The Times: Bill Passes IL Senate to Help Monarchs, Honeybees

April 27, 2018
Bill Passes Senate to Help Monarchs, Honeybees
By The Times Staff

The Illinois Senate passed legislation that will help stop the loss of monarch butterfly and honeybee habitats.

Senate Bill 3214, filed by State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, creates standards that will allow the Department of Natural Resources to score how friendly a solar site is to pollinators.

The standards will focus on the use of native perennial vegetation and habitat beneficial to pollinators, game birds and songbirds, as well as reducing storm water runoff and erosion at the solar site. The scoring will allow sites that meet the requirements to designate themselves as “pollinator friendly.”

“Increasing the amount of habitat for honeybees and butterflies is good for the environment, for farmers and other growers, and for economic growth,” Barickman said in a press statement. “We have an opportunity to add substantial habitat acres by creating guidelines that will assist interested solar site owners and operators to convert otherwise wasted space into natural habitat.”

A single 10-acre solar site offers more total habitat than 5,000 6-by-12 feet backyard pollinator gardens. As solar generation increases in the state, the total amount of potential pollinator habitat will soon become quite large.

“This is a completely voluntary program. There are no new zoning requirements or mandates placed on anyone,” Barickman said. “We have solar sites that are interested in and have asked for this program. This is a situation where we can offer a boost to our businesses while helping improve our environment. That’s a true win-win.”

The legislation is an initiative of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Proponents believe the new program could also provide a boost to economic development, as site owners purchase seeds, plants and hire workers to develop pollinator habitat, according to a press release issued by Barickman.

Senate Bill 3214 passed the Senate unanimously and is now headed to the Illinois House of Representatives for consideration.


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.


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


Michigan Utility to Independent Generators: We Don’t Need You Right Now


Michigan Utility to Independent Generators: We Don’t Need You Right Now

By Andy Balaskovitz

A major Michigan utility says it doesn’t need new generation from renewable energy developers, and it shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.

Michigan has become the latest battleground over a decades-old federal law known as the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA.

The law essentially requires utilities to buy power from small, independent producers when doing so will save money for ratepayers.

In multiple states recently, that’s opened the gates for a flood of utility-scale solar projects, which can now routinely sell power at utilities’ avoided cost rate — defined as the incremental cost a utility pays for not generating the electricity itself. Utilities have begun to push back, lobbying for state and federal reforms.

Michigan regulators spent months reviewing how much independent producers should be paid and in November settled on a new, lower rate. One of its largest utilities, though, argues even that number is too high.

Consumers Energy told regulators in December that it doesn’t project a need for new generation capacity in the next decade, and that as a result it should be allowed to sign PURPA contracts at an even lower rate. Developers say they couldn’t build projects with such low compensation.

Solar and clean energy advocates have also scoffed at Consumers’ projection, which assumes the company will continue to operate four coal-fired units through 2030. Critics also note that Consumers plans to build 625 MW of its own wind and solar, even though the Michigan Public Service Commission hasn’t formally approved those plans. Meanwhile, the utility projected growing capacity need as recently as September 2016.

In November, the MPSC approved new avoided cost rates for Consumers, which has 33 PURPA contracts in place across its service territory. The rates hadn’t been updated for about two decades. It also ruled that if the utility’s capacity needs are met for the next decade it could enter PURPA contracts at a far lower “planning resource auction” rate.

The commission suspended its ruling on Dec. 20 based on formal opposition from hydroelectric and biomass owners. The same day, Consumers filed a motion asking that its PURPA rate be reset to the lower figure, and since then at least three developers have objected, saying those lower rates would jeopardize upwards of 800 MW worth of solar projects. Michigan had roughly 100 MW of solar capacity installed statewide at the start of the year.

“These issues need to be resolved quickly. There is a market for renewable energy that’s being paralyzed here,” said Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “That is going to damage the market and disadvantage ratepayers who want more renewable energy.”

California-based Cypress Creek Renewables says Consumers is stalling 700 MW and $3 billion in investments in Michigan “over the next few years.” And Geronimo Energy filed testimony stating 70 MW worth of plans are on hold.

Six other utilities have pending cases before regulators to set PURPA avoided cost rates, including DTE Energy, which is also seeking permission to build a nearly $1 billion natural gas plant to make up for generation lost by retiring coal units. Critics of that plan say new PURPA contracts could help make up for the capacity shortage.

“It means people want to come to Michigan and build solar at a cost that is lower than (the price) DTE and Consumers could do it,” Kearney said, even though not all of that capacity is likely to be built. “That’s a good sign of a healthy market.”

READ FULL STORY Solar Wins Big In Iowa, Next Battle is Wisconsin

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.

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Des Moines Register: Ruling is victory for solar energy

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.

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Two Iowa Supreme Court Victories Advance Clean Energy and Clean Water

This morning, ELPC and our clients and colleagues achieved two big victories before the Iowa Supreme Court on very important solar energy development and clean water protection issues. The first-rate new legal firepower that ELPC has brought to Iowa was key to achieving these legal breakthroughs for the future of clean energy and clean water in Iowa and for setting national precedents. Here are the results:

Iowa Supreme Court Victory #1 – Removing Barriers to Solar Energy Development. ELPC attorneys Brad Klein and Josh Mandelbaum represented a coalition of solar businesses and environmental groups in a case appealing an Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) decision that made solar energy much more expensive and difficult to develop. The original IUB ruling essentially labeled solar installers “public utilities,” subject to a wide gamut of regulatory requirements, if they financed their solar projects through power-purchase agreements with their clients. The Board’s ruling would have increased solar costs and complexity for Iowa businesses like Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar, which was represented in our suit.

Today’s favorable 4-2 ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court removed regulatory barriers that Iowa utilities were seeking to impose on solar energy development. The decision will result in reduced up-front costs, opening up the solar market to a larger audience. Furthermore, the court noted that companies like Eagle Point Solar “…further one of the goals of regulated electric companies, namely, the use of energy efficient and renewable energy sources.” The fact that the court agrees with ELPC’s legal analysis means good things for the future of solar in Iowa and across the Midwest. Learn more.

Iowa Supreme Court Victory #2 – Protecting Clean Water. In 2010, ELPC and our allies at the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) celebrated Iowa’s adoption of strong “anti-degradation” standards – an important but often ignored part of the Clean Water Act designed to keep unnecessary pollution out of clean waterways. But since then, naysayers have been challenging this important standard and even issuing intrusive subpoenas to intimidate local environmentalists. ELPC and IEC have been steadfast in our defense of both the standards and environmentalists’ First Amendment rights to engage in public participation, achieving courtroom victories in both October 2011 and March 2012, when the courts dismissed groundless subpoenas and threw out a lawsuit challenging the clean water standard.

The Iowa Farm Bureau appealed these decisions, but today the Iowa Supreme Court had the final say when it upheld the fair and open rule-making process that established Iowa’s common-sense water protection standards. This is a clear win for clean water and open and fair government. Now we can put the Farm Bureau’s attempts to delay and distract behind us and move on to protect some of Iowa’s most important lakes, rivers and streams. Learn more.

These cases represent what ELPC does best: We advance environmental solutions that make good economic sense, we hold our ground as powerful forces attempt to dismantle important environmental and public health successes, and we achieve progress on long-term challenges that require effective, steady and innovative advocacy. ELPC has brought new public interest legal advocacy capacity to Iowa, which is producing results and achieving clean energy and clean water progress.

Thank you for your continued engagement with ELPC in achieving successes. Working together, we are making a difference for a healthier society, growing economy and better environment for all.

Chicago Tribune: Chicago unveils new rooftop solar discount program

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.”

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Solar Success in Illinois: Governor Quinn Signs ELPC-Advocated Law Accelerating Distributed Solar Energy

“We commend Governor Quinn and the General Assembly for advancing solar energy development in Illinois. House Bill 2724 will jumpstart the solar industry in Illinois, create hundreds of good paying jobs, and help homeowners throughout Illinois gain clean renewable energy for their homes,” Environmental Law & Policy Center President Howard Learner said.

Please see Governor Quinn’s press release and related Chicago Tribune article.

Crain’s Detroit Business: MPSC report continues solar push for utilities

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.

Continue Reading

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

By Donald M. Waller

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

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

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

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

Read more. 

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