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Howard Learner offers this response, which you can also find here.
Bending the Temperature Rise Arc
The science is clear that global climate change is occurring. That debate is over. How much can mitigation measures bend the arc on rising temperatures? There’s more diversity of scientific views on the precise amount, but, as the IEA recommends, we must seize the policy, business and economic growth opportunities for our health and safety.
Let’s focus first on energy efficiency because it’s the best, fastest and cheapest approach to reduce carbon pollution. Energy efficiency ties together several of the IEA’s climate change mitigation recommendations to transform our energy economy in ways that are less polluting and advance clean technological innovations.
The quiet revolution of energy efficiency technological improvements is flattening electricity demand in the United States. Refrigerators, air conditioners and many household appliances are more energy efficient, and, over time, people are replacing their older home equipment with newer, more efficient models. Commercial HVAC and lighting retrofits add more efficiency, and modern industrial pumps and motors use electricity more frugally. The emergence of high-efficiency LED lighting over the next five years is a game changer that can save businesses and people money, avoid waste and avoid pollution.
Policy advances and technological innovations are coming together. Federal and state appliance and equipment efficiency standards are saving people and businesses’ money while reducing pollution. Consumer-funded investments through utilities’ energy efficiency programs are achieving results. R&D labs are advancing technological innovations that drive more efficient devices and products to global consumer markets. Transferring and export these technology advances to developing countries can mitigate carbon pollution.
Energy efficiency is flattening demand in U.S. electricity markets, as shown by the recent PJM capacity market auction for 2016 in which prices dropped 60% over the prior year. That’s having a sharp economic impact on potential coal plant retirements, which is another one of the IEA’s policy goals.
The quiet revolution in energy efficiency and accelerating technological innovations can help to bend the temperature rise arc. Let’s advance the public policies which go hand-in-hand with energy efficiency technological improvements to achieve climate change mitigation solutions.
CHICAGO (AP) – Three environmental groups are asking state regulators to take away a central Illinois mine’s wastewater discharge permit.
Prairie Rivers Network, the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law & Policy Center are appealing a new permit recently granted to the Industry Mine. The groups say in their filing this week with the Illinois Pollution Control Board that the mine has more than 600 violations of the permit’s terms.
Should Washington and the rest of the country find a new way to debate climate change in a way that’s more conducive to action?
The few times global warming comes up at all in Washington right now, it provokes a fractured, polarized and partisan conversation. At the mere academic talk of a carbon tax, Republicans immediately push measures blocking its consideration in Congress. Democrats take to the floor of both chambers regularly to talk about climate change. Rarely if ever do the political parties actually talk to each other about this issue.
In the wake of the Oklahoma disaster last week, climate experts seemed split on whether a debate should be had about whether global warming caused the tornado. Is continually linking global warming to extreme weather a helpful component to the overall debate, or not?
How, if at all, could the global warming debate be changed in order to produce more action? Is this effort all for naught as long as many Republicans deny the scientific consensus that humans’ consumption of fossil fuels is causing global warming? Should President Obama take more of a leadership role in changing this debate?
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center
Better environmental protection can achieve economic benefits, not just cause costs. The debate on mitigating climate change has overly focused on the latter. It’s time to squarely address some important economic benefits.
First, risk mitigation. America’s leading scientists are explaining the causal connections between climate change and the acceleration of extreme weather events that impose enormous economic costs and human costs. Reducing carbon pollution mitigates climate change and reduces risk. People buy homeowners’ and life insurance to mitigate risk, not because they think that their house will necessarily burn down and that they’ll die in the next year. Some policymakers claim to be less persuaded by the scientific consensus on climate change. Is mitigating the risks of more intense and more frequent hurricanes and tornadoes a common sense economic approach that can gain more political support?
Second, advance America’s global economic competitiveness with clean technology solutions. Wind power and solar energy are the world’s fastest growing energy resources. Cleaner, more fuel efficient cars, buses, trucks and trains arebeing produced by competing manufacturers in North America, Asia and Europe. Battery technology improvements can be game-changers for both the energy and transportation sectors. All of these technological innovations reduce carbon pollution. As global businesses and nations move forward, America should want our technological innovations to be winning in the competitive economic markets. These global economic growth solutions are also climate change solutions.
Third, American leadership. The United States is the global leader. With that leadership comes responsibility. Why should America act before India does so? Because leaders step up and lead when it comes to solving community problems. Solving our global climate change problems is the moral, economic, political, policy and technological challenge of our generation. America can and must step up to lead the way to global climate change solutions.
Finally, getting more serious about more energy efficiency is a no-brainer. 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, and reduce pollution. There is a “quiet revolution” taking place through technological advances in more efficient lighting, heating and cooling, appliances, pumps and motors. Saving energy saves consumers money. Less pollution means better public health and cleaner air and water for all. Why would anyone argue that it’s somehow smart to waste energy and money?
These approaches combine environmental progress and economic growth. They help frame the climate change debate with solutions that can gain broader support.
Support in the Illinois legislature is slowly growing for a proposal that backers say will save ratepayers millions while freeing up state renewable energy funds currently sitting unspent.
But the proposed bill faces an uphill political battle because of oppositionfrom ComEd’s parent company Exelon, whose nuclear fleet could face competition and depressed power prices with more wind power on the market.
Illinois energy experts have for months been calling for reforms to the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The massive shift away from utilities to community aggregation and alternative electricity suppliers has exacerbated a quirk in the law that now means customers are paying millions of dollars into a fund for renewable energy that is languishing untapped.
Meanwhile, the state risks failing to meet mandatory benchmarks in the RPS; and even the renewable power that is being bought for Illinois customers is largely through short-term contracts for renewable energy credits that could come from wind farms in Texas or other states.
How the current law works
The Illinois utilities Ameren and ComEd and the alternative suppliers that now serve the majority of Illinois customers all channel a small fraction of customer payments toward renewable energy. These funds go into separate “buckets,” as energy experts describe it.
The Illinois Power Agency decides where ComEd and Ameren get their power and how they meet their obligations under the RPS, including through buying renewable credits.
Alternative suppliers purchase renewable energy credits and also pay into an Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) fund to meet their RPS mandates. The fund currently has $15 million and is expected to mushroom to as much as $130 million in the next 18 months.
However, according to the language of existing law, that money cannot actually be used to buy power or renewable energy credits any time soon.
That’s because the law says the ACP money can only be used when the Illinois Power Agency is buying renewable energy or credits on behalf of ComEd and Ameren. But since ComEd’s and Ameren’s customer bases have shrunk so drastically due to aggregation, they have already purchased more than enough renewable energy to meet their RPS requirements.
Meanwhile, the fund can be swept by the state for other budgetary needs, a move experts say is likely given the state’s budget crunch.
Adding an additional wrinkle, the renewable energy charge paid by alternative supplier customers is pegged to the amount paid by ComEd and Ameren customers. And that charge is at the highest level allowed by law, because the utilities are struggling to recoup costs since aggregation slashed their customer base.
“A lot of the math that goes into estimating the cost of compliance isn’t connected to the market at all – it is based on this formula and the formula is wrong,” said Mark Pruitt, an energy consultant who formerly headed the Illinois Power Agency.
Pruitt did an analysis predicting that the proposed legislation, Senate Bill 103, would save Illinois ratepayers with alternative suppliers up to $280 million between 2014 and 2017, compared to the situation if the RPS is not “fixed.” Illinois Commerce Commission executive director Jonathan Feipel said the commission agrees with those findings.
The proposed fix
The bill would abolish the ACP fund and the “separate buckets” for renewable energy monies. Instead, it would allow the Illinois Power Agency to purchase renewable energy on behalf of all Illinois customers, regardless of whether they are with utilities or alternative suppliers.
The legislation would move the renewable energy charge from the generation side of the bill to the distribution side, streamlining things since all energy is delivered by the utilities regardless of who generates and procures it.
Pruitt noted that “that’s how energy efficiency is funded, that’s how the smart grid is funded, that’s how a lot of other types of policy initiatives in the state are funded – it’s not like it’s a foreign concept.”
Currently, alternative suppliers are only willing to enter short-term contracts with power providers, because they don’t know how long their customers will stick with them. Even though scores of communities have chosen aggregation with alternative suppliers in the past few years, many of those customers may go back to ComEd and Ameren in the future.
If the RPS fix bill passes, the Illinois Power Agency could confidently negotiate long-term contracts with renewable power producers, because it would not matter if customers were with the utilities or with the alternative suppliers – all Illinois customers would channel dollars for renewable energy into the same “bucket.”
“With all that churn you need to have more stability in the renewables market,” said Environmental Law and Policy Center co-legislative policy director Barry Matchett. “We’re trying to get the market back to the position where there is greater stability and less risk. If we’re able to get a more stable funding stream for renewables, it will result in a lower price for renewable compliance.”
Feipel said that in the current situation, it is as if the Illinois Power Agency’s “tool” for complying with the renewable portfolio standard is “a hammer split in half” – since the renewable energy funds are separated into different buckets, one of them essentially inaccessible.
“The current split system does cause problems,” Feipel said. “There’s no certainty. If you merge it all together and make it a single program, the power agency can do its job, and it helps meet the (RPS) mandate.”
Exelon: ‘The law is working as intended’
The senate bill passed the energy committee in March and currently has 12 co-sponsors. Governor Pat Quinn supports the legislation, with spokesman Grant Kinzman saying; “This is a common sense solution that will deliver lower energy prices for consumers and businesses; protect the environment; and drive more economic development and new jobs across Illinois.”
Clean energy proponents blame Exelon for the reluctance of many state lawmakers, including House Speaker Mike Madigan, to embrace an RPS fix. Exelon has been actively working to block renewable energy and natural gas development, because cheap electricity from these facilities are a threat to the company’s bottom line (a recent analysis by the Illinois Power Agency found that wind power drove down power prices by nearly $177 million in both 2011 and 2012).
An April study by the Better Government Association noted the company’s extensive lobbying muscle and political connections. People involved with the bill said negotiations involving Exelon representatives and other parties are ongoing, and the bill may change to reflect various interests.
Exelon spokesman Paul Adams offered this statement: “Exelon is a strong proponent of clean energy and supported the law that established the Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2007. The law is working as intended and, as a result, Illinois utilities and alternative retail energy suppliers are in full compliance, and the state’s wind energy industry is thriving.
“Since the RPS was established, Illinois has seen wind energy development accelerate and the state now ranks fourth for overall installed capacity in the U.S. Proposals to change the law are a solution in search of a problem.”
A ComEd spokesman referred questions about the bill to Exelon.
‘Obviously something has to change’
On May 15, the Clean Energy Trust and Advanced Energy Economy released a Zogby poll of 700 likely Illinois voters showing very strong support for renewable energy and for a fix to the RPS. More than 86 percent of respondents said it is important that Illinois “continue to get an increasing amount of its energy from secure and clean power sources,” according to the poll. And 77 percent supported legislation fixing the RPS, while only 8 percent opposed it.
It is unlikely respondents fully understood the extremely complicated components of the RPS dilemma or the fix. But advocates of the bill say public support for renewable energy in the state is clear, and the senate bill is a crucial starting point for ongoing efforts and negotiations.
Even if the bill passes, there is no guarantee contracts will be signed for actual new wind farms or other clean energy sources in Illinois. The RPS mandate could still be met with the purchase of credits, and there is also no guarantee the state would actually fulfill the RPS.
But Pruitt said, “It would definitely have a fighting chance to meet the goals. Right now we’re pretty much frozen.”
“It’s fairly obvious the current system is not delivering the way it’s supposed to be delivering,” Pruitt continued. “Obviously something has to change. If we’re going to change we might as well get to the point where we’re not only actually fulfilling the policy but reducing the cost of compliance.”
Last week, Nissan announced that its electric vehicle, the Leaf, surpassed 25,000 in sales in the U.S. The industry-leading Chevy Volt reached that milestone last year. Over the weekend, John Voelcker, writing for Green Car Reports, estimated that more than 100,000 modern plug-in electric cars have been “delivered to a buyer somewhere in the U.S.”Since the introduction of plug-in electrics in late 2010, first with Nissan’s Leaf then days later with the Volt, the numbers have grown, tripling in 2012. Some analysts expect sales to double in 2013. Through April, Chevy has sold 5,550 units of the Volt, up 3.2 percent from the same period last year, according to Kevin M. Kelly, General Motors’ manager of electric-vehicle communications.
We’re wondering if the outlook is as rosy for the plug-in electric vehicle market here. Chicago once touted itself as a leader in green technologies, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel saying, “I want Chicago to be the greenest city in the world.”
Gov. Pat Quinn echoed this sentiment in March of 2012 when he unveiled a partnership to make Illinois the nation’s largest network of fast-charging EV stations. 26 fast-charging 440v stations had been installed out of 73 planned. “We want Illinois to be the greenest state in America,” Quinn said at a Schiller Park press conference.
While the intention is there, the infrastructure for public electrical vehicle charging stations is in transition. Julie Wernau, the Chicago Tribune’s energy reporter, reported last month that the Los Angeles firm charged with bringing widespread charging stations to the Chicago area, 350Green, seems to have defaulted on its promise to install 280 charging stations: 169 have been completed, while other local contractors have been consulted to finish the project, according to Wernau.
Despite this road bump, the outlook for EVs and plug-in PEVs looks good, says Howard A. Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. The Chicago-based organization is committed to environmental issues and eco-business innovations in the Midwest.
Learner sees the electric infrastructure to support the industry as a public-private partnership. “It’s not going to be a one size fits all solution,” he says.
Most PEV owners can charge from their home with a typical 110 volt plug, or for faster charging, a 220 volt like for a dryer or refrigerator. But a supportive infrastructure makes it a lot easier for car buyers to make the switch.
ELPC runs Plug In Chicago Metro, a website promoting electric vehicles, and links to sites likeCharge Point, which shows in real time the availability and location of electric chargers by ZIP code or other search functions. It lists more than 125 stations in the Chicago area.
Phillips Chevrolet, in southwest suburban Frankfort, built an eight-stall solar charging station in 2012. It’s free and open to the public, the first auto-dealership solar station in Illinois, and it’s used at full capacity, says Mark Catuara, sales manager at Phillips Chevrolet.
“We charge 10 vehicles twice a day without ever using a drop of electricity,” Catuara says. “We push it back to the grid, creating electricity for the electric company.”
If the public isn’t using it, then Phillips Chevrolet recharges its loaners — 80% of which are Volts — at the solar charging station. They also teamed up with the City of Frankfort to install a charging station downtown.
Sales are up to about 10 Volts per month, up from seven per month last year, according to Catuara. The Volt has been outpacing the Leaf by 3 to 1 in domestic sales.
Walgreens has made a commitment to bringing high-speed chargers to its stores in three cities, including Chicago, claiming that its chargers can add 30 miles of range in as little as 10 minutes. The 7-Eleven chain teamed up with the Illinois Tollway to install EV charging stations, and these kinds of partnerships are paving the road for more widespread PEV use.
Perhaps a bigger factor might be anecdotes like this one: “My wife drives a Volt to work every day in Naperville,” says Catuara, “and she hasn’t been to a gas station in six months.”
In the wake of Earth Day, environmentalists look back at the progress they have made. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, reported in the news media as a protest movement against pollution, some have tried to paint environmentalists as “radicals” who don’t really understand the economy.
Howard Learner, who founded the Environmental Law and Policy Center 20 years ago this month, said there is nothing “radical” about it. In fact, curbing pollution creates jobs, he said.
“If you had said to people 20 years ago, ‘Here’s how much wind power will be up and running in the Midwest. There’ll be about 10,000 megawatts of power. Iowa will be number two in the country, Illinois number five, Minnesota number six.’ Those people would have looked at you and said, ‘Well, that’s a little out there.’”
Today, some call clean-energy investments “job killers,” although Learner said that is incorrect. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 3 million people hold “green” jobs. A half-million are in manufacturing, 370,000 in construction, and nearly 350,000 in professional, scientific and technical services.
With more than 70 percent of pollution coming from the energy and transportation sectors, political squabbling solves nothing, Learner said.
“There are no Democratic forests and no Republican rivers,” he said. “When we see the extreme weather events happening, the public is smart, and the public is telling our policy makers it’s time to get serious about solutions.”
Learner considers himself a myth buster. He said the biggest myth is that you can’t have economic growth and a better environment, pointing to Peters Heating and Air Conditioning as an example. The Illinois company specializes in geothermal technology. It started more than 30 years ago in Quincy, Ill. Today, it has three more locations in Illinois and three in Missouri, and brings in around $10 million in revenue.
“We can do smart solutions with technological innovation,” Learner said, “better solutions in terms of energy, better transportation solutions that make our communities work, that reduce pollution and improve our economy.”
He says there are other signs of progress in Missouri. Since 2008, the small town of Rock Port, Mo., has been getting 100 percent of its electricity from wind turbines. It was the first community in the nation to do so.
An attempt to rewrite Ohio’s clean-energy requirements is on hold while state legislators try to make sense of weeks of testimony on the subject.
It might be months before the issue resurfaces, said Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, chairman of the Senate Public Utilities Committee.
“While I make no predictions, it is entirely possible that a substitute bill might not be rolled out until this fall, to give everybody plenty of time to digest what we’ve heard and thought about,” he said.
Seitz’s committee is looking at changing some of the rules in Senate Bill 221, a 2008 energy law that set standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The law says that by 2025, utilities must get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable or “advanced” sources, and they must use energy-efficiency projects to reduce customers’ electricity use by 22 percent.
Rather than begin with a proposal, the committee held a series of hearings in March and April.
The result is that the panel has a vast amount of information to parse before its members will be ready to write their plan. Seitz said he is consulting with his colleagues “to find out to what degree there is consensus on what changes we should make.” He has not yet briefed Senate leadership about the hearings and possible approaches to the bill, he said.
In the hearings, FirstEnergy was the leading critic of energy-efficiency mandates, with many other groups staking out their positions based on similarities or differences with the Akron-based utility. The company has said that the 2008 law will lead to a drastic increase in electricity bills.
“These consequences are harming electric customers, delaying our state’s economic recovery and limiting Ohio’s prospects for future growth,” said Leila Vespoli, the company’s general counsel, in her April 9 testimony.
Supporters of the law have said that FirstEnergy is being disingenuous in saying it’s fighting for consumers’ interests.
“So, here’s where we are at: Energy-efficiency programs mean FirstEnergy makes less profit,” said Robert Kelter, an attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, in his April 23 testimony. “I think at this point you’re beginning to see why FirstEnergy doesn’t like efficiency.”
The push to change the Ohio law is part of a national trend in which state legislatures are trying to roll back green-energy requirements. More than a dozen states have taken at least preliminary steps toward curbing the rules, including North Carolina, Missouri and Kansas.
Opponents of an Ohio rollback have tried to tie the effort to a national push by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that brings elected officials and businesses together to write legislation. Seitz is a member of the group’s board of directors.
Unlike some of the other states, though, there is no proposal yet in Ohio and no way to know whether the state will follow any of the others.
Ohio business groups came at the issues from several directions. The Ohio Energy Group, a coalition of some of the state’s largest manufacturers, has said its members would like to be exempted from some of the mandates. The Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, a separate coalition of major employers, agrees with FirstEnergy that the law will lead to unreasonable rate increases. And last, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, a trade group, is asking legislators to stick with the current rules.
The manufacturers’ association and environmental groups co-sponsored a study that estimates that Ohio will save $5.6 billion by 2020 because of the energy-efficiency rules. “Watering down the standards or eliminating them entirely would be an unfortunate and risky step backward for Ohio, and a blow to our broader economic-recovery efforts,” said Eric Burkland, president of the association, in a statement released along with the study.
Opponents of the rules have said the study is based on hypothetical scenarios and cannot be trusted.
While the argument continued about energy efficiency, almost nobody was proposing to reduce the renewable-energy rules. The most-forceful opponent of those rules was James Taylor, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, a conservative research group based in Chicago.
Supporters of wind, solar and other types of renewable energy said they were relieved that there was little opposition to the rules from businesses or other groups in Ohio.
Advocates say Iowa utility’s plan doesn’t go far enough on efficiency
By Karen Uhlenhuth
An Iowa utility with plans to build a new natural gas-fired power plant is also cutting back on efficiency efforts, in what advocates say is a case of misplaced priorities.
Several organizations have critiqued a five-year energy efficiency plan filed in November by Interstate Power and Light (IPL), one of three investor-owned utilities serving the state. Every five years, Iowa’s large power companies are required to submit a plan to state regulators for reducing energy consumption over the next five years.
Interstate’s latest proposal, to take effect on Jan. 1, left some of the state’s efficiency advocates underwhelmed.
“They’re leaving a lot of energy efficiency that is achievable on the table,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a Des Moines-based staff attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. The center, together with the Iowa Environmental Council and the Iowa Policy Project, last month filed a response to Interstate’s plan.
All three groups are members of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.
Interstate’s overall goal – to reduce retail sales of electricity by 1.1 percent annually from 2014 through 2018 – would be a slight reduction from the 1.3 percent average annual reduction it achieved from 2009-2012. Iowa law allows utilities to pass efficiency costs on to ratepayers; Interstate proposes cutting those reimbursements from $73.1 million in 2012 to $62.6 million in 2014.
Interstate’s goal falls far short of reductions deemed feasible by a recent study commissioned by the state’s three large utilities. The study, done in 2012 by The Cadmus Group, a consulting firm, estimated that given optimal conditions and aggressive efforts by Interstate, it could cut retail electricity sales by just over 2 percent each of the next five years, or about twice Interstate’s goal.
“We don’t see any good reason why they’re not going after more (efficiency)” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council. “If they’re leaving the most economical and cleanest source of power, then they’re going after sources that are more costly and more polluting.”
Running out of opportunities to save?
Interstate intends to build a 600-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant near Marshalltown, to go into operation in 2017. Baer and Mandelbaum challenge the company’s pursuit of another plant at the same time that, in their view, Interstate isn’t working hard enough to meet future demand through energy efficiency.
“I think the company is focused on that rate of return (from building and operating a new power plant) and not on the environment or the Iowa economy,” Baer said.
Interstate spokesman Justin Foss, however, disputes that characterization.
“Our energy resources plan incorporates efficiency and diversifying our energy portfolio,” he said. “It isn’t either/or.”
The Council contends that several strategies could significantly boost energy savings among Interstate’s customers.
The “key,” according to Baer, is increasing the subsidy to customers who invest in efficiency upgrades such as more-efficient light bulbs and appliances. Currently, he said, Interstate’s subsidies vary, but might average in the neighborhood of 50 percent of the extra up-front cost of efficient products. The Cadmus study suggests that utilities pay 100 percent of those costs.
Although it’s not really clear to what extent Interstate’s customers already have made efficiency upgrades, Baer said there likely are many customers who haven’t moved to more efficient products. Bigger incentives might get them on board, he said, as well as possibly encouraging earlier adopters to embrace more recent or upcoming technological advances.
Foss, however, said further incentives likely would be wasteful and redundant. The greatest efficiencies have been wrung out of the system already, and additional efficiencies would provide lesser results for a greater cost.
In the proposal it filed with the state’s utility regulator, Interstate said, “IPL must dedicate ever greater resources to capturing deeper energy savings from harder-to-reach customer segments and later adopters.”
For example, Foss said, “if you bought a furnace two years ago, and you went from 80 to 95 percent efficiency, and now there’s a furnace out there that’s 97 percent efficient, are you going to replace your two-year-old furnace?
And if you bought compact fluorescent bulbs a year ago, will you – and should you – throw them out now in favor of more-efficient LED bulbs?
“That’s the question people have to ask themselves,” Foss said.
‘Get all savings possible’
Mandelbaum termed Foss’ argument mostly “an excuse” for Interstate’s failure to more aggressively pursue efficiency strategies.
Increased efficiency doesn’t rely only on those customers who’ve already upgraded, said Andy Johnson, executive director of the Winneshiek Energy District, a Decorah, Iowa-based non-profit that promotes energy sustainability.
More customers would move towards efficiency if it were, in a manner of speaking, delivered to their door, Johnson said. In his response to Interstate’s plan, Johnson said utilities don’t provide enough technical assistance to customers. In general, he said, utilities provide audits, reports that typically end up on a high shelf to gather dust.
If utility customers could consult with an energy planner from their community, who would not only assess their current efficiency needs, but also nudge them until they make the improvements, efficiency would take a great leap forward, according to Johnson.
Winneshiek has experimented with what Johnson terms “energy planning,” with the result that 90 percent of 50 businesses that received an energy audit went on to make at least one of the recommended efficiency improvements.
Johnson and other critics say Interstate could achieve more efficiency with a greater focus on industrial and commercial customers. Baer said Interstate should, for example, nudge industries towards construction of combined heat and power plants, which can dramatically improve efficiency by making use of waste heat.
Data centers in particular are ripe for efficiency improvements, critics said. Iowa is attracting a growing number of data centers – most recently Facebook, as well as those of other large institutions such as universities and hospitals.
“It’s a fast-growing energy-use sector,” said Baer. “We think they need to focus on those and get all savings possible.”
The potential is great, said Mandelbaum, given that, per square foot, data centers typically use about 100 times as much energy as more typical offices.
He and Baer also take issue with Interstate’s proposed termination of an incentive for customers who install renewables on-site, which can help offset demand. Interstate launched a pilot project in 2008, then instituted it statewide in August 2011. The company says the program has gotten very few takers, and hasn’t proven cost-effective.
However, Mandelbaum points out that in 2012, the program paid rebates to 57 customers, and that in the first three months of 2013, 32 customers qualified for rebates. At that rate, he said, the response in 2013 would more than double that of 2012.
“That to me is a sign that the program is working,” he said.
The bottom line, Mandelbaum said, is that efficiency planning calls for expansive thinking. The fact that the plan reaches five years into the future, “makes it that much more important that you be aggressive and forward-thinking.”
The Illinois EPA has decided to renew a permit a for coal mine near Industry. The permit, called an NPDES permit, allows the mine to discharge certain amounts of pollutants into state waterways.
This is the same permit that, last year, the Illinois Pollution control Board found the mine had violated over 600 times.
The Illinois Attorney General filed suit against the owners of the mine, Springfield Coal, after several environmental groups filed started their own legal action.
Jessica Dexter is an attorney with one of the groups, the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
She said the ELPC is already looking into challenging the permit renewal.
“I can’t think of an example that would be a better situation for I-EPA to deny a permit until the permitee can show it intends to comply with the terms of the permit,” Dexter said.
Kim Sedgwick lived near the Industry mine site along Grindstone Creek. She said she and her late husband began exploring ways to express their concern through legal channels after seeing what the mine did to forests in the area.
Sedgwick now lives in Macomb and says after a while the process frustrated her.
“After a decade of pursuing these issues, and after being cross examined in the administrative reviews and looked down upon, after hiring a lawyer and after being laughed at by the hearing officers, IDNR personnel and of course the mine, we became so discouraged and exhausted, both holding down full time jobs, building a house, being a caregiver for an elderly parent that we had to bow out,” Sedgwick said in a written statement.
She released another statement after the EPA renewed the mine’s pollution permit saying, “this is a complete mockery of our state agency and our Illinois system.”
The Illinois Pollution Control board has yet to levy fines against the company. ELPC Attorney Dexter said a decision should be made some time in June and the fines could total 60 million dollars.
The renewed permit also allows coal from the proposed Littleton Mine to be processed at the Industry site.
Environmental groups and Illinois’ senior U.S. senator are asking the Department of Justice to strengthen an agreement with Lake Michigan Carferry Inc. that calls for the company to stop dumping coal-combustion ash into Lake Michigan.After a long dispute between the company and U.S. EPA over ash dumps from the S.S. Badger, the Great Lakes’ last operating coal-fired ferry, both sides reached a resolution earlier this year (Greenwire, March 22). The company agreed to stop waste dumps by 2014 and pay a $25,000 fine.But groups — including the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club — asked DOJ to stiffen the fines and make other changes to the deal.
“We respectfully request that the proposed consent decree be strengthened to ensure that the S.S. Badger and its owners stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan by 2014,” the letter said.
“More than four years have already passed since the owners of the S.S. Badger committed to end the coal ash dumping,” the letter added. “The S.S. Badger should finally clean up its operations and stop polluting Lake Michigan.”
Another key request by groups is that the agreement contain a stipulation barring the company from seeking any compliance extensions.
“There’s a clarity to that. And it comes in light of the history,” ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said in an interview. If the company doesn’t agree, Learner said, “that tells you something about their motivations and plans.”
Groups say the government has received more than 7,000 comments on the issue. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a foe of the Badger’s ash waste, encouraged people to weigh in (E&E Daily, April 10).
It’s unclear whether the comments will have any effect on the proposed consent decree, lodged and pending approval in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.