Submitted by Bill Bailey of Cheq Bay Renewables
Two Ashland, Wisconsin nonprofits are installing solar photovoltaic systems on their facilities. The nonprofits are household names in the Chequamegon Bay area of western Lake Superior – the New Day Advocacy Center and The BRICK Ministries.
New Day Advocacy Center provides free and confidential domestic violence and sexual assault victim services, including shelter and other crisis intervention services. They also provide community prevention education to culture respect and lasting change in community behavior – No More Abuse!
The BRICK’s mission is to compassionately help people in need. They are best known for their Food Shelf Program, but also provide emergency financial resources and referrals with a focus to keep people in their homes through their Benevolence Program
Both organizations have considered solar installations in the past to reduce utility expenses and to generate clean energy. But as each nonprofit had roofs which needed repair, and had purchased or recently moved into newly renovated facilities, they were both financially strained. The solar would have to wait. That was until Eric Udelhofen called from OneEnergy Renewables, a community and utility scale solar project developer based in Seattle, Washington with a satellite office in Madison.
OneEnergy had 35 high-quality, modern solar modules they wanted to donate to a worthy Ashland nonprofit. OneEnergy was the solar developer on the recently constructed 1-megawatt Xcel Energy community solar garden in Ashland. The modules were “bones,” extra parts, left over from purchasing or shipping in bulk quantities, and OneEnergy wanted something good to come from their surplus.
Solar modules represent roughly 15% of the cost of a small solar project. The other 85% is comprised of inverters, racking, miscellaneous additional materials and labor. Jolma Electric of Ashland, who was also involved in the installation of Ashland’s community solar project, joined the project agreeing to perform its installation services “at cost,” and the total project cost was reduced by 22%. Then C&S Design & Engineering, also from Ashland, reduced their engineering cost by 50%, further lowering the total installation price.
Additional funding was needed to cover the remaining balance of the installation. The New Day Board was the first of the two projects to vote to move forward with raising the remaining funds. A GoFundMe site was set up and $6,500 was raised in two weeks. In addition, $3,400 of private checks were received designated for the solar installation. Of the nearly $10,000 of cash donated to the New Day rooftop solar project, OneEnergy employees donated $6,000.
There is another story here. At the core of OneEnergy’s business model is a commitment to serve the communities in which they operate, along with a strident belief that the transition to clean energy will help create a more sustainable and equitable global economy. Not only did the corporation donate the solar modules, but employees stood behind this commitment and donated their personal cash. The status quo of corporate America as an entity has become isolated from their communities. OneEnergy, as well as Jolma Electric and C&S Design and Engineering, are demonstrating an alternative approach, modeling a more enlightened view about the role of companies in society and a commitment to be the change that they wish to see in the world.
So New Day’s project is off and running and now The BRICK has begun its fundraising campaign. An awning style installation was designed by Jolma Electric and C&S Design & Engineering. The donated modules will fill half the south façade of the facility with opportunity to fill the remainder if or when funds allow. The full project would cost $31,990 of which $20,490 has already been raised. A GoFundMe site has been set up for The BRICK to fund the remaining $11,500. If you can help go to: https://bit.ly/3k0IeLm to donate.
During this time of COVID-19, it is encouraging to see that community-building defeats fear, love overcomes hatred, and clean energy offsets fossil fuels. With the support of this community, these two nonprofits, New Day Advocacy Center and The BRICK, are choosing the alternative path, the “culture of service.”
Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) dismissed a challenge to state control of net metering. The unanimous decision made on Thursday, July 16, 2020 was great news for RENEW Wisconsin and our members. Homeowners, business and manufacturers that generate their own solar energy can now breathe easy, knowing that the oversight for net metering policy remains in the hands of Wisconsin’s own Public Service Commission.
The New England Ratepayers Association (“NERA”) had petitioned the FERC to take control over net metering policy for the entire country. If the petition were granted, states would have lost the ability to set policy on solar electricity generated by utility customers. The challenge to state control of net metering, the policy that enables energy producers to get bill credit for the extra energy they push back on to the grid, threatened the solar investments of thousands of families and businesses in Wisconsin.
RENEW joined dozens of other clean energy advocacy organizations in a petition to dismiss the issue and encouraged Wisconsin’s political leadership to get involved. Many elected officials from around the country joined in the fight to protect net metering including Wisconsin’s own, Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Check out the background on this story and how RENEW fought to protect Wisconsinites generating clean energy on their homes and businesses.
In the first-ever test of the appeal process set forth in Wisconsin’s Wind Siting Rule (PSC 128), the Public Service Commission (PSC) reviewed and upheld Green County’s approval last fall of a 24-turbine, 65-megawatt (MW) wind project slated for development there. Following the county’s original decision, local wind farm opponents petitioned the PSC to invalidate the project’s permit, contending that the developer’s application was incomplete.
On June 11, the PSC denied the petition on a 3-0 vote, and in so doing removed the last remaining legal obstacle from the project’s path. As it stands today, the Sugar River wind farm is fully compliant with the standards set forth in the statewide rule relating to public health and safety, and may now proceed to construction.
Advanced by EDF Renewables, a nationally prominent renewable energy producer, Sugar River is capable of generating enough electricity to equal the consumption of 20,000 Wisconsin households. When operational, Sugar River will also yield about $260,000 in annual revenues, with nearly $152,000 going to Green County and more than $108,000 to the Town of Jefferson. Before ground can be broken, however, EDF will need to either sign a power purchase agreement with an off-taker or agree to sell the wind farm to an electric provider when construction is complete.
Sugar River was one of the first two wind energy proposals in 2019 to go through the local government review process specified in PSC 128. The other proposed wind farm, the 99 MW Red Barn project in Grant County, secured a conditional use permit in July 2019. No appeal of Grant County’s decision was filed. Like Sugar River, Red Barn is expecting to begin operation in the second half of 2021, assuming a partnership has been forged with an electric provider.
Sugar River provided the first significant test of PSC 128 after the rule narrowly survived a repeal vote during the 2011-2012 legislative session. The rule establishes a mechanism whereby a citizen group or a development company may challenge a local government decision on a proposed wind farm. Under this appeal process, the PSC’s role is to ascertain whether the local government adhered to all the standards and procedures in rendering a decision on a wind farm proposal.
In the case of Sugar River, the PSC agreed to take up the appeal filed by No Green County Wind in October 2019. Before rendering its decision, the PSC invited interested parties to submit comments on the matter. In its comments, RENEW expressed its support for the Sugar River project, as well as the regulatory framework that allowed the project to be given a fair hearing at every step of its permitting journey. The PSC plans to issue a written decision in July.
The approvals of Sugar River and Red Barn signal the end of a protracted lull in wind development activity lasting from 2011 to 2017. Between an adverse political environment and a glut of generating capacity, wind energy development stalled in Wisconsin. During the dry spell here, developers flocked to greener pastures in neighboring states. The door reopened slightly when Dairyland Power Cooperative agreed to purchase electricity generated from Quilt Block Wind Farm, which started operating in November 2017.
Though local opposition to wind development remains very much alive today, the experience with Sugar River attests to the strength and durability of Wisconsin’s Wind Siting Rule, which foretokens brighter days for the wind power industry here.
To learn more about the Sugar River Wind Farm, visit these previous blog posts.
PSC affirms local approval of Sugar River Wind Farm
Local Residents Discuss Wind Energy in Wisconsin
A Scientific Look into Wind Power and Human Health
In April, I wrote about how the pandemic has changed our energy use, resulting in cleaner air. With increased adoption of renewable energy and electric vehicles, we can achieve clean air, a prospering economy, and improved public health.
The latest “State of the Air” report, analyzing air quality between 2016 and 2018, shows that air quality isn’t improving. Now, faced with a public health crisis, we must focus our efforts on protecting our communities from the impacts of poor air quality.
Evidence our air quality is getting worse
According to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report, almost 50% of Americans lived in communities that had unhealthy air pollution levels in 2016-2018. Particle pollution and days of high ozone are also on the rise. This is the fourth consecutive annual report that shows air quality is getting worse, threatening the health of our communities.
On a brighter note, the Appleton–Oshkosh–Neenah area was ranked as one of the cleanest cities in the Nation for its year-round air quality and for having zero days of unhealthy particle pollution. La Crosse also got a shout-out for having zero days of unhealthy ozone or particulate levels.
But we still have work to do. Sheboygan and the Milwaukee–Racine–Waukesha region tied for #24 on the ‘highest levels of ozone pollution’ list. These residents should not be subject to unsafe air quality.
Air quality impacts public health
Wisconsin doctors attest to the linkage between air pollution and poor health outcomes. Luckily, clean energy technologies exist today that can help improve air quality.
“When you replace coal with solar it cleans the air and makes people healthier, today. When you replace a gas car with an electric it makes people healthier, today” noted Joel Charles MD, MPH at Vernon Memorial Healthcare.
More than ever, the world is keenly focused on health, and doctors and scientists around the world are learning more every day about the novel coronavirus.
“One of the most important learnings coming from the COVID-19 pandemic is that rapid changes in air quality can have immediate and substantive benefits in terms of reduced cardiorespiratory morbidity and mortality,” said Bruce Barrett MD Ph.D., Professor & Vice Chair for Research, Family Medicine and Community Health at University of Wisconsin – Madison. “In more than two decades of work as a family physician, I have been continually impressed with the importance of environmental quality, especially the protective attributes of clean air.”
“Air pollution is a silent killer. It never makes it onto the death certificate, but, among other things, it worsens heart disease, asthma, COPD, kidney disease, immune function, and harms childhood brain development,” confirmed Andrew Lewandowski, DO, Pediatrician at GHC-SCW.
And, these impacts are not shared evenly. Lower-income and nonwhite communities often face higher exposure to pollution and unsafe air quality. Dr. Lewandoski added that “Improving air quality disproportionately benefits children, elderly, people with chronic medical conditions, people of color, and economically disadvantaged populations.”
We can learn from public health experts and take action to reduce harmful emissions by adopting renewable energy and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. People from both sides of the political aisle agree on many clean energy issues, such as maintaining current fuel efficiency standards and prioritizing renewable energy.
“Air pollution harms all people, independent of political affiliation. Regardless of how you vote, let your legislator know that you support cleaning our air because you value your health” Dr. Lewandowski said.
We have an opportunity right now to lock in the benefits of clean, healthy air. Cleaner air benefits all of Wisconsin and makes our state a better place to live, work, and play.