Will Kenworthy, VP of regional operations for Microgrid Solar speaks at an event introducing new clean energy legislation in Illinois. (Photo courtesy Illinois Environmental Council)
Illinois legislators are introducing a sweeping bill today that would “fix” the state’s troubled Renewable Portfolio Standard, create ambitious goals and policies for energy efficiency and solar energy and, backers say, create 32,000 clean-energy jobs per year.
The bill is being sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook). It realizes the stated goals of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, a group of 26 organizations and 33 businesses that launched earlier this month (and includes members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News).
The bill extends and ramps up the state’s renewable standard by requiring 35 percent of energy consumed in Illinois to be generated by clean renewable sources by 2030. The current standard calls for 25 percent by 2025, and experts were worried the state would not meet these goals because of problems with how the standard is currently structured.
A solar array at a campground in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. (Photo via USDA)
The escalating battle between utilities seeking to guard against the rise of distributed generation and proponents of solar power played out in a heated committee hearing in Indiana’s House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee passed HB 1320, with an amendment introduced during the hearing, in a 9-4 vote along party lines.
The arguments aired were largely the same as those made in controversial rate cases in Wisconsin and other places where utilities have sought to strictly control the economics of solar and other distributed generation – policies that renewable energy advocates argue could “kill” solar power.
Proponents of Indiana HB 1320, authored by Rep. Eric Allan Koch (R), adhered to the same talking points seen in other similar fights, framing the initiative as a way to protect ratepayers and particularly low-income people from solar installation owners who they say are freeloading and not paying their “fair share” to maintain the grid.
Lissa Pawlisch, statewide director of the Clean Energy Resource Teams, has been tracking community solar development in Minnesota closely. (Photo by CERTs via Creative Commons)
The shape of what might be called the community solar garden industry in Minnesota has begun to form.
Many of the state’s power cooperatives already have solar gardens up and running or being actively marketed. Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community Program received more than 400 applications totaling 420 megawatts in the first week its program opened, about four times the most optimistic projections suggested.
Many of those proposals involve large installations that get around a 1 megawatt restriction on solar gardens by placing several of them together on one site. Xcel complained to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission last week that developers are proposing projects 10 times the limit and using the program to skirt regulations intended for large projects.
Exelon’s Byron Generating Station in Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
Cheap natural gas has upended the nation’s energy landscape and made aging nuclear power plants increasingly uncompetitive.
Yet the nuclear industry, which generates almost a fifth of the nation’s energy, has declared war not on gas but on wind and solar, which represent about 4 and 0.2 percent of our energy mix, respectively.
Nuclear generators have successfully fought against renewable and energy efficiency standards on the state level, and lobbied against tax incentives for wind and solar on the federal level. They’re in the process of securing changes in regional capacity markets that would benefit nuclear and harm solar and wind.
And as states develop their Clean Power Plans to fulfill the federal mandate to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear is often pitted against renewables.
While solar energy is sometimes thought of as only accessible to wealthy homeowners, a recently announced solar project, if approved, will benefit some of Minnesota’s poorest residents.
The St. Paul Public Housing Agency will be the main subscriber for a proposed $40 million community solar garden project that will be built by Geronimo Energy just outside the Twin Cities.
Under a pending agreement the housing agency would buy enough solar energy from a proposed solar garden to offset 85 percent of the electric consumption of 16 residential high rises housing more than 2,550 low income residents, many of them senior citizens. In addition, the agency’s headquarters would be covered by the agreement.
Electrical infrastructure in Athens, Ohio. (Photo by quiddle via Creative Commons)
While Ohio lawmakers have largely put the brakes on the state’s clean energy policy, cities and counties are moving forward with their own initiatives.
Electricity aggregation has been a favorite cause of active groups and communities in the Buckeye State, grouping residents and small commercial customers together to purchase electricity, allowing for the leveraging of buying power to obtain lower generation rates.
Ohio enacted legislation allowing municipalities to aggregate in 2001. Since then, over 286 municipalities statewide have chosen electrical aggregation, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Major cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati offer 100 percent renewable electricity packages as a way to shrink their carbon footprints and power costs all at once.
A recent national report places Minnesota among leading states in moving utilities toward a future with more distributed energy resources and greater consumer choices.
GTM Research’s “Regulating the Utility of the Future: Implications for the Grid Edge” looks at four other states in addition to Minnesota – California, Massachusetts, New York and Hawaii. Written by consultant Bentham Paulos, the report focuses mainly on regulatory changes in each state that may open the door for business opportunities for grid companies.
The attention is warranted. Minnesota has several efforts underway now at the Legislature to encourage regulatory transformation and greater distributed energy.
Rural electric cooperatives in states across the Midwest have been investing in community solar in recent years and now, Missouri is joining their ranks.
A co-op that serves about 18,000 customers just north of Kansas City is starting construction on a 100-kilowatt system, and will be the first electric co-op in Missouri to offer community solar to its members.
The Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative decided to take the plunge after three surveys of members in recent years showed consistently robust support for renewable energy, and for solar in particular, according to the coop’s communications director, Cheryl Barnes
“We were surprised there was such a strong interest in renewables,” she said.
Scott and Stacey Hausman’s solar array in St. Joseph, Missouri is the subject of a dispute with their homeowners association. (courtesy photo)
Bills pending before the Missouri General Assembly would prohibit homeowners associations from imposing standards that, in many cases, effectively prevent the installation of solar panels on homes.
And in communities throughout Missouri, homeowners have been butting heads with homeowner associations (HOAs) and municipalities that have attempted to impose such restrictions, leading to lawsuits and the removal of solar panels.
“I think the number is growing and it’s become a critical issue to address,” said Heidi Schoen, executive director of the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association. “It’s discouraging people from putting solar up. I get a lot of calls from frustrated homeowners who want to know how this could happen.”
A rural Minnesota co-op is offering customers who participate in a demand-response program a hard-to-beat deal on community solar.
Customers of Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric (SWCE) who want to own a photovoltaic panel in a community solar garden and add a new electric water heater to their homes can have both for just $170.