Energy Efficiency

AP: Nation’s Biggest Nuclear Firm Makes a Play for Green Money

The biggest player in the beleaguered nuclear power industry wants a place alongside solar, wind and hydroelectric power collecting extra money for producing carbon-free electricity.

Exelon Corp., operator of the largest fleet of U.S. nuclear plants, says it could have to close three of them if Illinois rejects the company’s pitch to let it recoup more from consumers since the plants do not produce greenhouse gases.

Chicago-based Exelon essentially wants to change the rules of the state’s power market as the nuclear industry competes with historically low prices for natural gas. Dominion Resources Inc. recently closed the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin for financial reasons, and Entergy Corp. likewise shuttered its Vermont Yankee plant.

Plans for a new wave of U.S. nuclear plants have been delayed or cancelled, aside from three projects deep into construction at Plant Vogtle south of Augusta, Georgia; V.C. Summer Nuclear Station north of Columbia, South Carolina; and Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in eastern Tennessee. Electric utilities in those states do not face competition.

Nuclear plants provide about 97 percent of the electricity supply in Exelon’s Midwest market, according to company filings.

“We’re not looking for a bailout from market conditions,” said Joseph Dominguez, executive vice president for governmental and regulatory affairs at Exelon. “We are looking for policy support that every other technology receives in Illinois that produces zero-carbon electricity with the exception of nuclear.”

Though it wants financial assistance, Exelon will not release detailed information about the cost of running the three Illinois plants in Quad Cities, Byron and Clinton that company officials say are most at-risk. An analysis by state agencies estimated the cost of producing power at those plants may exceed the payments they get, though they could not be certain.

Exelon and other around-the-clock plants sometimes take losses when wind turbines produce too much electricity for the system.

Exelon remained profitable overall, making $1.6 billion last year.

“If the question is, ‘Are they under economic threat?’ I don’t think there’s any question they are,” said Paul Patterson, a utility analyst for Glenrock Associates LLC, who referred to nuclear plant closures elsewhere as evidence. “Will they shut down? I think it depends at what plant you’re looking at.”

The Illinois proposal would reward nuclear plants. Under the system, electric suppliers would have to buy credits from carbon-free energy producers. Exelon says the plan would benefit nuclear plants, hydroelectric dams, and other solar and wind projects.

Critics are concerned the rules are so narrowly drawn that the primary winner would be Exelon’s own nuclear fleet. For example, there are limits on the size of participating hydroelectric dams. Clean energy sources built in regulated markets don’t count. Neither do any renewable energy sources that have long-term contracts to sell their power to other buyers.

Crain’s Chicago Business: ComEd adds heat to already-boiling Illinois energy politics

As energy politics heat up in Illinois, Commonwealth Edison is throwing some more logs on the fire.

The utility is backing legislation being introduced today in Springfield that effectively is a response to the clean-jobs bill backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a coalition of environmental, consumer and labor groups, along with renewable power developers and energy-efficiency firms.

ComEd’s 11th-hour bill, coming as the spring session is well underway, also could be intended to build more support for a bill pushed by ComEd parent Exelon to raise electricity rates throughout much of the state in order to increase revenue at Exelon’s six Illinois nuclear plants.

Environmentalists and others have positioned the clean-jobs bill, which would boost state goals for renewable energy and more efficient use of electricity and create what its proponents say would be tens of thousands of new jobs, as an alternative to Exelon’s bill. Somewhat surprisingly, given that Exelon is one of Illinois’ most politically potent corporations, the clean-jobs coalition has won more support thus far in terms of co-sponsors than Exelon. Exelon’s bill would funnel most of the $300 million in additional ratepayer payments to Exelon’s plants, preserving the jobs that already exist there.

Exelon has threatened to shutter as many as three of its six Illinois power stations if it can’t get state financial help.

ComEd’s bill, to be introduced by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, and Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, is designed to foster growth in clean energy like solar power for households and micro-grids providing greater reliability and resiliency to sensitive facilities like the Federal Aviation Administration’s air-traffic control center in Aurora.

ComEd also proposes a $100 million program to build 5,000 Chicago-area charging stations to increase demand for electric vehicles.

BOTTOM-LINE BOOST

The bill would increase ComEd’s bottom line in the future as decreased customer demand for power hits its revenue by permitting the utility to profit on its state-authorized energy efficiency program. Currently, ComEd only charges ratepayers to reimburse it for its costs in running the program.

But the trade-off, ComEd says, is that it would achieve the 2 percent reduction in power usage called for in an earlier state law by more efficiently controlling voltage on ComEd’s power lines, so that less excess electricity is lost before reaching customers’ homes and businesses.

In addition, the bill would overhaul how ComEd’s power-delivery rates are set. Currently, customers pay delivery rates mainly based on how much power they consume in a month. Beginning in 2018, they would pay based on how much electricity they consume during the highest-demand days of the year. Some customers would benefit and some would pay more under the new system. ComEd hasn’t yet determined how it would affect individual types of households.

But it would help ComEd by making its cash flow more predictable, executives said.

It also might help customers take better advantage of the smart meters ComEd is installing in their homes. Those meters, which give the utility remote access to customers’ actual usage on a real-time basis, have the potential to foster new efficiency programs in ways where households can see savings from changes in usage.

The bill, ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore told reporters, “is designed to deliver the next wave of value from that (smart grid) system.”

And all of this comes at no additional cost on a net basis to customers over the 10 years the new program would be in place, ComEd said. The utility says it would see a negligible $20 million in additional revenue over that 10-year period if the bill becomes law.

CRITICS WEIGH IN

One environmental group immediately blasted ComEd’s proposal as a pale imitation of the clean-jobs bill.

“Unfortunately, Exelon’s and ComEd’s legislative proposals would raise utility bills for most consumers, create barriers to competition and constrain energy efficiency and diverse solar energy development for the future,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, in a statement. “ComEd’s legislative proposal forecloses flexibility that Illinois needs to transition to a cleaner energy future and locks out competitors.”

Other members of the clean-jobs coalition were more open to some of ComEd’s ideas.

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Utility Drive Op-Ed: A view from Wisconsin on fixed charges and utility-solar troubles

The following is an opinion piece written by Tyler Huebner and Brad Klein. Huebner is the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a renewable advocacy organization in the state. Klein is a senior attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an environmental advocacy organization in the Midwest.

Last fall, we participated first-hand in three Wisconsin utility proposals relating to fixed charges and distributed generation.

More recently, we have followed the recent op-eds in Utility Dive from Dr. H. Edwin Overcast and Dr. Ashley C. Brown on fixed charges and net metering. One thing stood out to us in their editorials: Lots of words, but almost no actual data!

To remedy this — as our organizations did in last year’s rate cases for these Wisconsin utilities — we will provide some numbers.

Digging into the data

In Wisconsin, all three utilities argued that customers with solar panels are not paying their fair share of the utilities’ fixed costs, and therefore every single customer should see their monthly connection fee go up from $9-$10 per month to $16-$25 per month.

Raising the monthly connection fee hurts low-using energy customers, who, asthe National Consumer Law Center found, are often low-income, minorities, fixed-income, apartment dwellers, and senior citizens.

Let’s put Wisconsin’s level of solar adoption in perspective compared with the dramatic fixed charge increases requested.

Wisconsin Public Service

Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), based in Green Bay, serves approximately 445,000 electric customers. Of these, only 340 have installed distributed generation in the past 10 years — 0.08% of their customer base.

Further, even WPS conceded that the majority of those customers — 65%, or 221 homeowners — were fully paying their fixed costs under the utility’s way of counting. That is because, although they have solar, these 221 customers’ photovoltaic systems don’t provide all their electricity usage.

The total unrecovered revenue requirement — what the utility thinks it should earn but doesn’t because solar customers invest in solar on their roofs — amounts to only $21,000 for the entire year. That is approximately 0.002% of the company’s total 2013 monopoly revenue.

This is how WPS solves its “problem” — it seeks to shift $6.5 million from variable rates into unavoidable monthly fees for each customer, in order to offset a theoretical shortfall of only $21,000 caused by 119 customers who installed solar equipment largely at their own expense.

We Energies

Next up: We Energies, based in Milwaukee, which serves approximately 1.1 million electric customers. It requested an increase in monthly connection fees from $9.13 to $16, which will shift more than $7 million a year from usage-based rates to guaranteed fixed monthly fees. We Energies also proposed to apply additional charges on residential and small business customers with their own distributed generation systems, which would amount to about $20 per month for a 5 kW solar PV system — $3.80 per kW per month, to be specific.

About 450 We Energies customers have distributed generation and use net metering, or just 0.04% of their customers. The increased fixed charges and solar charges on those 450 customers will amount to about $117,000, or about 0.004% of the utility’s revenues.

Madison Gas & Electric

Finally, Madison Gas & Electric used similar arguments to request monthly fixed fees rise from about $10 to $19 (after backing off plans to raise them significantly higher in future years). Just 0.14% of their customers use net metering.

‘Swatting a fly with a nuclear weapon’

Collectively, only 6 out of every 10,000 customers for these utilities have distributed generation. “Swatting a fly with a nuclear weapon” is the type of analogy that should be used when considering these Wisconsin proposals, and the result is a “cure” that’s much worse than the disease.

Especially when the disease hasn’t even been proven to exist. The only analysis in the record concerning Wisconsin-based costs and benefits of distributed generation was gathered through a data request: a 2009 study commissioned by We Energies and conducted by Clean Power Research, which concluded that solar PV is worth about 15 cents per kWh at a levelized value for 30 years (see page ES-3). Since We Energies’ electric rates were about 13.9 cents per kWh in 2014, it turns out that solar customers may very well be subsidizing all other We Energies ratepayers.

Unfortunately, none of the utilities offered any new analysis of the benefits of distributed generation in these proceedings. Nearly every intervening organization suggested that the Wisconsin Commission conduct real studies looking at the costs and benefits of net metering and distributed generation as has been done in Vermont (see section 3.3.3), Nevada, Mississippi, Minnesota, and other states. The Utah Commission told Rocky Mountain Power to beef up their analysis, too (see page 66). But in Wisconsin, that suggestion was denied.

Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission has been approving the utilities’ distributed generation restrictions for years despite the repeated lack of evidence. RENEW Wisconsin, the local renewable energy advocacy organization, has been forced to take these unsupported decisions to court. Luckily, it has prevailed on three of the four counts brought the past two years, with the judge remanding decisions back to the Commission for further fact-finding. Along with The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), RENEW hasappealed the 2014 We Energies solar charge decision as well.

Does net metering really hurt the poor?

In an op-ed in Utility Dive, Dr. Brown states that one of his primary concerns with net metering is that it may hurt the poor.

In his testimony here in Wisconsin, he provided absolutely no state-specific data to support his theory that solar owners, who make up just 4 of every 10,000 We Energies customers, are causing undue hardship on the poor. Further, he offered no alternative to the higher fixed customer charges which unquestionably do hurt many of We Energies’ low-income ratepayers.

The result of the Wisconsin rate cases is that a typical apartment-dwelling customer served by these utilities will pay $60-$75 more each year for electricity. Even granting the utilities’ extreme position that excess solar is worth nothing more than the cheapest electron you can buy on the market — contradicted by We Energies’ own 2009 study mentioned above — those same customers paid no more than a dime a year extra due to current solar customers.

As the recent Washington Post article exposed, this solar battle is not really about customer fairness, it is about protecting utilities from competition, plain and simple. (Note that Dr. Brown’s Harvard Electricity Policy Group issupported heavily by the electric utility industry.)

Solar customers and the future of the utility industry

There is no doubt that the electricity industry is entering a new phase in Wisconsin and other states due to declining sales and the ever-increasing affordability of solar panels for customers. Thus far however, the small number of solar customers here in Wisconsin does not require wholesale changes to how we set rates. We have plenty of time to get these policies right and many, if not almost all, other states are in the same boat.

Our advice from the trenches in Wisconsin to utilities and Commissions in other states: Follow the lead of Vermont, Nevada, Mississippi, Minnesota, Maine, Utah, and other states on this issue — not Wisconsin’s 2014 decisions. Do the studies. Get the data. Hash out the details.

The best way to address this industry transition is with solid analysis of the utility’s actual situation, open discussion, and a long-run, forward-looking view. Not by ramming through “back to the past” electric rate policies against broad objections from citizens and that undisputedly harm low-use and fixed-income customers who can least afford the higher bills they now have to pay.

Statement: Latest Proposal Undercuts Competitive Markets, Leaves State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Broken

Illinois Clean Jobs Bill Remains Sole Option to Drive Wind Power and Solar Energy, Stimulate Needed Job Growth

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

“Illinois consumers are poised to gain the job creation, environmental quality and economic benefits of competing new clean energy technologies and suppliers.

“Unfortunately, Exelon’s and ComEd’s legislative proposals would raise utility bills for most consumers, create barriers to competition, and constrain energy efficiency and diverse solar energy development for the future. ComEd’s legislative proposal forecloses flexibility that Illinois needs to transition to a cleaner energy future and locks out competitors.”

“The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill brings Illinois into a more positive energy future.  Illinois policymakers should move forward promoting new innovative technologies, instead of Exelon’s and ComEd’s old monopoly approach that raises consumer’s electricity bills and imposes regulatory barriers that create more problems than positive solutions.”

Report: Iowa Renewable Energy Sector Has 100+ Supply Chain Businesses and Provides 4,000+ Jobs

New Environmental Law & Policy Center Report Released as National and State Leaders Gather for 2015 Iowa Ag Summit

Report PDF: www.elpc.org/IowaSupplyChain

Interactive & Embeddable Google Map: www.elpc.org/supplychains

 

DES MOINES – More than 100 Iowa businesses in the wind power and solar energy supply chain are providing more than 4,000 jobs to people across the state who are manufacturing, financing, designing, engineering, building, installing and maintaining renewable energy projects here and across the nation, as detailed in the  Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC)’s study released today. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) joins in the report’s release to underscore why politicians attending this weekend’s Ag Summit should support renewable energy policies that benefit farmers and rural communities.

“The upcoming Ag Summit participants should recognize how Iowa is a national leader in wind power development, which provides additional income for farmers and creates jobs and economic development in Iowa’s rural communities,” said ELPC Executive Director Howard A. Learner. “Iowa has a well-trained workforce that is building the renewable energy equipment used around the world. People say Iowa feeds the world; now Iowa is helping power the world, too.”

“The report shows that clean energy means Iowa jobs.  The politicians at the Iowa Ag Summit should join Sen. Grassley and Gov. Branstad in supporting the federal Production Tax Credit for wind electricity to benefit farmers,” said Daniel J. Weiss, Senior Vice President for Campaigns, League of Conservation Voters.  “The visiting suitors must reject conservative organizations’ efforts to kill the wind industry in Iowa and across the nation.”

ELPC’s report identified 75 wind power supply chain companies and 47 solar energy supply chain. The businesses were identified through ELPC’s analysis of data from several industry groups and then contacted individually to confirm their supply chain role.

For businesses involved in the installation and construction of wind power and solar energy projects, increased renewable energy development results in new business and increased economic activity in the communities where they operate.

“Heartland Energy Solutions and other Iowa businesses in the renewable energy industry are working hard to innovate and develop new technologies to bring down our energy costs,” said Charlie Sharp, President and CEO of the Mount Ayr-based wind turbine manufacturer. “Supportive policies not only help my business but also bring clean, affordable energy to the state. Iowa should continue leading the way.”

Policies that support renewable energy development also help Iowa farmers, who can gain revenues from wind turbines on their property and can reduce their utility bills by installing solar panels.

“I really believe that the more policies that can be developed to promote more growth in wind power and solar power is helping our landowners, helping our communities and making Iowa a national leader in something that’s really exciting ,” said Mark Kuhn, a Floyd County Supervisor and area farmer who has wind turbines on his property. “This is about developing our own natural resources – the wind and the sun.”

The ELPC report’s findings also offer insights into the types of businesses driving Iowa’s growing renewable energy sector. For example, the average size of a renewable energy supply chain business in Iowa is 37.7 employees.

Because Iowa is a relatively “small state,” the average Iowa supply chain business  is quite large.  The major wind equipment component manufacturers in Iowa employ large numbers of people,” said John Paul Jewell, Research Coordinator at the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

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Midwest Energy News: Ohio ruling doesn’t rule out ‘bailout’ plans in the future

While Ohio regulators last week rejected one utility’s plan to guarantee income for its power plants – characterized by critics as a “bailout” – the decision left the door open for similar proposals in the future.

Meanwhile, protective orders will continue to prevent public disclosure of all the facts and figures behind the plans proposed by utilities.

Last Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) rejected a proposal by American Electric Power (AEP) that would have guaranteed sales for AEP’s share of all electricity from two coal plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation. All ratepayers would have had to cover the costs of that plan, whether they chose AEP for their electricity generation company or not.

AEP claimed the plan would give ratepayers a hedge against long-term inflation. It described its plan as a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

Environmental and consumer advocates have said the plans would impose huge immediate costs on ratepayers with the likelihood of large long-term net losses as well.

In AEP’s case for the Ohio Valley plants, the company’s own estimates of the plan’s probableimpacts varied widely. Estimates ranged from a net benefit of $8.4 million to a net cost of roughly $52 million over the first three years of the plan.

Opposing advocates foresaw net losses for consumers in both the short and long terms.

After weighing the evidence, the PUCO found that the plan could “result in a net cost to customers with little offsetting benefit.” Because AEP failed to prove a net benefit to ratepayers from its plan, the commission did not approve the proposed Power Purchase Agreement.

“Today’s decision is great news,” said Rachael Belz, executive director at Ohio Citizen Action. The group had encouraged large numbers of people to voice an “outcry” against the utility plans. “One down, two to go!” she said, referring to similar proposals from FirstEnergy and Duke Energy.

“PUCO’s decision today recognizes that consumers should not be forced to subsidize aging, polluting coal plants,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “That’s a win for Ohioans.”

“Ohioans can breathe easier knowing PUCO has chosen clean air and customer choice in Ohio,” said Trent Dougherty, managing director of legal affairs for the Ohio Environmental Council. The group was “cautiously optimistic” that the PUCO would treat the decision as precedent for future decisions, he added.

Yet while the PUCO did not approve AEP’s plan, it did not categorically reject the idea, either.

Rather, the PUCO let AEP set up a “placeholder” rider. The amount would be set at zero for now, but could turn into an actual cost for consumers at some later time.

In other words, the PUCO left the door open for AEP to come back and pitch the plan again.

“We recognize that there may be value for consumers in a reasonable PPA rider proposal that provides for a significant financial hedge that truly stabilizes rates, particularly during periods of extreme weather,” the PUCO’s opinion said.

Beyond that, the PUCO laid out a blueprint of evidence it would want to see in any future hearing.

Among other things, the PUCO said, AEP would have to show the necessity of keeping a power plant open, its financial need, impacts of any potential closure and plans for complying with “all pertinent environmental regulations,” including ones which are pending.

“The commission’s order does recognize the legality of a PPA being established by a regulated utility,” said AEP spokesperson Terri Flora. She added that the company would “now have to work with the commission to understand their concerns.”

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Greenwire: Midwest law center can compromise but doesn’t fear a fight

Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, February 27, 2015

Ask Chicago environmentalists who’s the Windy City’s best lawyer, and they’re likely to name Howard Learner.

Learner has built his Environmental Law and Policy Center into a Midwest powerhouse over the last 20 years on transportation and clean energy issues, scoring victories in courtrooms and state legislatures along the way.

His shop eschews the national spotlight for a hyper-regional focus that he says is part of the group’s DNA.

“First of all, we are Midwesterners,” he said. “The Midwest is probably the most important region in the most important country in the world.”

ELPC is among a few regional environmental law centers that operate in the gap between national Goliaths like the Natural Resources Defense Council and small grass-roots organizations. The center takes on major litigation — fighting lawsuits brought by former Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon, arguing for solar and wind energy in state Supreme Courts, and battling Great Lakes pollution. Moreover, it has developed a lobbying operation that pressures government officials — from U.S. senators to mayors — to support environmentally progressive policies.

Learner prides himself on leading a “grass-tops” organization, meaning it seeks to unite leaders from often-opposing camps — such as unions and local chambers of commerce — to push for common goals.

Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but ELPC is now thriving, thanks largely to Learner’s grasp of regional politics.

“He has steered clear of the weird political fights,” said J. Paul Forrester, an energy and agricultural specialist at Mayer Brown in Chicago. “He has a lot of political acumen. I give him a lot of credit for that. That’s helped him avoid ugly confrontation.”

Howard Learner launched the Environmental Law and Policy Center 20 years ago.
Howard Learner launched the Environmental Law and Policy Center 20 years ago.

Learner, 59, lives a mile-and-a-half from where he was born in Chicago. The son of a University of Wisconsin football player, he’s well over 6 feet tall and bearded. He cuts an imposing presence that he establishes right away with a firm handshake.

Growing up as an outdoorsman, Learner biked across Wisconsin several times and always had a backpack ready for weekend trips. He attended the University of Michigan and remains a devoted fan of the Wolverine football team, then headed to Harvard Law School.

He returned to Chicago with his law degree and worked for a public interest law firm that specialized in housing cases. Learner launched the group’s environmental practice and specialized in pro bono work.

In 1991, seven major foundations pooled funds and asked several local lawyers for proposals for a regional-based legal center to address environmental programs in the Midwest. Such a group didn’t exist, and, as Learner recalled, there were ample reasons the region needed one.

The Great Lakes contain nearly a fifth of the world’s freshwater supply and provide drinking water to more than 40 million people. At the time, electricity utilities were becoming more regionally focused, building power lines across state borders. The Midwest was also home to some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Three-quarters of the pollution in the Great Lakes was coming from the energy and transportation sectors.

The region also served as the nexus of multiple types of transportation; interstate highways crisscross the area, as do major railways. And Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport serves as a hub of air travel in the region.

“If you are serious about solving our climate change problems, and you’re serious about keeping the Great Lakes clean,” Learner said, “you need to deal with the energy and transportation sectors on a regional basis.”

Learner applied for the funding, basing his proposal in part on other regional outfits like the Conservation Law Foundation in New England, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund on the West Coast, which has since become Earthjustice.

The foundations backed Learner, guaranteeing $850,000 per year for three years. He left his practice, rented a storefront and started assembling furniture.

At the core of the group’s philosophy from the start, Learner said, was devising “pragmatic solutions” that paired environmental benefits with economic growth and job creation. Now such proposals are increasingly common among environmental groups, but at the time they weren’t.

Learner pledged that whenever his group came out against a project or proposal, it would say yes to a less harmful alternative.

“We said from the beginning we weren’t going to get boxed in as naysayers,” he said.

ELPC now has an annual budget of more than $6.5 million and about 50 employees in eight offices throughout the Midwest. It divides its efforts into two groups. Its strategic advocacy arm lobbies and files lawsuits to fight what it views as environmentally harmful policies. And second, it brings parties together to come up with “eco-business” deals and proposals, such as working with labor unions, local chambers of commerce and officials to facilitate solar and wind energy development in the Midwest, or a regional high-speed rail network.

Those efforts have yielded results. Iowa is the second-largest wind energy producer in the country, and Illinois, Minnesota and Kansas all rank within the top 10. And plans for a regional high-speed rail proposal to serve 60 million people in eight states are starting to jell. The St. Louis-to-Chicago-to-Detroit line is being built, and sections already run at 110 mph. The effort has garnered the support of the Obama administration, which committed $13 billion in the 2009 stimulus package.

Looking for opportunity

ELPC’s success is due in large part to Learner’s relentlessness.

Jerry Adelmann, president of the Chicago-based Openlands conservation group, said it typically takes Learner “two seconds” to respond to an email.

“He lives and breathes this stuff,” Adelmann said. “It’s part of his very being.”

To his foes — which are typically entrenched energy utilities — Learner can come off as a zealot. But he has overcome such criticism through political adeptness, which is unusual for someone who wears his Democratic-leaning politics on his sleeve.

Learner was Illinois delegate at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and has served on political committees that others in the nongovernmental organization community would likely shy away from out of fear of reprisals from the other side.

“Howard is out front in terms of his politics,” Adelmann said.

Learner seems to dodge most blowback, though, largely because of his instincts.

“I think Howard is one of those visionary leaders,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney in ELPC’s Des Moines, Iowa, office. “His mind is always spinning, and he sort of sees the direction that things are moving. He is constantly trying to anticipate what opportunities will present themselves and constantly trying to take advantage of them in a strategic way.”

That doesn’t mean ELPC doesn’t have critics.

Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said it’s possible to have a “reasonable conversation” with ELPC. But he stressed that the group often presses for more stringent environmental controls than his members can support.

“Bottom line is, we think a big part of their agenda results in very little environmental improvement but huge costs,” Maisch said.

He added that ELPC’s coalition building is often less successful than the group says.

“Their attempts,” he said, “to bring people together to build a consensus — a lot more of those fail than succeed.”

Battling energy tycoon

Learner and ELPC can nevertheless point to significant achievements, both on the large and small scale.

ELPC was part of a coalition that pushed for the closure of two old power plants in 2012 on Chicago’s South Side, the city’s last two coal-fired facilities. Before that, it fought to ensure that wastewater was treated before utilities discharged it into the Chicago River.

And last summer, ELPC lawyers secured an Iowa Supreme Court victory in challenging an Iowa Utilities Board decision that created an unfavorable and expensive environment for solar energy development in the state.

There is also a strong “defender of the little guy” thread to their work. Perhaps no case illustrates that better than ELPC’s work for a small community in Saugatuck, Mich., against former Chesapeake CEO McClendon.

ELPC’s victories include protecting regional waterways like the Chicago River from contaminated discharges.
ELPC’s victories include protecting regional waterways like the Chicago River from contaminated discharges.

An artsy Lake Michigan resort town with fewer than 1,000 year-round residents, Saugatuck is a 2½-hour drive from Chicago. In summer, tourists visit the town’s art galleries, shops and renowned beach dunes. The community has sought to protect those attractions from development by passing strict zoning laws.

Those efforts were threatened, however, in 2007, when McClendon bought 412 acres at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River that the town had been trying to make part of the public domain and conserve for 50 years.

McClendon wanted to build a gated community and resort on the land, with a nine-hole golf course, hotel, mansions and condos. Within 30 days of purchasing the property, he filed a series of lawsuits challenging Saugatuck’s zoning laws.

Overwhelmed, David Swan and the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance turned to Learner for help.

ELPC took the cases, and Swan said the group’s attorneys became part of the community. They also provided communications and marketing support to Swan and his allies.

They were able to halt McClendon’s development. In November 2011, a federal district court judge threw out a settlement between McClendon and the Saugatuck Township Board that would have essentially removed zoning provisions from the property. The judge ruled that the settlement would have illegally prevented the board from ever updating its zoning laws for the property.

Further, the court held that any future such settlement would require a hearing to ensure it benefits the “public good.”

There remains some ongoing litigation, but the community has since bought back half the land McClendon purchased. And, Swan said, nothing has been built on McClendon’s land.

Swan credits ELPC with saving the dunes — and his community.

“It just kind of amazed me,” Swan said. “Here was a really brilliant attorney, who is really busy with huge projects, and he doesn’t let small projects like trying to save 400 acres of pristine duneland fall by the wayside.”

Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition Statement on Energy Legislation Introduced Feb. 26

“There is only one comprehensive energy bill that costs less to consumers, promotes a cleaner environment and will create tens of thousands of new jobs in every part of Illinois — that’s the Illinois Clean Jobs bill. Introduced by Sen. Don Harmon and Rep. Elaine Nekritz with bipartisan support, when fully implemented the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill will create 32,000 new clean energy jobs per year by growing renewable energy and raising energy efficiency while giving Illinois a greater set of tools to help consumers, including the option of market-based strategies to reduce carbon pollution.

“The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill sets a long-term clean energy policy that creates jobs — rather than sunsetting soon, missing opportunities to create jobs and raising the risk that consumers will again be asked to pay more in just a few short years.

“We look forward to reading Exelon’s proposed bill more closely. But mostly, we look forward to discussing this issue in the months ahead, and we will continue to urge lawmakers to join their colleagues from both parties who have sponsored the bipartisan Illinois Clean Jobs Bill to enhance our environment and to create 32,000 new jobs per year.”

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition is made up of Illinois businesses and organizations representing the state’s environmental, business and faith communities. Currently, more than 40 businesses and 28 organizations have formally joined the coalition to promote steps to improve the Illinois environment, help consumers, improve public health, and create tens of thousands of new jobs across the state.

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PUCO Decision Rejecting Coal Plant Bailout Is a Winner Both For Ohio Consumers and the Environment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: David Jakubiak (312) 795-3713 or djakubiak@elpc.org

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

“PUCO’s decision today recognizes that consumers should not be forced to subsidize aging, polluting coal plants. That’s a win for Ohioans. We hope the Commission will continue to thoroughly scrutinize any future proposals to ensure that utilities don’t engage in self-dealing that forces customers to bailout plants that aren’t economically competitive. Let’s advance cleaner, more efficient energy sources.

“We believe that this ruling lays the groundwork for the Commission to reject similar proposals by FirstEnergy and Duke,” added Learner. “That said, we’ll continue our work to show that bailouts like this go against consumer interests and harm the environment.  We hope that the Commission will apply the same thorough scrutiny to these pending cases as it did to AEP’s claims.”

Report: Wisconsin Renewable Energy Sector Holds 500+ Businesses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: David Jakubiak, Environmental Law & Policy Center, 312.795.3713 or DJakubiak@elpc.org

 

ELPC finds almost 7,000 working in wind, solar supply chain companies

MADISON – More than 500 Wisconsin companies serve wind power and solar energy markets, providing jobs to people across the state who are manufacturing, financing, designing, engineering, installing and maintaining renewable energy projects here and across the region, a study released Wednesday by the Environmental Law & Policy Center found.

“Our supply chain report provides numerous examples of new and existing businesses finding new growth opportunities from renewable energy, from Milwaukee to Prairie du Chien to Green Bay to Superior,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate in ELPC’s Madison office. “Wisconsin has a strong manufacturing base and well-trained workforce that can export renewable energy products to a world that wants more clean energy with each passing year.”

The report was developed through an analysis of data from several industry groups. The companies were then individually contacted to confirm their supply chain role. In addition to the wide breadth of businesses captured in the report, the findings also offer insights into the types of businesses driving Wisconsin’s growing renewable energy sector. For example, the average size of a renewable energy supply chain business in Wisconsin is 12.5 people. A forthcoming analysis of Illinois’ supply chain found companies there employing, on average, almost 50 people.

“Wisconsin’s renewable energy economy is driven by small businesses spread across the state, rather than by a few very large employers,” said John Paul Jewell, Research Coordinator at ELPC.

The report identified 316 companies involved in Wisconsin’s solar energy supply chain and more than 230 companies involved in the state’s wind power supply chain.  The companies provide many local stories across the state.

For businesses involved in the installation and construction of wind and solar projects, a thriving supply chain sector means increased economic activity within Wisconsin, but it also signals a shift to modern, reliable, more cost-effective electric supply.

“SunVest and other Wisconsin businesses in the renewable energy industry are working hard to innovate and develop new technologies to bring our energy costs down,” said Matt Neumann, President of SunVest Solar Inc. of Pewaukee. “Wisconsin’s energy costs have increased at 2.5 times the rate of inflation for the last 10 years — it’s time to consider policy that supports new technologies with the hope of a less expensive energy future for our State.”

To download a PDF of the report visit www.elpc.org/WisconsinSupplyChain.

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