Monday, July 21, 2014
Solar just won big in Iowa in the latest battle with utilities.
Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of solar leasing, rejecting the utility’s (and state regulators) claim that only it can sell energy. In a typical leasing arrangement, the city of Dubuque signed a long-term power purchase agreement with Eagle Point Solar, which installed and owns the solar system.
Alliant Energy Corp insists that Eagle Point acted like a public utility in signing a third party power purchase agreement, infringing on its monopoly in the service area. Iowa’s regulatory board agreed.
If the case ended there, solar installers would be subject to a gamut of regulations, increasing costs and complexity for the industry, says the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which represented a coalition of solar businesses and environmental groups in the appeal.
Monday, July 21, 2014
STORM LAKE — The few, the passionate.
Monday night, Storm Lake hosted one of only two field hearings in the state on a newly-announced Environmental Protection Agency proposal to cut carbon emissions from power plants, thought to be a key cause of climate change.
Only 10 people showed up. But those 10 weren’t shy about sharing their opinions — and on a few occasions, arguing their viewpoints about the future of the energy industry with some steam.
The comments from the Storm Lake meeting were videotaped to be shared directly with the EPA.
No one at the hearing questioned the validity of climate change.
“We continue to see the dangerous effects of climate change every day in Iowa, with communities across the state going from drought conditions to severe flooding in a matter of weeks,” said Susan Guy, representing Iowa Interfaith Power & Light. She said her goal is to equip “people of faith” to address the issues of climate change.
When they EPA announced its new proposal in June, no citizen hearings were scheduled for the Iowa region, and her organization felt people in the state should have a chance to be heard. After Storm Lake, a second citizen hearing was to be held in Des Moines.
“Climate change is already posing a risk to health and lifestyle in Iowa,” added Steve Falck of the Environmental Law and Policy Center which is active across the midwest.
While many are claiming the EPA initiative could cost jobs in Iowa, he is of the opinion that it can help create new ones.
Monday, July 14, 2014
A nationally watched Iowa Supreme Court ruling in favor of a solar energy company could spur growth of the solar industry throughout the state, advocates said Friday.
A split Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that Eagle Point Solar would not violate Iowa law by selling electricity to the city of Dubuque that the company generates through a solar panel installation on the roof of a city building. Industry leaders praise such arrangements, called power purchase agreements, as a key to developing more solar energy.
Earlier this year, the Iowa Environmental Council issued a report finding that the state could supply approximately 20 percent of its energy needs each year through rooftop solar installations. Though solar still lags behind wind energy in Iowa, decreases in costs for solar equipment combined with tax credits are creating a ripe environment for growth, the report said.
The ruling will help tip the scales for solar by legalizing another way for people and governments to pay for solar projects, said Barry Shear, president and CEO of Eagle Point Solar.
“This ruling now makes other solar projects like this viable,” he said in a statement. “We can go to any municipality, any university, any wastewater treatment plant, churches … and we can put solar on their roof or on their property — and they have to come up with zero dollars to do this.”
Iowa’s main public utility companies, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy, have fought power purchase agreements, arguing that state regulations give them exclusive rights to sell energy in defined territories.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
“Filthiest Ship on the Great Lakes”
Until the retention system is installed next winter, the SS Badger will continue ejecting tons of coal waste every day. The waste amounted in recent years to nearly four tons a day and more than 500 tons a sailing season. The Badger‘s backers have described the ash as little different from sand, but coal ash contains toxic substances including mercury, arsenic, and lead.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to regulate coal ash in 2010, and has promised to finalize action by the end of the year. (Related: “Largest U.S. Coal Ash Pond to Close, But Future Rules Still Undecided.”)
And among the many YouTube videos that show the Badger blowing its horns, docking, and departing, one can also find a video of it spewing ash from its side and into Lake Michigan.
That very visible pollution earned the ship some outspoken opponents, including Dick Durbin, the U.S. Senate’s second-ranking leader. The Illinois Democrat last year called the Badger “the filthiest ship on the Great Lakes” and aimed to shut it down, or at least stop its ash dumping. He was joined by a coalition of environmental groups that viewed theBadger as a blatant violation of the Clean Water Act.
“It is time that the Badger stop being allowed to violate the law, and stop polluting Lake Michigan,” Howard Learner of the Environmental Law and Policy Center said recently.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Chicago is offering rooftop solar panel installations through the summer at 25 percent below market rates through a partnership with non-profit Vote Solar.
The idea, announced Wednesday, is to jumpstart solar installations in the city, according to Chicago’s Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert. Similar programs have kicked off hundreds of installations in other regions, she said.
“We think of this as a way to bring more people into thinking about solar as an option,” she said. “And as the market gets stronger with more installations happening in Chicago, we expect there to be more and more growth.”
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
A “who’s who” of environmental groups say a 67-year-old pipeline in the straits of Mackinac could be a serious threat to the Great Lakes.
The pipeline is owned by Enbridge.
Howard Learner is head of the Environmental Law and Policy Center: “It’s an old aging pipeline,” says Learner. “We can’t afford to have happen in the Great Lakes what happened with the Enbridge pipeline and the oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. You know, it’s already been a couple of years and we are still cleaning it up.”
Monday, June 16, 2014
The Michigan Public Service Commission is nudging DTE Energy Co. and Consumers Energy Co. toward providing options for more customer-owned solar programs.
It’s less than a full push at this stage because the utilities are on track to supply the 10 percent of their electricity through renewable means as required by Public Act 295, which expires at the end of next year.
But the options, contained in a draft report obtained by Crain’s Detroit Business, are expected to contribute to the debate in the state Legislature early next year over how best to extend the 5-year-old renewable-energy law.
Gov. Rick Snyder has said he would support legislation increasing the state’s 10 percent renewable-energy mandate to possibly 20 percent over 10 years. He has not addressed solar power specifically other than to say increasing Michigan-based renewable-energy jobs is an important byproduct of his plan.
The options in the draft report come from a 42-member work group commissioned by the PSC. It included representatives from the utilities, solar manufacturers, installers, environmental advocates and renewable-energy proponents.
The options would increase the collective 28-megawatt solar power customer programs by at least 50 megawatts over the next 18 months.
Options include allowing customers to build their own solar projects and receive subsidies for the power generated. Customers also could pay full electric rates minus newly designed credits for the solar power generated. Or they could choose some combination of the two options.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
CHICAGO (WLS) –Illinois officials say the state is well-equipped to meet new power plant emissions goals. The Obama Administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. It sets the first national limits on carbon dioxide and will further diminish the use of coal in electrical production.
The proposal sets off a complex process in which the 50 states will each determine how to meet customized targets set by the EPA and then submit those plans for approval.
“It is important that we take serious, comprehensive action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, “so I look forward to reviewing the draft guidelines of the federal plan in detail and helping to develop a flexible and effective approach for Illinois.”
Monday, June 2, 2014
You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers on what’s in store in Illinois now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its long-awaited proposed rule for reducing carbon emissions from power plants.
Explain in brief what the Obama administration’s climate change rule is all about.
Frustrated by inaction by Congress, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is claiming the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulated carbon emissions by power plants. Today it issued a proposed rule, which calls on states to take the lead in reducing emissions from power generators within their borders and gives them flexibility in how to do it.
Are Illinois power plants a source of significant emissions?
Yes, indeed. Only five other states emitted more greenhouse gases from power plants than Illinois in 2012, according to EPA. And while the Obama administration is saying that the proposed rule requires a 30 percent reduction of carbon from the power sector by 2030 based on their emissions in 2005, the reductions don’t fall equally state by state. Illinois is being asked to cut its power-plant emissions by 33 percent from its 2012 emissions. Only two other Midwestern states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, are being asked to do more. Strangely, neighboring Indiana, which emits more greenhouse gases than far larger Illinois thanks to its heavy dependence on carbon-heavy coal, must cut its emissions by only 20 percent.
What’s the time frame for action?
EPA is on a tight time line. The proposed rule must be made final in a year. States have until 2016 to come up with their plans. That won’t stop Illinois from taking the issue on earlier, thanks mainly to the lobbying exertions of Chicago-based Exelon Corp., whose six nuclear plants in Illinois stand to benefit financially from quicker action. State legislative leaders have signaled that they will consider far-reaching legislation to comply with the regulations next spring.
Why is Illinois in such a rush to enact changes that are likely to raise its residents’ electric bills?
Exelon, which owns Commonwealth Edison Co., is one of the most influential companies in Illinois. It has claimed that three of its six nukes in Illinois are losing money, largely due to competition in western Illinois from close-by wind farms. The company sees compliance with EPA’s rule as a means to boost revenues at its in-state plants. It argues that compliance with the rule will be next to impossible for Illinois if even one of its nuclear plants close, since nukes are virtually carbon-free and account for nearly half of the electricity produced here.
Which direction are lawmakers leaning in addressing the situation?
Every direction. Last week the Illinois House passed two resolutions dealing with the then-expected EPA regulations. One, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, effectively called on EPA and other state and federal agencies to do everything they could to promote retention of Exelon’s nukes. The other, introduced in January and tied to a state-by-state pro-coal effort by an organization tied to the Koch brothers, called on EPA to allow Illinois to take longer to comply with the rule and to meet less stringent standards if it desires in the interest of keeping coal-fired power plants open. “The House has passed two resolutions that point in two different directions that are hard to reconcile in a policy way,” says Howard Learner, executive direction of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which has battled coal plants for years.
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Thursday, May 29, 2014
President Obama will unveil a rule Monday intended to confront climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the nation’s greatest source of the heat-trapping gas.
Obama plans to bypass Congress and use his authority under the Clean Air Act to achieve greenhouse gas reductions. Power generation accounts for about 40% of such emissions.
The 3,000-page rule is expected to spark lawsuits, claims of job losses and charges by critics that Obama has launched a new “war on coal.”
In some coal-reliant states, however, power companies and regulators are expected to take a more pragmatic approach, planning for a future they assume will include carbon dioxide limits.
“Carbon policy is going to impact our business, and we have to be prepared for that,” said Robert C. Flexon, chief executive of Houston-based Dynegy. “It can be a threat or an opportunity. I’d rather make it an opportunity.”
Which approach prevails – a legal fight or a political compromise – will help determine how quickly the U.S. will begin to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
As it seeks to reduce pollution, the administration must ensure that electricity supplies remain reliable and consumer rates do not increase significantly.
Some potential approaches are on display in Illinois, which relies heavily on coal, including nine plants operated by Dynegy. Additional power comes from nuclear plants and renewable sources, especially wind.
Although some older coal-fired plants have closed, power executives, regulators and some environmentalists say many need to keep running for now, although at less capacity. The reduced output could be made up through energy efficiency and renewable power, they say.
“We’re pretty consistent with what you’re hearing from other states, that you can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, but a suite of tools instead to use to cut emissions,” said Lisa Bonnett, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Much of the wrangling over the new rule will probably center on its stringency: What baseline will be used to determine how much states have to reduce their emissions?
Will states have different standards to meet depending on how much coal generation they have? Will states get credit for cuts they already have made to emissions?
The Obama administration wants the rule in place by the end of 2016, just before the president leaves office, but given the likelihood of legal challenges, when the cuts might take effect is unclear.
In the past, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has ordered individual power plants to cut specific pollutants by set amounts. But that doesn’t work for carbon dioxide because the technology that would allow coal plants to cut those emissions is not currently cost-effective.
Instead, the EPA is expected to propose a rule that sets overall pollution reduction targets for states and gives them considerable flexibility on how to meet those goals.
In effect, the rule would enact some features of the so-called cap-and-trade plan that passed the House early in Obama’s first term but died in the Senate.
States would have an overall ceiling on the amount of greenhouse gases their power plants could emit – the cap. They could allow utility companies to trade in the hope of finding efficient, low-cost ways to achieve those goals.
Many energy companies have a mix of plants that use different fuels, and some could run cleaner units powered by natural gas or wind and reduce the use of coal-fired generators.
For the gigantic Prairie State plant in the southern Illinois town of Marissa, however, coal is all there is.
The largest U.S. coal plant built in the last three decades, Prairie State was erected in 2012 at the mouth of a coal mine by a consortium of utilities from several states. Its 14-story generation complex can produce 1,600 megawatts of power to serve about 2.5 million customers.
Thanks to $1 billion in technology, it emits less pollution, including mercury and sulfur dioxide, than other coal plants.
Still, Prairie State’s carbon dioxide output is greater than 90% of the country’s power plants, according to EPA data, and it cannot cut emissions enough to rival cleaner electricity generation.
The power it generates is more expensive than electricity from some natural gas plants, a gap that has generated complaints from communities that buy its output.
Plant executives have met with EPA officials on several occasions to argue for more time, said Ashlie Kuehn, Prairie State’s general counsel. The company has considered several options to offset the plant’s emissions.
“Do we install solar panels in our parking lot? Plant trees? Do we partner with a renewables company?” Kuehn asked. “I’m confident EPA heard our concerns. But we’re on pins and needles.”
Chicago-based Exelon owns the state’s six nuclear plants, which do not emit greenhouse gases.
Utility officials have considered closing as many as five of the plants, however, because electricity prices make recouping the cost of the reactors impossible. A rule that would limit coal-generated electricity would help Exelon’s bottom line.
“There’s a lot of talk about how greenhouse gas rules would negatively affect coal plants, and that’s true,” said Joseph Dominguez, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at Exelon. “At the same time, not having greenhouse gas rules negatively affects the expansion of clean energy. The rule could help us. Right now, nuclear isn’t compensated for its zero-emission profile.”
Environmentalists like Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocacy group, hope the rule will foster greater energy efficiency and renewable energy use.
In 2007, Illinois passed a law to require power companies to reduce electricity consumption by 2% every year through energy efficiency programs and incentives.