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Monday, August 29, 2011

Bicyclists don’t need no stinkin’ tax breaks

From an article by Bill Berry in The Capital Times:

STEVENS POINT – As long as various groups are seeking relief from onerous and burdensome taxes, why don’t we have a tax break for bicycle commuters?

Many of us in this category have commuted to and from work for decades. OK, let’s be honest. We feel sorry for the poor souls trapped in motor vehicles. They look so forlorn and detached from the world around them. Bicycle commuters, on the other hand, have no choice but to be attuned and aware, with 2,000-pound monsters all around us.

Frankly, biking to and from work is the best part of the job. In a city like this one, a brisk morning ride through residential neighborhoods is a gift not to be underrated. There are birds and gardens and tidy lawns along the way. The bustling rail yards that bisect the city are full of sights and sounds. . . .

On second thought, forget it. We get enough benefits anyway. We’re not a bunch of fat-cat beggars looking to skirt our civic responsibilities. We’re doing our part, and we already know we’re getting a better deal by hopping on a two-wheeler. We already save money by biking. We arrive at work fit, awake and ready for the day’s tasks.

We don’t need no stinkin’ tax breaks. . . .

Friday, August 26, 2011

Studies: Wisconsin could benefit from clean energy, but . . .

From an article by Claudia Broman in the Ashland Current:

A commitment by the state to support a clean economy could result in Wisconsin residents having lower utility bills, more jobs and cleaner air, according to two separate studies released earlier this summer.

“Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s clean economy is in danger of losing a good deal of its steam as a result of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks in the renewable energy arena,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for public policies and private initiatives that advance renewable energy. “The short-sighted attacks we’ve seen in 2011 could throw the state’s clean economy into reverse next year.”

So far this year, RENEW says the state's Legislature has reduced funding for Focus on Energy, suspended the statewide rule regulating the permitting of wind turbines, and weakened the state’s renewable energy standard by allowing utilities to count Canadian hydropower toward their requirements.

Rothschild biomass plant construction to begin

From an article by Kathleen Foody in the Stevens Point Journal:

ROTHSCHILD -- Village residents and commuters on Business Highway 51 can expect traffic snarls as about 150 trucks hauling construction materials pour in and out of the Domtar paper mill today.

Rothschild Police Chief Dean Albrecht said Boldt Construction, the Appleton firm overseeing construction of a $255 million biomass power plant on Domtar's site, asked his department to help control traffic during today's work.

Officers will be at the intersection of Business Highway 51 and Weston Avenue from 5 a.m. until about 2 p.m. to help out, Albrecht said.

"We think traffic will go pretty smoothly; maybe some congestion during rush hour between 6 and 8 (a.m.)," he said.

We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said crews will spend today pouring the foundation for the large boiler that will burn material at the plant, requiring the procession of trucks carrying materials.

Manthey said the traffic will be spaced out, with two or three trucks carrying material from County Materials plant locations in Wausau, Weston and Merrill entering or exiting the construction site at a time.

Once complete, the plant will burn about 500,000 tons of the tops and limbs of trees to generate energy for sale by We Energies and steam for Domtar's paper-making process at the existing Rothschild mill. The plant is intended to help We Energies comply with state regulations requiring at least 8 percent of utilities' sales to come from renewable energy sources by 2015.

To qualify for federal tax credits, the facility must be operational by the end of 2013.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

RENEW Analysis Shows Wisconsin Wind Farm Productivity Comparable to Iowa’s

Immediate release
August 25, 2011

More information
Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
608.255.4044
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

Wind Farm Productivity Comparable to Iowa’s

Production figures from wind energy projects owned by Wisconsin utilities reveal that there is no significant difference between wind farms in Iowa and the Badger State, according to an analysis of utility annual reports performed by RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for public policies and private initiatives that advance renewable energy.

The most productive wind project last year was Wisconsin Public Service’s Crane Creek project in Howard County, Iowa, followed closely by Wisconsin Power and Light’s Cedar Ridge project in Fond du Lac County. (See table below.) The output from both projects in 2010 exceeded 30 percent of their rated capacity. Capacity factor is a measure of actual output relative to potential output if the turbine ran 100 percent of the time at full capacity.

“These figures suggest that the winds in Wisconsin can deliver significant quantities of clean energy to nearby users,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW. “This is especially true of the newer turbines with taller towers and longer blades.”
“Clearly Wisconsin ratepayers are getting their money’s worth from Wisconsin’s newest wind projects,” Vickerman said. “Moreover, the host communities reap considerable economic benefits in the form of payments to local governments and landowners.”

Differences in output between wind projects in the same region can be attributable to causes other than the wind resource itself. These can include shutdowns caused by grid congestion and operating restrictions aimed at minimizing impacts on wildlife and project neighbors.

“The evidence suggests that Cedar Ridge is a standout performer among Wisconsin wind projects, and every bit as productive as the projects in Iowa owned by Wisconsin utilities,” said Vickerman.

Click table to enlarge.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Plan for Milwaukee Port Authority wind turbine stalls

From an article by Tom Held and Thomas Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Board seeks female or minority contractor participation

Plans to build a 154-foot wind turbine to generate power for the Milwaukee Port Authority stalled Thursday over the lack of minority and female business participation in the lowest bid on the construction contract.

The Milwaukee Board of Harbor Commissioners tabled action on the contract with the low bidder, Kettle View Renewable Energy LLC of Random Lake. The firm's bid of $522,900 included roughly $2,000 of work by subcontractors, which would meet the emerging business enterprise designation.

That's not nearly enough, according to Ald. Robert Bauman, who led the commission's criticism of the contract.

The alderman said he would not support a contract for city work that did not address the severe unemployment and underemployment problem in his district and others.

"If that means losing $500,000, then we'll lose $500,000," Bauman said.

As proposed, a combination of $400,000 in federal renewable-energy stimulus money and grants of up to $100,000 each from the state Focus on Energy Program and We Energies would pay for the wind turbine.

With the federal funding, the contract does not include any specific requirements for emerging business participation. Bauman and other commissioners, though, argued that the low bid from Kettle View fell far short of the goals to generate jobs for city residents.

Experience preferred
Randy Faller, a principal in Kettle View, said his firm worked with experienced subcontractors familiar with the intricacies of the excavation and electrical work in constructing a wind turbine. He has been unable to find businesses that offer that experience and emerging enterprise certification.

The commission has limited options: reject all five bids and seek new proposals or approve the contract with Kettle View.

Bauman said he would scrap the turbine project before approving the current proposed deal.

"I don't see our citizens tolerating this," he said.

Mayor Tom Barrett "supports strong emerging business requirements in contracting," said Matt Howard, the city's environmental sustainability director, whose office proposed the wind turbine. "However, federal law prohibits the Board of Harbor Commissioners from imposing these requirements in this wind energy project."

WP&L and WPS warn of higher rates because of pollution rules

From an article by Tom Content published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on August 19:

Two state utilities said this week new federal pollution rules will lead to higher electricity costs come January.

Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay said its residential customers can expect an increase of more than $4 a month next year, including about $2 linked to the new rules designed to limit air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The utility said it would see higher costs of about $32.6 million in 2012 from the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that was finalized recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That will result in rates going up by 6.8% instead of 3.4%, the utility said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month finalized stronger regulations for Wisconsin and 26 other states aimed at curbing air pollution from long-distance sources.

Environmental groups praised the new rule because it would reduce acid rain and air pollution as well as help curb health effects from dirty air linked to coal plants. The EPA projected the rule will save up to 34,000 lives a year and prevent more than 400,000 asthma attacks as well as 19,000 admissions to hospitals. . .

The new rule has been in development for several years but the first phase of compliance hits utilities in 2012. WPS said it won't have time to install pollution controls by next year at its plants, but will be able to comply by purchasing credits from other utilities that have cut emissions.

The utility also said it plans to operate its coal plants less next year than it otherwise would have, and will buy more power from the Midwest wholesale power market as a result, a move that it said is also a factor in higher costs for customers. . . .

On Thursday [August 18], Wisconsin Power & Light Co. [Alliant] of Madison said it would face an additional $9 million in costs linked to the air pollution rule. With the change, the utility is now seeking an increase in 2012 of $20 million, or 2%, utility finance manager Martin Seitz said in a filing with state regulators.

Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, criticized the increases, and he noted that large energy users like paper mills will see higher than average increases, compared with homeowners and small businesses. Paper mills served by WPS could see a 9% hike, he said. . . .

"Industry always cries wolf whenever EPA tries to reduce air pollution," said Katie Nekola, lawyer with the conservation group Clean Wisconsin. "The fact is, the new rule will affect old, inefficient, unnecessary coal plants that should have been shut down long ago. The continued operation of those old units is costing ratepayers money, but you don't hear industry complaining about that."

WP&L and WPS warn of higher rates because of pollution rules

From an article by Tom Content published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on August 19:

Two state utilities said this week new federal pollution rules will lead to higher electricity costs come January.

Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay said its residential customers can expect an increase of more than $4 a month next year, including about $2 linked to the new rules designed to limit air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The utility said it would see higher costs of about $32.6 million in 2012 from the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that was finalized recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That will result in rates going up by 6.8% instead of 3.4%, the utility said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month finalized stronger regulations for Wisconsin and 26 other states aimed at curbing air pollution from long-distance sources.

Environmental groups praised the new rule because it would reduce acid rain and air pollution as well as help curb health effects from dirty air linked to coal plants. The EPA projected the rule will save up to 34,000 lives a year and prevent more than 400,000 asthma attacks as well as 19,000 admissions to hospitals. . .

The new rule has been in development for several years but the first phase of compliance hits utilities in 2012. WPS said it won't have time to install pollution controls by next year at its plants, but will be able to comply by purchasing credits from other utilities that have cut emissions.

The utility also said it plans to operate its coal plants less next year than it otherwise would have, and will buy more power from the Midwest wholesale power market as a result, a move that it said is also a factor in higher costs for customers. . . .

On Thursday [August 18], Wisconsin Power & Light Co. [Alliant] of Madison said it would face an additional $9 million in costs linked to the air pollution rule. With the change, the utility is now seeking an increase in 2012 of $20 million, or 2%, utility finance manager Martin Seitz said in a filing with state regulators.

Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, criticized the increases, and he noted that large energy users like paper mills will see higher than average increases, compared with homeowners and small businesses. Paper mills served by WPS could see a 9% hike, he said. . . .

"Industry always cries wolf whenever EPA tries to reduce air pollution," said Katie Nekola, lawyer with the conservation group Clean Wisconsin. "The fact is, the new rule will affect old, inefficient, unnecessary coal plants that should have been shut down long ago. The continued operation of those old units is costing ratepayers money, but you don't hear industry complaining about that."

WP&L and WPS warn of higher rates because of pollution rules

From an article by Tom Content published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on August 19:

Two state utilities said this week new federal pollution rules will lead to higher electricity costs come January.

Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay said its residential customers can expect an increase of more than $4 a month next year, including about $2 linked to the new rules designed to limit air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The utility said it would see higher costs of about $32.6 million in 2012 from the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that was finalized recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That will result in rates going up by 6.8% instead of 3.4%, the utility said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month finalized stronger regulations for Wisconsin and 26 other states aimed at curbing air pollution from long-distance sources.

Environmental groups praised the new rule because it would reduce acid rain and air pollution as well as help curb health effects from dirty air linked to coal plants. The EPA projected the rule will save up to 34,000 lives a year and prevent more than 400,000 asthma attacks as well as 19,000 admissions to hospitals. . .

The new rule has been in development for several years but the first phase of compliance hits utilities in 2012. WPS said it won't have time to install pollution controls by next year at its plants, but will be able to comply by purchasing credits from other utilities that have cut emissions.

The utility also said it plans to operate its coal plants less next year than it otherwise would have, and will buy more power from the Midwest wholesale power market as a result, a move that it said is also a factor in higher costs for customers. . . .

On Thursday [August 18], Wisconsin Power & Light Co. [Alliant] of Madison said it would face an additional $9 million in costs linked to the air pollution rule. With the change, the utility is now seeking an increase in 2012 of $20 million, or 2%, utility finance manager Martin Seitz said in a filing with state regulators.

Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, criticized the increases, and he noted that large energy users like paper mills will see higher than average increases, compared with homeowners and small businesses. Paper mills served by WPS could see a 9% hike, he said. . . .

"Industry always cries wolf whenever EPA tries to reduce air pollution," said Katie Nekola, lawyer with the conservation group Clean Wisconsin. "The fact is, the new rule will affect old, inefficient, unnecessary coal plants that should have been shut down long ago. The continued operation of those old units is costing ratepayers money, but you don't hear industry complaining about that."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Area businesses get energy efficiency and renewable energy grants from USDA

A story on WXOW, La Crosse:

Five area businesses are splitting more than $65,000 for renewable energy grants.

The money will help them install renewable energy systems or flex fuel pumps, and make energy efficiency improvements. The funds come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program.

USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer says the funding helps reduce America's dependence of foreign energy and boosts the rural economy.

Here are the local recipients:

-Robert Lambert, Fountain City, $9,075 for energy efficiency

-Harriet Behar, Gays Mills, $15,121 for solar

-JDI Enterprises, Inc., Hillsboro, $3,019 for solar

-Golden Acres Grain Farms, LLC, West Salem, $17,315 for energy efficiency

-Corr Investments, LLC, Viroqua, $19,099 for solar

RENEW asks PSC to stop We Energies' termination of renewable program

From the testimony of RENEW presented by Michael Vickerman, who draws attention to the fact that We Energies is trying to defund its $6 million/year renewable energy development program without any justification. In fact We Energies doesn't say anything about their actions. RENEW asks the PSC not to sanction this sleight of hand maneuver:

Q. What is the purpose of your testimony?
A. The purpose of my testimony is to discuss the May 2011 decision by We Energies to cancel a 10-year, $60 million commitment to support renewable energy development in its service territory. . . .

My testimony includes a recommendation to the Commission that it not allow We Energies to reallocate in 2012 the $6 million per year it had committed to spend on renewable energy development activities for other purposes. . . .

Q. What elements of We Energies’ Renewable Energy Development program do you consider to be particularly successful?
A. Several of We Energies’ customer incentives and tariffs were unique in the way they complemented Focus on Energy’s renewable energy program. For example, We Energies was the first utility to: (1) offer a solar energy-specific buyback rate; (2) increase the net energy billing capacity ceiling for small wind systems generators to 100 kW; and (3) support renewable energy-specific conferences and events such as Solar Decade held in Milwaukee. Perhaps the most innovative element in We Energies’ program, however, was its special incentive for nonprofit customers seeking to install renewable energy systems. Every three months, We Energies would solicit proposals from schools, religious institutions, local governments, nature centers and other nonprofit entities to co-fund new renewable energy systems on their premises. This We Energies incentive supplemented Focus on Energy grants and cash-back awards. It was designed to overcome the inability of these nonprofit entities to capture federal renewable energy tax credits to offset their own system acquisition costs. As a result of this unique incentive, there are more renewable energy systems serving nonprofit customers in We Energies territory than in any other utility territory. This initiative has an educational component to it as well; We Energies posts real-time production data from these systems on its web site.

RENEW asks PSC to stop We Energies' termination of renewable program

From the testimony of RENEW presented by Michael Vickerman, who draws attention to the fact that We Energies is trying to defund its $6 million/year renewable energy development program without any justification. In fact We Energies doesn't say anything about their actions. RENEW asks the PSC not to sanction this sleight of hand maneuver:

Q. What is the purpose of your testimony?
A. The purpose of my testimony is to discuss the May 2011 decision by We Energies to cancel a 10-year, $60 million commitment to support renewable energy development in its service territory. [***BEGIN CONFIDENTIAL***] [***END CONFIDENTIAL***] (Exhibit __ (MJV-1)).

My testimony includes a recommendation to the Commission that it not allow We Energies to reallocate in 2012 the $6 million per year it had committed to spend on renewable energy development activities for other purposes. [***BEGIN CONFIDENTIAL***] [***END CONFIDENTIAL***]

Q. What is RENEW’s interest in this proceeding?
A. [***BEGIN CONFIDENTIAL***][***END CONFIDENTIAL***] RENEW is also a founding member of the We Energies Renewable Energy Collaborative (“WEREC”), the stakeholder body that has helped We Energies to achieve its voluntary renewable energy goal (5% by 2011) and maximize the value of its 10-year commitment to build, largely from scratch, a strong renewable energy infrastructure within its service territory. The collaborative, consisting of Midwest Renewable Energy Association, Citizens Utility Board, American Wind Energy Association, Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, Customers First Coalition, and the 16th Street Community Health Center, has been working since 2002 to shape and guide We Energies’ renewable energy program. I think I can speak for all of the nonprofits in the collaborative when I say that our combined efforts and resources produced the strongest and most innovative utility-run renewable energy program in the state. Until We Energies announced its decision to terminate it, the program it had developed was widely regarded as one of the most successful utility-administered renewable energy initiatives in the nation.

Q. What was the basis of We Energies’ $6 million per year commitment to renewable energy?
A. I will quote from Jeff Anthony, who, as a We Energies manager in 2005, submitted testimony in the utility’s 2005 rate case (Docket No. 05-UR-102) providing details regarding We Energies’ request to recover $6 million per year in costs associated with planned renewable energy development activities:

In its first “Power the Future” filing in early 2002, [We Energies] made several commitments to renewable energy. Among those commitments was that, subject to regulatory approval and cost recovery, the Company would spend an additional $6 million per year to achieve a target of 5 percent of Wisconsin retail load served by the year 2011. With reference to this commitment, the PSCW in its November 10, 2003, Order in the “Power the Future” docket, stated: “As part of the PTF proposal, WEPCO has committed to a goal of obtaining 5 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2011. This is more than twice the renewable portfolio standard set forth under Wis. Stats. § 196.378, which requires that at least 2.2 percent of each electric provider’s retail energy must be from renewable energy resources by this date. WEC has also declared its intent to spend up to $6 million per year for ten years on emerging technologies and activities, to encourage the development of renewable resources.

Q. We Energies launched its Renewable Energy Development program in 2002. Why did the utility wait until 2006 to begin spending $6 million per year on the program?
A. As a condition of its WICOR merger, the Commission imposed a five-year rate freeze on We Energies that expired on January 1, 2006.

Q. Did We Energies receive approval on its request to recover $6 million for renewable energy development costs?
A. Yes, it did. It also received approval from the Commission in 2007 to spend $6 million per year on its renewable energy development program in 2008 and 2009, and it also received approval in 2009 to spend $6 million per year on its renewable energy development program in 2010 and 2011. All told, We Energies has sought and received permission to spend up to $36 million on the renewable energy program it has developed in consultation with WEREC.

Q. Did We Energies produce a “Renewable Energy Development” program plan for the PSC’s review?
A. Yes. In 2006, We Energies created a fully fleshed-out program plan and presented it to the PSC that September, building on the summary table it had submitted in the previous rate case. The program plan contained a diverse portfolio of renewable energy projects and initiatives. We Energies also committed to hiring an outside firm to perform an independent assessment of all of the elements and initiatives set forth in the Renewable Energy Development program plan.

Q. What elements of We Energies’ Renewable Energy Development program do you consider to be particularly successful?
A. Several of We Energies’ customer incentives and tariffs were unique in the way they complemented Focus on Energy’s renewable energy program. For example, We Energies was the first utility to: (1) offer a solar energy-specific buyback rate; (2) increase the net energy billing capacity ceiling for small wind systems generators to 100 kW; and (3) support renewable energy-specific conferences and events such as Solar Decade held in Milwaukee. Perhaps the most innovative element in We Energies’ program, however, was its special incentive for nonprofit customers seeking to install renewable energy systems. Every three months, We Energies would solicit proposals from schools, religious institutions, local governments, nature centers and other nonprofit entities to co-fund new renewable energy systems on their premises. This We Energies incentive supplemented Focus on Energy grants and cash-back awards. It was designed to overcome the inability of these nonprofit entities to capture federal renewable energy tax credits to offset their own system acquisition costs. As a result of this unique incentive, there are more renewable energy systems serving nonprofit customers in We Energies territory than in any other utility territory. This initiative has an educational component to it as well; We Energies posts real-time production data from these systems on its web site. (Exhibit __ (MJV-2)).

We Energies was also the first Wisconsin utility to field a large solar initiative which supported a total of one megawatt of photovoltaic generating capacity on seven customer rooftops. All told, We Energies’ support of solar energy, including solar hot water systems, helped foster the convergence of a solar industry cluster in southeast Wisconsin consisting of such companies as Helios USA, Johnson Controls, Caleffi Solar, Hot Water Products, and Sunvest.

Q. In what other ways did We Energies’ program benefit ratepayers?
A. We Energies has a number of renewable energy systems 10 kW and above that are interconnected to its distribution system. (Exhibit __ (MJV-3)). Depending on the specific tariff through which We Energies acquires the generation, many of these installations, including most if not all of the biogas generation facilities in its service territory, are a source of Renewable Energy Credits, that, beginning in 2012, can be banked to help the utility meet its 2015 target under Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard. That supply cushion could become very valuable to We Energies if an extended interruption occurs with a major supply source of renewable electricity. Also, the preponderance of solar PV systems in We Energies territory was a contributing factor enabling We Energies to weather July’s heat waves without setting a new record for system-wide peak demand.

Q. Did RENEW have any advance knowledge of We Energies’ unilateral decision to prematurely terminate its Renewable Energy Program?
A. At WEREC’s May 11, 2011 meeting, We Energies representatives disclosed to the collaborative the company’s internal decision to unilaterally and prematurely terminate the program. There had been no discussion of such an outcome between We Energies and any of the other collaborative members prior to the meeting. We Energies’ representatives assured us that the decision was final and irrevocable. Indeed, by the time We Energies got around to dropping this particular bombshell on WEREC participants, program termination was already a fait accompli. One day later, an announcement on the termination appeared on We Energies’ web site.

Q. Has We Energies provided any information to the Commission explaining its unilateral decision to prematurely terminate its program?
A. No, it has not. We Energies has yet to offer an explanation for its decision in this proceeding. In fact, We Energies is not explicitly asking for permission to discontinue funding for this initiative at this time. Instead, the program’s suspension is merely assumed within its proposed suspension of certain regulatory amortizations for 2012. This suspension for the test year would appear to set the stage for termination of the program pursuant to Wis. Admin. Code ch. PSC 137.

Q. Why should the Commission reject We Energies’ decision to prematurely and unilaterally terminate its Renewable Energy Development program?
A. There are several persuasive reasons for not sanctioning We Energies’ decision to unilaterally and prematurely terminate its Renewable Energy Development program. One, this proceeding, to date, is devoid of any justification by We Energies for this abrupt change of course. Two, the Commission has in three previous rate cases approved the $6 million per year earmarked for supporting renewable energy development activities. Nothing has happened between the most recent approval of funds for this initiative and today that warrant a lesser amount of funding for this initiative, let alone its outright termination. [***BEGIN CONFIDENTIAL***][***END CONFIDENTIAL***] In other words, there is a trust issue here that should not be summarily dismissed.

Five, the Commission staff audit in this proceeding revealed excess revenue for the test year of more than $85.8 million under the proposal submitted by WEPCO compared with adjustments proposed by Commission staff. “In other words, these proposed adjustments indicate that applicants are proposing to defer $85.8 million more than is necessary to achieve no change in base rates.” Accordingly, there is no valid basis for We Energies to contend that it must terminate or suspend its renewable energy program with a relatively small annual budget of $6 million. We Energies could cover program costs 14 times over with its revenue surplus. Six, this initiative is an important source of renewable energy development and innovation throughout We Energies’ service territory, providing support for customer-sited renewable energy installations, conferences, workshops, research and development activities, demonstration projects, and advanced renewable buyback rates. Although the accomplishments of this program over the past five years are a good start, there is still much to be achieved. Termination of this program would be a severe blow to area contractors, businesses, and manufacturers that invested in new production capacity and expanded their workforce in direct response to the favorable climate for renewable energy that We Energies had created in its service territory. Allowing We Energies to abruptly terminate its renewable energy initiative without cause would send a strong signal to these businesses and other prospective market actors that they should focus their renewable energy development work in out-of-state markets, where policy commitments are durable enough to survive the whims of utility managers.

Q. Does this complete your direct testimony?
A. Yes it does.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Outdated power plants killing fish

From an article by Betsy Bloom in the La Crosse Tribune:

Outdated power plant cooling systems take a major toll on fish and other wildlife in the upper Mississippi River, according to a Sierra Club report released Thursday.

The report refers to the plants’ open-cycle cooling systems as“giant fish blenders” that also spew out heated water harmful to aquatic habitats.

The plants suck in millions of gallons of water each day from the river that is circulated to help cool equipment, then released back into the river, according to the report.

Larger fish can become trapped against screens at the mouths of intake pipes, while smaller fish and other organisms are churned through the system and succumb to the high-temperature water, the report claims.

Mentioned in the region were Dairyland Power Cooperative’s plants at Genoa and Alma, along with the Alliant Energy plant at Lansing, Iowa.

The four coal-fired plants on the Wisconsin side of the river combined draw in more than 890 million gallons of water a day, according to the report.

The Sierra Club faults not only the power companies but also the Environmental Protection Agency for not requiring the plants to upgrade to a closed-cycle cooling system it contends uses 95 percent less water.

Dairyland Power spokeswoman Katie Thomson disagreed with the report’s conclusions, saying the plants have a “a very minimal impact on the Mississippi River.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Statement of Michael Vickerman on Alliant's Iowa Wind Project

Immediate release
August 8, 2011

More information
Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
608.255.4044
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

Statement of Michael Vickerman
Executive Director – RENEW Wisconsin on
Alliant’s Iowa Wind Energy Project

Alliant Energy, parent company of Wisconsin Power and Light, disclosed its intention last week to build a 100-megawatt wind energy facility in Franklin County, Iowa, and place it in service before December 2012. For the moment at least, the costs of this investment will not be borne by Alliant’s Iowa or Wisconsin ratepayers, but rather the parent company’s shareholders.

Moving forward now on this project locks in the favorable pricing terms for the wind turbines that Alliant had negotiated several years ago with Vestas, a Danish turbine manufacturer with a plant in Colorado.

We at RENEW support Alliant’s renewable energy venture so long as it operates as either a merchant plant, selling the electricity into the Midwest wholesale market, or a dedicated source of renewable electricity serving Alliant’s Iowa ratepayers.

However, RENEW firmly believes that utility-owned generating assets should be located in the same state where the ratepayers who are underwriting the project reside. In other words, if there comes a time when Alliant needs a new wind project to meet its Wisconsin renewable energy requirements, it should either build that installation in Wisconsin or purchase electricity from a new nonutility-owned installation located in Wisconsin.

There is a fully permitted wind project in Alliant’s Wisconsin territory that is ready to serve Wisconsin Power and Light customers. Located in Lafayette County, the Quilt Block project, developed by EDP Renewables, an independent wind developer, is licensed to be a 99-megawatt facility that could be operational before the end of 2012. The economic benefits to Lafayette County and Wisconsin as a whole from pursuing local wind projects like Quilt Block far exceed what can be obtained from more distant sources of renewable electricity.

END

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wind project holds down utility's costs by$12 million, coal pushes them higher

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

We Energies customers could see a small increase in electric bills in 2012 linked to the higher price of coal and other power plant fuels expected next year, the company said Wednesday.

The state's largest utility filed a plan with the state Public Service Commission that said costs linked to power plant fuels are projected to rise by about $50 million in 2012.

The utility wants to delay an increase in non-fuel rates until 2013. Whenever that increase hits customers' bills, it would result in a hike of about 6%, the utility projects.

Under the utility's plan, rates would rise in 2012 only because of power plant fuel prices, and the bottom line for customers would be an overall 2012 increase of less than 1%.

Residential customers would see a 0.7% increase, adding 77 cents a month for a typical residential customer now paying $104.90 a month for electricity, utility spokesman Brian Manthey said. Business customers would see increases of about 1% to 1.1%. . . .

The higher price of coal is projected to lead to $28 million in higher costs next year, including the price of the fuel itself and cost to deliver it by train to Wisconsin. Other increases include $10 million for power it buys from the Point Beach nuclear plant and about $8 million for natural gas.

Offsetting these increases somewhat is the state's newest and largest wind farm, set to open late this year. Generation from the Glacier Hills Wind Park would decrease 2012 fuel costs by more than $12 million, We Energies said.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Solar panels top new UWL academic building, Centennial Hall

From a story by Lindsey Hayes on WXOW, La Crosse:

LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)-- It's the largest academic building on the UW-La Crosse campus and its name is Centennial Hall.

The facility will officially open on the September 6th for the first day of classes, yet on Wednesday UWL's Chancellor Joe Gow lead a tour to introduce the new state of the art building.

Centennial Hall is 189,000 square feet.

It houses 44 classrooms, two auditoriums and offices for fourteen departments.

Each classroom is equipped with advanced technology, has flexible seating for interactive teaching, and 90 percent of the building has natural lighting.

This $40 million facility also has special interior design.

Much of the furniture, carpet and even the solar panels on the roof were based on input from students and staff.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sand mining surges in Wisconsin

From an article by by Jason Smathers, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, posted on WisconsinWatch.org:

State feeds national fracking boom; health, environmental concerns rise

TUNNEL CITY — Retiree Letha Webster’s voice briefly cracks when she talks about leaving the town she and her husband have called home for 56 years. But she says selling her land to an out-of-state mining company was the best move she could have made.

The 84-year old was approached in late June by a Connecticut-based company, Unimin, that planned to build a sand mine in the area and was paying a good price for houses in the way.

Webster’s struggle to maintain her home and 8.5 acres of land while caring for her husband, Gene, who has Alzheimer’s, meant she would need to move soon anyway. Webster, whose property was valued last year at $147,400, says she has agreed to sell for more than double that amount: $330,000.

Others in the area are selling, too. . . .

This western Wisconsin community is in the midst of a land rush — call it a sand rush — fueled by exploding nationwide demand for fine silica sand used in hydraulic fracturing. In this process, nicknamed “fracking,” sand, water and chemicals are blasted into wells, creating fissures in the rock and freeing hard-to-reach pockets of oil and natural gas. . . .

[Fracking has been a contentious issue in most states that have fracking operations. Critics argue that chemicals used in fracking may be contaminating water supplies. And it's the subject of a documentary titled Gasland.]

Health effects feared
Residents in several Wisconsin counties say they have been alarmed by the speed with which mining companies have snapped up land.

Some communities lack local land-use controls such as zoning that would allow them to manage the land rush. And despite concerns about the health and environmental impacts of such facilities, the state Department of Natural Resources has only a few regulations for sand mining operations.

Mining companies must file a reclamation plan with the county that spells how much land will be disturbed and how it will be rejuvenated once mining is completed, and they apply to be covered under a general DNR permit covering stormwater and wastewater. Other permits regulating air emissions and groundwater use may be required from the DNR.

But none specifically limits how much crystalline silica gets into the air, the main health worry for those living near the facilities. Drew Bradley, Unimin’s senior vice president of operations, says that while the risks of crystalline silica are well known in an occupational setting, there’s no evidence that ambient exposure poses any threat.