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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Madison Gas & Electric's "Renewable Energy Rider" Ready for Action

Madison Gas & Electric is now offering a first-in-Wisconsin opportunity for its business and institutional customers to access clean, renewable energy.

Called the "Renewable Energy Rider," the program allows Madison Gas & Electric (MGE), a local investor-owned utility, to enter specific contracts with existing or new customers in which MGE will provide a dedicated renewable energy project to that customer.

This program follows a dramatic uptick in corporate and local government interest in renewable energy across America.  It enables these customers (more than 4,000 MGE customers in total are eligible) to directly pay for the sourcing of solar, wind, bioenergy, or other renewable energy on their electric bill, and to source that energy from additional and new projects if the customer desires.

RENEW Wisconsin has developed a two-page fact sheet for interested customers and stakeholders, as shown below and available for download:

The tariff is available in the last two pages of this MGE filing with the Public Service Commission.

RENEW Wisconsin is available to help any MGE customer business or non-residential customer take advantage of the program, and we are also encouraging other Wisconsin utilities to follow the lead and offer a similar program for their customers to directly access clean, renewable energy!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Wind Farm Close-Up

The RENEW Wisconsin team got an up-close view of the Wisconsin Quilt Block Wind Farm on August 24th. The wind farm, developed by RENEW business member EDP Renewables, is located 50 miles southwest of Madison in Lafayette County’s Seymour Township. The turbines compliment the area’s sprawling corn, wheat, and soybean fields and provide local farmers with a stable cash crop in the form of landowner lease payments.

We drove about an hour and fifteen minutes from Madison through the beautiful rolling hills of southwest Wisconsin. About 10 minutes from our destination, we caught our first glimpse of the striking wind turbines in the distance.
When we pulled into the lot where the project offices were located, we were all struck by the impressive number of vehicles and people going about their work, a testament to the 100 full time jobs created during construction. The wind farm will also offer 12 permanent jobs during the life of the project.

We entered the on-site offices and were greeted by a very friendly project team and other invited guests, including U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, whose congressional district includes the new wind farm. We also heard from local leaders who were proud to show us the project and share their great experiences working with the EDP team and others. The project is intricately tracked on a white board in the job site trailer, with each turbine listed along with process steps and status. We learned that 41 of the planned 49 turbines had already been erected or "topped out," putting the project ahead of schedule.

After enjoying coffee and donuts, we piled into several pickup trucks for the short drive to one of the turbines that had recently been erected. Our guide Chris, an inspector and surveyor who oversees the construction of the concrete bases for EDP, gave us a quick safety talk, then gamely answered all of our questions about the construction process. One big surprise? The ‘top-out’ process, where workers use cranes to hoist a nacelle and blades atop each tower, is completed for each of the 49 turbines by a single work crew of only a dozen people. We were impressed by the efficiency.
On site, we stood directly beneath a recently-constructed wind turbine, towering above us. As lovely as it was to see the turbines in the distance, this was even more majestic. We were overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the turbines. Tim McComish, the Chairman of the Town of Seymour and a 5th generation local farmer said he did a lot of research when the wind farm was first proposed. He was concerned that the turbines would ruin the landscape. “I love how they look,” he said.

At our next stop, we stood beside a tower with its nacelle and 3 blades on the ground, waiting to be hoisted by two large cranes later in the day. Standing next to three enormous turbine blades, the size and perspective was mind-blowing. The blades and nacelles on these impressive structures can actually be raised and assembled in 3 to 4 hours, if the wind conditions and weather allow.

RENEW toured the project along with a number of local officials including Tim Burgess, a Supervisor in Seymour. He is supportive of the wind farm and enthusiastic about the benefits it will bring to the local community. "Any farmer or community who tries to keep a project like this out of their area is crazy," he joked. Burgess is also one of the 44 local land owners who are leasing land to the farm. He was impressed by how efficient, professional, and considerate all of the contractors on the project had been.

When finished, the 98 MW wind farm will produce enough clean electricity to power more than 37,000 Wisconsin homes. The energy will be purchased from Quilt Block by Dairyland Power Cooperative.

This wind farm represents a capital investment of approximately $167 million. About $400,000 in revenue every year will be generated for local governments, divided among the county and towns. For the Township of Seymour, where the wind farm is located, the $150,000 they will earn each year is bigger than their current annual budget, and they are eager to put the revenue toward new projects and improvements to local roads, according to Vanessa Tutos of EDP Renewables.

Why Quilt Block? We learned that the wind farm’s name references the barn quilts of Lafayette County. Barn quilts are painted wood or metal quilt blocks mounted on barns or other buildings and celebrate the area’s agricultural heritage.

We’re grateful to Vanessa, Wayne, and everyone at EDP Renewables and the residents of Lafayette County for their hospitality. We’re also glad we had the chance to talk with U.S Representative and renewable energy proponent Mark Pocan. It was a privilege to see first-hand the beauty and benefits of this amazing wind farm and to meet the team that made it possible.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

RENEW Wisconsin Gears up for Middleton Bicycle Tour

“Ride with RENEW” will highlight area renewable energy projects

Madison, WI - August 23, 2017;  Contact Tyler Huebner, Executive Director, 608-255-4044 ext 1.

On Sunday, October 1st, RENEW Wisconsin, with presenting sponsor SunPeak, will host its 5th annual “Ride with RENEW” bicycle tour of renewable energy projects, with this year’s ride taking place in Middleton, WI.  All event proceeds support RENEW Wisconsin’s ongoing work to advance renewable energy in Wisconsin.

Riders will travel approximately 22 miles on paved roads and bike paths to visit innovative wind, solar and biogas energy generation facilities in scenic northwest Dane County.

2015 Ride with RENEW - Lake Geneva
The total tour time will be approximately 6 hours (including stops at renewable energy sites) and actual riding time will be 2 to 3 hours. Seasoned cyclists will have an optional longer route of about 40 miles to travel at their own pace.

Participants will get an inside look at some of the area’s leading renewable energy projects and will enjoy breakfast, lunch, and beverages along the way. They will visit with installers and workers who are advancing renewable energy every day, and hear from customers about why clean energy works for their pocketbooks and their businesses.

The stops and start and end schedule is as follows:

Gather at BMO Harris Bank parking Lot in Middleton for a 9:30 a.m. departure.
Sustainable Engineering Group’s net-zero solar powered office in downtown Middleton.
Gundersen Health Systems & Dane County Biodigester. This project converts manure to make enough electricity to power approximately 2,500 homes while keeping manure out of the watershed.
Madison Gas & Electric’s Middleton Shared Solar project, a large 500 kilowatt solar project on the roof of the Middleton Operations Center. Subscribers to this pilot shared solar program receive the benefits of locally generated solar power from a centralized solar project.
Epic’s “Galactic” Wind Farm, featuring six turbines — each with three 135-foot blades – which rise hundreds of feet above the rolling hills northwest of Madison and generate enough electricity to help Epic offset much of its energy needs.
PDQ in downtown Middleton. Presenting sponsor SunPeak installed solar panels on this store which showcases the market advances of solar alongside traditional fuels.

2016 Ride with RENEW - Sisters of St. Agnes Solar Array in
Fond du Lac

The ride will conclude at Capital Brewery, also powered by a set of solar panels, for refreshments around 4:00 p.m.

Registration for the ride is open through September 29th. The cost is $30 for members of RENEW Wisconsin, $40 for non-members, and $60 to both register for the ride and become a member of the organization for one year.  All donations to RENEW Wisconsin for this charity bike ride are matched up to $15,000 by generous donors John & Mary Frantz of Madison!

Individuals and businesses can donate to RENEW Wisconsin or in support of a rider,  sign on as an event sponsor, or volunteer on ride day.

“We are very excited to tour some of the Middleton area’s great renewable energy projects on Sunday, October 1st,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin.  “This tour allows us to showcase a variety of ways to produce homegrown, clean energy right here in Wisconsin including wind, solar, and even cow manure. This is a really fun event where you can meet great people, help a good cause, and learn together about clean energy in Wisconsin.”

Sponsors of the Event include SunPeak (presenting sponsor), Capital Brewery, City of Middleton, H&H Solar, Summit Credit Union, Wegner CPAs, Full Spectrum Solar, One Energy Renewables, Midwest Solar Power, Madison Solar Consulting, Open Circle UUF, and Willy Street Co-op. There is still time to sponsor if your business or organization wishes to do so.

About RENEW Wisconsin
RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. We work on policies and programs that support solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, and geothermal energy. More information on RENEW’s website:  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

New Wind Power Project to Freshen WPPI Energy Mix

Last week WPPI Energy announced it will purchase the output from a large 132 megawatt wind project in Illinois.  With this planned addition of a new source of wind energy to its generation portfolio, WPPI Energy will strengthen its position as a low-cost provider of clean energy to its 51 member municipal utilities, 41 of which are located in Wisconsin. 
Along with its previously announced solar addition in Manitowoc County, WPPI Energy will be providing over 20% renewable energy to its customers when these projects are completed.
RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director Tyler Huebner released the following statement:
“We commend WPPI Energy for partnering with Invenergy to expand its supplies of clean, affordable wind energy.  Wind energy is the lowest-cost way to produce wholesale power here in the Midwest.  We encourage other Wisconsin electricity providers to follow WPPI Energy’s example of adding wind and solar to their generation mix.”

Situated in Henry County southeast of Rock Island, Illinois, the new wind project will supply WPPI Energy with about 450 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year when it is placed in service next year. The 66-turbine, 132-megawatt project will be owned by Invenergy, a Chicago-based wind developer, which also owns the 86-turbine, 129-megawatt Forward Energy Center south of Fond du Lac.
The companies’ press release can be found at:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Reports of a solar slowdown are greatly exaggerated

The writer Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710: “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” Considering how far and fast misinformation can travel in this era of digital mass communication, Swift’s observation has grown even more prescient.
Earlier this month, a New York Times article declared that prospects for the U.S. rooftop solar market were dimming rapidly, a result of a utility-led campaign to roll back solar incentives at the state level. According to the article, the “explosive” growth experienced by the solar market in the last two years “has come to a shuddering stop,” going from an increase of 900 percent to a decline of 2 percent.
A few days later, a Chicago Sun-Times editorial cited these same statistics to paint its own grim portrait of a market seizing up due to the utilities’ pressure campaign.
With numbers like these, this characterization can’t help but conjure up images of installations interrupted in mid-construction, with stacks of panels and racking teetering in abandoned job sites ringed by forlorn chain-link fences. But there’s a serious problem with this picture, which is that it is utterly imaginary, without any grounding in the solar marketplace observable today.
In assessing the vitality of the solar energy marketplace, the reporter compared annual rates of growth from one year to the next. The problem with using that particular yardstick is that rates of growth will inevitably level off as the market matures and approaches saturation. Had the New York Times reporter simply compared numbers of systems installed or numbers of megawatts added from one year to the next, he would have arrived at a far truer picture of the situation.
According to reports prepared by GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association, 2016 was indeed a record-breaking year for solar energy, in which the capacity added nearly doubled 2015’s results.  And though capacity additions this year will fall short of last year’s totals, it will surpass 2015’s additions by about 75 percent.
Yes, there will be a modest slowdown in 2017 relative to the year before. But in what universe can that trend line be characterized as a “shuddering stop”?
It’s worth noting that the GTM Research expects solar generating capacity to triple in the next five years, a milestone that can be accomplished with only a 25 percent annual growth rate.
In addition to the mishandling of the statistical measures, there are serious flaws with the article’s narrative. One of them is the assumption that the rooftop solar market is just for residences. But that view ignores the increasing popularity of larger solar systems on commercial and institutional rooftops.
Recent installations in Wisconsin, my home state, include a clinic in Onalaska (314 kW), a high school in Minocqua (280 kW), a convent in Fond du Lac (246 kW), a cold storage warehouse in Plymouth (560 kW), and two Target stores in the Madison area (540 kW combined).
And what are the factors driving solar energy’s growing with this market segment? Four causes stand out: (1) a sustained decline in the installed cost of solar energy; (2) rapid expansion of financing options and structures; (3) the extension of the investment tax credit for solar energy at 30 percent through 2019; and (4) greater sophistication in sizing PV systems and regulating their output relative to the customer’s load.
The articles also convey the implication that utilities are prevailing in their war against rooftop solar. While they have won a few battles here and there, including Indiana, they have lost in most other jurisdictions, and, in some cases, badly.
Nowhere has this war been waged with greater intensity than in Nevada. After state regulators issued an order in 2015 that devalued customer solar generation and sent the solar industry there fleeing to other states, state lawmakers sought to correct this injustice. This June, the legislature passed and the governor signed a law that restores fair credit to solar-generated electricity exported to the grid.
Indeed, if there is one state where the “reversal of fortune” meme is particularly apt, it is Nevada, though history will affirm that it was the antisolar camp that suffered this fate, not the solar industry.
Shifting eastward, a bid by New Hampshire utilities to have net metering scuttled boomeranged into a net loss for them. While Granite State regulators did approve temporary rates that will reduce incrementally the export value of solar-generated electricity, they also lifted the cap on net metering that would have otherwise triggered a slowdown in the marketplace. In the short run at least, this compromise will create stable market conditions and lead to an acceleration of solar installation activity there.

As noted in a recent guest column in Utility Dive, in states like Nevada and New Hampshire, the truth did finally catch up to the false narrative spun by utility lobbyists and their enablers. The result will be an expansion, not a contraction, of on-site solar generation, driven by fair pricing and customer demand. These outcomes can happen in other states as well, including my own, but it would certainly help if reporters would recognize and incorporate these important policy victories when they chronicle the trials and tribulations of the solar energy marketplace.
Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a renewable energy advocacy organization.