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.



Howard Talks With The Chicago Tribune About Challenges Facing Coal


As Illinois’ Coal Country Teeters On Brink, Next President May Tip Balance

By John Keilman

…Howard Learner of Chicago’s Environmental Law and Policy Center said regulations aren’t the major reason for coal’s decline.

More relevant, he said, are bad business decisions: Some mining companies went on a buying spree believing that economic growth in China would continue at a breakneck pace, only to go bankrupt when that bet went sour.

At the same time, a glut of natural gas and nuclear power, combined with the increased efficiency of everything from lightbulbs to refrigerators, means the energy market has more supply than demand. Coal simply can’t compete with other sources, Learner said.

“Those are real economic factors that are not likely to be affected by who is president,” he said.

Read the story:

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.


From Peoria Journal Star: ELPC, Allies Win Federal Clean Air Case Against Coal Plant


August 24, 2016

Federal Judge Rules Against Edwards Coal-Fired Energy Plant
By Andy Kravetz

PEORIA — A federal judge on Tuesday ruled against the owner of a coal-fired energy plant in Edwards, saying its owners allowed too much soot to be emitted from the smoke stacks there.
A 50-page order, issued Tuesday by Senior U.S. District Judge Joe B. McDade, states Illinois Power Resources Generating LLC, which owns and operates the E.D. Edwards power plant, must work to clean emissions from the facility.

The Sierra Club, along with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council and Respiratory Health Association, filed a lawsuit in 2013 alleging violations of the Clean Air Act. The suit was initially filed against Ameren Illinois, but the plant was acquired later in 2013 by IPRG, which is a subsidiary of Dynegy, an energy company based in Houston.

“We’re thrilled that Judge McDade is holding Dynegy accountable for the many years that it has spewed out harmful soot, failing residents of Peoria County,” said Jennifer Cassel, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center which represented the Respiratory Health Association. “It’s time for Dynegy to recognize that if it is going to continue to operate the Edwards plant, it must respect the community and the law by installing functional pollution controls.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Kearney Calls for Immediate Action to Reduce Imminent Threat of Enbridge Line 5 Disaster

Midwest Energy News

Advocates, State Disagree on Legal Case to Shut Down Mackinac Pipeline

By Andy Balaskovitz
Aug. 19, 2016

The state of Michigan says there is “inadequate information” to justify pursuing a court order to shut down an underwater oil pipeline between the Upper and Lower peninsulas.

But environmental attorneys working to eventually shut down Line 5 — as a growing number of businesses and local governments in Michigan are calling for — disagree and say they’ve presented evidence within the past six months that contradicts the state’s position.

Moreover, advocates say the state could have been pursuing much of the crucial information it’s seeking but instead has punted with a pair of pipeline studies that could take up to 18 months to complete.

The state is holding off on any potential legal action to force closure of the controversial pipeline until those studies are done, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Last week, the new director of the DEQ said calls to shut down Line 5, at this point, are “premature.”

The DEQ says the state has “available legal tools to address an imminent threat” from the twin pipelines, such as enforcing an easement agreement from 1953, common law public trust and public nuisance doctrines and potentially state law, a department spokesperson said.

But a court order is the state’s “only legal mechanism” to shut down Line 5, and it would have to prove there were “clear violations” of the easement, there is an “imminent threat” that the pipeline would fail, “and that such a threat outweighed any interest in Enbridge continuing to operate the Pipeline.”

“The (Michigan Petroleum Pipeline) Task Force believes the State has available legal tools to abate any immediate and actual threat of a spill from the Straits Pipelines. But at this juncture, particularly given the nearly unanimous view that there is inadequate information at this time to fully evaluate the risks presented by the Straits Pipelines, the Task Force does not find a basis for recommending that the State take the extraordinary action of seeking a court order to immediately shut down the Straits Pipelines,” said DEQ spokesperson Michael Shore.

Attorneys who have joined the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign do not share the view that there is “inadequate information” to pursue court action.

Earlier this month, the state notified Enbridge that it was violating the 1953 easement due to a lack of anchor supports and gave the company 90 days to take corrective action. A public comment period on that is currently underway.




Peabody trying to shift coal clean-up costs onto taxpayers, ELPC’s Learner explains to NPR’s Marketplace

Just about every big coal mining company in America is in bankruptcy, or emerging from it. That includes the world’s largest private sector coal firm: Peabody Energy.

Peabody won court approval to set aside just a small amount of money for environmental cleanup – a mere 15 cents on the dollar. That leaves the states in which it operates at risk for the rest.

The whole question here is, if coal companies wobble and fall down for good, who pays for the cleanup? The process of removing water pollution, planting trees and shrubs and returning the topsoil is expensive and time-consuming.

In Peabody’s case, the court and three key mining states agreed to let the company put up just a fraction of the cleanup money that would be required.

“They’re trying to shift the costs from the coal mining companies back to the states, and basically onto taxpayers,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said. “And unfortunately, for example, the state of Indiana seems to have agreed to take 15 to 17 cents on the dollar.”

Continue Reading or listen below

ELPC Statement On Opening Of New Self-Bonding Rulemaking

August 16, 2016

David Jakubiak

Federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement Opens New Self-Bonding Rulemaking
New Rules Must Ensure Coal Mine Clean-Up Is Done Well and Costs Not Shifted To The Public
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement’s (OSMRE) opening of a federal rulemaking addressing the problems of coal mining companies’ self-bonding of mine reclamation costs:

“OSMRE recognizes that the self-bonding standards should be strengthened to deal with today’s energy market reality of multiple coal mine company bankruptcies and declining demand for coal. We commend OSMRE for moving forward with a new rulemaking process to better protect taxpayers and ensure that mine reclamation and environmental clean ups are paid for by the companies that are responsible for the costs.

“ELPC will work to ensure that improved self-bonding standards prevent coal mine clean-up costs from being shifted onto taxpayers and that the coal mining companies fulfill their mine reclamation responsibilities and do that well.”

Progress IL: Enviros rally & testify on clean energy justice issues in Chicago

Environmentalists from across the country were in Chicago Wednesday to testify before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP).

CEIP is an optional component of the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to slash carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants. The voluntary incentive program is meant to jump-start action to curb carbon pollution and help states comply with the Clean Power Plan.

CEIP seeks to reward early investment in energy efficiency and solar projects in low-income communities as well as zero-emitting renewable energy projects — including wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower — in all communities.

Participating states could use the emission allowances or emission rate credits distributed through the program to comply with the Clean Power Plan when it takes effect in 2022. The EPA, which released its updated CEIP plan in June, is proposing that the matching pool of allowances or emission rate credits be split evenly between low-income community projects and renewable energy projects.

Emma Lockridge, a leader with Michigan United and the People’s Action Institute, was among dozens of speakers from across the country who testified this morning in support of making CEIP mandatory and more comprehensive.

Lockridge and many other hearing attendees described themselves as living in frontline, environmental justice communities.

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FOX32: Save up to 20% on your a/c bill with a smart thermostat

ELPC Senior Attorney Rob Kelter spoke with FOX32 about how smart thermostats can save consumers money — the rebate cuts the cost of the thermostats in half, and the energy savings pay for the rest of the cost of the device within a year.  The Chicago area has the largest rebate in the country for smart thermostats, and ELPC helped make that happen.

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