RENEW Announces New Board of Directors Members

RENEW Announces New Board of Directors Members

RENEW Wisconsin members re-elected four directors to its governing board in June.

“We are thrilled that these four re-elected board members will continue to serve RENEW Wisconsin as we collectively work towards our newly adopted mission to lead and accelerate the transformation to Wisconsin’s renewable energy future through advocacy education, and collaboration,” said Carl Siegrist, RENEW’s board president.

The four Directors are:

Brian Hildebrand, administrator with the UW-Madison Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment as well as with the Center for Climatic Research.

Niels Wolter, is an independent consultant working with prospective owners of large commercial solar electric systems and is the Managing Director of Encon Services International LLC.

Greg Fritsch, President of Clean Energy North America, a bioenergy and cogeneration project development and consulting company. Greg has been involved in banking, consulting, and energy project development for 25 years.

Don Wichert, volunteer advisor to RENEW Wisconsin and independent consultant with Eudai Energy, LLC. Don has been involved with renewable energy in Wisconsin for over 30 years with the State Energy Office, Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, and RENEW Wisconsin as Board Member and interim Executive Director.

These directors will serve three-year terms starting in July 2014 and going through June 2017.

Renewable energy firms, fans urges state to reverse course

Tom Content’s article for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provides an informative summary of the events and motivations leading up the outpouring of comments submitted to the PSC on behalf of Wisconsin businesses in the wind and solar industry. Comments from RENEW, local solar installers and utility customers emphasize the negative economic repercussions that Wisconsin will experience if this decision is finalized.
By Tom Content

Supporters of renewable energy are weighing in urging the state Public Service Commission to reverse course and rethink a decision that suspended incentives for business and homeowners to install solar power systems. 

The state Focus on Energy program announced last month that it would suspend the granting of renewable incentives for the second time in three years. 

Program administrators cited a recent ruling by the PSC that gives preference to renewable energy projects that use biomass or biogas, which are more cost-effective than wind and solar projects. The PSC’s decision ties funding of any solar projects to biomass projects, which take longer to develop. Because of the longer lead times, solar funding will stop while more biomass projects get closer to being built, according to Focus. 

The PSC was initially considering a final decision on the matter this week but that decision is now expected later this month. Instead, the agency asked for public comments, and the response was significant. 

Renew Wisconsin, an advocacy group, says 630 people or businesses have weighed with comments on the matter, 

“It’s really an impressive outpouring of support to continue these incentives,” said Tyler Huebner, who joined Renew Wisconsin as executive director earlier this year. “It’s clear that the PSC’s move to suspend incentives struck a nerve with the public.” 

The incentives are provided by the state Focus on Energy program, an initiative that’s overseen by the state PSC as well as the state’s utilities. Focus on Energy was created to help utility customers receive incentives to make homes and businesses more energy-efficient and install renewable energy systems. 

The PSC’s rationale is to ensure ratepayers’ dollars are spent wisely. Most of the Focus on Energy program’s budget is allocated toward energy efficiency projects, which deliver a stronger payback than renewable energy systems. 

The move comes as utilities are also scaling back their commitment to customer-sited renewable generation. We Energies of Milwaukee in 2011 suspended a $6 million a year commitment to renewable energy, saying it was focusing its renewables spending on large projects like the state’s two biggest wind farms and a biomass power plant set to open this year in north-central Wisconsin.


Master Limited Partnerships for Renewable Energy: A Point/Counterpoint

In Midwest Energy News John Ferrell comments on the potential expansion of Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) to cover wind and solar energy providers. Ferrell asserts that including wind and solar companies in MLPs and thus allowing them to avoid paying corporate income tax would simply provide another tax loophole to big business rather than evening the playing field between renewable and conventional energy sources. In the counterpoint below Attorney Michael Allen of Energy Law Wisconsin identifies three primary reasons why the extension of MLPs to include wind and solar business will encourage more investment dollars to come into the renewables marketplace.
I write in response to
John Farrell’s recent commentary on Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs)
in Midwest Energy News.  Bottom Line: I don’t entirely agree with Mr.
Farrell’s pessimistic point of view. Here are a few areas where I
respectfully disagree.

first is while it is technically correct for Farrell to say that MLPs
don’t pay corporate income tax, this statement is somewhat misleading,
as it suggests that  that the income generated by Master Limited
Partnerships avoids taxation.  It does not.  MLPs, just like the LLCs
who comprise many of the members of the Midwest Renewable Energy
Association, do not escape income taxation on the money they earn. 
Rather, their income flows through to their owners who pay the tax on
this income at their own tax rates.  Renewable Energy MLPs would offer
an advantage to persons who wanted to raise large amounts of money for
renewable energy because the entities would get the best of both the
partnership and corporate forms of doing business.  Like corporations
they are publicly-traded, so many people, even small investors, would be
able to invest and with a broader potential owner base they should be
able to raise funds at more favorable rates.   In addition, they get the
same favorable pass through tax treatment as an LLC because, unlike
publicly traded corporations, their profits would not be taxed twice —
first at the corporate level and again when dividends or profits are
distributed to the shareholders. 

may have a valid criticism of the FERC regulation of Master Limited
Partnerships in the oil and gas industry in that FERC may be allowing
them overly generous rate recovery –treating them as if they were
subject to “double taxation” of profits and dividends when they are
not.  However, if true, this is a criticism of FERC regulation that
should be corrected at the FERC and avoided if Renewable Energy MLPs
become a reality.  It is not an inherent defect with the MLP form of
doing business.  It is unclear to me to what extent this would be an
issue for renewable energy MLPs.  FERC regulation would apply if they
were selling electricity in interstate commerce.  However one can
imagine an MLP that would not be regulated by FERC because it focused on
developing PV systems or micro grids serving business parks or
subdivisions within states.

raises two other concerns with MLPs.  First, he claims they will enable
large regulated utilities to get to the tax-saving “trough”. Second, he
believes MLPs will reinforce centralized control of the energy system,
and counter the trend of distributed local generation on rooftops,
thereby taking ownership of the renewable energy system away from the
“little guy”, who is unlikely to be an investor in a renewable energy

I think Mr. Farrell’s view that these features make MLPs lousy policy for renewables is debatable.

plenty of “little guys” hold shares in regulated utilities, so I don’t
know what would prevent them from being investors in renewable energy
MLPs should they be utilized by utilities (For example — my 84 year old
mother holds units in Cedar Fair, the amusement park MLP).  Locally if
you go to an MGE annual meeting you will see thousands of small
investors.  In addition, if individual investors want to buy stock
cheaply, they can do so in just about any utility and many other
publicly-traded corporations and existing MLPs through low cost services
that allow shareholders to buy as little as one share and reinvest
their dividends or make additional modest investments through Dividend
Reinvestment Plans and Direct Investment Plans.  Renewable Energy MLPs
actually have the potential to open up ownership of renewables to people
who, like the small investors who have flocked to Solar Mosaic, can’t
afford to put a PV system on their own home and don’t have sufficient
taxable income to be a major investor in a renewable energy project to
get the tax credits, but can afford to invest a $1,000 or less in a
renewable energy project.

if utilities or other big industry players really want to get into
renewables in a big way, they already can – they don’t need the MLP. 
Look at Warren Buffett, or Duke Energy or MEMC, which purchased Sun
Edison and just adopted its name.  They just need to find the right
renewable investments in the right markets.  I think it is unlikely that
it is the lack of the MLP form of doing business that is holding them

it is not cheap to set up an MLP and utilities can already raise money
through their existing corporate structure (assuming the local state
regulatory commission lets them do so).  I don’t think it is a certainty
that they will be the ones to jump into the MLP game.  If you want to
anticipate which financial heavyweights might use the MLP renewables
structure, my sense it would be more likely to be the major oil
companies (as Farrell notes) or the investment banks, who underwrote the
fossil fuel and pipeline MLPs.

I think Mr. Farrell is making an argument that renewables are done best
with local control and not by large centralized owners.  There are
certainly benefits to the local approach, including increased
responsiveness to local community concerns and perhaps, in some
circumstances, even local grid security.  However, there are drawbacks
too, including loss of potential economies of scale making renewables
development more expensive than it needs to be and risk of inadequate
depth of expertise to serve the needs of customers.  In addition, as
noted above, one could even argue that MLPs, by offering an opportunity
for small investors to invest in renewables via MLP unit ownership, may
have a democratizing effect on renewables by opening up greater
opportunity of ownership to small investors, even if ownership of
renewable energy assets are concentrated in larger companies. 

is black and white, but I come down on the side of favoring MLPs,
because I believe they will encourage more investment dollars to come
into the renewables marketplace. And the clinching consideration that
sways me in this direction is that if the Earth’s atmosphere obtains
relief from GHG emissions due to increased development of renewables, I
think the atmosphere doesn’t care much whether these renewables are
locally or centrally owned. 


Michael J. Allen

Energy Law Wisconsin
1500 West Main Street, Suite 300
P.O. Box 27
Sun Prairie, WI 53590


Minnesota’s new solar law: Looking beyond percentages

Great news out of Minnesota. To read more about the Solar Energy Jobs Act, see the full legislation or read Dan Haugen’s article at Midwest Energy News.

by Dan Haugen 

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday signed into law an energy bill that’s projected to give the state a more than thirtyfold increase in solar generation by the end of the decade. 

The Solar Energy Jobs Act was rolled into a larger, omnibus economic development bill and approved by the state’s legislature last week. 

The section that’s drawn the most attention is a 1.5 percent by 2020 solar electricity standard for large utilities that is on top of the state’s existing 25 percent by 2025 renewable mandate.


Expansion set for Menomonee Valley solar panel factory

From a blog post by Tom Content on JSOnline:

Helios Solar Works has received a loan of $652,079 to support its $11 million investment to purchase equipment and add a third shift of workers at its Menomonee Valley solar panel factory.

The loan was announced by the Northwest Side Community Development Corp., based on funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Helios opened its factory at 1207 W. Canal St. last year. The funds will be used to help meet demand from new orders from Helios customers in the United States, Asia and Europe, according to the community development corporation. The corporation said the loan will support the addition of up to 40 jobs.

“It is very satisfying to know that the NWSCDC is helping Helios ship solar panels to customers worldwide stamped ‘Made in Milwaukee,’ ” said Sam McGovern-Rowen, NWSCDC planning director, in a statement. Helios makes efficient panels using a highly automated production process.

Helios chief executive Steve Ostrenga says employment currently stands at about 35, running two shifts, and the company is planning its capital investment in part to accommodate a third shift and development of a new panel aimed at the residential market.

“We’ve been doing primarily commercial and this gets into the residential space with a differentiated product that lowers the total cost of installation,” he said in an interview.