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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Connect with RENEW Wisconsin

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Earth Week 2013 Musings


from Michael Vickerman

In addition to unwanted snow showers, April 2013 has brought us a flurry of clean energy news stories. Taken together, these recent developments offer a revealing picture of the unique challenges we face in Wisconsin in advancing an energy future that is less reliant on fossil fuels. 

On the face of it, the announcement on Earth Day that several Wisconsin utilitie will retire a minimum of 260 MW of older coal-fired plants and spend $1.2 billion on pollution control upgrades should qualify as good news. The settlement with U.S. EPA also obligates Wisconsin Power & Light (Alliant Energy) and Madison Gas & Electric to offer up to $5.5 million to support solar PV installation in their territories.

However, if one does the math, the solar component adds up to only one-half of one percent of the total amount the utilities will spend under this settlement.  The price tag of the pollution control work even exceeds the nearly $1 billion it will cost to decommission the soon-to-be-retired Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant. That 39-year-old plant will cease operating in May.
With a combined price tag exceeding $2 billion, these will very likely be the two most expensive electricity-related projects initiated this decade. Ratepayers will absorb the full cost of the pollution control measures undertaken by the owners of the Columbia and Edgewater power plants. 

If Kewaunee’s retirement and the planned shutdowns of Alliant’s Nelson Dewey and Edgewater 3 plants had been announced five years ago, Wisconsin would be swarming with wind and bioenergy developers right now. But utility interest in renewable energy development has diminished markedly, owing to the unfavorable political climate here for windpower development and the belief that natural gas will stay cheap for years to come.  Furthermore, electricity providers have largely fulfilled their requirements under Wisconsin’s modest Renewable Electricity Standard, and there is no successor policy in sight.

Don’t get me wrong. We are elated that up to $5.5 million will be set aside for new solar electric generating capacity. But that sum is insufficient to remedy the massive imbalance in Wisconsin’s electricity resource mix.  Even when being shuttered for good, Wisconsin’s legacy coal and nuclear plants seem destined to cast a long shadow over our energy future and draw resources away from building a less fossil-fuel-intensive energy economy.

Contrast these stories with two recent developments in Iowa. First, Facebook announced that it will locate a brand-new data center near Des Moines. There were many ingredients that led to the selection of Iowa as a data center host, not least of which is a substantial in-state wind energy portfolio that help keep Iowa electricity rates well below the national average.

The other milestone was a recent Circuit Court decision that moves Iowa tantalizingly close to the day when electricity customers can freely contract with third parties to provide them with renewable energy produced on their premises. If this becomes an explicit policy in Iowa, the solar energy market should mushroom there, as it has in states like New Jersey, California and Colorado.

Natural gas prices are just as low in Iowa as they are here, but you won’t find the utilities there using that as an argument against investing in renewables.  In the case of Facebook, ongoing renewable investments helped seal the deal. The social media giant is hungry for wind generation, and Mid-American, which has ample supplies of windpower, is hungry for new customers with large energy appetites. 

A similar dynamic could evolve in Wisconsin, but the state’s utilities need to understand how valuable clean energy is to attracting companies and industries to set up shop here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Over-Reliance on Fossil Fuels, Regulatory Uncertainty Hurting Wisconsin's Economy

Gary Radloff, director of Midwest policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute released a report  “How to Keep Wisconsin and the U.S. Competitive in a Changing Energy World.” Check out the article below and read the report!
Report: Wisconsin needs an energy plan to stay competitive
A new report warns that Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness could be at risk if the state doesn’t diversify its electricity sources. 
The Badger State is already burdened by the second highest electricity prices in the Midwest, with only Michigan customers paying more on average.

Plans outlined for New Chester Dairy manure digester

Good news out of Adams County...
Plans outlined for New Chester Dairy manure digester - The Country Today: Dairy
NEW CHESTER — Plans for a $25 million anaerobic digester project that will process dairy manure, chicken offal and other food waste products from businesses in Adams and Marquette counties was outlined April 4 during a media event at the Milk Source New Chester Dairy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Clean Air Act Settlement with Wisconsin Utilities Includes Funding for Renewables

An exciting new settlement in Wisconsin leads the way for millions in funding for clean energy. The EPA's press release is below. Also check out Tom Content's blog post summarizing the settlement. Detailed information can be found here.
Clean Air Act Settlement with Wisconsin Utilities to Reduce Emissions by More Than 50,000 Tons Annually 
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Justice, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin announced a Clean Air Act (CAA) settlement with Wisconsin Power and Light Company (WPL) that will significantly reduce air pollution from three coal-fired power plants located near Portage, Sheboygan, and Cassville, Wis. 

In Wisconsin, politics continue to hold back wind development | Midwest Energy News

A new article by Erik Ness in Midwest Energy News explores some the political issues that are continuing to derail wind development in Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, politics continue to hold back wind development | Midwest Energy News
More than two years after Wisconsin completed a bipartisan process to establish statewide standards for siting wind turbines, development remains sluggish amid continuing political pushback.
In 2012, a year that saw a nationwide surge in wind farm installations as developers rushed to beat expiring tax credits, Wisconsin added only 18 megawatts of capacity. 
By comparison, Michigan and Ohio, with much lower wind potential, had already installed 138 MW and 308 MW in just the first three quarters. 
Compared to other Midwestern states, Wisconsin ranks at the bottom in both wind projects under construction and in queue, according to the American Wind Energy Association. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Policies that can Restore Wisconsin’s Bioenergy leadership

From testimony given to Senate Committee on Energy Consumer Protection and Government Reform on April 10, 2013

RENEW Wisconsin has been leading and representing businesses, organizations, and individuals that seek more clean, renewable energy in Wisconsin since 1991.

I have been involved in bioenergy for over thirty years in designing and administering policies and programs at the Wisconsin Energy Office, as director of the Focus on Energy Renewable Energy program, and for the past year with RENEW. I have personally been involved in many of Wisconsin’s more than 100 biogas facilities over my career. These facilities include municipal wastewater treatment plants, landfill gas operations, dairy operations, and food waste.

Wisconsin has the natural resources, the supply chain infrastructure, the mix of industrial and agricultural producers, and a past history of success to once again lead the nation in biogas production and utilization. Currently, New York, Pennsylvania, and California are about to overtake our lead if they have not already done so. All it takes for Wisconsin to regain the lead is the right public policies that can overcome the remaining economic and institutional barriers.

RENEW believes that Wisconsin has the very doable potential to quadruple the number of biogas facilities in the next ten years from roughly 100 to 400. This would allow Wisconsin to have a similar number of biogas facilities per capita as Germany, the world biogas leader. RENEW prepared a list of 12 specific policies that together can retake Wisconsin’s leadership role in biogas and allow us to quadruple the number of local, environmentally beneficial, and job creating biogas facilities.

The four policies that are most important and have an immediate potential include:
  • Allowing third party contracting arrangements that would reduce the financial and technical barriers to biogas system hosts;
  • Allowing reasonable and flexible interconnection requirements as defined in RENEW’s current petition at the PSCW in docket 05-GF-233. For example, current requirements allow utilities to designate the type of telemetry (a communication link between generator and substation).
    • By designating the most expensive type of telemetry (fiber optics) instead of other much less expensive, but just as reliable options, utilities can increase the cost of a biogas system by hundreds of thousands of dollars and effectively kill projects.
  • Higher buyback rates or production tax incentives that recognize the social benefits of:
    • locally produced energy
    • environmental benefits to air, water, and land
    • the economic benefits of building and operating biogas here in Wisconsin.
  • Property tax reductions, similar to those given to wind and solar
We urge the Senate Committee on Energy, Consumer Protection, and Government Reform to seriously consider recommending these policies to your legislative colleagues and to agencies that have jurisdiction over these responsibilities.

It’s time to move forward and create the climate that once again makes Wisconsin the national leader in biogas.

Thank you.

Don Wichert, Interim Executive Director, RENEW Wisconsin


Friday, April 5, 2013

Rothschild biomass plant on track to begin running in late 2013

Good news out of Central Wisconsin. A biomass plant is one step closer to opening.
ROTHSCHILD — More than 400 people have helped build the $250 million biomass power plant that now towers over Business Highway 51 and the Wisconsin River, and their months of hard work have the project on schedule to begin generating power late this year. 
When the facility opens, a parade of 50 to 75 semi-trucks every weekday will keep the plant’s boilers stoked with treetops and branches that will create steam and electricity. In addition to producing clean energy, the new site will improve air quality by reducing overall emissions from the Domtar paper mill by about 30 percent, according to a Domtar and We Energies informational handout. ... read more

Monday, April 1, 2013

False Picture on Renewable Energy

The opinion piece below was published in the March 30, 2013 Milwaukee State Journal

A seismic shift occurred in the U.S. electric power industry this January. For the first time since the federal government began tracking new power plants, renewable energy sources - biogas, solar and wind - accounted for 100% of generating capacity added that month.
This milestone does not please fossil fuel interests, who are alarmed over the prospect of losing market share to clean energy. To reverse this trend, they have launched a national campaign involving the planting of so-called studies in selected states that falsely demonize renewable energy.
One such report, prepared by Beacon Hill Institute, a Massachusetts think tank that is openly hostile to pro-renewable energy policy, surfaced in Wisconsin last week. Like all its other reports on state energy policy, the analysis is a heavy-handed attempt to reverse-engineer data points to fit the preordained conclusion and generate the headlines that the fossil fuel interests want to see.
An objective analysis would compare the cost of complying with Wisconsin's modest 10% standard with all the other utility projects undertaken during the same time. But Beacon Hill's analysis studiously avoids mentioning the new coal-fired power plants and pollution controls for old coal plants that are the primary cost drivers behind recent rate increases in Wisconsin. Utilities have dedicated over $5 billion to building or upgrading coal plants since 1999, dwarfing their investments in renewable generation. But you won't find a word about that in this report.
You also won't find any mention of the many new jobs, businesses and manufacturers leveraged by renewable energy standards in Wisconsin and other states. These include:
 • Chilton-based DVO, which has become one of the leading designers and installers of farm-based biodigester projects in the nation.
 • Milwaukee-based Helios, USA, which in just three years has become a supplier of competitively priced solar electric modules.
 • Broadwind, whose Manitowoc facility now fabricates towers for windpower projects throughout the Great Lakes region.
It is not difficult to inventory the growth of Wisconsin's clean energy supply chain from the ground up and determine how much of that was driven by state policy. A more rigorous study would have done so while providing evidence to support its contention that Wisconsin's renewable energy policy caused a net reduction of jobs. In contrast, Beacon Hill relied on black-box computer models instead of phone surveys to reach its counterintuitive results.
As an economics professor once said to me: "If you torture your models enough, they will confess to anything you want them to."
Had this been an intellectually honest effort, the study would have credited renewable energy policies for increasing income to farmers while providing millions of dollars' worth of property tax relief to towns and counties. But that would have risked reaching the opposite conclusion: renewable energy policies here and in neighboring states have delivered tangible economic benefits to Wisconsin.
The false picture projected by this report crumbles when compared with the reality of Iowa's energy experience. If renewable energy is so expensive, how does Iowa manage to generate 25% of its electricity from wind power while holding its rates 20% below Wisconsin's rates on average? It's worth pointing out that Mid-American, Iowa's largest electric utility, is the largest owner of wind energy projects among all U.S. utilities, yet its electric rates remain in the single digits.
Yes, the fossil fuel interests are clearly worried, and they are resorting to outright disinformation such as Beacon Hill's Wisconsin "study" to obscure the facts. Wisconsin's renewable energy standard has indeed been an economic success.
Notwithstanding Beacon Hill's efforts, voters like renewable energy and want to see more solar, bioenergy and wind powering Wisconsin's economy. According to a bipartisan January 2012 poll, over 80% of voters sampled support policies requiring that 30% of Wisconsin's electricity come from renewable sources.
If lawmakers are sincerely interested in economic growth, they should expand the standard beyond 10%.
Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization.