community solar

Solar Novus Today: National 3iAward Winners Announced by IREC at Intersolar North America

July 11, 2018

National 3iAward Winners Announced at Intersolar North America

During an awards ceremony at Intersolar North America, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) today honored its 2018 3iAward recipients, celebrating the nation’s best innovation, ingenuity and inspiration in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The winners are based on a prestigious annual national search.

“Today, we’re proud to recognize our 2018 IREC 3iAward recipients – among the nation’s most extraordinary people, projects and programs making a sustainable energy future a reality,” said IREC Board Chair Larry Shirley.

“Their work is setting new standards – creating solutions to today’s complex renewable energy and energy efficiency challenges – changing communities and our national energy landscape in the process,” added Ken Jurman, IREC board member and chair of the 3iAwards Committee.

Regulatory Champion of the Year

Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago IL

Where Midwest regulatory reform issues call for talented public interest environmental entrepreneurs, you’ll find the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Since 1993, ELPC has been improving the quality of life in Midwest communities, now with offices in nine states. Nowhere is ELPC’s handiwork more apparent than in the Illinois Future Energy Jobs bill and the Illinois Power Agency’s Long Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan, both of which will help usher in new wind and solar projects. ELPC has played a pivotal role advancing community solar and interconnection reform in Illinois, Iowa and most recently Minnesota, where consumers and communities experienced major backlogs, delays and costs to connect community solar projects to the grid. Along with IREC and Fresh Energy, ELPC successfully petitioned the Minnesota Public Utility Commission for more transparent, nationally consistent interconnection standards. New common sense interconnection standards now lay the foundation for more Midwesterners to benefit from clean energy for years to come.

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Chicago Tribune: Solar Farms Set to Sprout Across Illinois

Solar Farms Set to Sprout Across Illinois

by Robert Channick

A new crop is ready to sprout on Illinois farms, with gleaming solar panels supplanting rows of corn and soybeans.

Drawn by new state requirements and incentives, renewable energy developers are staking out turf on the rural fringes of the Chicago area and beyond, looking to build dozens of solar farms to feed the electric grids of Commonwealth Edison and other utilities.

It’s a potential sea change in the Illinois energy landscape that proponents say is long overdue and will provide customers with a green power alternative. But the rise of solar power also has generated opposition from some residents over everything from changing landscapes to toxicity concerns.

The fledgling solar energy boom is driven by the Future Energy Jobs Act, which took effect last year and requires Illinois utilities to get 25 percent of their retail power from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2025.

Solar power, which has been growing in other parts of the U.S., has yet to make much of a dent in Illinois. The state is looking to change that with a call to add 2,800 megawatts of new solar energy over the next few years — enough to power about 450,000 homes, experts say.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved an update to the state’s plan for utilities to buy renewable energy credits. The plan includes a blueprint that specifies production by new large-scale solar farms, community solar gardens and rooftop solar installations to meet the state’s renewable energy goals.

“This is an inflection point for Illinois where we’re going to start seeing rapid renewable energy growth,” said Brad Klein, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago. “It’s a huge ramp-up of the amount of solar in the state. It really put Illinois on the map as a leader.”

Just outside the Chicago metro area, Kankakee County is becoming a hotbed of solar development thanks to its relatively inexpensive farmland and ready access to the ComEd grid. There are 25 proposed solar farms in the pipeline, said Delbert Skimerhorn, the county’s planning department manager.

“It seems like we’re going to become the renewable energy capital of Illinois,” Skimerhorn said.

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PV Magazine: ELPC Working to Bring Community Solar to Illinois

Community solar, PACE policies moving forward in Illinois
By Mark Burger

August 28, 2017

Community solar in Illinois has made another step forward in the long slog to implementation with the filing by ComEd of a tariff with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) on August 15 requesting that the requisite riders for community solar be added to existing net metering and related riders.

The rider in the tariff, POGCS, will include provisions for both the provider, or developer, of community solar projects and the beneficiaries, or subscribers, without which projects cannot go forward until both conditions are satisfied. This is the latest action in a process that began with enactment of the Future Energy Jobs Act on December 7, 2016, which took effect on June 1, 2017.

ComEd has requested approval from the ICC by September 29, and for the tariff to take effect on October 9th.  Several intervenors have filed in this tariff so far including the Illinois Power Agency, Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Illinois Competitive Energy Association.

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Sun-Times: Howard Learner Says Time is Right for Chicago Community Solar

Warming Up to Solar Energy in Chicago, Cook County
April 11, 2017
By Howard A. Learner

Community solar is ready to move forward in Chicago and Cook County.

When Chicagoans drive toward Des Moines, Indianapolis and Springfield, they see local wind turbines helping to power our transition to a clean energy future. Here in Cook County, our best renewable energy growth opportunity is installing modern solar energy panels on residential and commercial building rooftops and on underutilized “brownfield” industrial sites.

Solar energy development is being driven by smart policies, technological improvements, and civic and political leadership. The Illinois Legislature passed a modernized Renewable Portfolio Standard, which, if implemented well, can jump-start solar energy installations and financing. It’s especially important for Illinois to move quickly to leverage the federal Investment Tax Credit for solar energy that is available over the next four years.

There have been huge technological innovations in almost all solar energy equipment. Solar panel costs have dropped from $4 per watt to less than 40 cents per watt over the past 10 years, and solar inverter efficiency has improved to close to 99 percent.

Since 2015, Cook County has partnered with the city of Chicago, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Elevate Energy, Commonwealth Edison and West Monroe Partners to advance development of new community solar projects. In 2011 the City of Chicago solar formed an energy partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology, Environmental Law & Policy Center and West Monroe Partners. Both SunShot initiatives, supported by U.S. Department of Energy grants, accelerate solar energy projects, streamline processes and remove barriers.

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Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s MeLena Hessel Explains Community Solar

Want Solar Panels, but Can’t Afford Them? Cook County’s Working to Set Up Co-ops
April 3, 2017
By Cheryl V. Jackson

Solar panels are cheaper than ever, but many renters, condo-owners and low-income families aren’t able to take advantage of the flaming ball of energy in the sky.

A Cook County project is working to change that, helping set up new solar energy co-ops that would let people who can’t install their own solar panels tap into a shared pool of power.

The Department of Environmental Control and partner groups are laying the groundwork for solar panels at 15 pilot sites across the county, including determining how to outfit property with panels for community-shared solar power, assess subscriber interest and market to users.

Community solar allows power from a single solar array to be shared by numerous households and businesses in a community. Through the systems, individuals would be able to “rent” panels and get reduced electric bills.

It’s part of the Cook County Solar Market Pathways project, funded by a 2014 $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The grant won’t pay for the actual installation of solar panels, but it will provide reports and analysis that’ll pave the way.

The project also looks at the community solar marketplace in the county, identifies suitable available sites and demand, and analyzes the economics of different ownership models.

The county hopes the pilot sites — a mix of sizes and uses across the county, including schools, business and vacant land — can serve as models for groups associated with similar buildings or property.

Aiding residents and organizations in accessing solar energy is important to the county’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, said Deborah Stone, Cook County’s chief sustainability officer and director of the Department of Environmental Control.

“We’re making really good progress at our own buildings, but there’s 1.9 million buildings in Cook County. There’s over 5 million residents. We’re not going to make an impact unless we help the community,” she said.

About 75 percent of households can’t install solar on their roofs because they rent, don’t get enough sun, have structural issues or can’t afford the upfront installation costs, according to Elevate Energy, one of the county’s partners in the program.

About 42 percent of Cook County households live in rental units, and another 16 percent live in condos, Stone said.

“And because we have such income disparities in Cook County, we have a large portion of residents who wouldn’t have enough savings or upfront cash to invest in solar, we’re not going to make headway on our sustainability goals unless we can make solar accessible to everybody,” she said.

The solar market in Illinois is growing after the passage last fall of an energy bill that calls for creation of community solar programs. The law provides credits on electric bills to subscribers who buy or lease solar panels in such programs, said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which pushed for the legislation and is also a partner in the Cook County project.

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PV Magazine: ELPC’s Klein Talks About Community Solar in Minnesota

PV Magazine

September 21. 2016

Community Solar Is (Finally) Moving Forward in Minnesota
By Christian Roselund

Mortenson Construction’s groundbreaking on the first in 11 MW of projects is part of a boom in community solar construction in the state, despite big delays in Xcel Energy’s interconnection process.

After Minnesota passed enabling legislation in 2013, the solar industry has had high hopes for community solar in the state. However, to say that progress has been slow may be an understatement.

A website tracking community solar lists only seven with less than 600 kW of combined capacity in Minnesota. In the service area of the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, only four projects have been put online for a total of around 400 kW, as of the utility’s latest regulatory filing.

This is set to change in the next few months. Yesterday Mortenson Construction, one of the nation’s largest renewable energy engineering, procurement and construction contractors, announced that it has broken ground on the first of eight community solar projects totaling 11 MW. Mortenson expects these projects to come online by early 2017, and to begin work on more projects next year.

Mortenson is building these projects in partnership with SunShare, which administers the projects and signs up subscribers, as well as WakeSun LLC, which is developing and financing the projects. The total portfolio to be built by this consortium over the next year and a half will serve around 6,000 customers.

The initial 11 MW which Mortenson is building joins another 83 MW of community solar which is currently under construction in Xcel Energy’s service area. And while these projects will represent a dramatic growth not only for community solar but Minnesota’s overall solar market, they are still only a small fraction of the projects which developers have planned for the state.

Xcel’s latest filing shows applications for 876 community solar projects in different stages of interconnection review, totaling 820 MW. Another 1,226 projects representing nearly 1.2 GW of capacity have been withdrawn.

Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) Senior Attorney Bradley Klein says that much of the delay in putting community solar online is due to Xcel’s interconnection process, which he describes as “extremely slow”, noting that the process for approval “hasn’t been transparent”.

“I think that there were legitimate challenges, related to the amount of interest and applications that went in at one time,” Klein told pv magazine. “I don’t think Xcel was equipped to handle them, in part because the rules in place were outdated.”

Read More at https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2016/09/21/community-solar-is-finally-moving-forward-in-minnesota/

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Andy Olsen Speaks on Co-ops Embracing Solar

By Kari Lydersen, Midwest Energy News

In Wisconsin, where state regulators and utilities have been perceived as cool to renewable energy, rural cooperatives are making major investments in solar power.

According to solar installers and experts, co-ops, which aren’t subject to regulation by the state’s Public Service Commission, are being more responsive to their customers’ interest in solar.

“What’s very important here is working with cooperatives, they have more flexibility,” said SoCore senior vice president of sales Rob Federighi.

Last year, Wisconsin’s solar capacity grew 39 percent, with community solar and other projects built by co-ops comprising a significant share of that.

That capacity is expected to grow another 40 percent this year – the state’s largest influx of solar power ever – thanks to projects commissioned by the Dairyland Power Cooperative.

Dairyland is a generation & transmission (or G&T) cooperative, that brings together 25 smaller member electric cooperatives and 17 municipal utilities in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. Such G&T cooperatives provide wholesale power to distribution cooperatives, which deliver the electricity to customers in rural areas.

Currently Dairyland has only 3 MW of small solar and bio-digesters in its system. The cooperative had incentive to increase its renewable resources because of the closing of DTE Energy’s 40 MW Stoneman biomass plant in Cassville, Wisconsin. Dairyland’s contract with that plant had helped meet its state renewable portfolio obligations.

“Dairyland Power is committed to expanding our investment in solar and other renewables for two main reasons: our members have expressed interest and we continue to diversify our generation portfolio with more renewable energy as part of Dairyland’s overall strategic plan,” said manager of business development Craig Harme. “It is good business practice.”

Dairyland has entered Power Purchase Agreements with two solar developers that will build and own solar installations providing energy to customers in member cooperatives. The cooperative got 30 answers offering 100 different plans in response to its request for proposals last summer, according to Harme.

Chicago-based SoCore will develop solar at 11 sites around the state, for a total of 16.4 MW. Vermont-based groSolar will develop a 2.5 MW project in northern Wisconsin.

Seeding Interest

SoCore senior vice president of development Eric Luesebrink said the project “is really kind of an innovative program” in its design and structure.

“Setting aside the fact it’s probably the largest single solar contracting exercise in Wisconsin, I don’t of know any other approach that’s been collaborative with distribution cooperatives and generation and transmission cooperatives like this,” he said.

Federighi said Dairyland’s RFP didn’t specify that projects had to be scattered over multiple sites, but “I think at the end of the day Dairyland liked the distributed nature of the projects and it fit in well with the grid.”

Distributed projects are “typically better absorbed by the power grid without significant impact on the local infrastructure and reliability,” confirmed Harme. Since the sites are all located near existing utility substations, significant upgrades to the grid should not be needed. SoCore is leasing sites from farmers or landowners with unused space.

“We really worked with the transmission members of Dairyland – who were really asking for solar,” said Federighi. “By partnering with them we really gained a lot of support within the network to do this project, as well as landowners who were really excited about it, as well as member co-ops, who are thinking about their own community solar garden projects, whether we can build systems for them outside of this.”

From One Farming State to Another

GroSolar’s installation will involve 6- to 8-foot-tall tracking panels that move with the sun, increasing efficiency 15 percent over stationary panels. The company says it will provide about 5,000 MWh in the first year, enough to power about 470 homes.

GroSolar spokesperson Maribeth Sawchuk said the company has no other developments in Wisconsin, and is “hoping to use this to get more contacts in the state, and see how local folks feel about solar.”

Sawchuck said the company often does installations on city property, old landfills and universities. GroSolar’s 2.5 MW, 10-acre installation on the Rutland city landfill in Vermont is part of Green Mountain Power’s heavy investment in renewable energy.

The company says the Wisconsin construction will mean about $750,000 in direct wages and more than $1.5 million economic impact on the area, with local contractors hired.

“It’s not just about installing solar, it’s about helping the environment, creating jobs and so much more,” she said.

A Cooperative Model

Keith Reopelle, senior policy director of Clean Wisconsin, said the group is “very pleased” with the Dairyland investment in solar especially given the challenges that solar faces in utility service territories.

“It is interesting we’ve seen more activity and investment by co-ops and municipal utilities under a little bit of a different model,” he said. “It makes sense because they are really just trying to be as responsive as they can to their members. Whether served by investor-owned utilities or cooperatives, solar is becoming more and more popular as the price goes down; and co-ops maybe have an advantage as they are able to be more nimble and more responsive to their customer base.”

“It’s really impressive to see all over the country how cooperatives are embracing solar and finding new ways to implement it,” added Andy Olsen, with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “There are a number of things that led them to this, to diversify their generation mix and move away from fossil fuels, which they have to do regardless of what happens with the Clean Power Plan.”

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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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