Clean Energy

Inside Climate News: Can Illinois Handle a 2000% Jump in Solar Capacity? We’re About to Find Out

Can Illinois handle a 2000% jump in solar capacity? We’re about to find out

October 30, 2018

By Dan Gearino

Illinois is about to learn what it takes to manage a nearly 20-fold increase in solar power.

A new state law requires utilities to dramatically increase their purchases of renewable energy, with a goal of getting at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity from clean energy by 2025, a large part of it from solar.

For a state starting with very little solar power now—less than 100 megawatts—becoming a Midwest solar leader will mean building an industry infrastructure almost from scratch, and doing it fast.

To ramp up by the deadline, the state needs two things: workers and projects.

People involved in the effort describe an atmosphere of almost chaotic progress. State officials and clean energy advocates want Illinois to be a model for how to expand clean energy in a way that provides targeted help to the local communities.

“The stakes are high,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based consumer advocacy group involved in the process. “I think we have a good plan and we have reasons to be optimistic in general, but there’s no question we’ll face some roadblocks and things we didn’t think of.”

Hundreds of people have enrolled in job-training programs across the state, organized by nonprofit groups as part of the law. Developers are submitting proposals for new solar projects. And some of the established developers are starting to complain that the process for selecting projects—designed to give a wide number of developers a chance—is flawed.

Catapulting Illinois to a Midwest Solar Leader

Illinois ranks 35th in the country in solar power right now, with 98 megawatts, less than 1 percent of its electricity generation. Development has been slow here in part because the state lacks the supportive policies from the government and utilities that have boosted solar elsewhere.

Five years from now, analysts expect to see nearly 2,000 megawatts of solar power in Illinois and the state in 17th place nationally, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association. No other state has Illinois’ combination of starting from so low and being on track to rise so high during that period.

“It’s going to catapult Illinois to the forefront of the solar market, and put our state on the path to the renewable future we need to limit the worst impacts of climate change,” said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

This boom in renewable energy stems from the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law that provided subsidies for two nuclear power plants and also set the target to get 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, among other requirements. The renewable energy provisions were part of a legislative compromise to get enough votes to approve the nuclear power subsidies. (The law was upheld by a federal court in September.)

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Lakeshore Public Radio: State Policies Making Indiana Clean Energy Businesses Less Competitive

September 25, 2018
Reports: State Policies Making Indiana Clean Energy Businesses Less Competitive
by Rebecca Thiele

 

Nearly 90 companies in Indiana play some role in renewable energy projects, which bring jobs to the state. But these businesses can’t be as successful without the policies to support them, according to a new report by the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The ELPC says lately Indiana hasn’t been creating a good business environment for renewable energy. The state opted to phase out net metering last year and eliminated statewide energy efficiency standards in 2014. Chris Rohaly is the president of Green Alternatives Inc., a small solar installation company in Kokomo.

“I’m bidding against companies out of Ohio or Illinois and they — because of the strength of their home markets — are pretty well funded,” he says.

ELPC Clean Energy Business Specialist Tamara Dzubay co-authored the report. She says the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects two renewable energy jobs will grow substantially in the next eight years — but without the right policies, Indiana could miss out on the opportunity.

“Solar energy installation and wind turbine technician jobs cannot be outsourced, so many jobs are there to stay,” Dzubay says.

Among other things, the ELPC suggested developing a statewide energy plan and making it mandatory for utilities to get half of their energy from renewables by 2030.

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WBEZ Chicago: MeLena Hessel Discusses Renewable Energy in Illinois

April 6, 2018
Illinois Steps Up As A Leader On Renewable Energy
By Daniel Tucker

The Illinois Commerce Commission signed off on a long term plan this week that clean energy advocates say will increase the installation and use of renewables like solar energy and wind power across the state. The new changes mean Illinois is on track to have renewables account for 25 percent of its overall energy by 2025. That would put Illinois among the top states for renewable energy. Morning Shift discusses what this means for businesses and the average consumer with MeLena Hessel, Clean Energy and Sustainable Business Policy Advocate at Chicago’s Environmental Law and Policy Center.

GUESTS:

MeLena Hessel, Clean Energy and Sustainable Business Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center

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Michigan Radio, NPR: What Will Replace Coal?

Michigan Radio, NPR
What Will Replace Coal?
By Tracy Samilton

The President of the United States says coal is coming back, but in reality coal is going away.

The fight is over what will replace it.

Even utilities are dumping coal. In Michigan, DTE Energy wants to shut down three coal-burning power plants and replace them with a billion dollar natural gas plant.

But environmentalists think there’s a better way.

First of all, there’s no such thing as clean coal.

Even brand new coal plants dump a lot of carbon into the air. Carbon emissions are very bad for the planet, and it’s a fact that renewable energy sources like solar and wind emit zero carbon.

DTE Energy’s Irene Dimitry doesn’t disagree.

“We support renewables and want to make sure that people understand that we do,” Dimitry says. “We just need to do it in a paced, thoughtful, plan-ful way.”

Dimitry says DTE is closing three of its coal-burning plants in five years, but she says it’s not feasible for renewables to take their place. That’s where a plan for a new 1,100 megawatt natural gas plant comes in.

“Because the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine, and because storage is not yet commercial viable at a large scale, we really need a plant that can operate 24-7 and insure reliability for our customers,” Dimitry says.

Right now, natural gas is cheap and plentiful, and it produces about 60% fewer carbon emissions than coal. Still, DTE can’t just build the plant; it needs permission from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

To do that, it has to analyze the alternatives and show the plant is the best choice. So, a fancy computer program ran 50 different simulations. Dimitry says all concluded the plant is necessary.

Not so fast, says Margrethe Kearney of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Kearney says if a fancy computer program is told to maximize renewables, and maximize programs that reduce demand for electricity, the two combined beat out the natural gas plant.

“Everything that our experts ran shows that, yes, it’s feasible, absolutely, it’s cost effective,” Kearney says.

Kearney thinks DTE is stuck in an old mind set, one that viewed natural gas as a necessary bridge to replace coal until renewables are ready for prime time.

“Renewables are a legitimate available resource, and by not recognizing that, we’re keeping Michigan in the dark ages,” says Kearney.

She adds that, at the very least, DTE could build a smaller plant or defer building one to give alternatives time to develop.

But she thinks there’s a disincentive for DTE Energy to do that, because the utility doesn’t pay for the plant; rather, its customers do.

“It’s not just that the customers pay for it,” Kearney says. “Part of what the customers are paying is a return on that investment, so DTE is going to make around 10% in profit on that investment, DTE shareholders.”

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How environmental NGOs are shifting conversation on climate and energy

How environmental NGOs are shifting conversation on climate and energy

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I’m Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Howard, it’s nice to see you again.

Howard Learner: Good to join you.

Monica Trauzzi: So Howard, with President Trump making some big news on energy and environment issues in his first 100 days, in many ways seeking to reverse a lot of what we saw the Obama administration do. How has your work and your focus shifted over the last six months?

Howard Learner: There’s an interesting combination of what I’ll call both defense and offense. Clearly at the Environmental Law and Policy Center we’re seeing some of the moves by the Trump administration as being in the wrong direction. We’re pushing back. We’re fighting back and we hope that President Trump will reassess and move in a better direction.

On the other hand, clean energy development is moving forward at a rapid pace in the Midwest states. When it comes to places like Iowa, tremendous amount of wind power development. Illinois just passed the strongest renewable energy standard in the region; one of the best in the country. That will lead to 2,500 megawatts of new solar energy. Minnesota’s stepping up. Other states in the Midwest are moving forward.

So what we’re seeing is while the federal government is stepping back, cities and states in the Midwest are stepping up and moving forward with clean energy jobs of the future, solar energy, wind power and storage that works.

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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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ELPC’s Schmitz Represents NDARE at Briefing with Secretary of Energy

ELPC’s North Dakota-based Government Relations Specialist Mindi Schmitz, who also chairs the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy (NDARE), participated in a clean energy business briefing with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on April 26th in Washington, D.C. Schmitz attended the event at the invitation of the Pew Clean Energy Initiative.

Schmitz was one of nearly 40 business and clean energy leaders from 17 states in attendance at the briefing. In addition to the briefing, Schmitz met with staff from the North Dakota congressional delegation to reinforce the importance of renewable energy development in North Dakota and to discuss federal support for clean energy innovation.

Chicago Tribune: Debate over future of Waukegan’s lakefront coal plant continues

The environmental-activist group Clean Power Lake County (CPLC) met with county and Waukegan city officials on Thursday seeking support for the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill and the city’s transition to renewable energy.

During a presentation by speakers from the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the CPLC touted results from a poll conducted in December 2015 by the New York-based research firm Global Strategy Group.

The survey findings reported 70 percent support locally for the retirement of the lakefront’s coal-fired power plant.

Of the polled supporters, 64 percent are white, 73 percent are Hispanic and 78 percent are black, said Andrew Baumann, vice president of Global Strategy Group.

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Bloomberg: Harvesting Sunshine More Lucrative Than Crops at Some U.S. Farms

For more than a century, Dawson Singletary’s family has grown tobacco, peanuts and cotton on a 530-acre farm amid the coastal flatlands of North Carolina. Now he’s making money from a different crop: solar panels.

Singletary has leased 34 acres of his Bladen County farm to Strata Solar LLC for a 7-megawatt array, part of a growing wave of solar deals that are transforming U.S. farmland and boosting income for farmers.

Farmland has become fertile territory for clean energy, as solar and wind developers in North America, Europe and Asia seek more flat, treeless expanses to build. That’s also been a boon for struggling U.S. family farms that must contend with floundering commodity prices.

“There is not a single crop that we could have grown on that land that would generate the income that we get from the solar farm,” said Singletary, 65.

The rise in solar comes as the value of crops in the Southeast — with the exception of tobacco — has dropped. Cotton prices have fallen 71 percent in the last five years. Soybeans are down 33 percent and peanuts have slipped 16 percent.

Solar companies, meanwhile, are paying top dollar, offering annual rents of $300 to $700 an acre, according to the NC Sustainable Energy Association. That’s more than triple the average rent for crop and pasture land in the state, which ranges from $27 to $102 an acre, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The economic incentives spurring solar will be discussed at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York starting April 4.

“Solar developers want to find the cheapest land near substations where they can connect,” said Brion Fitzpatrick, director of project development for Inman Solar Inc. of Atlanta. “That’s often farmland.”

Developers have installed solar panels on about 7,000 acres of North Carolina pasture and cropland since 2013, adding almost a gigawatt of generating capacity, according to the NC Sustainable Energy Association. Georgia has added 200 megawatts on fields and cleared forests over the same period, much of it farmland, according to the Southface Energy Institute of Atlanta.

The number of megawatts developers can generate per acre of farmland varies, based on weather patterns, size of the panels and contours of the land. On Singletary’s farm, Strata Solar installed 21,600 panels, each about 6 feet by 3 feet (1.8 meters by 914 centimeters). Combined, they can power as many as 5,000 local homes.

Long-Term Contracts

Farmers typically lease a portion of their land, signing 15- to 20-year contracts with developers who install the panels and sell the power to local utilities. In rare cases, farmers have leased their entire property to solar companies.

Singletary signed a 15-year lease in 2013, with two 10-year extension options, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based Strata sells the power to Duke Energy Corp. He declined to disclose financial terms.

Government incentives have played a key role in the spread of solar farms built on real farms. North Carolina granted developers tax credits equal to 35 percent of their projects’ costs though a program that expired at the end of 2015, helping make the state the third-biggest U.S. solar market. In Georgia, the Public Service Commission passed a bill in 2013 requiring the state’s largest utility, Southern Co.’s Georgia Power, to buy 525 megawatts of solar by 2016. Both policies sent companies scouring for open space to build.

Solar panels have buoyed tax bases in impoverished rural counties, said Tim Echols, a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission. They also let farmers diversify their income with revenue that’s not subject to markets or unpredictable weather patterns.

‘Stable Income’

“Solar and wind farms have become a new stable income stream for farmers — and they don’t fluctuate with commodity prices,” said Andy Olsen, who promotes clean energy projects in rural areas for the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

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Press Release: Iowa Electric Co-op Sets Standard for Rural Solar

Contact: Katie Coleman, (312) 795-3710

Solar Shines for Rural Electric Co-Ops
Announcement Sets New Iowa Record for Solar from Rural Electric Co-ops

Iowa’s Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) and its member cooperatives announced a major investment in solar energy today, unveiling plans to build 5.5 megawatts of new solar energy at six locations across its service territory. This will be Iowa’s largest solar project from a rural electric co-op, and it represents a 20% increase in Iowa’s total solar capacity (27 MW as of 2015, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association).

CIPCO is Iowa’s largest cooperative energy provider, serving nearly 300,000 residents and about 12,000 commercial/industrial accounts in its 300-mile territory stretching diagonally across Iowa and touching Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

The announced projects will be built by Azimuth Energy LLC of St. Louis, MO.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Iowa installed a total of 6 MW of solar energy in 2015.  That means this project alone is just shy of that annual total.

“CIPCO has taken a great step forward in providing their members access to solar energy,” said Josh Mandelbaum, Staff Attorney of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Des Moines. “CIPCO was clear that this effort is just the first phase of the rural electric cooperative’s long-term plan to incorporate solar as an additional pollution-free resource within its energy portfolio.”

Brad Klein, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the CIPCO announcement sends a strong signal to rural electric cooperatives across the Midwest. “The enormous potential for solar energy in states like Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin is just now beginning to be realized, and rural electric cooperatives, which have strong relationships with their members, have an opportunity to lead the way.”

To learn more about the CIPCO announcement visit: http://www.cipco.net/content/cipco-launches-iowas-largest-utility-based-solar-project

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