CLEAN ENERGY

PRESS RELEASE: Energy Experts Urge DTE Energy to Choose Affordable Renewables Over Billion-Dollar Gas Plant

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 12, 2018

MEDIA CONTACTS
David Jakubiak, Director of Media, ELPC, djakubiak@elpc.org, (312) 795-3713
Zadie Oleksiw, Communications Manager, zadie@votesolar.org (202) 836-5754
Sam Gomberg, Senior Energy Analyst, SGomberg@ucsusa.org, (773) 941-7916

Energy Experts Urge DTE Energy to Choose Affordable Renewables Over Billion-Dollar Gas Plant

Analysis Shows Solar, Wind and Energy Efficiency Will Provide More Affordable, Reliable Power for Michigan Customers

DETROIT, MI –  Groups including Vote Solar, Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) are urging Michigan regulators to require DTE Energy to evaluate renewable energy sources before building its proposed billion-dollar natural gas power plant. The groups presented two separate analyses today to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) showing that using renewable energy like wind and solar would cost less for DTE Energy customers than building a gas plant, with the savings estimates ranging from $339 million to $1.2 billion.

“Using DTE’s own analysis tools, our analysis shows that this billion-dollar gas proposal is simply not the best way to provide reliable, affordable, and clean electricity for Michigan customers,” said Becky Stanfield, Senior Director of Western States at Vote Solar. “The bottom line is that solar, wind and efficiency can do the job for less, and DTE should not be locking Michigan energy customers into paying for this costly gas option. More clean energy investment is also better for the state’s economy, building on a growing industry that already employs more than ninety-thousand Michiganders.”

Under a new resource planning law updated by state legislators in 2016, Michigan utilities must seek a “certificate of need” if they want assurance that they can pass the costs of building a plant of this size on to its customers.  In order to gain that approval, they must demonstrate that their proposed investment is the “most prudent” way to serve its customers’ electricity needs.

“DTE did not meet its burden to show that their proposed gas plant was the best option for Michigan customers” Sam Gomberg, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Under Michigan’s electricity planning law, the Commission should send the company back to the drawing board.”

DTE Energy petitioned the MPSC for the certificate on July 31, asking to build an 1100 megawatt (MW) natural gas-fired power plant in St. Clair County, replacing older coal-fired units in the area, which are retiring between now and 2023.

“DTE is overlooking flexible, reliable, renewable resources that can deliver affordable energy to their customers,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.  “DTE failed to seriously look at solar and wind power, battery storage, energy efficiency, and demand response, which would give DTE the flexibility it needs to integrate clean, cost-effective renewables that are good for Michigan’s economy and environment.”

The Commission will review testimony presented by a range of experts from across the country, including those representing Vote Solar, Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“DTE’s analysis was based on outdated and inaccurate assumptions about the costs and performance of solar power,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Our hope is that the Commission will put the interests of customers first, and ask DTE to start over with numbers that better reflect reality.”

Hearings on DTE Energy’s gas plant proposal will take place in February and a final order on the MPSC’s decision is expected April 2.

###

Howard’s Crain’s Chicago Op-Ed: Chicago Can Lead the Climate Change Fight

December 08, 2017

OPINION

4 Ways Chicago Can Lead the Climate Change Fight

By: HOWARD A. LEARNER

President Donald Trump has walked away from climate change reality. But, fortunately for all of us, American cities like Chicago are stepping up. The recent North American Climate Summit here brought together 50-plus mayors to sign the Chicago Climate Charter, committing to take initiatives to help meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s pollution reduction goals.

As former President Barack Obama said at the event, cities, states, businesses and nonprofits have emerged as the new face of American leadership on climate change. Chicago’s climate action plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and new clean technologies provide even more opportunities for progress.

But the hard and most important work comes next: transforming these declarations and sincere aspirations into real actions that reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development together. Sooner, not later.

At the summit, Chicago shined brightly under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leadership. Here are four ways that Chicago can advance its leadership and transform its public commitments into meaningful and measurable climate actions that benefit all Chicagoans, join with other large cities and set a model for small and midsize cities to replicate.

First, the city of Chicago should procure 100 percent renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022, not wait until 2025. The Midwest has abundant wind power, and solar energy and energy storage capacity is accelerating as prices fall while technologies improve. Chicago and other Illinois cities can work together on coordinated purchases from new Illinois clean renewable projects. Both our environment and Illinois’ 450-plus clean energy supply chain businesses should benefit.

Second, clean up municipal fleets. All new purchases should be electric vehicles except in special cases. Our nation’s transportation sector now produces more carbon pollution than the electric power sector. Cities can create demand to drive the EV market forward while reducing pollution. EVs have fewer moving parts and lower operating maintenance costs than internal combustion engine vehicles. Using wind and solar energy to power EV charging stations accelerates a cleaner transportation system. Chicago and 29 other cities are exploring joint EV procurement. Let’s clean up CTA buses and Illinois school buses, too. Chicago’s on the path—do it now.

Third, use cleaner fuels for existing diesel trucks and buses. At the summit, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee touted how the city and county fleets have switched to renewable biodiesel fuel to reduce carbon pollution. Cleaner fuels warrant a serious look here. Let’s tap the expertise of Chicago’s universities, national labs and engineering firms. These are big pollution savings opportunities for Chicago and other Midwest cities.

Fourth, energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest climate change solution. The Retrofit Chicago program, which focuses on improving buildings’ efficiency, won a C40 Cities Bloomberg award at the summit. (Home court advantage acknowledged.) Let’s accelerate and max out. Why wait? The time has never been better for cities to reduce their energy bills and cut pollution through energy efficiency improvements. What’s more, efficiency creates installation jobs, produces cost savings, keeps money in our neighborhoods and avoids pollution.

What’s the time frame? Soon—climate change is taking its toll with more extreme weather events. Let’s implement these municipal declarations through rapid effective actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development goals together. And let’s work together to turn words into tangible actions, accelerate measurable progress and help advance the Paris Climate Agreement goals. Chicago and partner cities can lead while Trump lags.

 Howard A. Learner is president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

 

News Release: Michigan Public Service Commission Sets Rates for Clean Energy

For Immediate Release

Michigan Public Service Commission Sets Rates for Clean Energy

Rate Certainty Sets Stage for New Private Investments, Solar Energy Development

LANSING, MI – An order setting rates for renewable energy developers from Consumers Energy will create the certainty necessary to spur private investments and new growth in solar energy while ensuring utility customers’ electricity rates don’t increase.

“The Commission adopted a strong methodology that reflects the value solar provides to Michigan during peak periods,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. “This decision makes Michigan more attractive for renewable energy development at no additional cost to ratepayers.”

The Commission adopted new avoided cost rates that Consumers Energy must pay to renewable energy facilities in Michigan for the power those facilities supply to the grid.  This completes Michigan’s first update in 25 years of the approach utilities must take under federal law to compensate the owners of qualified clean energy facilities.

Solar industry officials hailed Wednesday’s announcement saying it can help make Michigan a leader in Midwest solar.

“The Commission correctly recognized the significant long-term value of solar to Michigan, and the need to update old rules to capture that value,” said Rick Umoff, director of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “Solar companies can now ratchet up investment in Michigan’s economy, creating well-paying jobs and providing clean reliable energy to the state.”

Advocates also celebrated the news.

“The Commission’s decision to enable a level playing field for clean energy will launch a new wave of solar development in Michigan,” said Becky Stanfield, senior director of western states at Vote Solar. “Michigan’s leadership demonstrates to regulators and lawmakers across the country how to attract private investments, build a clean energy economy, and create local jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) was enacted in 1978 to encourage renewable energy development, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and promote energy independence. It requires utilities to purchase energy from small qualified cogeneration and renewable energy providers and establishes what are known as “avoided costs” and “must-buy prices” that utilities pay to small renewable energy providers. Since its inception, PURPA has spurred more than 16 GW of cumulative capacity across the country.

In June, the Commission established avoided cost calculations based on the costs of energy and capacity from new natural gas facilities, creating an even playing field for independent developers of qualified clean energy projects. The order also simplifies the development and financing process for small projects by establishing 20-year contracts at a standard rate for projects up to 2 megawatts in size. Previously only projects up to 100 kilowatts were eligible.

Read the Commission’s order.

###

Indianapolis Business Journal: Cities can drive climate action with Paris Accord in flux

McCABE: Cities can drive climate action with Paris Accord in flux

November 11, 2017
OP-ED by Janet McCabe

Nicaragua has officially joined the Paris Climate Accord, and Syria just announced it intends to do so. That means the United States is now the only nation in the world outside this important global agreement. But while the federal government steps back, mayors across our country and across Indiana are stepping up.

Bloomington, Carmel, Crawfordsville, Gary, Indianapolis, Kokomo, Logansport and Whiting have made commitments to take meaningful action to address climate change. Mayors and their staffs from 18 Indiana cities attended the Second Climate Leaders’ Summit hosted by Earth Charter Indiana last month in Indianapolis. These cities can lead by example with climate-change solutions that provide a wealth of benefits for public health and the local economy and that save taxpayer dollars.

Clean energy and clean transportation deliver lower carbon and cleaner air. Fewer Hoosier children will miss school from asthma and other respiratory ailments, and fewer people will go to emergency rooms in respiratory or cardiac distress. Heat waves and floods—exacerbated by climate change—threaten lives, damage property, raise public safety costs and threaten Indiana’s agricultural economy. Climate action is a fiscally responsible priority for Indiana’s mayors.

It’s exciting that many Indiana cities say they want to be part of global climate-change solutions. If I were an Indiana mayor, I would ask: What are the best things I can do to serve my city and reduce my city’s carbon footprint? Here are three of the top options:

• Achieve 100 percent renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022. The Midwest has abundant wind power, and solar energy and energy storage capacity are accelerating as prices fall and technologies improve. Cities can achieve 100 percent renewable energy by using locally produced solar energy plus storage, purchasing renewable energy from third parties, and securing renewable-energy credits from new in-state wind and solar projects.
• Clean up municipal fleets. Our nation’s transportation sector now produces more greenhouse gas pollution than the electric power sector. Indiana cities should buy electric vehicles or other zero-emission vehicles for non-emergency fleets. EVs have fewer moving parts and lower maintenance costs and their operating costs are lower and more predictable. Using wind and solar energy to power EV charging stations accelerates an even cleaner transportation system. And cities can help drive infrastructure for EVs that will support increased use of clean vehicles by residents and businesses.

• Rapidly improve municipal-building energy efficiency. Energy-efficiency investments produce cost savings and less pollution. Why wait? Many payback periods are short and the savings come fast. Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a no-brainer cost-saver and pollution-reducer. Antiquated HVAC systems and old appliances waste money and pollute more. Smart energy-efficiency products, technologies and controls are available. The time has never been better for cities to take stock of their energy use, then reduce their energy bills and cut pollution through energy-efficiency improvements.

• Cities can move forward with these three specific initiatives for clean energy, clean transportation and energy efficiency now and achieve significant pollution-reduction results. We should work together to turn words into deeds, achieve economic and environmental benefits together, and do our part to reduce the risks a changing climate pose to Hoosier communities.

 

READ MORE

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Learner Says Clean Energy Advocates Should Focus More Attention on Clean Transportation

Study: Utilities should get in the drivers seat on electric vehicle infrastructure
By Kari Lydersen

It’s widely accepted that electric vehicles will become increasingly popular and affordable in coming years, and utilities are trying to make sure their grids can handle an influx of vehicles plugged in.

But a recent study by the global consulting firm Deloitte argues that utilities should embrace electric vehicles even more aggressively, treating them almost like power plants and “batteries on wheels,” incorporating them into the fabric of their electricity delivery and generation systems and ideally into their rate-bases.

“We’re really seeing this as a convergence of forces,” said study author Scott Smith, U.S. power & utilities leader for Deloitte LLP. “The technology, government policies, the auto manufacturers, and — we believe — the utilities, have a central role to play in this.”

The study says embracing electric vehicles and their charging infrastructure would help utilities with “three of today’s biggest challenges: stagnant demand, the requirement to integrate renewable and distributed energy resources seamlessly, and the need to engage customers and interest them in new services.”

READ MORE: 

IREC: ELPC Helping Jumpstart Community Solar in Cook Co.

Case Study: Cook County Jumpstarts Community Shared Solar
September 18, 2017
By IREC Editors

The national community solar market was beginning to experience a notable growth spurt in 2014, as more states, utilities and communities were turning to the model as a way to enable multiple customers to access and share the benefits of a single solar project, ultimately expanding access to solar for more consumers. The state of Illinois, however, remained “off the map” and lacked both a statewide community solar policy and voluntary utility programs.

Recognizing the opportunity and potential, especially in the county’s densely-populated, urban environment, Illinois’ Cook County Department of Environmental Control jumpstarted community shared solar in the state and across the Midwest with a Department of Energy SunShot Initiative Solar Market Pathways award, Cook County partnered with the City of Chicago, Elevate Energy, the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), the local investor-owned utility ComEd, and technical consultant West Monroe Partners to overcome the education, information and market barriers to community solar and demonstrate replicable community solar models through pilot projects within the county.

Stakeholder engagement was key to the success of the project, resulting in buy-in from diverse stakeholders early in the process, and sustained interest in the project throughout.

IREC has supported the Solar Market Pathways project since 2015, serving as member of the Technical Assistance team in partnership with the national coordinator, the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC).

To read the full case study, click here

PV Magazine: ELPC Working to Bring Community Solar to Illinois

Community solar, PACE policies moving forward in Illinois
By Mark Burger

August 28, 2017

Community solar in Illinois has made another step forward in the long slog to implementation with the filing by ComEd of a tariff with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) on August 15 requesting that the requisite riders for community solar be added to existing net metering and related riders.

The rider in the tariff, POGCS, will include provisions for both the provider, or developer, of community solar projects and the beneficiaries, or subscribers, without which projects cannot go forward until both conditions are satisfied. This is the latest action in a process that began with enactment of the Future Energy Jobs Act on December 7, 2016, which took effect on June 1, 2017.

ComEd has requested approval from the ICC by September 29, and for the tariff to take effect on October 9th.  Several intervenors have filed in this tariff so far including the Illinois Power Agency, Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Illinois Competitive Energy Association.

READ MORE

Daily Southtown: ELPC Explains Why Will Co. Farmers See Sun as New Cash Crop

Solar farms are cropping up in Will County
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

September 5, 2017

As harvest season approaches, some Will County farmers may already be considering alternatives to the future of their corn and soybean fields. They are learning that the sun they now rely on to produce vegetables, could be harnessed into a new cash crop.

Empowered by Illinois’ new Future Energy Jobs Act, solar companies have approached area farmers in recent weeks about converting a portion of their property into solar farms.

Cypress Creek Renewables, which currently operates solar farms in eight states, has an agreement with a landowner in Crete Township to convert 45 acres on Goodenow Road into a five MegaWatt solar farm, enough to power 800 homes, said Scott Novack, Cypress’ senior developer. They are looking for more sites.

Frankfort officials have just begun to discuss a concept for a 32-acre community solar farm that could generate enough energy to power 1,200 homes, according to developer Josh Barrett, of Solarshift LLC, Homer Glen.

“This is totally new to us,” said Mark Schneidewind, manager of the Will County Farm Bureau. About 100 farmers recently received letters from a few different companies and about a dozen have retained a lawyer to negotiate the finer details, he said.

With offers of $800 per acre, compared to $160 to $180 for a really good crop yield, some older farmers are considering this as a steady cash flow as they head into retirement, Schneidewind said.

Others are concerned about leasing their farms for 20 to 30 years, and want to know if it would restrict their ability to use their land, or interfere with drain tiles, he said.

He said he does not see this as the future of farming, because the ground in Will County is “prime farmland,” but he acknowledged that this gives people an alternative.

Novack said Cypress needs at least 20 acres in close proximity to power lines or substations, and are “actively working on” five to 10 projects in Will County. Realistically, he said he expects they will move forward with one or two.

It will be at least 2019 before a facility is operating. According to CCR’s website, the entire process, from signing the lease to completing construction, takes 18 to 24 months.

Cypress invited area landowners to a recent community meeting, but drew only one, along with two county board members — Judy Ogalla and Laurie Summers, he said.

The farm bureau has held two seminars, in each of the last two Aprils, attracting about 100 people each, to provide information and answer questions.

Schneidewind also has been at the table with Will County’s Land Use Department to discuss how best to regulate this burgeoning business.

The county currently is “not very restrictive,” but does require a special use permit for solar projects — which adds an extra layer of scrutiny, said Samantha Bluemer, of the Land Use Department. As officials update the zoning codes, they want to ensure these are “safe developments” and protect the landowner, she said.

Will County recently won an award for being “solar smart” for simplifying its zoning ordinances and making “alternative energy” an option on its building permit application. It also has enhanced training for permitting and inspection staff and increased public resources regarding solar energy systems and consumer protections, in order to promote positive, sustainable growth.

As they review zoning codes, they are looking at decommissioning the land, mitigating the agricultural land, requiring bonds, letters of credit, and fire training, Bluemer said.

While officials in Frankfort are “excited” about having a solar energy field and contributing to renewable energy, development director Jeff Cook said they want to make sure the site will be properly maintained over the years. A special use permit will be required.

“Renewable energy is a hot topic, a timely subject, but we don’t know all the ins and outs,” Cook said, adding that they are looking at Barrett’s proposal from a land use perspective, and while the location “makes sense,” the plan needs “more details.”

Barrett has proposed a community solar farm on 32 acres on the southwest corner of Pfeiffer Road and Sauk Trail, where it could easily connect to a nearby ComEd substation.

Unlike the larger scale utility farms, Barrett said he would sell solar panels to residents, who would then receive credit on their electric bill for producing their own power.

Given that the majority of rooftops on homes are not conducive to solar panels, community solar farms allow residents to buy into renewable energy at half the cost, with optimal production, he said.

He is now working out zoning issues with the village, which currently requires a special use permit, he said. He hopes to conduct pre-sales at the beginning of 2018, open to Frankfort residents first, then others. If there is not enough interest, the project would not go forward, Barrett said.

Knowing that Frankfort is concerned about aesthetics, he plans not only landscaped berms to seclude the site, but will incorporate native plants and pollinators to promote water filtration and create wildlife habitats.

The panels are designed to last 25 years, and if approved, this site would be developed in three phases, each to produce two megawatts (MW) of power — enough to power 1,200 homes, Barrett said.

“It doesn’t produce any negative effects, just clean energy,” he said.

Brad Klein, senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, agreed.

The state law sets benchmarks for creating 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power —enough electricity to power millions of homes — to be built in Illinois by 2030.

That goal, along with incentives and tax credits, has led to a lot of interest statewide, Klein said.

The Illinois Power Agency is now working to implement that law, and drafting regulations, but development is happening before the details have been finalized, he said.

Still, Klein said he sees only benefits, and the ELPC has been a key proponent of renewable energy.

“We are really interested in finding the best ways to make sure solar processes are integrated well into the landscape,” he said.

Among the “best ways” are creating pollinator habitats under the panels, which may make the land more productive, and making sure the land is restored to its original condition if no longer used for solar farming, he said.

These farms also are expected to generate more revenue for local schools and communities since solar companies would pay property taxes on land they lease — likely at a higher rate than agricultural land, Klein said.

READ MORE

 

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner Named to Crain’s “Who’s Who in Chicago Business”

Among the trailblazers profiled in Crain’s Chicago Business’ annual “Who’s Who in Chicago Business” is ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner.

“Who’s Who” comprises a comprehensive directory of 600+ Chicago leaders, offering information about each person’s business and professional endeavors as well as civic engagements. The list is divided by sector, and Learner appears alongside 33 non-profit standouts.

Learner’s profile includes his work with numerous environmental and legal organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Law Institute, as well as his service to organizations like Citizens Action of Illinois and the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce. Below is the profile that appears in the September 4th issue of Crain’s Chicago Business.

Howard_250x330dHoward A. Learner

President, Executive Director

Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago

Age: 62

Business: Environmental progress, economic development advocacy organization

Professional: Economic Club; Chicago Bar Association; Chicago Council of Lawyers; Environmental Law Institute

Civic: Leadership Fellows Association; Forest Preserves Foundation; Citizens Action of Illinois; Friends of Israel’s Environment; Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers & Commerce

Undergraduate: University of Michigan

Graduate: Harvard University

Iowa utility offers high ‘green’ pricing without adding renewables

Iowa utility offers high ‘green’ pricing without adding renewables

by Karen Uhlenhuth

An Iowa electric utility has proposed a green pricing option that ultimately could cost a customer more than investing in a rooftop solar system, according to the analysis of some clean-energy supporters in the state.

Critics also expressed doubts as to whether Alliant Energy’s green pricing option, known as Beyond Solar, would lead to the development of new renewable energy in the state.

Advocates say it looks like the option, now pending before the Iowa Utilities Board, will simply tap into wind and solar resources that Alliant Energy already owns. That would defeat the purpose of green pricing, critics add, and apparently would not follow the “spirit and intent” of a law that requires utilities to offer green pricing, or a premium for renewable energy.

“While it might not technically violate the rules, it certainly violates the spirit and intent of those rules,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney based in Iowa for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“The way this program is set up, the same amount of renewable energy is going to be on the grid whether no one participates in the program or 1,000 people participate,” Mandelbaum continued.

The reason, he said, is because Alliant Energy proposes to provide Beyond Solar subscribers with energy from two existing sources of generation — a power-purchase agreement with an Iowa wind farm and a 5-megawatt (MW) solar array that Alliant just built in Dubuque.

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now