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Monday, June 30, 2014

Vernon Electric Cooperative unveils state’s first community solar project

RENEW Wisconsin's Policy Director, Michael Vickerman attended the unveiling ceremony of the Vernon Electric Cooperative community solar project

From The La Crosse Tribune, June 26, 2014:

Merlin and Trudy Simonson have long been interested in solar energy. They wanted to put solar panels on their home in Genoa but were “afraid we’d do it wrong,” said Merlin, a retired Department of Defense worker. So when their utility, Vernon Electric Cooperative, offered a chance to buy panels in a solar farm, they jumped.

“This could not have come at a better time for us,” Merlin said Wednesday as Trudy signed their name on a few of the couple’s 59 panels in the 2-acre array tucked between farm fields. “Carbon costs are only going to increase.”

They expect their investment will offset about 80 percent of their electric bill, which includes heat for their Genoa home.

John Evenstad doesn’t expect quite so much from his single panel, which he purchased “for the fun of it.”

Both are among 120 owners of the community-owned solar array, the first of its kind in Wisconsin.

“Most of the time these things are somewhere else,” Evenstad said. “You gotta support it because it’s local.”

The solar farm, which went online in May but was formally unveiled in a ceremony Thursday, was largely a response to member interest, said Dave Maxwell, Vernon Electric’s marketing and communications director.

“We had a pretty good hunch that something like this would work,” Maxwell said.

Vernon Electric was able to piggyback on a project by La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative, which serves the Westby utility and built a 500-kilowatt array that should provide enough power for about 60 homes.

The developer, Colorado-based Clean Energy Collective, took advantage of federal tax credits, and the co-op kicked in a $71 rebate to bring the cost for members down to an even $600 per 305-watt panel — or about $2 per watt.

The panels are under warranty for 25 years but will likely last for 50, Maxwell said.

Panels were available to members of the co-op, who could purchase only as many as would offset their power use.

Members own their panels, though the co-op takes care of maintenance. Computer software tracks the electricity fed into the grid and calculates the credits.

They can keep their panels so long as they live in the co-op service area, and panels can be bought and sold among members.

Richard Case wanted to get in on the action but the panels sold out in only two weeks.

Case said it would be impractical to install panels at his Ontario farm, which is tucked in a valley, but he’d like to be part of the move away from fossil fuels.

“This is the future,” he said.

Clean Energy founder Paul Spencer acknowledged that coal remains the cheapest fuel per kilowatt hour, but solar is becoming increasingly economical as equipment costs have fallen by half in just the last five years.

Today’s panels produce about 30 percent more electricity than they did then.

U.S. solar installation in the past two years has outpaced the previous three decades, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. In 2013 alone, the nation added 4.7 gigawatts, more than 60 percent of the existing capacity.

As volume increases, Spencer said, prices will become even more competitive.

Unlike coal plants, there’s no ongoing fuel costs for solar farms. And unlike wind, which tends to die on the hot summer afternoons, solar panels perform best when demand is highest.

Zeke Skarlupka and his wife, Kelly, purchased 20 panels, which they expect will cover all their electricity use once they convert to a natural gas water heater.

Living in Genoa, home to one of Dairyland’s two coal-fired plants, Skarlupka is well aware of where his electricity comes from.


Read the rest of the story...

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sen. Julie Lassa: Wisconsin must lead on clean energy

The Wisconsin Rapids Tribune published an opinion piece by Sen. Julie Lassa on June 26, 2014. Below, is an except:

"I had a great time last weekend at the 25th Annual Midwest Renewable Energy Association fair in Custer, in the northeast corner of the 24th Senate District. It’s always a fascinating place to visit, since it brings together thousands of people from all over the country to see the latest in wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy technologies, as well as related items such as electric cars, energy efficient fixtures and appliances, sustainable building methods, and so much more.

But while I was pleased to see many local and regional consultants and vendors, I noticed that nearly all the manufacturing of these clean energy systems was happening far away. Just to take solar power as an example: Many of the photovoltaic panels sold by local vendors are manufactured elsewhere — some in other states, some in Germany or China. If there were any solar panels on display that were manufactured in Wisconsin, I missed them.

I found it interesting that the Wellspring Renewable Energy Program, which started in Milwaukee and is dedicated to promoting a buy-local approach to building solar energy markets, has to source its 'locally manufactured' solar panels from manufacturers in Minnesota and Illinois."

Read the rest of Sen. Lassa's commentary

Friday, June 13, 2014

Second Wind? Is it time to revisit Wisconsin's renewable energy requirements?

RENEW Executive Director, Tyler Huebner was interviewed by Tom Breuer for the May issue of InBusiness Magazine

"If you’ve managed to survive even one brutal Wisconsin winter (or unseasonably hot summer), you know that looming utility bills can often creep into your daydreams and nightmares on a moment’s notice, eating away at your peace of mind well before they have your kids’ college fund for lunch.

If you’re a small business owner who pays his or her own heat or electricity, you’ve got double trouble, and in addition to unpredictable weather, unforeseen rate increases can be the difference between shivering in the dark and avoiding a deep freeze.

So imagine if your utility bills ran into the hundreds of thousands every month instead of the hundreds. Well, there are plenty of Wisconsin ratepayers — big manufacturers and other commercial energy consumers — who don’t have to imagine. They live that reality. And they are skittish about a recent proposal to beef up Wisconsin’s renewable energy mandate from its current 10% threshold to 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030 — a move that, many believe, would spike energy prices that are already high in comparison to other states."

Read the rest of the article...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Report: Wisconsin Achieves 10% Renewable Energy Goal

Renewable Portfolio Standard key driver for clean power success

The Public Service Commission (PSC) today approved a report documenting that Wisconsin’s electric providers are already in compliance with their 2015 renewable energy requirements specified in state law.

In 2006, Wisconsin passed a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requiring utilities to increase their renewable energy supplies by six percentage points from 2006 to 2015, so that the state would reach an overall target of 10%.  The report approved today documents that the state’s electric providers have collectively reached the 10% goal two years early.  In addition, the report stated that all 118 electric providers are in compliance with their individual metrics for calendar year 2013.

“What a tremendous success for Wisconsin to meet this 10% renewable standard two years early and with virtually no perceptible impact on customer bills,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.  “Over the last eight years our renewable energy standard has created new jobs and business opportunities while cleaning up and diversifying our power supply mix.

In 2013, the PSC issued a report with data through 2012 showing the renewable energy standard had less than a one percent impact on electric rates.

Huebner said:  “Now that we’ve met the 10% goal, the logical question before us is ‘What’s next?’ The conversation should shift to the Legislature to address that question in 2015.  Our neighboring states are moving ahead of us.  For example, Iowa now generates 27% of its electricity from wind energy, while the total in Minnesota is now 14%. The renewable energy produced there is helping to keep customer bills low. In addition, Michigan is considering a jump to 30% renewables by 2030.  Let’s keep Wisconsin moving forward and get to work on extending and expanding Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Judge Overturns Regressive Net Metering Decision

 Circuit Court sides with RENEW Wisconsin over key solar policy

In its continuous defense of renewable energy policy in Wisconsin, RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy organization, scored a victory from the Dane County Circuit Court that puts solar energy on a stronger footing going forward.

RENEW challenged a 2012 decision by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) which specified the maximum size of a solar system eligible for net metering in We Energies’ electric territory would be 20 kilowatts.  At that time, most of the other investor-owned electric utilities in Wisconsin had a cap of 100 kilowatts, and RENEW argued that We Energies should also have a cap at that level.  Net metering is a policy that allows solar customers, including residents, businesses, schools and other public agencies, to receive full retail credit for the excess energy they deliver to the grid.  A smaller net metering cap limits the ability of larger business customers to power themselves with clean energy.

Agreeing with RENEW Wisconsin, the Dane County Circuit Court found that the PSC’s decision to keep the net metering cap at 20 kilowatts was arbitrary and unsupported in the factual record.  This decision was remanded back to the PSC.

“Better net metering policies will enable more businesses to save money with solar power. Renewable energy has never been as attractive to customers as it is today, and businesses nationwide are adopting solar energy as a way to control their energy costs, businesses like Wal-Mart and Kohl’s.  Moreover, it is important that we promote and defend Wisconsin renewable energy in all decision-making venues and make sure decisions are made based on the facts presented in each case,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Clean Energy Could Create More Jobs in Wisconsin

This article published by Kenosha News highlights opportunities for job creation in Wisconsin in the renewable energy industry and features quotes from RENEW Wisconsin's Tyler Huebner.

There could be more jobs for Wisconsin in clean energy

Published by Steve Lund of Kenosha News on 6/4/2014

The president’s announcement Monday about the Clean Power Plan should be good for renewable energy in Wisconsin over the long term, but don’t expect a wind farm project in Kenosha County any time soon.

In the president’s plan, the Environmental Protection Agency would require states to reduce carbon emissions from existing coal-burning and gas-burning power plants by 30 percent from their 2005 levels.

Solar power, wind power, bio fuels and other sources of electricity that don’t involve burning fossil fuels should benefit from the rules, as should efforts to conserve electricity.

“Between now and 2030, it should be very beneficial for energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, a non-profit organization that advocates for renewable energy and represents businesses that create renewable energy.