Our Vision for a “Powered Up” Dane County

Our Vision for a “Powered Up” Dane County

Over the past three months, RENEW Wisconsin has been participating in an exciting and audacious challenge to develop ways to bolster the middle class of Dane County.  UW-Madison was selected as one of four universities nationally to participate in a competition sponsored and funded by the Schmidt Futures Foundation, led by Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt. UW’s program is called “Dream Up Wisconsin.”

The challenge is to increase the net income of 10,000 Dane County Families by 10%.

Our Plan:  to “Power Up” Dane County families and communities with clean energy!  We were one of 46 original applicants, and we were fortunate to be one of 11 applicants to receive $10,000 to more fully flesh out our proposal.

Our vision for Power Up Dane County is to create buzz about clean energy and provide community members the tools to adopt clean energy to reduce their monthly bills, create new jobs, and build a healthier community. We want everyone to have access to clean energy, from efficient homes to solar panels on their roof, and electric vehicles in their garage.

However, many middle class families don’t know that these technologies are available to them. Power Up is our idea to change that.

The program would start by empowering households to take control of their electricity bills using “Neighborhood Champions.”  These champions will be excited members of the community who will help households install efficiency kits and the home energy sensor, Sense. Sense measures electricity consumption in real-time, and gives users a visual indication of their energy use through an app. By learning which devices in their home use the most electricity, residents can unplug energy hogs and save money.

After they have more efficient homes and a better understanding of their energy use, we want to connect participants with solar installers, home weatherization technicians, car dealerships that specialize in electric vehicles, and additional rebates for their clean energy investments.

Power Up will make it desirable, easy, and financially feasible for participants to adopt clean energy, like solar panels and electric cars.  These clean energy technologies will reduce air pollution and save families thousands of dollars per year on their energy bills.

Power Up is competing against 11 other proposals for the top 3 spots. Should we be selected for the next round of competition, we will pitch our proposal to Schmidt Futures in Arizona in late January.

We believe in a future that is “Powered Up” with clean energy technology. That future includes millions of dollars of in energy bill and healthcare savings, new clean energy jobs, and a healthy and prosperous middle class. The momentum around clean energy is building by the day. With Wisconsin utilities, counties, and municipalities committing to 100% renewable energy, we know the future of Wisconsin will be one with extensive clean energy adoption. Power Up is one vision for how to get there.

 

Solar for Good Grows by Leaps and Bounds

Solar for Good Grows by Leaps and Bounds

This week, RENEW wrapped up our third round of Solar for Good funding. We are happy to announce that this will be our most successful funding cycle to date!

RENEW received applications from 39 nonprofits and we plan on funding as many as 36 projects. Altogether, these grants will result in as much as $4.5 million in new solar investment, totaling 2.13 MEGAWATTS of clean, renewable, solar power.

This round of funding also featured our most diverse group of applicants to date. We approved solar grants for organizations ranging from K-12 schools to low-income housing to animal shelters. Proposals came in from across the state, from Washburn to Milwaukee, Dodgeville to Green Bay, and nearly everywhere in between.

Some of the nonprofits who will receive grants upon successfully completing their solar projects include:

  • Beloit College plans on converting a former coal-fired power plant into a carbon-neutral student activity center, complete with solar panels and geothermal heating
  • The Sisters of St. Francis in Green Bay will be adding an additional 98 kilowatts of solar power to the existing array at their motherhouse 
  • Sawyer County Housing Authority will install solar arrays on 6 multi-family, low-income housing facilities, which will directly offset their residents’ utility bills

This fall 2018 round builds on the Solar for Good success from prior rounds in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018. During the first and second funding rounds, RENEW issued over $200,000 in grants, helping 23 Wisconsin-based nonprofits invest over $1,677,000 in new solar projects. These projects totaled 730 kilowatts…enough to power approximately 150 homes.

RENEW would like to extend our gratitude to Cal and Laurie Couillard, founders of the Couillard Foundation which funds Solar for Good. Their generosity and devotion to renewable energy has spearheaded the opportunity to expand solar in tremendous ways. Through Solar for Good, solar power in Wisconsin is developing incredible momentum that we plan on build on in the coming years.

 

Large Solar Update: Richland County Solar Project

Large Solar Update: Richland County Solar Project

Solar farm proposals continue to spring up like mushrooms across western Wisconsin. In the last month, Tradewind Energy, a solar and wind energy developer headquartered in Kansas, submitted plans to build a 50 megawatt (MW) solar farm in Richland County near the Village of Lone Rock.

Tradewind’s project would spread across 500 acres of farmland north of U.S. Highway 14 in the Town of Buena Vista. If approved, this project will generate on average about 100,000 megawatt-hours (MWH) of electricity a year, enough electricity supply for more than 13,000 Wisconsin households.

Similar to the Badger Hollow Solar Farm proposed in Iowa County, the Richland County solar farm would deploy long rows of panels mounted on single-axis trackers. Unlike Badger Hollow, Tradewind plans to purchase the participating properties outright instead of entering into a long-term lease with the two landowners for the use of that land. In addition, Tradewind’s permitting path is different, because at 50 MW, the Richland County solar farm is not large enough to preempt local zoning ordinances. It will be the Richland County Zoning Committee and not the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin that will review proposed solar farm, and decide whether or not to issue a Conditional Use Permit.  The project site lies within a district zoned for general agriculture and forestry.

Heather Allen and I drove to Richland Center on November 5th to attend the permit hearing and communicate RENEW’s strong support for Tradewind’s proposal.  About 25 people filled the meeting room. In attendance were members of the project development team, the owners of the farmland to be purchased, more than a dozen neighboring residents, and several people living elsewhere in Richland County.

The neighbors in attendance communicated their concerns about the proposal. One neighbor raised the issue of glare and glint that might be experienced by those living in proximity to the project area. Because the project site is near a small airport serving Sauk and Richland counties, Tradewind contracted with a consulting firm to determine whether solar glint could interfere with air traffic flying into and out from the airport. The consultant concluded that the solar farm would not pose problems for pilots using the Tri-County airport near Lone Rock.

So long as solar arrays are oriented so that they could never send glare into the control tower, they can be located at or near airports. A 2014 fact sheet prepared by Meister Consultants under a U.S. Dept. of Energy grant award notes that there are 30 airport solar PV installations operating in 15 states; the numbers are certainly higher today. One of the newest airport solar projects now operating is at Appleton International Airport, where Green Bay-based Eland Electric built a 230 kW parking canopy that supplies electricity to both the terminal and to the electric vehicles parked at the charging stations.

Another issue raised by neighbors relates to the decommissioning of the project at the end of its operating life. With solar and wind projects, the permitting authority will require the developer to post a bond sufficient to cover the cost of removing the arrays as well as restoring the land to its former condition. Host jurisdictions generally don’t struggle with this issue when the facility is owned by utility or a public body. However, in cases where the proposed facility would be owned by an independent power producer, especially one headquartered in a different state or country, there is often a concern that should the company run into financial difficulties or go bankrupt, the bond could disappear or become unavailable to the host jurisdiction. As explained by company representatives at the hearing, the bond that is posted would effectively become the property of the County, off-limits to Tradewind and all other entities that acquire an interest in the array over its operating life.  This arrangement protects Richland County and ensures that the solar farm will be properly decommissioned.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the Zoning Committee decided to table discussion on the Conditional Use Permit and take the matter up again at its November 19th meeting, which will begin at 3:00 PM.  In all likelihood, the committee will vote on the Conditional Use Permit at that meeting. Prior to the Zoning Committee meeting, Tradewind will hold a community information meeting on Thursday, November 15th, at the Lone Rock Community Hall, starting at 5:30 PM. If you live in Richland County, mark your calendars for these meetings.  Richland County residents can also call or email to the County Board of Supervisors Zoning Committee in support of the project.

Please reach out to us at RENEW if you want to become a clean energy champion in your community!

Solar Farms: Homegrown, Healthy, and Smart for Wisconsin

Solar Farms: Homegrown, Healthy, and Smart for Wisconsin

In recent years, private companies and our state’s power providers have been building “solar farms” in Wisconsin.  These are large-scale solar energy facilities providing homegrown, healthy, and smart energy to Wisconsin citizens.

These new solar farms provide homegrown energy, making power right here in Wisconsin. Solar farms provide an opportunity to boost local economies and create jobs. Already Wisconsin’s renewable energy industry employs more than 75,000 workers – more than all the waiters, waitresses, computer programmers, lawyers and web developers in the state combined. This number stands to grow substantially as we explore more renewable energy development.

Solar farms are healthy – they put out no emissions or pollution, and they use no water from the ground or surface.  Many solar farms implement native meadow vegetation that prevents soil erosion, provides weed control, and produces a natural (and healthy) habitat for pollinators and wildlife.

Solar farms are smart for Wisconsin, because they are cost-competitive with traditional ways of making electricity. The cost of developing solar power projects has dropped by over 75% in the past decade. And solar power technology has improved, so that more of the sunlight is directly converted to power.

As some of these solar projects are getting underway and Wisconsin’s energy landscape is changing, RENEW Wisconsin is here to provide information and answer questions.

We’ve made a fact sheet showing all the potential solar and wind development that is being explored in the state. It also shows what our power companies are planning to do to shift towards homegrown and clean, renewable energy including solar and wind.

Beyond that, we’ve fielded dozens of questions and prepared straightforward answers that are easy to understand. In addition to having this online tool, we have 2-page and longer version of these “Frequently Asked Questions” that citizens can use.

Solar farms: homegrown, healthy, and smart for Wisconsin.  Learn more on our new Solar Farms web page!

 

 

The Path to Success for Focus on Energy’s 2019-2022 Renewables Program

The Path to Success for Focus on Energy’s 2019-2022 Renewables Program

For many years, Focus on Energy’s renewable energy incentive program has labored under an operating environment resembling a regulatory roller-coaster. It has weathered funding suspensions, mid-stream budget reallocations, and an effort to replace rebates with loans.

But that extended wild ride is finally coming to an end, the result of Public Service Commission orders that will restore stability and consistency to Focus’s renewable energy offerings.

The PSC’s ruling in June 2018 locked in $22 million in renewable energy incentives for the 2019-2022 funding cycle, split equitably between residential and business customers. That allocation amounts to a funding increase of $4.7 million, or 27%, over the previous four-year cycle.  In addition, the order granted flexibility to move funds between residential and business customers to better ensure all the funding is utilized.

A subsequent order in September 2018 locked in improvements to the business program, including a streamlined application process, a guarantee of request-for-proposals issued three times per year, and a funding set-aside for mid-size projects (between 20 and 100 kilowatts for solar power projects).

We are starting to see the results of these positive decisions!

The business program has an RFP on the street with applications due next week, on Tuesday, October 23rd, for the first round of projects that will be installed in 2019.

All in all, the PSC’s decisions tracked closely with the recommendations submitted by RENEW and its member businesses regarding funding levels and program design.

But before we dive into how it happened, RENEW wishes to thank PSC Chairperson Lon Roberts and Commissioners Mike Huebsch and Rich Zipperer for their votes in support of a strong, predictable, and consistent renewable energy program for Focus on Energy!

We would also like to thank the Commissioners’ Executive Assistants and the Commission’s Focus on Energy staff team for the role they each played in setting up success for 2019 through 2022.

The Anatomy of the Victory

Our goals for the 2018 planning process were twofold: first, to lock in a stable and well-funded operating environment for renewables; and second, to integrate needed process improvements to the incentive program targeting commercial installations. Our member businesses assisted us in formulating these recommendations which were based on an assessment of recently adopted tax and trade policies and their likely effects on customer appetite for onsite renewable generation.

Our success was made possible by the participation of several influential constituencies that weighed into the formal planning docket. For the first time in Focus on Energy’s history, associations representing general contractors, builders, and architects voiced their support for a well-funded renewable energy program.  Drawing upon his background representing contractors at the Capitol, Jim Boullion, RENEW’s Government Affairs Director, was instrumental in engaging these groups to submit a letter conveying their support for continuing current funding levels over the next four years.

In addition, renewable energy businesses and associations across solar, biogas, and geothermal technologies weighed in with support.  These businesses span the entire state, which helped us make the point that the renewable energy program serves rural and urban areas.

 

Geographic Representation of Signatories

 

Our success in 2018 was also made possible by RENEW’s organized media outreach and recognition swings across Wisconsin from 2015 through 2017.  Those events highlighted the increasing appeal of rooftop solar for commercial customers, school districts, and agricultural producers, and called attention to the Focus on Energy incentives that moved these installations to completion.

The ribbon-cuttings and award ceremonies in locations such as Racine, New Berlin, and Darlington proved effective in generating positive coverage from the press. RENEW complemented that effort with analysis documenting the renewable program’s statewide reach and effectiveness in supporting Wisconsin businesses, both at the customer and contractor level.

That effort first bore fruit in October 2016, when the PSC decided to scrap the sputtering loan program and replenish the incentive budget for 2017 and 2018 with unspent loan dollars totaling more than $8.5 million. With that commitment in place, renewable energy businesses could bank on a relatively stable and adequate funding base, and break free of the fits and starts that had hampered their ability to meet growing customer demand.

Getting the 2017 and 2018 programs in place and, through our members, showing them to be successful gave us a strong negotiating position to showcase “what is working” and to advocate for continued rebate funding for 2019-2022.

In the end, it was a combination of RENEW’s strong advocacy on behalf of our member businesses and allies, and the PSC’s desire to see the program succeed that led to this positive outcome. We are fortunate to have so many actively engaged members who understand the value of speaking up with a unified voice.

Said RENEW Executive Director Tyler Huebner: “The Commissioners definitely heard the collective comments of our industry and stakeholders to make the renewable energy program as streamlined and business-friendly as possible.  RENEW Wisconsin will continue to work with the Commission, PSC staff, and the Focus on Energy program administrators to make the programs simple for customers and the renewable energy marketplace, while ensuring cost-effective outcomes.”

Once again, thank you to our Members and Stakeholders who supported our positions, and to the PSC Commissioners, Executive Assistants, and Staff who all played instrumental roles in this process.

We look forward to a strong Focus on Energy renewable energy program for 2019 through 2022!

 

MGE and Dane County Team Up to Build Airport Solar Project

MGE and Dane County Team Up to Build Airport Solar Project

Dane County and Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) are joining forces to construct a solar power plant on County-owned land that will supply clean electricity for one customer only: Dane County. The solar array, expected to total eight megawatts of capacity, will be situated on a 41-acre parcel at the north end of Dane County Regional Airport. MGE will own the array, which will be interconnected directly to the utility’s distribution system nearby.

This project invites superlatives. When completed, it will be the largest solar power plant in Dane County, more than three times as large as Epic Systems’ 2.2 MW installation serving its Verona headquarters, and four times as large as Madison College’s 1.8 MW rooftop array at its Truax campus, which is expected to start generating electricity in November.

Thanks to its Renewable Energy Rider service, MGE has the capability of supplying commercial customers to clean electricity generated from new, offsite solar installations. Through this service, customers like Dane County can lock in a dedicated source of solar at a fixed price for up to 20 years. The cost of building a Renewable Energy Rider project would be borne exclusively by the customer or customers purchasing the electricity.  Other nonparticipating customers would be unaffected by the transaction.

In this case, MGE will recover the full cost of building the airport installation from Dane County’s energy purchases. The county has a goal to source 100% of the electricity it consumes from renewable resources. The output from the airport project should total about 25% of the County’s annual electrical usage.

Later this fall, MGE will select a general contractor to design and build this installation. The utility will also file an application for permission to supply Dane County with the project’s output. The Public Service Commission will review the terms of the agreement to ensure that the airport array is cost-neutral from the standpoint of the utility’s other customers.

Dane County and MGE jointly unveiled its partnership at an October 1st press conference at the airport. The announcement also coincided with the unveiling of the County Executive’s proposed budget for 2019, containing a number of provisions to advance the County’s development and use of renewable energy. One of them involves Lake Farm Park, home of Lussier Family Heritage Center and numerous campsites. The proposed budget allocates $435,000 to build enough solar capacity to supply 100% of the electricity and hot water used at the park.

“Dane County is a nationally-recognized leader in renewable energy adoption and innovation. From the hardest-working landfill in the state, to what will be one of the largest solar farms in the state, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “This historic solar farm will help increase local clean energy jobs, reduce carbon emissions, and reduce the tax burden on Dane County residents through lower energy bills.”

“MGE welcomes the opportunity to partner at the County’s request on this solar project and supports its efforts to achieve 100% renewable energy for its facilities,” said MGE Chairman, President and CEO Jeff Keebler.

If approved, construction of the project is expected to begin in 2019. For more information on the project see: https://www.countyofdane.com/press/details.aspx?id=4370