Howard Joins WBEZ’s Worldview to Discuss Paris Climate Agreement

Monday afternoon, Howard Learner joined Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s global affairs program Worldview to discuss what the COP21 agreement reached in Paris means to efforts to address climate change. You can listen to the broadcast below.

ELPC’s Josh Mandelbaum Tells Midwest Energy News Why No News is Good News for Iowa Net Metering

Nearly two years into an examination of the state’s policies towards distributed generation, the Iowa Utilities Board has signaled that it sees no reason at this point to make any major changes.

And no news, in this case, is good news, in the views of some of the state’s clean-energy promoters.

“I think it’s a positive order and potentially a model for thoughtful, data-driven distributed generation policy,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in Des Moines for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Spokespeople for the state’s major utilities could not be reached for comment.

The board on Oct. 30 filed a document in which it said, “The Board declines to adopt a policy statement with respect to renewable distributed generation.” The three board members also indicated they would be open to more information about the impact of renewables on the state’s power system.

To that end, they invited the state’s municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives to submit plans for pilot projects investigating various aspects of distributed generation and net metering. The board required the state’s two major investor-owned utilities – MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy – to provide pilot proposals by the end of January.

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Midwest Energy News: Federal Ruling Could Resolve Iowa School District’s Solar Dispute

ruling made earlier this summer by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) could clear away the road block that has been hindering a solar project proposed by a rural Iowa school district, according to a lawyer familiar with the situation.

At issue is a plan by the Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock Community School District in Rockford, Iowa to install a solar array and sell the excess power back to the local city utility.

And since the proposed 750-kilowatt system likely would be able to produce twice the electricity the district uses, and about half the energy the city provides to its 850 customers, it seems possible that it could displace a sizable chunk of the power that the city buys from its wholesale provider, the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN).

However, an agreement known as an “all-requirements contract” between the utility and its wholesale power supplier is standing in the way.

Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in Des Moines with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said that a case from Colorado involving a rural electric cooperative and its wholesale power supplier is quite similar to the one now brewing in Rockford. In the Colorado case, the FERC ruled that when an all-requirements contract conflicts with the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), PURPA wins.

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Victory! Two Anti-Solar Proposals Dropped in Iowa

Two Iowa power providers reversed course on anti-solar proposals in August, opening up the market for solar energy development in Iowa. ELPC leads a coalition of Iowa advocates and businesses working to expand solar energy in the state.

Alliant, Iowa’s second-largest power company, will now allow customers with rooftop solar systems to receive credits for excess energy returned to the grid – a process called net metering. ELPC and other Iowa solar advocates protested this business practice to the Iowa Utilities Board. The change will allow customers to better finance solar systems and encourage the expansion of rooftop solar projects in Iowa.

Pella Electric Cooperative, which serves 3,000 customers in Central Iowa, withdrew a controversial proposal that would have hit rooftop solar owners with an exorbitant $85/month fee – which would have been the most extreme anti-solar fee anywhere in the country. The news was welcomed by co-op members and underscores the need for open discussion about the value of solar. ELPC is working with Pella to bring the benefits of solar to all of the co-op’s members.

LEARN MORE About the Net Metering Victory and the Pella Cooperative Victory 

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


August 28, 2015

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

The Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


August 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Good News for Solar From Our Iowa Office


Alliant Reverses Stance That Hindered Solar Projects in Iowa

By Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

For Immediate Release

August 3, 2015

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

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

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

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

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

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


Press Release: Thank You Sen. Grassley for Leading Charge On Wind Energy

July 21, 2015

Environmental Law & Policy Center Thanks Iowa’s Sen. Grassley for Leading Charge to Extend Federal Wind Energy Production Tax Credit

DES MOINES, Iowa – The Environmental Law & Policy Center thanks Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) for leading the charge to include the Wind Energy Production Tax Credit in the Federal Tax Extenders Package Bill, which passed out of the Senate Finance Committee today on Capitol Hill.

“Senator Grassley played a key role in Congress extending the federal wind energy production tax credit, which is helping to spur wind power growth in Iowa,” said Steven Falck, ELPC’s Senior Policy Advocate in Des Moines.

The wind energy production tax credit first passed in 1992, which has fostered growth of the Iowa wind energy supply chain and created more than 6,000 jobs. Through the last quarter of 2014, the U.S. installed wind energy capacity was at 65,879 megawatts, which also created more than 73,000 jobs.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center urges the full Iowa Congressional delegation to support Sen. Grassley’s lead in extending the Federal Wind Energy Production Tax Credit,” said Falck.

Howard Learner Statement on Supreme Court Mercury Ruling

June 29, 2015
Contact: David Jakubiak 

Supreme Court’s Mercury Decision Limits Progress for Cleaner Air, Healthier Environment
Costs of Mercury Pollution Too High to Ignore

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

“The Supreme Court’s decision today delays important mercury and other air toxics standards that limit pollution in order to protect children’s health and the Great Lakes. State public health officials in the Great Lakes states have issued ‘mercury advisories’ warning people that, sadly, it’s not safe to eat many fish they catch in most of our lakes and rivers. The U.S. EPA should now act promptly, following the Court’s decision, to fully assess the public health and environmental costs of mercury pollution, finalize lawful standards and move our country forward.”

“Unfortunately the coal industry is being rewarded for endless litigation stalling the U.S. EPA’s reasonable standards to reduce mercury pollution in our environment and protect public health. It’s well past time for EPA and the courts to move forward in responsible ways to greatly reduce mercury and other toxic pollutants that harm our children’s health and our waterways.”


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