Solar Energy

WBEZ Chicago: MeLena Hessel Discusses Renewable Energy in Illinois

April 6, 2018
Illinois Steps Up As A Leader On Renewable Energy
By Daniel Tucker

The Illinois Commerce Commission signed off on a long term plan this week that clean energy advocates say will increase the installation and use of renewables like solar energy and wind power across the state. The new changes mean Illinois is on track to have renewables account for 25 percent of its overall energy by 2025. That would put Illinois among the top states for renewable energy. Morning Shift discusses what this means for businesses and the average consumer with MeLena Hessel, Clean Energy and Sustainable Business Policy Advocate at Chicago’s Environmental Law and Policy Center.

GUESTS:

MeLena Hessel, Clean Energy and Sustainable Business Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center

LISTEN HERE

News Release: Michigan Public Service Commission Sets Rates for Clean Energy

For Immediate Release

Michigan Public Service Commission Sets Rates for Clean Energy

Rate Certainty Sets Stage for New Private Investments, Solar Energy Development

LANSING, MI – An order setting rates for renewable energy developers from Consumers Energy will create the certainty necessary to spur private investments and new growth in solar energy while ensuring utility customers’ electricity rates don’t increase.

“The Commission adopted a strong methodology that reflects the value solar provides to Michigan during peak periods,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. “This decision makes Michigan more attractive for renewable energy development at no additional cost to ratepayers.”

The Commission adopted new avoided cost rates that Consumers Energy must pay to renewable energy facilities in Michigan for the power those facilities supply to the grid.  This completes Michigan’s first update in 25 years of the approach utilities must take under federal law to compensate the owners of qualified clean energy facilities.

Solar industry officials hailed Wednesday’s announcement saying it can help make Michigan a leader in Midwest solar.

“The Commission correctly recognized the significant long-term value of solar to Michigan, and the need to update old rules to capture that value,” said Rick Umoff, director of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “Solar companies can now ratchet up investment in Michigan’s economy, creating well-paying jobs and providing clean reliable energy to the state.”

Advocates also celebrated the news.

“The Commission’s decision to enable a level playing field for clean energy will launch a new wave of solar development in Michigan,” said Becky Stanfield, senior director of western states at Vote Solar. “Michigan’s leadership demonstrates to regulators and lawmakers across the country how to attract private investments, build a clean energy economy, and create local jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) was enacted in 1978 to encourage renewable energy development, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and promote energy independence. It requires utilities to purchase energy from small qualified cogeneration and renewable energy providers and establishes what are known as “avoided costs” and “must-buy prices” that utilities pay to small renewable energy providers. Since its inception, PURPA has spurred more than 16 GW of cumulative capacity across the country.

In June, the Commission established avoided cost calculations based on the costs of energy and capacity from new natural gas facilities, creating an even playing field for independent developers of qualified clean energy projects. The order also simplifies the development and financing process for small projects by establishing 20-year contracts at a standard rate for projects up to 2 megawatts in size. Previously only projects up to 100 kilowatts were eligible.

Read the Commission’s order.

###

Daily Southtown: ELPC Explains Why Will Co. Farmers See Sun as New Cash Crop

Solar farms are cropping up in Will County
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

September 5, 2017

As harvest season approaches, some Will County farmers may already be considering alternatives to the future of their corn and soybean fields. They are learning that the sun they now rely on to produce vegetables, could be harnessed into a new cash crop.

Empowered by Illinois’ new Future Energy Jobs Act, solar companies have approached area farmers in recent weeks about converting a portion of their property into solar farms.

Cypress Creek Renewables, which currently operates solar farms in eight states, has an agreement with a landowner in Crete Township to convert 45 acres on Goodenow Road into a five MegaWatt solar farm, enough to power 800 homes, said Scott Novack, Cypress’ senior developer. They are looking for more sites.

Frankfort officials have just begun to discuss a concept for a 32-acre community solar farm that could generate enough energy to power 1,200 homes, according to developer Josh Barrett, of Solarshift LLC, Homer Glen.

“This is totally new to us,” said Mark Schneidewind, manager of the Will County Farm Bureau. About 100 farmers recently received letters from a few different companies and about a dozen have retained a lawyer to negotiate the finer details, he said.

With offers of $800 per acre, compared to $160 to $180 for a really good crop yield, some older farmers are considering this as a steady cash flow as they head into retirement, Schneidewind said.

Others are concerned about leasing their farms for 20 to 30 years, and want to know if it would restrict their ability to use their land, or interfere with drain tiles, he said.

He said he does not see this as the future of farming, because the ground in Will County is “prime farmland,” but he acknowledged that this gives people an alternative.

Novack said Cypress needs at least 20 acres in close proximity to power lines or substations, and are “actively working on” five to 10 projects in Will County. Realistically, he said he expects they will move forward with one or two.

It will be at least 2019 before a facility is operating. According to CCR’s website, the entire process, from signing the lease to completing construction, takes 18 to 24 months.

Cypress invited area landowners to a recent community meeting, but drew only one, along with two county board members — Judy Ogalla and Laurie Summers, he said.

The farm bureau has held two seminars, in each of the last two Aprils, attracting about 100 people each, to provide information and answer questions.

Schneidewind also has been at the table with Will County’s Land Use Department to discuss how best to regulate this burgeoning business.

The county currently is “not very restrictive,” but does require a special use permit for solar projects — which adds an extra layer of scrutiny, said Samantha Bluemer, of the Land Use Department. As officials update the zoning codes, they want to ensure these are “safe developments” and protect the landowner, she said.

Will County recently won an award for being “solar smart” for simplifying its zoning ordinances and making “alternative energy” an option on its building permit application. It also has enhanced training for permitting and inspection staff and increased public resources regarding solar energy systems and consumer protections, in order to promote positive, sustainable growth.

As they review zoning codes, they are looking at decommissioning the land, mitigating the agricultural land, requiring bonds, letters of credit, and fire training, Bluemer said.

While officials in Frankfort are “excited” about having a solar energy field and contributing to renewable energy, development director Jeff Cook said they want to make sure the site will be properly maintained over the years. A special use permit will be required.

“Renewable energy is a hot topic, a timely subject, but we don’t know all the ins and outs,” Cook said, adding that they are looking at Barrett’s proposal from a land use perspective, and while the location “makes sense,” the plan needs “more details.”

Barrett has proposed a community solar farm on 32 acres on the southwest corner of Pfeiffer Road and Sauk Trail, where it could easily connect to a nearby ComEd substation.

Unlike the larger scale utility farms, Barrett said he would sell solar panels to residents, who would then receive credit on their electric bill for producing their own power.

Given that the majority of rooftops on homes are not conducive to solar panels, community solar farms allow residents to buy into renewable energy at half the cost, with optimal production, he said.

He is now working out zoning issues with the village, which currently requires a special use permit, he said. He hopes to conduct pre-sales at the beginning of 2018, open to Frankfort residents first, then others. If there is not enough interest, the project would not go forward, Barrett said.

Knowing that Frankfort is concerned about aesthetics, he plans not only landscaped berms to seclude the site, but will incorporate native plants and pollinators to promote water filtration and create wildlife habitats.

The panels are designed to last 25 years, and if approved, this site would be developed in three phases, each to produce two megawatts (MW) of power — enough to power 1,200 homes, Barrett said.

“It doesn’t produce any negative effects, just clean energy,” he said.

Brad Klein, senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, agreed.

The state law sets benchmarks for creating 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power —enough electricity to power millions of homes — to be built in Illinois by 2030.

That goal, along with incentives and tax credits, has led to a lot of interest statewide, Klein said.

The Illinois Power Agency is now working to implement that law, and drafting regulations, but development is happening before the details have been finalized, he said.

Still, Klein said he sees only benefits, and the ELPC has been a key proponent of renewable energy.

“We are really interested in finding the best ways to make sure solar processes are integrated well into the landscape,” he said.

Among the “best ways” are creating pollinator habitats under the panels, which may make the land more productive, and making sure the land is restored to its original condition if no longer used for solar farming, he said.

These farms also are expected to generate more revenue for local schools and communities since solar companies would pay property taxes on land they lease — likely at a higher rate than agricultural land, Klein said.

READ MORE

 

Duluth News Tribune: Minnesota Has 100-Plus Renewable Energy Businesses

Duluth News Tribune

Feb 2, 2017

Minnesota has 100-plus renewable energy businesses
By John Myers 

While efforts are underway in Washington and St. Paul to roll-back solar and wind energy efforts and return to a coal-and-oil future for domestic energy, a Minnesota group says renewable energy is creating thousands of jobs in the state.

Minnesota now has more than 100 companies serving wind power and solar energy markets in manufacturing, financing, designing, engineering, installing and maintaining renewable energy projects, according to a study released Thursday by the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The report identified 82 companies involved in the solar power supply chain and 49 companies involved in the wind energy supply chain.

That includes wind-involved companies like Minnesota Power/Allete and Ventura Wind in Duluth as well as solar-involved companies like Energy Conservation Services in Carlton, Silicon Energy in Mountain Iron, Harvest Energy Solutions in Duluth and Conservation Technologies in Hermantown.

“When a new solar installation or wind farm is built in Minnesota, the economic impact of that project goes well beyond the community that will be delivered the construction jobs and new tax revenue from the project, there can be a web of economic activity that extends across the state,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in a statement. “Wind power and solar energy development drives economic and job growth. Every renewable energy project requires engineering, financial, manufacturing and construction businesses and workers.”

READ MORE

 

 

Learner Op-Ed in Crain’s Chicago Business: Nine Smart Ideas for Making Chicago Greener

As published in the Crain’s Chicago Business on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Chicago is becoming a “greener city,” but let’s be candid about some key challenges and the need for solutions moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false.

Wind Power: Illinois has leaped from no wind power in 2003 to more than 3,842 megawatts today. A decade ago, who thought that Illinois would become #5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would be now be home to 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next: Illinois policymakers should say “no” to Exelon’s opposition and finally modernize the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, which helps drive wind power development. Let’s make it work well and advance Illinois’ national leadership in the restructured electricity market.

Solar Energy: Our next boom. The City and County are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar energy is truly an improving disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements.

Next: How we can accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago’s many flat rooftops?  First, remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Illinois Commerce Commission and Springfield legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents. Third, support Argonne National Labs’ goal of making batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost. That’s a game changer.

Energy Efficiency:  There’s a quiet revolution occurring with more energy efficient lighting, appliances, cooling and heating equipment, pumps and motors, and other technologies.  Commonwealth Edison reports that electricity sales declined (-1.5%) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew about 3.0%. Our economy is growing—efficiently.

Next:  Let’s make sure that homes in all Chicago neighborhoods gain energy efficiency benefits through job-creating retrofits that can reduce electricity and natural gas bills.

Public Transit: Chicago can’t be a greener “city that works” unless the CTA is modernized.

Next: Let’s face it—no good public transit, no green city. Chicago’s public transit system must become faster and provide improved, more efficient passenger services. CTA is working on it. Mayor Emanuel, Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Congressmen Lipinski and Quigley are trying to gain more federal funds for CTA modernization. That’s a priority and necessity.

Higher-Speed Rail: Chicago is the natural hub of the growing Midwest higher-speed rail network connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and the mid-sized cities in-between.

Next: Modernize Union Station so it works well for intercity passenger rail, is attractive to new visitors and can be a multimodal hub connecting with CTA while anchoring West Loop commercial development.

Great Lakes: The Great Lakes ecosystem is the Chicago region’s global gem, vital source of drinking water supply and place of recreational joy.  The Obama Administration’s investment of about $2 billion in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is paying off.  Water quality should improve as investments are made in upgrading treatment facilities, building green infrastructure, and restoring wetlands and habitat.

Next: Water efficiency is more than 20 years behind energy efficiency. We can’t afford to waste fresh water that the rest of the world craves and values highly.  Let’s figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking. Let’s make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities.

Chicago River: Our namesake river should be a gem that increases recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There’s progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District finally begins to disinfect wastewater.  The Chicago River, however, is still not “fishable and swimmable.”

Next: The new Riverwalk and river-focused development is helping build support for the importance of cleaning up the river. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits.

Clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Chicagoans. This Earth Day, let’s be proud of our progress, and let’s seize opportunities to advance a cleaner, greener and safer community that works for all.

Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Midwest’s leading environmental and economic development advocacy organization.

 

ELPC’s Josh Mandelbaum Tells Midwest Energy News Why No News is Good News for Iowa Net Metering

Nearly two years into an examination of the state’s policies towards distributed generation, the Iowa Utilities Board has signaled that it sees no reason at this point to make any major changes.

And no news, in this case, is good news, in the views of some of the state’s clean-energy promoters.

“I think it’s a positive order and potentially a model for thoughtful, data-driven distributed generation policy,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in Des Moines for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Spokespeople for the state’s major utilities could not be reached for comment.

The board on Oct. 30 filed a document in which it said, “The Board declines to adopt a policy statement with respect to renewable distributed generation.” The three board members also indicated they would be open to more information about the impact of renewables on the state’s power system.

To that end, they invited the state’s municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives to submit plans for pilot projects investigating various aspects of distributed generation and net metering. The board required the state’s two major investor-owned utilities – MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy – to provide pilot proposals by the end of January.

Keep Reading

Midwest Energy News: Michigan Clean-Energy Supply Chain Thriving but Threatened According to ELPC’s Report

In Michigan, more than 300 businesses are active in the clean-energy sector, creating a supply chain of manufacturing, financing, engineering, designing and installing wind, solar and advanced battery systems, according to a new report from the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

And much of that economic development can be attributed to the state’s 2008 renewable portfolio standard that mandated 10 percent of the state’s generation portfolio come from renewables by the end of this year. Utilities have easily hit the target.

“We found the economic impact of the industry in Michigan is significant,” said John Paul Jewell, ELPC research coordinator.

Keep Reading

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.

Midwest Energy News: ELPC Defends Clean Energy by Emphasizing Legality of Third-Party Solar in Wisconsin, Minnesota

Wisconsin has become known nationally as a state hostile to distributed solar energy, with a Public Service Commission that has supported utility policies making rooftop solar installations difficult to finance and develop.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is generally known as a state where policies and officials are friendly to solar energy.

But in both states, a lack of clarity around the legality of third-party ownership, an important solar financing arrangement, has jeopardized or slowed the prospects for solar development, industry backers say.

Third-party ownership is a way that schools, government agencies and other non-profit organizations can finance solar installations and ensure that they can take advantage of tax credits.

In response to the situation, the Environmental Law & Policy Center has recently released legal memos making the case that in both states, statutes and case law clearly indicate such arrangements are fully legal (the ELPC is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News).

The Wisconsin memo, released in mid-October, is meant to help change the prospects for distributed solar in the state and jump-start a local solar industry that has been on hold because of what backers call hostile decisions and actions from utilities and regulators. In Minnesota, the memo released today is meant to bolster and protect a generally vibrant distributed solar outlook.

Keep Reading

Public News Service: Living off the Sun’s Power: A Reality in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Living off the sun’s power may seem futuristic, but it’s a reality for many Illinoisans. During the Illinois Solar Power Tour on Saturday, more than 80 businesses and homes around the state will showcase their use of solar arrays and other renewable-energy installations.

Lisa Albrecht, a renewable-energy specialist for the Illinois Solar Energy Association, said the tour provides an opportunity to speak one-on-one with people who use solar power systems about their experiences with it. With more than 55 megawatts of solar capacity currently installed in the state, she said, solar is becoming a popular, cost-effective energy option.

“Pricing for solar is down about 65 percent in the last four, five years,” she said, “so we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in volume of interest and people who are actually purchasing and installing them.”

Illinois is ranked 25th nationally in installed solar capacity, according to the Solar Industries Energy Association, with enough generation to power 8,000 homes.

Sarah Wochos, Midwest co-legislative director for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said a Clean Jobs Bill could really accelerate solar growth in the state. Supported by hundreds of businesses, labor and environmental groups, she said it would promote energy efficiency and carbon regulation. She said it also could improve the state’s renewable-energy standard, which she believes hasn’t worked well.

Keep Reading

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 25 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now