Energy Efficiency

Energywire: Ohio Senate Looks for Compromise in Energy Stalemate

June 20, 2018
Ohio Senate looks for compromise in energy stalemate 
By Jeffrey Tomich

As its Great Lakes neighbors Illinois and Michigan firm up plans to add thousands of megawatts of new wind and solar energy in the coming years, a stalemate over clean energy policy drags on in the Buckeye State.

The Ohio Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will try to move the debate forward this afternoon as it holds another hearing on a substitute version of a bill that passed the House mostly along party lines in March 2017.

Unlike H.B. 114, which would have ended renewable energy mandates, the substitute bill lowers renewable energy targets. It would also make other key changes, including easing wind turbine setback requirements put in place in 2014.

The proposal to relax wind setback requirements has support from legislators in both parties, as well as wind developers like EDP Renewables and Apex Clean Energy.

Some clean energy advocates, too, have signaled that they’re willing to live with lower clean energy targets to help jump-start wind development and provide certainty in the market.

But sharp divisions remain on certain provisions in the substitute bill, especially around energy efficiency, and it’s less than clear whether the bill will appear before the Legislature before it adjourns next Wednesday.

Environmental and consumer groups will testify in opposition to the H.B. 114 substitute bill.

Among the key sticking points for environmental advocates is an opt-out provision for so-called mercantile customers, or commercial and industrial customers that use at least 700,000 kilowatt-hours of energy a year. Another provision would allow utilities to carry over energy savings from one year to the next for the purpose of earning financial incentives.

“If we can fix some of the critical elements of the bill, it will be a compromise we can live with,” said Robert Kelter, an attorney for the Chicago-based Environmental Policy & Law Center, a Midwestern advocacy group.

“We’re willing to make trade-offs in return for certainty,” he said. “But those trade-offs can’t include killing energy efficiency.”

Currently, only the largest industrial energy users are allowed to opt out of utility efficiency programs — a policy compromise agreed to during an earlier debate over Ohio’s clean energy standards in 2013.

Trish Demeter, vice president for energy policy at the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, said the provision predictably led to an outcry from business customers that narrowly missed qualifying for the opt-out.

“Opt-outs are an inherently unfair policy,” Demeter said. “Where do you draw the line?”

 

Opt-Out Option

Under the proposal in the Senate substitute bill, a wide range of commercial customers would be allowed to opt out of paying into efficiency and peak demand reduction programs, including smaller businesses that still rely on utilities to help them identify energy savings opportunities, she said.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce singled out the efficiency opt-out provision as a reason it supports the bill. The business group also favors changes to the wind setback rule.

“Energy efficiency helps businesses compete best when free enterprise drives investment decisions rather than government mandates,” Zack Frymier, the chamber’s director of energy and environmental policy, said last month in testimony.

The Senate substitute would lower Ohio’s renewable energy standard to 8.5 percent of sales from 12.5 percent by 2027. The bill would similarly reduce a 0.5 percent carve-out for solar energy.

The substitute version of H.B. 114 would lower energy savings benchmarks of 2 percent starting in 2021 to 1.5 percent and reduce cumulative savings to 17.2 percent from the 22.2 percent in the existing law.

Ohio’s renewable and efficiency standards have been a constant source of debate since they were adopted a decade ago.

S.B. 310 in 2014, a measure that froze the standards for two years, was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Kasich (R). But the governor vetoed a subsequent bill, H.B. 554, in 2016 that would have extended the freeze.

A Kasich spokesperson didn’t respond to questions seeking the governor’s stance on the Senate substitute bill.

Clean energy advocates, meanwhile, say Ohio has other policies in place to support renewable energy development, including net metering for rooftop solar and a competitive energy market that lets businesses enter power purchase agreements for wind and solar energy.

And utilities so far are having no trouble meeting or exceeding renewable targets under the existing law.

Meanwhile, both of Michigan’s large investor-owned utilities this month committed to getting at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. And one of those utilities, Consumers Energy, filed plans with Michigan regulators last week to far exceed that goal and get 37 percent of its energy from renewables by the end of next decade (Energywire, June 14).

Said Demeter: “It’s just kind of silly that they’re proposing to roll it back. It’s just kind of bad optics.”

Energy News Network: Iowa Governor Signs Bill Critics Say Will ‘Eviscerate’ Efficiency Programs

May 7, 2018
Iowa Governor Signs Bill Critics Say Will ‘Eviscerate’ Efficiency Programs
By Karen Uhlenhuth

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill Friday that critics say could largely evaporate utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs in the state.

The new law caps spending on the programs at levels substantially less than what utilities now spend. It also allows certain customers to stop paying fees that support the programs, and it omits rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, which serve about one-third of Iowa customers, from having to offer any programs.

The bill also takes a swipe at solar installations by allowing municipal utilities to discriminate against customers with their own generation. Iowa’s 136 municipal utilities serve about 216,000 customers, or 13.5 percent of all electricity customers in the state.

Kerri Johannsen, who lobbied against the bill on behalf of the Iowa Environmental Council, wrote in a statement that “utilities will sell more power and Iowans will pay more out of their paycheck for energy. Utilities are the only winner here — businesses and citizens across Iowa will pay the price of this action.”

Josh Mandelbaum, a lawyer with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said, “For energy efficiency policy in Iowa, for all practical purposes, we’re at the point where we will need to start over. The policy has been eviscerated enough that we just have poor to non-existent energy-efficiency policy at this point.”

Mandelbaum and Johannsen said the legislation runs counter to the Iowa Energy Plan, a policy document crafted in a process lead by Gov. Reynolds, who was then Iowa’s lieutenant governor. The plan, published in late 2016, endorsed, among other strategies, state policies that encourage greater energy efficiency.

The state’s two major investor-owned utilities could not be reached over the weekend, but the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives released a statement Friday pronouncing the bill good for rural electric customers.

“Iowa’s electric cooperatives will continue to offer energy efficiency programs to member-owners,” said Steve Seidl, board president of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperative. “We will further our commitment to environmental stewardship and renewable energy. The newly signed legislation will ensure that our energy efficiency programs are cost-effective — meaning that co-op member-owners aren’t footing the bill for a program that isn’t financially responsible.”

Most states require utilities to spend money subsidizing efficient products and technologies such as LED lighting and high-efficiency appliances. The programs help lower bills for participants as well as all utility customers by delaying the need for more expensive infrastructure projects.

The Iowa bill would cap spending on energy efficiency at 2 percent of annual sales for electricity utilities and 1.5 percent of sales of natural gas utilities. It also would limit expenditures on demand response programs at 2 percent of sales.

Johannsen estimates that utility spending on reducing electricity use will fall by between 50 and 70 percent. The reduction in natural gas efficiency programs, at close to 90 percent, “is going to be devastating,” she predicted.

Mandelbaum said that in light of the law’s passage, the state’s two major investor-owned utilities, MidAmerican Energy and Interstate Power & Light, indicated they will revise the five-year energy-efficiency plans they filed with the Iowa Utilities Board earlier this year.

Interstate’s plan ranked slightly above 1 on the Ratepayer Impact Test, meaning opt-out is not an option. MidAmerican’s plan scores below 1, meaning opt-out is available at present.

“MidAmerican said they would file something where opt-out would not end up happening,” Mandelbaum said. But the only way, under the current law, for MidAmerican to hike its score is to cut lower-scoring parts of the energy-efficiency program, he said.

“So it’s a lose-lose. You either allow opt-out, and that cuts funding for programs that do exist, or you cut programs so there is no opt-out. Either way, it’s bad for the programs.”

Mandelbaum said clean-energy supporters will express their views on the two utilities’ energy-efficiency plans as they move through the state regulatory process. And more broadly, they will “think about what options we may have going forward.”

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Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

 

Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

By Karen Uhlenhuth

Another threat to energy conservation programs has emerged in the Iowa Legislature.

One week after a bill to repeal utilities’ energy efficiency requirements surfaced in the state Senate, a broad public utility reform bill is set to reach a subcommittee Thursday.

The study bill (SSB3093) would let large industrial customers opt out of efficiency programs, allow utilities to apply a different cost-effectiveness formula, and also require each initiative be cost-effective on its own instead of evaluating the portfolio as a whole. It would also cap efficiency spending at 2 percent of a utilities’ revenue.

“It’s a significant scaling back of energy efficiency, and a step away from our leadership on energy efficiency,” Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum said.

The bill, set to be discussed in a Commerce subcommittee meeting Thursday, was introduced by State Sen. Jake Chapman with support from Interstate Power & Light, one of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities.

Chapman did not respond to an interview request.

Interstate Power spokesman Justin Foss responded to questions about the bill with a brief statement:

“Iowa has been a pioneer in renewable energy and energy policy, providing economic growth for the state. To maintain this leadership position, Iowa needs updated policies to continue to promote the integration of new energy technologies, reduce regulatory inefficiencies, help customers save money, and provide even more opportunities for business growth and job creation.”

Other supporters include Black Hills Energy, a smaller investor-owned utility, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. MidAmerican Energy is seeking similar changes in its next five-year energy efficiency plan, now under consideration by the Iowa Utilities Board.

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FOX32: Save up to 20% on your a/c bill with a smart thermostat

ELPC Senior Attorney Rob Kelter spoke with FOX32 about how smart thermostats can save consumers money — the rebate cuts the cost of the thermostats in half, and the energy savings pay for the rest of the cost of the device within a year.  The Chicago area has the largest rebate in the country for smart thermostats, and ELPC helped make that happen.

Statement from Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition Re: U.S. Supreme Court’s temporary stay of Clean Power Plan

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition issued the following response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s issuing of a temporary stay on implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan:

“While the U.S. Supreme Court may have temporarily delayed implementation, we believe the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill are the best ways to create thousands of jobs, cut electric bills and give Illinois clean air.

“We encourage Governor Rauner and the Illinois EPA to begin a stakeholder process that keeps Illinois from falling further behind other states in growing a strong clean energy economy once the court upholds the Clean Power Plan.”

ELPC is a member of the Coalition, which you can learn more about at www.ilcleanjobs.org.

Midwest Energy News: ELPC Standing Up for Consumers, Energy Efficiency Efforts in NIPSCO Rate Hike Case

An Indiana utility is requesting a fixed rate charge increase of more than 80 percent, even as nationwide utility commissions have denied or curbed many such requests and utilities in other states have backed off the strategy.

The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO argues, as other utilities around the country have, that it needs the rate structure revision to make sure that all customers pay their fair share for upkeep of the grid.

Increased fixed charges are widely seen as an attack on distributed solar, since a set charge regardless of how much energy one uses discourages generating one’s own electricity. The increases also discourage energy conservation and efficiency.

In a case filed October 1 (docket number 4468), NIPSCO asked for fixed monthly charges to be increased from $11 to $20 per month for residential customers. Previously the utility Indianapolis Power & Light Company also asked for a fixed charge increase, from $11 to $17 monthly. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is currently considering both cases.

The commission is often viewed as accommodating to utilities, so clean energy advocates fear the fixed charge increases may be approved. A bill introduced, then later pulled, in the Indiana legislature last year would have forced the commission to approve any fixed charge increase requests.

“This conversation is getting underway in Indiana and the NIPSCO case is on top of the list because of the language they used and their stated intent that, ‘This is just the beginning folks, we’ll be back for more every few years,’” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizen Actions Coalition. “It’s something we’d like to nip in the bud.”

Indiana currently has only a very small amount of distributed solar installed.

In discovery for the rate case, the coalition and the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) found that NIPSCO has only 80 residential and small commercial customers with distributed solar, out of a total of 410,000 residential customers and about 51,000 small commercial customers. Statewide, there are only about 1,000 utility customers with solar.

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Howard Learner appears on WGN Radio’s “The Download” to talk about the Paris Climate Conference and More

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner talks with WGN Radio host Justin Kaufmann about the Global Climate Treaty established in Paris, what climate change will mean for the Midwest, and how energy efficiency is a “two-fer” for environmental protection and economic development.

Listen to the broadcast on WGN’s website. Howard’s segment begins at minute 36. 

Learner Op-Ed in State Journal-Register: Clean Power Plan makes good economic sense for Illinois

Illinois is an economic winner under the new Clean Power Plan because of our state’s robust clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources and nuclear plants. The Clean Power Plans sets flexible standards for Illinois and other states to reduce carbon pollution.

Building new wind farms in central Illinois creates jobs, boosts property tax revenues for schools and local governments, and provides new income for farmers who can continue to grow corn and soybeans while gaining wind turbine lease payments. Wind power produces clean energy that grows Illinois’ economy while reducing pollution for everyone.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution while saving homeowners money on their utility bills and businesses money that improves their bottom lines.

Illinois is now fifth in the nation for wind power capacity. Illinois is home to the nation’s largest nuclear plant fleet. Solar energy is primed to accelerate. Illinois homes and business and governmental and university buildings have untapped opportunities for highly efficient LED lighting, improved heating and cooling systems, better pumps and motors, and other modern energy efficiency technologies that save money and reduce pollution.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Illinois Clean Energy Supply Chain report identified 237 Illinois companies engaged in the solar industry supply chain, and 170 Illinois wind industry supply chain companies. These businesses employ 20,000 people across Illinois. The Clean Power Plan and renewable energy development solutions are good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for our environment.

So, what’s the problem?

Missourian Terry Jarrett’s Dec. 7 guest column attacked the Clean Power Plan that is designed to reduce carbon pollution, help grow the clean energy economy and accelerate practical climate solutions. Jarrett’s economic arguments were based on a report by “Energy Ventures Analysis” that, apparently, was commissioned by the National Mining Association, including Peabody Energy, which is headquartered in Missouri. What does one expect when the cost estimates are being generated at the behest of large coal mining companies?

Let’s set the record straight. Some coal plants in Illinois are retiring because of changing realities in the competitive electricity market: (1) low natural gas prices, (2) economical wind power, (3) affordable energy efficiency holding down electricity demand, and (4) nuclear plants for which Exelon is asking for public subsidies to keep running.

Natural gas prices are low — today, $2.02 MMBtu — and many coal plants are just not competitive on a fuel basis. That’s why Dynegy and NRG are retiring some of their coal plants that are uneconomic in the competitive power market. They are converting some other coal plants to natural gas. These corporate business decisions reflect today’s competitive market prices and reasonable near-term projections; the Clean Power Plan requirements, however, won’t take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

Electricity sales are down about 1 percent annually in Illinois due to energy efficiency. There’s a surplus of electric generating supply over demand here. That results in relatively low wholesale electricity market prices. That’s good for Illinois businesses and residents. That’s not so good for power plant owners.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s recent study determined that reaching renewable energy and energy efficiency targets already in state statutes would trigger creation of 9,600 new jobs by 2019. The study also found that investments in wind power and solar energy have “led to a dramatic increase in manufacturing jobs at renewable component manufacturers across Illinois from Peoria to Cicero, Clinton, Rockford, and Chicago.”

Illinois should benefit from cleaner air, clean jobs and economic growth that the Clean Power Plan will accelerate. Let’s be smart, move forward and seize these strategic opportunities for progress.

— Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an environmental quality and economic development advocacy organization headquartered in Chicago.

Reboot Illinois Features Essay on Game Changing Clean Energy Technologies by ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner

The Clean Power Plan will spur innovations and, over time, price carbon pollution. The high-decibel battles being waged in the courts and Congress miss the quiet revolution in renewable energy and efficiency technologies that is rapidly transforming the electricity market. Wind and solar energy combined with battery storage, advanced lighting, and other improvements are game changers. They are disruptive technologies that will change the electricity system just as wireless technologies reshaped the ways that we live and work. Better still, energy solutions developed in the United States can be marketed to emerging economies and the developing world to reduce carbon pollution.

Solar power is making great advances through policy drivers and technological innovations.

Energy efficiency improvements are saving people and businesses money on their utility bills, creating installation jobs, keeping money in local economies, and reducing pollution. Distributed generation and storage, continually improving efficiency technologies, smart energy management systems, demand response approaches, and microturbines lighten the load on the grid and enhance reliability and resilience. A more decentralized system is also less vulnerable to extreme weather events and terrorism.

Commercial photovoltaic panel efficiencies are improving about 1 percent annually, and inverter technologies improved from 80–85 percent efficiency to 98 percent efficiency. PV panel costs have dropped to 80 cents per watt. The pace of technological change for solar energy reflects experiences with computers, smartphones, and digital cameras. 2014 was the third consecutive year of more than 50 percent growth in the residential solar market.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, and cheapest solution to climate change problems. There is a quiet revolution of more efficient lighting, heating, and cooling technologies, more efficient refrigerators and other appliances, more efficient industrial pumps and motors, and better building design.

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New Essay on Game Changing Clean Energy Technologies Transforming the Electricity Market

My latest essay about the quiet revolution in renewable energy and innovative efficiency technologies that is rapidly transforming the electricity market was just published in ELI’s Environmental Forum (Nov – Dec 2015):  “Evolving [Clean Energy] Technologies Are Game Changers.” You can read it here.

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