CLEAN ENERGY

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.

– 30 –

 

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.”

READ MORE

The Daily Yonder: ELPC’s Olsen Hopes Paris Accord Pullout Doesn’t Hamper Successful Rural Clean Energy Projects

The Daily Yonder

USDA Climate Change Approach Faces Diminished Role, Worrying Many AG Leaders 

 June 6, 2017

By Bryce Oates

As the President withdraws from the Paris Climate Accords and outlines budget priorities, critics worry about a directional shift with USDA Climate Change.

President Trump announced that the U. S. would “pull out” of the Paris Climate Accords last week, signaling a clear direction for his Administration’s approach to the challenge of a changing, more energy-charged climate.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded the move, stating, “President Trump promised that he would put America first and he has rightly determined that the Paris accord was not in the best interests of the United States. In addition to costing our economy trillions of dollars and millions of jobs, the accord also represented a willful and voluntary ceding of our national sovereignty. The agreement would have had negligible impact on world temperatures, especially since other countries and major world economies were not being held to the same stringent standards as the United States.”

The news does not please some members of the agricultural community, who believe that USDA should be a partner and supporter of efforts to assist farmers in addressing climate change.

“The withdrawal continues a troubling trend,” said Andrew Bahrenburg, National Policy Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The young farmers we represent, to see their President speak about climate change this way, to walk away from progress we’re making on climate resiliency, progress farmers are making to cut emissions and develop on-the-ground solutions, it’s demoralizing. It’s just incredibly discouraging.”

NYFC’s members have already moved on in the discussion about climate change as a reality according to Bahrenburg. They see the evidence every day, with hotter summers, warmer winters, more intense droughts, more intense floods. Their project, Conservation Generation, seeks to assist farmers in the arid West with tools and resources to remain viable in a water-constrained environment.

“While we remain committed to working with Secretary Perdue, he has defended proposed cuts to key conservation programs, cuts to scientific research, a 30% reduction to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program,” said Bahrenburg. He said that a group of young farmers are traveling to Washington, DC, this week to discuss their opinion with policymakers.

“All of these actions, the budget proposal, walking away from the global community, leaving the Paris Accords, taken together form a real indication of where USDA is headed,” said Tom Driscoll, Director of Conservation Policy for the National Farmers Union. “It’s a scary proposition.”

Driscoll said that many NFU members utilize the climate research and data presented by the Climate Hubs, originating in the Obama Administration. And NFU member families often participate in USDA’s REAP Program, both as farmers and workers for solar companies utilizing REAP (Renewable Energy for America Program) grants. REAP funding, which support renewable energy projects in rural communities, was singled out to be eliminated in the Trump Agriculture budget.

“This is a very, very sensitive time for farmers. There’s a credit crisis upon us. Prices and farm income are low. Choking off programs that deliver cost savings for farmers, that help them to become clean energy producers, undermining the information and tools that help farmers stay in business, it’s just irresponsible for them to behave this way.”

“The Administration’s proposal to eliminate farm bill funding for REAP is not only short-sighted from a climate change adaptation and mitigation perspective, it is also completely counter to their budget narrative,” said Greg Fogel, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in an email to Daily Yonder.

“We’ve heard a lot about agriculture needing to ‘do more with less,” and that is exactly what REAP does. This program puts farmers in the driver’s seat by giving them more control over their energy usage and costs, and helping them to reduce both. In a time when the agricultural economy is in downturn, that kind of independence and control is more important than ever,” said Fogel.

Others have also applauded previous USDA actions related to climate change and energy programs. “We have a program here that helps establish energy projects in rural Wisconsin dairies, for poultry farms of the Southeast, for cattle producers all over America. REAP serves every state, every agricultural sector, and has strong bipartisan support. We hope it continues,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Olsen said that he sees rural projects and programs working to create jobs and cut carbon emissions across the board, particularly due to USDA participation and focus. “Programs that cut energy costs for farmers, that increase local energy production through solar and wind, that increase economic investment and activity, that increase jobs in rural America, what’s not to like about that,” asked Olsen, questioning the Trump Administration’s budget priorities.

When presented with these questions about the Trump USDA’s approach to climate change, a USDA spokesperson told the Daily Yonder through email:

“The President has proposed his budget, and now the appropriators in Congress will make their mark on it. We cannot know what form the final budget will take, and so it is premature to comment on the specific impacts it may have on any USDA program. Secretary Perdue has communicated to all USDA staff that there is no sense in sugar coating the budget, but he will be as transparent as possible throughout the budget process.”

READ MORE

End of Illinois Legislative Session Review

ELPC and our partners had an excellent Illinois spring 2017 legislative session achieving solid victories for the environment and natural resources protection.  We were able to pass pro-environment legislation, particularly focused on advancing renewable energy and energy conservation, and we joined with other advocates to stop bad legislation threatening electric vehicles and water quality protections.  The memo from ELPC’s Illlinois governmental affairs team led Al Grosboll and Dave McEllis, explains progress on five sets of issues:

  1. Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, including passing the PACE energy efficiency legislation.
  2. Electronic Waste Recycling.
  3. Electric Vehicles.
  4. Clean Water – Great Lakes Restoration Funding and Stopping the Will County Quarry Bill.
  5. Overall Conservation – Natural Areas Stewardship Act – SB 1029.

READ THE MEMO

Press Release: Michigan Public Service Commission Opens Door to Renewable Energy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 2017

Contact: David Jakubiak

Michigan Public Service Commission Opens Door to Renewable Energy
Electric Customers and Clean Energy Developers Should Welcome Updates to Ratepayer Protections, Compensation in Consumers Energy Case

LANSING, MI – An order updating the terms available to renewable energy developers from regulated utilities should open the door to more clean and renewable energy projects in the state, while making sure utility customers are not asked to pay more for their electricity.

“The updates to the methodology for how smaller renewable energy projects will be compensated by utilities sends a strong signal to developers that Michigan is a good place to do business,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Grand Rapids, MI.

On Wednesday the Commission approved a fair method for calculating rates Consumers Energy must pay to renewable energy facilities in Michigan for the power those facilities supply to the grid.  The order is the Commission’s first update in 25 years of the approach utilities must take under federal law to compensate the owners of qualified clean energy facilities.

Passed in 1978, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act was created to encourage renewable energy development, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and promote energy independence. It requires utilities to purchase energy from small qualified cogeneration and renewable energy providers and establishes what are known as “avoided costs” and “must-buy prices” that utilities pay to small renewable energy providers.

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

“The Commission’s order today will provide Michigan customers with more renewable energy at no higher cost, increase our energy independence, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Kearney said.

###

Press Release: President Trump’s Call to Drop Out of Paris Agreement Won’t Hold Off the Move to Clean Energy, Clean Transportation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 2017

Contact: David Jakubiak

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

“Withdrawing our nation from cooperating with global allies on climate solutions will not make America great again.  Instead, President Trump is weakening America’s world leadership on climate solutions.

“Dropping America from the Paris climate agreement ignores the reality that clean energy and technological innovation are driving electricity market changes and economic growth. Clean transportation will move forward. Across the U.S., states and cities, businesses and not-for-profit organizations are leading now on climate change solutions.”

 

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Lake Erie to Ohio EPA: Please, Call Me Impaired

 

 

Lake Erie to Ohio EPA: Please, Call Me Impaired

By Peter Krause

 

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a list of impaired waters in Ohio, but to the disappointment of environmentalists, it doesn’t include the open waters of Lake Erie.

Designating the lake as “impaired” is critical to stemming the encroachment of harmful algal blooms, said Frank Szollosi. The category would require the state of Ohio to work with the U.S. EPA to develop a concrete plan to remediate the problem.

But the Ohio EPA did not include Erie’s open waters on a list of impaired waterways when it submitted it to the U.S. EPA last fall. The U.S. EPA approved the list May 18.

What frustrates Ohio environmentalists further is that Michigan included western Lake Erie on its list of impaired waters. That was approved by the U.S. EPA.

“This is not sensible,” U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur said in a statement Tuesday. Kaptur, a Democrat, represents a swath of shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland. “There is no imaginary line in the middle of Lake Erie where one side of the lake faces challenges that don’t impact the other side… Eleven million people depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water and this contradictory action fails to address the real danger they face from the presence of toxic algal blooms.”

A spokesperson for the Ohio EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The federal Clean Water Act sets a standards for impaired waters, Szollosi said. In the case of algae blooms and nutrient loading, the U.S. EPA would require that the sources and amounts of nutrients be identified and limits set.

“We want a legally enforceable measuring stick for progress,” he said.

Without the official limits, Szollosi said voluntary incentives simply won’t work.

Incentives were applied to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay for 20 years, he said, but not until pollution standards were put in place did any meaningful reduction of nutrients occur.

In Lake Erie, the major problem is farm fertilizers running off into the lake, primarily by way of the Maumee River in Toledo. Three years ago, 400,000 Toledo area residents were temporarily without drinking water after harmful toxins from algal blooms fouled the water supply.

Algae that spreads into the central basin of the lake can also create a massive dead zone.

The phosphorus in the fertilizer is the main problem, according to Jeff Reutter, former director of the Ohio State University’s Sea Grant College Program and Stone Lab, who discussed the issue with cleveland.com this month during a water summit in Cleveland sponsored by the Cleveland Water Alliance.

Other stewards of Lake Erie have are as indignant as Szollosi over Lake Erie being excluded from the list of impaired waters.

“The waters of the Great Lakes are the most critical asset we have,” said Dan Eichinger, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, in a prepared statement. “We are disappointed in the EPA decision to all Ohio to keep the status quo. Michigan can’t address Lake Erie’s issues alone. There must be a collective action and commitment to solve it.”

The Environmental Law & Policy Center also weighed in. “By passing the buck back and forth, EPA and Ohio EPA are ducking the real issue that Ohio’s reliance on unenforceable, voluntary measures will not get the job done in addressing phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie,” reads a written statement from center staff attorney Madeline Fleisher.

READ MORE

 

 

Press Release: Innovative Clean Energy Financing Bill Heads for IL Governor

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 18, 2017

Contact: David Jakubiak

Illinois Closer to Innovative Clean Energy Financing Opportunity
General Assembly Sends PACE Financing Bill to Governor Rauner

SPRINGFIELD, IL – An innovative financing opportunity offered to businesses and property owners in 19 states may finally come to Illinois through legislation headed to Governor Rauner’s desk, after being passed by the State Senate 53-0 on Wednesday.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing allows counties or municipal governments to establish programs that provide financing for the upfront costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The costs are then repaid through an assessment on the property tax bill for the property where the improvement has been made.

In Illinois PACE would function as a so-called “double opt-in” program. First a municipality or county would need to create a local PACE program; then property owners would need to opt-in to the programs.

“Illinois is deploying an innovative clean energy financing opportunity for commercial, industrial and multifamily building owners that will save consumers’ money, decrease energy use and reduce pollution,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The PACE measure enjoyed broad bipartisan support. On April 28th, PACE passed in the Illinois House where it was championed by Representative Lou Lang. Senator Karen McConnaughay led the effort to pass HB 2831 in the Illinois Senate. If signed by Governor Rauner, the bill will make Illinois the 20th state to offer PACE financing. Nationwide PACE financing has led to more than $3 billion in clean energy investments.

###

How environmental NGOs are shifting conversation on climate and energy

How environmental NGOs are shifting conversation on climate and energy

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I’m Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Howard, it’s nice to see you again.

Howard Learner: Good to join you.

Monica Trauzzi: So Howard, with President Trump making some big news on energy and environment issues in his first 100 days, in many ways seeking to reverse a lot of what we saw the Obama administration do. How has your work and your focus shifted over the last six months?

Howard Learner: There’s an interesting combination of what I’ll call both defense and offense. Clearly at the Environmental Law and Policy Center we’re seeing some of the moves by the Trump administration as being in the wrong direction. We’re pushing back. We’re fighting back and we hope that President Trump will reassess and move in a better direction.

On the other hand, clean energy development is moving forward at a rapid pace in the Midwest states. When it comes to places like Iowa, tremendous amount of wind power development. Illinois just passed the strongest renewable energy standard in the region; one of the best in the country. That will lead to 2,500 megawatts of new solar energy. Minnesota’s stepping up. Other states in the Midwest are moving forward.

So what we’re seeing is while the federal government is stepping back, cities and states in the Midwest are stepping up and moving forward with clean energy jobs of the future, solar energy, wind power and storage that works.

WATCH FULL INTERVIEW

 

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now