Legislators set to speak at Powering Positive Action

Friday, December 14, 2012

Neither encouraged nor discouraged by state legislative election results, RENEW Wisconsin will hold its second annual energy policy summit to shape policy initiatives that will increase customer-driven renewable installations in 2013 and beyond.  Register now!

Set for Friday, January 11, 2013 in Madison, RENEW Wisconsin’s  summit, called Powering Positive Action, will synthesize the ideas and aspirations of business leaders, elected officials, and clean energy advocates into an achievable policy agenda.

This year a bipartisan legislative panel will outline their energy policy goals and identify specific initiatives that can move forward in the upcoming session.

Senators Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse), and Representatives Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel), and Chris Schoenherr, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Administration, have agreed to take part in the legislative panel. 

Other plenary sessions will focus on policies and practices that advance jobs and economic development through in-state development of renewable energy.  One promising initiative vigorously promoted by RENEW, called Clean Energy Choice, would allow businesses and residential households to directly access clean energy produced on their premises from third party-owned systems.

We would like policymakers to hear company representatives discuss the fit between on-site renewables and their ability to remain competitive in a period of great energy transition.

Over the lunch hour, RENEW will recognize a host of pioneering businesses that are advancing renewable energy use in Wisconsin.  This year several businesses and nonprofits took the reins of the renewable energy marketplace, and we wish to honor their outstanding achievements.

Former Colorado governor Bill Ritter will deliver the keynote address.  During his two terms, Ritter championed several innovative policies that are now fueling one of the healthiest energy economies in the nation.

Click to see registration details and other information about RENEW’s 2013 Energy Policy Summit.

RENEW thanks our current Summit sponsors:

Breakout Sponsors
DVO | Anaerobic Digesters - Bioenergy Session      
American Wind Energy Association - Wind Session            

Champion Sponsors                                    
Cullen Weston Pines and Bach
Organic Valley
W. W. Williams

Advocate Sponsors
Madison Solar
Michael Best and Friedrich, LLP
Prairie Solar Power & Light
Western Technical College
Supporter Sponsors
Baker Tilly
Clean Wisconsin
C.R. Boardman
Michels Corporation
Midwest Renewable Energy Association
Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter
Werner Electric Supply

Commentary: How Wisconsin regulators ‘tax’ renewable energy

Friday, December 07, 2012

Michael Vickerman's commentary in Midwest Energy News on the recent changes in WI renewable energy. Find the original post here.

Commentary: How Wisconsin regulators ‘tax’ renewable energy

RENEW Wisconsin's Michael Vickerman
Starting next January, the price of purchasing renewable energy voluntarily through monthly utility bills will spike to all-time highs, thanks to recent decisions rendered by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) on two popular “green pricing” programs.

The thousands of Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) customers participating in the utility’s Green Power Tomorrow program will see their premiums jump from 2.5 cents/kWh to 4 cents/kWh. That’s an increase of 60 percent. To translate this into dollars and cents, an average MGE customer consuming 500 kWh of electricity per month and subscribing at the 100 percent level will pay $90 more in 2013 for the same amount of renewable kWh sold this year.

Residential customers of Milwaukee-based We Energies (WE) will see an even larger percentage increase next year. In that utility’s rate case, the PSCW jacked up the premium paid by Energy for Tomorrow subscribers by nearly 73 percent, from 1.39 cents to 2.4 cents/kWh. Energy for Tomorrow has more than 20,000 subscribers.

Back in 1999, the year both programs were launched, MGE and WE customers paid an extra 3.33 cents and 2.04 cents/kWh, respectively, for the renewable energy they sponsored. Come January 1st, MGE and WE will likely share the dubious distinction of being the only utilities in the country offering renewable energy at a higher rate than they did in the 1990’s. So much for progress.

Adding insult to injury, renewable program subscribers will be subject to general rate increases approved by the PSCW this November. The utilities sought higher rates to recover the costs of retrofitting older coal-fired power stations with modern pollution controls. The fact that the renewable generators leveraged by program participants will never need pollution control retrofits is wholly disregarded in determining the size of the premium.

This is unquestionably a subsidy that flows from program participants to all ratepayers.

How did this happen?
Since 1999, renewable generation costs have tumbled, while productivity has improved.
A frustrated program subscriber might well ask: If base utility rates are going up, and the cost of renewable electricity is declining, why are premiums going up instead of down?

The short answer is that wholesale electricity prices have sagged in recent years, owing to a combination of unsustainably low natural gas prices, stagnant demand, and rapid expansion of wind power displacing higher-cost generation. In contrast, the price of renewable energy procured under long-term contracts held steady. When prices dropped in the wholesale market beginning in late 2008, the gap between system energy and renewable sources widened.

Though accurate, the above explanation is deeply unsatisfying, because the wholesale “market” is concerned about one thing only: the marginal cost of producing electricity into the grid. Nothing else matters, including the expenditures approved by the PSCW to reduce emissions from older generators. Even though retail customers wind up footing the bill for those upgrades, the wholesale market does not treat pollution control retrofits as marginal costs. Not one cent paid by ratepayers for these expenditures is reflected in the prices that renewable generators compete against.

The net effect of this disconnect is to artificially suppress the price of electricity from older and dirtier generators relative to newer and cleaner electricity producers. Real markets factor in the cost of upgrading and replacing capital equipment that manufacture the product bought by customers. What we have instead is an artificial contrivance that sacrifices long-term considerations like clean air, resource diversity and regulatory risk for the short-term reward of low prices.

Indeed, it would be difficult to design a more punitive market structure for renewables than the one we have at present.

‘Swimming up a waterfall’
Pricing renewable energy against a market operating in real time also undermines a valuable attribute of renewable energy, namely its inherent price stability. In this environment, the only way a customer can directly benefit from a fixed-price energy source like solar is to self-generate at his or her premises to reduce consumption of grid-supplied electricity.

In setting the premium size, the PSCW relied on pricing data at a time when the regional wholesale market was near its cyclical bottom. Electricity prices are now edging upward as forward prices of natural gas have rebounded from historic lows earlier this year. It’s a safe bet that wholesale electricity prices will continue to increase in 2013.

This sets up the very real possibility that WE and MGE will collect more revenue than is necessary to cover the cost spread between system energy and the renewable energy supplies servicing their customers. Unfortunately, the next time the base premium for each utility can be adjusted is January 1, 2015.

For at least a century now, fossil fuels have been the default resource option for most utilities. Against this institutional bias, switching to renewable energy is akin to swimming upstream. But given how far backward the PSCW bent to accommodate utilities’ continued reliance on coal and natural gas, quite a few renewable energy subscribers may balk at the prospect of swimming up a waterfall.

In fairness to MGE and WE, the price hikes approved by the PSCW went well beyond the incremental increases proposed by the two utilities. That’s because the agency relies solely on the wholesale “market” metric described above that filters out all societal benefits from the equation. To the agency, renewables are another source of electrons that deserve no special consideration. And, in reaching its decision, the PSCW disregarded the potential impact that abrupt price hikes might have on customer participation.

Programs outliving their usefulness?
A significant loss in subscribership would be a regrettable outcome if the programs were still viable vehicles for leveraging new sources of renewable energy. Sadly, that is no longer the case.

Earlier this decade, WE and MGE pulled the plug on a popular feature of their programs, specifically the special solar energy buyback rates that were funded with participant dollars. This innovation, which spurred the installation of hundreds of solar electric systems in their territories, succeeded in elevating MGE and WE’s stature while achieving the aims of their participating customers. However, when the utilities eliminated their solar incentives, they also removed the principal rationale for subscribing to their programs.

It seems quite clear that the current crop of voluntary renewable energy programs have outlived their usefulness. They are stagnating under a market structure that distorts and amplifies their true costs as well as a regulatory climate that greatly discounts their benefits to ratepayers. What were once dynamic vehicles for increasing supplies of renewable energy are now little more than feel-good marketing exercises running on autopilot. The value proposition to customers just isn’t there anymore.

There is nothing out there to prevent utilities from revitalizing their green pricing programs and making them useful once again. Such an undertaking, however, would require them to do something they haven’t done before: present an affirmative case for adding more renewables into their energy mix.

To do that effectively, utilities would need to recognize that the fossil energy path leads to a dead-end and that renewables ought to be the default resource option going forward. From that starting point, designing a program in which modest customer premiums actually result in additional supplies of renewable energy should be a simple and straightforward exercise.

It’s the very least a responsible utility should do to reduce the impact of generating electricity on the one planet we are privileged to call home.

Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization. RENEW Wisconsin is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.

Find the original article post here.

RENEW Wisconsin’s Energy Summit Plans Policy Actions for 2013

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Immediate release:                                              
December 5, 2012
More information:
Michael Vickerman
608.255.4044, ext. 2

RENEW Wisconsin’s Energy Summit Plans Policy Actions for 2013

Neither encouraged nor discouraged by state legislative election results, RENEW Wisconsin will hold its second annual energy policy summit to shape policy initiatives that will accommodate customer-driven renewable installations in 2013 and beyond.

Set for Friday, January 11, 2013 in Madison, RENEW Wisconsin’s  summit, called Powering Positive Action, aims to synthesize the ideas and aspirations of business leaders, elected officials, and clean energy advocates into an achievable policy agenda.

“This year a bipartisan legislative panel will outline their energy policy goals and identify specific initiatives that can move forward in the upcoming session,” said Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin’s Director of Policy and Programs.

Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), Representatives Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel), and Chris Schoenherr, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Administration, have agreed to take part in the legislative panel.

Other plenary sessions will focus on policies and practices that advance jobs and economic development through in-state development of renewable energy.  One promising initiative vigorously promoted by RENEW, called Clean Energy Choice, would allow business and residential customers to directly access clean energy produced on their premises from third party-owned systems.  “We would like policymakers to hear company representatives discuss the fit between on-site renewables and their ability to remain competitive in a period of great energy uncertainty,” Vickerman said.

Over the lunch hour, RENEW will recognize a host of pioneering businesses that are advancing renewable energy use in Wisconsin.

“This year businesses and nonprofits took the reins of the renewable energy marketplace, and we wish to honor their outstanding achievements,” Vickerman said.

Former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, will deliver the keynote address.  During his two terms, Ritter championed several innovative policies that are now fueling one of the healthiest energy economies in the nation.

Registration details and other information about RENEW’s 2013 Energy Policy Summit are posted at www.renewwisconsin.org.
-- END --

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives.  More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

Come one, Come all!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

RENEW Wisconsin is excited to present the 2013 renewable energy policy summit, "Powering Positive Action!". Every business, organization, and individual interested in promoting clean renewable energy in Wisconsin should attend.

At this year's Summit we will lay the policy foundation for Powering Positive Action in 2013 through investments in new renewable infrastructure serving Wisconsin businesses and citizens.
Bill Ritter, Summit Keynote Speaker

We are thrilled to host former Colorado Governor, Bill Ritter, as the keynote speaker for the summit. During his time as governor, his administration made Colorado one of the leading states in the US in renewable energy.
Registration and sponsorship opportunities are now open. Don't wait until it's too late!

State’s Renewable Standard Delivers Positive Results

Monday, November 12, 2012

More information
Michael Vickerman
608.255.4044,ext. 2

State’s Renewable Standard Delivers Positive Results
Most utilities already meeting 2015 targets

Most Wisconsin electricity providers have already acquired all the renewable energy supplies they need to meet the state’s 10% target in 2015, according to the Public Service Commission (PSCW).

The agency’s annual compliance review showed that nearly 9% of electricity sold by in-state electricity providers in 2011 originated from such renewable energy resources as sunlight, biogas, hydro, landfill gas and wind, compared with 3% in 2006.

“By any measure, the state’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) has been an unqualified success,” said Michael Vickerman, program and policy director for RENEW Wisconsin. “From the standpoint of job creation, resource diversity, price stability, environmental protection and revenue generation, the RES has delivered  exceptional value to a state that is very dependent on imported fossil fuels for electricity generation.”

Passed in 2006, the RES has been the most powerful policy for driving growth in renewable electricity sales. Yet with so many electricity providers already in compliance with their 2015 requirements, the prospects for new investments in home-grown energy sources are uncertain.
“Right now, we don’t have a policy in place for directing investments into clean energy after 2015,” Vickerman said. “If we want to reap the economic and environmental benefits that come with renewables, state lawmakers will have to extend the Renewable Energy Standard or adopt a successor policy.”

“Investments in renewable resources not only supply Wisconsin utility customers with clean energy, they also generate work opportunities for local manufacturers and businesses, additional revenue for local governments, and income for farmers,” said Vickerman.

“Renewable energy should be the cornerstone of an economic development strategy that aims to increase the state’s workforce and expand investment opportunities,” Vickerman said. “We look forward to working with the Governor and the next Legislature to put in place a realistic, low-cost policy framework that maintains the momentum building from the current RES.”

The Real Meaning of Kewaunee’s Demise

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A commentary by Michael Vickerman, Director, Policy and Programs at RENEW Wisconsin:

Shock waves reverberated across the Upper Midwest when Dominion Resources announced in late October that it would permanently shut down its Kewaunee nuclear generating station in early 2013. Operational since 1974, the Kewaunee station, located along Lake Michigan 30 miles east of Green Bay, currently generates about 5% of the electricity that originates in Wisconsin.

Virginia-based Dominion, which bought the 560-megawatt Kewaunee plant in 2005 from two Wisconsin utilities, attributed its decision to its inability to secure long-term power purchase agreements to keep the plant going. Without securing purchasing commitments from utilities, Dominion would have to sell Kewaunee’s output into the regional wholesale market at prices well below the plant’s cost of production.

While the pricing environment for all bulk power generators is nothing short of brutal these days, Kewaunee carries the additional burden of being an independently owned power plant, since the entities most likely to buy electricity from that generator—utilities--have power plants of their own that compete for the same set of customers. And a growing number of these utility-owned generators burn natural gas, which is currently the least expensive generation source in most areas of the country.

Dominion’s decision comes down to simple economics. Wisconsin utilities believe that over the foreseeable future natural gas will remain cheap and supplies will remain abundant. That would explain their unwillingness to enter into long-term commitments with Dominion, even though Kewaunee recently acquired a 20-year extension to its operating license and does not need expansive retrofits to comply with environmental standards, unlike a host of utility-owned coal plants in Wisconsin.

But even if Dominion’s managers were convinced that natural gas prices have nowhere to go but up in 2013 and beyond, the company, lacking a retail customer base in the Midwest, could not risk producing power below cost while waiting for the turnaround. 

Wisconsin utilities have placed heavy bets on natural gas in the expectation that it will remain the price-setting fuel for years to come. Over the last 12 months, they have bought several combined-cycle generators from independent power producers. Buying power plants enables them to pass through their acquisition and operating costs directly to their customers while generating returns to their shareholders. I suspect these utilities are anything but broken up over the impending demise of a nonutility competitor that could have supplied electricity to Wisconsin customers for 20 more years. 

But there is another side to this story; the low-price energy future that Wisconsin utilities are embracing can only materialize if natural gas extraction companies continue to sell their output below production costs. This expectation is unrealistic, given the massive pain being inflicted on these companies in the form of operating losses, write-downs, and credit rating downgrades.

Don’t just take my word for it, ask  Exxon Mobil ceo Rex Tillerson, whose company spent $41 billion during the shale gas boom to acquire XTO, a large gas producer that is now yielding more red ink than methane. As reported in a recent New York Times article, Tillerson minced no words in assessing the impact of its recent misadventures on the company’s bottom line. “We’re all losing our shirts today,” Tillerson said. “We’re making no money. It’s all in the red.”

Much of the industry’s woes are self-inflicted. The lease agreements that drillers eagerly signed during the height of the shale gas boom obligate them to extract the resource by a certain deadline, regardless of whether such activity is profitable. That these companies cannot disengage quickly from existing leases is greatly diminishing their appetite for exploring new natural gas prospects. Until a pricing turnaround occurs, they will refrain from spending money on exploring new resource provinces like Ohio and Michigan.

Sooner or later, this slowdown in exploration activity will tip the supply-demand equation in the opposite direction, resulting in lower-than-average gas storage volumes. Barring a repeat of last winter’s unusually mild weather, the crossover point should occur around January 1st . But with so many balance sheets in tatters from this highly unprofitable market environment, nothing short of a strong and sustained price increase will be required to persuade drillers to start taking risks again. 

When this corrective price increase begins rippling through the electricity markets, it will be interesting to observe how the customers will respond. Right now Wisconsin utility managers are convinced that they are making the right call on natural gas. So completely have they swallowed the shale gas “game-changing” mystique that they were willing to let a 560 MW nuclear plant fall out of the supply picture for good. In this brave new world of theirs, gas is the new coal, and resource diversity is passé.

In the aftermath of Dominion’s announcement, a few commentators have defended the impending closure as a textbook example of how markets work. But this view ignores the delusional thinking that sent shale gas extraction into overdrive, causing prices to plunge below the cost of production. The real game-changer, as it turns out, here was not the emergence of “fracking” technology but the industry-generated public relations campaign that implanted the narrative of a nation awash in cheap natural gas into virtually every American cranium. But as we now see, this narrative has boomeranged on the natural gas industry, and they are paying for their current woes in ways that guarantee a pronounced pendulum swing in the direction of higher prices.

The question going forward is: will this narrative also boomerang on Wisconsin electricity users, after the last employee leaving Kewaunee turns out the lights?

Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization. For more information on the global and national petroleum and natural gas supply picture, visit previous posts Madison Peak Oil Group’s blog: http://www.madisonpeakoil-blog.blogspot.com. This commentary is also listed on RENEW Wisconsin's blog: http://www.renewwisconsin-blog.org/

Train Manufacturer Sues Wisconsin Over Default on Train Contract

Monday, November 05, 2012

From a news release issued by Talgo:

On November 1, 2012, the Walker administration forced Talgo, Inc., to terminate its contract with the State of Wisconsin to build passenger trains to be used by the State for Amtrak’s Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago. Talgo has substantially completed the trains under its contract, but the State has arbitrarily decided not to put the trains in service and has refused to pay Talgo the millions of dollars that it still owes for them. Talgo has filed a lawsuit in Dane County against Governor Scott Walker and Secretary of Transportation Mark Gottlieb, asking the court to review the State’s course of conduct, determine that the State defaulted on the contract, and rule that Talgo properly terminated it.

As a result of the Walker administration’s actions, once the court rules in favor of Talgo, the State of Wisconsin will have no further rights under the contract and will lose the almost $50 million it has already spent on the project. This amount includes only part of the contracted price for the trains, the State’s payments to consultants and its investment in a Milwaukee facility for temporary maintenance work.

Retired SC minister petitions for solar power

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

From an article in the Charlotte Observer by Sammy Fretwell. The situation for solar in South Carolina is much the same as it is in Wisconsin. Here, we have an example of a citizen fighting back for the right to clean energy:

COLUMBIA, S.C. Wiley Cooper says he was frustrated when an electric utility prevented his church from acquiring a money-saving solar power system last year.
Now, he’s leading a crusade to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

The retired Methodist minister recently launched a petition drive that he hopes will make installing solar panels cheaper and easier for South Carolina churches, homeowners and others. He intends to seek a change in state law when the Legislature returns in January.
“Powerful utilities want you to buy their electricity, not create your own,” Cooper’s petition says. “Let’s change that.”

Cooper already has picked up support. One Columbia legislator said the law needs changing and a fellow minister said it’s “immoral’’ to keep churches and charities from using solar power. Dozens of people have signed the petition since it started several weeks ago.

At issue is a state law that grants power companies exclusive rights to sell energy in their territories. Power companies say any firm wanting to sell solar energy, no matter how small, must be licensed as a utility – an expensive and involved process.

And that’s one reason solar companies that provide free or low-cost solar panels stay clear of South Carolina. These businesses often are paid back by selling power from the panels to the homeowners at a rate they can better afford.

Critics say South Carolina law is a significant barrier to those who want solar energy but can’t afford the upfront expense of buying panels. It can easily cost more than $20,000 to buy solar panels for a private home – more for churches and large buildings. These concerns are among broader questions about the state’s lack of commitment to solar power.

Without high up-front costs, solar panels can save people money on their monthly power bills by reducing the amount of energy needed from the electric company. Typically, folks who use solar panels also receive energy from power companies at night or during rainy periods.

The 69-year-old Cooper, a former S.C. United Way director, said it’s hard to understand why churches in other states can benefit from low-cost solar but the law restricts the practice in South Carolina.

“We need to remove as many barriers as we can,” Cooper said. “You can’t do in South Carolina what is now being done with solar energy in other states.” At least 22 states, mostly in the West and Northeast, allow solar companies to provide free solar panels to homeowners and sell the power directly to them, according to a federally supported database of renewable energy policies. Typically, the monthly amount paid to a solar company for the energy is enough for a property owner to reduce the overall power bill.
None of those states is in the South, where regulation often limits their entry. But some Western states, including Arizona, specifically exempt charities, schools and churches from restrictions that would prevent them from getting free solar panels.

Bruce Wood, chairman of the S.C. Solar Council, said exempting charities and churches might be the most realistic way to resolve the issue in South Carolina.

Joshua Pearce, an energy researcher from Queens University in Canada, said allowing solar companies into states can be critical to the expansion of sun power.

Pearce has analyzed the economics of solar and nuclear policies in North America.
“This is very important,” he said. “The typical homeowner doesn’t have the capital in his bank account to put in a photovoltaic (solar panel) system.”

Cooper’s crusade began a few weeks ago in response to a dispute that erupted last year between SCE&G and a small New England solar company.

DCS Energy Inc. had planned to provide S.C. churches and nonprofits with free solar panels. In return for not charging monthly energy payments, DCS would keep tax incentives and renewable energy credits typically provided to the owners of solar panels. It also would receive federal stimulus money.

But in September 2011, SCE&G filed a complaint with the state Public Service Commission, citing state law and contending that DCS Energy should be regulated as a utility.

The solar company then voided about 80 contracts it had in South Carolina and left the state, saying that it didn’t have the resources to fight SCE&G, The State newspaper reported in March. Among those counting on the free panels was Washington Street United Methodist Church, where Cooper worships Sunday mornings.

Cooper said solar power could have helped his church and others cut their power bills, but he also said it would have been better for the environment. Coal plants release mercury, arsenic and carbon dioxide, while nuclear plants produce piles of deadly atomic waste.

Whether Cooper’s petition drive will make a difference may depend on cooperation from the state’s utilities. South Carolina’s power companies and electric cooperatives have a strong team of lobbyists at the State House, and they often are effective at getting their way.

So far, they haven’t expressed much interest in Cooper’s effort.

Utilities complained last year about a solar tax credits bill that they feared would open the door for “third-party sales” of electricity by owner/operators of solar installations, state records show.

SCE&G, which serves the Midlands, declined to discuss possible legislation that would allow third-party sales by solar companies in its territory. But SCE&G did say state law requires any business wanting to sell power in South Carolina to become licensed as a utility, just like power companies.

The company also hinted that allowing solar companies into the state could create confusion among utilities. It would be up to the S.C. Public Service Commission to decide how a solar company operates in the state, SCE&G said. The PSC has never issued a ruling on whether solar power companies are legal in South Carolina.

“Only registered utilities are allowed to sell electricity to retail customers in South Carolina,” the company said in an email to The State. “If multiple utilities were to serve one retail customer, a determination will be needed on which utility, if any, is obligated to provide the reliable (backup) service when the renewable generator under-performs.”

Santee Cooper, which has drawn criticism over plans to raise power bills for some churches, declined comment. The state-owned utility serves eastern South Carolina.
Duke Energy Inc., a multi-state company with territory in northern and western South Carolina, said solar companies that sell power to customers should be treated the same as the big power companies. Duke said solar energy provides power to the company’s electrical grid from multiple sources.

Today, the company is used to getting much of its power from a centralized generation plant, much as utilities have for decades.

“Solar energy challenges this business model,” Duke said in an email.

Despite hesitation from power companies, the Rev. Cooper has support from the S.C. Coastal Conservation League and other environmental groups, which say the state should do more to embrace nonpolluting solar energy.

The Conservation Voters of South Carolina, which represents environmental groups at the State House, agreed earlier this month to make solar-friendly legislation a priority in 2013.

Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, said he hopes something changes.

Existing state law “has made it very difficult for solar companies to introduce this technology to the grass roots,” Neal said. “As this is happening all over the country, it is not happening in South Carolina.”

Pastor Jimmy Jones, director of Christ Central Ministries in Columbia, said changes in state law would help his charity. Like Cooper’s Washington Street United Methodist, Christ Central lost out on solar panels after the DCS-SCE&G dispute. The ministry continues to pay high power bills, which keeps it from spending that money on the poor, said Jones who blames SCE&G.

“SCE&G said, ‘We want the money,’” Jones said. “It is immoral – immoral to try to stop people from helping themselves.”

If you care about this issue in Wisconsin, please consider signing on to the Clean Energy Choice initiative here.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/10/15/3598834/retired-sc-minister-petitions.html#storylink=cpy

Company and Local Officials Team Up to Advance “Epic” Wind Project

Monday, October 15, 2012

Immediate release
October 15, 2012

More information
Michael Vickerman
608.255.4044, ext. 2

State’s largest customer-owned renewable energy system breaks ground in Dane County

(Madison) – Within a day after receiving the go-ahead from the Springfield town board, heavy construction equipment broke ground on Epic Systems’ Galactic Wind Farm, a six-turbine facility along U.S. Highway 12 in western Dane County.  The 10- megawatt project should begin producing power by year’s end.
Epic Systems’ project, the third customer-owned windpower installation to go forward this year, will be larger than the two-turbine Cashton Greens project in Monroe County and the two-turbine Waxdale project in Racine CountyOrganic Valley and Gundersen Lutheran completed their Cashton project earlier this year, while S. C. Johnson is building its Waxdale project, which should be operational in December of this year.
“Epic’s project came together because of four factors: a company committed to long-term sustainability, a spirit of cooperation among town and county officials, strong local support, and a favorable tax climate,” said Michael Vickerman, program and policy director for RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy organization promoting renewable energy use in Wisconsin.
Epic also owns and operates Wisconsin’s largest solar electricity facility on its Verona campus, which it completed this summer.
The Springfield town board approved Epic’s project on a 5 to zero vote.  No one at the board meeting expressed any objections to the project.
“I can easily foresee other sustainability-minded Wisconsin companies pursuing wind turbines to produce electricity for their own operations, as long as Congress acts quickly to extend the federal Production Tax Credit, which levels the playing field between wind energy and fossil-fuel generation,” said Vickerman.

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) that leads and represents businesses, and individuals who seek more clean, renewable energy in Wisconsin.  More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

Wind project proposed for Dane County

Friday, October 12, 2012

From an article Steven Verburg in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Epic Systems plans six wind turbines northwest of Madison

Dane County's first array of commercial wind turbines will rise hundreds of feet above the rolling hills along Highway 12 northwest of Madison under plans Epic Systems of Verona hatched over the last four weeks.

The plan had to move quickly so that Epic can take advantage of federal tax credits that expire Dec. 31, said Bruce Richards, the medical software manufacturer's director of facilities and engineering.

Six turbines — each with three 135-foot blades spinning atop a 262-foot tower — will be visible from the tall buildings in Downtown Madison, including the Capitol, and the electricity they generate will help Epic offset most of its energy needs on its sprawling Verona campus. . . .

A geothermal system heats and cools the Verona campus, and solar panels already generate electricity. The addition of the turbines will mean the company can provide about 85 percent of its own energy needs by 2014, Richards said.

"What sticks out to me is Epic's incredible commitment to renewable energy," said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, whose administration has expedited permits for the company.

Morse Group president Lou Rotello said his company will serve as engineering, procurement and construction contractor on the project, which will employ about 75 construction workers.

The site is a good one in part because almost all of the homes that could be affected by noise or flickering shadows from the turbine blades are occupied by family members of the landowners who are leasing their land for the towers, Rotello said.

The ridge isn't the windiest spot in the county, but studies indicate it will be gusty enough to spin the blades at 27 percent of their full-speed capacity each year, Rotello said.
The turbines have a capacity of 9.9 megawatts, which will qualify them as one of 10 "major" wind power generators in Wisconsin, said Deborah Irwin, the state Public Service Commission's renewable energy specialist.

Read the full article here.

Clean power for all (Offer not available in some areas)

Thursday, October 04, 2012

A great article from Erik Curren from Energy Bulletin. Here is an excerpt:

In this state, you’ll get coal. And you’ll like it too.

Some parts of the United States offer excellent incentives and support to help level the playing field with grid power and make renewables affordable. And this public policy makes all the difference.

California may be #1 in solar, but un-sunny New Jersey is #2. And that’s not because you need to slather on SPF 60 if you’re visiting Newark or Teaneck.

It’s because the Garden State supports solar power through excellent public policy — a combination of a robust renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and the ability for renewable energy companies to enter into power purchase agreements with their customers, allowing a customer to use solar power without having to invest tens of thousands of dollars upfront in solar panels.

Both policies are key to cutting costs for renewables and getting close to the holy grail of “grid parity,” where clean energy from an alternative source costs about as much as dirty power from the electric company.

But with the exception of California, Colorado and a handful of traditionally liberal states in the Northwest and Northeast that have enacted serious policies to support renewable power, the rest of America remains a clean energy backwater. As California solar developer Al Rosen writes in Renewable Energy World,

There’s no solar gold rush or windfall profit. Most solar developers and their projects are struggling. The failure rate is extraordinarily high. Financing and investment is hard to come by. There are few viable programs and they all have small capacity and difficult requirements and limitations. Interconnection processes are highly complex, costly, uncertain, and time consuming. Land use entitlements, environmental approvals, zoning, planning, building and safety issues all add additional barriers to solar development.

Such barriers, which add extra cost to solar power as they do to all renewables, are the reason why the United States, still the world’s largest economy, is lagging behind such nations as Italy, the U.K. and even Indonesia in the amount of electricity we get from renewables.

And even though California is America’s renewable energy leader, the Golden State is still no great shakes in Rosen’s book. “Germany, with the same sunshine as Anchorage, Alaska, installed far more solar in the fourth quarter of 2012 than California has installed in total.”

Again, don’t blame the sun or the wind. America is falling behind on renewables because of politics.

Read the full article here.

Dane County exec. announces "Clean Lakes, Clean Energy" initiative

Friday, September 28, 2012

Michael Vickerman, RENEW director of programs and policy, gestures toward Lake Monona during the announcement of a "Clean Lakes, Clean Energy" initiative by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi (right in suit coat).

For Immediate Release
September 27, 2012

New technology to eliminate 100% of lake polluting phosphorus, expanded lake clean‐up partnership, “CNG by 2023,” and Solar Powered “Green Highway Garage” among highlights

Near the shores of Lake Monona today, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced his comprehensive 2013 “Clean Lakes, Clean Energy” plan to be included in his 2013 county budget that will be introduced to the County Board on Monday.

“Cleaning up our lakes, preserving our lands, and investing in green energy like solar, wind, and alternative fuels are shared values that enhance our quality of life we enjoy in Dane County,” Parisi said. “My budget reflects a continued commitment to protecting and enhancing the resources that make our home such an attractive place to live, work, and visit,” he added.

One of the cornerstones of Parisi’s $4.5 million capital lakes clean‐up initiative, is brand new technology that successfully removes 100% of the pollutant phosphorus from animal waste.

Parisi’s budget will have $300,000 to install this cutting edge system as part of the new manure digester being built in the Town of Springfield in early 2013. “Technology is rapidly evolving and this system not only keeps our county on the cutting edge of lake clean‐up, it also could be the gateway to developing additional manure digesters in areas where we know phosphorus run‐off is a problem,” Parisi said.

DeForest Area Progressives' Global Frackdown Action

Monday, September 17, 2012

Social evening with screening of GaslandJosh Fox's Academy Award nominated film:

"Gasland may become to the dangers of gas drilling what Silent Spring was to DDT" - Variety

"Part verite travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown."
DeForest Progressives' Headquarters
6610 Lake Road (Windsor Commons stripmall)
Windsor, WI 53598 

Sat Sept 22,
6:30 social, 7:00 - 8:30 movie, 8:30 conversation.

Fracking is attacking our grandchildren


Fossil Fuel Industry Ads Dominate TV Campaign

Friday, September 14, 2012

From an article by Eric Lipton and Clifford Krauss in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — When Barack Obama first ran for president, being green was so popular that oil companies like Chevron were boasting about their commitment to renewable energy, and his Republican opponent, John McCain, supported action on global warming.

As Mr. Obama seeks re-election, that world is a distant memory. Some of the mightiest players in the oil, gas and coal industries are financing an aggressive effort to defeat him, or at least press him to adopt policies that are friendlier to fossil fuels. And the president’s former allies in promoting wind and solar power and caps on greenhouse gases? They are disenchanted and sitting on their wallets.

This year’s campaign on behalf of fossil fuels includes a surge in political contributions to Mitt Romney, attack ads questioning Mr. Obama’s clean-energy agenda, and television spots that are not overtly partisan but criticize administration actions like new air pollution rules and the delay of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.

Grothman would take state backward

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

No, Mr. Grothman, wind energy is not tearing the state apart, and in fact, most of the state's utilities are well-positioned to meet the state's renewable standard requirement in 2015. Increasing the use of renewable energy in Wisconsin is needed to reduce the state's reliance on fossil fuels and to thus meet the challenges posed by climate change. The state needs more wind farms and solar panels and other renewable sources - for energy reasons and for the jobs these industries can produce.

But Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) wants to take the state backward, perhaps largely because he's heard from constituents upset over a proposed small wind farm in his district. He said he will introduce legislation to freeze the state's renewable energy portfolio at the 2012 level, despite the fact that most utilities are already prepared to meet the 2015 level of 10%. He said the 10% was a mistake, and that wind farm proposals tear "at the fabric of Wisconsin communities."

Grothman has a penchant for the overdramatic, but he's wrong on this. Where has he been? Has he missed the wind farms that have been going up all around the state? All he needs to do is take a trip from West Bend to Fond du Lac on US 45 to get an eyeful. They don't despoil the landscape and they haven't caused major problems for most neighbors. And they've certainly enhanced the state's energy portfolio.

Given the success of these efforts, the rising concerns over climate change and the potential jobs that are at stake, Grothman should pull back on his threat to take Wisconsin backward.

News Release: Utilities Get C on Renewable Energy Report Card

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

More information
Don Wichert
Executive Director
608.255.4044, ext. 1

Utilities Get C on Renewable Energy Report Card 

No Wisconsin utility graded higher than a B/C on a report card issued by a renewable energy advocacy group, and C was the overall average for the state’s five major utilities.

We Energies, headquartered in Milwaukee, earned a C (2.4 out of 5) on the report card for its renewable energy efforts in 2011 and had the lowest score of all utilities graded. The state’s other major utilities received similar or slightly higher grades: Alliant (aka Wisconsin Power and Light), C (2.6); Madison Gas & Electric, B/C (3.0); Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, C (2.7); and Xcel Energy, B/C (3.0).

“2011 was a year in which Wisconsin’s investor owned utilities cut back on their previous good performance supporting renewable energy,” said Don Wichert, RENEW Wisconsin’s executive director and the report card director. “At this point in 2012, it appears that this poor performance trend continues.”

“It’s surprising because recent opinion surveys indicate that the vast majority of Wisconsin’s population, including utilities ratepayers and stockholders, prefer renewable energy,” according to Wichert.

RENEW graded utilities on six criteria: amount of renewable electricity sold; green energy purchasing programs; ease of connecting to the utility system; prices paid for renewable electricity; legislative activities; and other programs offered voluntarily to customers.

Wisconsin utilities performed best in meeting the state’s renewable electricity standard, the amount of renewable electricity sold to its customers. All of the utilities already meet or expect to meet the 10% standard by 2015, although some have the majority of the power coming from out of Wisconsin.

We Energies scored at the bottom, because it had “agreed with RENEW and other groups to spend $6 million/year over 10 years to encourage the use of renewable energy in its service area. As part of the program, over 100 nonprofit organizations installed renewable energy systems. In 2011, however, WE simply announced the end of the program after only five years,” said Wichert at a news conference in from of a Milwaukee church that had a solar electric system installed as party of We Energies now-discontinued program.

RENEW gave the state’s investor owned utilities the following grades: C Alliant, Madison; B/C Madison Gas & Electric, Madison; C We Energies, Milwaukee; C Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, Green Bay; B/C Xcel Energy, Eau Claire.

This was the first time RENEW conducted a grading system, but RENEW plans to continue the process in the future because people are interested in how well their utilities support renewable energy.

“The annual survey can be used by Wisconsin utilities and others to see which areas are lacking and how they can improve their grades. Adoption of renewable energy supports local jobs, lower emissions of pollutants, and energy security. These are attributes everybody wants. There is no reason that Wisconsin has to lag the rest of the country in clean energy,” said Wichert.


RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that leads and represents businesses, organizations, and individuals who seek more clean renewable energy in Wisconsin. More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

We Energies CEO Sees Investment Opportunity in State-Owned Plants

Friday, September 07, 2012

An excerpt of an article from energy writer Thomas Content in the Journal Sentinel.

Acquiring some of Wisconsin's state-owned heating plants could be a "significant investment opportunity" for We Energies, the utility's top executive said.

We Energies CEO Gale Klappa discussed the utility's interest in buying the state facilities during a presentation to Wall Street analysts in New York City this week.

He also discussed the company's transition away from massive engineering and building projects such as new power plants and environmental control systems toward a lower-risk strategy centered on renewing the company's aging utility poles, transformers and natural gas pipelines.

The final "megaproject" is about to be completed, he said. The addition of pollution controls is nearly finished at the original Oak Creek power plant, at a cost of nearly $900 million.

It's the second-biggest project in the company's history, after the construction of the new coal plant in Oak Creek, just to the south of the original plant.

Looking ahead, Klappa said, the utility is considering the purchase of state-owned heating and cooling plants, some of which are under pressure to reduce pollution linked to burning coal.

"That could be a significant investment opportunity for us, and a significant (additional) investment opportunity because of the modern environmental controls, or the conversion from coal to natural gas that would be necessary," Klappa said.


Kohl's to Add Electric Car Charging Stations at Stores

Thursday, September 06, 2012

From an article in BizTimes:

"Menomonee Falls-based Kohl's Department Stores today announced the company will expand its electric vehicle (EV) charging station initiative with 36 new stations across 18 additional Kohl's locations by the end of fall 2012.

The expansion spans three new states, including Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, and adds additional locations to the company's Texas EV program.

With the expansion, Kohl's shoppers will be able to take advantage of a total of 101 charging stations at 52 Kohl's locations across 14 states. Each of the participating Kohl's locations will have two or three parking spaces reserved for EV drivers to charge at no cost while they shop.

The new locations in Wisconsin will include: one station at Kohl's headquarters in Menomonee Falls; two stations at the Menomonee Falls Credit Center; two stations at Bayshore in Glendale; three stations at Madison West; and two stations in Johnson Creek."

Read more

Natural Gas: Wrestling With Reality

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 10, 2012
A commentary by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin

Wholesale natural gas prices are once again flirting with the $3.00/MMBtu mark after the Energy Information Agency (EIA) reported this week that working gas in storage increased by 24 billion cubic feet (bcf) over last week’s totals. Compared with the five-year average of 45 bcf for the first week in August, the volume injected is modest. The August 9th report marks the 15th week in a row where the weekly injection volumes trailed the five-year average by a minimum of 20 bcf.

On the trading front, the trend this summer has been a steady upward drift punctuated by sharp sell-offs whenever gas prices momentarily settle above $3.00. The last week in July was a case in point. Though the reported number for that week (28 bcf) was only half the five-year average for that date, the announcement triggered a pullback of nearly 10% down to $2.80 from $3.10. It turns out that EIA’s number came in 5 bcf higher than the traders’ own estimate, triggering a wave of serious unloading of positions by those who had bet long.

Everyone in the energy industry, including the traders themselves, knows that $3.00/MMBtu is well below the cost of producing natural gas, and cannot support exploration and extraction activity at the level we saw in 2008 through 2010. Producing shale gas, the so-called “game-changer” that industry flacks contended would loosen King Coal’s grip on the electricity sector, is an even more expensive proposition. High-profile exploration and production (E&P) companies like Chesapeake Energy tried to maintain a jaunty look while wholesale prices were scraping along the $2.00 floor, but they can no longer conceal their distress. Consider the following developments that occurred over the last fortnight.

  • Chesapeake Energy announced plans to reduce domestic gas production in 2013 by 8%;
  • BHP Billiton wrote down $2.84 billion on the value of Fayetteville shale gas assets it had acquired in 2011; and
  • The most recent count of rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States is 498, nearly 70% off the levels seen in September 2008, when prices were above $10/MMBtu.
“Write down” is a fairly bloodless way to describe the loss of $3 billion; “carnage” is better at conveying the pain that now grips the natural gas sector. This begs the question: why do wholesale natural gas prices appear to be trapped for now at the $3.00/MMBtu level?

I believe that there are two reasons for this phenomenon. The first is that energy traders, like virtually everyone else in this country, are truly convinced that the U.S. is awash in shale gas. The industry-led campaign to persuade Congress, state legislatures, Wall Street, Big Media, utilities, and Joe Sixpack that the United States possesses a 100-year supply of natural gas has been a stunning success. Federal energy agencies like EIA have also bought into this view of the supply picture big-time, leaving little room for skeptics and agnostics to influence public perceptions.

This overaching belief has been unintentionally reinforced by local and regional controversies over the practice of hydraulic fracturing solid rock to obtain the shale gas trapped inside. Virtually unheard of four years ago, “fracking” has vaulted into the public consciousness, and in doing so, sustains the society-wide belief that natural gas can be accessed almost anywhere in the United States.

Ironically, the myth of abundance that E&P companies so carefully cultivated (and bankrolled) is now clearly working against their short-term interests.

The other factor that keeps prices so low is the traders’ fear of large demand swings. This is a more legitimate if somewhat overblown fear. The two main reference points for traders here is the demand destruction that occurred in 2008 from the one-two punch of double-digit gas prices and worldwide recession, and the abnormal bulge in storage volumes that occurred earlier this year.

Supply Overhang

As late as September 2011, natural gas inventories were tracking closely with the five-year average for storage volumes. Then came the phantom winter of 2011-2012, which brought us the usual dose of darkness but not the snowstorms and frigid air masses that make life in the Upper Midwest distinctly unpicniclike until April. In addition to disrupting seasonal cycles and ruining the maple syrup harvest, the extended stretches of anomalous warmth cut demand for heating fuel between 25% to 30%. Withdrawals of natural gas were substantially lower than the five-year averages during the heating season, creating a colossal bulge that briefly sent wholesale prices skidding below $2.00/MMBtu. By late April, the difference between 2012 storage volumes and the five-year average stood at 931bcf, about 60% larger than normal.

On May 1st, the pendulum started swinging the other way, whittling down the supply overhang to a more manageable 377 bcf compared with the five-year average for this week. Assuming present trends continue in future weekly storage reports, inventories should be in line with the five-year average by mid-December.

Traders attribute the ongoing reduction in inventories to a hotter than normal summer, prompting utilities to switch on more gas generators to meet system peaks. But weather isn’t the only thing that influences the storage picture; output does as well. But as long as traders and speculators subscribe to the myth of nearly limitless supply, they will discount the possibility that declining output is also responsible for lagging storage volumes. It is this mindset, coupled with the fear of weather-driven demand swings, that compels traders to focus on the supply overhang that remains, rather than gain a fuller appreciation of why it has shrunk so dramatically in only 15 weeks.

Old paradigms die hard. But in the not-very-distant future, the reality of reduced drilling activity and capital spending, along with rapid decline rates in shale gas plays, will bite deeply into the supply of natural gas and cause yet another overturning of expectations in this sector. Given the damage being inflicted on E&P companies as well as their renewable energy competitors, the intrusion of reality into this picture can’t happen soon enough.

Sources: Master Resource Report, Ravenna Capital Management http://www.ravennacapitalmanagement.com/mrr/

“Chesapeake to cut natural gas production,” NEWSOK, Adam Wilmoth, August 8, 2012. http://newsok.com/chesapeake-to-cut-natural-gas-production/article/3699062

“Billiton in $3.3 billion write-down as gas prices plunge,” BBC News. August 3, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19107135

Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization. For more information on the global and national petroleum and natural gas supply picture, visit "The End of Cheap Oil" section in RENEW Wisconsin's web site: www.renewwisconsin.org. These commentaries also posted on RENEW’s blog: http://renewwisconsinblog.org and Madison Peak Oil Group’s blog: http://www.madisonpeakoil-blog.blogspot.com

India's Blackout Lesson: Coal Failed, Small Solar = Big Results

Monday, August 13, 2012

From a story by Justin Guay, Sierra Club International Program:

Of course they still have to face the problems they have inherited from trying to copy/paste a centralized grid from the West. So what can they do to solve peak problems with the grid they already have in place? Deploy lots and lots of distributed solar and efficiency.

That's because, unlike coal, solar for the most part is available when you need it - during peak hours. Which is why it's great to see States like Gujarat taking the lead in roof top solar programs with the support of the IFC. And efficiency makes the peaks smaller so you need less power in the first place.

The irony here of course is that distributed generation has always been ignored as trivial compared to the real need for a large scale 'modern grid.' That’s because policymakers and commentators lack the imagination to understand the fact that when aggregated, small can be very, very big.

Take the hidden truth behind India's modern grid (as my colleague Jigar Shah points out): it is actually already a distributed system that is largely powered by filthy, costly diesel gen sets. That’s because power outages are so frequent that businesses and wealthy individuals have been forced to pay for this backup generation to ensure power. This is a tremendous opportunity for companies seeking targeted diesel replacement strategies to save people and companies tremendous amounts of money, while providing reliable power.

Webinar: The New Energy Reality, Aug. 2

Friday, July 27, 2012

Here is a great opportunity to check out an ASPO-USA Webinar for free. The speaker, father of the “energy returned on energy invested” concept, is a really interesting guy, very funny.

Thursday, August 2, 11:00 - 12:30 pm Central

The New Energy Reality
Featuring Dr. Charles A.S. Hall - Professor, School of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York; Co-Author, Energy and the Wealth of Nations; ASPO-USA Advisory Board Member.

Dr. Hall will provide an assessment of global energy trends from his perspective as a systems ecologist and pioneer in the emerging field of biophysical economics. This webinar will examine key concepts regarding energy quality and energy return on investment in the context of current world energy and economic challenges. A critique of neoclassical economics and its divergence from the laws of physics and ecology regarding energy will be implicit in the discussion.

Dr. Hall will also provide highlights from his recent book, Energy and the Wealth of Nations, co-authored with Kent Klitgaard.

Please join us for this informative and lively Webinar.

Register here.

For more information: info@aspousa.org