The owner of this Wisconsin home says his co-op is underpaying him for energy he produces during peak summer hours. (Photo courtesy TE Studio)
Gary Konkol’s home annually produces more energy than it consumes, but his energy bill is about to go up.
Konkol is one of just eleven customers of Wisconsin’s St. Croix Electric Cooperative who own solar electric panels on their home.
A new policy that took effect in May means those homeowners will see much lower payments for the extra electricity they generate on sunny days.
For Konkol and the others, that means waiting several more years to break even on their investments — if they break even at all.
The utility, which serves about 10,000 customers in western Wisconsin, says it’s only protecting other ratepayers from subsidizing a select few.
“Unfortunately, the terms of service and [solar] rate issue has become a few members’ personal interests versus all the other cooperative members’ interests,” said Mark Pendergast, President and CEO of St. Croix Electric Cooperative, in an email to Midwest Energy News.
But solar advocates say the cooperative’s new policy doesn’t recognize the true value of customer-generated solar power.
“It isn’t fair,” Konkol said. “I would argue it’s the other way around; that we’re subsidizing the cooperative.”
The Liberty mural inside the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison. (Photo by JonU235 via Creative Commons)
A group of conservative Tea Party activists in Atlanta turned heads this summer when they announced a partnership with the local Sierra Club chapter to help pressure Georgia’s largest electric utility to boost its investment in solar power.
Six weeks later, solar power picked up another unexpected supporter in Wisconsin, where on Aug. 20 the state’s Libertarian Party endorsed a clean energy group’s proposal to let customers lease solar panels and other small renewable generators.
“Most of us don’t trust the environmental movement because they’ve cried wolf forever and ever. There are all kinds of philosophical disagreements, but at the end of the day this was pretty much a no-brainer,” said Paul Ehlers, state party chair.
Dr. Jeff Thompson of Gundersen Health System.
Primum non nocere. The Latin phrase, meaning “First, do no harm,” is a core tenet taught to aspiring medical professionals.
It most commonly applies to physicians to ensure they do nothing that could potentially hurt a patient, but the healthcare sector has begun applying it in a broader context — specifically, to fight climate change.
Hospitals and health systems are major vessels of medical waste and massive consumers of energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, they are some of the most “complex and energy-intensive facilities” in the country. Major heating and lighting needs, 24/7 occupancy and large, energy-sucking machines lead hospitals to have more than 2.5 times the energy intensity and carbon dioxide emissions of commercial office buildings.
Health Care Without Harm has helped organize more than 600 hospitals and health systems around the “First, do no harm” motto through the Healthier Hospitals Initiative — a coalition designed to improve environmental health and sustainability in the sector.
In northern Wisconsin, rugged, forested terrain can make it difficult to access downed power lines. (Photo by Jimmy Emerson via Creative Commons)
In parts of northern Wisconsin, it doesn’t take a Hurricane Sandy to knock out power for days.
Garden-variety severe thunderstorms routinely leave thousands of customers without electricity in the state’s densely forested northeast corner.
Utility officials hope burying more than 1,000 miles of power lines might bring some relief to customers who are sick of resetting flashing alarm clocks.
Wisconsin Public Services (WPS) received permission from regulators this month to move ahead with the $222 million System Modernization Reliability Project, which some say is too much to spend to improve service for a small number of customers.
The utility, though, says something had to be done to improve the area’s service reliability, which is six times worse than the national average.
“We get complaints from customers who are rightfully pretty frustrated,” WPS spokesman Kerry Spees said.
The Canton Paper Mill in North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Ford via Creative Commons)
The sights of hulking, steaming paper and pulp mills – and the acrid smell they produce – are familiar to many residents of Wisconsin, Ohio and other Midwestern states. For much of the 20th century these mills were central to regional economies, employing hundreds of thousands of people and creating countless tons of paper products.
But the paper and pulp industry has suffered from global competition and reduced paper use driven by the digital revolution and other factors. Since 2002, more than 100,000 paper and pulp mill jobs – 30 percent of the total – have been lost nationwide.
But paper and pulp mills can improve their bottom line, remain financially competitive and retain jobs by adopting energy efficiency overhauls, while also significantly decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report released by the World Resources Institute this week.
“These investments can really help save jobs, since there’s been a lot of transition over the past 10 to 20 years,” said Nate Aden, a research fellow with the World Resources Institute’s climate and energy program. “There are still 350,000 people in the U.S. who are employed in pulp and paper, if these facilities invest in energy efficiency, we can help save those jobs by helping them compete and continue to operate.”
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.
An infrared scanner used in home energy audits. (Photo by Green Energy Futures via Creative Commons)
A new report suggests that Wisconsin’s energy efficiency incentives are back on track following an administrative shake-up two years ago that brought major changes to the program.
An independent evaluation released last week says Focus on Energy achieved greater electricity savings and a higher participation rate in 2012 than any other year in the program’s history.
Wisconsin utility customers last year conserved about 650 million kWh of electricity — enough to power about 92,000 homes — through Focus on Energy’s appliance recycling, lighting discounts, energy audits and other programs.
And more than a million residential and business customers received direct incentives for energy efficiency or renewable energy projects, a nine-fold increase from the previous year.
Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin.
By Michael Vickerman
Though equipped with a license to operate for an additional 20 years, the Kewaunee nuclear power station rode into the sunset this week, having generated its final kilowatt-hour.
Dominion Resources, the Virginia-based company that owns the 550 MW facility along Lake Michigan, plans to spend nearly $1 billion to decommission the facility and transform the acreage back to its former status as farm fields. The process could take as long as 60 years.
It’s more than a little odd to see a 39-year-old nuclear plant taken offline in a state that’s replete with middle-aged fossil units. But in this story, age and fuel type matter less than the extremely unfavorable market structure confronting an independently owned baseload plant in the Upper Midwest, especially one lacking a power purchase agreement.
Fog enshrouds the Oak Creek Power Plant in Wisconsin in this 2010 photo. (Photo by jonnyfixedgear via Creative Commons)
A new report warns that Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness could be at risk if the state doesn’t diversify its electricity sources.
The Badger State is already burdened by the second highest electricity prices in the Midwest, with only Michigan customers paying more on average.
Those rates are likely to climb faster than inflation and prices in surrounding states in the next decade due to Wisconsin’s dependance on coal-burning power plants, according to Gary Radloff, director of Midwest policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute.
His recent paper, “How to Keep Wisconsin and the U.S. Competitive in a Changing Energy World,” says better planning and more investment are needed to shield the state’s economy from fossil fuels’ risk and volatility.
A wind farm near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. (Photo by digidave via Creative Commons)
More than two years after Wisconsin completed a bipartisan process to establish statewide standards for siting wind turbines, development remains sluggish amid continuing political pushback.
In 2012, a year that saw a nationwide surge in wind farm installations as developers rushed to beat expiring tax credits, Wisconsin added only 18 megawatts of capacity.
By comparison, Michigan and Ohio, with much lower wind potential, had already installed 138 MW and 308 MW in just the first three quarters.
Compared to other Midwestern states, Wisconsin ranks at the bottom in both wind projects under construction and in queue, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Challenges to wind energy have come from nearly every level of government.
Shortly after taking office in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker proposed a plan supported by the state’s Realtors Association that would upend the new standards. That effort, and other bills to weaken or repeal the new rules, have failed to gain broader support in the state legislature.
New on the state’s legislative docket this spring are a bill that would allow local governments to adopt more stringent restrictions on wind farms than current state law allows, and another that would clear the way for legal action against wind facilities.