CLEAN ENERGY

ELPC’s Andy Olsen Joins Solar Groundbreaking in Wisconsin

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
David Jakubiak

Wisconsin Co-op Breaks Ground for New Solar
Small Rural Electric Cooperative Leads the Way in the Badger State

The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Andy Olsen joined Richland Electric Cooperative for the ground breaking on the first of 12 solar farms developed as part of the Dairyland Power Cooperative solar initiative launched earlier this year. Richland Electric Cooperative’s project includes 500 kilowatts of solar generating capacity under Dairyland’s solar project. Another 100 kilowatts has been added under Richland’s Transition Energy community solar project which was announced last month.

“We commend Richland Electric Cooperative for going above and beyond the historic solar development announced by Dairyland Power Cooperative in February,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Madison. “Modern, affordable solar power technology is here and is ready to serve the members of Richland Electric Cooperative.”

For more details on the announcement, visit the Dairyland Power Press Room.

ELPC Statement on Opening of Coal Mine Self-Bonding Reform Comment Period

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 19, 2016

Contact:
David Jakubiak

Environmental Law & Policy Center Statement On
Federal Office Of Surface Mining Opening Review
Of Coal Mine Self-Bonding Problems

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

“We commend the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for moving to look at reforms to address the problems created by coal mine companies self-bonding. OSM’s action is particularly timely because of the recent coal mine bankruptcy filings caused by poor financial decisions from executives at Peabody and other large companies.

“Coal mining companies are responsible under federal and state law to pay for mine reclamation and environmental cleanup. Taxpayers in Illinois and Indiana should not be forced to pay for Peabody’s – and the other coal companies – mine reclamation responsibilities, when misguided business decisions resulted in those bankruptcies.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center plans on submitting comments to the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Our goal is to ensure coal companies live up to responsibilities for mine reclamation costs and that communities are not saddled with cleanup costs from bankruptcies.”

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Learner on WGN: What’s with the Illinois energy bill proposals?

Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, joins Justin to talk about Exelon and ComEd backing a new energy bill in Illinois and what we need to do to find a solution to water contamination. Check out the audio recording on WGN’s website.

howard-learner-5-12-16

Crain’s Chicago Business: Oops! Exelon’s compromise energy bill nearly zeroes out green-power funding

When Exelon last week unveiled its new plan to preserve two Illinois nuclear plants in danger of closure, the company touted concessions to its traditional environmentalist adversaries, including $140 million in spending annually on new solar power projects in the state.

But when green groups and renewable power companies read the actual language of Exelon’s bill a few days later, it turned out the measure would only generate about $7 million a year. That would effectively kill Illinois’ clean-energy law, which has a goal of gradually boosting the state’s reliance on wind, solar and other renewable electricity sources over time.

Exelon acknowledged what environmentalists said about the bill language. But the company said that wasn’t its intention and maintained a drafting error was to blame.

The error, Exelon said in a statement, “already has been fixed to ensure all of (the bill’s) intended benefits, which include $140 million in new funding for solar, solar rebates for customers and increased energy efficiency, are fully included. The reality is that changes to legislative language are a normal part of the process to make corrections and incorporate negotiated changes into a pending bill, and we have submitted an amendment to correct the error.”

Not everyone in the green camp accepted the Chicago-based power-generation giant’s explanation.

And at the very least, the mistake exacerbates the lack of trust some enviros have in the intentions and word of a company that carries far more clout in Springfield on energy issues than any other company or organization in Illinois.

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ELPC’s Schmitz Represents NDARE at Briefing with Secretary of Energy

ELPC’s North Dakota-based Government Relations Specialist Mindi Schmitz, who also chairs the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy (NDARE), participated in a clean energy business briefing with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on April 26th in Washington, D.C. Schmitz attended the event at the invitation of the Pew Clean Energy Initiative.

Schmitz was one of nearly 40 business and clean energy leaders from 17 states in attendance at the briefing. In addition to the briefing, Schmitz met with staff from the North Dakota congressional delegation to reinforce the importance of renewable energy development in North Dakota and to discuss federal support for clean energy innovation.

Huffington Post: ELPC’s Learner Discusses Making A Greener Chicago

By Howard Learner

Chicago is becoming a “greener city,” but let’s recognize some key challenges and the need for solutions moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false. This Earth Day, we should be proud of what Chicago has accomplished and candid about some important environmental challenges still requiring solutions.

Wind Power: Illinois has leaped from no wind power in 2003 to more than 3,842 megawatts today. A decade ago, who thought that Illinois would become No. 5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would now have 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next Steps: Illinois policymakers should say “no” to Exelon’s opposition and finally modernize the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, which helps drive wind power development. Let’s make it work well and advance Illinois’ national leadership in the restructured electricity market.

Solar Energy can be our next boom. The city and county are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar panel efficiencies are steadily improving — think about other rapid technological advances in smart phones, digital cameras and computer speeds — and becoming economically competitive. Solar energy is truly a disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements. It can succeed by installations on residential rooftops and commercial buildings’ spacious flat roofs, and can transform underutilized industrial brownfields into “solar brightfields” in Chicago.

Next Steps: Let’s seize the opportunities to accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago’s many flat rooftops on commercial, industrial and multifamily residential buildings for solar photovoltaic panel installations producing clean electricity? First, the Illinois Commerce Commission should remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Commission and state legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents to join together in sharing clean energy resources. Third, if Argonne National Labs’ engineers and scientists achieve their goal of batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost, that’s a game changer.

Energy Efficiency saves businesses and residential consumers money on their utility bills, avoids pollution, creates jobs and keeps money in Chicago’s economy. There’s a quiet revolution occurring with more energy efficient lighting, appliances, cooling and heating equipment, pumps and motors, and other technologies. Commonwealth Edison reports that electricity sales declined (-1.5 percent) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew 2.5 – 3.0 percent. Chicago’s economy is growing, more efficiently.

Next Steps: Let’s make sure that homes in all Chicago neighborhoods gain energy efficiency benefits through job-creating retrofits that can reduce electricity and natural gas bills. Electricity waste costs businesses and people money and drains dollars out of the Chicago economy for the part of the utility bills spent on out-of-town uranium, coal and gas fuels. Let’s save money, boost our economy, create more installation jobs and reduce pollution. That’s a winner.

Public Transit: Chicagoans are driving less with fewer cars, but Chicago can’t be a greener “city that works” unless CTA is modernized. Chicago is looking to both innovative financing and new transportation approaches, including Bus Rapid Transit and Divvy bikes, in addition to upgrading the aging Red Line and other transit lines.

Next Steps: Let’s face it — no good public transit, no green city. Chicago’s public transit system must become faster and provide improved, more efficient passenger services. CTA is working on it. Mayor Emanuel, Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Congressmen Lipinski and Quigley are working hard to gain more federal funds for CTA modernization. That’s a priority and necessity.

Higher-Speed Rail: Chicago is the natural hub of the growing Midwest higher-speed rail network connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and the mid-sized cities in-between. Modern higher-speed passenger rail development will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur regional economic growth.

Next Steps: Modernize Union Station so it works well for intercity passenger rail, is attractive to new visitors and can be a multimodal hub connecting with CTA while anchoring West Loop commercial development. Let’s accelerate high-speed rail development here.

Great Lakes: The Great Lakes ecosystem is the Chicago region’s global gem, vital source of drinking water supply and place of recreational joy. The Obama Administration’s investment of about $2 billion in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is paying off. Water quality should improve as investments are made in upgrading treatment facilities, building green infrastructure, and restoring wetlands and habitat.

Next Steps: Water efficiency is more than 20 years behind energy efficiency. We can’t afford to waste fresh water that the rest of the world craves and values highly. Let’s make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities. Let’s also figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking supply.

Chicago River: It’s our namesake river and should be a gem increasing recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There’s progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) finally begins to disinfect its wastewater. The Chicago River, however, is still not “fishable and swimmable,” and there’s more cleanup to be done.

Next Steps: The new Chicago Riverwalk and river-focused development on both the north and south sides highlights and builds support for the importance of cleaning up the river as a safe place for recreational use and community enjoyment. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits for all.

Clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Chicagoans. This Earth Day, let’s be proud of our progress, and let’s seize opportunities to advance a cleaner, greener and safer community that works for all.

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Learner Op-Ed in Crain’s Chicago Business: Nine Smart Ideas for Making Chicago Greener

As published in the Crain’s Chicago Business on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Chicago is becoming a “greener city,” but let’s be candid about some key challenges and the need for solutions moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false.

Wind Power: Illinois has leaped from no wind power in 2003 to more than 3,842 megawatts today. A decade ago, who thought that Illinois would become #5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would be now be home to 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next: Illinois policymakers should say “no” to Exelon’s opposition and finally modernize the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, which helps drive wind power development. Let’s make it work well and advance Illinois’ national leadership in the restructured electricity market.

Solar Energy: Our next boom. The City and County are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar energy is truly an improving disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements.

Next: How we can accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago’s many flat rooftops?  First, remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Illinois Commerce Commission and Springfield legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents. Third, support Argonne National Labs’ goal of making batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost. That’s a game changer.

Energy Efficiency:  There’s a quiet revolution occurring with more energy efficient lighting, appliances, cooling and heating equipment, pumps and motors, and other technologies.  Commonwealth Edison reports that electricity sales declined (-1.5%) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew about 3.0%. Our economy is growing—efficiently.

Next:  Let’s make sure that homes in all Chicago neighborhoods gain energy efficiency benefits through job-creating retrofits that can reduce electricity and natural gas bills.

Public Transit: Chicago can’t be a greener “city that works” unless the CTA is modernized.

Next: Let’s face it—no good public transit, no green city. Chicago’s public transit system must become faster and provide improved, more efficient passenger services. CTA is working on it. Mayor Emanuel, Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Congressmen Lipinski and Quigley are trying to gain more federal funds for CTA modernization. That’s a priority and necessity.

Higher-Speed Rail: Chicago is the natural hub of the growing Midwest higher-speed rail network connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and the mid-sized cities in-between.

Next: Modernize Union Station so it works well for intercity passenger rail, is attractive to new visitors and can be a multimodal hub connecting with CTA while anchoring West Loop commercial development.

Great Lakes: The Great Lakes ecosystem is the Chicago region’s global gem, vital source of drinking water supply and place of recreational joy.  The Obama Administration’s investment of about $2 billion in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is paying off.  Water quality should improve as investments are made in upgrading treatment facilities, building green infrastructure, and restoring wetlands and habitat.

Next: Water efficiency is more than 20 years behind energy efficiency. We can’t afford to waste fresh water that the rest of the world craves and values highly.  Let’s figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking. Let’s make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities.

Chicago River: Our namesake river should be a gem that increases recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There’s progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District finally begins to disinfect wastewater.  The Chicago River, however, is still not “fishable and swimmable.”

Next: The new Riverwalk and river-focused development is helping build support for the importance of cleaning up the river. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits.

Clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Chicagoans. This Earth Day, let’s be proud of our progress, and let’s seize opportunities to advance a cleaner, greener and safer community that works for all.

Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Midwest’s leading environmental and economic development advocacy organization.

 

Press Release: Clean Energy Advocates Applaud MidAmerican Wind Announcement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 14, 2016

Contact: David Jakubiak

Clean Energy Advocates Applaud MidAmerican Wind Announcement
ELPC, Iowa Environmental Council Commend MidAmerican Energy Plan for New Wind 

DES MOINES – Two of Iowa’s leading environmental policy groups have expressed strong support for a proposal announced by MidAmerican Energy on Thursday that would add 2,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy to Iowa’s energy mix. The proposed project, Wind XI, would be the single largest wind energy project in Iowa to date.

“Wind XI can put Iowa above 40 percent wind energy before 2020, and sets the state on course to reach 10,000 MW of installed wind by 2020,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director at the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC). “We applaud this strong showing of clean energy leadership, and welcome the opportunities this proposal presents to strengthen Iowa’s economy, communities and environment.”

MidAmerican will work to finalize project sites, which would be spread across the utility’s service area, while the Iowa Utilities Board considers the project filing request.

“MidAmerican’s announcement reaffirms that wind energy is affordable, reliable, and strengthens our energy independence,” said Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). “This project further cements Iowa’s position as a national renewable energy leader, and MidAmerican as a wind energy leader among utilities.”

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

“This is exactly the kind of wind energy project we hoped would be announced with the extension of the federal PTC,” said Baer.

At the end of 2015, Iowa had 6,212 MW of installed wind, which accounted for 31.3 percent of Iowa’s electricity mix – more than any other state in the country according to data released by the American Wind Energy Association. Iowa is expected to have up to 7,000 MW of wind installed before Wind XI is complete per other wind projects currently under development.

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

 

Press Release: ELPC Statement on Peabody Bankruptcy Filing

Contact:

David Jakubiak, Media Relations

Environmental Law & Policy Center Statement On
Peabody Energy Bankruptcy Filing

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

“Peabody Energy is in bankruptcy because senior corporate management made poor business decisions. Peabody bet on rapidly expanding coal markets as natural gas prices hit historic lows, energy efficiency slashed demand and China’s robust growth slowed.
“The Environmental Law & Policy Center will move to engage in federal bankruptcy court proceedings to make sure Peabody Energy’s coal mine reclamation and clean-up responsibilities in Illinois and across the Midwest are accomplished to the maximum extent possible, and that coal miners and communities are treated fairly.”

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Utility Dive: ELPC’s Wochos Says RPS Fix Central to Illinois Energy Debate

By Peter Maloney, Utility Dive

An epic budget impasse in Illinois has stalled progress on legislation that is critical to several aspects of the state’s energy economy.

At stake is the status of the state’s nuclear power reactors, efforts to revive renewable energy development in the state, and initiatives to build microgrids, electric vehicle charging stations and energy storage facilities.

In the last session of the Illinois legislature three bills were introduced to address each of those issues. They all failed. Legislators and lobbyists are now working behind the scenes to revive key components of those measures and possibly roll them into a single energy bill.

Among the bills that failed were the Clean Jobs Bill (CJB) (HB 2607/SB1485) — a proposal that would raise efficiency standards and the state RPS — and a bill that would establish a separate clean energy portfolio standard aimed at providing extra income for Exelon’s Illinois nuclear plants (HB 3293).

Also put on hold was a bill backed by Commonwealth Edison (HB 3328/SB1879) that would have revised how consumers’ electric bills are calculated and paved the way for ComEd to build microgrids, electric vehicle charging stations and energy storage facilities.

It may not seem to be a recipe for success to combine bills that incorporate such disparate interests and could have conflicting aims, but from a legislator’s point of view, there is a benefit in reaching some consensus from stakeholders before introducing a bill.

The legislature has said “if you want to pass the Exelon bill, you have to get CJB on board,” Sarah Wochos, co-legislative director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), told Utility Dive.

Ending up with a single bill “is the aim of some stakeholders,” said State Senator Don Harmon (D), president pro tempore of the Illinois Senate. But when several issues are rolled up into a single piece of legislation, he added, many are subject to negotiation.

The Nuclear Option

Each of those three bills addressed issues that are critical to major segments of Illinois’ energy industry. The Low Carbon Portfolio Standard bill backed by Exelon would have required the state’s electric utilities to purchase credits from low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear energy, to match 70% of the electricity used on the distribution system.

It was to be funded by an electric bill surcharge of about $2 a month on households served by Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois. That would have created more than $300 million of extra annual revenue that would have been distributed over five years to low-carbon energy sources. Under the provisions of the bill, most of the $300 million would have gone to Exelon’s six nuclear plants in Illinois.

The measure faced stiff opposition, particularly from critics who argued that all of the nuclear plants are not doing as poorly as Exelon says they are.

Four of Exelon’s six Illinois nuclear plants are fully profitable and a fifth is break-even, leaving Clinton as the sole loss making plant, says Dave Lundy, director of the Better Energy Solutions for Tomorrow (BEST) Coalition, an advocacy group formed to oppose the Exelon bill.

“Exelon is looking for a fleetwide fix for a plant specific problem,” Lundy told Utility Dive.

Exelon is still pressing its case, and power sector analysts have noted its fleet continues to be at risk of unprofitability in PJM markets, squeezed by low natural gas prices and high operating costs. But many stakeholders in the legislative process believe any bill that would raise rates for consumers has very little chance of becoming law while the state does not have a budget and basic social services are being curtailed.

“Exelon, ComEd and the Clean Jobs Coalition are in the midst of ongoing conversations to drive toward a comprehensive energy policy for the General Assembly to consider,” an Exelon spokesman said in an email in response to a request for comment. “Those conversations have been productive and have focused on common interests among the various groups toward an integrated low carbon energy future that fairly serves all customers, encourages economic growth and creates jobs.”

Fixing the RPS                                                                                                                

The Clean Jobs Bill (HB 2607) sought to amend what many critics said was the state’s “broken” renewable portfolio standard. It also would have expanded the RPS by calling for 35% of electric consumption to come from renewable resources by 2030, up from 25% by 2025. It also would have required the state’s utilities to cut demand by 20% by 2025.

Critically, the CJB also would have amended the Illinois Power Agency Act to address factors that have led to a steep decline in renewable energy development in Illinois.

After Illinois implemented its RPS program in 2008, wind power development in the state began to climb. Then, in 2010, Illinois passed the Municipal Aggregation Act, and the mechanisms behind the state’s RPS began to go haywire. The act prompted about 70% of Illinois’ 4.4 million residential customers to leave Ameren Illinois and ComEd and switch to competitive suppliers. It also exposed structural flaws in the RPS.

Under Illinois law utilities and energy suppliers can comply with the RPS either by purchasing renewable energy or by buying renewable energy certificates (RECs).

The alternative suppliers can purchase up to half of their renewable commitment by buying RECs. For the rest, they have to make compliance payments to the Illinois Power Agency (IPA), which can use the funds to buy RECs or renewable energy.

This arrangement has created two problems. Because customers can switch between alternative suppliers and utilities, the purchasing authority, the IPA, only signs short-term power purchase agreements, but bankers want to see long-term PPAs to back up the financing of renewable power projects.

“There is no way to build new capacity under a constantly shifting consumer base,” Kevin Borgia, manager, public policy and membership at the advocacy group Wind on the Wires, said.

The other problem is that the funds collected from consumers served by utilities and alternative energy suppliers are maintained in separate accounts, and the agency can’t spend funds from alternative suppliers unless it is simultaneously acquiring renewable energy for customers who still buy energy at the default rate from utilities.

That has created a growing pool of money – about $117 million currently – for renewable energy procurement that can’t be spent. And, with the state’s budget crisis, there are growing concerns that the funds could be diverted for other needs. Just last year the legislature borrowed $98 million from the fund.

The net effect is that wind power development in Illinois has come to a screeching halt. In 2009, $1.3 billion was invested in wind power and 632 MW of wind turbines were installed in the state. The projects in the pipeline had enough momentum to carry development into 2012 when $1.6 billion was invested and 823 MW of wind power was installed, but since 2013 there has been essentially zero investment and no new wind capacity installed in the state.

That means that Illinois, which once ranked among the top five states for renewable energy growth, is virtually certain to miss its 2016 RPS target of 11.5%, ELPC’s Wochos said.

To rectify the situation, the Clean Jobs Bill proposed amending the Illinois Power Agency Act so that the separate accounts could be joined, creating a larger pool of money that could be used to fund renewable development.

The bill also proposed changing the funding mechanism for the RPS. Under the current arrangement, the RPS is funded by a charge on the generation side of consumers’ bills. The CJB would have switched that to a fixed distribution service charge. That would also mean that the IPA would not take control of funds, only administer them, removing the risk that the funds could be appropriated by other branches of government.

The Future Deferred

A third proposed law, backed by Commonwealth Edison, was billed as the Future Energy Plan (HB 3328 and SB1879). In it, ComEd was seeking modification to Illinois Public Utilities Act to enable it to build six microgrids, up to 5,000 electric vehicle charging stations and provide voltage optimization via modified battery storage installations.

Critics say the real heart of the bill was a proposal to switch how ComEd charges residential customers for electricity service. On current bills, energy, capacity, transmission and distribution are all based on volumetric use. Under ComEd’s proposal, only energy charges would have been volumetric.

Currently residential customers pay about $0.11/kWh for usage, which includes energy, capacity, transmission and distribution charges, and residential solar customers can net meter the whole $0.11. Under ComEd’s proposal, residential customers’ energy charges would remain the same, $0.045/kWh, but all other charges would be based on peak usage.

For a homeowner, there is no guarantee that peak usage will coincide with solar production, so it is harder to project cost savings. In some cases, payback time for a solar installation could more than double. “That would make it harder for distributed resources to flourish,” Wochos said.

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