Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Says Closing Chicago Vehicle Emission Testing Sites is a Bad Idea

October 19, 2016
Chicago Will Have No Vehicle Emissions Test Facilities After State Closures
By Robert Duffer

Four vehicle emissions testing facilities, including the last two in the city of Chicago, are being shut down by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 1 to reduce costs and streamline operations.

Closures of the testing stations at 1850 W. Webster Ave. and 6959 W. Forest Preserve Drive leave Chicago motorists without a city testing facility. The nearest locations will be in Skokie, Addison and Bedford Park. The other two locations being closed are in Tinley Park and Elk Grove.

“For the state to decide there will be no inspection in the city of Chicago, in the largest city in the state, third largest city in the country, and expect the same level of quality, it makes no common sense,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based environmental advocacy group.

Many Chicagoans, including city officials, were surprised by the closings.

“It’s news to me,” said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“This short-sighted move would place a significant burden on Chicago motor vehicle owners and force them to drive outside the city limits for required environmental tests, exacerbating the problem emissions testing is designed to protect against,” he added.

Read More 


Midwest Energy News: New Solar Rules in Illinois

October 19, 2016
In Illinois, New Rules Expected to Make Solar Faster and Cheaper
By Kari Lydersen

Illinois lawmakers have adopted new interconnection standards that will make the solar siting and installation process significantly quicker and cheaper, clean energy advocates and utilities say.

The Illinois state standards, adopted Oct. 11, are based on a rule establishing best practices that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) adopted in late 2013. The standards are being held up as a model for other states, including Iowa and Minnesota, which are currently going through interconnection rule-making processes.

Interconnection is the process of making sure that a new solar installation won’t cause problems on the grid, including studying the infrastructure and typical supply and demand on that section of the grid and installing any equipment needed to moderate energy flow. In some states where large amounts of solar power were added to the grid quickly, including Hawaii, California and Massachusetts, backlogs in the interconnection process caused headaches for utilities, developers and customers hoping to install solar.

The concentration of solar energy is still relatively low in Illinois, and solar advocates say it is important that Illinois has adopted forward-thinking interconnection standards so that it will be ready as — solar advocates hope — increasing amounts of solar are proposed.

“Illinois is the first through the gate” with the new standards in the Midwest, said Brad Klein, an attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which took the lead on the Illinois standards along with the Citizens Utility Board.

“But there’s a real trend to adopt these best practices, and we in the Midwest are doing a good job of being prepared. We’re looking to states that have actually experienced high volumes of solar, they’ve had to be ahead of us because of the state of the market. We’re doing a good job in taking those lessons and applying them here so we’re prepared and ready.”

Read More Here:


Energy Wire: ELPC’s Brad Klein Talks Updating Interconnection Standards for Solar


October 17, 2016
Midwest States Urged to Update Grid Access Rules Ahead of Growth
By Jeffrey Tomich

When Xcel Energy Inc. began accepting applications for community solar projects in December 2014, the utility and virtually everyone else who worked with regulators to develop rules for the program were stunned by the magnitude of the response.

Within weeks, Minneapolis-based Xcel received requests totaling hundreds of megawatts of shared solar capacity. To date, more than 1,000 applications pending represent more than 1 gigawatt of capacity.

The backlog that accompanied the community solar boom in Xcel’s service area — the product of a 2013 law — not only led to frustration and anger among developers, it served as a cautionary tale for regulators, utilities and solar developers in other states.

While other Midwest states might not see such sudden and dramatic growth, solar advocates believe it’s a matter of when, not if, those markets take off. And when that happens, they want states to have the tools to smoothly handle the increase in projects wanting grid access and not repeat the Minnesota experience.

“That’s exactly the type of situation we’re trying to avoid,” said Brad Klein, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Midwest clean energy advocacy group.

Read the whole story at




Wort 89.9 FM: The Driftless Area’s proposed ATC line’s affect on Wisconsin Residents

Wort 89.9 FMOctober 10, 2016
By A Public Affair

How will the American Transmission Company’s proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line affect Wisconsin residents? What are the benefits of the new power line? Will rates go up for Wisconsin citizens? This power line is meant to follow a route from northeastern Iowa, on or near the Hickory Creek, and across the Mississippi River, through southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area to the Cardinal substation in Middleton.

Listen to the A Public Affair episode here.

ELPC Examines Impacts of Proposed ATC Power Line


September 29, 2016

Scientific Scrutiny
By Denise Thornton and Doug Hansmann

Environmental Group Examines Impacts of Proposed ATC Power Line

A Chicago environmental legal advocacy group is scrutinizing the Driftless Area west of Madison and the damage that could be done there with construction of a high-voltage American Transmission Company power line.
The ATC project would carry electricity from Dubuque County, Iowa, to Middleton along 500 steel towers, each one 10 to 15 stories tall.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center has led a number of successful advocacy campaigns designed to protect natural resources throughout the Midwest. In 2003, the group led the effort to get a court order that halted accelerated logging in Wisconsin’s Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, safeguarding 22,000 acres of forestland.
One of the tactics that makes the center successful is its Science Advisory Council. Susan Mudd, the group’s senior policy advocate, says, “Each scientist contributes pro bono advice and connects us with other experts and research that relates to our work.”

One of these experts is Don Waller, a UW-Madison professor of botany and environmental studies. “This Driftless Area Project and the transmission corridor is a new approach,” Waller says. “Instead of just focusing on one issue, we are looking at the range of threats now and in the future for a particular region and how those threats can be addressed in an effective and collaborative way.”



ELPC’s Josh Mandelbaum Named to Midwest Energy News 40 Under 40

September 28, 2016

David Jakubiak

Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Josh Mandelbaum Named to Midwest Energy News’ 2016 40 Under 40 Class
Des Moines-based Attorney Leads Iowa Clean Energy Work On Wind Power, Solar Energy and Energy Efficiency

DES MOINES, IOWA – Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney with the Midwest regional environmental advocacy group the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) was named to Midwest Energy News’ 2016 40 Under 40 Class on Wednesday. Mandelbaum was among 15 emerging leaders from the clean energy sector selected for the recognition on the first of three days of announcements. The 2016 class will be honored at a reception in Chicago on November 10.

“I’m honored to be recognized for work advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency in Iowa,” Mandelbaum said. “The 2016 class is loaded with inspiring colleagues who are bringing cleaner air and water, economic development and a 21st Century electric grid to the Midwest.”

As ELPC’s lead attorney in Iowa, Mandelbaum has played a key role advancing energy efficiency policies in Iowa which allow utility customers to save money on cost saving energy efficiency improvements. His work on solar energy has helped bring solar power to homes and businesses across the state and he recently worked on an agreement which allowed the nation’s largest wind energy project to move forward, promising billions in private investments, jobs and clean energy to the state.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization, and among the nation’s leaders. 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 dealmaking with diverse interests to put into practice our belief that environmental progress and economic development can be achieved together. ELPC’s multidisciplinary staff of talented and experienced public interest attorneys, environmental business specialists, public policy advocates and communications specialists brings a strong and effective combination of skills to solve environmental problems.

A 2009 graduate of the University of Iowa Law School, Mandelbaum worked as a litigation associate with the Lane & Waterman law firm in Davenport before joining ELPC. Before law school, he worked for four years as a Senior Policy Advisor for Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, and held a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Secretary’s Policy Office.

Learn more about ELPCs work in Iowa.

Crain’s Detroit Business: Howard Talks About Net Metering in Michigan

Crains Detroit

September 25, 2016

Critics: Proposed Charge Could Pull Plug on Clean Energy Growth

By Jay Greene

A proposed new grid charge leveled at small solar and wind projects in legislation on the Michigan Senate floor could derail growth in the state’s net metering program that incentivizes clean energy produced by homeowners and small businesses.

Despite some changes in Michigan Senate Bills 437 and 438 — primarily sections that govern net metering program rules — businesses in the state’s small solar and wind industry say the proposed bill package could reverse more than eight years of growth in net metering by discouraging investment in small projects.

Under SB 437, the Michigan Public Service Commission would be empowered to set a “fair and equitable grid charge to apply to customers who participated in a net metering or distributed generation program.”

The proposed bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, would likely require the MPSC to hold a contested hearing before an administrative judge who would hear testimony from all sides about a grid charge. The judge would then make a recommendation to the MPSC, which the commission could accept, reject or modify in an order, said MPSC spokeswoman Judy Palnau.

Last week, Nofs distributed draft four of SB 437 S-6 to the Republican caucus. Spokesman Greg Moore told Crain’s that while Nofs wanted to hold a vote on SBs 437 and 438, which is sponsored by Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, a vote on the energy package likely will be held sometime in October.

Mark Hagerty, president of Michigan Solar Solutions in Commerce Township, said his business could be adversely affected if the grid charge was too high and discouraged customers from investing $10,000 to $20,000 in a rooftop solar project.

“If the grid access fee is comparable to what other states have done (about $5 per month), there would be a slight impact,” Hagerty said. “The bill doesn’t put a cap on the fee. If it is high, it could have a substantial impact on net metering and solar.”

While Hagerty said his business is up 40 percent over last year with about 55 projects, several customers have already backed away from rooftop solar installations because of talk of changing the law. He said the vast majority of system installations are solar projects approved for net metering.

“My biggest concern is if I hire somebody, and the state changes its policy, I have to lay them off and deal with unemployment and legacy costs,” said Hagerty, who employs seven and is opening another office in Riverdale. “I hope this bill dies on the vine,” he added.

Officials for Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Energy Co., the state’s two investor-owned utilities, have told Crain’s they favor the grid charge and that the current net metering law creates unfair subsidies that must be paid for by customers who don’t own solar systems.

The utilities, which call net metering a “subsidy,” believe solar and wind customers should pay their fair share to support transmission lines, substations, transformers, meters and other infrastructure costs.

 Slow but Steady Growth

A small but growing number of people and small businesses in Michigan over the past decade have invested thousands of dollars in small solar panel arrays under 20 kilowatts to save money, improve electric grid reliability and cut down on greenhouse gases that contribute to man-made climate change, experts say.

Under Michigan’s 2008 landmark energy bill, Public Act 295, the state mandated a net metering program that gives credits to electric customers whose solar or wind power generating systems produce electric energy in excess of their needs. That electricity contributes to power grid reliability and, in effect, can provide local electricity to neighbors.

Last year, there was a 20 percent increase in net metering in Michigan, said the MPSC’s 2015 net metering and solar program report issued Sept. 12. The MPSC report said net metering increased to 2,155 customers in 2015 from 1,840 customers in 2014.

One reason for the growth is that solar panel costs have dropped 50 percent since 2010. Another reason is the net metering program gives customers credits based on retail rates.

But a grid charge fee, if set too high, could reverse those positive growth trends, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.


Dodgeville Chronicle Interviews Howard on Driftless Area Work

Dodgeville Chronicle

September 22, 2016

Chicago Environmental Law Group Tours Potential Power Line Routes in Iowa County

By Denise Thornton and Doug Hansmann

On Monday a busload of two dozen Chicagoans toured some of the most scenic spots in Iowa County, but these were no ordinary tourists. They were board members and staff of the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), a major Midwest public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization.

Their route took them along the two proposed corridors for the American Transmission Company (ATC) high voltage power line.

ELPC’s staff of attorneys, policy advocates, finance advisors, communications experts and organizers take on issues concerning climate change, clean energy, clean air, clean water, transportation and special places of environmental interest. It is the last category that brought them to southwest Wisconsin.

Working with the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC), a 15-year old Dodgeville-based land trust that has helped protect 6,000 acres of natural land from development, ELPC opposes the installation of the proposed high-voltage line that would carry electricity between Dubuque County, Iowa and Middleton, Wisconsin, adding about 500 steel towers to the landscape of southwest Wisconsin, each one standing 10 to 15 stories tall. The proposed line is slated to pass through some of Iowa County’s most fragile environments and places of great natural beauty.

The tour began at Brigham County Park looking out over the countryside beyond.

“The Driftless Area is an area where continental glaciers over the past two million years never touched the landscape,” explained David Clutter, executive director of DALC to the tour group.

ATC has proposed two possible routes for the transmission lines, which were marked in blue on the maps handed to the ELPC staff, board members and guests.

“This whole landscape is a very special place, but the transmission lines would come right through,” said Clutter, “either on the north side of Brigham Park or the south side.”

Mark Mittelstadt, a forester and DALC board member added, “We have heard a height of 150 feet for the power lines. The trees are about 75 feet tall, so the transmission towers would be standing well above the top of the woodlands.”

Howard Learner, executive director of ELPC, noted that The Nature Conservancy, a leading global conservation organization, has named the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area (95,000 acres of grassland landscape in Dane and Iowa counties) a priority area to protect because it provides habitat for declining species. With more than 60 prairie remnants, it is one of the highest concentrations of native grasslands left in the Midwest.



PV Magazine: ELPC’s Klein Talks About Community Solar in Minnesota

PV Magazine

September 21. 2016

Community Solar Is (Finally) Moving Forward in Minnesota
By Christian Roselund

Mortenson Construction’s groundbreaking on the first in 11 MW of projects is part of a boom in community solar construction in the state, despite big delays in Xcel Energy’s interconnection process.

After Minnesota passed enabling legislation in 2013, the solar industry has had high hopes for community solar in the state. However, to say that progress has been slow may be an understatement.

A website tracking community solar lists only seven with less than 600 kW of combined capacity in Minnesota. In the service area of the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, only four projects have been put online for a total of around 400 kW, as of the utility’s latest regulatory filing.

This is set to change in the next few months. Yesterday Mortenson Construction, one of the nation’s largest renewable energy engineering, procurement and construction contractors, announced that it has broken ground on the first of eight community solar projects totaling 11 MW. Mortenson expects these projects to come online by early 2017, and to begin work on more projects next year.

Mortenson is building these projects in partnership with SunShare, which administers the projects and signs up subscribers, as well as WakeSun LLC, which is developing and financing the projects. The total portfolio to be built by this consortium over the next year and a half will serve around 6,000 customers.

The initial 11 MW which Mortenson is building joins another 83 MW of community solar which is currently under construction in Xcel Energy’s service area. And while these projects will represent a dramatic growth not only for community solar but Minnesota’s overall solar market, they are still only a small fraction of the projects which developers have planned for the state.

Xcel’s latest filing shows applications for 876 community solar projects in different stages of interconnection review, totaling 820 MW. Another 1,226 projects representing nearly 1.2 GW of capacity have been withdrawn.

Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) Senior Attorney Bradley Klein says that much of the delay in putting community solar online is due to Xcel’s interconnection process, which he describes as “extremely slow”, noting that the process for approval “hasn’t been transparent”.

“I think that there were legitimate challenges, related to the amount of interest and applications that went in at one time,” Klein told pv magazine. “I don’t think Xcel was equipped to handle them, in part because the rules in place were outdated.”


ELPC’s Learner & Shah make 2016 “Who’s Who” List

Crain’s Chicago Business publishes an annual “Who’s Who in Chicago” list of movers and shakers. The 2016 list features ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner as one of the 561 people whose names you need to know, from Fortune 500 CEOs to civic leaders and philanthropists. Click here to see the full list.

Crain’s also published a list of the 100 most-connected people in business, with ELPC Board member Smita Shah as #19. Smita heads up Spaan Tech Inc., an engineering, construction and architecture firm.


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