Wind

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.

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

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Des Moines Register: Rate Agreement Moves MidAmerican Closer to $3.6 Billion Wind Project

 

By Donnelle Eller

MidAmerican Energy, environmental groups and large tech companies reached a rate agreement over the Des Moines-based utility’s plan to invest $3.6 billion in wind energy.

The settlement, which goes to the Iowa Utilities Board for consideration, lowers from 11.5 percent to 11 percent the return MidAmerican would receive from its investment in 2,000 megawatts of wind energy generation.

Among other changes in the settlement, MidAmerican Energy agreed to not sell to other states, utilities or businesses renewable energy credits from the large project when customers choose to claim green energy use.

That’s important to companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, all of which have large data centers in Iowa that are large energy users. Environmentalists have pushed big social media, software and internet search companies to reduce their reliance on power generated from fossil fuels.

“We are pleased that all of MidAmerican’s customers will benefit from this settlement,” said Doug Gross, a Des Moines attorney representing Google, Facebook and Microsoft. “We look forward to continuing to work with MidAmerican to ensure that customers have a voice in decisions that affect Iowa’s energy future.”

The project, MidAmerican said, “will bring significant environmental and economic benefits to our customers and the state of Iowa without the need to ask for a rate increase.”

Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center, also involved in settlement discussions, applauded the agreement as well.

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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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Learner on WGN: What’s with the Illinois energy bill proposals?

Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, joins Justin to talk about Exelon and ComEd backing a new energy bill in Illinois and what we need to do to find a solution to water contamination. Check out the audio recording on WGN’s website.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: Oops! Exelon’s compromise energy bill nearly zeroes out green-power funding

When Exelon last week unveiled its new plan to preserve two Illinois nuclear plants in danger of closure, the company touted concessions to its traditional environmentalist adversaries, including $140 million in spending annually on new solar power projects in the state.

But when green groups and renewable power companies read the actual language of Exelon’s bill a few days later, it turned out the measure would only generate about $7 million a year. That would effectively kill Illinois’ clean-energy law, which has a goal of gradually boosting the state’s reliance on wind, solar and other renewable electricity sources over time.

Exelon acknowledged what environmentalists said about the bill language. But the company said that wasn’t its intention and maintained a drafting error was to blame.

The error, Exelon said in a statement, “already has been fixed to ensure all of (the bill’s) intended benefits, which include $140 million in new funding for solar, solar rebates for customers and increased energy efficiency, are fully included. The reality is that changes to legislative language are a normal part of the process to make corrections and incorporate negotiated changes into a pending bill, and we have submitted an amendment to correct the error.”

Not everyone in the green camp accepted the Chicago-based power-generation giant’s explanation.

And at the very least, the mistake exacerbates the lack of trust some enviros have in the intentions and word of a company that carries far more clout in Springfield on energy issues than any other company or organization in Illinois.

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Huffington Post: ELPC’s Learner Discusses Making A Greener Chicago

By Howard Learner

Chicago is becoming a “greener city,” but let’s recognize 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. This Earth Day, we should be proud of what Chicago has accomplished and candid about some important environmental challenges still requiring solutions.

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 No. 5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would now have 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next Steps: 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 can be our next boom. The city and county are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar panel efficiencies are steadily improving — think about other rapid technological advances in smart phones, digital cameras and computer speeds — and becoming economically competitive. Solar energy is truly a disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements. It can succeed by installations on residential rooftops and commercial buildings’ spacious flat roofs, and can transform underutilized industrial brownfields into “solar brightfields” in Chicago.

Next Steps: Let’s seize the opportunities to accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago’s many flat rooftops on commercial, industrial and multifamily residential buildings for solar photovoltaic panel installations producing clean electricity? First, the Illinois Commerce Commission should remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Commission and state legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents to join together in sharing clean energy resources. Third, if Argonne National Labs’ engineers and scientists achieve their goal of batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost, that’s a game changer.

Energy Efficiency saves businesses and residential consumers money on their utility bills, avoids pollution, creates jobs and keeps money in Chicago’s economy. 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 percent) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew 2.5 – 3.0 percent. Chicago’s economy is growing, more efficiently.

Next Steps: 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. Electricity waste costs businesses and people money and drains dollars out of the Chicago economy for the part of the utility bills spent on out-of-town uranium, coal and gas fuels. Let’s save money, boost our economy, create more installation jobs and reduce pollution. That’s a winner.

Public Transit: Chicagoans are driving less with fewer cars, but Chicago can’t be a greener “city that works” unless CTA is modernized. Chicago is looking to both innovative financing and new transportation approaches, including Bus Rapid Transit and Divvy bikes, in addition to upgrading the aging Red Line and other transit lines.

Next Steps: 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 working hard 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. Modern higher-speed passenger rail development will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur regional economic growth.

Next Steps: 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. Let’s accelerate high-speed rail development here.

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 Steps: 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 make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities. Let’s also figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking supply.

Chicago River: It’s our namesake river and should be a gem increasing recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There’s progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) finally begins to disinfect its wastewater. The Chicago River, however, is still not “fishable and swimmable,” and there’s more cleanup to be done.

Next Steps: The new Chicago Riverwalk and river-focused development on both the north and south sides highlights and builds support for the importance of cleaning up the river as a safe place for recreational use and community enjoyment. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits for all.

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.

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Bloomberg: Harvesting Sunshine More Lucrative Than Crops at Some U.S. Farms

For more than a century, Dawson Singletary’s family has grown tobacco, peanuts and cotton on a 530-acre farm amid the coastal flatlands of North Carolina. Now he’s making money from a different crop: solar panels.

Singletary has leased 34 acres of his Bladen County farm to Strata Solar LLC for a 7-megawatt array, part of a growing wave of solar deals that are transforming U.S. farmland and boosting income for farmers.

Farmland has become fertile territory for clean energy, as solar and wind developers in North America, Europe and Asia seek more flat, treeless expanses to build. That’s also been a boon for struggling U.S. family farms that must contend with floundering commodity prices.

“There is not a single crop that we could have grown on that land that would generate the income that we get from the solar farm,” said Singletary, 65.

The rise in solar comes as the value of crops in the Southeast — with the exception of tobacco — has dropped. Cotton prices have fallen 71 percent in the last five years. Soybeans are down 33 percent and peanuts have slipped 16 percent.

Solar companies, meanwhile, are paying top dollar, offering annual rents of $300 to $700 an acre, according to the NC Sustainable Energy Association. That’s more than triple the average rent for crop and pasture land in the state, which ranges from $27 to $102 an acre, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The economic incentives spurring solar will be discussed at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York starting April 4.

“Solar developers want to find the cheapest land near substations where they can connect,” said Brion Fitzpatrick, director of project development for Inman Solar Inc. of Atlanta. “That’s often farmland.”

Developers have installed solar panels on about 7,000 acres of North Carolina pasture and cropland since 2013, adding almost a gigawatt of generating capacity, according to the NC Sustainable Energy Association. Georgia has added 200 megawatts on fields and cleared forests over the same period, much of it farmland, according to the Southface Energy Institute of Atlanta.

The number of megawatts developers can generate per acre of farmland varies, based on weather patterns, size of the panels and contours of the land. On Singletary’s farm, Strata Solar installed 21,600 panels, each about 6 feet by 3 feet (1.8 meters by 914 centimeters). Combined, they can power as many as 5,000 local homes.

Long-Term Contracts

Farmers typically lease a portion of their land, signing 15- to 20-year contracts with developers who install the panels and sell the power to local utilities. In rare cases, farmers have leased their entire property to solar companies.

Singletary signed a 15-year lease in 2013, with two 10-year extension options, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based Strata sells the power to Duke Energy Corp. He declined to disclose financial terms.

Government incentives have played a key role in the spread of solar farms built on real farms. North Carolina granted developers tax credits equal to 35 percent of their projects’ costs though a program that expired at the end of 2015, helping make the state the third-biggest U.S. solar market. In Georgia, the Public Service Commission passed a bill in 2013 requiring the state’s largest utility, Southern Co.’s Georgia Power, to buy 525 megawatts of solar by 2016. Both policies sent companies scouring for open space to build.

Solar panels have buoyed tax bases in impoverished rural counties, said Tim Echols, a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission. They also let farmers diversify their income with revenue that’s not subject to markets or unpredictable weather patterns.

‘Stable Income’

“Solar and wind farms have become a new stable income stream for farmers — and they don’t fluctuate with commodity prices,” said Andy Olsen, who promotes clean energy projects in rural areas for the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

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Statement from Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition Re: U.S. Supreme Court’s temporary stay of Clean Power Plan

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition issued the following response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s issuing of a temporary stay on implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan:

“While the U.S. Supreme Court may have temporarily delayed implementation, we believe the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill are the best ways to create thousands of jobs, cut electric bills and give Illinois clean air.

“We encourage Governor Rauner and the Illinois EPA to begin a stakeholder process that keeps Illinois from falling further behind other states in growing a strong clean energy economy once the court upholds the Clean Power Plan.”

ELPC is a member of the Coalition, which you can learn more about at www.ilcleanjobs.org.

Learner Op-Ed in State Journal-Register: Clean Power Plan makes good economic sense for Illinois

Illinois is an economic winner under the new Clean Power Plan because of our state’s robust clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources and nuclear plants. The Clean Power Plans sets flexible standards for Illinois and other states to reduce carbon pollution.

Building new wind farms in central Illinois creates jobs, boosts property tax revenues for schools and local governments, and provides new income for farmers who can continue to grow corn and soybeans while gaining wind turbine lease payments. Wind power produces clean energy that grows Illinois’ economy while reducing pollution for everyone.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution while saving homeowners money on their utility bills and businesses money that improves their bottom lines.

Illinois is now fifth in the nation for wind power capacity. Illinois is home to the nation’s largest nuclear plant fleet. Solar energy is primed to accelerate. Illinois homes and business and governmental and university buildings have untapped opportunities for highly efficient LED lighting, improved heating and cooling systems, better pumps and motors, and other modern energy efficiency technologies that save money and reduce pollution.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Illinois Clean Energy Supply Chain report identified 237 Illinois companies engaged in the solar industry supply chain, and 170 Illinois wind industry supply chain companies. These businesses employ 20,000 people across Illinois. The Clean Power Plan and renewable energy development solutions are good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for our environment.

So, what’s the problem?

Missourian Terry Jarrett’s Dec. 7 guest column attacked the Clean Power Plan that is designed to reduce carbon pollution, help grow the clean energy economy and accelerate practical climate solutions. Jarrett’s economic arguments were based on a report by “Energy Ventures Analysis” that, apparently, was commissioned by the National Mining Association, including Peabody Energy, which is headquartered in Missouri. What does one expect when the cost estimates are being generated at the behest of large coal mining companies?

Let’s set the record straight. Some coal plants in Illinois are retiring because of changing realities in the competitive electricity market: (1) low natural gas prices, (2) economical wind power, (3) affordable energy efficiency holding down electricity demand, and (4) nuclear plants for which Exelon is asking for public subsidies to keep running.

Natural gas prices are low — today, $2.02 MMBtu — and many coal plants are just not competitive on a fuel basis. That’s why Dynegy and NRG are retiring some of their coal plants that are uneconomic in the competitive power market. They are converting some other coal plants to natural gas. These corporate business decisions reflect today’s competitive market prices and reasonable near-term projections; the Clean Power Plan requirements, however, won’t take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

Electricity sales are down about 1 percent annually in Illinois due to energy efficiency. There’s a surplus of electric generating supply over demand here. That results in relatively low wholesale electricity market prices. That’s good for Illinois businesses and residents. That’s not so good for power plant owners.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s recent study determined that reaching renewable energy and energy efficiency targets already in state statutes would trigger creation of 9,600 new jobs by 2019. The study also found that investments in wind power and solar energy have “led to a dramatic increase in manufacturing jobs at renewable component manufacturers across Illinois from Peoria to Cicero, Clinton, Rockford, and Chicago.”

Illinois should benefit from cleaner air, clean jobs and economic growth that the Clean Power Plan will accelerate. Let’s be smart, move forward and seize these strategic opportunities for progress.

— Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an environmental quality and economic development advocacy organization headquartered in Chicago.

Reboot Illinois Features Essay on Game Changing Clean Energy Technologies by ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner

The Clean Power Plan will spur innovations and, over time, price carbon pollution. The high-decibel battles being waged in the courts and Congress miss the quiet revolution in renewable energy and efficiency technologies that is rapidly transforming the electricity market. Wind and solar energy combined with battery storage, advanced lighting, and other improvements are game changers. They are disruptive technologies that will change the electricity system just as wireless technologies reshaped the ways that we live and work. Better still, energy solutions developed in the United States can be marketed to emerging economies and the developing world to reduce carbon pollution.

Solar power is making great advances through policy drivers and technological innovations.

Energy efficiency improvements are saving people and businesses money on their utility bills, creating installation jobs, keeping money in local economies, and reducing pollution. Distributed generation and storage, continually improving efficiency technologies, smart energy management systems, demand response approaches, and microturbines lighten the load on the grid and enhance reliability and resilience. A more decentralized system is also less vulnerable to extreme weather events and terrorism.

Commercial photovoltaic panel efficiencies are improving about 1 percent annually, and inverter technologies improved from 80–85 percent efficiency to 98 percent efficiency. PV panel costs have dropped to 80 cents per watt. The pace of technological change for solar energy reflects experiences with computers, smartphones, and digital cameras. 2014 was the third consecutive year of more than 50 percent growth in the residential solar market.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, and cheapest solution to climate change problems. There is a quiet revolution of more efficient lighting, heating, and cooling technologies, more efficient refrigerators and other appliances, more efficient industrial pumps and motors, and better building design.

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