Archive for October, 2011

Wind energy driving down electric rates, posts big construction numbers

Posted on October 31, 2011. Filed under: Economic development, Utility rates, Wind | Tags: , , |

From an article in Wind Energy Weekly:

Wind energy is more affordable than ever, and new installations across the country are saving consumers money on their electric bills, as utilities rush to lock in long-term favorable rates, AWEA said in its third-quarter market report this week.

“This is what a successful business looks like with stable tax policy. Utilities are locking in a great deal for their electric customers while it’s available. We’re keeping rates down all across the U.S., even in the heart of the South,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode, pointing to recent wind power purchases by the Southern Company in Alabama, Austin Energy in Texas, and Xcel Energy in Colorado as examples.

The U.S. wind industry installed just over 1,200 MW in the third quarter, and about 3,360 MW on the year so far—but has more than 8,400 MW under construction. That is more than in any quarter since 2008, as the federal Production Tax Credit has driven as much as $20 billion a year in private investment.

“This shows what we’re capable of: adding new, affordable electric generation,” said Bode. “Traditional tax incentives are working. There’s a lot of business right now, people are employed, and manufacturers are looking to expand here in the U.S.”

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Editorial: Wisconsin must grow cleaner energy jobs

Posted on October 28, 2011. Filed under: General |

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Renewable energy can help the state develop new jobs. Wisconsin should be open to those businesses, too.

If Wisconsin really wants to be open for business, it can’t shut the door on developing clean energy jobs. Right now, thanks to legislative and gubernatorial foot-dragging, that’s the case for the development of new wind farms.

That’s a mistake that Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature should correct. The good news is that it might be corrected; wind energy developers say they are more optimistic after recent conversations with the governor, according to an article this week by the Journal Sentinel’s Thomas Content.

The wind industry in Wisconsin is becalmed in part because Walker and the Legislature sent a message last January that they weren’t much interested in wind farms. They did that by putting on hold wind farm siting rules developed by the state Public Service Commission after much work and compromise.

If that message isn’t changed, We Energies’ Glacier Hills project could be the last big project for quite a while in the state. That would be bad for jobs, business and the environment. While renewable energy can’t yet fill the base load needs of Wisconsin energy consumers, the more power generation that can be pushed into renewables such as wind and solar, the better off the state will be.

And not least because clean energy is a job growth area. A study by the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago found that there are more than 300 businesses in Wisconsin related to solar and wind power, employing more than 12,000 people. One-hundred seventy-one businesses are involved in wind energy.

But don’t expect that to grow: Content reported that five companies have suspended or canceled work on projects in Wisconsin this year. Michael Vickerman of Renew Wisconsin, a nonprofit group that supports development of renewable energy, reports that companies in Wisconsin are now developing projects – in other states. That’s no way to grow the clean energy economy in Wisconsin.

Those opposed to wind farms often talk about a loss of property values and health concerns for neighbors. But Vickerman says there isn’t a shred of evidence for either. Property values in Kewaunee County and Fond du Lac townships with wind farms have kept pace with townships without. And that’s over 12 years of operation.

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State urged to beef up clean energy policies to create jobs

Posted on October 26, 2011. Filed under: Biomass, Digesters, Economic development, Energy Policy, Jobs, Renewable energy - generally |

From an article by Judy Newman in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Two reports show Wisconsin has a significant renewable power industry, but with a stronger state commitment, it could be saving more energy and creating more jobs.

Wisconsin has more than 300 businesses involved in wind or solar energy, providing more than 12,000 jobs, according to a study by the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago.

It found 171 Wisconsin companies that either produce, sell or install wind power equipment or plan wind development.

Another 135 companies are part of the solar energy industry. For example, Cardinal Glass makes solar panels in Mazomanie; Helios recently opened a solar panel factory in Milwaukee.

“These are real jobs; these are real businesses. Many are existing businesses that are branching out into new product lines,” said Howard Learner, the center’s executive director. (more…)

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Wind turbine issue turns slowly

Posted on October 25, 2011. Filed under: Economic development, Jobs, Wind | Tags: , , |

From an article by Tom content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

In Columbia County, the biggest wind farm in the state is nearly complete.

Ninety turbines are being erected by Wisconsin contractors including the Boldt Co., Edgerton Contractors and Michels Corp., in a $367 million project. On a typical day this year, about 175 workers have been on the job, pouring foundations, constructing towers and hoisting turbines and blades into place.

The activity comes despite a stalemate on wind turbine siting that wind power supporters say threatens to make the We Energies Glacier Hills Wind Park not only the largest but the last major wind farm to go up in the state.

But wind developers are expressing hope that a logjam can be broken, after recent conversations between the governor and several wind development firms.

Since this year, wind industry representatives say five companies have suspended or canceled work on projects in Wisconsin.

At issue is the Walker administration’s work to address pressure from opponents of wind farms, including the Wisconsin Realtors Association, who say that wind projects are interfering with private property rights of homeowners who live near turbines – and the effects of noise and shadow flicker from the turbines.

Gov. Scott Walker was backed by wind farm opponents in his 2010 election campaign and included a bill to restrict wind farm development in the jobs package he unveiled in his first weeks in office.

But concern about stalling all development and business for Wisconsin firms resulted in pushback against the Walker bill, which ended up being the only piece of legislation that was left to die out of the initial jobs special session.

Criticism of wind turbine siting persists, with state Sen. Frank Lasee, a possible candidate for U.S. Senate, recently unveiling a bill calling for a statewide moratorium on wind turbine construction until more research is done on the health effects of the devices.

“We met with Gov. Walker to discuss how we can work together to allow the economic benefits of wind energy to help boost Wisconsin’s economy,” said Mike Arndt, a Wisconsin native who now is vice president of Element Power, a company developing projects around the country. Arndt was one of the wind industry representatives who met with Walker two weeks ago.

Among Element’s projects is $300 million to $400 million wind farm in Manitowoc and Kewaunee counties.

The Walker administration is now sending signals that it’s seeking middle ground on the wind controversy.

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Wind power amendment shot down

Posted on October 24, 2011. Filed under: Economic development, Jobs, Wind | Tags: , , , |

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

An effort to push forward with new rules for siting wind towers in Wisconsin has failed.

On a largely party-line 60-30 vote, the Republican-controlled Assembly on Thursday voted down an amendment that would have cleared the way for an expansion of wind generated electricity here.

The rules for siting of wind turbines were approved by the state Public Service Commission under former Gov. Jim Doyle. But implementation of those rules has been suspended under a directive from Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker and others, including Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Ledgeview,have said the rules should be reviewed again, with more consideration given to those living near wind farms. Some residents have complained of noise and visual impacts from wind turbines, which can be up to 300 feet tall.

Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, had co-sponsored the wind amendment that was attached to a bill that allowed for larger trucks on Wisconsin highways, including trucks that carry equipment for electric transmission lines.

In a statement, Hebl said it was ironic that the wind amendment was shot down just as new figures showed Wisconsin lost more jobs in September.

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Wisconsin slips five notches in energy efficiency ranking

Posted on October 21, 2011. Filed under: Energy Efficiency |

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Wisconsin’s move to roll back funding increases for programs that help homeowners and businesses save on energy bills was criticized in a report Thursday by a national energy efficiency advocacy group.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released a scorecard rating states’ efforts in the area of energy efficiency.

Wisconsin was in the top 10 several years ago but ranks 16th in this year’s scorecard. Massachusetts was the top state overall, and Michigan and Illinois were cited as among the most improved states.

“Clearly, 2011 has not been kind to our economy, but energy efficiency remains a growth sector that attracts investment and creates jobs,” said Michael Sciortino, ACEEE senior policy analyst and the report’s lead author.

“With even higher energy savings possible, we expect leading states to continue pushing the envelope next year and inspire those at the bottom of the rankings to embrace energy efficiency as a core strategy to gain a competitive advantage by generating cost-savings, promoting technological innovation, and stimulating growth,” he said.

Wisconsin has lost some ground while other states have made significant pushes to set up initiatives that provide incentives to consumers and businesses to conduct energy-saving retrofits. Improvements by Michigan and Illinois pushed those states to rankings just behind Wisconsin.

The report saluted efforts in Arkansas, Rhode Island and Arizona, which “worked with utilities and adopted significant energy efficiency regulations,” the report says.

“Despite significant progress, some states have slowed or stepped backward in the race to save energy. New Jersey and Wisconsin have both diminished investments in utility-sector energy efficiency and Arizona is considering a law that will reduce transportation efficiency in the state.”

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Integrys sees solar as “an area of growth”

Posted on October 21, 2011. Filed under: General |

From an interview with Dan Verbanac, president of Integrys Energy Services (parent company of Wisconsin Public Service, De Pere), in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Q. Let’s shift now to your solar development business. What got that going?

A. We had a power development unit and were looking for niches where we could use our expertise in the power development area. We had done some work putting stand-alone generation in for industrial customers. And so we had this team and, at the time, wind was taking off.

NextEra was one of the big entrants in wind, and they started a group similar to our solar group and built a lot of wind across the U.S. We were a late entrant to that. But we thought renewables, with the greenhouse gas concerns, we thought that long term that could be an area of growth.

We started looking at solar to do a couple projects to understand that business and what it would take to move forward. A lot of states have special carve-outs that require them to do a certain amount of renewable generation from solar. We thought it was a great opportunity.

Today, we have 37 projects that we’ve done in six states, and what we target is commercial buildings. We go to the building owners and we bear the capital costs. We install the solar panels, and we’ll do a long-term power purchase agreement back to the owner of the building – usually 10 to 15 years, typically at rates lower than they’re paying to the utility. Then the solar renewable energy credits we’ll sell back to the state or into the market.

Q. So there’s still a lot of demand out there?

A. Oh, it’s tremendous. We have a pretty good pipeline of opportunities. At the end of 2010, we announced a joint venture with Duke Energy, called INDU Solar Holdings, where we committed to invest $45 million each year over a two-year period – $180 million total in 2011 and 2012 – for solar projects.

We’re starting to bring these projects on right now. So we have two things going. We have projects that we’re doing as Integrys Energy Services and projects that we have under INDU.

One thing that’s happening is the cost of solar panels has come down drastically. Since we’ve been building solar facilities – almost three years now – the cost has come down 40 to 45%. Actually, that’s part of the problem with Solyndra and others going out of business. The problem is that the cost of the solar panels is so competitive that they can’t make it work, can’t compete with China and some of the other lower-labor countries.

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PSC’s cost-benefit test unfairly penalizes renewables

Posted on October 20, 2011. Filed under: Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits, Renewable energy - generally, Solar |

An e-mail exchange between Burke O’Neal (Full Spectrum Solar), Robert Norcross (Public Service Commission of Wisconsin – PSC), and Niels Wolter (Madison Solar Consulting) illustrates the agency’s institutional bias against renewable energy in Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program.

Excerpts from O’Neal’s e-mail (Harming WI Industry: Poor Handling of Focus on Energy Renewables Program) to the PSC and Governor Walker:

Full Spectrum Solar employs seventeen people directly in good paying construction jobs in WI. Many more are employed indirectly as subcontractors and in manufacturing and distribution of the products we use. We are very concerned about the handling of the renewable energy program by the Shaw Group. Nearly all the Focus on Energy incentives for renewable energy systems require that they be installed by the end of this calendar year, but there is no indication whether there will be any renewable energy programs at all next year. In fact, the Shaw Group has not even selected subcontractors to administer this program next year! This uncertainty, along with the normal year-end rush to secure federal tax credits, is creating a massive push to get systems installed by the end of this year. This is requiring installers to hire additional employees and take on additional vehicles and tools, without any assurance of future work. If there is no Focus renewable program at the beginning of next year, but a possibility of a future program, every potential customer will put their work on hold. It is hard to imagine a funding approach that would be more destructive to the renewable energy industry in Wisconsin than what seems to be getting set up by Focus on Energy.

Excerpts from the response of Robert Norcross, Administrator, Gas and Electric Division at the PSC:

The Commission appreciates hearing your perspective on the Focus on Energy renewable programs. While I understand your concerns, changes to the renewable programs are necessary to ensure their sustainability in the long run. Administrative rules require that the portfolio of Focus on Energy programs achieve a cost-benefit ratio of at least 1.0, based on the Total Resource Cost test. With the exception of biomass, no renewable resource measure meets this criteria. In the past, inclusion of non-cost-effective renewable resources was deemed appropriate as the goal of Focus on Energy was to assist in building the renewable infrastructure. Previously, this has not greatly affected the cost-effectiveness of the overall portfolio of programs because renewable projects were a fairly small component of Focus on Energy. However, in 2011 there was a significant increase in renewable projects approved. This resulted in about twice the entire 2011 renewable budget being committed by mid-year. It also put the entire Focus on Energy program in jeopardy of not being cost-effective.

Niels Wolter then offered his analysis of the PSC’s reliance on the Total Resource Cost test and the resulting consequences:

The TRC test is not from the customer’s perspective. It does not include a solar electric system owner’s federal tax benefits, nor does it consider their electric bill reductions. Rather it considers the system from a broader societal perspective. That means that the value of the generation is what it costs a utility to generate the power and meet demand (marginal cost). So what was an economically viable system for a customer may become non viable from the TRC perspective.

Read more about the TRC test here (starting on page 6-5).

Interestingly given how these cost tests work, reducing the Focus on Energy incentive level, does not improve the solar electric program’s benefit cost ratio. If the Focus program has a given amount of incentive funds and demand for incentives outstrips supply, then reducing the incentive per kW would result in more people installing systems, and the Focus program’s portfolio (all the technologies they support) benefit cost ratio would be further reduced. In other words, the reduced incentive would result in more people making the non economic decision (based on the TRCt test) of installing a solar electric system, and pull down the TRC of the entire Focus program. So reducing incentive levels is not a solution to this issue… strangely raising the incentive levels would. But that’s not going to happen.

The TRC tests seems to be an alternative reality that no one lives in… and strange things can happen there.

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Solar jobs should grow, but maybe not in Wisconsin

Posted on October 19, 2011. Filed under: Economic development, Jobs, Solar | Tags: , , |

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The solar sector is expanding nationwide, a new report out Monday found, but a renewable energy advocate warned that Wisconsin could see a pullback in solar projects and growth next year.

“Our report shows that there are over 100,000 solar jobs at over 17,000 employment sites nationwide, and despite an extremely sluggish economy, the solar industry is creating jobs nearly 10 times faster than everyone else,” said Andrea Luecke, executive director of The Solar Foundation in Washington, D.C., and former director of the Milwaukee Shines program.

The solar industry’s job growth has been 6.8% over the past year, at a time when the economy was growing by less than 1%.

The solar jobs census also found that solar employers expect to increase the number of solar workers by 24%, representing nearly 24,000 net new jobs by August 2012. Over the next 12 months, nearly half of solar firms expect to add jobs.

Milwaukee is seeing job growth from solar components manufacturing – including the panel factory Helios USA, which opened this year, and the Ingeteam factory that will soon being producing solar inverters.

But the picture for installations isn’t as bright for next year in Wisconsin, despite incentive programs launched in Milwaukee and Madison. There is a flurry of activity this year, but 2012 activity could “fall off the cliff,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.

Setbacks for solar projects include the suspension of funding incentives for nonresidential solar by the Focus on Energy program, as well as the cancellation of a program by We Energies that provided incentives for renewable projects.

“There are still a few projects in the pipeline and the second half of this year will be a good one for the industry and installation contractors – as long as they don’t pay any attention to the cliff, the abyss, that’s in store for them this January,” Vickerman said.

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No excuse to stall rules on wind farms

Posted on October 18, 2011. Filed under: Economic development, Jobs, Wind |

From an editorial in the Racine Journal Times:

The wind turbines have stopped turning in Wisconsin, figuratively speaking. For months, the rewrite of rules governing the siting of wind energy farms has been stalled. New investments and new jobs also have been stalled because of that, and there is no good reason for it.

When Gov. Scott Walker took office in January he worked to short-circuit the rule-making process which was then almost complete after two years. The Public Service Commission had reached a compromise with interest groups which would have placed the wind turbine towers about 450 feet away from the nearest property line but no less than 1,250 feet from the nearest residence. Walker wanted the property line setback increased to 1,800 feet.

Ultimately, a legislative committee didn’t act on a bill containing Walker’s proposed standard and instead ordered the PSC to start over. That’s where the process remains. A member of the agency told the Wisconsin State Journal that talks have made no progress and are stuck over the same old issues: noise, setback distance and effect on the value of neighboring properties.

If there is no progress by March the PSC’s original regulations will take effect anyway, but wind farm opponents have no incentive to negotiate. All they have to do is wait. Either wind energy proponents capitulate and give them what they want, or the Legislature writes a new law which gives them what they want or Walker, with his new power to review regulations first, will give them what they want.

There is a high price for this stalling. Since the rules were becalmed, five major wind energy projects have been suspended or canceled. Those would have infused about $1.6 billion in economic development and created about 1,000 temporary full-time jobs. By contrast, the proposed northern Wisconsin iron mine which the Legislature is looking to accommodate is supposed to bring a $1.5 billion investment and 700 jobs.

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