the lifeblood of our country and economy. This has been fact since Thomas Edison demonstrated the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb in 1879. Electricity fuels our economy and greatly enriches the quality of our lives.
For much of the last hundred years, electricity came from massive centralized power plants. These plants routinely emit harmful pollutants into the air we breathe and the water we drink. They harm our quality of life while decreasing property values in their surrounding communities. If those power plants use coal as a fuel, there are also significant “externalities” associated with the common mining operations in coal production, such as environmental degradation, water pollution, and loss of animal populations.
Workers install solar panels on a hog farm near Grinnell, Iowa earlier this year. (Photo by Moxie Solar, used with permission)
Iowa is well established as a national leader in wind energy and biofuels. And now the state is poised for serious growth in solar as well.
“The market is exploding in Iowa,” says Tim Dwight, a former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL star who has become one of his home state’s most visible solar energy advocates.
Homeowners, farmers, businesses and at least one school district in Iowa are going solar. Also, over the past year, several municipal utilities and rural electric co-ops have put up solar arrays, inviting customers to buy a share of the power generated.
“Solar growth in Iowa is where wind was in the first decade of the 2000s,” says Bill Haman of the Iowa Energy Center. “We saw an explosion in wind.”
In Frytown, just outside Iowa City, the Farmers Electric Cooperative has been steadily adding on to a community solar project established on its property in 2011. And a few weeks ago, the co-op announced plans to put together a 750-kilowatt solar farm, which would be the largest solar-energy project in the state. It’s projected to meet about 15 percent of the co-op’s demand for power.
(Photo by Greens MPs via Creative Commons)
A two-year legal dispute over a solar installation in a St. Louis suburb has prompted the latest legislative effort to clarify the rights of homeowners to go solar.
Frances and James Babb, facing roadblocks from city officials in Clarkson Valley, Missouri, prevailed on Nov. 26 when the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a 2012 judgment in a case brought by the Babbs and the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association.
The court ruled that while cities may impose some parameters on the installation of solar panels, they cannot prohibit it or make it effectively impossible.
The Babbs, seeking legislative action as well, took their issue to a Missouri state senator. On Dec. 2, Sen. Jason Holsman introduced SB 579, which would permit homeowners associations to impose “reasonable rules and regulations,” but prohibit them from expressly or effectively outlawing the installation of solar panels by homeowners.
Solar panels in residential neighborhoods are a common source of conflict. Since the ruling was announced, Frances Babb said, “A lot of people have called me, not only in Missouri, but beyond.” Babb heard tales of similar issues from people in several communities across Missouri, as well as from Louisiana, Georgia and Washington state.
As a red-state Republican who also acknowledges global warming, Gary Hanson needs to tread carefully in conversations about the environment.
Hanson, a former Sioux Falls mayor who chairs the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, shared his views on climate change, distributed generation and other energy-related topics last Thursday at an event hosted by the Sierra Club’s eastern South Dakota chapter.
“I try to look for safe islands; islands where I can get people to agree to work together,” Hanson said.
For him, that’s meant a focus on energy independence, planetary stewardship, and a “responsible” roll-out of renewable energy that doesn’t add costs for utilities or their customers.
(Photo by OregonDOT via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Daniel Cusick
As solar energy equipment becomes more affordable than ever, prompting millions of home and business owners to consider generating their own electricity using solar arrays, the overall cost burden of such systems is shifting decidedly toward “soft costs.”
These include financing, taxes, corporate fees, installation and other nonhardware charges, according to the Energy Department.
In two reports issued Monday, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory stressed that soft costs now account for well over half of all spending on U.S. solar projects, with the greatest proportion of soft costs coming for residential systems, followed by small commercial systems and large commercial installations.
A wind farm under construction in Germany in 2009. (Photo by Windwärts Energie via Creative Commons)
Chicago energy experts who spent a week in Germany and Brussels in mid-November on a fact-finding expedition came back with a complicated take on Germany’s famous Energiewende, the sweeping transition to clean and renewable energy.
They were highly impressed with the fact that unlike the U.S., Germany has a cohesive national energy policy, and that it has meant rapid adoption of solar and wind power, including through substantial governmental support and subsidies.
But they also learned how Germany has in some ways been a victim of its own success, with the swift transition to solar and wind and the closure of nuclear plants raising reliability issues.
“They’ve been successful beyond their wildest dreams – there’s so much solar and wind coming on to their grid that it’s actually destabilizing their grid,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which convened the delegation along with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) – a political organization close to the center-right Christian Democratic Party. “It’s exciting, but there is too much (renewable power) coming on at times, and sometimes not enough.”
Peppermint Energy’s portable solar energy systems are finding a market in developing nations. (Photo courtesy Peppermint Energy)
Brian Gramm’s goal was to build a portable solar generator so rugged that it could survive in one of America’s harshest environments: a stadium parking lot.
The sports fan and serial entrepreneur came up with a product he says can withstand spilled beer, flying footballs, even a fall from your SUV roof should your inebriated buddies accidentally knock it over.
Gramm co-founded Peppermint Energy, a Sioux Falls startup company that originally planned to market solar power to sports tailgaters who wanted to watch TV or blare stereos without risking a dead car battery.
As he shared the designs with friends and mentors, though, others pointed out that a device as simple and durable as theirs might have another purpose: helping in disaster recovery and other humanitarian missions.
“It became apparent that we had the right idea, but we were not quite solving the right problem,” Gramm said.
Wind turbines in McLean County, Illinois. (Photo by Tim Lindenbaum via Creative Commons)
Cross-posted from Greentech Media with permission
By Chelsea Barnes and Justin Barnes
Numerous schemes to scrap or diminish state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) policies have attracted a lot of national attention this year. Grim media forecasts for RPS policies, and the hefty renewables markets these policies facilitate, were not uncommon. These reports were worrisome to renewables supporters.
And for good reason. Meeting existing state RPS requirements will require 93,000 megawatts of new renewables capacity by 2035, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
That’s a lot of new renewables capacity. And a lot of investment.