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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Statewide Funding for Renewable Energy Incentives Increased to $8.6 million

Today, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin finalized decisions related to Focus on Energy’s renewable energy program for 2017 and 2018.

Overall Funding: The first item to note is that the total funding for renewable energy incentives is now $8.6 million over the 2017-18 two-year period.  This is up from $7.7 million decided in their previous meeting of October 20th, and reflects an additional $900,000 from unspent funds remaining in the now-terminated Renewable Energy Loan Fund.

Funding by Program:  The Commission decided to fund programs at the following levels, largely agreeing with recommendations RENEW Wisconsin put forth in late October. Business customers will be able to take advantage of Prescriptive Incentives, which offer pre-determined levels of funding for eligible technologies like solar PV and geothermal projects, as well as the Renewable Energy Competitive Incentive Program (RECIP), which accepts competitive proposals and awards grants for larger projects.

Based on RENEW Wisconsin’s understanding of the Commission’s discussion today, we estimate the budgets accordingly.

Note that these figures may change as more information becomes available.
Incentive Level for Solar PV:  The Commission also adjusted the incentive levels and caps on project sizes for solar photovoltaic systems. The commission lowered the incentive from about 16% of the cost of an average project--$600 per kW--to 12% of the project cost, which will adjust yearly with average market prices. At this year's prices, the incentive would be $450 per kW, according to Commission Chairperson Ellen Nowak. Nowak noted that the solar incentives have been very popular and fully spent down in each year and that reducing the incentive level to match falling market prices would allow more installations to be funded.

Following recommendations from staff and RENEW, the Commission also agreed to raise the maximum eligible project size from 4kW to 8kW for business customers. Residential incentive eligibility will remain capped at 4kW.

“We applaud the Commission’s decision to continue to fund these critical projects,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “These highly successful incentive programs will ensure that renewable energy thrives in Wisconsin, keeping our energy costs low and our energy jobs local.”

In addition, the Commission directed $20 million in funding to expand biogas production on dairy farms. An interagency working group will release a joint RFP for a network of interconnected anaerobic digesters, which will allow manure from dairy farms to be converted into renewable natural gas. The Commission noted the many benefits that anaerobic digesters have to offer in Wisconsin, from improving water quality, to nutrient management and local, renewable energy. RENEW Wisconsin has closely followed and supported statewide initiatives to deploy biogas technologies. For more information and our take on Governor Scott Walker’s recent announcement, visit our blog.

Finally, the Commission outlined new programs for rural customers that will align greater access to broadband with participation in Focus on Energy’s efficiency programs. The Commission announced $16 million in funding for new programs that provide broadband-connected energy efficiency devices like smart thermostats and smart power strips, $4 million for energy efficiency retrofits for broadband providers’ facilities and $6 million in additional programs for agricultural energy management, rural small business support and others.


Friday, November 18, 2016

PSC Nearly Doubles Monthly Fixed Charge for Alliant Electricity Customers


For Immediate Release - November 18, 2016
For More Information:  Tyler Huebner, Executive Director, 608-255-4044 ext 1


(Madison, WI).   In today’s open meeting, the Public Service Commission sharply hiked the monthly “fixed charge” that Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin Power & Light residential electricity customers will face by 95%, from $7.67 per month up to $15 per month.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin building in Madison.
The “fixed charge” is the base fee which all customers must pay each month, no matter how much energy they use.  Overall, Alliant’s residential customers will see their monthly electricity bills increase by 4-5%.

By contrast, the fixed charge that Alliant’s Iowa customers must pay every month remains at $10.50.

“Increasing the fixed charge will raise bills for customers that use smaller amounts of electricity monthly, such as seniors, apartment-dwellers, and energy-conscious customers including those who have installed solar panels,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

RENEW Wisconsin and a broad set of stakeholders have opposed hikes in fixed charges since 2014,
when these requests first appeared.

“Wisconsin electricity customers now pay dramatically higher fixed charges than their counterparts in other states,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.  Our testimony documented that the vast majority of state agencies nationally are either rejecting these fixed charge hikes outright, or granting much smaller increases, and only in Wisconsin are these fees being nearly doubled.”

As documented by RENEW in testimony, the increase in fixed charges granted to U.S. investor-owned utilities since 2014 has averaged about 14%.  But for the five investor-owned utilities in Wisconsin, the average fixed charge increase has been 83%.

-END-

RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin’s renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration. More information on RENEW’s web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

RENEW Wisconsin Statement on Governor Walker’s Biodigester Announcement

For immediate release                    
November 18, 2016                  

More information
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
608.255.4044
tyler.huebner@renewwisconsin.org

Governor Scott Walker at Heritage Farm in Kewaunee,
with RENEW's Tyler Huebner in the background.
Yesterday, RENEW Wisconsin was in the audience as Governor Scott Walker announced the State of Wisconsin’s intention to invest in biodigesters that will turn dairy manure into renewable energy while assisting with improvements in water quality.

Governor Walker announced that the Public Service Commission, Department of Natural Resources, and Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection are working together to deliver a Request for Proposals in January 2017.  The request for proposals will allow private firms to submit bids to meet the goals and specifications set out by the agencies.

A major goal of the initiative is to aid with water quality problems in environmentally sensitive areas of the state, and the announcement was made in Kewaunee, one of those regions.  Governor Walker indicated that this initiative is one of a series of steps, and not in and of itself the only solution, needed to aid water quality in Kewaunee County.

Wisconsin is the national leader in deploying biodigesters, also known as anaerobic digesters, on farms.  We have 34 farms with digesters in Wisconsin.  These systems turn cow manure into solids, liquids, and methane, which is an energy resource that is the primary component of what we commonly call “natural gas.”

In many of the digesters on farms in Wisconsin today, the methane is cleaned and passed through a generator to create electricity, which is sold to the local power company.  Most of these digesters are located right on the premises of the dairy farms.

The system envisioned by the Governor’s announcement, according to a recent interim order from the Public Service Commission, might collect manure from farms of all sizes, and process it in a centralized biodigester.  Instead of using the methane to create electricity, it could be further cleaned and then injected into the natural gas delivery system.  Natural gas is used to heat homes and businesses as well as power industrial processes.  (The PSC’s interim order can be found here, see pages 9 thru 11).

“Biodigesters present a win-win-win for renewable energy, the environment, and farmers.  These systems are the ultimate recycle and reuse operation,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “Moreover, Wisconsin is blessed with companies that know how to design, engineer, build, and operate these systems such as Chilton-based DVO, Inc., BIOFerm Energy Systems of Madison, Miron Construction of Neenah, Symbiont of West Allis, and Clean Fuel Partners of Madison.”

Digesters process manure in a way that can enable water quality improvement technologies to be added onto the system. Dane County has been investing in these systems over the past half-decade to accomplish similar water quality improvement goals, and their recently passed County Budget includes $18 million to inject methane collected at the landfill into the natural gas pipeline system, similar to what the state may be envisioning.

“Digesters can provide a lot of benefits when they are designed, engineered, and operated with proven technologies and by companies that have delivered solutions that work.  Leadership, collaboration, and transparency will be needed throughout the process to ensure the project’s success. The State’s leadership and funding commitment is a solid next step to bringing more digesters online in Wisconsin,” concluded Huebner.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Dairyland’s Network of Solar Arrays to Expand Further

Anticipating the completion of a dozen solar projects in Wisconsin, La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative signed contracts this month to add three more arrays to its generation portfolio. With these three arrays Dairyland now has more 20 MW of solar generation under contract, almost all of it located in the Badger State (see table below). These arrays will produce emission-free power for Dairyland’s 25 member distribution cooperatives and 17 municipal utilities.

Chicago-based SoCore Energy will build and
own the three new arrays. Two of the three arrays will be located in Wisconsin, and the third will go up in northeast Iowa. SoCore is also the developer of 11 of the initial 12 arrays announced by Dairyland in February.

All 15 arrays are located in the service territories of Dairyland’s member distribution cooperatives. In conjunction with Dairyland’s utility-scale arrays, many of the host cooperatives are adding their own panels to these installations, to serve customers who subscribe to their shared solar programs.

The environmental benefits from these arrays will go beyond clean energy. Every project site will be revegetated with native plants to create bee and butterfly habitat. When revegetation is complete, SoCore will seek certification of its projects as “pollinator gardens.”

One of the projects under construction, St. Croix Electric Cooperative’s Sunflower II array in Roberts, provided the backdrop for a solar media day on Monday, November 14th. RENEW's Michael Vickerman took part in the open house, providing RENEW's perspective on the rapid growth of solar generation throughout Wisconsin. The Sunflower II project is about 30 miles east of St. Paul, Minn., and 55 miles west of Eau Claire, Wis.






















Of the 45-50 MW of Wisconsin-based solar generating capacity likely to be operational by April 2017, Dairyland’s projects will account for nearly 40% of that total. As of today, the only multimegawatt array producing power under contract to a Wisconsin electric provider is the 2.25 MW installation in Rock County owned by Hanwha Q CELLS USA, which supplies electricity to Wisconsin Power & Light.

For more information on Dairyland’s newest solar projects, see: http://www.dairylandpower.com/dcontent/article/DPCannouncesadditionalsolarcontracts.pdf

As a reminder, Barbara Nick, CEO of Dairyland Power Cooperative, will speak at our 2017 Energy Policy Summit, Clean Energy Goes Mainstream, on January 19, 2017. Learn more and register today!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

RENEW Issues Letter of Support for Biomass Thermal Utilization Act

RENEW Wisconsin sent the below letter of support for the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act, which would extend a 30% investment tax credit to high efficiency biomass thermal energy systems, to Wisconsin's Senators Baldwin and Johnson, and Representatives Duffy, Grothman, Kind, Moore, Pocan, Ribble, Ryan, and Sensenbrenner.








I am writing to communicate RENEW Wisconsin’s strong support for the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act (BTU Act), sponsored by Senators King and Collins and Congressmen Welch and Gibson. If adopted, the provisions of the BTU Act will help accelerate installation of high efficient biomass thermal systems in communities around the country. This would drive economic development up and down the biomass value chain, including the creation of new jobs to serve the biomass fuel delivery infrastructure needed to supply these systems.

The BTU Act would add biomass thermal energy technologies to Sections 25D and 48 of the tax code, therefore extending a 30% investment tax credit to high efficiency biomass thermal energy systems. This would level the playing field with other renewable energy technologies that already qualify for investment tax credits. While biomass thermal does not need a permanent investment credit, the high initial capital cost is the major obstacle to broader market adoption. The current tax structure is unfair to biomass thermal technologies and is hindering the industry’s growth.

The proposal was scored by the Joint Committee on Taxation at $134 million over 10 years. RENEW Wisconsin supports a 5-year authorization which reduces its estimated cost to the U.S. Treasury to $67 million.

Please vote in support of the BTU Act (S. 727 and H.R. 1145) during the next legislative session, so the biomass thermal energy industry will begin 2017 driving economic development on a level playing field with other renewable energy technologies.

Sincerely,


Tyler Huebner
Executive Director, RENEW Wisconsin

Friday, October 21, 2016

RENEW Issues Letter of Support for Parisi's Clean Energy Initiatives

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announces
solar initiatives for the 2017 budget
In late September, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi unveiled plans to triple the amount of county-owned solar generation--from 330 kilowatts to 1 megawatt--and convert the county's main landfill into a source of clean renewable methane for injection into a nearby natural gas pipeline. A portion of the landfill's output will power 75 heavy-duty vehicles in the county's fleet by the end of 2017. See the press release here.

In advance of the County Board's budget hearing on October 19, RENEW expressed its vigorous support for Parisi's initiative in a letter circulated to Dane County supervisors. Please contact your supervisor and ask him or her to support the clean energy provisions in the 2017 budget proposal.

See our letter of support below:








Date:    September 19, 2016

To:     Sharon Corrigan
          Chair, Dane County Board of Supervisors

          Jenni Dye
          Chair, Personnel and Finance Committee

From:    Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
              Michael Vickerman, Program and Policy Director

Re:     Clean Energy and Climate Change Provisions in the 2017 Dane County Budget Proposal

We write to communicate RENEW Wisconsin’s strong support for the clean energy and climate-change related provisions that appear in the proposed 2017 budget now before the County Board. If adopted, these provisions would greatly enhance the County’s ability to bring about a clean energy future for its citizens and its own operations. The investments contemplated in the capital budget will reduce energy-related expenses over the long term while generating new revenue streams that can help fund county operations or provide tax relief, while the creation of a new Office of Energy and Climate Change will enable Dane County to coordinate a forward-looking emissions reduction strategy with municipalities and other key stakeholders.

We endorse the following provisions in the capital budget:

1.    The investment of more than $2 million to build solar generation systems totaling 770 kilowatts at the Alliant Energy Center and the Dane County Jobs Center. These arrays will reduce pollution from county operations while lowering the county’s electric bills by more than $2 million over 20 years. We note that the County Executive’s office took great care to situate the new solar generating capacity at locations that will generate the greatest monetary savings. Adding the new arrays to its existing portfolio of systems will result in one megawatt of county-owned solar generation, by far the largest commitment of any Wisconsin county to what has become an affordable and locally available source of clean energy.  

2.    The investment of $18 million on infrastructure to produce pipeline-grade methane from the Rodefeld Landfill and enough compressed natural gas to power 75 county-owned vehicles by the end of 2017. This far-sighted initiative will enable Dane County to convert its Rodefeld facility from an electricity-generating energy center to one that supplies clean methane to a nearby pipeline. Transitioning the energy infrastructure at Rodefeld in this manner will insulate the County from the economic impact of drastically reduced electricity buyback rates in 2018. Indeed, the production of a low-carbon renewable fuel would generate a significant revenue stream likely to offset the initial investment in less than four years. This initiative would further advance the progress Dane County has already achieved in substituting renewable methane for fossil fuels to fuel its fleet of patrol trucks and snow plows. 

We endorse the following provision in the operations budget:

The creation of an Office of Energy and Climate Change within the County Executive’s Office. The purpose of this new office is to lead, shape and steer climate change mitigation strategies undertaken by public and private entities throughout the county. Several Dane County communities, most notably Madison, Middleton and Monona, have on their own launched significant initiatives to reduce fossil fuel emissions. The individual hired to staff this office would develop a countywide approach for engaging such stakeholder groups as municipalities, electric providers and businesses. Key near-term objectives for this office will be the formation of a Dane County Council on Climate Change, and the development of an action plan that integrates today’s piecemeal efforts into a coordinated and resourceful program.

The initiatives proposed in the 2017 budget would build upon a record of success in the clean energy and emissions reductions arenas, one that the County Executive and the County Board can take pride in. In recognition of Dane County’s achievements and its desire to lead the way on clean energy development and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we urge the County Board to approve the budget provisions that will accelerate the momentum already in evidence.

Sincerely,


Tyler Huebner                           
Executive Director                       

Michael Vickerman
Program and Policy Director

cc: Dane County Board of Supervisors

Thursday, October 20, 2016

BIG VICTORY!! PSC Approves $7.7 Million in Renewable Energy Rebates and $10-$20 million in Biogas Spanning 2017 & 2018!


 
Today, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin authorized approximately $7.7 million in rebates spanning 2017 and 2018 to spur small, customer-based renewable energy projects throughout Wisconsin.

The rebates go to residential, business, and non-profit customers of eligible Wisconsin utilities, and enable the customers to install renewable energy technologies including solar, geothermal, biogas, biomass and small wind systems. 
Full Spectrum Solar installs a solar PV system via the MadiSUN program

Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, said, “From our renewable energy perspective, Chairperson Ellen Nowak may have said it best in her concluding remarks, stating, ‘This is a great win for Wisconsin.’ Indeed, continuing the highly successful renewable energy rebates for 2017 and 2018 is a great win.  This level of renewable energy rebate funding should support upwards of 500 solar electric home installations, 70 or more home geothermal installations, and dozens of larger business renewable energy projects for each of the next two years.  The program will help our residents save money and our companies stay cost-competitive.”

The Commission asked Staff to recommend how the renewables funding should be split between residential and business projects, as well as a review of the incentive levels in light of the fact that technology prices for renewable energy systems, specifically solar electric systems, have been dropping very quickly in recent years.  RENEW Wisconsin will provide our recommendations, and those of the renewable energy industry, to Commission Staff in the coming days.

In addition, the Commission will evaluate spending $10-$20 million to expand biogas production from anaerobic digesters on dairy farms.  Staff and program administrators will be developing biogas program options for the Commission to investigate within 30 days, along with program options for increasing Focus on Energy’s energy efficiency and renewable energy impacts in rural Wisconsin. 

The Commission agreed to lower its cash reserve from $30 million down to $5 million, which freed up dollars carried over from previous years to be put into programs starting in 2017.  Huebner said, “We applaud the Commission freeing up millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money from previous years to be put into programs now that will enable energy and dollar savings for customers across Wisconsin.

RENEW Wisconsin was the lead advocacy organization promoting the continuation of the renewable energy rebates.  We provided two separate memos describing the history and status of the renewable energy industry and its relationship with Focus on Energy and advocating for a continuation of rebates.  In addition, a sign-on letter promoting continuation of renewable energy rebates, which was supported by 41 businesses and organizations from throughout Wisconsin, was delivered to the PSC as part of the public comment period in this proceeding.

The PSC had authorized a renewable energy loan program in 2014 and allocated $10 million to it over four years.  Today, approximately two years into the program, the PSC decided to end the program and spend the remaining funds instead on rebates, which had outperformed the loan program in that two year period.

Biogas production through anaerobic digesters will also see a boost.  The PSC re-committed to spending $6.4 million on this technology, which it had authorized in 2014.  An initial plan to focus on smaller dairy farms was not as effective as envisioned.  Today, the PSC authorized the creation of an interagency working group to identify opportunities to expand this technology and its benefits of renewable energy production, water quality improvements, and on-farm revenue stability, and indicated that programs between $10 and $20 million should be investigated to spur this technology.

In its comments to the PSC, RENEW pointed out that we have world-class companies working in anaerobic digesters right here in Wisconsin that can help make this program a success.