Energy Efficiency

Midwest Energy News: ELPC Standing Up for Consumers, Energy Efficiency Efforts in NIPSCO Rate Hike Case

An Indiana utility is requesting a fixed rate charge increase of more than 80 percent, even as nationwide utility commissions have denied or curbed many such requests and utilities in other states have backed off the strategy.

The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO argues, as other utilities around the country have, that it needs the rate structure revision to make sure that all customers pay their fair share for upkeep of the grid.

Increased fixed charges are widely seen as an attack on distributed solar, since a set charge regardless of how much energy one uses discourages generating one’s own electricity. The increases also discourage energy conservation and efficiency.

In a case filed October 1 (docket number 4468), NIPSCO asked for fixed monthly charges to be increased from $11 to $20 per month for residential customers. Previously the utility Indianapolis Power & Light Company also asked for a fixed charge increase, from $11 to $17 monthly. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is currently considering both cases.

The commission is often viewed as accommodating to utilities, so clean energy advocates fear the fixed charge increases may be approved. A bill introduced, then later pulled, in the Indiana legislature last year would have forced the commission to approve any fixed charge increase requests.

“This conversation is getting underway in Indiana and the NIPSCO case is on top of the list because of the language they used and their stated intent that, ‘This is just the beginning folks, we’ll be back for more every few years,’” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizen Actions Coalition. “It’s something we’d like to nip in the bud.”

Indiana currently has only a very small amount of distributed solar installed.

In discovery for the rate case, the coalition and the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) found that NIPSCO has only 80 residential and small commercial customers with distributed solar, out of a total of 410,000 residential customers and about 51,000 small commercial customers. Statewide, there are only about 1,000 utility customers with solar.

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Columbus Dispatch: AEP profit-guarantee case, who’s in and who’s out

American Electric Power has 10 allies in its proposal for a profit-guarantee for certain coal-fired power plants, while 11 parties have said they will fight the plan, and a key player has chosen not to participate.

This sets up a battle that looks like a family feud. Each side includes energy companies, consumer advocates and environmental groups.

They will square off next month in a hearing, and in filings with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

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Howard Learner appears on WGN Radio’s “The Download” to talk about the Paris Climate Conference and More

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner talks with WGN Radio host Justin Kaufmann about the Global Climate Treaty established in Paris, what climate change will mean for the Midwest, and how energy efficiency is a “two-fer” for environmental protection and economic development.

Listen to the broadcast on WGN’s website. Howard’s segment begins at minute 36. 

Learner Op-Ed in State Journal-Register: Clean Power Plan makes good economic sense for Illinois

Illinois is an economic winner under the new Clean Power Plan because of our state’s robust clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources and nuclear plants. The Clean Power Plans sets flexible standards for Illinois and other states to reduce carbon pollution.

Building new wind farms in central Illinois creates jobs, boosts property tax revenues for schools and local governments, and provides new income for farmers who can continue to grow corn and soybeans while gaining wind turbine lease payments. Wind power produces clean energy that grows Illinois’ economy while reducing pollution for everyone.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution while saving homeowners money on their utility bills and businesses money that improves their bottom lines.

Illinois is now fifth in the nation for wind power capacity. Illinois is home to the nation’s largest nuclear plant fleet. Solar energy is primed to accelerate. Illinois homes and business and governmental and university buildings have untapped opportunities for highly efficient LED lighting, improved heating and cooling systems, better pumps and motors, and other modern energy efficiency technologies that save money and reduce pollution.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Illinois Clean Energy Supply Chain report identified 237 Illinois companies engaged in the solar industry supply chain, and 170 Illinois wind industry supply chain companies. These businesses employ 20,000 people across Illinois. The Clean Power Plan and renewable energy development solutions are good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for our environment.

So, what’s the problem?

Missourian Terry Jarrett’s Dec. 7 guest column attacked the Clean Power Plan that is designed to reduce carbon pollution, help grow the clean energy economy and accelerate practical climate solutions. Jarrett’s economic arguments were based on a report by “Energy Ventures Analysis” that, apparently, was commissioned by the National Mining Association, including Peabody Energy, which is headquartered in Missouri. What does one expect when the cost estimates are being generated at the behest of large coal mining companies?

Let’s set the record straight. Some coal plants in Illinois are retiring because of changing realities in the competitive electricity market: (1) low natural gas prices, (2) economical wind power, (3) affordable energy efficiency holding down electricity demand, and (4) nuclear plants for which Exelon is asking for public subsidies to keep running.

Natural gas prices are low — today, $2.02 MMBtu — and many coal plants are just not competitive on a fuel basis. That’s why Dynegy and NRG are retiring some of their coal plants that are uneconomic in the competitive power market. They are converting some other coal plants to natural gas. These corporate business decisions reflect today’s competitive market prices and reasonable near-term projections; the Clean Power Plan requirements, however, won’t take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

Electricity sales are down about 1 percent annually in Illinois due to energy efficiency. There’s a surplus of electric generating supply over demand here. That results in relatively low wholesale electricity market prices. That’s good for Illinois businesses and residents. That’s not so good for power plant owners.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s recent study determined that reaching renewable energy and energy efficiency targets already in state statutes would trigger creation of 9,600 new jobs by 2019. The study also found that investments in wind power and solar energy have “led to a dramatic increase in manufacturing jobs at renewable component manufacturers across Illinois from Peoria to Cicero, Clinton, Rockford, and Chicago.”

Illinois should benefit from cleaner air, clean jobs and economic growth that the Clean Power Plan will accelerate. Let’s be smart, move forward and seize these strategic opportunities for progress.

— Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an environmental quality and economic development advocacy organization headquartered in Chicago.

Reboot Illinois Features Essay on Game Changing Clean Energy Technologies by ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner

The Clean Power Plan will spur innovations and, over time, price carbon pollution. The high-decibel battles being waged in the courts and Congress miss the quiet revolution in renewable energy and efficiency technologies that is rapidly transforming the electricity market. Wind and solar energy combined with battery storage, advanced lighting, and other improvements are game changers. They are disruptive technologies that will change the electricity system just as wireless technologies reshaped the ways that we live and work. Better still, energy solutions developed in the United States can be marketed to emerging economies and the developing world to reduce carbon pollution.

Solar power is making great advances through policy drivers and technological innovations.

Energy efficiency improvements are saving people and businesses money on their utility bills, creating installation jobs, keeping money in local economies, and reducing pollution. Distributed generation and storage, continually improving efficiency technologies, smart energy management systems, demand response approaches, and microturbines lighten the load on the grid and enhance reliability and resilience. A more decentralized system is also less vulnerable to extreme weather events and terrorism.

Commercial photovoltaic panel efficiencies are improving about 1 percent annually, and inverter technologies improved from 80–85 percent efficiency to 98 percent efficiency. PV panel costs have dropped to 80 cents per watt. The pace of technological change for solar energy reflects experiences with computers, smartphones, and digital cameras. 2014 was the third consecutive year of more than 50 percent growth in the residential solar market.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, and cheapest solution to climate change problems. There is a quiet revolution of more efficient lighting, heating, and cooling technologies, more efficient refrigerators and other appliances, more efficient industrial pumps and motors, and better building design.

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Update: Sen. Kirk Votes Against Resolution to Disapprove the Clean Power Plan

You helped make a difference. Senator Kirk sadly agreed to sponsor a Congressional Review Act resolution to stop the EPA’s Clean Power Plan standards from taking effect. That would undermine important public health protections and new clean energy development.

ELPC asked our e-activists to call Senator Kirk’s office requesting that he reconsider his position. He did. We appreciate that Senator Kirk changed his position and yesterday voted against the resolutions (S.J. 23 & 24) to disapprove the Clean Power Plan.

President Obama has made clear that he’ll veto the resolutions, which passed the Senate by a 52-48 vote. It’s very unlikely that there will be the necessary 67 votes in the Senate to override the President’s veto. The Clean Power Plan will go forward.

Your citizen engagement helped make a difference in persuading Senator Kirk to change his mind and support the Clean Power Plan this time. We appreciate his votes yesterday. Thank you for your participation and support.

New Essay on Game Changing Clean Energy Technologies Transforming the Electricity Market

My latest essay about the quiet revolution in renewable energy and innovative efficiency technologies that is rapidly transforming the electricity market was just published in ELI’s Environmental Forum (Nov – Dec 2015):  “Evolving [Clean Energy] Technologies Are Game Changers.” You can read it here.

ELPC’s Rob Kelter Talks Smart Thermostat Rebates with WGN Radio

ELPC’s Rob Kelter, who first conceived of ComEd’s smart thermostat program, recently joined WGN’s Amy Guth on WGN Radio’s Wintrust Business Lunch program to talk about all of the advantages of the devices. Take a listen!

Learn how you can get your rebate!

Urgent Action Needed. Please call Senator Kirk’s Office on His Opposition to Climate Solutions

Today, Politico reported that Illinois Senator Mark Kirk says he will sponsor the extreme Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution being promoted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets standards for Illinois and other states to flexibly reduce carbon pollution.

Politico quotes Senator Kirk as saying:  “With this rule applied, I don’t think we can keep a lot of people in Illinois happily employed.”

Illinois is an economic winner under the Clean Power Plan because of our state’s clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources, and nuclear plants.

Please call Senator Kirk’s office at (202) 224-2854 or (312) 886-3506 and ask him to oppose the CRA resolution that would stop the Clean Power Plan.

The CRA resolution is a highly controversial mechanism that has been only applied once in history and should not be used to attempt blocking the Clean Power Plan.

Senator Kirk previously expressed concerns about climate change problems and voted in favor of federal legislation to reduce carbon pollution. If the Politico story and quote are true, ELPC is very disappointed with Sen. Kirk’s flip-flop and his decision to sponsor the CRA resolution. We called his office today to express our concern and disappointment.

Please call Senator Kirk’s office at 202-224-2854 and (312) 886-3506 and ask him to oppose the CRA resolution that would stop the Clean Power Plan.

Tell Senator Kirk that you care about the environment and want Illinois to benefit from the jobs, economic development and cleaner air that the Clean Power Plan can deliver.

Thank you for helping.

Wall Street Journal: As Conservation Cuts Electricity Use, Utilities Turn to Fees

Electric utilities across the country are trying to change the way they charge customers, shifting more of their fixed costs to monthly fees, raising the hackles of consumer watchdogs and conservation advocates.

Traditionally, charges for generating, transporting and maintaining the grid have been wrapped together into a monthly cost based on the amount of electricity consumers use each month. Some utilities also charge a basic service fee of $5 or so a month to cover the costs of reading meters and sending out bills.

Now, many utility companies are seeking to increase their monthly fees by double-digit percentages, raising them to $25 or more a month regardless of the amount of power consumers use. The utilities argue that the fees should cover a bigger proportion of the fixed costs of the electric grid, including maintenance and repairs.

“The [electricity] grid is becoming a more complex machine, and there needs to be an equitable sharing of its costs,” said Lisa Wood, a vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, the nonprofit arm of the utility industry’s trade group. A typical American household pays $110 a month for electricity, she said; more than half goes to cover fixed costs.

Utilities in at least 24 states have requested higher fees, according to the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, which opposes some of these increases. If regulators allow the fee increases, “the result is that low-use customers pay more than in the past, and high-use customers pay less,” said Bradley Klein, a senior attorney for the group.

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