Thursday, December 5, 2013
On December 4, 2013, ELPC and allies claimed victory against an effort to re-write Ohio energy law, stifle development of renewables, cripple energy efficiency efforts and jack-up consumer electricity bills. When it became clear he did not have the votes to advance his bill, Ohio State Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) withdrew SB58. ELPC worked closely with environmental, business and consumer rights groups across the state to preserve Ohio’s clean energy standards. While this hard fought victory is important, Seitz has promised to return in 2014 with a “three-pronged” effort to supplant Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy laws. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
In Germany, Chicago energy experts find lessons for Midwest
By Kari Lydersen
Chicago energy experts who spent a week in Germany and Brussels in mid-November on a fact-finding expedition came back with a complicated take on Germany’s famous Energiewende, the sweeping transition to clean and renewable energy.
They were highly impressed with the fact that unlike the U.S., Germany has a cohesive national energy policy, and that it has meant rapid adoption of solar and wind power, including through substantial governmental support and subsidies.
But they also learned how Germany has in some ways been a victim of its own success, with the swift transition to solar and wind and the closure of nuclear plants raising reliability issues.
“They’ve been successful beyond their wildest dreams – there’s so much solar and wind coming on to their grid that it’s actually destabilizing their grid,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which convened the delegation along with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) – a think tank affiliated with German Conservative political parties. “It’s exciting, but there is too much (renewable power) coming on at times, and sometimes not enough.”
“There are some days where they get 80 percent of their energy from renewable energy, and some days they get one percent,” added Tom Wolf, executive director of the Energy Council of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “When the sun shines and the wind blows, they’ve built up so much that even on average they have more energy from renewable than from nuclear.
“A lot of people in this country would consider that an incredible victory, and it is amazing,” Wolf added. “But now the problems happen. I’ll call them challenges rather than problems.”
Another delegation member — Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center — had a more “glass-half-full” take.
“What we’re seeing in Germany with a tremendous growth in renewable development is truly a glimpse into the future for the Midwest,” he said. “There are tremendous opportunities. And there are some challenges, but we have an opportunity to learn from them…We have a three- to four-year lead time here in the Midwest in terms of addressing those problems and learning from some of the German solutions.”
Nuclear phase-out raises fears
In the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, Germany pledged to close all nuclear reactors by 2022, and eight reactors were closed almost immediately. The plan, implemented by Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, was the culmination of a decades-long push against nuclear power by the Green Party and many German citizens.
The rapid phase-out of nuclear power is popular, but has presented concerns about making sure adequate generating capacity is available at all times.
The Chicago delegates said the trip gave them new insight into how the German response to Fukushima was influenced by their experience with the Chernobyl disaster three decades earlier.
“Chernobyl wasn’t just in the paper for them – people I talked to remembered Chernobyl very well,” said Wolf. “They couldn’t drink milk (from regional dairies), they worried about their kids playing outside, that moment really hit home for them.”
Still, the Chicagoans think the German decision to quickly phase out nuclear power may be based more on emotion than sound policy. Wolf compared it in his blog to what he sees as a somewhat misguided American obsession with energy independence.
“In a democracy, logic can lose out to perception,” he wrote.
German coal concerns
The group’s last stop was in Leipzig, an industrial city in former East Germany near some of the country’s sprawling open pit mines for lignite brown coal or “braunkohle,” which is wetter and dirtier-burning than the standard hard black coal found deeper underground.
Since the closing of nuclear plants, Germany has boosted its imports of hard black coal from the U.S., Colombia, Russia and other countries. An April 2013 report by German environmental groups said Germany increased its imports of U.S. coal 50 percent since last year, with most of it coming from Appalachia.
Germany also has its own hard coal, but much of it has become too expensive to mine. And in Germany, as in the U.S., there is significant popular opposition to coal. In March, Greenpeace released an academic study estimating that particulate matter from German coal plants causes 3,100 premature deaths each year. Many Germans are pushing for tighter limits on the mining and burning of brown coal, especially since recent and planned expansions of the brown coal mines eat up villages and forest.
Bronson and Wolf came away from their trip feeling the German government perhaps needs to do more to support the coal industry, to make sure it is available to provide baseload power as nuclear plants close.
“Coal remains important for industry, employment, as well as operations,” wrote Bronson in ablog post for the Chicago Council. “Unless policy is carefully crafted and reconsidered, all of the above is at risk.”
Wolf noted that the German policies which have encouraged an explosion of renewables have made it less profitable to run coal-fired power plants.
“We talked with people who said they can’t make money being the backup for wind and solar,” he said, noting that they toured a “beautiful” Leipzig coal plant which ramps up or down frequently depending when its power is needed – an inefficient way to operate. “Renewables get first crack at the grid. The problem is you can’t run a coal plant and all the machinations that go with it in the long-term just being backup power. You need some kind of compensation, or you need to tone down the tariffs or subsidies for renewables.”
Bronson said that while many people consider “clean coal” to be an oxymoron, she sees it differently especially after being in Germany “at a moment where they had just waved a wand and done away with nuclear.”
“They need coal,” Bronson said. “If you need coal, figure out how to make it cleaner.”
The trip offered numerous examples of how energy issues are inextricably linked across sweeping geographic areas, and can never be addressed in isolation.
The Chicago contingent heard about a serious challenge that the U.S. and Germany have in common in pushing for cleaner energy: the need for more transmission lines to get wind power from remote windy areas to population centers where it’s needed.
Wolf noted that “NIMBY” or “not in my back yard” is “a word in German too,” and even clean energy-loving Germans don’t want big transmission towers built near their homes.
“Not surprisingly there are a fair number of people in German communities who are unhappy with transmission running through their towns and their farmlands,” said Learner. “That’s an issue we’re also facing in the Midwest and nationally. For transmission planners to sit down with a map and have engineers draw lines that will move power from place A to place B is one thing, it’s another thing to engage with communities in between who don’t always see the value and benefit of transmission lines.”
He said that in Germany and in the Midwest, concern over transmission lines is motivation to also develop decentralized, smaller-scale wind and solar projects closer to where the power is needed.
Bronson noted that Germany’s location in the European Union actually presents parallels to the regulatory situation in the U.S., where states present a patchwork of different energy-related laws and policies even though the generation and distribution of energy typically crosses numerous borders.
The delegation members heard from Germans surprised at the booming growth of controversial hydraulic fracturing in the U.S. Bronson noted that fracking has been slow to take off in Germany and most of Europe in part because individual landowners are much less likely to benefit directly from fracking if they don’t own subsoil mineral rights.
American fracking, Bronson added, “has implications for them too,” since it increases U.S. coal companies’ motivation to export their product. Craig Morris, lead author of the German Energy Transition project, explained this trend in a blog earlier this year. “It’s an environment where their energy policy is shifting,” Bronson said, and U.S. fracking “is making it harder for them to do what they want to do,” even as it is helping to lower carbon emissions in the U.S.
Confidence in clean energy
Despite the challenges they observed, the delegation members said seeing the German experience first-hand inspired more confidence in growing renewables in the Midwest.
“Even in these difficult moments where (the Energiewende) doesn’t seem to be constructed right, the population really believes in a cleaner future and paying a cost to get there,” said Bronson. “That was pretty inspiring.”
They also said that as much attention as Germany is getting for its clean energy transformation, they think the U.S. is in better shape than many people realize. Learner pointed to a recent study by GE Energy Management showing that the PJM Interconnection could handle 30 percent renewables on the grid without endangering reliability, reducing costs to boot.
“We look at our own model and we’re so frustrated at not having an energy policy, and yet we have increasing use of renewables, increasing diversity with natural gas and alternatives to oil,” said Bronson. “Our carbon emissions are coming down while (Germany’s) are going up. If you look at the full plate we’re actually stumbling along kind of impressively.”
The ELPC is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.
The Energy Transition Project is run by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think tank affiliated with the German Green Party. The Heinrich Böll Foundation has supported Midwest Energy News reporters Kari Lydersen and Dan Haugen to report on clean energy development in Europe.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois Pollution Control Board agreed Thursday to give a Texas company extra time to install pollution controls at five Illinois coal-fired power plants, saying it would be an economic hardship for the company to do it sooner.
The panel voted 3-1 to grant a pollution-control waiver to Houston-based Dynegy Inc., which still must acquire the plants from Ameren Corp., but said it would be several hours before the opinion was available to the public. Chairwoman Deanna Glosser cast the only dissenting vote, saying she did not believe the company demonstrated an economic hardship.
Environmental groups opposed the waiver, saying the delay would hurt public health and the Dynegy knew the pollution controls were needed when it agreed to acquire the plants.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The Environmental Law & Policy Center is celebrating our 20th Anniversary this year. We began as a ground-floor start-up with a sustainable development vision and have grown into the Midwest’s premier environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization. We’re proud of ELPC’s clean energy, clean transportation and natural resources protection accomplishments and looking forward to future successes with your partnership and support.
ELPC’s early vision: The Midwest needed a strategic, solutions-oriented environmental legal advocacy and policy organization that would play to win and achieve strong results that make a difference. However, with a pragmatic Midwest focus: We said from the start that environmental progress and economic development could and should be achieved together. We set out to shatter the myth that jobs and the environment are in conflict. Our vision of “good for the environment, good for job creation and good for economic growth” is today’s policy reality.
ELPC puts that sustainable development principle into practice in achieving successes. We recognized early on that the energy and transportation sectors are responsible for 70% of the Midwest’s carbon pollution as well as other emissions that cause climate change problems, harm human health and pollute the Great Lakes. Transforming the electricity system with clean renewable energy development and more energy efficient technologies, and transforming the transportation system with cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks and modern higher-speed rail and public transit, are the key drivers for solving climate change problems, protecting human health and restoring our Great Lakes and Midwest rivers. The public supports these positive solutions.
Your support has already helped us advance a cleaner energy mix for the Midwest, accelerate transforming our transportation infrastructure, and clean up rivers and lakes that we all care about. Please consider making a contribution to ELPC today to support progress on this transformational agenda going forward.
Take a look at the graphs in this report, which show how ELPC is making a tremendous difference:
Here are some highlights of ELPC’s successes over the last year:
• Wind power development is soaring in the Midwest. ELPC helped design and enact state Renewable Energy Standards that, combined with technological advancements, are driving the market for wind development. Iowa is now #2 in the nation, Illinois #4 and Minnesota #6 for installed wind power capacity. In the Midwest, 40,000 new jobs have been created and 1,000 supply chain businesses. Chicago now has 13 wind corporate headquarters. Support ELPC’s clean energy work.
• Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest approach to help solve our climate change problems. ELPC’s public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s and technical specialists are leading the charge before public utilities commissions in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio to effectively implement Energy Efficiency Performance Standards that are driving $2.5 billion of lighting, appliance, HVAC, building retrofit and other efficiency improvements. We are flattening out energy demand, creating new jobs, and saving businesses and residential consumers money on their utility bills, while avoiding pollution. Help ELPC advance energy efficiency.
• Solar energy development is accelerating and will soon start displacing more polluting energy sources. ELPC’s clean energy team is fueling solar acceleration in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota by promoting policies supporting distributed solar generation while also removing barriers erected by some recalcitrant utilities. ELPC is partnering with the City of Chicago to accelerate rooftop solar projects and advance innovative conversions of underutilized urban brownfields into new solar brightfields. Solar is coming fast here! Bring solar power to the Midwest with ELPC.
• Higher-speed trains are improving mobility, reducing pollution, creating jobs and spurring regional economic growth in the Midwest. ELPC is leading the charge for the Midwest High-Speed Rail Network, which connects the Chicago hub with the 11 major cities within a 400-mile radius and the mid-sized cities in-between. Amtrak is achieving record ridership with faster train service, and modern new railcars are being assembled here. ELPC has identified 460 Midwest companies manufacturing and supplying rail equipment, parts and services. Get on board as this modern high-speed rail vision becomes the new reality! Help ELPC transform the vision of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Network into a reality.
• Cleaner air and public health won the day in Englewood. ELPC mapped the impacts of diesel pollution sources in Chicago and partnered with Englewood community groups to negotiate a fair deal on the Norfolk Southern rail yard expansion by achieving offsetting diesel pollution reductions, new green space, sustainability commitments and job training. This victory can be a model and springboard for diesel pollution reductions at the many other rail yards. Let’s improve freight operations and protect public health. Improve public health with ELPC and our local allies.
• Cleaner water victories by ELPC’s public interest attorneys and advocates working with partners and clients including the Alliance for Great Lakes, National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club will help stop the S.S. Badger’s toxic coal ash dumping into Lake Michigan and reduce pollution from the Bear Run coal mine in Indiana. Keep clean water clean with ELPC’s advocacy.
ELPC is achieving tremendous results in the face of political gridlock. ELPC’s win-win-win approach – environmental progress, job creation and economic growth – makes sense, focuses on solutions and brings together the people and partners who can get things done. We’re proud of our 2013 accomplishments and look forward to seizing more strategic opportunities for environmental solutions. Thank you for considering a contribution to support ELPC’s successful work protecting the Midwest’s environmental quality and preserving our natural resources.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
When Gov. Pat Quinn signed sweeping legislation in June to regulate horizontal hydraulic fracturing, environmentalists called the law the toughest in the nation. Oil drillers said the tax dollars from an oil boom could help solve the state’s budget woes. The law was turned over to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to flesh out the rules so permitting could begin.
Now with the first draft of those regulations made public Friday, environmentalists are threatening a messy fight. They are livid over proposed rules they say weaken or undermine key provisions of the law, including those dealing with fines, containment of fracking liquids and emergency situations.
“We supported this law understanding that these requirements were in the law because that’s how it is written. We would have thought a lot harder and maybe wouldn’t have supported the law had we known these critical provisions wouldn’t be included,” said Jennifer Cassel, staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago.
The controversy comes at a sensitive time.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Environmental Law & Policy Center Congratulates Solar Hack Winner
“Smart Card” Incentivizes Smart Energy Choices, Increases Solar Awareness
CHICAGO – A team combining the know-how of three Chicago technology veterans, the strategy of a LEED certified attorney, and the entrepreneurial spirit of an energy company executive took top honors in Chicago’s first hackathon dedicated to solving challenges facing the solar energy business. Team Smart Card will launch a business to advance clean energy by rewarding smart energy choices.
“Our new venture combines the fun and engagement of gaming with the economics and environmental aspects of being a smart consumer of energy,” said Mark Rice, a member of Team Smart Card and CEO of Energy Connection in Northbrook.
Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Solar Hack coupled members of Chicago’s bustling technology and design communities, with members of the region’s solar energy businesses to brainstorm and advance ideas that would solve soft-challenges like customer education and lead generation. The goal of the event was to advance digital tools that could create the foundation of a business, advancing ELPC’s pillar that environmental progress and economic development go hand-in-hand.
By winning the event, Team Smart Card secured a spot in the City of Chicago’s Clean Web Challenge where they will compete with winning entries from similar events held by groups including World Business Chicago and the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
Creating an online space that aggregates data on smart energy choices, Smart Card allows for competition between users to be “more green.” Additionally by connecting companies with customers who make sustainable choices, Smart Card can reward these choices. Finally, through dashboard prompts, Smart Cart users can learn about opportunities to go solar and connect with solar installers in their area.
“Working in solar energy, the idea of having high value, well-educated leads is very appealing,” said Lisa Albrecht of Solar Service, and advisor to the event.
More than 30 participants registered to be a part of Solar Hack and were introduced to challenges facing solar energy, and to public datasets that may be used to address these challenges. The winning team comprised Rice, developer/designer Andy Babbitt, developers Rob Laucius and Nathan Witt and attorney W. Brandon Rogers.
“Solar Hack was a great step in using technology to advance clean, renewable energy here in Chicago and across the Midwest,” said David Jakubiak, media relations manager with ELPC. “We hope more great tools will grow out of the interest stimulated by Solar Hack.”
Solar Hack was sponsored by SunRun and supported through partnerships with the Illinois Institute of Technology’s IdeaShop and the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, CO.
For more information, go to elpc.org/solarhack
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
The European Union and its member states have enacted significant legislation to transform the European energy landscape, aiming to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Germany, through its Energiewende (energy transformation), is a recognized leader in these efforts, having taken ambitious steps to encourage renewable forms of electric generation, increase energy efficiency, and move the country off fossil fuels. But Germany’s recent elections and controversy over renewable energy subsidies have raised a host of issues that deserve close attention, as local, state and national policy makers in the United States grapple with energy initiatives to become more efficient, more globally competitive, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner is part of a Chicago delegation — led by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs — learning about these issues from a variety of policy-makers, businesses, and NGOs working in the energy arena in Brussels, Berlin, and Leipzig Nov. 3-8.
Read more about the delegation’s efforts on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Energy Tour Travel Log.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
The Midwest High-Speed Rail Association has unveiled a proposal to link the core of the high-speed network it wants with something that Chicago and its suburbs want: construction of a proposed but long-stalled express train link between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport, and reconstruction of portions of Metra’s aging network to 21st-century, fully electrified standards.
To learn more about CrossRail Chicago, read Greg Hinz’s column in Crain’s Chicago Business.
Monday, October 28, 2013
BISMARCK – North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has been meeting with people behind the scenes to compile a list of what he calls “extraordinary places” that deserve protection from energy development and other impacts, drawing criticism from a former Democratic Party leader who believes the discussions should be held publicly.
Stenehjem said he has sought input from a variety of people and hopes to have the list ready for the state’s Industrial Commission, which grants oil drilling permits, for consideration at its Nov. 18 meeting.
“I think there’s a view that we need to do more to assure the public that we’re protecting some of those pristine areas,” said Stenehjem, who sits on the commission with Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. “And we do a lot of that now, but it’s not on a formal basis.”