CLEAN ENERGY

The 2014 Election Results: What They Mean for the Midwest’s Environmental and Clean Energy Policies

Plain and simple: Republicans achieved a wave of victories nationally and in the Midwest while, as the incumbent national party, Democrats bore the brunt of the public’s dissatisfaction with politicians. The public, however, did vote positively on various referenda issues in ways that aligned more closely to Democrat positions than Republican positions.

For environmental, clean energy and conservation advocates, the election results are mostly not promising, but it’s more complex than simple one-liners aimed at raising money or gearing up for 2016 battles.  We lost some strong environmental supporters in the November 4th elections, but some winning candidates, from both parties, have been good supporters of clean energy, passenger rail, and other environmental and conservation programs. As described below, there are some opportunities as well as obvious challenges.

Three trends worked against the incumbent party in 2014 – the first two of which will change in the 2016 elections: (1) Democrats defended an unusually larger number of Senate seats in 2014 than Republicans did. (2) Republicans were able to take advantage of the historic trend of voters electing candidates of the party opposing a sitting President in off-year elections. This is especially the case at the six-year mark in a President’s tenure. Voters are usually ready for change, and frustrations over domestic or foreign policy issues are often taken out on the President and his party. The 2014 voting results are mostly consistent with so-called “pendulum swings.” (3) Older voters continue to participate much more than younger ones, but among senior citizens, Roosevelt Democrats are dying off and being replaced by Reagan Republicans.

Looking at the Overall Results, Lessons Learned and Strategic Opportunities/Challenges:

1. People are completely, totally, overwhelmingly dissatisfied with “politics as usual.”

As the incumbent party, Democrats bore the brunt of this rampant dissatisfaction. Senator-elect Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R-IL), for example, proudly ran on platforms of changing “business as usual” and successfully tapped this wave of public dissatisfaction in a way that parallels President Obama’s successful “change” message in his 2008 election campaign. Opportunity: Environmentalists should build on this “business as usual” concern in our challenges to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s proposed Illiana Tollway, which is a financial boondoggle “road to nowhere” that will harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Likewise, Exelon’s, First Energy’s, AEP’s and other energy companies’ attempts to gain more public subsidies and taxpayer bailouts for their uneconomic nuclear and coal plants exemplify a distasteful “business as usual” to much of the public.

2. Opportunities for environmental progress will shift from Washington D.C. to the states.  Let’s seize opportunities to go on the offense in states where we can win on specific issues.

In the Midwest, we’ll have to thread the political needle, but there are some focused opportunities for progress. Midwest high-speed rail development enjoys bipartisan support in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri. We expect Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) to work together with Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R-IL) on Chicago-Detroit high-speed rail, as he has with outgoing Governor Pat Quinn (D-IL).

Governors Terry Branstad (R-IA), Jack Dalrymple (R-ND), Mark Dayton (D-MN) and Dennis Daugaard (R-SD) are strong supporters of wind power development, as are most members of the Midwest/Great Plains Senate Delegation, including Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD). A challenge: Can we effectively parlay that wind power support into solar energy policy support as the next clean technology opportunity? ELPC will soon be issuing updated renewable energy business supply chain reports, which identify specific companies in each state by legislative district, to underscore the economic value in their communities.

Energy efficiency – Because it saves money for residential and business consumers, it receives at least lip-service bipartisan support; it’s “motherhood and apple pie” in political terms. There seem to be serious opportunities for progress in Illinois and Michigan, although recent setbacks in Indiana and Ohio are disheartening.

Severe fiscal constraints in Illinois and some other states will help ELPC and other partners challenge boondoggles such as the proposed Illiana Tollway, which is opposed by environmental and conservation interests and widely seen as a billion-dollar boondoggle.  Environmentalists should consider mounting “green scissors” campaigns, which identify wasteful projects and programs, in the Midwest states that are facing serious budget shortfalls.

3. We’ll be playing climate change solutions defense in Washington D.C.

There’s no way to sugar-coat it: although environmental values historically transcended party lines, many key Republican Congressional leaders actively and ardently oppose environmental programs and climate change solutions in particular. With the U.S. Senate now controlled by Republicans, environmentalists will be on the defensive. Climate change denier Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) will chair the Environment and Public Works Committee, oil-industry friendly Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will chair the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will become the Senate Majority Leader. Our environmental protection and natural resources preservation values will be under assault in multiple ways. Challenges: (a) Assess when and where to compromise, and where to draw lines in the sand. (b) Build some bipartisan support in the Senate to hold off 60-vote majorities on climate change solutions backsliding and to enable the U.S. EPA Clean Power Plan to move forward. (c) Engage support for President Obama to wield his veto pen when necessary for defending core environmental values and clean energy solutions to our climate change problems.

4. We need to energize environmental voters – especially younger voters – to turnout more.

Too many Democrats ran away from environmental and clean energy issues, and some preliminary data indicates fall-off in voting in some states, especially among younger voters who care about these issues.  For example, in Chicago, 2014 turnout was significantly below 2010 voting, and younger voters really did not turnout. That low turnout follows a coordinated campaign by Democrats to identify their hoped-for voters and get them to vote. ELPC plans to work with an analytics team to assess turnout of pro-environmental (especially younger) voters in several key cities and states. That analysis could provide important data in persuading elected officials to talk and act more favorably on pro-environmental and pro-clean energy issues if they want to turnout more voters. If candidates and the national parties want to increase turnout of pro-environmental votes – particularly younger voters – they need to speak to climate change solutions and take actions that “walk the talk.” More news to follow on this point.

5. We should engage and build support with Republican friends who are supportive on particular environmental, clean energy and climate change solutions.

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has been a strong supporter of Great Lakes protection and was one of the few House Republicans to vote for the Waxman-Markey climate change solutions legislation. We should urge Senator Kirk to exert leadership on key issues within the Republican Senate caucus. This opportunity is even more important given the close working relationship between Senator Kirk’s staff and Governor-elect Rauner’s staff. It is important to recognize that not all new Republicans entering the Congress are anti-environment. Midwestern environmentalists should be able to work with some new members, including Congressman-elect Robert Dold (R-IL), whose pro-environmental and pro-clean energy campaign ads and positions reflect his Chicago-Northern Suburban district. South Dakota Senator-elect Mike Rounds (R-SD) may be an opponent on many issues, but he also supports extending the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power development. Across a broad range of issues, environmentalists should consider reframing some of their positions into language more consistent with Republican approaches and philosophy. We could see more increased interest, for example, in market-based solutions.

6. Some reality checks on Clean Power Plans in the Midwest states.

All of the Midwest and Great Plains states elected Republican Governors, with Minnesota as the lone exception. Several Republican Governors (e.g., Kasich, Pence, Walker) apparently look in the mirror and see themselves as possible Presidential and Vice-Presidential contenders. Let’s be realistic: their visions do not include supporting the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and, at least until after the November 2016 elections, they will not likely support a “Midwest RGGI” (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) for political reasons regardless of asserted policy and economic rationales. Indeed, they are much more likely to be joining Congressional Republicans in bashing and suing to stop the U.S. EPA from implementing the Clean Power Plan than in joining together in a regional RGGI-type compact.  We should focus on actively engaging in each Midwest state to develop and shape their clean power compliance strategies and plans. We should leave doors open to a Midwest RGGI. We should not expend our limited political capital on a Midwest RGGI strategic initiative where we just don’t have support from the current Governors and, ultimately, their state EPAs/DNRs.  For those who hope or believe otherwise, to paraphrase Jerry McGuire: “show me the states” who will sign up (beyond maybe Minnesota and, perhaps, Illinois).

7. Relatively few Midwest/Great Plains Senate and House seats actually switched parties. 

Three House members in Illinois and Iowa switched from Ds to Rs, and one House seat in Nebraska switched from an R to a D. Two open Senate seats switched parties: in Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst was elected to follow long-time Democrat stalwart Tom Harkin, and, in South Dakota, Republican Mike Rounds was elected to succeed Democrat Tim Johnson. Democrats retained three contested Senate seats: Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) comfortably won re-election, and Gary Peters (D-MI) was elected to succeed Democrat Carl Levin. The Midwest Senate delegation, overall, is evenly balanced among Democrats and Republicans.

8. 2016 is a Presidential election year with key upcoming Senate Races in Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The partisan tables turn in 2016 because there is much greater turnout in Presidential election years, which historically favor Democrats, and more Republican Senate seats are in play. Unlike in 2014, Republicans will be defending 24 seats as compared to 10 seats for the Democrats in 2016. The Midwest states are likely to be a key Presidential and Senate battleground, along with states such as Colorado and Florida. Republican Senate seats in Illinois (Kirk), Iowa (Grassley), Pennsylvania (Toomey) and Wisconsin (Johnson) are likely to be among the nation’s most hotly contested races whether the current incumbents run or retire. All of these seats, currently held by Republican incumbents, were carried by President Obama in 2008 and 2012. 

Let’s Now Look to the Election Results in Each of the Midwest/Upper Great Plains States:

Governorships – Republicans Dominate

Democrat Mark Dayton won re-election in Minnesota, but Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) lost to Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R). Republicans retained the governorships in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.  Republicans now control the governorships in all of the Midwest/Great Plains states, except for Minnesota and Missouri.

State Legislatures – Some Shifts

Although the compositions of the state legislatures were not expected to change dramatically, there were some shifts. Republicans achieved majority control in the Minnesota House through an 11-seat pickup largely by gaining seats in rural areas, and they solidified their control of both the Wisconsin Senate and House. Democrats kept control of the Iowa Senate and maintained veto-proof majorities in the Illinois Senate and House.

Here’s a State-by-State Review of the Election Returns:

Illinois

Illinois had a tight gubernatorial election, a not-close U.S. Senate race, and five hotly-contested Congressional races, which resulted in two seats switching from Democrats to Republicans.  The Illinois General Assembly remains overwhelmingly Democratic.

U.S. Senate: Three-term U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D) was opposed by State Senator (and ice cream baron) Jim Oberweis (R). The race was never close, and Senator Durbin won his fourth term 53%-43%. Senator Durbin has been a longstanding leader on important environmental, clean energy and high-speed rail funding issues. ELPC looks forward to continue working closely with Senator Durbin, who will likely be the Assistant Senate Minority Leader in the next Congress.

U.S. House of Representatives: Four years ago, Illinois was a battleground state in which several Democratic House seats fell to Republicans. Two years ago, following remapping, Democrats won five of the six contested House races. This year, Republicans made strong runs to retake those five seats and succeeded in switching two of Illinois’ 18 House seats:

  • 10th District: Former Congressman Robert Dold (R), who lost this seat in 2012, came back to defeat one-term incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider by a 3% margin. Historically, voters in this district had supported pro-environment, pro-choice Republicans such as Congressman John Porter and former Congressman, now-U.S. Senator Mark Kirk. Remapping put more Democratic-leaning voters in this district. Congressman Schneider (D) has been a good environmental supporter, but Congressman-elect Dold (R) ran stressing his strong pro-environmental values. We’ll want to work with Congressman-elect Dold to move from his campaign ads into positive legislative actions on climate change, clean energy and Great Lakes protection issues.
  • 11th District: Incumbent Democratic Congressman Bill Foster held this seat until 2010 when he lost, but then he won the seat back in 2012. He was opposed by State Representative Darlene Senger (R), but, following remapping, the district leans Democratic. It also includes many scientists and technicians from the Argonne and Fermi National Laboratories as well as related businesses and research centers. Congressman Foster won re-election by a comfortable 53% – 47% result.
  • 12th District: Incumbent Democratic Congressman Bill Enyart won this seat in Southern Illinois two years ago in a competitive race. In 2014, he was opposed by long-time Republican State Representative Mike Bost. Pre-election polls swung back and forth, but, ultimately, Bost defeated Enyart by an 11% margin. Because the 12th District is dominated by coal interests and other mineral extraction issues, neither Enyart nor Bost was considered particularly supportive of environmental issues.
  • 13th District: Incumbent Republican Congressman Rodney Davis originally won this seat in 2012. The 13th district includes university areas in Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana and Springfield and is considered to be a toss-up district. Democratic candidate Ann Callis, a retired judge, did not seem to gain electoral traction. Congressman Davis (R) won re-election handily with a 59% – 41% victory.
  • 17th District: Two years ago, Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos upset Republican Congressman Bobby Schilling, who ran again this year in a rematch. This was another competitive race, but Congresswoman Bustos, who has been generally supportive of environmental and conservation interests, gained a strong 55% – 45% victory.

Governor: Incumbent Governor Pat Quinn (D) was running for a second full term following his ascension to the Governor’s office in January 2009 after the impeachment trial of the former governor.  He was successfully challenged by businessman Bruce Rauner (R), who won the hotly contested race by a 51% – 46% margin. Rauner won 101 of Illinois’ 102 counties; Quinn only won Cook County (Chicago area). The Quinn/Rauner race surpassed all previous spending records in Illinois, passing the $97 million mark (at least).

Governor Quinn supported many environmental and clean energy initiatives and was a champion of high-speed rail development. However, his Illinois Department of Transportation vociferously advocates the highly-controversial Illiana Tollway (as well as the proposed Peotone Airport), which is being challenged by ELPC, Openlands, Sierra Club and many other conservation organizations. Governor-elect Rauner was mostly silent on these issues during the campaign. He has been supportive of conservation organizations and has voiced support for clean energy. Let’s see.

Indiana

There was little in play in Indiana with no open Senate seats and Republican Governor Mike Pence in the middle of his first term. There were no changes or especially close races among Indiana’s Congressional seats: seven held by Republicans and two held by Democrats. Both houses of the Indiana Legislature are strongly Republican, and that did not change.

Iowa

Iowa was a battleground state with an open Senate seat, three hotly-contested Congressional seats, and control of both state legislative chambers potentially in play. Governor Terry Branstad (R) ran for a sixth term and was not closely challenged. Republicans gained a U.S. Senate seat and an additional Congressional seat. Republicans strengthened their majority in the Iowa House while Democrats maintained their slim State Senate majority.

U.S. Senate:  Five-term Senator Tom Harkin (D) announced his retirement, opening this seat for the competitive race between Democrat Bruce Braley, Iowa’s 1st District Congressman, and Republican Joni Ernst, an Iowa State Senator. Braley and Ernst appear to have very different views on environmental issues, especially implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Senator-elect Ernst won by an 8.5% margin after what had appeared to be a much closer race. Some preliminary post-election analysis suggests that Republicans effectively identified “low-propensity” Republican-leaning voters and encouraged them to cast ballots early, and even though Democrats spent millions more in 2014 than in 2010, their turnout was lower.

U.S. House of Representatives: Republicans captured seats in three out of Iowa’s four Congressional districts as two seats opened when Congressman Bruce Braley (D) ran for Senate and Congressman Tom Latham (R) retired:

  • 1st District: Democrats nominated former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy for this Eastern Iowa Congressional seat opened up by Braley’s Senate candidacy. Republicans nominated Dubuque businessman Rod Blum. The voter registration is Democratic-leaning, but Blum defeated Murphy by 51.2% – 48.8% as part of the Republican wave and amid campaign missteps by Blum. This seat will likely be a top Democratic “pick-up” target in 2016.
  • 2nd District: Democratic incumbent Congressman Dave Loebsack won his race for a fifth term against Republican Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks by 52.5% – 47.5%.
  • 3rd District: Republicans had a five-candidate primary for long-time Congressman Tom Latham’s (R) seat in this Republican-leaning district. Because none of the candidates captured 35% of the primary vote, a GOP convention was convened, which nominated David Young who had run 4th in the primary. Young previously served as Senator Grassley’s Chief of Staff. Congressman-elect Young defeated Democratic candidate Staci Appel, the former Assistant Majority Leader in the Iowa Senate, by more than a 10% margin.
  • 4th District: Incumbent Republican Congressman Steve King ran for his seventh term in Iowa’s most conservative district. King was challenged by young Democrat Jim Mowrer, who spent $2 million on his campaign. Congressman King won re-election 61.7% – 38.3%.

Governor: Incumbent Republican Governor Terry Branstad was seeking his second consecutive and sixth overall term as Governor. He previously served four consecutive terms that were followed by two Democratic governors (Vilsack and Culver). Governor Branstad outspent his opponent Democratic State Senator Jack Hatch by a 10:1 margin, and he handily won re-election by a 22% margin. Branstad has been a national leader on wind power development issues and is promoting a new parks initiative in his new term as Governor.

State Legislature: The Iowa Legislature has been narrowly divided and remains so. The Senate is controlled by the Democrats with a narrow 26-24 majority. The House is controlled by Republicans who picked up four seats to strengthen their majority to 57-43.

Michigan

Michigan was also a battleground state with an open Senate seat and a hotly-contested gubernatorial race with first-term Republican Governor Rick Snyder up for re-election. Republicans gained ground in the state House and now have a super-majority in the state Senate.

U.S. Senate: Long-time Senator Carl Levin (D) announced his retirement, opening the seat for a contested race between Democratic Congressman Gary Peters and Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. This race was sometimes considered a possible Republican pickup, but Senator-elect Peters won by a large 13% margin, thus holding the Democratic seat. Senator-elect Peters supports action on climate change and expressed pro-environmental positions during the campaign while Land opposed to taking action on climate change.

U.S. House of Representatives: There were no especially close races for Michigan’s Congressional seats, which include nine Republicans and five Democrats.

Governor: Incumbent Republican Governor Rick Snyder was running for a second term and faced vigorous opposition by Democratic former Congressman Mark Schauer. Governor Snyder won re-election by a 4% margin. Governor Snyder has been a leader advancing high-speed rail development in Michigan and the Midwest, and he has indicated that renewable energy development and energy efficiency advances will be a focus of his second term.

Minnesota

Senator Al Franken and Governor Mark Dayton each won their elections for a second term in office. Democrats held control of the state Senate, but Republicans gained 11 seats and control of the state House.

U.S. Senate: Senator Al Franken (DFL) was opposed by businessman Mike McFadden (R), but it was a very different race than six years ago when Senator Franken won election by defeating an incumbent Republican Senator by an exceedingly close 312-vote margin. This election, clean energy supporter Senator Franken won re-election by more than a 10% margin.

U.S. House of Representatives: Minnesota has eight Congressional seats, which include five Democrats and three Republicans. None of the seats changed hands. Following tough and expensive campaigns, Congressman Rick Nolan (D) won by a 1.5% margin, Congressman Collin Peterson (D) won by a 9.5% margin, and Congressman Tim Walz (D) won by an 8.5% margin.

Governor: Incumbent Democratic Governor Mark Dayton faced challenger Republican former state legislator Jeff Johnson, and he won by 6% margin. Dayton has been supportive on environmental and clean energy issues. He is now the Midwest’s sole Democratic governor.

State Legislature: Despite losing every other statewide race to Democrats, Minnesota Republicans succeeding in flipping the Minnesota House in their favor. Their 11-seat pickup reflected a strategy of contending that Democratic-controlled state government is out-of-touch with rural Minnesotans. Republicans gained 10 seats in greater Minnesota to come away with a 72-62 advantage in the House. Democrats retained their Senate majority.

North Dakota

There was little in play in North Dakota with no open Senate seats and Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple mid-term. Congressman Kevin Cramer (R) easily won re-election to North Dakota’s sole Congressional seat. The state legislature continues to be heavily Republican; however, State Senators Connie Triplett and Tim Mathern, who have been supportive of ELPC’s efforts to require capturing of flared natural gases, were re-elected. Governor Dalrymple has also recently expressed concerns about flared gases in Bakken oil drilling. Unfortunately, a ballot measure designed to provide more state conservation funding suffered a crushing defeat after the oil industry’s heavily-financed ad campaign in opposition.

Ohio

Ohio did not have a Senate race, and incumbent Republican Governor John Kasich was not effectively challenged for a second term by Democrat Ed Fitzgerald, the County Executive of Cuyahoga County.  The race was never close, and Governor Kasich was re-elected by a 31% margin.  Ohio has 16 Congressional seats – 12 Republicans and four Democrats. None of the seats changed hands, and no races were close following the remapping that advanced Republicans and packed Democrats in a few districts. All of Ohio’s state-wide elected officials are Republicans, and both houses of the legislature are controlled by Republicans with veto-proof margins that did not change.

South Dakota

Incumbent Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, who has chaired the bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition, easily won re-election over Democratic candidate Susan Wismer, a South Dakota House member. Likewise, incumbent Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem easily won re-election over Democrat Corrina Robinson by 66.5%-33.5%. She supports extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power development and has supported the Farm Bill’s clean energy programs. Both South Dakota legislative chambers are overwhelmingly Republican, and that did not change. The U.S. Senate race, however, was more interesting.

U.S. Senate Race: There is an open Senate seat due to the retirement of Democratic Senator Tim Johnson. Former two-term Republican Governor Mike Rounds was a strong candidate, but the election became complicated because of a scandal dating from the Rounds gubernatorial administration and due to the entry of third-party candidate Larry Pressler, who had previously served as a Republican U.S. Senator, and fourth-party candidate Gordon Howie. The final election returns show Republican Senator-elect Mike Rounds winning with 50.4% over Democratic candidate Rick Weiland (29.5%), Independent candidate Larry Pressler (17%) and Independent candidate Gordon Howie (3.0%). We will likely differ with Senator-elect Rounds on many environmental issues, but expect to work with him to advance some renewable energy policies and to extend the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) to encourage more wind power development.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin had no U.S. Senate Race and no close U.S. House races in the gerrymandered districts, but it held its third hotly-contested gubernatorial election in four years, which Republican Governor Scott Walker won. The state House is controlled by Republicans, who also have a narrowed majority in the state Senate. Both chambers are expected to be hostile on many key environmental issues and supportive of Governor Scott Walker’s policies. Their victories give Republicans almost complete control of Wisconsin state government for another two-year legislative session. Environmentalists will be greatly on the defensive.

Governor: There’s little to be said here that’s not well-known by most readers. Incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose anti-environmental record is clear, faced Democratic challenger Mary Burke, a former executive at Trek Bicycle Corporation and Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. The gubernatorial race was close from the beginning, and Burke gained endorsements from several state papers, including the moderately conservative Wisconsin State Journal. On Election Day, Governor Walker won by a 5.7% margin. Environmentalists and many others will be analyzing this race particularly because Wisconsin is likely to be a key Presidential election battleground state with a targeted Senate race.

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The Environmental Law & Policy Center sees both strategic opportunities for progress and major challenges with the federal government’s and many states’ fiscally constrained budgets. We look forward to discussing both paths with our colleagues and diverse potential allies. As the views of these newly-elected public officials become clearer and they move from campaigning toward governance, ELPC will continue to assess both ways of seizing opportunities and responding effectively to the challenges. ELPC looks forward to working together with our colleagues and diverse coalition partners to achieve environmental progress and economic development together. We will keep you informed going forward.  Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Cleveland Plain Dealer: FirstEnergy to End Energy Efficiency Programs

ELPC’s Robert Kelter spoke with JohnFunk of the Cleveland Plain Dealer about FirstEnergy’s plan to gut long running and successful energy efficiency programs.

This story is reposed from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and can be found at:

http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2014/09/energy_efficiency_programs_wil.html

Energy efficiency programs will end for FirstEnergy customers

By John Funk, The Plain Dealer

AKRON, Ohio — FirstEnergy is abolishing most of its Ohio consumer and business energy efficiency programs by the end of the year — on the grounds that the elimination will lower monthly electric bills.

The company will continue similar programs in Pennsylvania and in other states where FirstEnergy also operates local power companies, but where lawmakers have not changed state laws to create an opportunity to end efficiency subsidies.

In Ohio, where the Republican-controlled General Assembly did change the law, FirstEnergy will on Dec. 31 end consumer cash rebates for everything from LED light bulbs to ceiling fans, from household appliances to whole house air conditioning, from heat pumps to geothermal heating.

Also going away are discounted household energy audits and cash rebates to homebuilders and buyers of very high-efficiency homes. Parallel programs for businesses are also disappearing.

A company spokeswoman explained Wednesday that since customers have been paying for those subsidized programs through increases in rates, monthly bills would be lower when the programs are eliminated.

Spokeswoman Diane Francis said the company had not calculated the extent of consumer savings when the programs are gone but that overall savings for FirstEnergy’s Ohio customers — including commercial and heavy industry — would be “tens of millions of dollars.”

But Tuesday, FirstEnergy’s top executive for rates and regulatory affairs, William Ridmann, said consumers on average are paying about $4.50 a month in extra charges to pay for the efficiency programs.

In the last five years the total cost of the efficiency programs, including programs to help heavy industry become more efficient and competitive, had led to about $1 billion in temporary charges, he said. Ridmann did not say how much the upgrades had saved customers in power costs.

They want to sell more higher-priced electricity and are throwing their customers under the bus,” Robert Kelter, Environmental Law & Policy Center.
FirstEnergy told a happier customer story in reports to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2012 comparing the anticipated cost of the programs over the coming three years to the savings created by reducing the amount of power purchased.

And in individual attachments for each of its Ohio companies accompanying that overall report, the company said it had achieved a balance between costs and anticipated savings.

“The Company believes that it has prepared an EE&PDR (energy efficiency & peak demand reduction) strategy as reflected in this three year Plan that balances near-term energy savings opportunities among all rate classes with longer-term programs that continue to create jobs and build capacity for delivering greater energy and demand reduction impacts in the future,” those introductory remarks noted.

A 2013 report to the PUCO looking back at costs and benefits for that year and 2012 showed generally that for every $1 spent on energy efficiency, customers had saved more than $2 in power costs.

The company’s conclusion was based on a series of complicated calculations, a process that FirstEnergy’s spokeswoman Francis on Thursday said may not have been the most accurate way of figuring, though the company has not amended the reports to say otherwise.

Francis pointed to a footnote in the reports stating that the calculations did not take into account customers who did not apply for the rebates, and said only 7 percent of its residential customers participated.

Still, that two-to-one assertion caught the eye of energy efficiency advocates and environmental groups earlier this year when they were opposing the passage of legislation backed by FirstEnergy that weakened the state’s efficiency standards and opened the door to what the company is doing now.

“The facts don’t bear this out,” said Samantha Williams, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, of FirstEnergy’s current claim that the programs are a financial burden to customers.

“FirstEnergy’s own analysis shows that efficiency works and saves customers two-to-one on their investment,” she said, referring to the series of complicated calculations in the reports, calculations used by all utilities.

As for the issue in the footnote, Williams said the company’s argument ignores the system-wide benefit, namely that efficiency suppresses overall demand, lowering power prices.

“Actually, what’s best for customers is keeping the efficiency programs and helping them save money,” she said, adding that FirstEnergy is the only Ohio utility ending the programs.

Robert Kelter, an attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago, said FirstEnergy has steadily resisted creating the programs. Staffs from the ELPC and the NRDC meet regularly with employees from each Ohio utility to suggest efficiency programs, he said.

The company then files details of its programs with the PUCO under protective order, preventing others from revealing details.

“It’s clear from this filing that they want their unregulated affiliate (FirstEnergy Solutions) to be able to sell more higher-priced electricity and are throwing their customers under the bus,” said Kelter.

“They are cutting out 50 to 75 percent of all their efficiency programs. Demand will not continue to fall as it has. There is no question that prices will go up and that shareholder profits will go up.”

Kelter was referring in part to industrial customers.

FirstEnergy notes in its amended plans filed Wednesday with the PUCO that its large industrial customers will no longer have to participate at all in the utility’s efficiency programs but instead will have to run their own programs and report directly to the state. That is another provision of the recent changes in state law. Industry has chaffed at having to abide by state-mandated efficiency rules and pay hefty extra charges. And as they leave, FirstEnergy will no longer have to count the power they use or save in its calculations.

FirstEnergy’s move to scrap the programs comes less than two weeks after a bill imposing a two-year freeze on Ohio’s energy efficiency standards became law.

The language in that legislation — Senate Bill 310 — is what FirstEnergy is relying on to amend its programs. While the entire bill is temporary — the freeze is for only two years — FirstEnergy’s changes to its efficiency programs are permitted to be permanent. And that may lead other utilities to follow FirstEnergy.

“FirstEnergy is playing its traditional role of driving a train through the loopholes ahead of all other utilities, said Mark Shanahan, energy adviser to former Gov. Ted Strickland. “And doing it under the guise of helping customers.”

Solar Panel Discounts Offered This Summer to Your Community

ELPC is proud to be working with the non-profit Vote Solar and other partners to launch Solar Chicago, a solar panel discount program for homeowners in Oak Park.

Available only this summer, the Solar Chicago program offers a 25% discount off average market prices as well as a streamlined process for selecting, installing and financing panels that are right for your home.

Below is an overview of basic questions about the program. We hope you will consider sharing this information with your friends and neighbors so they too can take advantage of this limited and unique opportunity. Working together, we can and will make solar succeed in Oak Park and throughout the state and nation.

ELPC Gets Coal Plant Cleanup Message Out with Waukegan Ad Campaign

Here’s the ad that ELPC and the Clean Power Lake County Coalition ran in the Lake County News Sun and Reflejos this month:

Waukegan

ELPC and allies have been working to persuade or force NRG Energy, the new owner, to set a specific retirement date for this old, dirty and uneconomic plant. Learn more, and please share this ad with your friends and networks!

 

 

Learner: Exelon’s deal to acquire Integrys Energy raises anti-competitive concerns

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 30, 2014
Contact: Jill Geiger
312-795-3703

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Exelon’s announcement that it plans to buy Integrys Energy Services raises anti-competitive concerns for Northern Illinois consumers, according to the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Executive Director Howard Learner.

“We have serious questions about whether Exelon’s purchase of Integrys Energy Services will reduce competition in the Northern Illinois retail electricity market, leading to higher utility bills and fewer renewable energy opportunities for consumers.”

“Exelon is the parent company of both Commonwealth Edison and Constellation Energy, which compete for retail electric consumers with Integrys Energy Services in Northern Illinois. If combined, these companies appear to control more than half of the retail electricity market in Northern Illinois.  This market concentration could become even greater as First Energy has publicly stated that it is scaling back its retail electricity business.”

“One of the promises of deregulation in Illinois was a competitive retail electricity services market that would benefit consumers.  We’re concerned that this new acquisition by Exelon appears to reduce competition and increase the concentration of market power.  We urge the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Illinois Commerce Commission and other federal and state agencies to carefully investigate, review and determine the potential anti-competitive impacts of Exelon’s announced new acquisition of Integrys Energy Services.”

Iowa Supreme Court Opens Door for Solar Energy Choice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 11, 2014

Contact:

Manny Gonzales

312.795.3706

MGonzales@elpc.org

 

Josh Mandelbaum

515-244-0253

jmandelbaum@elpc.org

 

Iowa Supreme Court Opens Door for Solar Energy Choice

Ruling Affords Iowans Same Options Offered Families in Other States

 

DES MOINES –Iowans can offer their roof space to solar energy developers and buy the power created from those panels according to an Iowa Supreme Court decision released Friday.

“Today’s decision is a win for Iowans because it gives everyone the option to go solar affordably,” said Brad Klein, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), who argued the case last spring on behalf of a large coalition of solar energy and environmental advocates. “Across the country, families, businesses and communities have gone solar with third-party ownership. Now, that opportunity can come to Iowa, too.”

In 2011, Alliant Energy argued that an agreement between Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar and the City of Dubuque violated the utility’s monopoly territory. Under the agreement, Eagle Point agreed to install and maintain solar panels on the Dubuque City Council building, the City would then pay Eagle Point for the energy created by those panels. The utility argued that the agreement, known as a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) amounted to the creation of a utility. This claim was rejected by the court.

In his majority opinion, Justice Appel wrote that “Third-party PPAs like the one proposed by Eagle Point actually further one of the goals of regulated electric companies, namely, the use of energy efficient and renewable energy sources.”

“We are pleased that the court agreed with us that agreements that take place behind the meter cannot be considered utility deals,” said Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney with ELPC’s Des Moines office.  “The fact that the court agrees with our analysis of the law means good things for the future of solar in Iowa.”

A recent report by the Iowa Environmental Council, Real Potential, Ready Today: Solar Energy in Iowa highlighted the significant potential for solar energy in Iowa. Mandelbaum said that Iowa is already starting to see the rapid growth of solar, which most recently was highlighted by the tripling of funding available for state tax credits for solar energy installation.

“This ruling opens up solar to a larger audience by bringing down up-front costs. This decision will make solar more affordable for Iowa families and businesses, and it also helps cities, churches and other non-profits to get the whole value of clean energy,” Mandelbaum added.

Friday’s ruling upholds an April 2013 ruling by the Iowa District Court.

Howard Learner Offers State of the State of Illinois’ Environment in Illinois Issues

ELPC’s Howard Learner assesses the state of Illinois’ environmental policies and issues in Illinois Issues magazine. Check it out below.

Illinois’ environmental start-and-stop leadership
by Howard A. Learner

Illinois has become a start-and-stop clean energy and environmental leader making great progress in some areas, but hitting too many self-imposed roadblocks. The recent legislative session likewise reflects both accomplishments and frustrations.

Read the full article at: http://illinoisissues.uis.edu/archives/2014/0708/state.html

 

 

Michigan PSC Staff Report: State Could Boost Solar at No Cost to Utility Customers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 2, 2014

David Jakubiak, (312) 795-3713, djakubiak [at] elpc.org
Alison Flowers, (303) 246-6297, alison.flowers [at] sierraclub.org
Andy McGlashen, (517) 420-1908, andrew [at] environmentalcouncil.org

Report: Michigan Ripe for Solar Energy Boom
Larger Utility Programs Would Expand Renewable Energy without Increased Costs

LANSING –Michigan utilities could dramatically expand their solar energy programs without increasing costs for customers, according to a report issued by Michigan Public Service Commission staff this week.

The final report of the commission’s Solar Working Group concludes a five-month process during which representatives of utilities, business groups and clean energy advocates examined the state of solar in Michigan and explored options to improve and expand DTE Energy and Consumers Energy’s pilot solar programs. The group also was asked to look at community solar options for Michigan utilities.

“The past five years have shown tremendous demand for Michigan’s largest utilities to provide more solar options for their customers, and tremendous success in generating clean, solar energy in Michigan,” said Allan O’Shea, owner of Contractors Building Supply, a longtime solar panel installation firm in Copemish, Mich. “The only thing holding us back is that the programs expire next year, and DTE and Consumers are dragging their feet on expanding and improving the programs they offer.”

With less than 20 megawatts of installed solar power, Michigan currently has less solar energy than Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois.

The group found that this lack of solar is not due to a lack of demand. Since implementing small solar energy programs in 2009 both DTE Energy and Consumers Energy have experienced demand for these programs that has vastly outstripped resources. Both utilities have kept their solar programs small, despite having collected millions of dollars from customers to advance renewable energy.

“The market for solar development in Michigan is being artificially stifled by the large utilities’ continued insistence on underfunding popular programs,” said Sarah Mullkoff, energy program director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “Even now, utilities have millions of dollars that have been collected to advance renewable energy, but those dollars are being locked out of the economy.”

The group found that expanding solar programs would increase jobs in installation, engineering and manufacturing. Additional solar energy would also help offset strains on Michigan’s power grid by having maximum output when demand is at its highest levels.

“The benefits of solar energy do not only go to the person with solar panels on their house,” said Bradley Klein, senior attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The benefits of solar are spread across the grid. Solar keeps peak prices down and it reduces the need to burn polluting coal. It creates jobs and strengthens the grid, and most importantly the people of Michigan want more solar.”

The commission has said it will use the report to shape and inform review of future utility solar programs.

“Michiganders are ready for DTE and Consumers Energy to expand their solar choices,” said Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Michigan Director. “The more than 1,800 people who signed petitions in support of Michigan moving forward with more solar is just the tip of the iceberg, and sends a strong signal to the Public Service Commission that now is the time to act.”

Download the full report

###

ABC7 Chicago: Illinois Officials Applaud New EPA Rule on Emissions

CHICAGO (WLS) –Illinois officials say the state is well-equipped to meet new power plant emissions goals. The Obama Administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. It sets the first national limits on carbon dioxide and will further diminish the use of coal in electrical production.

The proposal sets off a complex process in which the 50 states will each determine how to meet customized targets set by the EPA and then submit those plans for approval.

“It is important that we take serious, comprehensive action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, “so I look forward to reviewing the draft guidelines of the federal plan in detail and helping to develop a flexible and effective approach for Illinois.”

Read more

Crain’s Chicago Business: The skinny on how Obama’s greenhouse rule affects Illinois

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers on what’s in store in Illinois now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its long-awaited proposed rule for reducing carbon emissions from power plants.

Explain in brief what the Obama administration’s climate change rule is all about.

Frustrated by inaction by Congress, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is claiming the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulated carbon emissions by power plants. Today it issued a proposed rule, which calls on states to take the lead in reducing emissions from power generators within their borders and gives them flexibility in how to do it.

Are Illinois power plants a source of significant emissions?

Yes, indeed. Only five other states emitted more greenhouse gases from power plants than Illinois in 2012, according to EPA. And while the Obama administration is saying that the proposed rule requires a 30 percent reduction of carbon from the power sector by 2030 based on their emissions in 2005, the reductions don’t fall equally state by state. Illinois is being asked to cut its power-plant emissions by 33 percent from its 2012 emissions. Only two other Midwestern states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, are being asked to do more. Strangely, neighboring Indiana, which emits more greenhouse gases than far larger Illinois thanks to its heavy dependence on carbon-heavy coal, must cut its emissions by only 20 percent.

What’s the time frame for action?

EPA is on a tight time line. The proposed rule must be made final in a year. States have until 2016 to come up with their plans. That won’t stop Illinois from taking the issue on earlier, thanks mainly to the lobbying exertions of Chicago-based Exelon Corp., whose six nuclear plants in Illinois stand to benefit financially from quicker action. State legislative leaders have signaled that they will consider far-reaching legislation to comply with the regulations next spring.

Why is Illinois in such a rush to enact changes that are likely to raise its residents’ electric bills?

Exelon, which owns Commonwealth Edison Co., is one of the most influential companies in Illinois. It has claimed that three of its six nukes in Illinois are losing money, largely due to competition in western Illinois from close-by wind farms. The company sees compliance with EPA’s rule as a means to boost revenues at its in-state plants. It argues that compliance with the rule will be next to impossible for Illinois if even one of its nuclear plants close, since nukes are virtually carbon-free and account for nearly half of the electricity produced here.

Which direction are lawmakers leaning in addressing the situation?

Every direction. Last week the Illinois House passed two resolutions dealing with the then-expected EPA regulations. One, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, effectively called on EPA and other state and federal agencies to do everything they could to promote retention of Exelon’s nukes. The other, introduced in January and tied to a state-by-state pro-coal effort by an organization tied to the Koch brothers, called on EPA to allow Illinois to take longer to comply with the rule and to meet less stringent standards if it desires in the interest of keeping coal-fired power plants open. “The House has passed two resolutions that point in two different directions that are hard to reconcile in a policy way,” says Howard Learner, executive direction of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which has battled coal plants for years.

Continue Reading this Article.

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

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now