(Photo by Satoshi Kaya via Creative Commons)
Utilities are often at odds with environmental advocates over how to advance clean energy and efficiency goals without falling into a “death spiral” of declining demand and shrinking revenue.
However, a new agreement between a major environmental group and an organization representing investor-owned utilities shows there is also a lot of common ground.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Edison Electric Institute on Wednesday released a document, simply titled “EEI/NRDC Joint Statement to State Utility Regulators,” in support of policies to help guide a rapidly changing electrical grid.
While the organizations have issued joint statements in the past, the latest version is noteworthy because it wades into the thorny issue of distributed generation, which many see as posing an existential threat to traditional utility business models.
The agreement recognizes the continuing trend of customers installing their own generation, while calling for policies to ensure utilities are fairly compensated for maintaining those customers’ access to the grid.
“This agreement helps chart a path to success,” said David Owens, an EEI executive vice president, in a news release.
(click to enlarge)
Solar installers, manufacturers, and suppliers added employees in the Midwest last year at a rate more than double the national average.
The solar industry now directly employs an estimated 17,044 people in the Midwest, according to the latest State Solar Jobs Census, released Tuesday by The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit research group. That’s a 51 percent increase from the 11,300 jobs it counted in the region in 2012.
Nationally, the number of solar jobs grew by almost 20 percent to an estimated 142,698, nearly half of which are located in Arizona, California, Massachusetts or New Jersey.
The foundation also took a more in-depth look at Minnesota’s solar industry so that it will have a baseline for evaluating the impact of that state’s recently passed solar policy, including a 1.5 percent solar mandate.
Ameren is currently meeting most of its share of Missouri’s renewable energy standard with electricity from this century-old dam in Iowa. (Photo by Ian Petchenik via Creative Commons)
More than five years after Missouri residents approved a renewable-energy standard, very little has changed about the state’s power supply.
The 2008 law, known as Proposition C, requires the state’s three large investor-owned utilities to gradually phase in renewable power, starting with 2 percent of the electricity sold in 2011 to 2013, and gradually ramping up that proportion to 15 percent by 2021. The law also requires that 2 percent of that total be derived from solar.
However, not long after voters approved the law by a two-to-one margin, state officials removed language requiring that energy to be generated in Missouri.
As a result, “the utilities are not building renewables,” said P.J. Wilson, director of Renew Missouri, a non-profit that advocated for Proposition C. “They have found ways around it. We’ve been challenging that.”
Workers install solar panels at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 2012. (Photo by Imsouchivy Suos/Luther College – used with permission)
Solar energy, already on a roll in Iowa, could get another boost from three bills under consideration in the state legislature.
One bill, introduced on Wednesday, requires Iowa’s major investor-owned utilities to install 105 megawatts of solar power by the end of 2020, among other provisions.
Another would appropriate $18 million to the state’s three major universities, requiring each of them to install at least two megawatts of solar capacity by June 2017.
A third bill would double the money in the state’s tax credit fund for solar or other renewable energy systems. The fund was created in 2012 with $1.5 million in tax credits to be made available each year. Iowans collected about $620,000 in 2012, and claimed the full $1.5 million in 2013.
In fact, 94 applications in 2013 came in after the fund was depleted for the year, according to an Iowa Department of Revenue spokeswoman, and will be the first applications processed in 2014.
Solar Skies manufactures solar-thermal heating systems in Alexandria, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy Solar Skies)
While sky-high propane prices are causing hardships for many businesses and homeowners, they’re also helping generate interest in renewable alternatives such as wood, solar and geothermal.
Companies that sell solar thermal, geothermal and wood furnaces are reporting an uptick in phone calls and inquiries over the past few weeks as propane customers in the region suffer through near-record prices and localized shortages.
The evidence is only anecdotal at this point, and most said the buzz hadn’t yet translated into new sales, but at least one shop is ramping up production in anticipation of new orders.
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.