Midwest Energy News
Renewable energy is growing across the Midwest, reducing pollution and creating jobs in small towns and big cities alike. In order to jumpstart a diverse renewable market with the widest possible range of benefits, we have to embrace innovative solutions from across the grid. While large utility-scale wind farm and solar farm projects are important, they are not enough. When everyday people and local communities invest in solar panels, batteries, efficient appliances, electric vehicles, and other distributed energy resources (DERs), they help the whole region transition to a clean energy economy more quickly.
Many communities are plagued by administrative hurdles, regulatory barriers, and unnecessary costs, preventing folks from investing in renewable energy. Some utilities capitalize on the confusion to maintain monopoly control of the energy system, without fully embracing customer- and community-owned distributed energy resources. Climate change is already warming the Midwest faster than the rest of the U.S., so we cannot afford to waste time and limited funds on grid investments that don’t help us maximize clean energy. With local renewable resources and thoughtful energy policies, we can power the Midwest quickly, affordably, and equitably.
Electricity is valuable, especially if it is clean, renewable power from a solar panel on your rooftop. In fact, local energy resources can help the whole neighborhood, supplementing large central power generators on hot summer days when energy usage is high, reducing utility expenses and ratepayer costs. Most states compensate for local energy generation, through systems known as “net metering,” “distributed generation tariffs,” or “value of solar rates.” Unfortunately, some utilities discourage local generation by offering low compensation rates or charging unfair fees to connect to the grid. ELPC is fighting back to ensure fair compensation and protect consumers. Our work includes litigation at state utility commissions and courts, research and education, expert policy analysis and testimony, and coordination with our clean energy and public health allies throughout the nation. Read more about some of our work in Illinois and Iowa.
Utilities have run the energy show for a long time, so some fear the thought of losing monopoly control of energy infrastructure. They have created obstacles for homeowners, communities, and third-party financing companies investing in homegrown solar installations. ELPC has been fighting back to defend customer financing options that can help more people invest in solar. We had a significant win in Wisconsin when the Public Service Commission agreed that a family of four in Stevens Point can use a financing method called “third-party ownership” to install rooftop solar panels. In third-party ownership, a third party – usually the solar installer – pays the up-front installation costs for a homeowner or business to install solar arrays to serve their personal energy needs. The customer then pays for the system over time, the same way they would finance a car or other home improvement. Third-party financing helps get more renewable power on the grid fast, reliably and safely.
The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) requires utilities to purchase energy from smaller facilities. Intended to spur innovation and competition, PURPA applies to all sorts of renewables, from a rooftop solar panel up to a mid-size solar farm. Over the years, states implemented additional policies to support clean energy and regulate compensation, like renewable portfolio standards and net metering, but PURPA has remained as a federal backstop. It applies to facilities that fall through the cracks of state policies, and it gives rights to renewable electricity generators to expect fair compensation. ELPC litigates across the Midwest, using PURPA to reduce barriers and bolster development in distributed renewable energy generation.
When distributed energy resources like solar panels and batteries are connected to the energy grid, utilities require various steps to ensure a safe and reliable grid. A streamlined process can make this process more straightforward. On the other hand, difficult bureaucratic paperwork makes it more expensive and difficult to complete renewable energy installations. ELPC is working in states across the region to streamline interconnection standards to reduce “red tape” and fit the realities of the 21st century.