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Thursday, December 20, 2012

RENEW Plans Honor for SC Johnson

Award Will Recognize Company’s Investment in Wind Energy

SC Johnson, the Racine-based consumer products manufacturer, will be one of several Wisconsin companies and organizations receiving awards from RENEW Wisconsin for their renewable energy investments in 2012. The award will recognize SC Johnson’s two utility-scale wind turbines that are now supplying electricity to its Waxdale production facility. The two turbines were formally commissioned at the plant in a ceremony this morning.

In recognition of forward-looking customer generators, like SC Johnson, and the businesses that serve them, RENEW will present awards at its January 11, 2013, Energy Policy Summit. The event will be held at the University of Wisconsin’s Pyle Center.

Called Powering Positive Action, RENEW’s summit will focus on strategies for expanding Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace for businesses and customers.

“Customer generators like SC Johnson have become the engines for clean energy development. The benefits of these investments don’t just flow to the installation owners, rather all of us gain from their contribution to a stronger economy and cleaner environment. For each of these reasons, they deserve recognition as well as our appreciation,” said Michael Vickerman, program and policy director for RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy organization.

“Wisconsin is fortunate to have such innovative and conscientious employers setting examples for others to embrace,” said Vickerman.

“The Summit will help Wisconsin decision-makers decide on a productive mix of policies to sustain further growth in the clean energy marketplace.”
END

Read the news release from SC Johnson.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

RENEW Plans Honor for SC Johnson

Award Will Recognize Company’s Investment in Wind Energy

SC Johnson, the Racine-based consumer products manufacturer, will be one of several Wisconsin companies and organizations receiving awards from RENEW Wisconsin for their renewable energy investments in 2012. The award will recognize SC Johnson’s two utility-scale wind turbines that are now supplying electricity to its Waxdale production facility. The two turbines were formally commissioned at the plant in a ceremony this morning.

In recognition of forward-looking customer generators, like SC Johnson, and the businesses that serve them, RENEW will present awards at its January 11, 2013, Energy Policy Summit. The event will be held at the University of Wisconsin’s Pyle Center.

Called Powering Positive Action, RENEW’s summit will focus on strategies for expanding Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace for businesses and customers.

“Customer generators like SC Johnson have become the engines for clean energy development. The benefits of these investments don’t just flow to the installation owners, rather all of us gain from their contribution to a stronger economy and cleaner environment. For each of these reasons, they deserve recognition as well as our appreciation,” said Michael Vickerman, program and policy director for RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy organization.

“Wisconsin is fortunate to have such innovative and conscientious employers setting examples for others to embrace,” said Vickerman.

“The Summit will help Wisconsin decision-makers decide on a productive mix of policies to sustain further growth in the clean energy marketplace.”
END

Read the news release from SC Johnson.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Legislators set to speak at Powering Positive Action

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
Danfoss
Madison Solar
Michael Best and Friedrich, LLP
Prairie Solar Power & Light
Stantec
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

Legislators set to speak at Powering Positive Action

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
Danfoss
Madison Solar
Michael Best and Friedrich, LLP
Prairie Solar Power & Light
Stantec
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

Legislators set to speak at Powering Positive Action

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
Danfoss
Madison Solar
Michael Best and Friedrich, LLP
Prairie Solar Power & Light
Stantec
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

Legislators set to speak at Powering Positive Action

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
Danfoss
Madison Solar
Michael Best and Friedrich, LLP
Prairie Solar Power & Light
Stantec
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

Legislators set to speak at Powering Positive Action

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
Danfoss
Madison Solar
Michael Best and Friedrich, LLP
Prairie Solar Power & Light
Stantec
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

Monday, December 10, 2012

Racine County wind turbines

The Waxdale turbines are spinning - S.C. Johnson's two wind turbines in Racine County are now fully operational. These  two Vensys turbines added another 3 MW of wind generation to Wisconsin’s total.
S.C. Johnson's Waxdale Turbines
Go wind, go!

Racine County wind turbines

The Waxdale turbines are spinning - S.C. Johnson's two wind turbines in Racine County are now fully operational. These  two Vestas turbines added another 3 MW of wind generation to Wisconsin’s total.
S.C. Johnson's Waxdale Turbines
Go wind, go!

Friday, December 7, 2012

How Wisconsin regulators 'tax' renewable energy

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.

How Wisconsin regulators 'tax' renewable energy

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.

Commentary: How Wisconsin regulators 'tax' renewable energy

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.

Commentary: How Wisconsin regulators ‘tax’ renewable energy

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.

Commentary: How Wisconsin regulators ‘tax’ renewable energy

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.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

PSCW Decisions “Tax” Renewable Energy 

Voluntary Programs to Be Priced At All-Time Highs

A commentary by Michael Vickerman, Director, Programs and Policy, December 4, 2012:
 
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 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 4 cents/kWh. That’s an increase of 60%. To translate this into dollars and cents, an average MGE customer consuming 500 kWh of electricity per month and subscribing at the 100% 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%, 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.

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 windpower 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. 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.

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. 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

Milwaukee Brewing to build solar hot water system

From Energy writer Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel. Find the original post here.

Green beer apparently isn't brewed only on St. Patrick's Day.

Milwaukee Brewing Co. will install a solar hot water system at its brewery in Walker's Point, with 28 solar panels that will be combined with a system that will preheat water used in the brewing process.

"Here's a good example of a perfect application for solar hot water," said Amy Heart, who runs the City of Milwaukee's solar program, Milwaukee Shines. "Breweries use a lot of water - and a lot of hot water - and so it made sense for them to invest in this."

The project was funded in part with grants from the state Focus on Energy program as well as the ME2 Milwaukee Energy Efficiency program and Milwaukee Shines.

Through the combination of energy-efficiency upgrades that made the operation more efficient as well as the solar hot-water system, Milwaukee Brewing is forecasting a 27% savings in energy used during the brewing process.

"We hope our installation encourages others to make the investment," said Jim McCabe, the brewery's owner, in a statement. He added that the project will help boost the brewery's competitiveness.

The solar system is being supplied by Caleffi Solar, which has its North American headquarters in Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley and is a founding member of a regional solar hot-water business council.

Along with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, the business council is co-sponsoring a national solar thermal conference that begins Thursday at the downtown Hilton hotel.

"With companies like Caleffi Solar, Milwaukee is at the forefront of this industry with a strong and expanding solar supply chain," Heart said. "Solar for a Milwaukee brewery is the perfect way to showcase how solar is a solution in many applications

The brewery's green and energy-saving initiatives include water conservation measures as well as a biodiesel boiler that is fueled by grease from local residents and the county Parks Department.

Milwaukee Brewing has been at 613 S. 2nd St. since 2006.

See the original posting of this article here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

RENEW Wisconsin’s Energy Summit Plans Policy Actions for 2013

Immediate release:                                              
December 5, 2012
               
More information:
Michael Vickerman
608.255.4044, ext. 2
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

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.

RENEW Wisconsin’s Energy Summit Plans Policy Actions for 2013

Immediate release:                                              
December 5, 2012
               
More information:
Michael Vickerman
608.255.4044, ext. 2
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

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.