Today, Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) and Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) announced they propose to acquire 300 megawatts (MW) of solar power at two different locations in Wisconsin. In addition, the developers of the two facilities filed their formal proposals with the state’s Public Service Commission.
The projects are as follows:
• Badger Hollow Solar Farm in Iowa County in southwest Wisconsin near the villages of Montfort and Cobb. This project may be as large as 300 MW, of which 150 MW will be acquired by WPS and MGE.
• Two Creeks Solar in Manitowoc and Kewaunee Counties in the Town of Two Creeks and the City of Two Rivers. This project will be 150 MW.
WPS will own 100 MW shares of each project (200 MW total) while MGE will own 50 MW of each project (100 MW total). The electricity production from the utility-owned facilities announced today would equal the annual electric usage of approximately 67,000 Wisconsin homes, and will provide approximately 1% of Wisconsin’s annual electricity production. This amount of solar will more than triple the solar power capacity currently online in Wisconsin.
RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Tyler Huebner said: “This is a landmark day for solar power and renewable energy in Wisconsin. Homeowners, businesses, and nonprofits have been enjoying the benefits of solar energy for years. We are excited that our power companies and these solar developers are making investments at scale to power Wisconsin with more home-grown clean and renewable energy.”
Wisconsin State Journal
A commentary by Tyler Huebner and Michael Vickerman
March 28, 2018
Kohler Co., a signature Wisconsin manufacturer, is set to join the dozens of U.S. corporations buying renewable electricity to displace fossil fuel generation on the electrical grid. But the source of this clean energy is nowhere near the company’s headquarters in Kohler. The wind farm that will sell this electricity to Kohler is instead located in east central Kansas, nearly 800 miles away.
A leading manufacturer of kitchen and bath products worldwide, Kohler recently entered into a 15-year contract with Enel Green Power North America to purchase electricity generated from a 300-megawatt (MW) wind power plant now under construction. Kohler’s share of Enel’s Diamond Vista wind farm is 100 MW, which will produce enough zero-emission electricity to equal the consumption of nearly 40,000 typical households.
Like many other corporate wind purchases, however, the electricity bought by Kohler will not directly supply its own operations. Instead, Kohler will resell the wind generation it buys to the wholesale electric market serving the Southern Plains states.
At the same time, Kohler will retain the renewable energy credits (RECs) associated with the output. These credits will be used to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity actually used to power all of the company’s U.S. and Canadian operations, including its flagship manufacturing facility in Kohler, Wisconsin, as well as its nearby golf and resort properties. This action will reduce Kohler’s global carbon footprint by 26%.
This is by far the largest renewable energy purchase undertaken by a Wisconsin corporation, befitting an industry leader that has embraced a goal to become net carbon neutral by 2035. With more than 50 manufacturing locations worldwide, Kohler is on the lookout for innovative pathways that can achieve substantial greenhouse gas emissions with minimal impact on its bottom line.
Corporations Looking for Renewable Energy At-Scale
The economies of scale achieved by large wind projects like Diamond Vista is quite appealing to Kohler and other corporate offtakers of renewable energy. In another example of this trend, the global beer giant Anheuser-Busch committed in fall 2017 to purchase RECs from the Enel-owned Thunder Ranch wind power project under construction in Oklahoma. That transaction will enable Anheuser-Busch to reduce emissions from its electricity purchases in the United States by 50% (and garnered this logo on each bottle and can of Budweiser now sold in the U.S.)
In addition to its environmental benefits, Kohler’s purchase will set in motion a significant economic jolt that will last throughout Diamond Vista’s operating life. Unfortunately, these economic benefits will be reaped entirely by the host communities in rural Kansas, bypassing Wisconsin altogether.
Wisconsin Renewable Projects Coming Online
The recently commissioned Quilt Block wind farm in southwest Wisconsin exemplifies the economic development potential represented by renewable generation. The largest power plant energized in Wisconsin last year, this 98 MW installation will, over its lifetime, direct millions of dollars in landowner payments and tax revenues into the coffers of both Lafayette County and the host township. At the same time, Quilt Block will supply La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative and its members with clean, affordable electricity under a long-term contract.
As it happens, the developer of Quilt Block, Houston-based EDP Renewables, would like to develop additional projects near where this project was just completed. In addition, numerous solar developers are eyeing opportunities to build large-scale solar in Wisconsin. These projects could, in theory, supply local corporate or institutional customers with the renewable power they are seeking, while strengthening the local economy where the projects are built. That certainly has all the earmarks of a win-win proposition for Wisconsin.
Two Models for Wisconsin’s Success
There are two models in early stages that could facilitate these win-wins for Wisconsin companies and local economies.
The first option is a “Corporate Renewable Energy Service,” which electric utilities can put in place to connect larger customers with low-cost renewable power generated from solar arrays or wind farms located in Wisconsin. These three-party arrangements connect the corporation (or local government), the utility, and a specific renewable energy project. The benefit to the company is a relatively seamless, and perhaps cost-neutral, arrangement that flows the energy production through on their existing utility bill.
We supported Madison Gas & Electric as they pursued such a service in 2017. However, they remain the only utility explicitly offering this service in Wisconsin. We need other utilities to design and offer this type of service to enable Wisconsin-based companies to connect to home-grown renewable projects.
The second model was trail-blazed by Organic Valley last year. OV, a farmer-owned food cooperative headquartered in La Farge, Wisconsin, recently agreed to purchase RECs from new solar arrays supplying power to a consortium of municipal electric utilities in southwest Wisconsin and Minnesota.
This amounts once again to a three-party arrangement. Two separate agreements are needed: the utility and the renewable energy project owner reaches an agreement on energy price, while the corporation desiring renewable energy strikes an agreement with the wind/solar project developer on the price for the separate renewable energy credits. One difference is that the utility bill for the corporation is unchanged, while they have a new expense for the purchase of the RECs.
Compared with Kohler’s 100 MW purchase, the 12 MW of renewable generation leveraged by the Organic Valley purchase is modest, but it could serve as a model for other state-based companies and local governments to embrace.
Both of these models have merits. For a company like Kohler seeking to offset its entire North American footprint of electricity consumption, a REC model makes tremendous sense. They were able to facilitate one REC deal that substantially accomplishes their goal as opposed to working through many utilities that serve their operations throughout the continent. (It’s also important to note that Kohler plans to continue its industry-leading energy efficiency efforts and explore on-site renewable generation as well.)
What’s clear is that Kohler and Organic Valley are just the beginning for Wisconsin companies seeking large amounts of renewable energy.
Wisconsin’s whole economy will benefit most if we can maximize the number of in-state projects to serve these Wisconsin-based companies. Now is the time for our electric utilities and large corporations to work together to facilitate in-state success stories for achieving corporate sustainability goals while building Wisconsin’s local economies.
Madison Gas & Electric’s efforts to transition to a low-carbon energy resource mix are accelerating, as documented in recent correspondence from company president and CEO Jeff Keebler. These sustainability initiatives will, according to Keebler, enable MGE to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 (base year 2005), a central objective of the company’s Energy 2030 framework. Beyond that, Keebler states that MGE will continue its pursuit of deep decarbonization through 2050, the year it aims to have achieved an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels.
A number of initiatives highlighted in MG&E’s letter stand out.
- Ground has been broken on the company’s 33-turbine, 66 megawatt (MW) wind power plant in northeast Iowa. The Public Service Commission (PSC) approved MGE’s application to build its Saratoga wind farm in November.
- The PSC is reviewing a request from MGE and two other utilities to purchase the Forward Wind Energy Center located in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties. Chicago-based Invenergy built the 86-turbine, 142 MW project, which started producing electricity in May 2008. The PSC is likely to approve the sale next month.
- MGE is teaming up with WEC Energy Group, the state’s largest electric utility, to build and own solar projects that will when completed become the largest of its kind in the state. MGE’s share of these installations will amount to 50 MW, which is expected to generate enough electricity to match the annual usage of 16,500 households. Across Wisconsin today, solar generating capacity totals 85 MW. This project will require PSC approval.
MGE is also working with larger customers to supply them with electricity from new renewable energy sources built in the utility’s service territory. Under MGE’s Renewable Energy Rider program, commercial customers should be able to access renewable electricity produced off-site at a cost comparable to standard service.
Finally, MGE is partnering with the City of Madison to accelerate the electrification of the latter’s bus fleet. Madison’s first three electric buses will arrive in 2019. Electrification of fleet vehicles is one of the areas of collaboration specified in a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding taking effect in September 2017.
For more information on MGE’s sustainability initiatives, visit www.energy2030together.com