CLEAN ENERGY

Read Howard’s Speech from #Rally4ThePlanet

On April 21, 2017, ELPC hosted an Earth Day Rally in Chicago with partners included elected officials and friends from across the environmental and public health advocacy sector.

Here is Howard’s speech from that event:

CHICAGO EARTH DAY RALLY – APRIL 21, 2017

Good afternoon!  This Earth Day, let’s commit to work together to make Chicago the cleanest and greenest city in the country.

Everyone in Chicago, and across our nation, has the right to breathe clean air.  All people have the right to have safe clean water to drink.  All people have the human right to live in a healthy community without toxic threats.

Safe clean drinking water.  Healthy clean air.  Healthy communities without toxic threats.  These are not just Democratic values or just Republican values.  They are not just the value of city dwellers or rural folks.  These are core environmental values shared by all Americans.  Not just on this Earth Day, but on every day of the year.

President Trump and his EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt don’t seem to share these values.  Their shortsighted actions are harmful to achieving safe clean drinking water, healthy clean air, healthy communities and accelerating clean renewable energy.

We need to fight back – and win!  Not “fight the good fight.”  We will play to win – and we will work together to win the fights.

We won the fight by working together to force Midwest Generation to shut down the old, highly polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Pilsen and Little Village.  Chicago’s air became cleaner and healthier for us all.

We won the fight by working together to force the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to finally disinfect and keep some of the bad bacteria out of the Chicago River.  We gained a safer, cleaner river with better recreation for us all.

We won the fight by working together to pass the Illinois clean energy legislation to accelerate solar energy, advance more wind power and achieve more energy efficiency.   We can make Chicago a leading clean energy community in ways that reduce pollution, create jobs, grow the economy and help to solve our climate change problems.

We will win the fight against the Trump Administration’s misguided plans to cut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding from $300 million annually to $0.

We will win the fight against the Trump Administration’s reported misguided plans to close down the EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago that oversees the Great Lakes, the largest fresh water body in the world, and move the EPA staff to Lenexa, Kansas.  What are they thinking?

Do they really think that when BP, Enbridge or U.S. Steel spill oil or toxic chemicals in Lake Michigan and nearby rivers that EPA’s emergency response team can get there more quickly from Lenexa, Kansas than from Chicago?

We will continue working together to reduce pollution and clean up and restore the Great Lakes to be a great place to fish, swim and enjoy the outdoors…and to provide safe, clean drinking water supplies for all Chicagoans.  We will keep doing so

We will continue working together to achieve better public transit that is affordable and accessible to all.  And to achieve a more livable, walkable and bikeable city that is healthier and less dependent on cars.  And to develop a modern intercity higher-speed rail that improves mobility, reduces pollution, creates jobs and pulls together our regional economy.

Chicago can and should become a cleaner and greener city, and a safer and healthier city that makes all of us proud.

Joining us on Earth Day today are some of the people and organizations, political and environmental leaders, and community activists that make things happen.  These are dedicated and effective people who work every day for Chicago to become a clean water, clean air and clean energy leader.

Thank you all working to make Chicago a healthier place to live, work and enjoy.  Thank you for now for what you will keep doing every day, not just on Earth Day, to build a cleaner and greener and a better Chicago for everyone.

Think Progress: ELPC’s Learner Calls Possible Shutdown of EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago “Tone Deaf and Foolish”

ThinkProgress
Chicago Staff Want a Meeting with EPA Head After Leaked Report Targets Their Office for Closure
by Mark Hand

Environmental Protection Agency employees in Chicago are asking Administrator Scott Pruitt to take the time to meet with them on Wednesday after he visits a nearby Superfund site across the border in northwest Indiana where the federal agency is working to address widespread lead contamination.
The employees want to discuss rumors that the Trump administration plans to close the Chicago Region 5 office. Reports surfaced last weekend that the Region 5 office would be one of two EPA regional offices closed to meet the administration’s budget-cutting goals for the agency.
Pruitt reportedly is expected to attend a Chicago Cubs baseball game rather than meet with employees from the office, which could be consolidated with the agency’s Region 7 office in Kansas. The identity of the other regional office targeted for closure has not been released or leaked.

If Pruitt opts to skip the baseball game, the union that represents the 1,000 employees in the EPA’s Region 5 office, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, would want to discuss what it describes as “devastating cuts he and the Trump administration have proposed.”

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Sun-Times: Howard Learner Says Time is Right for Chicago Community Solar

Warming Up to Solar Energy in Chicago, Cook County
April 11, 2017
By Howard A. Learner

Community solar is ready to move forward in Chicago and Cook County.

When Chicagoans drive toward Des Moines, Indianapolis and Springfield, they see local wind turbines helping to power our transition to a clean energy future. Here in Cook County, our best renewable energy growth opportunity is installing modern solar energy panels on residential and commercial building rooftops and on underutilized “brownfield” industrial sites.

Solar energy development is being driven by smart policies, technological improvements, and civic and political leadership. The Illinois Legislature passed a modernized Renewable Portfolio Standard, which, if implemented well, can jump-start solar energy installations and financing. It’s especially important for Illinois to move quickly to leverage the federal Investment Tax Credit for solar energy that is available over the next four years.

There have been huge technological innovations in almost all solar energy equipment. Solar panel costs have dropped from $4 per watt to less than 40 cents per watt over the past 10 years, and solar inverter efficiency has improved to close to 99 percent.

Since 2015, Cook County has partnered with the city of Chicago, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Elevate Energy, Commonwealth Edison and West Monroe Partners to advance development of new community solar projects. In 2011 the City of Chicago solar formed an energy partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology, Environmental Law & Policy Center and West Monroe Partners. Both SunShot initiatives, supported by U.S. Department of Energy grants, accelerate solar energy projects, streamline processes and remove barriers.

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Curbed: ELPC’s Andy Olsen Emphasizes the Importance of Solar Energy for Rural America’s Development

The Rural Renewable Power Renaissance
Solar and wind have made great strides across the country. Will Trump’s budget halt progress toward a greener heartland?
April 4, 2017
By Patrick Sisson

Abita Springs, Louisiana, a bedroom community of 2,365 about an hour north of New Orleans, is the picture of a small Southern town. The fifth-largest city in St. Tammany Parish, it’s best known for the local microbrewery Abita Brewing Company. Late last month, it also made news as the latest municipality in the country to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

“I hope we’re setting an example for other small communities across the country,” says Mayor Greg Lemons, who made it a point to lead by example and add solar panels to his boat on Lake Pontchartrain. “I want people to say, ‘Look at Abita Springs, a small town with a $3 million budget. They’re doing something.’”

So far, the Abita Springs effort is in its preliminary stage. The town is already replacing regular bulbs with LED lights, but is also examining how to add solar panels to all municipal buildings and, eventually, include electric vehicle charging stations. It’s just a plan and a promise, but the gesture is also a symbol of the growth of renewable energy in the U.S., especially in rural areas of the country.

”I’m a Republican, but I’m not a Republican that says ‘business at any cost,’” says Lemons. “We need to be concerned about our environment and invest in our environment.”

Increasingly, Lemons isn’t a outlier. As the new administration begins to enact its energy policy, including support for the coal industry, the conventional wisdom says that support for fossil fuels is a play by Trump to appeal to his base of rural voters. But like any cross-section of the country, rural America isn’t easily stereotyped. Renewable power has made significant strides across this part of the country as wind and solar take root in farm country, as well as more sparsely populated parts of the United States.

It’s not just that renewable power is providing more jobs than the coal industry—roughly 300,000 U.S. workers are employed by wind and solar, compared to the 65,971 who work in coal mining—it’s also having an outsized impact on rural communities. The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign, which features municipalities that have, like Abita Springs, committed to a renewable energy future, includes rural towns such as Greensburg, Kansas.

According to Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, significant advances have been made in rural wind and solar power in the last decade, and the growth of these energy sources is helping rural America.

“There is a lot of talk about the gulf between urban and rural Americans,” he says. “There’s a lot less of a gulf than we think. There are a lot of rural people interested in seeing these renewable energy programs work, who are very passionate about natural resource conservation.”

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: ELPC’s Howard Learner Talks Peabody’s End to Self-Bonding

Peabody Emerges From Bankruptcy; Stock Trading Resumes Tuesday
April 4, 2017
By Bryce Gray

With $5 billion less in debt and a new stock set to begin trading, Peabody Energy emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday, 10 days shy of one year after starting the reorganization process.

The shares will be listed under the ticker BTU — a reference to the British thermal unit, used to measure the potency of energy sources.

“We believe that ‘The New BTU’ is well positioned to create substantial value for shareholders and other stakeholders over time,” Peabody President and CEO Glenn Kellow said in a statement. “Peabody is the only global pure-play coal investment, and we have the scale, quality of assets and people, and diversity of geography and products to be highly competitive.”

When it filed for Chapter 11 last April, St. Louis-based Peabody was one of many bankruptcies in the coal industry. Competition from cheap natural gas had driven down coal prices, but Peabody officials insisted that a badly timed $5.2 billion acquisition of Australian mines in 2011 was a primary reason the company had to file Chapter 11.

“Investors had said to us, we didn’t have an operating problem but a debt problem,” said Vic Svec, a Peabody spokesman.

Now, company executives say the geographic reach of the company’s assets positions it to serve both the U.S. and burgeoning Asian economies.

“Coal remains an essential part of the energy mix, and Peabody is the largest U.S. coal producer while our Australian platform has access to the higher-growth Asia-Pacific region,” Kellow said.

Peabody did face some sticking points in its reorganization process.

Environmental groups voiced concerns about the company’s practice of self-bonding instead of posting a cash bond to cover future cleanup costs. Those groups were appeased when Peabody agreed to replace $1.2 billion in self-bonds with surety bonds.

“This is bringing self-bonding to an end for the world’s largest coal company,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “That sends a message across the industry.”

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Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s MeLena Hessel Explains Community Solar

Want Solar Panels, but Can’t Afford Them? Cook County’s Working to Set Up Co-ops
April 3, 2017
By Cheryl V. Jackson

Solar panels are cheaper than ever, but many renters, condo-owners and low-income families aren’t able to take advantage of the flaming ball of energy in the sky.

A Cook County project is working to change that, helping set up new solar energy co-ops that would let people who can’t install their own solar panels tap into a shared pool of power.

The Department of Environmental Control and partner groups are laying the groundwork for solar panels at 15 pilot sites across the county, including determining how to outfit property with panels for community-shared solar power, assess subscriber interest and market to users.

Community solar allows power from a single solar array to be shared by numerous households and businesses in a community. Through the systems, individuals would be able to “rent” panels and get reduced electric bills.

It’s part of the Cook County Solar Market Pathways project, funded by a 2014 $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The grant won’t pay for the actual installation of solar panels, but it will provide reports and analysis that’ll pave the way.

The project also looks at the community solar marketplace in the county, identifies suitable available sites and demand, and analyzes the economics of different ownership models.

The county hopes the pilot sites — a mix of sizes and uses across the county, including schools, business and vacant land — can serve as models for groups associated with similar buildings or property.

Aiding residents and organizations in accessing solar energy is important to the county’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, said Deborah Stone, Cook County’s chief sustainability officer and director of the Department of Environmental Control.

“We’re making really good progress at our own buildings, but there’s 1.9 million buildings in Cook County. There’s over 5 million residents. We’re not going to make an impact unless we help the community,” she said.

About 75 percent of households can’t install solar on their roofs because they rent, don’t get enough sun, have structural issues or can’t afford the upfront installation costs, according to Elevate Energy, one of the county’s partners in the program.

About 42 percent of Cook County households live in rental units, and another 16 percent live in condos, Stone said.

“And because we have such income disparities in Cook County, we have a large portion of residents who wouldn’t have enough savings or upfront cash to invest in solar, we’re not going to make headway on our sustainability goals unless we can make solar accessible to everybody,” she said.

The solar market in Illinois is growing after the passage last fall of an energy bill that calls for creation of community solar programs. The law provides credits on electric bills to subscribers who buy or lease solar panels in such programs, said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which pushed for the legislation and is also a partner in the Cook County project.

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s New Solar Energy Co-op Website Tells Success Stories to Inspire Others

New Website Highlights Solar Advancements Made by Rural Co-ops
March 31, 2017
By Karen Uhlenhuth

Electric cooperatives that have taken the plunge into solar energy are the stars of a new website aimed at persuading more co-ops to add solar energy to their mix.

RuralSolarStories.org, produced by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC),  features the tales of three rural electric cooperatives across the Midwest that have responded to customer interest by investing in solar generation. More stories are on the way.

The website’s mission “is to help raise the voices of solar champions within the co-op community,” said Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate for the ELPC. “The co-op community is unique. There’s such a culture of cooperation and learning among peers, we wanted to make sure solar leaders had a venue to be heard.”

Olsen believes there are several compelling reasons to shine the spotlight on rural co-ops that are in the solar-energy vanguard.

“Co-ops have an outsized influence on energy policy,” he said. “We’ve experienced that at the state and federal levels. We talk to members of Congress about energy policy and they want to go back and talk to the co-ops.

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(IL) Journal State-Register: ELPC’s Andy Olsen says solar energy, wind power are economically competitive to coal

No Quick Fixes for Struggling Illinois Coal Industry
March 28, 2017
By Tim Landis

City Water, Light and Power of Springfield is one of only three power plants in Illinois that still burn Illinois coal.

Even if an executive order signed Tuesday by President Donald Trump withstands anticipated legal challenges, little is expected to change in the short term for an industry that has watched production and jobs steadily decline as a result of stricter clean-air rules, fuel switching by utilities and competition from cheaper natural gas. Illinois coal production fell for the second year in a row in 2016, to 43.3 million tons.

Industry employment in Illinois last year of 3,600 was the lowest since 2010 and far below the 10,000 employed the year the federal Clean Air Act took effect in 1990. Arch Coal Co. and Peabody Energy Corp., both based in St. Louis, filed for bankruptcy in 2016. Arch, owner of the Viper Mine near Elkhart, completed bankruptcy reorganization in October.

“We very much welcome this, but it’s not going to bring coal back to where it was,” Illinois Coal Association president Phil Gonet said Tuesday. “At least it stops the bleeding.”

Gonet said Obama-era climate rules have been the biggest factor in the decline of Illinois coal, though natural gas competition has hurt, too.

“Most of it has been power plants shutting down, but the price of natural gas has had an effect,” said Gonet. “We can compete with natural gas, if we’re given a level playing field.”

More Coal, Fewer Miners

Even if coal sales improve, mining techniques require ever fewer miners for increased production. The 3,600 miners required to produce 43.3 million tons of Illinois coal in 2016 was approximately the same number required to produce 33.4 million tons in 2010, according to coal association figures.

Federal statistics indicate that U.S. production of 739 million tons last year was the lowest in four decades. Employment fell by 60,000 from 2011 to 2016, to approximately 77,000.

The Illinois Sierra Club pointed out Tuesday that the president’s action was taken on the same day the Solar Foundation released an annual employment census showing the solar industry employs more state workers than coal. The 3,700 solar jobs in Illinois last year was up 7 percent from 2015, according to the report.

“Illinois is on course to become the national leader in wind power, solar energy and conservation programs, and we should not let President Trump’s crusade against science, and our legal and moral obligation to act on climate change, determine our future,” Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “States that continue with efforts to limit carbon pollution will now be more likely to attract the jobs, economic investment and cleaner air offered by the steadily growing clean energy economy.”

CWLP, the Prairie State Energy Campus in southwest Illinois and a Southern Illinois Power Cooperative plant near Marion are the only remaining in-state customers for Illinois coal.

Many Alternatives

Traditionally coal-reliant rural electric cooperatives expect nationwide solar-energy capacity at the end of 2017 to be five times the capacity of 2012, according to a report released earlier this month by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. A group of Midwest cooperatives recently launched ruralsolarstories.org to highlight the shift toward renewable power.

“The marketplace has changed to the point that there are many alternatives in natural gas, solar, wind and energy efficiency, which are economically competitive,” said Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a renewable-energy advocacy group based in Chicago.

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ELPC’s Rob Kelter Critical Of Renewed Attacks On Clean Energy In Ohio

GOP State Legislators Trying Again to Weaken Renewable-Energy Standards
March 7, 2017
By Dan Gearino

Republican state legislators are trying again to weaken clean-energy standards, hoping to pass a measure similar to one that Gov. John Kasich vetoed in December.

The 73-page bill would change state rules that require electricity utilities to invest in renewable energy and help customers to reduce energy use.

House Bill 114, introduced Tuesday, has more than 50 co-sponsors, including all of the Republican leadership, in a chamber with 99 members.

“We just wanted to have a strong showing of support,” said Rep. Louis Blessing, R-Cincinnati, the lead sponsor.

Meanwhile, environmentalists, clean-energy businesses and others say that they are ready to fight this proposal just as they did previous ones.

The question for legislators is whether there is enough support to override another veto. Republicans added to their House and Senate majorities in the November election, but it is not clear whether leaders can win the votes of two-thirds of each chamber, the minimum needed to override a veto by Kasich, a fellow Republican.

“I know a lot of people will interpret (the bill) as being hostile to the governor … but that’s not the intent,” Blessing said.

Emmalee Kalmbach, a Kasich spokeswoman, had this statement:

“The governor has been clear regarding the need to work with the General Assembly to craft a bill that supports a diverse mix of reliable, low-cost energy sources while preserving the gains we have made in the state’s economy,” she said.

Among the proposed changes in the bill:

  • Utilities would no longer face penalties for not meeting annual benchmarks for purchases of renewable energy. Instead, the companies would have optional goals.
  • The rules for energy savings would go through several changes, reducing the amount required while also expanding the definition of what types of savings can be counted.
  • Many businesses would be able to opt out of electricity-bill charges that pay for utilities’ clean-energy programs.

Blessing said utilities have indicated to him that they would continue clean-energy programs even without mandates and would like the flexibility of no longer facing penalties for not meeting the standards.

“The mandates at this point are just unnecessary,” he said.

Indeed, Columbus-based American Electric Power has a plan to dramatically expand its spending on wind and solar power.

“We are still reviewing the legislation, but we think there needs to be a broader policy discussion about Ohio’s energy future,” said Scott Blake, an AEP spokesman. “We’ve made significant investments to comply with the renewable and energy efficiency standards that are in place and have run very successful programs for our customers.”

Opponents of the bill say there is no good reason to tinker with a law that has been good for the state.

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” said Rob Kelter, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Ohio’s energy policy is in a good place right now, and we should leave it alone.”

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