Workers install solar panels atop a home in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo courtesy John Atkeison)
In a bid to hasten the shift from coal-fired electricity to power from locally-sourced renewables, an initiative is underway in Lincoln, Nebraska, that would make it the first city in the Midwest with a feed-in tariff, or CLEAN program.
“People want to get a dialogue started with the Lincoln Electric System [Lincoln’s municipal utility] to get more local energy developed,” said Graham Christensen, the public affairs director for the Nebraska Farmers Union.
The Union is one of the partners in Power Lincoln Locally, the coalition behind the movement. The group is holding a tour of solar installations throughout the city on Saturday.
A CLEAN contract is a commitment by a utility to purchase energy, usually generated by small-scale wind, solar or biogas sources, and to feed it into the local power grid. Contracts typically guarantee a price for 20 years.
(Photo by eXtension Farm Energy via Creative Commons)
Consumers Energy encountered two surprises this year after it fast-tracked a Michigan wind farm project to take advantage of expiring federal tax credits.
One, the project will cost less than the utility thought it would to build, and two, technology advances mean each turbine will produce more power than previously projected.
Citing those improved economics, Consumers Energy proposed last week to eliminate a surcharge on customers’ bills that was designed to cover the cost of complying with Michigan’s renewable electricity standard.
The utility is downplaying the significance, but environmental groups are claiming a win, saying the proposal vindicates their position that utilities have exaggerated the cost of renewable energy.
Srinergy says it can now install solar power systems like this recent 7.9-kilowatt project it built in Canton, Michigan for about $3 per watt. (Photo via Srinergy)
Cross-posted with permission from Michigan Land Use Institute
By Jim Dulzo
Michigan is now a center for manufacturing solar panels, but making a buck on installing them here remains tough.
Many Michiganders still don’t understand that their state has enough sunshine to make solar power worth the investment. Michigan utilities sharply limit how much power they buy back from privately owned solar power systems, reducing their profitability. And, unlike solar-savvy states, Michigan offers no solar tax incentives, and many local officials are completely unfamiliar with permitting standards for the technology.
But none of that bothers Srinergy’ s Prasad Gullapalli. He’s got his eyes on the prize.
His three-year-old, Novi-based solar installation company has joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s nationwide Race to the Rooftops contest. The firm and the partners it is recruiting will compete for part of a $10 million prize. It will be shared among the first three teams that install 6,000 smaller-scale solar systems on homes or businesses while keeping their “soft costs”—everything but the panels and other hardware—at or below $1 per watt.
Monona, Wisconsin plans to install solar panels on its city hall and other municipal buildings. (Photo by Channel3000 Communities via Creative Commons)
Can a Wisconsin city buy solar power from someone other than its electric utility? A Madison suburb may soon find out the answer.
The Monona City Council discussed Monday what could be a first-of-its-kind solar project in Wisconsin.
A private company would install solar arrays on four municipal buildings at no upfront cost to the city. The installer would then own and maintain the systems over the life of a contract and sell the renewable energy credits they earn to the city of Monona.
“The city has committed to being an energy-independent community and increasing our use of renewables,” Monona project manager Janine Glaeser said, “and this looks like a good way to do that without the upfront capital costs.”
One possible hitch: Wisconsin law is unclear about whether so called “third-party-owned” solar systems, in which neither the customer nor their utility owns the panels, are legal in the state.
(Photo by Gary Allman via Creative Commons)
While big-box retailers like Walmart and Ikea are nationally known for their adoption of renewable energy, the drug store chain Walgreens is quickly joining their ranks.
The Deerfield, Illinois-based company is already one of the nation’s retail leaders in the installation of rooftop solar panels. And the company recently announced it will be working together with Chicago-based solar developer SoCore Energy to put solar panels on top of more than 200 stores located primarily in California and the Northeast. Walgreens already has solar panels on about 150 stores.
Officials in Jackson, Michigan turned down a solar deal that a developer claimed would reap the city a huge return on its investment. (Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil via Creative Commons)
Installing solar panels or wind turbines on city or county-owned property can be fraught with more complexities than doing so on private land.
That was demonstrated earlier this month when the City of Jackson, Michigan, opted not to move forward on what appeared on the surface to be a slam-dunk good deal for the municipality.
The local utility, Consumers Energy, was offering to pay 23 cents per kilowatt-hour produced by solar panels to be installed at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. That’s close to twice what Michigan utilities typically charge their customers per kilowatt hour. Consumers said it would pay at that rate for 15 years.
The city initially considered spending about $500,000 to install the panels, then decided it would be hard to make a case.
“We’re a financially distressed community – and a very conservative community,” said Jackson city manager Patrick Burtch. “We’ve been laying off police and fire department employees.”
A combine retrofitted to capture corn stover on display at Iowa State University. (Photo by eXtension Farm Energy via Creative Commons)
While the talk in D.C. turns to President Obama’s climate proposals, it’s back to the drawing board for several federal renewable energy programs, following the House rejection of the Farm Bill last week.
Unless Congress passes another law or extends the current one, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and other energy programs will end on September 30.
The federal Farm Bill covers a wide range of programs including food stamps, crop insurance, conservation, and more. The Senate passed its $955 billion bill to reauthorize the Farm Bill earlier this month. The House voted down its $940 billion version last Thursday by a vote of 195-234.
Programs for clean and renewable energy have been part of the Farm Bill since 2002. REAP provides grants and loan guarantees for a wide range of renewable energy and energy assistance projects. The nationwide program supports many projects in the Midwest.
A solar powered livestock watering system in Wyoming. Systems such as this one have been eligible for funding under the REAP program. (Photo by eXtension Farm Energy via Creative Commons)
The Senate passed the Farm Bill Monday night by a vote of 66 to 27 with wide bipartisan support.
Now a big question is whether mandatory funding for clean and renewable energy programs will continue at reduced levels or disappear.
The answer depends on what happens later this summer in the House of Representatives and in conference committee.
Running more than 1,100 pages long, the Senate bill amends a comprehensive law covering food stamps, crop insurance, conservation, and more. Almost 80 percent of the Senate bill’s $955 billion is for the federal food stamp program. Programs for clean and renewable energy get less than 1 percent.
The Senate bill that passed on Monday provides $900 million in mandatory funding over five years for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), and related programs.
On an annual basis, that comes to $180 million–31 percent less per year than under the 2008 Farm Bill. The 2008 law expired last year but was extended until September 30 as part of January’s fiscal-cliff compromise.
(Photo by Melanie Cook via Creative Commons)
Utility customers who own solar panels are doing society a favor, helping to cut carbon emissions and ease transmission line congestion, among other benefits.
Or, they’re power-grid freeloaders, lowering their own electric bills but sticking everyone else with a bigger share of costs for infrastructure they still depend on after dark.
These two competing views of solar power have led to rising tensions in recent years over policies for connecting customer-owned solar arrays to the grid.
Minnesota’s new solar law could help shed some light on that debate.
As part of a broader solar energy bill signed last month by Gov. Mark Dayton, the Gopher State will soon give utilities an alternative to paying customers the retail electricity rate for their unused solar power. Instead, utilities will be able to pay a different rate based on the “value of solar” to their system, including cost-savings to other ratepayers and broader environmental benefits.
The state’s energy office will come up with guidelines for utilities that want to calculate a value-of-solar tariff, and the utilities’ studies will need to be approved by utility regulators.
(Photo by Kate Ausburn via Creative Commons)
As the population grows, the economy improves and the climate warms in its service territory, Xcel Energy projects rising demand for electricity on hot summer days before the end of the decade.
On April 15, the Minnesota utility proposed meeting that new peak demand by building three 215-megawatt natural gas power plants — one in the Twin Cities and another two in North Dakota.
Six weeks later, though, Xcel and other investor-owned utilities in Minnesota were presented with a new legislative mandate to generate 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar by 2020.
The state’s new solar standard is expected to spur development of an estimated 450 megawatts of solar power over the next six and a half years, which raises the question: does Xcel still need all three of those gas peaking plants?