CLEAN ENERGY

Peabody trying to shift coal clean-up costs onto taxpayers, ELPC’s Learner explains to NPR’s Marketplace

Just about every big coal mining company in America is in bankruptcy, or emerging from it. That includes the world’s largest private sector coal firm: Peabody Energy.

Peabody won court approval to set aside just a small amount of money for environmental cleanup – a mere 15 cents on the dollar. That leaves the states in which it operates at risk for the rest.

The whole question here is, if coal companies wobble and fall down for good, who pays for the cleanup? The process of removing water pollution, planting trees and shrubs and returning the topsoil is expensive and time-consuming.

In Peabody’s case, the court and three key mining states agreed to let the company put up just a fraction of the cleanup money that would be required.

“They’re trying to shift the costs from the coal mining companies back to the states, and basically onto taxpayers,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said. “And unfortunately, for example, the state of Indiana seems to have agreed to take 15 to 17 cents on the dollar.”

Continue Reading or listen below

Progress IL: Enviros rally & testify on clean energy justice issues in Chicago

Environmentalists from across the country were in Chicago Wednesday to testify before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP).

CEIP is an optional component of the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to slash carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants. The voluntary incentive program is meant to jump-start action to curb carbon pollution and help states comply with the Clean Power Plan.

CEIP seeks to reward early investment in energy efficiency and solar projects in low-income communities as well as zero-emitting renewable energy projects — including wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower — in all communities.

Participating states could use the emission allowances or emission rate credits distributed through the program to comply with the Clean Power Plan when it takes effect in 2022. The EPA, which released its updated CEIP plan in June, is proposing that the matching pool of allowances or emission rate credits be split evenly between low-income community projects and renewable energy projects.

Emma Lockridge, a leader with Michigan United and the People’s Action Institute, was among dozens of speakers from across the country who testified this morning in support of making CEIP mandatory and more comprehensive.

Lockridge and many other hearing attendees described themselves as living in frontline, environmental justice communities.

Continue Reading

FOX32: Save up to 20% on your a/c bill with a smart thermostat

ELPC Senior Attorney Rob Kelter spoke with FOX32 about how smart thermostats can save consumers money — the rebate cuts the cost of the thermostats in half, and the energy savings pay for the rest of the cost of the device within a year.  The Chicago area has the largest rebate in the country for smart thermostats, and ELPC helped make that happen.

Learner says no deal from Peabody in Illinois could signal better reclamation deal

Peabody Energy, the largest coal producer in the U.S., reached a deal this week with several states on plans to cover the costs of mine cleanups. Illinois is not among them and environmentalists said that could be a good sign.

The company is filing for bankruptcy and has been allowed to self-bond – essentially a promise to pay for coal site cleanup without actually setting aside the cash. Peabody operates several coal mines in Illinois and according to the state’s attorney general, the energy company could be on the hook for $92 million to reclaim the sites if they’re shut down.

That money should not have to come from Illinois taxpayers, said Howard Learner with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“The state of Illinois has not filed a stipulation with Peabody,” Lerner said. “And we’re pleased that Governor Rauner and the Illinois Attorney General are looking harder at this one, and reassessing what’s the fair balance here in light of Peabody’s legal responsibilities.”

Learner said that the deal Peabody reached with Indiana could force the state’s taxpayers to foot about 80 percent of the bill to clean up the company’s coal sites. So far, Illinois has not made a deal with Peabody.

In July, a federal bankruptcy judge allowed groups, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, to weigh in on the court proceedings. Learner called it a breakthrough decision that could help keep Peabody accountable.

Continue Reading

Des Moines Register: Rate Agreement Moves MidAmerican Closer to $3.6 Billion Wind Project

 

By Donnelle Eller

MidAmerican Energy, environmental groups and large tech companies reached a rate agreement over the Des Moines-based utility’s plan to invest $3.6 billion in wind energy.

The settlement, which goes to the Iowa Utilities Board for consideration, lowers from 11.5 percent to 11 percent the return MidAmerican would receive from its investment in 2,000 megawatts of wind energy generation.

Among other changes in the settlement, MidAmerican Energy agreed to not sell to other states, utilities or businesses renewable energy credits from the large project when customers choose to claim green energy use.

That’s important to companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, all of which have large data centers in Iowa that are large energy users. Environmentalists have pushed big social media, software and internet search companies to reduce their reliance on power generated from fossil fuels.

“We are pleased that all of MidAmerican’s customers will benefit from this settlement,” said Doug Gross, a Des Moines attorney representing Google, Facebook and Microsoft. “We look forward to continuing to work with MidAmerican to ensure that customers have a voice in decisions that affect Iowa’s energy future.”

The project, MidAmerican said, “will bring significant environmental and economic benefits to our customers and the state of Iowa without the need to ask for a rate increase.”

Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center, also involved in settlement discussions, applauded the agreement as well.

Keep Reading

News: Clean Energy Advocates Commend Alliant Energy Announcement in Iowa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 27, 2016
Contact:

David Jakubiak, ELPC

Katy Heggen, IEC

IEC, ELPC Comment Alliant Energy Plans for New Wind

 

Des Moines – Two of Iowa’s leading environmental policy groups have expressed strong support for a proposal announced by Alliant Energy today that would add up to 500 megawatts (MW) of new wind energy to Iowa’s energy mix.

“Alliant Energy’s new wind project will continue Iowa’s strong momentum on clean energy leadership. Across the state, utilities and developers are placing 10,000 MW of wind by 2020 – a major milestone – within reach,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director at the Iowa Environmental Council.

The recent extension of the federal wind energy production tax credit was a significant factor in Alliant Energy’s timing of this project. By moving forward before the end of 2016 to develop wind projects, Alliant Energy can capture the full value of this important tax incentive. Both the Council and ELPC supported long-term extensions of the federal PTC.

“We continue to reap the benefits of the extension of the federal PTC,” said Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “This project further cements Iowa’s position as a national renewable energy leader.”

At the end of 2015, Iowa had 6,212 MW of installed wind accounting for 31.3 percent of Iowa’s electricity mix – more than any other state in the country according to the American Wind Energy Association. Iowa is expected to have up to 7,000 MW of wind installed before pending wind proposals are built. Those proposals include MidAmerican’s 2,000 MW Wind XI and Alliant Energy’s project announced today. If these projects are approved and constructed on time, Iowa will have over 9,000 MW of wind installed before 2020.

Alliant Energy’s wind project will provide significant economic and environmental benefits. Iowa wind energy already provides between 6,000 and 7,000 direct jobs and supports approximately 75 companies in the wind supply chain. Wind energy also provides over $17M annually in land lease payments to rural landowners, generates significant property tax revenue for counties, and attracts additional business to the state. Wind energy is also the lowest cost new source of electricity generation available in Iowa.

To learn more about this announcement, visit AlliantEnergy.com/whisperingwillow

Midwest Energy News: Biggest Wind Project in Iowa History Back on Track

By Karen Uhlenhuth, Midwest Energy News

The largest proposed wind energy project in Iowa’s history appears to be back on track this week after a tense period when it seemed the deal might fall apart over differences between a utility and large energy users.

On Tuesday, MidAmerican Energy — the utility pursuing the $3.6 billion Wind XI project — reached an accord with several major customers that objected to the plan, including tech giants Google, Microsoft and Facebook and a group of large industrial customers known as the Iowa Business Energy Coalition (IBEC).

MidAmerican President Bill Fehrman said in testimony filed with state regulators that, based on the companies’ objections, he found it “hard to conclude that the Data Centers and IBEC want MidAmerican to develop Wind XI.”

The large customers testified about a range of concerns with the proposal, including MidAmerican’s approach to modeling, the amount of power the utility projected its turbines would produce, the return on equity that MidAmerican was requesting and the treatment of environmental credits resulting from the production of renewable energy.

In the settlement, the customers and MidAmerican agreed to an 11 percent return on equity, slightly less than the 11.5 percent that MidAmerican initially had requested. The customers wanted a 9.5 percent return. And the two sides agreed to assign the environmental benefits of Wind XI to the various classes of customers, based on each class’ kilowatt-hour sales.

Like MidAmerican, the Iowa Environmental Council had expressed concerns that the changes proposed by the industrial customers and data centers could prove fatal to the project.

In a blog post late last month, the council’s energy program director, Nathaniel Baer, wrote: “While no party appears to have explicitly opposed Wind XI, the changes recommended by several interveners, including the data centers and IBEC, could cause Wind XI to be smaller or, at worst, not to be built at all.”

In written testimony, Fehrman said he was surprised that large customers challenged the project, given that they never expressed opinions in any of the 10 previous wind projects developed by MidAmerican.

The objections also appeared to fly in the face of the companies’ history of supporting renewable energy. All three companies have made significant investments in renewable power, including in Iowa, and have indicated they eventually intend to power all of their operations with renewable electricity.

In 2014, Google signed a deal with MidAmerican to purchase 407 megawatts of wind energy to power a new data center in Iowa. A year ago, Facebook announced that it was expanding with a third data center in Altoona, Iowa. The company cited several reasons for the decision, including access to wind energy.

In April, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad attended the announcement of the 2,000-MW Wind XI installation, which MidAmerican claims is the biggest economic development project in the state’s history.

Wind XI would increase MidAmerican’s substantial wind portfolio to the point that wind would provide energy equal to 85 percent of the electricity sold by the company in a year’s time.

A final decision from state regulators is expected in September. MidAmerican has said it would need to start construction on the project before Dec. 31 in order to receive the maximum amount of federal production tax credits. The credit will gradually decrease over several years, beginning on Jan. 1, 2017.

Keep Reading

News: ELPC, Iowa Environmental Council Commend Agreement on Iowa Wind

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 26, 2016

Contact:
David Jakubiak, ELPC
Katy Heggen, IEC

Environmental Groups Commend Agreement on MidAmerican Wind Project
Wind XI Extends Iowa’s National Clean Energy Lead

Des Moines – Two of Iowa’s leading environmental policy groups continued to express their support for MidAmerican’s Wind XI project after several parties filed a settlement Tuesday with the Iowa Utilities Board to move the project forward. If approved and built, Wind XI would add 2,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy to Iowa’s energy mix, making it the largest wind project in Iowa:

“This settlement continues the Iowa tradition of adding significant renewable energy in a manner that provides benefits to Iowa customers, the Iowa economy and the environment,” said Joshua Mandelbaum, staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“We are pleased to see MidAmerican come to agreement with the Office of Consumer Advocate, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and the Iowa Business Energy Coalition,” added Nathaniel Baer, energy program director of the Iowa Environmental Council. “We applaud this showing of clean energy leadership, and look forward to continuing to work with the involved parties to advance affordable, reliable renewable energy in Iowa.”

The settlement now goes to the Iowa Utilities Board for consideration.

Judge rules that ELPC is in position to assert that Peabody put up necessary funds for mine reclamation and cleanup

From Midwest Energy News:

Environmental groups won a partial victory last week in their campaign to make sure Peabody Energy cleans up its coal mines, a growing concern as the company is going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

A federal bankruptcy judge found that the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Western Office of Resource Councils can proceed in petitioning the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) regarding Peabody’s use of “self-bonding” for eventual clean-up of its coal mines.

When a company is in bankruptcy, there is an “automatic stay” imposed on citizens pushing for enforcement of environmental laws, including the federal law governing coal mine reclamation. The groups had asked the bankruptcy court to be exempted from that stay on the self-bonding issue.

Peabody had strongly objected, but the judge ruled in the groups’ favor, deciding they can continue sending information to the federal enforcement office and demanding  regulators take action to limit Peabody’s self-bonding.

The groups have been arguing that Peabody should have to put up real capital ahead of time or invest in an insurance policy or surety bonds to clean up mines, rather than be allowed to “self-bond,” or essentially promise that it will have enough money when the time comes.

As ELPC executive director Howard Learner sees it, bankruptcy judge Barry Schermer’s July 20 decision signals that the feds can enforce reclamation requirements on Peabody even as the company reorganizes in bankruptcy proceedings. And if federal regulators do not take action the environmental groups find sufficient, the ruling protects their right to sue the agency, Learner said.

“The question will be, where do Peabody’s mine reclamation and environmental cleanup responsibilities fall within the competing demands of creditors and vendors and Peabody’s plans for future,” as hashed out in bankruptcy proceedings, Learner said.

Continue Reading

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Mandelbaum Discusses Open Door to More Net Metering

Net metering will be available to more electricity customers in Iowa as a result of a decision made on Tuesday by state regulators.

As part of a long-running discussion about distributed generation, the Iowa Utilities Board ruled that the state’s two major utilities – MidAmerican and Alliant Energy – must increase their net metering cap from 500 kilowatts to 1 megawatt. Also, the new tariffs will have to make net metering available to all classes of customers but will change some rules for compensation.

“They’ve left the structure of net metering in place, and focused on how to expand that in a very narrow way that is on the whole positive,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney in Des Moines with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “They didn’t invite any of the changes you’ve seen in the utility pilot project. They could have, but they kept the pilot projects separate, and to me, that is a positive.”

As part of the board’s distributed-generation docket, the board last October asked MidAmerican and Alliant to submit pilot projects to encourage the development of distributed generation in the state. For the most part, the utilities did the opposite: proposing rate changes that would penalize solar customers.

The new rules regarding net metering will be adopted on a temporary basis. At the end of three years, the board will assess the experiment and decide whether to make the changes permanent. Customers of the two utilities who currently have solar panels can choose to continue in their current net metering arrangement, or can opt to try the new net metering tariff. Those choosing the new tariff may not return to the former tariff.

Any customer installing solar panels after the new tariffs are adopted will be required to operate under the new rules. Under existing rules, net meterers can roll over excess credits indefinitely, to be applied against future bills. There is no option for trading credits for cash.

The new tariffs will institute a yearly true-up. Early in the year, excess credits will be removed from the books, compensated at the avoided-cost rate and the proceeds divided in two: half will go to a utility fund to aid low-income customers, and half will return to the customer.

Although he praised the board’s directive overall, Mandelbaum said the cashout piece “could potentially be losses and gains. I don’t think the cashout is going to make much difference on most projects, but there is some potential for it to impact some projects.”

The ruling will eliminate any incentive a solar customer might have felt to overproduce. The increased cap of 1 megawatt will apply only up to 100 percent of the solar customer’s load. And while the new rules will extend net metering to a couple of groups of customers who are currently excluded, the rules stipulate that each customer’s generation will only offset the energy charge and will not apply to demand or customer charges.

One class that now will gain access is customers who obtain solar power through third-party power-purchase agreements or lease arrangements. After a customer filed a complaint, Alliant changed its policy a year ago to allow third-party customers – generally public and non-profit entities – to net meter. While Alliant extended net metering to that group, MidAmerican did not, according to Mandelbaum. The ruling made yesterday requires that MidAmerican adopt the same standard.

The other class that now will be able to net meter is the large general service category, such as manufacturing plants and wastewater-treatment facilities. Barry Shear, a solar developer in Iowa, went to the utilities board because Alliant’s policy stymied one city’s attempt to install a solar array at its water treatment plant.

Although the new rules will allow large general service customers to net meter, the presence of a large demand fee as part of their bill may continue to interfere with the economics of net metering.

The board’s Tuesday ruling did something else: it seemed to bypass much of the pilot projects that Alliant and MidAmerican submitted in March. Although the board instructed the utilities to devise pilot projects that would experiment with ways to expand rooftop solar, clean-energy supporters in the state mostly viewed the pilots as designed to discourage people from generating their own power. Alliant proposed paying less to solar customers, and MidAmerican suggested imposing a demand charge on them. Both of them, however, also said they wanted to experiment with community solar.

The message in Tuesday’s ruling, as Mandelbaum sees it, was, “You can continue working on community solar projects,” he said, “The rate-design pilots – it essentially rejects those.”

Keep Reading

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now