We Energies Revives Proposal to Tax Solar Customers

We Energies Revives Proposal to Tax Solar Customers

On May 3rd, We Energies filed an unfortunate proposal that would effectively tax their customers who make power for their own use with solar panels or other renewable energy systems.

We Energies’ proposal, filed as part of their rate case at the Public Service Commission, revives a nearly-identical approach which was rejected by a Circuit Court Judge in 2015.

This time around, they’ve named their tax the “Fixed Cost Recovery Charge.”  It would assess a charge of $3.53 per kilowatt of solar production, or about $180 per year for the average residential solar installation by We Energies’ estimation. This would mean a reduction of 20-25% of the expected dollar savings from a typical solar installation.

The charge would be $3.67 per kilowatt for small commercial customers, and We Energies stated they are planning to propose a similar charge for larger commercial and industrial customers which has not yet been formally filed.

This Proposal is Out of Step and Bad for Wisconsin

Just last month, very similar charges were rejected by the Michigan Public Service Commission and failed to pass in the Iowa House of Representatives. The Michigan PSC said the proposed charge was not based on the cost of serving customers and was thus unreasonable.  In Iowa, a wide coalition, including the Iowa Pork Producers, opposed the “sunshine tax” and it failed to pass before the Legislature adjourned for the year.

At a time when citizens and businesses across the country are looking to dramatically increase their reliance on solar power and renewable energy, allowing a utility to discourage solar is the wrong direction for Wisconsin.

 

Let’s Support Investments in Solar and Renewable Energy, Not Penalize Them

There are so many reasons to support solar power and oppose this solar tax!

  • Solar is a growing industry in Wisconsin. The industry already employs over 3,000 Wisconsinites, and it’s just getting started.
  • Homegrown energy keeps our money in Wisconsin. According to the U.S. Energy Administration, Wisconsin ratepayers spent $700 million on natural gas and $893 million on coal to generate electricity in 2017. This is money sent out of state, since we have no coal or natural gas reserves. We should be encouraging private investments in homegrown energy generation like solar that keep our money in Wisconsin.
  • Clean energy brings economic development. Leading businesses across Wisconsin and the country increasingly want access to renewable energy. It’s going to be harder to attract these job creating businesses if our utilities are allowed to discourage them from investing in renewable energy solutions.
  • We should encourage private sector investment. Individuals and businesses putting their own money into solar power and renewable energy systems is a good thing, and should not be penalized or discouraged.
  • Solar helps keep energy costs down. With solar power, customers are providing peak power on those hot sunny days when we need it most. Every dollar invested by a person or business to generate their own energy lowers the demand on the entire system, and reduces the need for everyone to pay for more power plants and transmission lines to meet higher peak energy demands.
  • ALL solar is good. We Energies itself is starting to offer solar power programs for some of its larger customers, and telling investors they plan to reshape their power generation to include more solar. We completely agree that We Energies should be maximizing the benefit of solar. But they can’t discourage solar while simultaneously talking about how great it is. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
  • Solar helps families and businesses cut costs and manage expenses. Solar power has become an affordable way to save money for many families and businesses. We need to make sure farmers, residents, businesses, and even our local governments have the opportunity to take advantage of the cost savings from solar and renewable energy.
  • Solar promotes cleaner air and water, now and into the future. Right now, Wisconsin is still using coal for 50% of our power! We all know that leads to air pollution and that coal emits carbon dioxide. Solar power systems located on homes and businesses, and owned by Wisconsin citizens and businesses, can help clean up our air and water now and for generations to come.

Please join us by taking action today! Sign our petition opposing We Energies’ proposal to tax solar panel owners.

 

Local Residents Discuss Wind Energy in Wisconsin

Local Residents Discuss Wind Energy in Wisconsin

On Monday March 25th RENEW Wisconsin facilitated a Wind Energy Education Event in Monroe, Wisconsin to answer questions from local residents about wind energy and new wind projects being proposed in Lafayette and Green Counties.

The Wind Education Event was hosted by Art Bartsch, local entrepreneur, green businesses innovator, and proprietor of the Monroe Super 8 Motel. Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, kicked off the event with an overview of wind energy in Wisconsin. Then a panel of local experts including Mayor Dave Breunig (City of Darlington), Alder Steve Pickett (Darlington), and Tim McComish (Chair of Seymour Township Board), discussed their experiences with the Quilt Block Wind Farm located in neighboring Lafayette County. The event concluded with a demonstration of the power of wind energy from Dick Anderson and the student scientists of Kid Wind. Brodie Dockendorf (EDP Renewables) was also in attendance and addressed many technical questions about how wind turbines work. You can watch the video of the entire event on our Facebook page at this link.

Energized in 2017 and located wholly within Seymour Township in Lafayette County, Quilt Block serves as an excellent case study for future wind farms in the area. Quilt Block is a wind farm comprised of 49 modern turbines able to generate up to 2 MW each. Forthcoming wind farm projects planned in Wisconsin are likely to use similar scale or slightly larger turbines. The Sugar River Wind Farm proposed for southern Green County would host turbines with capacities of 2.625 MW and 2.75 MW.

The Quilt Block Wind Farm offers many economic benefits to Lafayette County. According to Mayor Dave Bruenig and Alderman Steve Pickett, the project construction supported local businesses through a variety of activities including the construction of a $700,000 warehouse and office space, the presence of the construction crews, and the full-time employees who purchased homes in the community. Mayor Dave Bruenig said that hotels, restaurants, automotive dealers in Darlington, and the neighboring communities saw benefits and that Green County could expect to see a “big economic boom” with the planned Sugar River wind farm.

The speakers emphasized the value of Wisconsin producing its own energy. Wisconsin imports $14 billion dollars worth of oil, coal, and gas, money that could be reinvested locally if we produced our own energy. Alder Steve Pickett said, “I think the energy that they’re going to be providing will help us be self-sustaining. And in the future that’s going to be very, very important, because if there’s any growth you’re going to need to have to have electricity to do it. And the only way you can do it is to start to generate your own.”  When speaking about his grown kids returning home he noted that, “we have a great life here and I’d like to keep it that way and part of that is being able to develop power within our own communities.”

The presenters also addressed questions about what it’s like living near the turbines. Tim McComish who runs a family farm with 250 Holsteins said “I live in the center of Seymour Township, they’re [the turbines] are all around me.” He added that they have started to become part of the landscape. “As crazy as it sounds, the 49 around me, I have to look once in a while to see where they’re at, because they blend in.  It’s amazing.” He added that the sound of the turbines, even the one on his property doesn’t cause any concern. “I myself, don’t even hear them at night. It’s part of the farm,” he added.

Below are some highlights of the event’s discussion. Questions are paraphrased for clarity.


Question: Does the electricity that’s made by your wind turbines stay in the county?

Brodie Dockendorf (EDP Renewables): We sell to Dairyland Power Cooperative out of La Crosse, Wisconsin. They actually sell electricity to Scenic Rivers, which is local, it’s sold locally to Seymour township. The dollar flow might go to La Crosse, Wisconsin, to Dairyland Power Cooperative, but the electricity, the electrons that are being generated, are actually used locally.


Question: Are people selling their houses because of the wind farm in your community? Have those homes sat on the market without buyers?

Mayor Breunig: No not at all. There’s a shortage of workers, there’s also a big shortage of housing. One of the things we got going up on one end of town is 24-unit housing. It didn’t affect us at all.

Tim McComish: There’s not a house available in our township for rent because there are workers looking for homes all the time.


Question: What about productivity of cows that live near wind turbines?

Tim McComish: I’m a dairy farmer, we’re still milking as good or better than before. It’s not affecting us.


Question: What about health issues and soil quality around wind turbines?

Tyler Huebner: Growing up in a town almost the exact same size as Monroe, eight thousand people, right now there are two hundred and sixty turbines recently built in my county, Poweshiek County. Twenty-four are being explored here in Green County versus two hundred and sixty. Everybody who’s going to lease those turbines to those developers or those utilities, they’re all corn farmers too. There’s at least ten times as many wind turbines in Iowa, and I have not heard anything come out of Iowa that would equate a loss in production or a change in the soil quality or anything like that related to wind.

In Iowa I have not heard any health complaints anywhere near where I grew up. I know that there is a lot on the internet that can be found, on this point there are some pretty reputable studies that have been done by Massachusetts Department of Environmental Health. I know that the Australian National Health Association have looked at these claims and basically found that, if you look at the scientific and the medical peer reviewed studies that there has not been found a link between human health impacts and living near wind turbines.

We also have references to a number of reputable studies on our website with more information about health and wind.


Question: Could someone explain to me how you take DC current and convert it to AC current?  Who monitors the IEEE standards?  

Brodie Dockendorf: The wind turbines actually generate electricity on alternating current.  They do not generate on DC. Up in the very top the generator is a squirrel cage motor, we turn that squirrel cage motor faster than what it’s supposed to. 1600 RPM squirrel cage motor is consuming electricity at 1580 RPMS. What we do is we spin it up faster. So at 1600 RPMs it meets an equilibrium where it doesn’t generate or consume electricity. When we spin it faster than 1600 RPMs at 1620 we actually start pushing alternating current.

It is a perfect sine wave, the same way a coal-fired power plant, a nuclear power plant, or a natural gas plant’s combined cycle natural gas plant, it’s the same way they are generating electricity. We don’t reinvent the wheel for this.

The same methods are used throughout the United States. There are turbines that will take a variable frequency. They take an inverter, like you would have a DC inverter for solar batteries, your car, and what they do is they actually convert it to DC and then they convert it right back to AC using an inverter.

As far as the standards of electricity go, if we put dirty electricity on the grid, MISO, is always monitoring.  The transmission companies (ATC and ITC) are monitoring our output. If we are even out of spec of the 60Hz cycle, they will open our breakers and shut us off.”


Question: What about harmonic distortion?

Brodie Dockendorf: There are harmonic filters on everything. We have harmonic filters in our substations. We also have phase compensation, big capacitor banks, any other electrical generator. We are scrutinized. We are a federally regulated power generation company, just like any other generator. There are some manufacturers [of wind turbines] that do [DC generation]. We’re scrutinized just like everybody else. We have to maintain no disturbance on the grid. If you cause disturbance on the grid, that kicks in fines. NERC and FERC regulations keep us in line. We can’t just go and do whatever we want on the grid and cause problems. If we do, [there are] big fines. Even if I miss a substation inspection – they can fine us up to $1,000,000 a day. We are regulated beyond what we can even imagine. So we are on top of our game.


Thank you to everyone who participated in this informative event!  And if you would like to learn more about wind farms in Wisconsin please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.

 

Renewable Energy Stories: Mike and Jeff

Renewable Energy Stories: Mike and Jeff

“I worry about my children and grandchildren and not leaving a mess for them. Having something sustainable for them. I think solar is a great idea. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.” These are the words of Mike, a navy veteran, and former police officer who lives in the James A. Peterson Veteran Village in Racine, WI. It’s a complex of 15 tiny homes and a community center that is now powered by the sun.

Mike spent 6 years in the navy and traveled all over the world. After his service, he went to school and then joined the police force in Chicago. “I spent 20 years in law enforcement. You’ve been doing something so long. Then I lost my wife, my house. I was homeless when I found out about Veterans Outreach in Racine. Jeff and Shannon welcomed me in.”

Mike was a yeoman in the navy, performing administrative and clerical work. This experience landed him a job in the Veterans Outreach office. According to Mike, Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin serves about 300 veterans per week in the food pantry. They also provide clothing, transportation (when needed), and tiny homes for veterans in the back. The tiny houses provide residents with a bed, television, and a small storage space. “You have to come out of there for the bathroom, shower, and the best kitchen in the world!” Mike said. “A lot of guys want to try to isolate, but you have to come in and you start talking. It’s good that you have to leave that cabin. You get up, take a shower, check your email, and slowly get yourself back into it.”

Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin is different than a shelter. It’s a recovery program offering meals, classes, and connections. The organization helps veterans find jobs and offers financial classes and community meetings. “They are good people,” Mike said. “They don’t get a lot of money, but they seldom say ‘no’ to anybody.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, almost 38,000 Veterans are experiencing homelessness. While this number declined by 5% between 2017 and 2018, it’s still a distressing statistic. This is what inspired Jeff Gustin to co-found the center in 2013. “The whole idea that someone puts a uniform on and ends up homeless is crazy. Our nation is better than that,” Jeff said.

Walden Middle and High School, a school that focuses on the environment and sustainability, approached Veterans Outreach about helping them put solar on their SC Johnson Community Center. The Walden High School students raised over $20,000 for the solar project and the students’ efforts inspired a $10,000 matching grant from an anonymous donor. They also received a $10,000 Solar for Good grant, and were awarded a Focus on Energy prescriptive grant. Veterans Outreach paid for the rest of the project with their own funding, costs they plan to recover through offset electricity bills.

“It took very little to get this off the ground for us. The school approached us about it. We weren’t in a position to do this ourselves. We were just getting residents moved in and they ran with it. We had very little we had to do on our end and we’re very grateful.” Jeff said. The nearly 20 kilowatt array, installed by Arch Electric, is expected to save the organization almost $4,000 in annual utility costs. That’s money that the Veterans Outreach can put towards their mission. “For the person that does the bills. It’s huge for us,” Jeff said.

Jeff, Mike, and the rest of the Veterans Outreach team are still learning about solar and seeing the actual cost savings at the end of the year may inspire them to look into other solar projects. They just bought two new buildings to accommodate a larger food pantry to serve their clients. “I’m glad we’re lowering our carbon footprint. This is our future,” Jeff said. “One day I might go back to the high school and ask them if they’re ready for round two!”

 

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Recap of January Energy Summits

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Recap of January Energy Summits

January was a busy month bopping between energy summits. On January 17th we had our Renewable Energy Summit in Madison and January 24 – 25 the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters held the Powering Local Leadership Summit in Appleton.

Both summits had electric vehicle panels, and both were awesome.

Renewable Energy Summit: Electric Vehicles

This was the first time we had an electric vehicle session at the Renewable Energy Summit. Our space ended up being standing room only so I’d say it was a success. We emphasized the benefits that electric vehicles provide, no matter what business you are in.

Dan Steinhart and Mike Cornell kicked off the presentations, representing Arch Electric EV, the recently incorporated subsidiary company of Arch Electric. Arch Electric EV will house their electric vehicle charging station business. Arch is primarily a solar photovoltaic (PV) installer that has recently been in contact with over 100 businesses to gain a better perspective on the market and demand for electric vehicle (EV) recharging infrastructure. Their motto is that PV + EV = Sustainable Transportation.

Becky Cooper from Bounce Milwaukee shared her family business’s experiences with pizza delivery electric vehicles.  In addition to providing family-fun of all kinds, Bounce Milwaukee owns electric Leafs that they use to deliver pizzas. Their rooftop solar array and electric pizza ovens mean their pizzas are both made and delivered on sunshine. Bounce Milwaukee uses electric cars because they’re affordable, efficient, and provide a better customer experience, in addition to boosting their brand as an early adopter of clean energy technology!

We also heard from Mahanth Joishy about the City of Madison’s commitment to low emission transportation. The city currently owns 3 Chevy Bolts and acquired a grant to purchase 20 more in 2019 and 2020. Additionally, the city has a biodiesel pilot project, 6 hybrid police vehicles, anti-idling technology on ambulances, is working on specs for compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks, and is outfitting vehicles with GPS tracking to even further optimize routes and decrease fuel use.

This session was a really excellent exercise in seeing the various ways that electric transportation can benefit all different kinds of organizations. From companies already invested in the energy transition to local family-centric businesses, and even local governments, there’s a lot to be gained from electric transportation.

Check out the slides and audio to learn more.

Powering Local Leadership Summit: Preparing Your Community for Electric Transportation

The Powering Local Leadership session had a more focused goal: provide local leaders the tools to prepare their communities for the transition to electric transportation. I kicked things off with an overview of the myriad of benefits of electric vehicles (to name a few: cheaper to operate, no tailpipe pollution, quiet, fun to drive, and convenient to refuel).

Ashwat Narayanan from 1000 Friends of Wisconsin reiterated the point that electric vehicles can solve many problems. They are not, however, a magic bullet to solving all of our transportation issues. We have to prioritize people – bikers, bus riders, and car sharers – over actual cars.

Jeff Springer from Dairyland Power Cooperative emphasized that electric vehicles have both an awareness issue and a rural issue. We need to help electricity coops through the process of getting the word out about electric vehicles, transitioning their fleets, and installing charging stations in their area. Rural solutions are also necessary – pickup trucks, SUVs, and farm equipment – all of which is coming to the market soon.

Finally, Peter Skopec from WISPIRG gave hope that with sales at an all-time high, communities really do need to be preparing for thousands of electric vehicles on their streets soon. The charging infrastructure needs to be built out, especially for folks who live in multifamily units and urban areas without access to overnight charging.

The audience had great questions that ran the gamut from gas station interest in electrification (there is some interest), to Volkswagen Settlement Funding (a huge opportunity for building electric vehicle infrastructure), and if mechanics need additional training to work on electric cars (yes, we want mechanics to be comfortable working on these cars).

I learned a ton from moderating these panels! Thanks to the panelists for joining me, and thank you for reading about them here. For those of you who couldn’t make it, I hope you can join us next year!

Big year for renewables ahead!

Big year for renewables ahead!

Home-grown renewable electricity is poised for a big breakout this year.  Two solar projects large enough to replace fossil-fuel power plants are making headway, while utilities in Wisconsin have made stronger renewable energy commitments.  At the same time an accelerating number of nonprofit organizations, businesses, and citizens are turning to renewable energy for their own use.

Hearings are set this month for the Badger Hollow Solar Farm in Iowa County and the Two Creeks solar project in Manitowoc and Kewaunee Counties.  The Public Service Commission will likely decide whether to approve of the two projects in mid-March.  The utilities Wisconsin Public Service (based in Green Bay) and Madison Gas & Electric plan to acquire 300 megawatts of  generation capacity from these plants, enough to power over 70,000 average Wisconsin households. If the two projects are approved, the utilities will be able to reduce their fossil-fuel emissions while increasing supplies of renewable power in their energy generation mix.

Take action to support the Badger Hollow Solar Farm today!

We expect another wave of large solar power plants to follow soon after the PSC issues decisions on Badger Hollow and Two Creeks.

Wisconsin electric providers are driving this transition to renewable energy through their recently announced plans to scale back carbon emissions.

WI Utility Commitments to Reduce Carbon Emissions and Increase Renewable Energy

UTILITY
APPROXIMATE NUMBER OF CUSTOMERS
CURRENT WI RENEWABLES MIX
STATED GOALS OR RECENT ACTIONS
WEC (WE Energies and Wisc. Public Service)
1.1  million + 440,000
7% WE
7.8% WPS
80% CO2 reduction by 2050
Alliant (WI Power and Light)
460,000
13.3%
29% renewables by 2024
80% CO2 reduction by 2050
Dairyland Power
258,000
14.4%
PPAs for 98 MW Wind (2017), 20 MW solar (2016), 80 MW Iowa Wind (2016)
Xcel Energy
256,000
28% (systemwide)
80% CO2 reduction by 2030
100% CO2 reduction by 2050
WPPI Energy
200,000
14.5%
PPAs for 132 MW wind (2018) and 99 MW solar (2020)
Madison Gas and Electric
145,000
10.1%
30% renewables by 2030
80% CO2 reduction by 2050

How can you help accelerate clean energy?Increasingly, businesses and nonprofit organizations are also committing to renewable energy.  Solar for Good, the grant program managed by RENEW Wisconsin to support non-profits going solar, announced its most successful round of funding ever in 2018.   The program’s Fall 2018 round announced that 36 organizations have been allocated $445,000 in grants which will lead to $4.5 million in solar investment in Wisconsin.  At the same time major businesses are committing to clean energy.  On January 3, 2019, Advocate Aurora Health committed to 100% renewable energy by 2030 for its 27 hospitals and 500+ outpatient sites in Wisconsin and Illinois.

This tremendous momentum would not be possible without RENEW members and supporters of clean energy from all across Wisconsin.  One important thing you can do is to help us ensure the Badger Hollow Solar Farm is approved.  A strong showing of public support will help this project, which needs approval by the Public Service Commission.

Please support the Badger Hollow Solar Farm by adding your name as a supporter here.

Happy New Year!

 

 

IN MEMORIAM – JOHN BAHR and DAVID BLECKER

IN MEMORIAM – JOHN BAHR and DAVID BLECKER

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of John Bahr and David Blecker—two long-time RENEW members who dedicated themselves to advancing a clean energy future in Wisconsin.  Though coming from very different backgrounds, John and Dave joined RENEW in the mid-1990s, and became effective champions for reducing Wisconsin’s overreliance on fossil fuels and redirecting capital and labor into nascent renewable energy technologies like wind, solar, and biogas.

After retiring from a successful career, John Bahr created a one-man speakers’ bureau under RENEW’s auspices, and directed his presentations to civic groups and congregations near his home in Wauwatosa.  Traveling to churches, libraries, and meeting halls, John engaged hundreds of small audiences, challenging them to think seriously about energy sustainability. Though his passion for clean energy came about through his environmental ethic, John’s advocacy was built on a solid factual foundation, upon which he would make the case for a systematic redesign of our energy system.

To those who knew him well, David Blecker was a special and multifaceted talent whose fierce commitment to clean energy belied a gentle spirit and an infectious sense of humor.  After completing his graduate studies through UW-Madison’s Energy Analysis and Policy Program, David founded Seventh Generation Energy Systems (SGES), a company specializing in small wind systems and wind resource assessment. With the help of Focus on Energy, SGES became one of the leading small wind installers in the nation, reflecting David’s mastery over small-scale generation. But running a business was only the beginning for David. He found time to teach classes at MREA, develop course work for technical colleges, and shape Focus on Energy’s renewable energy program. He took part in numerous collaboratives involving utilities and advocates in hopes of expanding the numbers of self-generating households and businesses throughout Wisconsin. In recent years, David transitioned over to solar energy, and offered his services to local contractors in need of his expertise in designing electrical systems. Powered by an unshakeable belief in renewable energy as a force for environmental protection and social justice, David made it his mission, whether as engineer, educator, business owner, or concerned citizen, to touch as many lives as possible with it.