CLEAN ENERGY

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.

 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

Press Release: Smart Thermostat program Features Record Rebate to Help Consumers Cut Cooling Costs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 25, 2017

Contact: David Jakubiak

CONSUMER ALERT: YOU COULD BE WASTING MONEY COOLING AN EMPTY HOME
SMART THERMOSTAT PROGRAM FEATURES RECORD REBATE TO HELP CONSUMERS CUT COOLING COSTS BY 10-20%

CHICAGO (July 25, 2017) – Amid the hottest time of the year, consumer advocates joined with Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) Tuesday to make Chicago-area consumers aware that cooling an empty home, while they are away at work or on vacation, can cause summer energy bills to soar.

Smart thermostats provide the easy solution to high seasonal bills, and this summer, northern Illinois consumers can take advantage of unprecedented rebates as part of one of the largest thermostat rebate programs in the country.

The “One Million Smart Thermostats” initiative, launched in October 2015, is a partnership between the utilities and the advocacy groups Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Citizens Utility Board (CUB). Under this initiative, smart thermostats are eligible for up to $150 in rebates offered by ComEd and other Illinois gas utilities for customers with WiFi, central air and a furnace. The rebates can help cut the cost of some of these smart devices by more than 50 percent and give more control to northern Illinois consumers to save money by reducing wasteful energy use.

The goal of the program this year is to double the adoption to 100,000 smart thermostats in households across Illinois. To help create awareness and boost adoption, ComEd has launched an educational campaign and a new instant discount option for customers.

“ComEd’s smart thermostat rebate initiative is one of the largest and most active programs in the nation, reducing up-front costs for our customers on a product that gives them more control and even greater savings over time.  With just a few taps on a smart thermostat app, customers can manage their household temperature while away from home avoiding unnecessary energy use and costs,” said ComEd President & CEO Anne Pramaggiore.

Smart thermostats are WiFi-enabled devices that allow residents to easily control the heating and air conditioning settings through their smartphones, tablets, and computers.  The technology is smart because it learns or adapts to user behavior over time and can generate energy savings with very little effort. Residents remain comfortable when home and save money on heating and cooling energy costs while away at work or on vacation.

“Smart thermostats do the work for you – they adjust the temperature automatically when you’re not home,” said Rob Kelter, senior attorney for ELPC. “We want even more customers to take advantage of the great technological innovation of smart thermostats and keep more money in their pockets.”

CUB Executive Director David Kolata said smart thermostats can help consumers cut their cooling costs by an estimated 10 to 20 percent. “Smart thermostats prove just how easy and effective energy efficiency can be,” Kolata said. “The savings from these easy-to-use devices could be substantial—potentially cutting northern Illinois electric bills by millions of dollars. We urge ComEd customers to take advantage of the unprecedented discounts – available online and in stores- to buy a smart thermostat this summer.”

“The best way for consumers to control their electric bills, and help the environment, is to reduce consumption,” said Brien J. Sheahan, Chairman of the ICC. “Smart thermostats give consumers greater control of, and visibility into, their energy use which promotes conservation and helps save money.”

To make it easier for customers to redeem rebates, ComEd launched a new website, ComEdMarketplace.com, where customers can shop for smart thermostats and other top-rated energy products and take advantage of online instant rebates that reduce purchase costs.

ComEd officials said the smart thermostat program is part of one of the nation’s best-performing energy efficiency programs, saving consumers some $2.5 billion. The ComEd Energy Efficiency Program is about to get even better, thanks to the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), a bipartisan bill that passed the Illinois General Assembly late in 2016 and was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

In June, ComEd filed with the ICC a new Energy Efficiency Program, under FEJA. The law will double customer savings and reduce electricity use in Illinois by 21 percent by 2030.

 

 

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About ComEd

Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd) is a unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corporation (NYSE: EXC), the nation’s leading competitive energy provider, with approximately 10 million customers. ComEd provides service to approximately 3.9 million customers across northern Illinois, or 70 percent of the state’s population. For more information visit ComEd.com, and connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

About ELPC

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization. We develop and lead successful strategic advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural resources. We are public interest environmental entrepreneurs who engage in creative business deal making with diverse interests to put into practice our belief that environmental progress and economic development can be achieved together. 

About Citizen’s Utility Board

Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers. Since then, the nonprofit utility watchdog group has saved consumers more than $20 billion by helping to block rate hikes and secure refunds. For more details, call CUB’s Consumer Hotline, 1-800-669-5556, or visit CUB’s award-winning website, www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org

About ecobee

ecobee Inc. introduced the world’s first smart wi-fi smart thermostat to help millions of customers save money, conserve energy and seamlessly bring home automation into their lives. The company’s first flagship consumer device – ecobee3 – introduced pioneering room sensor technology to deliver comfort in the rooms that matter most, leading it to become a top-selling smart thermostat on the market and achieve a No. 1 ranking on Navigant’s Smart Thermostat Leaderboard. Learn more about ecobee and its smart home technologies at www.ecobee.com.

About Nest

Nest’s mission is to create a home that’s thoughtful – one that takes care of the people inside it and the world around it. The company focuses on simple, beautiful and delightful hardware, software and services. The Nest Learning Thermostat™ and Nest Energy Services keep you comfortable and address home energy consumption. The Nest Protect™ smoke and carbon monoxide alarm helps keep you safe and Nest Safety Rewards lets you save money through participating home insurance providers, while Nest Cam™ keeps an eye on what matters most inside and outside your home. For more information, visit www.nest.com.

Press Release: Illinois Should NOT Kill Jobs and Take from Utility Customers to Bail Out the Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 26, 2017

Contact:

David Jakubiak

Billy Weinberg

Illinois Should NOT Kill Jobs and Take from Utility Customers to Bail Out the Budget

Solar Job Training, Low Income Programs Shouldn’t Be Pawns in Budget Fight

SPRINGFIELD – Even after both the Illinois House and Senate overwhelmingly approved resolutions supporting funding for job creating sections of last year’s Future Energy Jobs Act, a budget proposal by Senate Republicans – and endorsed by Governor Rauner – would sweep every penny of $185 million slated for the landmark Illinois Solar for All Program, which was created by the new law. The law, often called the biggest clean energy breakthrough in state history, won praise for its support of job training and expanding access to solar energy and solar jobs to economically disadvantaged communities.

“Illinois requires a budget that delivers what communities need, including human services, education, and economic and environmental justice. Taking away these funds, from communities most in need, prevents critical jobs, job training, and access to money-saving solar energy,” said Juliana Pino, Policy Director at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. “We must not hollow out the core promise of the Future Energy Jobs Act.”

The funds in the Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF) were raised from electric utility bills, not taxes, and are intended to be used for projects that will create jobs and expand access to solar energy.

“The innovative Illinois Solar for All program is a bright spot to accelerate clean energy, create jobs and improve environmental health in Illinois,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The General Assembly should not divert the negotiated renewable energy funds that are vital to keep Illinois competitive in growing our clean energy economy.”

The Illinois Power Agency is in the process of implementing the Illinois Solar For All Program and has worked closely with stakeholders to ensure the program benefits communities across the state, and that the funds are maximized for the greatest job-creating impact.

“There is incredible statewide excitement about the Solar for All Program,” said Lesley McCain, Executive Director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. “We’ll fight to make sure the money is there and the program is a success.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: ELPC’s Learner Says Proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line in Driftless isn’t Needed

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin Power Line Pits Green Interests Against Each Other
June 11, 2017
By Lee Bergquist

A fight that involves dueling environmental constituencies is brewing over plans for a massive transmission line that would run through the Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin.
Developers say the estimated $500 million, 125-mile line would help buttress the regional power grid and provide access to lower-priced electricity in Iowa and other states.

But like the clamor that has erupted over construction of oil pipelines, transmission lines also engender strong emotions, with opponents often raising environmental objections.

In this case, Wisconsin’s newest power-line proposal pits a pair of green interests: those who see the project as a blight on the picturesque ridges and valleys of the region and those who say it opens up a new route for renewable wind energy from other states.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line would run from west of Madison to Dubuque County in Iowa, where it would be linked to a growing fleet of wind farms that produce no greenhouse gases.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission, whose members have all been appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, must decide whether the line is needed, and, if so, the best corridor to build it.

The developers have not yet selected precise route options, but recently sent letters to potentially affected property owners.

Two electric transmission companies — Pewaukee-based American Transmission Co. and ITC Midwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa — lead the project. A third partner is Dairyland Power Cooperative of La Crosse.

The companies expect to make a formal application in 2018. If approved, the new line would begin operating in 2023.

The PSC’s decision will center on the need for a transmission line in a state now brimming with power. Regulators also will assess the ecological impact of a system whose towers will rise half the length of a football field and occupy 150 feet of right-of-way.

A comparable project can now be seen on stretches of I-90/94 in northern Dane and Columbia counties and the Lake Delton area of Sauk County, where another transmission line, the Badger Coulee, is under construction. It will run between Madison and La Crosse.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek line has been included in a group of more than a dozen transmission projects that the Midwest’s grid operator and planning agency, known as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, says should be built to maintain the reliability of the system and help alleviate traffic jams on the wires.

That means Wisconsin utility customers would pay about 15% of the cost of the line because MISO recommended that it be built for the benefit of the region.

Factors favoring the line, said the leader of a utility watchdog group, are falling electricity prices from wind and mandates in neighboring states for renewable energy that are higher than Wisconsin’s 10%.

On the other hand, electric demand in the state has been flat, said Thomas Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, which will analyze the case when it reaches the PSC.

“From our perspective, it’s making sure the need is justified,” Content said.

New transmission lines are going up as the power industry evolves from heavy reliance on coal-fired plants to a more varied mix that includes natural gas, wind, solar and other renewable sources.

Advocates for more renewable power say shifting to wind requires bigger transmission systems to move power around.

Wisconsin received 3.4% of its electricity from wind last year — up from 2.6% in 2015, according to PSC documents.

But the mix of wind is expected to grow.

With more wind turbines in development in Iowa and elsewhere, and the price of wind power falling, “we are seeing a pretty quick transition in the Midwest and a pretty big increase in wind,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.

“We need a more robust system to take advantage of it.”

But big transmission towers are not what David Clutter and others want to see.

“This isn’t your typical part of the Midwest or Wisconsin,” said Clutter, executive director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy. “Our concern is that it will permanently change the character of the area.”

The Driftless group and others, including the Nature Conservancy of Wisconsin, have land holdings in the region and want to protect remnants of prairies and other ecological features that escaped the scouring impact of glaciers thousands of years ago.

This spring, the Iowa County Board, the towns of Dodgeville and Wyoming in Iowa County and the Village of Spring Green in Sauk County have all passed resolutions opposing the project and expressed concerns about the effect on tourism and recreation.

One potential route lies near a segment of Highway 18 in Dane and Iowa counties that passes the communities of Mount Horeb, Barneveld and Dodgeville where vistas of cornfields and tall grass prairies with scattered oaks can stretch for miles.

Among the worries: The potential effect on parcels like the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, which the state Department of Natural Resources has identified as having the highest priority for grassland protection, and the potential scenic harm the line would have on the 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail that runs along the highway.

If the line swings north, there are concerns on how habitat and wildlife would be affected as it cuts through miles of rolling woodlands and oak savannas where there are little or no existing roads or rights-of-way.

Spokeswoman Kaya Freiman of American Transmission Co. said power lines can co-exist with bike trails and sensitive ecosystems. She said the environmental effects will be “thoroughly reviewed” by regulators.

State law also requires that lines be constructed along existing rights-of-way as much as possible, she said.

Opponents are also challenging the line on economic grounds and say the biggest motivation of the transmission companies is receiving the nearly 11% return permitted by regulators on investments to build power lines.

They also note that electric demand has been dropping because of energy conservation and lingering effects of the recession.

On days with peak electric demand, utilities in Wisconsin last year produced 17% more power than was needed, according to PSC figures, and the agency expects it to remain nearly as high in the next five years.

“Very tall towers and transmission lines aren’t needed,” said attorney Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which has been hired by the Driftless Area Land Conservancy.

“There is already a surplus of generating capacity.”

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