(Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
Two months after his inauguration, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has made national headlines for his aggressive efforts to get the state’s budget crisis under control.
Energy and related environment issues have so far taken a back seat, but experts and advocates are watching closely for signs of what the new Republican gubernatorial administration will mean on that front.
Rauner’s draft budget released in February raised serious concerns that money for state energy efficiency and renewable energy projects will be cut and swept into the state’s general fund, as Midwest Energy News reported.
Rauner’s transition report released in January expressed support for a diverse energy mix including renewables, natural gas from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), nuclear and also “clean” coal. It specifically pledged support for energy efficiency, though the draft budget has cast doubts on that commitment.
Workers pose at a Wyoming wind farm in 2009; the turbine blades were manufactured by Siemens in Fort Madison, Iowa. (Photo by Duke Energy via Creative Commons)
Wind and solar energy support about 30,000 jobs at about a thousand companies in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, according to a series of reports released by the Environmental Law & Policy Center over the past two weeks.
The reports show the jobs created not only by the manufacture of wind turbine components, the building of wind farms and the installation of solar panels, but also in related businesses from banking to making cables and glass.
“We continue to be impressed by the robustness and the diversity of these jobs,” said ELPC executive director Howard Learner. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all. There are headquarters and manufacturing and construction jobs, retrofitting jobs, legal and insurance jobs, design and engineering, it’s really a diverse mix of skills for all types of companies.”
Residents of Leelanau Township, Michigan, help install solar trackers at the Northport Creek Golf Course in October. (Photo courtesy Steve Smiley)
Ten percent of Michigan’s power will come from renewable sources by the end of this year. For a small community in the western tip of the state’s lower peninsula, though, that’s not enough.
A group of residents in Leelanau Township, which includes the village of Northport, are finalizing a goal of becoming a 100 percent clean energy community. A Renewable Energy Community Plan for the area, which has a total population of about 2,000, is meant to be a template for other small towns to use.
The community is already on its way toward the 100 percent goal, with a previously constructed community wind turbine that helps power a local wastewater treatment plant. There’s also the Northport Creek Golf Course, dubbed as the first solar powered golf course in the country. Other solar energy systems are planned for local agricultural operations, wineries and government facilities.
Minnesota’s largest utility wants to prohibit large large-scale projects comprised of smaller community solar gardens from being built in the state.
Xcel Energy made the formal request in a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in a letter Wednesday after raising several concerns last month over the Solar Rewards Community program, which has drawn 431 megawatts (MW) in proposals so far.
A wind turbine near Northfield, Minnesota. (Photo by Robert Hest via Creative Commons)
In January, one of Minnesota’s largest utilities began receiving power from the final phase of a new wind farm — in North Dakota.
Rated at nearly 500 megawatts, Minnesota Power’s Bison wind farm is the largest in its neighboring state.
Meanwhile, Minnesota has dropped three places since 2011 in the America Wind Energy Association rankings as Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington have surged up the rankings and as the state has focused on solar energy production.
Which begs the question — has the solar boom taken the luster out of wind in Minnesota?
©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
A national environmental advocate and a utility watchdog group are teaming up on energy policy in Illinois — this time proposing a community solar pilot program with an eye toward making it more widely available by the end of the decade.
The proposal to the Illinois Commerce Commission, filed Monday by the Citizens Utility Board and Environmental Defense Fund, would enable development of four to five community solar energy systems of up to 2 megawatts each.
Larry Ward is the executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum.
Larry Ward, executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, says he’s always been fascinated by the idea that “somehow Republicans can’t be in line” with renewable energy.
As a consultant and former political director for the state’s Republican party, Ward is experienced in statewide politics, and is well aware that the issue has become hyper-partisan. But he doesn’t think it should be. After all, he says, energy policy affects everyone who pays an electric bill.
“I’m just always mystified that we as a political party have let it get that bad,” he said.
So in late 2013, Ward launched the MCEF as a way to give Republicans a voice on clean-energy issues — an opportunity for those in the party to speak up on the merits of the issue without being lumped in with (and cast away as) liberals, he said. The group includes some of the state’s most prominent conservative activists.
While the MCEF publicly supports an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that includes natural gas and nuclear alongside renewables, Ward sees the benefits that the state’s 10 percent renewable energy standard has had economically. He supports removing state and utility barriers to entry for solar generation.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the Budget address to lawmakers on Feb. 18. (AP Photo / Seth Perlman)
New Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has promised to make energy efficiency and renewable energy a priority. And clean energy advocates are hopeful the governor will support sweeping legislation introduced Feb. 19 that would increase mandates for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
But in trying to address the state’s current budget crisis, Rauner is proposing to cut existing energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, and to sweep money already collected for those programs into the state’s general coffers.
The administration’s draft budget released in February calls for shifting $175 million worth of energy programs from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity into the state’s general revenue fund. (See chapter 4-12 of the draft budget).
That money is collected from ratepayers on their utility bills, and by law it is supposed to be used exclusively for specific energy projects, namely the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS) fund and the Renewable Energy Resources Trust Fund.
(Photo by Rob Rudloff via Creative Commons)
A cost-benefit study of net metering in Missouri recently arrived at the same conclusion as similar studies in Vermont, New York, Texas and Nevada: for utility customers, net metering is a net benefit.
While utilities often argue that net metering amounts to ratepayers subsidizing solar installations for a handful of customers, the Missouri Energy Initiative found otherwise.
Even accounting for increased utility administrative costs and the shifting of some fixed expenses, the MEI study found that in each year from 2008 through 2013, customers overall came out ahead.
The study “was meant for policymakers and rate-makers to dive into with an open mind and open eyes, and to know what key questions to ask,” said MEI’s executive director, Josh Campbell.
(Photo by Pieter Morlion via Creative Commons)
While Minnesota’s largest utility pushes back against the scale of proposals filed under the state’s new community solar program, energy developers and their proponents say those concerns are overblown and based on potentially inaccurate assumptions.
Although no projects have been publicly approved, Xcel Energy raised several issues about community solar gardens in a Feb. 10 letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comments from solar developers are due Tuesday, with answers from Xcel slated for March 2.