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Monday, June 29, 2015

One Utility Bucks the Trend

Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power
Imagine an electric utility that packages energy makeovers for its residential customers, who can obtain substantial savings from air-source heat pumps and solar electric systems which are paid for under a lease.  Imagine an electric utility that builds a microgrid powered exclusively by solar energy and battery storage, with no fossil fuels. Imagine an electric utility that is deploying digital technology to shave peak usage and passing those savings to its customers. Imagine an electric utility that is doing all those things while reducing energy rates and meeting corporate revenue targets.

That company is Green Mountain Power, an investor-owned electric utility in Vermont serving roughly the same number of customers as Madison Gas & Electric. At the same time most power companies are striving to slow down innovation, thwart conservation through restructured rates and charges, limit customer choices, and, in the case of We Energies, tax customers for using solar energy, Green Mountain Power is bucking the trend and embracing innovation and customer choice. You can read about its efforts to adapt to a changing world in a must-read article written by Bill McKibben in the June 29th issue of The New Yorker.

“A challenge in the utility culture is precisely that it’s built on guarantees,” says Green Mountain CEO Mary Powell. “Innovation happens when there are no guarantees.”  Imagine another U.S. utility CEO saying anything like that in public.

One aspect of Green Mountain Power not noted in McKibben’s article is that it is the only electric utility that a certified benefit corporation, or B-corporation.  As explained in Wikipedia, a benefit corporation or B-corporation is a “type of for-profit corporate entity, legislated in 28 U.S. states, that includes positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit as its legally defined goals. B corps differ from traditional corporations in purpose, accountability, and transparency, but not in taxation.”

Why did Green Mountain Power elect to become a B Corp? Here’s what they said: "We became a B Corp to demonstrate our deep commitment to creating positive change in the community and the environment through our work to make clean energy more affordable and reliable. We embrace the mission to 'do good' in all things we do, put customers first, and seek to make Vermont and the world a healthier place to live. We are very honored to be the first utility to receive the distinguished B Corp certification."

Mary Powell will be a featured speaker at RENEW Wisconsin’s 5th
annual Energy Policy Summit, set for Thursday, January 21st in Madison. Come to the summit and learn how she and Green Mountain Power are redefining success in the electric power industry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Franciscan Sisters Power Up with Brother Sun

Bishop David Ricken
100 kW Array Is Open to the Public

On the same day--June 18, 2015--the Vatican released Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, more than 25 people gathered at Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Green Bay and took part in dedicating their year-old, 100-kilowatt solar installation. Bishop David Ricken presided over the ceremony, which was highlighted by the singing of "Canticle of the Sun" and the sprinkling of holy water on the panels.

Designed and built by Green Bay-based Eland Electric, the Sisters’ 416-panel array is situated at the edge of a prairie garden about 400 feet from the Motherhouse. A circular walking path cuts a sinuous path through the wildflowers adjacent to the array. Along the path are seven metal plaques explaining how solar generation works and discussing the reasons behind the Sisters’ decision to own one of the largest solar arrays in northeast Wisconsin.

Information on the installation’s benefits and performance to date is accessible at the Sisters’ web site The array has generated 155 megawatt-hours of electricity since being energized in June 2014. On a sunny summer day, the system should produce more than 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity. It is sized to supply about 30% of the electricity used at the Motherhouse each year.

Sister Donna Koch
Many donors contributed to this project, which is dedicated to the memory of anchor donors Evaleen and Joseph Neufeld. A significant cash award from Focus on Energy played a critical part in funding this installation.  The Sisters expect to fully recoup their investment in 10 years.The array is open to self-guided tours weekdays from May to October.  Hours are 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Groups of four or less do not need an appointment to visit the array. However, groups of five or more, including school groups, must call ahead for an appointment.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

RENEW's Michael Vickerman Tells Pepin, WI "All Aboard the Solar Train!"

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin's Program and Policy Director, spoke in Pepin, WI on Saturday May 30th at a Solar Workshop. Michael's presentation, titled "All Aboard the Solar Train," discussed solar happenings in Wisconsin, and how to continue its growth here in the state. The workshop featured other experts in the solar industry, and was a great day of learning and networking.

See Michael's presentation here!

Leading up the event, Eau Claire news affiliate WQOW produced a great video on solar projects in Pepin County, and how the owners have benefited from it.