Developing Clean Energy

Iowa Supreme Court Opens Door for Solar Energy Choice


July 11, 2014


Manny Gonzales



Josh Mandelbaum



Iowa Supreme Court Opens Door for Solar Energy Choice

Ruling Affords Iowans Same Options Offered Families in Other States


DES MOINES –Iowans can offer their roof space to solar energy developers and buy the power created from those panels according to an Iowa Supreme Court decision released Friday.

“Today’s decision is a win for Iowans because it gives everyone the option to go solar affordably,” said Brad Klein, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), who argued the case last spring on behalf of a large coalition of solar energy and environmental advocates. “Across the country, families, businesses and communities have gone solar with third-party ownership. Now, that opportunity can come to Iowa, too.”

In 2011, Alliant Energy argued that an agreement between Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar and the City of Dubuque violated the utility’s monopoly territory. Under the agreement, Eagle Point agreed to install and maintain solar panels on the Dubuque City Council building, the City would then pay Eagle Point for the energy created by those panels. The utility argued that the agreement, known as a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) amounted to the creation of a utility. This claim was rejected by the court.

In his majority opinion, Justice Appel wrote that “Third-party PPAs like the one proposed by Eagle Point actually further one of the goals of regulated electric companies, namely, the use of energy efficient and renewable energy sources.”

“We are pleased that the court agreed with us that agreements that take place behind the meter cannot be considered utility deals,” said Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney with ELPC’s Des Moines office.  “The fact that the court agrees with our analysis of the law means good things for the future of solar in Iowa.”

A recent report by the Iowa Environmental Council, Real Potential, Ready Today: Solar Energy in Iowa highlighted the significant potential for solar energy in Iowa. Mandelbaum said that Iowa is already starting to see the rapid growth of solar, which most recently was highlighted by the tripling of funding available for state tax credits for solar energy installation.

“This ruling opens up solar to a larger audience by bringing down up-front costs. This decision will make solar more affordable for Iowa families and businesses, and it also helps cities, churches and other non-profits to get the whole value of clean energy,” Mandelbaum added.

Friday’s ruling upholds an April 2013 ruling by the Iowa District Court.

Milwaukee JS: ELPC Science Advisory Council Chair Donald Waller – What We Do To The Weather

By Donald M. Waller

“Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” The idea that anyone could affect the weather seemed ludicrous 20 years ago. It seems less comical now that we know that each of us does affect our weather, locally and globally, every day. We here in the Midwest produce some 5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. So we should think twice about what we do to the weather and, increasingly, what the weather is doing to us.

Wisconsin weather shows conspicuous trends toward warmer nights, warmer winters and more variable weather overall. We’ve just felt the coldest of recorded winters on the heels of several of the warmest. Intense storms are spawning an uptick in tornadoes and flash floods. We expect winter ice to disappear from Lake Mendota within the next 15 to 20 years. Ticks bearing disease and crop pests are moving north and into our state. Farmers worry about which crops to plant and if they will survive to harvest.

All this is chronicled in the recent National Climate Assessment Report, reflecting the work of hundreds of scientists and approved by an advisory committee that included NASA and the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture and Health and Human Services. But we hardly need the weatherman or another government report to know which way the wind is blowing. Altered weather is in our news and faces every day.

So what can we do? Because most greenhouse gases come from producing electricity and transportation, we need to reduce these sources. Even conservative economists support a carbon tax as the most economically efficient way to reduce emissions and the high future costs of global warming. Yet we continue to ignore their advice.

Read more. 

New ELPC Report: Farm Energy Success Stories (3rd Edition)

FESS_2014_CoverThe new edition of ELPC’s Farm Energy Success Stories features over a dozen projects from across the nation funded by the Farm Bill’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which ELPC has long championed.  These projects span a wide variety of technologies — including biomass, anaerobic digesters, energy efficiency, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar and wind — that have had a positive impact on rural development.

The new Farm Bill passed earlier in 2014 provides $881 million for Energy Title programs like REAP over 10 years, benefiting small- and mid-sized farms and ranches, as well as rural small businesses. ELPC’s Farm Bill Clean Energy Team has led the charge to extend the Farm Bill’s Energy Title programs and make these programs work well on the ground.

Learn more at ELPC’s

91 Illinois Communities Powered by 100% Green Electricity

Friday, March 7, 2014

David Jakubiak
(312) 795-3713


NORMAL, Ill. – Ninety-one communities in Illinois have achieved 100 percent renewable electricity for their residents, says a new report released today by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, LEAN Energy US, the Illinois Solar Energy Association, and George Washington University Solar Institute. Each of the 91 communities chose to purchase electricity through renewable energy credits, leveraging their group buying power to receive renewable electricity while also reducing overall electricity cost.


Illinois has far more towns and cities supplying 100 percent renewable electricity than any other state in the union; Ohio follows with two cities.


“Normal is showing how communities can help move our country toward a more sustainable future from the local level,” Sen. Dick Durbin said. “Along with other communities up and down Illinois, this city is cutting down both its utility bills and its environmental footprint by pursuing renewable electricity.  I hope other states take notice of the good work being done here in Normal and all across Illinois.”


“We look at community aggregation as a way to get our City a great price on electricity, and we see it as a way to advance our sustainability goals,” said Normal Mayor Chris Koos, “We are proud that Normal and almost 100 other Illinois cities and towns are model for the nation in having those two goals go hand-in-hand.”


The 91 communities that have transitioned to 100 percent renewable electricity represent more than 1.7 million individuals. Demand for renewable energy from the state is more than six terawatt hours, a reduction in greenhouse gas comparable to taking more than one million cars off the road.


“We are seeing the power of letting communities choose their electricity supply,” said Sarah Wochos, senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Across Illinois, cities and towns are asking for clean, renewable energy, and we encourage them to use that power to bring new renewable energy projects to their communities.”


“Across much of Illinois we have seen the impact that clean energy projects can have in boosting local development,” said Lisa Medearis, clean energy advocate with the Sierra Club, “This report honors communities across Illinois for their sustainability leadership, and urges them to continue innovating in 2014 by supporting even more local clean energy projects in Illinois.”


“Without fanfare, 91 local governments in Illinois have decided that renewable electricity is the best option,” said Keya Chatterjee, director of renewable energy and footprint outreach at WWF. “No one knew this was happening, and I doubt anyone would have guessed. America’s green energy revolution is here; and it starts in Illinois.”


To download a copy of the report, visit

New Website About Greening the Grid

This week the Sustainable FERC Project launched, a site dedicated to informing the public and policymakers about efforts to increase the amount of clean, low-carbon energy powering the nation’s electricity transmission grid.

FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the transmission grid.  The Sustainable FERC Project is a coalition of environmental and clean energy organizations — including ELPC — that is working with the Commission, as well as regional grid operators and utilities, to develop and advance policies that will lead to a cleaner, more efficient transmission grid. Our top priorities are removing barriers to getting more clean energy on the grid and maximizing energy efficiency in grid planning. Check out the website to learn more.

BusinessWeek: Nuclear Industry Withers in U.S. as Wind Pummels Prices

Nuclear Industry Withers in U.S. as Wind Pummels Prices

By Julie Johnsson and Naureen S. Malik on March 11, 2013

A glut of government-subsidized wind power may help accomplish a goal some environmentalists have sought for decades: kill off U.S. nuclear power plants while reducing reliance on electricity from burning coal.

That’s the assessment of executives and utility experts after the U.S. wind-energy industry went on a $25 billion growth binge in 2012, racing to qualify for a federal tax credit that was set to expire at year’s end.

The surge added a record 13,124 megawatts of wind turbines to the nation’s power grid, up 28 percent from 2011. The new wind farms increased financial pressure on traditional generators such as Dominion Resources (D)Inc. and Exelon Corp. in their operating regions. That’s because wind energy undercut power prices already driven to 10-year-lows by an abundance of natural gas.


“Right now, natural gas and wind power are more economic than nuclear power in the Midwestern electricity market,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocate of cleaner energy, said in a phone interview. “It’s a matter of economic competitiveness.”

Wind-generated electricity supplied about 3.4 percent of U.S. demand in 2012 and the share is projected to jump to 4.2 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The wind power boom has benefited consumers in regions where wind development is fastest, contributing to a 40 percent wholesale power-price plunge since 2008 in the Midwest, for example. Yet the surplus is creating havoc for nuclear power and coal generators that sell their output into short-term markets.

‘Perfect Storm’

The impact is greatest in the capacity-glutted Midwest. There, Richmond, Virginia-based Dominion is closing a money- losing reactor and selling coal plants, Exelon warns of shrinking nuclear margins and an Edison International (EIX) merchant coal-plant unit has gone into bankruptcy.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Charley Parnell, a Chicago- based spokesman for Edison’s Midwest Generation unit, in a phone interview. Pricing, already under pressure from cheap natural gas and the lingering effects of recession, now has a wind factor. “Wind absolutely plays a part in that,” he said, “especially in the off-peak hours.”

Atomic-power providers complain that the upheaval is an example of government subsidies distorting the market — to the particular detriment of nuclear which provides 19 percent of the nation’s electricity, is clean and has proved safe despite perennial concern by activists that it poses a danger to public safety.

Prices Below Zero

Wind power has two advantages. Green energy laws in many states require utilities to buy wind energy under long-term contracts as part of their clean-energy goals and take that power even when they don’t need it. Wind farms also receive a federal tax credit of $22 for every megawatt-hour generated.

Thus, even when there is no demand for the power they produce, operators keep turbines spinning, sending their surplus to the grid because the tax credit assures them a profit.

On gusty days in the five states with the most wind power – – Texas, California, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon — this can flood power grids, causing prices to drop below zero during times when demand is light. Wholesale electricity during off-peak hours in Illinois has sold for an average price of $23.39 per megawatt hour since Jan. 1, after hitting a record low of -$41.08 on Oct. 11, the least since the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Inc. began sharing real-time pricing in 2005.

‘Negative Prices’

Meanwhile, nuclear and coal plants must continue running even as this “negative pricing” dynamic forces them to pay grid operators to take the power they produce.

“It is becoming more pronounced as more wind is coming on,” Christopher Crane, chief executive officer of Chicago- based Exelon Corp. (EXC), said in a phone interview.


If the push to “over-develop” subsidized wind continues, “there is a very high probability that existing safe, reliable nuclear plants will no longer be competitive and will have to be retired early,” according to Crane.

More development seems a certainty. Wind power got another boost when Congress, as part of January’s deficit deal, extended the production tax credit through Dec. 31, amending current law so that projects begun this year will receive the 10-year tax break regardless of when they come online.

Defending Wind

While few new projects are expected to be built out this year due to developers’ mad dash at the end of 2012, “we think 2014 will pick up again,” said Rob Gramlich, interim CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.

Gramlich doubts wind power is the chief reason that spot- market power producers like Exelon are suffering a profit drain. “Low prices are due to a lot of things, mostly shale gas,” he said. “But to some extent wind does reduce power prices and that’s a good thing for homes and businesses.”

Natural gas is fuel for a growing number of U.S. power plants because of its cost advantage and new environmental rules for coal. Wind is gaining as turbine costs plummet — they are down one-third since 2010 — and technology gains make windmills economical in states with lower average wind speeds.

Google Inc. (GOOG) is investing $1 billion in wind and solar projects and Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings, Iowa’s largest utility owner, owns 6 percent of U.S. wind-energy capacity and has invested about $13 billion in renewable energy.


Tenfold Rise

U.S. wind installations have risen 10-fold since 2003 to 60,007 megawatts, attracting $120 billion investment that has produced new capacity equivalent to 14 nuclear power plants and enough to power 14.7 million homes, the AWEA, the industry group based in Washington, D.C., said in a Jan. 30 report.

Wind’s rapid gains have created headaches for grid operators since winds often blow strongest when homes and businesses use the least amount of power: at night and during the spring and fall seasons, said Paul Patterson, a New York- based analyst with Glenrock Associates LLC.

“I think this model’s got problems with it,” Patterson said in a phone interview. “There are not many examples where the product you produce actually has negative value.”

Before 2006, when wind power began its latest growth spurt, negative prices were extremely rare. The phenomenon is now prevalent in parts of the Midwest, Texas and the West Coast where turbine installations are growing fastest, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“We can’t find enough demand for the amount of energy created by Mother Nature,” said Doug Johnson, spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, which manages the grid in the Pacific Northwest. The transmission operator, based in Portland, Oregon, paid wind operators $2.7 million last year to stay off line so it could make room for the power from hydroelectric generators handling the runoff from melting mountain snows.

Wind vs Fossil Fuels

The surge in wind generation is also squeezing the number of hours that fossil-fuel plants are needed to supply some wind- heavy markets, said Michael Blaha, the principal analyst of North American power research for Wood Mackenzie Ltd. in Houston. “It makes it economically harder for fossil units because when the wind’s up, it’s going to start depressing prices,” he added.

Negative prices are starting to seep into a Southern California power hub and may become more frequent as state regulations mandate that 20 percent of its power come from renewable sources by 2020, Blaha said. “That extra amount is going to knock out about 15 percent” of energy filled by fossil fuels.

Exelon in Illinois

Exelon, the largest U.S. nuclear operator, says a surplus of wind power is making negative pricing a problem in Illinois, where it owns six nuclear plants and a wind project. Prices for markets served by Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities reactors trade below zero between 8 percent and 14 percent of off-peak hours, said Joseph Dominguez, Exelon’s senior vice-president for governmental and regulatory affairs and public policy.

Exelon cut its quarterly dividend for the first time Feb. 7, after reporting a 38 percent decline in fourth-quarter profit on lower power prices and higher nuclear fuel costs.

“Wind generators ignore that price signal in order to chase the federal tax credit,” Exelon’s Dominguez said in a telephone interview. “Everyone else that is producing electricity during that time period pays that negative $30 per megawatt-hour back to the system in the form of congestion charges.”

The market should remain “open and fair” even in the “very rare instances” when demand can’t support two low-cost sources like wind and nuclear, Gramlich of the wind trade group said. “Just because one was there first doesn’t mean they automatically get the right of way to operate 24-7.”


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Howard Learner Crain’s Op-Ed: What Illinois is Doing Right on Climate Change

By Howard Learner

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

President Barack Obama emphasized advancing climate change and clean energy solutions as a second-term priority. Let’s recognize Chicago’s and Illinois’ progress on achieving positive climate change solutions with clean technologies that are good for job creation and economic growth. Let’s also seize the opportunities to get more accomplished.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to climate change problems. Energy-efficiency improvements create jobs, save businesses and people money on utility bills, keep money in Illinois’ economy and reduce pollution.

Illinois’ Energy Efficiency Performance Standards drive $500 million in incentives leveraging large-scale HVAC and lighting upgrades and new efficiency strategies. The City’s Retrofit Chicago program should accelerate energy-efficiency building improvements. Full speed ahead now!

Saving energy saves consumers money. Less pollution means better public health and cleaner lakes for all. Why would anyone argue that it’s somehow smart to waste energy and money?

Coal plants emit huge carbon pollution. Progress: The old Fisk and Crawford coal plants shut down, and Chicago’s electricity supply procurement requires “no coal.”

Next: More Chicago-area municipalities should replicate “no coal” in their electricity procurement contracts, and businesses touting sustainability should “buy green, not brown” power. Midwest Generation, which burns Wyoming coal at its nine northern Illinois coal plants, has filed for bankruptcy because the plants aren’t economically competitive. No public bailout, please.

Wind and solar energy development drive new manufacturing and technical jobs, economic growth and pollution-free energy. Illinois is No. 4 nationally for wind-power generation and home to 300 wind and solar supply-chain businesses and 18,000 related jobs. Chicago has 13 wind-power corporate headquarters and hosts the American Wind Energy Association’s annual convention in May. That’s progress.

Next: Illinois’ legislators should update the statutory Renewable Energy Standards, which were based on ComEd’s power supply purchases before all of the municipal aggregations. These adjustments are needed to spur wind-power development here. As technological innovations improve solar panel efficiency, Chicago’s SunShot program can remove barriers to rooftop solar development and convert underutilized “industrial brownfields” into “solar brightfields.” Get the policies right to advance Illinois’ renewable energy economy leadership.

Cleaner, more efficient cars save us money at the gas pump, reduce carbon pollution and improve national security by cutting foreign oil imports. The federal clean car standards require a fleetwide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Next: Chicago, Cook County, Illinois and business fleets should purchase more electric, hybrid and natural gas vehicles. Transit agencies: Keep going. Ford, Chrysler and Mitsubishi Motors: How about building more clean cars at your Illinois plants?

High-speed rail development across Illinois and Michigan will improve mobility, reduce carbon pollution, create jobs and spur economic growth. There are 460 Midwest rail equipment supply-chain businesses, including Nippon Sharyo assembling 130 new rail cars in Rochelle.

Next: The modern Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network needs federal transportation funds and a modernized Union Station. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn should lead together and prioritize transforming the region’s rail transportation infrastructure.

Chicago and Illinois are creating jobs and boosting our economy through ways that help solve climate change problems. Let’s be the national leader for solutions.

NW Times of Indiana: Let the bidding begin: Chicagoans approve electricity aggregation to cut bills

CHICAGO | After Tuesday’s referendum, the phrase power broker has a whole new meaning for the city of Chicago.

A majority of Chicago’s voters approved the electricity aggregation referendum on Tuesday’s ballot, entrusting the city to negotiate with energy suppliers and purchase power on behalf of the city’s residents and small businesses.

As of Wednesday morning, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, 476,934 Chicago voters, or 56 percent, had approved the referendum.

In the short term, there is little doubt that aggregation will save approximately 1 million eligible Chicago residences and small businesses money on their power bills. The Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit watchdog group, recently projected that Chicago residents could see savings of around $100 on their power bills in the first five months of 2013.

Continue reading.

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