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.
Crews install a natural gas pipeline for Consumers Energy near Coldwater, Michigan in July. (Photo by Consumers Energy via Creative Commons)
In March, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder plans to make a major statewide energy policy announcement. While he has not publicly disclosed details of his plan, some lawmakers and clean-energy advocates are concerned about the Republican governor’s over-commitment to natural gas as aging coal plants close.
Snyder spent roughly one minute during his 49-minute State of the State speech Tuesday night talking about the “need for a long-term policy.”
“It needs to be an adaptable policy because of the lack of federal policy and the challenges of a global marketplace. It needs to focus on important things such as eliminating energy waste and the conversion of coal to natural gas — an asset of the state of Michigan — and renewables.”
Snyder reportedly said at a conference last week that Michigan is “well positioned to actually have a fair amount of that coal demand go to natural gas.” He said his plan is based on three pillars of “affordability, reliability and environmental protection.”
Investments dropped dramatically when Ohio lawmakers proposed major cutbacks to the state’s clean energy standards. Chart from “Clean Economy Rising: Manufacturing powers clean energy in Ohio,” courtesy of Pew Charitable Trusts. (click to enlarge)
A drop in investments in Ohio’s clean energy industry could cost the state jobs, say industry experts. Matters could be made worse by continuing uncertainty about the future of Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
Last week the Pew Charitable Trusts released a report documenting the huge growth in investments in Ohio’s clean energy industry in the years following adoption of those standards in 2008.
That same report also shows a huge drop after state lawmakers began debating changes to those standards in 2013. The study’s authors expect investment levels will stay low through at least 2017.
Minnesota would see more than $6.2 billion in capital investments if the state raised its renewable energy standard (RES) to 40 percent by 2030, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Meanwhile, the change would have a minimal impact on ratepayers, the UCS says.
Currently the state’s policy calls for 25 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2025. With Minnesota receiving 19 percent of its energy from renewable sources today, the prospect of increasing the goal to 40 percent has gotten the attention of policy groups and lawmakers.