by jboullion | Dec 23, 2014 | Uncategorized
Here are some updates on Focus on Energy renewable energy programs, from recent meetings of the Public Service Commission and meetings RENEW has had with Focus on Energy staff.
Residential Rewards funding for renewable energy projects (solar PV and geothermal)
All projects applied for by October 28th, 2014, will be receiving their cash-back reward for solar PV. It is expected that the $450,000 budget was exceeded by $200,000 or more, but the projects will be funded, and the extra funds will not be taken from other renewables funding.
A project with a $400,000 grant in 2014 fell through, and the Commission directed that funding to be carried over to 2015 and used for renewable energy projects.
Focus on Energy staff are anticipating issuing a RECIP RFP in early 2015. The budget levels, from RENEW’s understanding, are that approximately $1.2 million should be available for RECIP projects that will be installed in 2015.
We are working with Focus on Energy staff to determine a RECIP schedule for 2015 and 2016 so that all installers know the schedule that is forthcoming and can plan accordingly.
2015 & 2016 Funding Update
For 2015, we expect:
– $1.2 million in RECIP, for projects installed in 2015
– $450,000 in residential rewards
– up to $2.5 million in new revolving loan program (more details below)
For 2016, we expect:
– About $3.0 million in RECIP projects that will be installed in 2016
– $450,000 in residential rewards
– $2.5 million in revolving loan program funding
The Commission will review the rebate and loan funding in mid-2016, to determine funding allocations for 2017 and 2018.
$6 million digester program for smaller farms updateThis program is still being scoped out. RENEW is gathering some feedback from digester developers, and at this point we anticipate Focus staff working to get more information from digester companies and farmers on the barriers to adopting digesters and what information, research, or implementation needs exist to bring digester technology down to smaller farms. As more details emerge and opportunities for feedback become available, RENEW will be in touch.
Loan Program Update
As of this writing, we understand the Focus on Energy staff is planning, at the high level, the following for the new loan program:
– Loan program will be largely based off Iowa’s “Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program”
– Loans under $50k would be 1st come, 1st served, and would open in January
– Loans for over $50k would be completed through a quarterly RFP, and would start in March/April
– $2.5 million per year would be lent out for each of 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.
– Lending partners – any lender can become part of the program. Lenders will do the financial / credit check review of the applicants.
We will be working to get more details on this program and to make sure the industry is updated and has ample opportunity to ask questions and get them answered.
by jboullion | Aug 28, 2014 | Uncategorized
Experts find no evidence to support proposal
Press Release from RENEW Wisconsin and Environmental Law & Policy Center
August 28, 2014
MADISON, WI – Expert witnesses criticized We Energies’ proposals to raise “fixed” charges for everyone and add fees and restrictions to customers that wish to generate clean, renewable energy on their own property, in testimony filed Thursday with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.
Experts for RENEW Wisconsin and the Environmental Law & Policy Center determined that We Energies’ proposed billing changes are unjustified, would reduce all customers’ ability to control their electricity bills, and would stifle the growth of energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Karl Rábago of Rábago Energy, LLC called the proposal “an astounding failure of basic ratemaking” and determined that the Company provided “no reasonable justification” for imposing charges on their customers.
Michael Vickerman of RENEW Wisconsin concluded the proposal would cripple the solar industry in Wisconsin, and would reduce a customer’s return from a new solar system by more than one-third (35%) and slash savings from an existing system by nearly one-half (47%).
Brad Klein, senior attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, called the proposal a dangerous precedent. “We Energies is attempting to exert its monopoly power to restrict customer choice and take money out of the pockets of customers who use less energy.”
Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin said, “We Energies’ proposals, if approved, would punish customers who have done the right thing by going solar, and take away jobs for the small businesses that make a living in this industry which has grown nationally to over 140,000 employees through 2013.”
The new charges and service restrictions contemplated by We Energies include:
§ Increasing monthly fixed charges by more than 75%, which would disproportionately affect customers that use less energy (see “Robin Hood in Reverse” release)
§ Adding a new “capacity demand” charge that alone will offset nearly 30% of a customer’s savings from solar
§ Paying solar generators just 4.2 cents for each extra kilowatt-hour of electricity they create, while re-selling that electricity to other customers at up to 28 cents during peak daytime summer hours
§ Restricting solar energy financing options that help low-income customers, municipalities, churches and non-profits more affordably go solar
The expert witnesses’ main recommendations were to reject the utility’s proposals. “A broader discussion is needed to enable us to ‘look before we leap’ – to carefully examine both the benefits and costs of customers producing their own clean power before simply accepting this utility’s view,” said Huebner.
· RENEW Wisconsin’s testimony in this We Energies case can be found at the Public Service Commission’s website, http://psc.wi.gov/apps35/ERF_search/default.aspx, by searching for Docket 5-UR-107.
· Testimony in this case comes on the heels of testimony filed two weeks ago in the Wisconsin Public Service rate case, Docket 6690-UR-123, which RENEW Wisconsin characterized as “Robin Hood in Reverse.”
· RENEW also recently discussed We Energies’ proposed changes which would affect future biogas projects. See press release.
RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin’s renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration.
ELPC is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization. We develop and lead successful strategic advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural resources.
by jboullion | Aug 14, 2014 | Uncategorized
This article was published electronically August 14, 2014 in the Energy & Environment News Service and is re-printed here with permission from the reporter.
Evan Lehmann, E&E reporter
Four years ago, a Wisconsin Republican urged his party to overcome its fear of environmental action, saying that a conservative green movement could strengthen both the economy and GOP candidates. Then he got clobbered.
Now his son is taking a turn. Matt Neumann hopes to convince state officials that Wisconsin needs a big expansion of solar power. Among his audience are members of the Republican Party including friends of his father, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, who was later defeated in back-to-back primaries, first for governor in 2010 and then for the Senate two years later.
The younger Neumann resembles his dad, a former math teacher, both in looks and in his conspicuous conservatism. They both promote the environment, and they hope to make money conserving it. They do have one big difference: “Politics drives me nuts,” Matt Neumann said.
Instead of running for public office, he’s making his energy pitch as president of the Wisconsin Solar Energy Industries Association and as the co-owner of a solar installation business that he runs with his father.
Matt Neumann, president of the Wisconsin Solar Energy Industries Association. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Solar Energy Industries Association
He enters public policy at a turbulent time. Wisconsin has seen its installation of solar systems drop since 2010, following eight years of modest growth. The state now has about 17 megawatts of installed solar power, enough to provide electricity to about 2,600 homes, according to Neumann’s group. That amounts to about 0.1 percent of the state’s renewable energy. In other words, it’s barely perceptible. [RENEW Wisconsin note: solar electricity accounts for less than 0.03% of Wisconsin’s electricity.]
The key reason behind Wisconsin’s sluggish growth is opposition by its utility sector, according to advocates of renewable energy. Utilities like We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Madison Gas and Electric Co. are pre-positioning themselves to avoid potential future losses from homegrown power, like solar arrays, by seeking fixed rates rather than charging customers for the amount of energy they use.
That can discourage conservation, clean energy advocates say, and it might dampen the economic impetus for installing solar on your rooftop: If a customer can’t lower his or her power bills by using solar electricity, then the investment doesn’t make sense, advocates say.
Neumann uses conservative touchstones to describe the state of things. For him, it’s a lack of “liberty” that prevents a property owner from choosing how to power his or her home or business. He said this absence of “energy choice” contradicts Republican tenets, which run strong in a state where the governor, Scott Walker, is favored by the tea party.
“We’re very conservative here in Wisconsin,” Neumann said. “The reality is free market capitalism, the choice to choose how you buy your energy, and how you finance that acquisition, the ability to lower your long-term energy costs — those are all very conservative principles and yet for some reason we’re struggling to adapt.”
Protecting customers, or profits?
Rate proposals currently being considered by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission would increase fixed monthly costs from $9 to $16 for customers of We Energies, the state’s biggest utility. Bigger jumps are being sought by Wisconsin Public Service Corp., which wants to double the fixed costs for residential customers to $25, and Madison Gas and Electric, which proposed a monthly fixed fee of $68 by 2017 before settling for $19 next year. That’s an 82 percent jump.
We Energies is also asking regulators to allow it to pay much less for electricity generated by homeowners, who can sell excess power derived from solar panels and other systems to utilities. The company is seeking to decrease the current price of 14 cents per kilowatt-hour to between 3 and 5 cents.
Cathy Schulze, a spokeswoman for We Energies, said the current price is above market rate, and the cost is passed on to other ratepayers. She also said the utility is moving to fixed prices to ensure that customers without solar aren’t required to shoulder more of the costs of maintaining the grid’s infrastructure — like poles, wires and utility employees.
“The costs are shifting to those people who don’t have their own generation right now,” Schulze said. “It may not be as big of a problem right now, but as that [solar] industry continues to grow, you’re going to see that disparity and that cost grow wider.”
Others see it differently. Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, which advocates for cleaner power, said that the utilities are trying to cover recent investments in coal and gas plants with higher fixed fees. Customers shouldn’t be tied to the cost of those plants, he said, if they find cheaper, cleaner power alternatives.
If the buyback rate for excess solar power drops from 14 cents to 4 cents, it would price solar systems out of the marketplace, he said. “That’s the concern,” Huebner said.
Neumann said solar could thrive in Wisconsin if lawmakers would clarify that third-party ownership of solar systems is allowed. His company is an example. SunVest Solar Inc. installs its own photovoltaic systems on homes, businesses and churches, and then sells the power to the property owner at a fixed rate over 20 years.
The rate is usually equivalent to the cost of conventional electricity, or lower, Neumann said, and it can expand the use of solar power because property owners don’t have to buy the equipment, which can cost up to $15,000 installed for a home.
On climate change: ‘I don’t know’
He’s hopeful that Wisconsin lawmakers will pass legislation allowing third-party financing. But he said the “big thing” that Republicans will have to overcome is the utilities’ argument that solar could increase the cost of electricity on those customers who don’t have it.
“It’s just plain not true,” Neumann said, noting that solar power cuts cost on utilities and customers by generating power at peak demand periods.
But the utilities seem to have the ear of lawmakers. State Sen. Robert Cowles, a Republican and chairman of the Energy, Consumer Protection and Government Reform Committee, said the idea that solar could shift the cost burden to other people is “pretty compelling.”
“I can tell you, the utilities are vehemently against this,” Cowles said of third-party ownership. “I’m not sure how we would get them to ever accept that. We would have to overwhelm them somehow. I mean, I’m not taking a position on this right now.”
Neumann, like his dad, is a conspicuous member of the Republican Party. As he emphasizes renewable energy, his party avoids it. The state GOP’s platform, adopted this year, doesn’t prioritize cleaner energy, or even mention it. Instead, the document promotes eliminating the Department of Energy and encourages environmental stewardship based on technology rather than “unnecessary government regulation.”
Neumann’s father, favored by some tea party groups during the primary for governor in 2010, pushed his party to expand its reach with young voters and others “put out from the Republican Party,” by mixing environmentalism into the GOP’s economic messaging. Among the ideas that Mark Neumann introduced in 2010 was a job-friendly plan to reduce carbon emissions.
“When I talk about the environment, that’s an issue people have been afraid to talk about on our side of the aisle,” he said at the time, seated beside future Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative Republican.
Neumann lost badly in the primary several months later as Walker sailed away with a 20-point victory.
For his part, Matt Neumann may stray from his party’s bosom, but he doesn’t abandon it. He looks at environmentalism through a lens of commerce. Pursuing it can enhance economic activity and provide jobs, he seems to say, but it’s unclear if environmentalism is an exclusive priority for him without the fiscal hangers-on.
He also treads carefully when asked about climate change. He declined to say if it’s occurring, something that might perhaps give him credibility when talking to conservatives about renewable energy.
“I don’t know on climate change,” Matt Neumann said. “I have no idea. I would have to study it a lot more — and probably should, given the industry we’re in.”
“I’m being totally honest with you — I just plain don’t know.”
Want to read more stories like this?
Click here to start a free trial to E&E — the best way to track policy and markets.
by RENEW Wisconsin | Apr 7, 2014 | Uncategorized
The pace of customers signing up to participate in this venture is impressive. In the nine days following the official roll-out, about one-third of the solar panels have been subscribed, according to Clean Energy Collective, the developer of Vernon Electric Cooperative’s array.
Vernon Electric Cooperative (VEC) is bringing community-owned solar to Wisconsin. In partnership with national community solar developer Clean Energy Collective (CEC), VEC will provide any member in its service territory the opportunity to own individual panels in a new locally-sited, utility-scale solar PV array. This is the first community-owned solar facility under construction in the state of Wisconsin.
The Vernon Electric Community Solar Farm, a 305 kW, 1001-panel clean power facility will be built at VEC’s headquarters in Westby. Through CEC’s model, any member of VEC can purchase panels from the shared farm — as few as one or enough to completely offset the energy demands of a home or business. Credit for the power produced will be provided directly on their monthly utility bills.
by RENEW Wisconsin | Mar 28, 2014 | Uncategorized
by Don Wichert, RENEW Wisconsin
1. Renewable energy is cost effective with conventional fossil and nuclear fuels
The price of renewable energy continues to decline, while the price of conventional energy (with the recent exception of natural gas) continues to increase. Customer-sited solar electric is now equal to or less than the retail cost of grid electricity in many areas of Wisconsin. Dairyland Power Cooperative and Vernon Electric Cooperative will begin purchases of power from two large solar arrays under long term contracts. Biogas to electricity is competitive or less than retail electricity for farms and solid biomass fuels out compete propane and oil in rural areas. Renewable fuels have stable, zero, or low fuel costs, that do not fluctuate like fossil fuels.
2. Fossil and nuclear industries have received more subsidies from government than renewables
All energy production in the U.S. receives significant federal support, dating back to the first oil subsidies in early 20thcentury. In cumulative dollar amounts, the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries have received approximately $630 billion in U.S. government subsidies, while wind, solar, biofuels and other renewable sectors have received a total of roughly $50 billion in government funding.
(DBL Investors, http://bit.ly/uV14lf)
3. Wisconsin has plenty of solar energy
Wisconsin consistently receives enough solar energy to supply significant amounts of electricity used in Wisconsin households and businesses from their rooftops and properties. Wisconsin receives 20 percent more solar energy than the world’s leader in solar development, Germany, and similar amounts as New Jersey, a solar energy installation’s leader in the US. A number of studies imply that solar could supply 100 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity during peak hours by installing panels on existing roofs with solar access (http://www.ecotopia.com/apollo2/photovoltaics/PVMktPotentialCostBreakthruNavigant200409.pdf).
4. Renewable energy provides energy at critical times and locations and is matched well with other resources to maintain reliability
Solar energy output peaks in the summer when demand on the electricity system is highest due to air conditioning use. Wind power can also match high electrical demands when summer and winter winds bring in heat and cold. Biomass and hydropower are forms of stored solar energy that can be used to fill in supply gaps from intermittent sources. Natural gas plants can be quickly started as an adequate and clean back up source of power. Renewable energy systems can be installed at weak voltage locations in the transmission grid to boast power. Installation of incremental amounts of renewable energy to meet growing local demand can occur in months rather than in the years it takes for fossil fuel plants to be installed.
5. Net metering adds value to the grid and all customers
Net metering uses the electric transmission grid to absorb extra renewable electricity from distributed producers and provides a similar amount of electricity back when electric demand exceeds renewable supply. Net metering adds value when produced during peak electrical demand hours, reduces the need for transmission and distribution infrastructure, reduces environmental emissions, enhances energy security, and hedges the variable nature of fossil fuels prices. Although all customers pay for the electrical grid, studies have shown that the extra value from the renewable production is greater than the cost.
6. Wind power provides local energy, improved environmental & economic impact
Wisconsin has thirteen wind farms varying in size from 1.3 MW to 162 MW with a total of 647 MW. This represents about half of all wind energy used in Wisconsin, the rest coming from neighbors Iowa and Minnesota. This power is local, has no emissions, and is now one of, if not the, lowest sources of electricity in Wisconsin and the Midwest (http://www.awea.org/Resources/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=5547).
7. Biogas takes pollution and converts it to rural energy, jobs, and environmental improvements
Wisconsin’s 1.3 million dairy cows produce a great deal of manure: 16 billion gallons per year. For years this manure was spread on pasture land in the summer and winter. Unfortunately, some of the nutrients, pathogens, and smell polluted the local water and air sheds. Wisconsin’s 40-50 farm and food bio digesters take manure and high organic content food wastes and convert these pollutants to local energy, fertilizer, high value bedding, while reducing pathogens and smell by over 95 percent (http://www.epa.gov/agstar/documents/gordondale_report_final.pdf). In addition, the remaining digestate, which is the liquid left over from the digesters, can be stored and used in irrigation systems to add water and nutrients to crops at optimal times.
8. Biomass energy reduces greenhouse gas and other emissions, and can be grown sustainably
Biomass is “young” stored solar energy. Through photosynthesis, water is combined with carbon dioxide to form hydro-carbon compounds. Depending on the biomass, the stored carbon is one to 100 years old. In a natural system of growth and decay, all of the biomass would eventually go back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane as the biomass oxidizes (rots), if not used. Converting the biomass for productive energy reduces the total carbon emissions because it replaces old (fossil) carbon that has been stored in fossil fuels for millions of years. In addition, half of a tree’s mass is in the roots and some of the carbon is taken up by surrounding soils and stored there.
The vast majority of modern biomass combustion units are labeled, highly efficient, and are regulated for air emissions. This includes residential wood stoves. Most biomass energy processes only use wastes from non-energy forest or crop applications. Smaller branches, twigs, and leaves are not taken for energy use and contain most of the nutrients, which are recycled into the soils on the forest floor. Residual ash from the combustion process, which contains valuable nutrients, can be reapplied to the land.
9. Renewable energy is becoming more mainstream everyday
In 2012 and 2013 solar and wind supplied 51% and 37%, respectively, of all new electric generation capacity in the US (wind power additions fell in 2013 as a result of the expiration of the production tax credit).
Renewable energy now produces more power than nuclear energy in the US.
Solar energy grew at a 40% rate in 2013 from 2012. Wind energy has over 60,000 Megawatts of installed capacity, a ten-fold increase from 10 years ago.
10. The vast majority of Wisconsin citizens want more renewable energy
Surveys consistently show that Wisconsin citizens prefer renewable energy over fossil fuels. Over 83% of Wisconsin voters support solar, wind, and hydro as their energy source vs about 50 percent for coal and nuclear (Source: Voter attitudes towards Energy Issues in Wisconsin, 2012).