Wind 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.


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


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.”




Midwest Energy News: Biggest Wind Project in Iowa History Back on Track

By Karen Uhlenhuth, Midwest Energy News

The largest proposed wind energy project in Iowa’s history appears to be back on track this week after a tense period when it seemed the deal might fall apart over differences between a utility and large energy users.

On Tuesday, MidAmerican Energy — the utility pursuing the $3.6 billion Wind XI project — reached an accord with several major customers that objected to the plan, including tech giants Google, Microsoft and Facebook and a group of large industrial customers known as the Iowa Business Energy Coalition (IBEC).

MidAmerican President Bill Fehrman said in testimony filed with state regulators that, based on the companies’ objections, he found it “hard to conclude that the Data Centers and IBEC want MidAmerican to develop Wind XI.”

The large customers testified about a range of concerns with the proposal, including MidAmerican’s approach to modeling, the amount of power the utility projected its turbines would produce, the return on equity that MidAmerican was requesting and the treatment of environmental credits resulting from the production of renewable energy.

In the settlement, the customers and MidAmerican agreed to an 11 percent return on equity, slightly less than the 11.5 percent that MidAmerican initially had requested. The customers wanted a 9.5 percent return. And the two sides agreed to assign the environmental benefits of Wind XI to the various classes of customers, based on each class’ kilowatt-hour sales.

Like MidAmerican, the Iowa Environmental Council had expressed concerns that the changes proposed by the industrial customers and data centers could prove fatal to the project.

In a blog post late last month, the council’s energy program director, Nathaniel Baer, wrote: “While no party appears to have explicitly opposed Wind XI, the changes recommended by several interveners, including the data centers and IBEC, could cause Wind XI to be smaller or, at worst, not to be built at all.”

In written testimony, Fehrman said he was surprised that large customers challenged the project, given that they never expressed opinions in any of the 10 previous wind projects developed by MidAmerican.

The objections also appeared to fly in the face of the companies’ history of supporting renewable energy. All three companies have made significant investments in renewable power, including in Iowa, and have indicated they eventually intend to power all of their operations with renewable electricity.

In 2014, Google signed a deal with MidAmerican to purchase 407 megawatts of wind energy to power a new data center in Iowa. A year ago, Facebook announced that it was expanding with a third data center in Altoona, Iowa. The company cited several reasons for the decision, including access to wind energy.

In April, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad attended the announcement of the 2,000-MW Wind XI installation, which MidAmerican claims is the biggest economic development project in the state’s history.

Wind XI would increase MidAmerican’s substantial wind portfolio to the point that wind would provide energy equal to 85 percent of the electricity sold by the company in a year’s time.

A final decision from state regulators is expected in September. MidAmerican has said it would need to start construction on the project before Dec. 31 in order to receive the maximum amount of federal production tax credits. The credit will gradually decrease over several years, beginning on Jan. 1, 2017.

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Midwest Energy News Cites ELPC Michigan Supply Chain Report to Show Clean Energy Driving Economic Development

Strong clean-energy policy not only has environmental benefits, but it can also provide a push for businesses and economic development.

That’s according to Amy Butler — the executive director of OU INC, a small-business incubator specializing in energy at Oakland University in Michigan — who sees it unfold everyday.

Butler, who spent two decades on the policy side working for the state of Michigan, has transitioned to the business side and sees how the two can interact with each other.

Encouraging the clean-energy sector through standards and incentives makes the case for businesses to come to Michigan, she says.

recent report by the Environmental Law and Policy Center counted more than 300 businesses operating with the wind and solar supply chain here. Multiple reports have shown clean-energy investments nearing $3 billion and employing thousands in Michigan.

“Strong energy policy will attract energy-solution companies to the state,” Butler said.

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

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

PBS EcoSense for Living Features ELPC Current and Former Staff Sarah Wochos and Curt Volkmann

The ninth episode of the PBS Series EcoSense for Living, “Power Pioneers: Reducing Our Carbon Footprint,” features Co-Legislative Director Sarah Wochos and former Clean Energy Finance Specialist Curt Volkmann.

Each episode in the half-hour series discusses a big-picture environmental concept, connects it to everyday life, and showcases active solutions across the country. Host Jennie Garlington interviews numerous experts in the environmental field to examine the leading edge of environmental solutions. In the ninth episode of the series, Wochos discusses the booming wind industry in Illinois and the potential for rooftop solar in Chicago. Volkmann discusses the increasing rate of electric vehicle adoption.

Watch the ninth episode here and check your local listings to keep up with the series.

Des Moines Register: Obama Climate Plan Could be Big for Renewables

In Wednesday’s coverage of President Barack Obama’s Climate Change Plan, the Des Moines Register spoke with ELPC’s Howard Learner, who zeroed in on the promise the plan holds for the region’s renewable energy industry:

“The president’s emphasis on renewable energy is “a big winner for Iowa,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. In addition to being a major wind energy producer, Iowa also has become a hub for turbine manufacturing, from spinning blades to nuts and bolts.

Opening more public land to wind generation should keep those plants running strong, he said.

‘To the extent that the president’s climate action plan moves forward, that’s good for more wind power developments in Iowa, that’s good for job creation, that’s good for economic growth and it’s good for the environment,’ Learner said.”


Read the whole story at

Cedar Rapids Gazette: Wind Power Is Here to Stay

Wind Power Is Here to Stay

By George C. Ford

With the recent layoff of 40 employees at Acciona Windpower in West Branch and larger furloughs last fall at Siemens Energy, Trinity Towers and other Iowa wind turbine component plants, the long-term viability of the industry has been questioned.

But analysts who follow the electric power industry are quick to affirm the future of wind power as a long-term source of renewable energy.

“Wind is not going anywhere,” said Shane Mullins, vice president of product development for the power industry at research firm Industrial Info Resources in Sugar Land, Texas. “Many wind turbine manufacturers did not receive any orders after June of last year as developers waited to see if Congress would extend the production tax credit before it expired on Dec. 31. With the extension of the PTC on Jan. 3, wind turbine construction projects that were put on hold last year are going to be dusted off.

“Between now and the middle of this year, we believe there are going to be a lot of projects come off hold and be back on active status.”

The PTC, created in 1992, provides a 2.2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour benefit for the first 10 years of a wind turbine’s operation. That has enabled wind to compete with coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants.

Losses and gains

Wind power installations have declined between 73 percent and 93 percent in the years after previous expirations of the PTC.

Congress has restored the tax credit after previous expirations, but not before widespread industry layoffs.

Even with the PTC extended to Dec. 31, 2013, Mullins expects only 3 gigawatts to 4 gigawatts of new wind power likely will enter commercial operation by the end of 2013, compared with about 12 gigawatts that entered service in 2012.

He said many developers and utilities raced to get turbines installed and in service before Dec. 31, which was required to take advantage of the PTC.

“A lot of the projects that came online last year had started construction in 2011,” Mullins said. “Many developers were pulling construction projects out of 2013 to start construction by midyear in 2012.”

Under the latest PTC extension, wind turbine projects need only be physically started by Dec. 31, 2013. Howard Leaner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said that has the potential to extend new wind farm construction.

“With wind turbine efficiency increasing and with wind having the inherent advantage of zero fuel cost, we see active wind turbine development through the end of 2013 and possibly into 2014 or 2015,” Learner said. “Natural gas prices have been low over the last couple of years, and that’s a good thing for our economy, but who knows what natural gas prices will be in two years, five years or 10 years?”

Learner said wind power can provide a long-term hedge against the volatility of other fuel prices. The nuclear power industry, for example, is facing the potential for costly retrofits in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

“The cost of coal is higher than natural gas right now, and natural gas prices are starting to move up,” Learner said. “Most smart utility managers are adopting a portfolio approach that includes zero-fuel-cost wind power.”

Demand, jobs growing

Mullins said demand for wind energy is going to grow because of increases in state-mandated renewable energy portfolio standards. He expects about 4 gigawatts per year of required utility purchases of renewable energy over the next decade.

“That’s all been met by utilities until you get to the 2015 or 2016 time frame,” Mullins said. “That’s when purchase power agreements are going to start coming out for more wind power.

“Right now, it’s believed this will be the last extension of the PTC for wind. With natural gas prices expected to rise in 2016 and the increased demand for renewable energy kicking in, wind will be able to compete without the need for the PTC.”

At its peak, the wind power industry was responsible for supporting 7,000 jobs in Iowa. Many of those positions were part of a supply chain of more than 50 manufacturers in many large and small communities across the state.

Some wind turbine manufacturers have entered the aftermarket for wind maintenance and repair as a revenue source to get them through a lean period for new turbine orders. David Bennett, energy production and distribution technology instructor at Kirkwood Community College, said the job market is strong for wind energy technicians.

“I have 3,500 job openings posted on my board right now,” Bennett said. “All you have to do is look and be willing to travel. Most of them are not here in Iowa, where there’s only two projects hiring at the present time.

“The first thing that I tell my students is get their passport ready and pack their bags. There are wind energy technician jobs in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Portugal, South America and Spain.”

The average annual salary for a wind turbine technician is generally from $35,000 to $43,000, depending on qualifications and experience, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Exporting power

With Iowa getting the largest portion of its electricity from wind than any state, 24 percent, the state could be a net exporter of wind-generated power if the necessary power grid infrastructure existed, said Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

“While there are companies like Clean Line Energy Partners stepping in to address that, it takes time to secure (property) easements and it will require time to build transmission lines,” Durham said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.

“We have the retirement of the old coal-fired coal plants and stuff coming out of Washington about emissions reductions, but the infrastructure is just not there for all these clean and renewable energy alternatives. Until that occurs, we’re not likely to see robust growth for wind or other alternative energy platforms.”

Durham said the federal government, which is issuing the mandates, needs to have a national energy policy.

“We also need to know how this energy infrastructure is going to be built,” Durham said. “We have to look at incentives so the private sector will step in and do some of this from a return on investment.”

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BusinessWeek: Nuclear Industry Withers in U.S. as Wind Pummels Prices

Nuclear Industry Withers in U.S. as Wind Pummels Prices

By Julie Johnsson and Naureen S. Malik on March 11, 2013

A glut of government-subsidized wind power may help accomplish a goal some environmentalists have sought for decades: kill off U.S. nuclear power plants while reducing reliance on electricity from burning coal.

That’s the assessment of executives and utility experts after the U.S. wind-energy industry went on a $25 billion growth binge in 2012, racing to qualify for a federal tax credit that was set to expire at year’s end.

The surge added a record 13,124 megawatts of wind turbines to the nation’s power grid, up 28 percent from 2011. The new wind farms increased financial pressure on traditional generators such as Dominion Resources (D)Inc. and Exelon Corp. in their operating regions. That’s because wind energy undercut power prices already driven to 10-year-lows by an abundance of natural gas.


“Right now, natural gas and wind power are more economic than nuclear power in the Midwestern electricity market,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocate of cleaner energy, said in a phone interview. “It’s a matter of economic competitiveness.”

Wind-generated electricity supplied about 3.4 percent of U.S. demand in 2012 and the share is projected to jump to 4.2 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The wind power boom has benefited consumers in regions where wind development is fastest, contributing to a 40 percent wholesale power-price plunge since 2008 in the Midwest, for example. Yet the surplus is creating havoc for nuclear power and coal generators that sell their output into short-term markets.

‘Perfect Storm’

The impact is greatest in the capacity-glutted Midwest. There, Richmond, Virginia-based Dominion is closing a money- losing reactor and selling coal plants, Exelon warns of shrinking nuclear margins and an Edison International (EIX) merchant coal-plant unit has gone into bankruptcy.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Charley Parnell, a Chicago- based spokesman for Edison’s Midwest Generation unit, in a phone interview. Pricing, already under pressure from cheap natural gas and the lingering effects of recession, now has a wind factor. “Wind absolutely plays a part in that,” he said, “especially in the off-peak hours.”

Atomic-power providers complain that the upheaval is an example of government subsidies distorting the market — to the particular detriment of nuclear which provides 19 percent of the nation’s electricity, is clean and has proved safe despite perennial concern by activists that it poses a danger to public safety.

Prices Below Zero

Wind power has two advantages. Green energy laws in many states require utilities to buy wind energy under long-term contracts as part of their clean-energy goals and take that power even when they don’t need it. Wind farms also receive a federal tax credit of $22 for every megawatt-hour generated.

Thus, even when there is no demand for the power they produce, operators keep turbines spinning, sending their surplus to the grid because the tax credit assures them a profit.

On gusty days in the five states with the most wind power – – Texas, California, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon — this can flood power grids, causing prices to drop below zero during times when demand is light. Wholesale electricity during off-peak hours in Illinois has sold for an average price of $23.39 per megawatt hour since Jan. 1, after hitting a record low of -$41.08 on Oct. 11, the least since the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Inc. began sharing real-time pricing in 2005.

‘Negative Prices’

Meanwhile, nuclear and coal plants must continue running even as this “negative pricing” dynamic forces them to pay grid operators to take the power they produce.

“It is becoming more pronounced as more wind is coming on,” Christopher Crane, chief executive officer of Chicago- based Exelon Corp. (EXC), said in a phone interview.


If the push to “over-develop” subsidized wind continues, “there is a very high probability that existing safe, reliable nuclear plants will no longer be competitive and will have to be retired early,” according to Crane.

More development seems a certainty. Wind power got another boost when Congress, as part of January’s deficit deal, extended the production tax credit through Dec. 31, amending current law so that projects begun this year will receive the 10-year tax break regardless of when they come online.

Defending Wind

While few new projects are expected to be built out this year due to developers’ mad dash at the end of 2012, “we think 2014 will pick up again,” said Rob Gramlich, interim CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.

Gramlich doubts wind power is the chief reason that spot- market power producers like Exelon are suffering a profit drain. “Low prices are due to a lot of things, mostly shale gas,” he said. “But to some extent wind does reduce power prices and that’s a good thing for homes and businesses.”

Natural gas is fuel for a growing number of U.S. power plants because of its cost advantage and new environmental rules for coal. Wind is gaining as turbine costs plummet — they are down one-third since 2010 — and technology gains make windmills economical in states with lower average wind speeds.

Google Inc. (GOOG) is investing $1 billion in wind and solar projects and Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings, Iowa’s largest utility owner, owns 6 percent of U.S. wind-energy capacity and has invested about $13 billion in renewable energy.


Tenfold Rise

U.S. wind installations have risen 10-fold since 2003 to 60,007 megawatts, attracting $120 billion investment that has produced new capacity equivalent to 14 nuclear power plants and enough to power 14.7 million homes, the AWEA, the industry group based in Washington, D.C., said in a Jan. 30 report.

Wind’s rapid gains have created headaches for grid operators since winds often blow strongest when homes and businesses use the least amount of power: at night and during the spring and fall seasons, said Paul Patterson, a New York- based analyst with Glenrock Associates LLC.

“I think this model’s got problems with it,” Patterson said in a phone interview. “There are not many examples where the product you produce actually has negative value.”

Before 2006, when wind power began its latest growth spurt, negative prices were extremely rare. The phenomenon is now prevalent in parts of the Midwest, Texas and the West Coast where turbine installations are growing fastest, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“We can’t find enough demand for the amount of energy created by Mother Nature,” said Doug Johnson, spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, which manages the grid in the Pacific Northwest. The transmission operator, based in Portland, Oregon, paid wind operators $2.7 million last year to stay off line so it could make room for the power from hydroelectric generators handling the runoff from melting mountain snows.

Wind vs Fossil Fuels

The surge in wind generation is also squeezing the number of hours that fossil-fuel plants are needed to supply some wind- heavy markets, said Michael Blaha, the principal analyst of North American power research for Wood Mackenzie Ltd. in Houston. “It makes it economically harder for fossil units because when the wind’s up, it’s going to start depressing prices,” he added.

Negative prices are starting to seep into a Southern California power hub and may become more frequent as state regulations mandate that 20 percent of its power come from renewable sources by 2020, Blaha said. “That extra amount is going to knock out about 15 percent” of energy filled by fossil fuels.

Exelon in Illinois

Exelon, the largest U.S. nuclear operator, says a surplus of wind power is making negative pricing a problem in Illinois, where it owns six nuclear plants and a wind project. Prices for markets served by Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities reactors trade below zero between 8 percent and 14 percent of off-peak hours, said Joseph Dominguez, Exelon’s senior vice-president for governmental and regulatory affairs and public policy.

Exelon cut its quarterly dividend for the first time Feb. 7, after reporting a 38 percent decline in fourth-quarter profit on lower power prices and higher nuclear fuel costs.

“Wind generators ignore that price signal in order to chase the federal tax credit,” Exelon’s Dominguez said in a telephone interview. “Everyone else that is producing electricity during that time period pays that negative $30 per megawatt-hour back to the system in the form of congestion charges.”

The market should remain “open and fair” even in the “very rare instances” when demand can’t support two low-cost sources like wind and nuclear, Gramlich of the wind trade group said. “Just because one was there first doesn’t mean they automatically get the right of way to operate 24-7.”


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Howard A. Learner in Times of Northwest Indiana: Green economy helping drive Indiana’s economic recovery

Green economy helping drive economic recovery

By Howard Learner

The election campaigns brought a deluge of hypercharged political sound bites about environmental values even though there’s strong public support for cleaner air that’s healthier to breathe, cleaner water that’s safer to drink and enjoy for recreation, and fewer dangerous toxics in our communities.

The reality: environmental progress is being achieved together with the growing green economy, and it’s helping drive the nation’s economic recovery. Energy-efficient equipment and appliances, wind development, cleaner more fuel-efficient cars and modern rail development are good for job creation, good for economic growth and good for the environment.

The election is over. Let’s discard the SuperPACs’ and defensive polluters’ old myth that we must choose between job creation and environmental progress. Let’s look at how innovative clean technologies are growing Indiana’s economy.

Energy efficiency improvements are creating jobs, saving people and businesses money on their utility bills, and reducing pollution. Johnson Controls and others employ skilled workers retrofitting schools, hospitals, and commercial, industrial and governmental buildings. Saving energy saves consumers money and keeps money in Indiana’s economy. Less pollution means better public health and cleaner rivers and lakes for all. Why would anyone argue that it’s somehow smart to waste energy and money?

Wind power development creates manufacturing, construction and technical jobs, rural economic development and pollution-free energy. Indiana wind turbines produce 1,343 megawatts of electricity, and more development is coming. Wind power is creating new jobs and businesses opportunities for Vela Gear Systems (Carmel, Marion), White Construction (Clinton) and others.

Indiana has much at stake with the federal wind power production tax credit, which expires Dec. 31. President Barack Obama supports extending this tax credit, and Congress must act soon to avoid jobs losses in the wind industry. Indiana politicians should support this policy to keep advancing the state’s renewable energy jobs and businesses.

Cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks save us money at the gas pump, reduce air pollution and improve national security by cutting back America’s dependence on foreign oil. The federal clean car standards will increase fuel economy to a fleet-wide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. That’s a smart solution, keeping money in Indiana’s economy rather than draining dollars to the Middle East and oil-producing states.

The Obama administration’s leadership in stabilizing and modernizing the American auto industry is a true success story that is especially important for Indiana, with its high percentage of auto-related manufacturing jobs.

Let’s separate sound solutions from the sound bites. We are achieving job creation, economic growth and better environmental quality together. That’s what the public wants, and it’s happening.

Howard Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest-based environmental and economic development advocacy organization. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer’s and not necessarily that of The Times.

Read this op-ed at the Times website

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