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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Milwaukee Wind Turbine Marks Two-Year Anniversary!

From Milwaukee Office of Environmental Sustainability:
Today marks the second anniversary of energy generation at the Port of Milwaukee’s wind turbine. Not only is the wind turbine an important symbol of Milwaukee's clean energy future, it is paying annual dividends on the tax payers’ investment. In fact, the turbine has far exceeded our initial estimates in clean energy production and savings to the City! Since many of the components and all of the installation services were sourced from Wisconsin firms, the wind turbine also demonstrates that every dollar we invest in renewable energy in Wisconsin, is a dollar invested in a job for a Wisconsinite. 
The electricity generated by the wind turbine exceeds the electricity used at the Port Administration building while providing surplus clean power back to the grid. To date, the turbine has generated over 300,000 kwh of electricity. And, we have avoided releasing over 380,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into our air. As a result, Milwaukee’s Port Administration building is the first City of Milwaukee municipal facility that is a "net zero" electric energy user! 
The surplus electricity created over $13,000 in revenue for the City in 2013 in addition to $6,000 in electricity savings. The wind turbine had a total annual economic impact of nearly $20,000 in 2013. Since electricity rates continue to rise, the payback on the wind turbine will accelerate. 
Milwaukee’s wind turbine is part of the City’s initiative to reduce energy use and increase renewable energy projects on City facilities. OES is currently planning additional solar energy projects to complement this renewable energy source. 
Learn more about the project and see live production data here:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bill Would Brighten Future for Clean Energy

RENEW: “It’s Time to Put Renewables Back to Work in Wisconsin”

For Immediate Release - 2/26/2014

Today, Sen. Mark Miller and Representatives Katrina Shankland and Cory Mason introduced comprehensive legislation to expand pathways for powering Wisconsin’s economy with renewable energy. Titled the Wisconsin Renewable Energy Act, this is the first energy bill introduced since 2010 that aims to strengthen the state’s commitment to locally available renewables and ratchet back its dependence on $12 billion of annual imported fossil fuels.

Among the bill’s principal provisions are (1) a boost to Wisconsin’s Renewable Electricity Standard, (2) additional targets for in-state bioenergy production, and (3) improved state policies to facilitate “distributed generation” such as solar, wind, and bioenergy production facilities that are owned by customers.

If adopted, the bill would raise the percentage of renewable energy supplying Wisconsin’s electricity customers to 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030, up from the current requirement of 10% by 2015.

“Adopting the Wisconsin Renewable Energy Act would help re-establish Wisconsin’s long-standing leadership in renewable energy and Wisconsin-based job creation,” said RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Tyler Huebner.

“Renewable energy means business opportunities for Wisconsin-based companies that are regional and national leaders in wind, bioenergy, solar, and hydropower project development, engineering, and supply chain manufacturing. Wisconsin was one of the first states to pass a renewable energy standard like this back in 2006, but now we’re quite a ways behind our neighbors, and the gap is certain to widen unless we pursue and pass worthy legislation like the Wisconsin Renewable Energy Act,” Huebner said.

“It’s time to put renewables back to work in Wisconsin,” Huebner said.

Updated 3/6/2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Milwaukee solar initiative hopes to expand group-buy model

The following article by Tom Content was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on 2/20/2014

Milwaukee's solar initiative is looking to expand on its first group-buy solar initiative last year, which helped lead to more than 30 installations across the city.

That's three times as many solar installations than in 2012, and the city credits the growth to a solar group-purchase program that began in the Riverwest neighborhood.

The public-private partnership helps residents take advantage of lower-cost solar installations through volume purchasing. The group buy was responsible for 16 installations in Riverwest, along with another in Bay View.

"The solar group-buy model has proved successful because it provides education on the technology, financing solutions and utilizes the strength of volume purchasing to bring the cost down even more," said Amy Heart, manager of Milwaukee Shines, a project of the city's Office of Environmental Sustainability.

The Solar Bay View initiative kicked off Wednesday, with more informational sessions scheduled in the weeks ahead. Enrollment will take place between now and May.

Solar Bay View's sponsors include Riverwest Cooperative Alliance, Milwaukee Shines and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.

The program is open to Milwaukee-area residents outside Bay View, but its main focus will be within the neighborhood.

"The concept of a group-purchasing program fits right in with the principles of cooperatives everywhere. People come together to meet an otherwise unmet need," said Peter Murphy, who works with the Riverwest Cooperative Alliance, an organization comprised of local cooperatives. "In this case, the Bay View neighborhood has a unique opportunity to show the rest of Milwaukee how people power can accomplish meaningful and practical goals, like energy independence."

Paula Papanek of Bay View put 12 solar panels on her roof a few years back and was able to take advantage of the Riverwest group purchase last year to install 18 more panels on her garage. She's volunteered to advise neighborhood residents on what questions to ask and provide feedback on her own experience.

"It's important that homeowners have the opportunity to talk to somebody who's done it as opposed to hearing from a sales rep," she said.

Adam Gusse, vice president of H&H Solar Energy Services in Madison, said the Riverwest group purchase program followed a similar one in Madison.

Group-buy participants saved about 20% compared with a solar installation of a comparable size, Gusse said.

Some of the savings came about because so many projects were physically close together, from buying greater quantities of panels, and from reduced sales and marketing costs, he said.

"It was really great to have a coalition of many different organizations coming together to make for what is a great success for solar in Milwaukee," Gusse said.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Still More on the Game-Changer Narrative

Note: This update follows my commentary posted two weeks ago documenting emerging changes in the U.S. natural gas market picture.  It is my thesis that the current understanding of supply and demand trends leaves us unprepared for nonlinear events like this winter’s weather.  
--Michael Vickerman

There is nothing quite like a long stretch of below-normal temperatures to stoke the heating fuel markets. Last week (February 13) the Energy Information Agency reported a withdrawal of 237 billion cubic feet (bcf) from inventories, a 12% decline from the previous week’s level.  As indicated in the table below, inventories have shrunk to 1,686 bcf.

It’s a safe bet that this week’s withdrawal number will be even larger than last week’s total, which would send storage volumes below 1,500 bcf. It’s worth remembering that there is at least six weeks left in the current heating season. For comparison purposes, the previous heating season ended in the second week of April with inventories down to 1,673 bcf. This has already been a winter to remember, and it’s not over by a long shot.

It is finally dawning on traders that supplies are the tightest they’ve been since the 2003-2004 winter. Prices have now breached the $5.00/MMBtu mark and may climb some more. However, it will take more than a brief foray into $5.00+ territory to sustain extraction activity at a level that can fully replenish inventories in time for the next heating season. And, as noted in my original commentary, current prices are still low relative to 2007-2008 levels, and are unlikely to induce significant reductions in demand.

As reported in the February 14, 2014, edition of Ravenna Capital Management’s  The Master Resource Report, Conoco Phillips has no immediate plans to jump-start exploration and extraction activity based on recent market conditions.

ConocoPhillips wants benchmark natural gas prices to remain over $5 for as long as two years before the company boosts spending on natural gas, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Sheets said in a Jan. 30 interview.

“We won’t be leaders in getting out there and drilling natural gas,” he said.

I strongly encourage readers of this blog to check in weekly with The Master Resource Report, an educational newsletter written by Jim Hansen of KMS Financial Services. Jim is a keen observer of energy markets and has been tracking the emerging disconnects in the domestic natural gas market since the summer of 2013. 

I’ll send out another update in a week. In the meantime, let's celebrate today's foretaste of spring weather, while Mother Nature slaves away on the next winter storm rolling our way.

Heating Season
Start Volume
(in bcf)
Remaining volume after 6th week of year

Friday, February 14, 2014

Shine a light on energy freedom

An opinion piece by Matt Neumann published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday, February 14, 2014

An especially cold Wisconsin winter like this one might get you thinking about how you keep your home warm and bright — especially when storms knock down power lines and shortages triple propane prices.

But if your thoughts turn to generating some of your power on your own property, your efforts at self-reliance might be derailed by Wisconsin law. It's not clear if property owners in Wisconsin are allowed to pursue some of the energy options available to Americans in dozens of other states. It's a strange way to limit liberty, and it should change.

Right now, Wisconsin law does not clearly permit third-party ownership of solar panels — an arrangement homeowners and business people in other states are using to generate power right at home, often with no up-front cost. And Wisconsin's restrictions on net metering — which limit your right to sell power you generate back into the grid — are keeping larger businesses and institutions such as hospitals and universities from taking advantage of money-saving energy options that companies and organizations in other states are using to generate their own power, save money and help the environment.

Read the rest of Matt Neumann's opinion...

Monday, February 10, 2014

More on the Game-Changer Narrative

Note: This update follows my commentary posted last week documenting emerging changes in the U.S. natural gas market picture and discussing whether the altered picture will occasion additional repricing upward to balance supply with expected demand increases.
--Michael Vickerman

On February 6th, EIA reported that natural gas storage volumes were 270 billion cubic feet (bcf) under last week’s withdrawal numbers.  That number reflects data submitted to EIA on January 31st.

Going into February this year, the quantity of natural gas in storage (1.923 bcf) is half of what it was at the start of the current heating season (3,834 bcf). The heating season generally ends around April 1.
I expect the next EIA report (February 13) to easily surpass the 200 bcf threshold.

In the previous 10 years, the largest amount of gas withdrawn from inventories during the entire heating season was 2,311 bcf. That occurred during the winter of 2007-2008. Thus far this season, a total of 1,911 bcf has been taken out of storage. If the next two reported withdrawals (Feb. 13th and 20th) exceed a combined total of 400 bcf, this winter’s withdrawals will exceed that total, and that will happen before the end of February.

Though this is shaping up to be the coldest winter in 20 years, the price of natural gas still remains below $5.00. How many more weeks of below-average temperatures will it take to move the floor price of natural gas to $5.00 and higher? The game-changer narrative is still hanging tough.

Over the weekend, I checked Chicago and Madison weather forecasts for the week of February 10th. To the extent there is a warm-up in sight, it will happen Thursday and Friday. This respite will bring temperatures back to seasonal levels, but don’t expect it to last. The weather forecast in Madison for the Valentine’s Day/President Day weekend heralds a return to below-normal temperatures.

The cold weather is also taking a bite out of current extraction volumes, as evidenced in the highlighted passage of the Bloomberg News article below. While pace of extraction will definitely pick up as winter gives way to spring, the question going forward is whether supply can increase by a record-setting 2.7 trillion tcf between the end of the current heating season and the beginning of the next. We’re starting to enter uncharted territory.