Associated Press: Amid Backlash, Iowa Co-Op Drops Planned Fee for Solar Hookup


August 28, 2015

Amid Backlash, Iowa Co-Op Drops Planned Fee for Solar Hookup

The Associated Press

PELLA, IOWA — Facing a backlash from solar energy advocates and an inquiry from regulators, a rural Iowa electricity cooperative has dropped a plan to charge customers who install solar panels on their homes and businesses a special $85 monthly charge.

The Pella Cooperative Electric Association withdrew its proposal Thursday in a filing to the Iowa Utilities Board, which was considering a challenge from solar customers and environmental groups who argued the charge was illegal, unjustified and discriminatory.

Similar disputes between utilities and solar energy advocates are playing out across the country, but observers said the cooperative’s proposed interconnection charge was believed to be among the highest in the nation.

The cooperative, which serves about 3,000 members in rural southern Iowa, notified customers who already have or were planning to install solar generation systems of the new charge last month. The cooperative argued that the fee was justified because customers who generate some, but not all, of their own electricity use less from the utility’s distribution system and therefore pay less. The fee was meant to have those customers pay their equal share of fixed costs and avoid having other customers subsidize them, the cooperative argued.

In a statement, the cooperative said the fee wasn’t meant to discriminate against solar customers but that it would be withdrawn in light of the complaints.

“We need to ensure every member is being treated fairly,” the cooperative said. “Because we are a cooperative, we have decided to withdraw the proposed increase … until such time that we can better educate our members and the community as to the fair and equitable recovery of fixed costs.”

The news delighted Mike Lubberden, who halted his plan to install a solar array outside his Pella home after learning of the charge in July. He said Friday that he now plans to move forward but hopes the utility doesn’t try to resurrect the charge at a later date. He said the charge was “outrageous” and designed to discourage solar energy deployment.

He and other solar energy backers note that the cooperative receives some revenue from customer-owned generation systems: the coop pays 3.3 percent per kilowatt-hour for excess solar and sells it for 10.1 cents. They noted that solar arrays have benefits for the environment and energy grid.

The Office of Consumer Advocate had requested information and data about the fee as part of an inquiry into whether it would violate Iowa law, which bars charging “discriminatory rates” for customers who use renewable energy. The office, which represents utility customers’ interests, had been planning to update the board on its investigation next month.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center, which had intervened to challenge the proposal, said Friday the withdrawal was good news and should spark discussion about the role solar can play at rural electric cooperatives in Iowa.

“There are better ways to prepare for the energy future than imposing punitive and unjustified fees on members who are leading the way on renewable energy,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a Des Moines attorney for the group.

Press Release: Pella Electric Coop Reversal on Solar Charge Good News for Coop Members


August 27, 2015

Pella Electric Coop Reversal on Solar Charge Good News for Coop Members

It’s Time for an Open, Data-Driven Discussion on Benefits of Solar to Coops

DES MOINES, Iowa – Late Thursday the Pella Electric Cooperative withdrew a controversial proposal which would have hit members with solar panels with an exorbitant fixed charge of $85 month. The news was welcomed by members of the co-op, and underscores the need for an open discussion about the role solar will play in the coops energy future.

“Families and businesses that have joined institutions like Central College in cutting energy costs and bringing us closer to energy independence with solar will not be punished for making a choice that is better for budgets and for the environment,” said Bryce Engbers, a Pella Electric Coop member and pork producer who has solar panels.

Mike Lubberden, another solar Pella member commended the move, but added that the coop should alter the way it looks at solar.

“This would have been the most extreme anti-solar, anti-renewable energy fee anywhere in the country,” Lubberden said. “Pella Electric Cooperative Association should permanently drop this proposal, and instead take an approach that captures the value of solar energy for all coop members.”

Josh Mandelbaum of the Environmental Law & Policy Center expressed hope that Pella Electric Cooperative’s withdrawal of the flawed proposal was an indication that the coop has reevaluated its approach. “There are better ways to prepare for the energy future than imposing punitive and unjustified fees on members who are leading the way on renewable energy. We look forward to working with the Pella Electric Cooperative to identify ways to bring the benefits of solar to all of the coop’s members.”

Mandelbaum pointed to the fact that solar now creates revenue for the coop. Currently, Pella buys excess solar energy at a rock bottom price and sells it at a premium any time the member’s system produces more energy than the member uses. The coop pays 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour for excess solar and sells it for 10.1 cents. The member who installs solar has paid all the costs to do so, and the coop keeps nearly 7 cents on every unit of excess energy.

Nathaniel Baer, Energy Program Director of Iowa Environmental Council also lauded the decision to drop the solar charge. “This proposal was never supported by data showing it was needed, in fact, we are confident that solar is bringing value to the coop. We hope that this opens the door to a larger discussion of how we can bring more solar to rural electric coops across the state.”


The Plain Dealer: Energy Efficiency was Projected to Cut Electric Consumption, Power Companies told the State

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio’s electric companies were on course to help their customers cut overall power use by as much as 33 percent in coming years before lawmakers froze state energy efficiency mandates.

Filed and forgotten at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the analyses and projections were drawn up by FirstEnergy, AEP Ohio, Duke Energy and Dayton Power & Light.

The 33 percent savings figure was based on the assumption that costs would not stand in the way of higher efficiency. But a more conservative estimate, looking only at solutions deemed to be cost effective, still put potential savings at 24 percent.

Despite those internal estimates of cost-effective savings, the industry lobbied against the efficiency mandates for years. Last year year, lawmakers led by Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, froze the program; Seitz said it was supported by “enviro-socialists.”

Now, a nationally recognized group that advocates energy efficiency has taken another look at the utility reports in the PUCO’s files.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE, Wednesday issued its own report, a white paper making the case for a return of the state standards, based on those utility projections.

The four companies were asked to figure out how much power their efficiency programs could help customers save over 10 to 20 years.

Each utility projected the savings in at least two ways — maximum achievable, without consideration of the cost of the programs, and what could be achieved with “cost effective” programs, meaning the savings in using less electricity would be greater than the costs of the programs.

The reports were available to the public and mentioned at times by efficiency advocates in testimony to state lawmakers who wanted to kill the efficiency programs. The utilities never testified.

But lawmakers either ignored or dismissed references to the utility studies during the months of hearings before approving S.B. 310, the legislation that has frozen Ohio’s efficiency mandates for two years.

While the new analysis is the work of analysts employed by the ACEEE, which is a non-profit, funding for the report came in part from the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Natural Resources Defense Council, two groups that argued for keeping the mandates. Both opposed the freeze.

The ACEEE paper concludes “there is huge potential in Ohio to save families and businesses money on their utility bills through energy saving programs.”

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Press Release: New Analysis Shows Big Savings for Ohio with Energy Efficiency


August 26, 2015

Analysis: Significant Energy Efficiency Savings Available to Ohioans for Years to Come

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new analysis finds huge potential in Ohio to save families and businesses money on their utility bills through energy saving programs. This study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which examines reports from Ohio utilities as well as industry-standard programs that Ohio has yet to take into account, concludes the state has significant, cost-effective, and untapped energy efficiency potential just waiting to be utilized.

Ohio’s four major electric utilities-AEP, Dayton Power & Light, Duke Energy, and FirstEnergy-are seeking ways to reduce their energy consumption 22.2% by 2027. These utilities have been running wildly successful energy efficiency programs for homes and businesses since at least 2010, saving Ohioans over $1 billion on their energy bills and delivering customers a 2:1 return on their investment. ACEEE concludes Ohio’s utilities will be able to continue to meet these energy efficiency goals through cost-effective programs that provide tremendous benefits for customers.

Beyond the significant untapped savings Ohio’s utilities could be capturing, the ACEEE report finds that the state has not even scratched the surface of the benefits available to Ohioans over the long term. These include currently available and cost-effective programs like LED lighting, multi-family housing retrofits, combined heat and power projects, and low-interest financing opportunities.

The report also finds increased potential for emerging technologies-potential that Ohio has yet to capture. Technologies such as smart thermostats and advanced clothes dryers can give customers more choice on how they use energy and help save money. With the clean energy industry evolving at a rapid pace, innovation in energy efficiency has also come faster than expected, in some cases with rapidly falling prices. For example, the price of LED lighting has decreased over 85% in the last five years.

“Innovation in energy-efficient products and services creates enormous opportunities for cost-effective energy savings, and helps customers make smarter choices about how they use energy,” said Maggie Molina, utilities, state, and local policy director at ACEEE. “Thankfully for Ohio, utilities recognize some of the opportunities to capture these emerging technologies and will be able to help their customers save money over the coming years.”

Molina continued, “Our report finds even more ground can be covered at low cost in areas where Ohio could see benefits immediately, like multifamily housing and LEDs, and in technologies such as ‘smart’ thermostats that are just now emerging.”

When utilities run better and more innovative programs that target a wide range of consumers, they add to Ohio’s growing clean energy economy. For example, AEP estimated that its energy efficiency programs will create 4,000 jobs over the next few years. And that’s just one of four major utilities that run programs in the state.

Energy efficiency companies in Ohio see this potential first hand.

According to Greg Smith, President and CEO of Energy Optimizers, USA in Tipp City, Ohio, which retrofits schools and other government buildings across the state, “We’re only hitting the tip of the iceberg in Ohio with how much we can improve the efficiency of homes and businesses, along with commercial and industrial facilities. In the last few years, my business has taken off as we continue to rapidly expand our team. We’ve grown from a true start-up to a $14,000,000 a year company. We have smart people from right here in Ohio who we want to put to work immediately. It’s that simple-we just need the right ingredients and investments to make it happen.”

Unfortunately, the future of these programs is in jeopardy.

Just as energy efficiency and renewable policies were taking off following the 2008 enactment of SB 221<>, Ohio passed SB 310<>, which froze these policies at their 2014 levels and pushed back the deadline to meet the 22.2% energy efficiency target by two years. A committee was established to examine the clean energy policies and determine their fate, which remains uncertain.

“Across Ohio, residential, business, and industrial customers are saving money because of utility energy efficiency programs,” said Madeline Fleisher, staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “As technologies advance, these opportunities are growing, but achieving this potential will require strong programs that are available to all utility customers. Continuing these programs will position Ohio as a leader in the clean energy sector, providing lower customer bills, creating sustainable jobs, and cutting pollution.”

The committee is set to release a report in September and may make recommendations on the future of Ohio’s energy landscape, including whether these cost-saving programs will continue to exist.

According to Samantha Williams, energy policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Energy efficiency efforts in Ohio still have plenty of fruit to bear. Luckily Ohioans are still craving ways to save money by lowering their energy use, which brings all kinds of benefits like cleaner air and more jobs to the state. This report adds to the mounting evidence, and hopefully the committee will come to the same conclusion ACEEE did-that these programs are integral to low-cost power and will continue to reap benefits for Ohioans today and tomorrow.”

A link to the full ACEEE report can be found here:



Christian Science Monitor: Turning wasteland into power plants fueled by the sun

When utility giant Exelon built its pioneering inner-city solar plant on an abandoned factory site in Chicago’s West Pullman neighborhood, there was at least one unanticipated hazard: the shattering of glass photovoltaic panels by stray bullets falling from the sky. Exelon City Solar may not have resolved the deep-seated social problems of this crime-ridden South Side community, but it has demonstrated that solar power can breathe new life into polluted properties that have lain dormant and decaying for decades.

Surveying more than 35 million acres of abandoned mines, landfills, factories, and hazardous waste dumps, the US Environmental Protection Agency has identified a total of 5.5 trillion watts of solar potential – enough to produce about seven times the total electricity consumed by all US households. Site preparation costs may be prohibitive at some of these properties; cheap electricity from coal and gas may further inhibit solar development in certain areas; access to transmission lines may be a constraint at others. But already solar developers have overcome these constraints at hundreds of “brownfield” sites across the country, and hundreds of additional projects are in various stages of development. Huge clean energy prospects await us if we are willing to look anew at the wastelands we have long shunned as best forgotten.

In West Pullman, dozens of perfectly aligned rows of photovoltaic panels occupy the polluted acreage once used by International Harvester as an assembly plant. When the farm equipment manufacturer shut this factory down more than three decades ago, it turned its back on pools of polluted wastewater and soils loaded with asbestos. Even after the city took over the 41-acre parcel and began to clean it up, the site was far from safe for residential or commercial development. Solar power offered a path to redemption through reuse, but it took a combination of entrepreneurial daring, engineering savvy, and local political support to make the project a reality.

Today the Exelon City Solar plant generates enough clean energy for 1,500 Chicago area homes. Among the hundreds employed building the project, a local welding shop enjoyed a major bump in business, making thousands of steel pole mounts for the solar arrays. Today, instead of having to warn their kids away from a festering wasteland, abutting residents look out on a fenced-in field of neatly arrayed solar panels.

In the Chicago metro area, the non-profit Environmental Law and Policy Center is looking for ways to build on Exelon City Solar’s lead. Scouring the industrial landscape, its Brownfields to Brightfields or “B2B” team has evaluated the solar compatibility of some two hundred properties. “There are tremendous opportunities to unlock latent value in abandoned industrial brownfields and transform them into clean energy brightfields for the future,” says the center’s president Howard Learner.

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Inside Climate News: Some Utilities Want a Surcharge to Let the Sunshine In

As more Americans go solar—and save money on their monthly utility bills—electricity providers are doubling down on ways to protect their revenue.

One of the utilities’ most widespread strategies is to impose extra charges on customers who are generating their own energy, and they have had varying degrees of success. At least 11 utilities in nine states have attempted this tactic; five have succeeded.

Power providers say these new rates are needed to ensure their customers using solar and other forms of so-called “distributed generation” continue to pay for the basic costs associated with maintaining the grid.

Clean energy advocates fiercely object, calling these efforts “attacks on solar.” They argue that the utilities don’t adequately account for solar users’ benefits to the grid: less electricity is lost during transportation across power lines; less money spent by utilities on infrastructure for transmission and distribution; credits the utilities can potentially use to reach renewable energy goals or tax credits.

Brad Klein, senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, closely tracks these rate cases and has intervened in a few. “In all the [rate] cases I’ve seen so far … utilities never accounted for solar benefits. You end up with a skewed and lopsided analysis that’s insufficient for ratemaking,” he said.

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Good News for Solar From Our Iowa Office


Alliant Reverses Stance That Hindered Solar Projects in Iowa

By Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Facing a new legal challenge, Iowa’s second-largest power company has abandoned a business practice that critics say improperly slowed the adoption of solar energy across the state.

Over the last year, Alliant Energy had told schools and municipalities that it wouldn’t allow net metering for rooftop power-generating systems financed by third-party solar companies. That meant customers would not be credited on their bills for excess energy they generate during peak sun times and return to the grid, making many of the projects economically unfeasible. In response, customers delayed, downsized and shelved solar projects meant to reduce their energy costs and impact on the environment.

But in a surprise reversal, Alliant said in a legal filing last week it will allow net metering for many such projects. Alliant spokesman Justin Foss said the company “revised our stance” after receiving the first formal applications for interconnection from customers entering into such arrangements.

“Since this is a relatively new issue, we adjusted to find the most customer-focused solution,” Foss said.

Joshua Mandelbaum, an attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Des Moines, called that explanation disingenuous, noting Alliant hadn’t received other applications because customers were told earlier in the process that net metering wouldn’t be allowed.

He said the change was positive and would allow “a number of customers who are interested in pursuing solar to be able to finance their systems.”

“I’m still puzzled why it took so long for Alliant to come around to this position. Nothing has changed on the ground in the last year,” he said. “It only served to delay customers’ ability to take advantage of this option and create unnecessary tension and bad feelings with customers.”

The reversal came days after Mandelbaum, on behalf of a coalition of solar advocates, told the Iowa Utilities Board that Alliant’s position violated the state’s net metering rule and was thwarting renewable energy projects proposed by nonprofits and government agencies. Such entities, which don’t pay taxes, often enter into agreements to purchase power directly from solar companies that install generating systems on their buildings. The arrangements allow them to benefit from federal tax breaks designed to promote solar energy.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled last year that the so-called power purchase agreements were legal, rejecting a challenge by Alliant.

After the ruling, Alliant argued that net metering for those projects wasn’t allowed because the solar companies were reselling power within its service territory, which was barred by its state operating agreements. That position has now been dropped.

Alliant notified the Iowa Falls Community School District — which dropped a proposal to install solar arrays on four school buildings — and other customers of its reversal in recent days.

“I was shocked,” said Cresco city councilor Amy Bouska, who learned the news from Alliant last week. Bouska said her city’s exploration of solar came “to a screeching halt” last spring when Alliant said net metering wouldn’t be allowed. She praised Alliant’s change but noted the utility still won’t allow net metering at buildings classified as large industrial users, such as the city’s fitness center and wastewater treatment plant.

Eagle Point Solar, a Dubuque-based company which had prevailed in last year’s Iowa Supreme Court case, filed a complaint with the utilities board in June alleging Alliant’s policy was illegal and forced it to scale back a plan to install solar arrays on buildings for the city of Asbury. Company President Barry Shear said he was surprised by Alliant’s “amazing rollover.”

“This change in policy from Alliant is going to have significant impact on the feasibility of projects that fall into the general service rate category,” he said.


WBBM Radio: Democrats Join Business, Environmental Leaders In Push For President Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Congress members are joining business, religious and environmental leaders in pushing for President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” reports WBBM Political Editor Craig Dellimore.

Congressman Bobby Rush says President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will not only mean cleaner air but cleaner and greener jobs as well and low income areas need them.

But fellow Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley says passing the bill is no easy matter.

“Unfortunately, climate change remains a partisan issue in Congress,” Quigley said. “I work side-by-side with members who don’t believe in evolution, who believe that dinosaurs were figments of our imagination.”

Patrick Woodson with E.On Renewable Energy says climate change is real and so is the need for a companion Illinois clean jobs bill.

“That legislation could double the actual install capacity here in Illinois, creating both an environmental and an economic benefit for the state,” Woodson said.

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Argus Leader: Clean power plan to ripple through South Dakota

President Barack Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent over the next 15 years has energy cooperatives and South Dakota officials talking about higher energy costs and federal government overreach, but clean energy advocates see the plan as an immense opportunity.

Obama’s finalized Clean Power Plan, unveiled Monday after a yearlong comment period, would force states to cut emissions through a combination of clean energy and energy efficiency, allowing states to define how to hit the mark.

Some energy companies operating in the state are pleased with alterations to the way carbon is calculated, which gives South Dakota more flexibility.

The initial plan based South Dakota’s targets on one coal-fired and one natural gas plant, but Otter Tail Power representative Cris Oehler says the methodology was reworked to reflect the state’s other power sources.

“It also adjusts carbon dioxide baselines upwards for states with abundant hydropower, and South Dakota is one of these states,” Oehler said.

The state should be able to meet its goals by 2030, Oehler said, but there could be pain in the interim. It’s too early to say what the future of the Big Stone coal plant will be under the plan, she said.

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Press Release: Environmental Law & Policy Center Commends President Obama, U.S. EPA on Final Clean Power Plan

For Immediate Release

August 3, 2015

Environmental Law & Policy Center Commends
President Obama, U.S. EPA on Final Clean Power Plan;
Will Partner With Regional Leaders for Smart Implementation

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

“The Clean Power Plan is our nation’s strongest step forward to reduce carbon pollution by accelerating clean solar energy and wind power solutions. Solving our climate change problems is the moral, economic, policy and political challenge of our generation. The Plan’s clean energy development solutions will create Midwest jobs, improve global public health and protect our Great Lakes ecosystem.”

“The Clean Power Plan gives states flexibility for implementation strategies that maximize the benefits of both cutting carbon pollution and growing the clean energy economy. The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s experts on the ground will work with the Midwest’s local stakeholders on plans that will deploy clean technologies to hold down utility bills, create jobs and improve environmental quality.”

“For Midwest manufacturing centers, today’s news is a signal to advance the clean renewable energy and energy efficiency supply chain businesses producing modern equipment. For the Midwest’s rural areas, today’s news is a signal that wind power development will keep growing and provide a new income stream for farmers, spur rural economic development and improve the environment for everyone. For cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Des Moines, Detroit, Indianapolis and Minneapolis, today’s news means a new era of solar panels on rooftops and more energy efficiency buildings that can better energize our urban communities.

“It’s time for the Midwest’s Congressional Delegation and Governors to step up and seize this opportunity to modernize our aging energy system and gain the benefits of growing the new clean energy economy. Let’s end the political squabbling and move forward with smart climate change solutions that are good for many Midwestern businesses and good for our environment.”


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