CLEAN ENERGY

North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy Elects ELPC’s Mindi Schmitz as President

JAMESTOWN – Mindi Schmitz, Jamestown, has been elected President of the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy (NDARE).

Schmitz is a Government Relations Specialist working in the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Jamestown office on renewable energy development policies and implementing the Farm Bill’s clean energy development programs.

Mindi Schmitz
ELPC Government Relations Specialist Mindi Schmitz is based in our Jamestown, ND, office.
“NDARE advocates for renewable energy and energy efficiency in North Dakota and the vast majority of North Dakotans support growing the renewable energy sector,” Schmitz said, noting that membership is open to all individuals, businesses, agencies and organizations that are involved with renewable energy and energy efficiency activities.

According to a public opinion survey commissioned by NDARE this winter, almost all (97%) North Dakotans feel that energy efficiency is somewhat or very important and more than one-half of the survey respondents believe that additional energy efficiency and renewable energy projects will create jobs in the state.

North Dakota currently ranks 5th in the US for the percentage of electricity provided by wind power and 10th in the US for installed ethanol production capacity.

“Interest in renewable energy, including wind, biofuels and solar energy, continues to grow in North Dakota.  Consumers and businesses are also increasingly turning to energy efficiency as a way to save money on their energy bills,” said Schmitz.

Other officers elected include Vice President, Dr. Kenneth Hellevang, NDSU Ag and Biosystems Engineering, Fargo; Secretary, JoAnn Rodenbiker, Northern Plains Electric Cooperative, Cando; and Treasurer Kim Christianson, Bismarck.  Newly elected board members include Russell Schell, RJ Energy Solutions, Fargo and Zac Smith, North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Mandan.  Kayla Pulvermacher, North Dakota Farmers Union, Mandan, also serves on the board of directors.

The North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy is a diverse membership-based advocacy organization that works with citizens, industry, government, interest groups, and educators to promote the development and use of renewable energy – including biofuels, biomass, and wind energy, as well as the widespread adoption of cost-effective energy efficiency and conservation practices.

For more information on NDARE, visit www.ndare.org.

Bismark Tribune: Rural electric cooperatives consider solar options

While wind power is the dominant source of renewable energy in North Dakota, the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy maintains there is a future for solar energy in the state as well.

Consumer interest in solar power is growing, according to Dennis Hill, the general manager of North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, which held a workshop Tuesday to keep cooperatives informed on solar technology advancements.

Three cooperatives have solar projects in North Dakota.

Cass County Electric has recently announced a solar project partnership with Fargo in which members can by a $1,670 share in a solar farm. The power created is credited to their monthly bill. The community project will start at 100 kilowatts but could be as large as 300 kilowatts if demand allows. The larger the project gets the less it will cost customers.

Northern Plains Electric, headquartered in Carrington, is launching a pilot project to power its office building. Members will be able to track the panel’s output and weigh the benefits of solar energy.

For more than a decade, Verendrye Electric Cooperative in Velva has offered solar-powered water pumps for remote stock tanks. Because of the tanks’ far-flung locations, the solar panel is more economic than running power lines.

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ELPC’s Mindi Schmitz: N.D. lawmakers willfully ignored environmental issues

The following op-ed was published in the Grand Forks Herald Journal on May 13, 2015:

BISMARCK—The 64th Legislative Assembly of 2015 chose to blatantly disregard a persistent environmental problem facing North Dakota: the flaring of natural gas in the Bakken.

We are getting all of the pollution and none of the energy from a valuable natural resource.

A recent poll shows that North Dakotans want this embarrassing, wasteful flaring problem fixed ASAP.

The poll was commissioned by the Dakota Resource Council and the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club and was conducted Feb. 18-March 6 by UND’s College of Business and Public Administration. And according to the poll, 64 percent of respondents think oil companies are flaring off more gas than they should, while 58 percent support withholding drilling permits until the oil company has in place the means to capture the gas.

Some 65 percent of respondents also support requiring royalty payments to mineral owners for wasted gas.

There were two bills introduced in the North Dakota Senate that dealt directly with the flaring of natural gas.

The first was SB 2287, a bill to amend the North Dakota Century Code by reducing the time a well is allowed to flare from one year down to 90 days. This would have made state law consistent with the gas capture plans that are the foundation of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Gas Flaring Policy.

For unlike conventional oil wells, Bakken wells generally produce most of their oil and gas in the first two years, after which production drops off dramatically. So, if Bakken wells are allowed to flare their associated natural gas for the first year of production, most of the gas that that well will produce will be wasted through flaring.

However, SB 2287 was defeated on the Senate floor. So today, if push comes to shove and an oil company decides not to follow their 90-day gas-capture plan, the Industrial Commission is powerless to force them to do so because current state law allows flaring for up to a year.

The second, SB 2343, started out on the Senate side as a bill to require oil and gas developers in the Bakken to pay royalties to mineral owners and taxes to the state on natural gas that is wasted by flaring. This would have not only provided a fair return on a valuable asset currently wasted, but also incentivized the capture of natural gas at the well site.

But ironically, almost cynically, the bill was “hoghoused” by the Senate. This means that the bill’s language—which was meant to fairly compensate mineral owners and collect taxes for the state—was struck and replaced with language designed to sabotage the Industrial Commission’s efforts to reduce gas flaring in the Bakken.

The final language in the version of SB 2343 that passed is a kind of code. It attaches a fiscal burden to—and thus, potentially kills—any policy that tries to mitigate the environmental impacts from oil and gas development in the state.

The fact that it is retroactive to one year before the North Dakota Industrial Commission adopted its current gas-flaring policy makes the intention clear.

In the course of missing opportunities, the 2015 Legislature ignored the “will of the people”and showed total apathy toward the environment, North Dakota taxpayers and private mineral owners.

Crain’s Chicago Business: Illinois energy politics spill over to Maryland, with Exelon deal in balance

As the deadline nears for Maryland utility regulators to rule on Exelon’s proposed buyout of Pepco Holdings, energy politics in Illinois are playing an improbable starring role.

Maryland officials, who staunchly oppose the $6.8 billion tie-up on fears that Pepco will be induced to support anti-consumer policies favoring Exelon’s unregulated power plants, are pointing to legislation that Exelon-owned Commonwealth Edison is pushing in Illinois as key evidence backing their argument.

ComEd added that bill in March to the stew of energy proposals already simmering in Springfield. Chicago’s electric utility says the series of initiatives in its legislation is aimed at fostering growth in clean energy and energy efficiency, as well as enhancing reliability.

The Maryland Energy Administration, along with the Maryland attorney general, sees it differently.

ComEd’s bill “is riddled with anti-consumer provisions, and would implement a vision of the ‘future’ in which Exelon’s distribution utilities will be able to control the pace of (distributed generation, i.e., solar panels on rooftops) penetration—thereby protecting the value of Exelon’s central station generation,” Maryland officials wrote in May 1 testimony filed by Attorney General Brian Frosh with the Maryland Public Service Commission. “If this merger is approved, Exelon will own the distribution companies that serve all of the Mid-Atlantic’s major urban centers, and there should be little doubt that it will attempt to bring the Illinois ‘model’ to Maryland.”

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Sun-Times Editorial: How to Make Illinois Greener and Save on Power Bills

Available at: http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/7/71/583197/editorial-make-illinois-greener-save-power-bills

Back in 2008, Illinois raised its energy efficiency standards, rewarding electricity ratepayers who, for example, used energy-efficient light bulbs or better insulated their factories.

As result since then, all consumers have saved more than $1 billion.

A new Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, now pending in the state Legislature, would raise those standards even higher and, ideally, use the greater savings to pay for an increase in the amount of renewable energy used in Illinois, while still returning money to consumers. It’s likely this bill will be tweaked before a final vote, but the concept is sound, which is why it’s supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and an array of environmental, consumer and labor groups.

Illinois already has committed itself to using solar, wind and other renewables — as opposed to, say, coal or nuclear energy — for at least 25 percent of its energy by 2025. The new legislation, which has companion versions in the Illinois House and Senate, would raise that to 35 percent by 2030. It’s a reasonable goal. As the New York Times reported Wednesday, Germany in 15 years has already converted 30 percent of its energy sources to solar and wind.

Although renewable energy costs more today than other power sources, the Citizens Utility Board estimates consumers would come out ahead by $1.6 billion by 2030. That would be a $98 annual savings for the average residential ratepayer. CUB says $1.6 billion is its mid-range estimate and that savings could go as high as $2.2 billion. A separate analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists also predicts substantial savings.

We’re not so sure regular homeowners will rush out to buy smart appliances, like programmable dishwashers and dryers, that can save money by shifting shift energy use to non-peak periods, such as the middle of the night. But because of the complicated way energy pricing works — with peak use driving the rates — CUB says even people who don’t do anything on their own will save money.

Ratepayers in the Chicago area have saved money under the current law through a ComEd energy conservation program that subsidizes such things as heating, ventilation and new technologies. As the Rev. Booker Steven Vance told the Sun-Times Editorial Board last month, the program has been a particular benefit in lower-income communities.

But the program’s funding is capped. The new law eliminates the cap, making more energy efficiency initiatives possible. The law also requires utilities such as ComEd to prove that the new initiatives it undertakes are cost effective.

Another arguable benefit to this legislation is that it would bring jobs to the state, according to a survey released this week by the Clean Energy Trust. The survey found Illinois already has more than 100,000 jobs in the clean energy sector, and has experienced growth of 7.8 percent in the last 15 months. That survey, though, fails to consider that other jobs would be lost as less fossil fuel and nuclear energy is used.

ComEd and Exelon have introduced separate bills, and the Downstate utility Dynegy is buttonholing legislators with concerns of its own. Exelon has a vested interested in the continued use of nuclear energy, of course, as does Dynegy with coal. There is a strong possibility all three of these measures will wind up in a single omnibus bill.

But it is crucial that the end result is a balanced Illinois Clean Jobs Bill that promotes a cleaner environment in a way that does not drive up electricity bills.

Press Release: Groups Appeal Water Pollution Permit for Waukegan Coal Plant on Lake Michigan

Groups Site Unlawful Permit Provisions that Give Coal Plant a Free Pass to Pollute

Click Here to View Appeal filed at the Illinois Pollution Control Board

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 29, 2015

Judith Nemes, JNemes@elpc.org, 312-795-3706

 

WAUKEGAN, Ill. – Today, the Sierra Club, Environmental Law & Policy Center and other environmental organizations appealed Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s (IEPA) water pollution permit for NRG’s Waukegan coal plant. The permit, the groups argue, falls far short of implementing necessary protections for Lake Michigan.

The current permit allows NRG to continue running the 57-year-old Waukegan coal plant as-is rather than making long-overdue upgrades to the plant’s intake and discharge system. The plant has been operating with a permit last issued 14 years ago.

“By allowing NRG to skirt the issue of real technological upgrades to this old plant, IEPA is permitting the Waukegan plant to pollute at the same high rate for at least another five years,” said Greg Wannier, attorney with the Sierra Club. “IEPA has no legal authority to extend NRG’s variance, which avoids a law designed to protect the delicate and critical ecosystem found in Lake Michigan. As Lake Michigan adapts to even more stressors brought on by climate disruption, IEPA has an obligation to implement the law in a way that best protects the lake.”

In the appeal, the organizations call for the IEPA to revoke the final permit and to reissue with limits necessary to protect Lake Michigan in compliance with the Clean Water Act. Through its permitting process, the IEPA is responsible for ensuring the Waukegan plant minimizes Lake Michigan fish kills caused by its intake structures like the one used at the Waukegan plant. New limits would require “closed-cycle” cooling, which would almost eliminate those impacts to aquatic life.

The Waukegan coal plant currently operates using an outdated system known as once-through cooling. The system consists of a large pipe that draws freshwater into the plant for cooling, cleaning and moving coal ash out of the plant’s boiler. According to a 2011 Chicago Tribune report, the intake pipe at Waukegan is responsible for killing 5.2 million fish per year

Massive heat transfers occur as the lake water passes through the plant, and it is then discharged back into Lake Michigan at significantly elevated temperatures. The permit allows 5 million gallons of Lake Michigan water to go through this “once-through” process every day. Technology can reduce this impact by 98 percent, yet despite its widespread use, IEPA and NRG passed on the technology in favor of continuing a 37-year old variance allowing the plant to continue discharging piping hot water into Lake Michigan.

“Every year, the Waukegan coal plant kills millions of fish and other aquatic life from Lake Michigan.  No fishing license would allow such an abuse of this resource, but IEPA has given NRG a license to kill, without even requiring the application that’s required by law,” said Jessica Dexter, staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “NRG is a relatively new arrival to our shores, so we urge them to take more seriously their responsibility to be good stewards of Lake Michigan.”

“Over 100 community members from the Waukegan area came out to testify in 2013 on the IEPA’s draft permit for this plant, and I’m proud  that our engagement won some improvements,” said Mitch Siegel, Waukegan resident with the Clean Power Lake County Campaign. “However, the permit still falls short of what’s needed to protect Lake Michigan and NRG Energy is avoiding long-overdue upgrades to the plant that its predecessor Midwest Generation also avoided. With a new company, we expect a new approach.”

The outdated cooling system is just one of the concerns regarding water pollution linked to the Waukegan coal plant. In 2012, Sierra Club, ELPC, Prairie Rivers Network and CARE filed an enforcement case for groundwater contamination at all of NRG’s coal plants, including Waukegan.  At Waukegan, samples taken by the coal plant’s previous owner, Midwest Generation, indicate that coal ash waste from the coal ash impoundments has seeped into groundwater, contaminating the water with pollutants such as arsenic, boron and sulfate at levels above primary Safe Drinking Water Act Maximum Contaminant Limits. In March, the groups updated the complaint after previously undisclosed ash dumps were discovered on the site.   The proximity of the ash ponds to Lake Michigan makes many community members concerned about preventing further seepage.

Additionally, from 2002 through 2010, Midwest Generation reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it released more than 1,000 pounds of toxins into surface waters surrounding its Waukegan coal-fired power plant. There are no federal protections that limit discharged toxins from coal plants into bodies of water. The US EPA is currently reviewing new standards to set such limits which are expected to be finalized in August of 2015.

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Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Exelon’s rate-hike proposal is a bad bill

Exelon, which operates six nuclear power plants in Illinois, says it needs help because — although it made more than $2 billion last year —  it has lost about $1 billion in the past five years on three of its plants: Clinton, Quad Cities and Byron. The nuclear plants are having a hard time competing in the marketplace partly because plentiful supplies have driven down the price of natural gas.

The utility says it is unwilling to run any nuclear plant at a loss, though its nuclear fleet is profitable overall. It says Illinois needs all of its nuclear plants for reliability and low-carbon power generation. It also warns that 8,000 jobs in Illinois would be lost if the plants were shuttered.

To save the three plants, then, Exelon wants to raise electricity bills by $300 million a year under what it calls a market-based plan that would benefit all types of low-carbon generators of energy, including solar, wind and nuclear. The company says it is asking only for the same favorable treatment renewable energy gets.

The problem, critics accurately say, is that the bill is designed to funnel the new money into Exelon’s pockets while doing almost nothing to help generators of renewable energy.

Before Exelon digs deeper into your wallet, let’s demand at least a limited look at its balance sheet. The company says it has provided such information to legislative leaders, but does that give you much confidence? You, the ratepayers who would have to pony up, deserve a look-see, too.

Second, how is it Exelon can say it is unfair, when sizing up this bill, to consider the profitability of the company’s nuclear fleet as a whole, though all ratepayers — including Chicagoans who get their electrical power from profitable plants — would be forced to pay the surcharge? There is a feeling here of a company trying to socialize the risks while keeping the profits private.

Third, any low-carbon bill that emerges out of Springfield cannot favor Exelon. Renewable energy is the future, and the state should be making that a priority, not nuclear plants. It’s not prudent to put renewable energy at a disadvantage.

Exelon’s bill, which has both House and Senate versions, is one of three energy-related proposals on the docket in his session. Possibly, it will be rolled with others into an omnibus bill.

Whatever emerges must put ratepayers first. And it must not undercut our state’s truly green energy future.

WBEZ Worldview: Earth Day Quiz

USA Today: Environment may get bigger stage at Iowa Caucuses

DES MOINES, Iowa — Hot-button issues such as clean power, water-quality regulations and renewable fuels are expected to get a bigger stage in the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, as environmental activists put more pressure on presidential contenders to address controversial issues such as climate change.

But experts still expect that concerns about saving the planet likely will play second, third and possibly even fourth fiddle to issues such as jobs and the economy, heath care and national security. The key, they say, may be to link the environment to popular measures such as wind and solar energy that can create jobs while also reducing America’s carbon footprint.

“If you’re a candidate that’s looking for a way to talk about the environment, Iowa provides a perfect road map for that,” said Josh Mandelbaum, the Des Moines attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “You can stay away from the most polarizing issues and talk about areas where in Iowa you have bipartisan support” such as wind energy.

Republican presidential hopefuls so far have typically said that the federal government has been too heavy-handed with regulation and expressed little support for government incentives to develop alternative energy sources. Democratic hopefuls such as Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have been more outspoken in their support.

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

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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

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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