RENEW Opposes Bill to Weaken State Renewable Energy Standard

Posted on September 8, 2011. Filed under: Carbon, Energy independence, General | Tags: , , |

At a September 6  hearing of the Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee,  Michael Vickerman testifies against AB146, a bill that would extend into perpetuity the shelf life of an unused renewable energy credit. Vickerman’s testimony explains how this seemingly innocuous change to Wisconsin’s renewable energy standard would allow utilities to put off the day when they would need to add more renewable energy to their resource mix.

Click Here for Testimony

Good morning, my name is Michael Vickerman. I am here to represent RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy and education organization based in Madison. Incorporated in 1991, RENEW acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. We have over 300 total members, and more than 100 businesses around the state producing renewable energy or building renewable energy systems. A list of our business members accompanies this testimony

On behalf of our members and the many businesses and individuals who support the continued expansion of Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace, RENEW Wisconsin is here to express opposition to AB 146. If passed as is, AB 146 would water down the state’s Renewable Energy Standard by extending the shelf life of an unused renewable energy credit to infinity. As the accompanying graphic shows, no other state in the Upper Midwest allows their utilities’ renewable energy credits to be banked in perpetuity. In the same graphic, one can also see how weak Wisconsin’s renewable energy standard has become in relation to those of neighboring states.

What is the problem here that this so-called “tweak” would solve? Other utilities in the region face stiffer renewable energy supply requirements than the utilities in Wisconsin, yet you don’t see them beseeching special treatment that allows them to bank unused renewable generation for decades. Giving into their request would effectively give utilities a 10-year vacation from actually adding a new renewable energy source to stay in compliance with their Act 141 requirements. All the Wisconsin utilities would need do to remain in compliance would be to fill out some paperwork at the end of the year and buy a new batch of elderly credits out of petty cash. How many jobs will that create? How many dollars in landowner and local government revenues will that generate?

The answer is none.

Another thing that extending the shelf life of unused renewable credits will not do is save ratepayers money. The bill lets the utilities put off the day when they would actually need to achieve a renewable energy content of 10% in real time, well into 2020’s by my calculations. In so doing, the benefits from continued investments in renewable generation, such as technology improvements, capital cost reductions and protection from fossil fuel cost increases, would not be passed along to ratepayers. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin businesses that generate renewable electricity for Wisconsin electricity customers in real-time—and there are many, as this table of biogas installations comprehensively shows– will in all likelihood downscale their presence in Wisconsin and deploy their resources in other states with livelier renewable energy markets. The impact of this bill’s passage will be particularly devastating to the state’s agricultural and food processing industries, because the renewable generation they produce from their wastes will not be needed as an energy source for years to come.

It’s worth repeating that no other state in the Upper Midwest has adopted such relaxed terms for banking renewable energy credits. These states understand that the principal effect of such a change would be to diminish the pace and scale of renewable energy installation activity. They have no desire to put a brake on one of the few economic sectors with the potential for additional growth. But they’re not going to complain if a misguided neighboring state commits this folly.

Let me put this in simple terms: this bill is nothing more than a utility-led effort to drain all the life out of Wisconsin’s renewable energy standard while leaving the law on the books. Under this bill, 2005 Act 141 will effectively become a sham law, devoid of any discernible effect. It will undermine the renewable energy marketplace, which in the last five years has been a source of vitality and confidence for the state’s economy. Once this particular marketplace goes away, there is nothing to stop the state’s energy economy from becoming a lifeless backwater. Is this the vision you have for Wisconsin’s future?

Respectfully submitted,

Michael Vickerman,
Executive Director

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Utilities warn of higher rates because of pollution rules

Posted on August 24, 2011. Filed under: Carbon, Clean Air, Climate change, Coal, Utility rates |

From an article by Tom Content published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on August 19:

Two state utilities said this week new federal pollution rules will lead to higher electricity costs come January.

Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay said its residential customers can expect an increase of more than $4 a month next year, including about $2 linked to the new rules designed to limit air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The utility said it would see higher costs of about $32.6 million in 2012 from the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that was finalized recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That will result in rates going up by 6.8% instead of 3.4%, the utility said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month finalized stronger regulations for Wisconsin and 26 other states aimed at curbing air pollution from long-distance sources.

Environmental groups praised the new rule because it would reduce acid rain and air pollution as well as help curb health effects from dirty air linked to coal plants. The EPA projected the rule will save up to 34,000 lives a year and prevent more than 400,000 asthma attacks as well as 19,000 admissions to hospitals. . .

The new rule has been in development for several years but the first phase of compliance hits utilities in 2012. WPS said it won’t have time to install pollution controls by next year at its plants, but will be able to comply by purchasing credits from other utilities that have cut emissions.

The utility also said it plans to operate its coal plants less next year than it otherwise would have, and will buy more power from the Midwest wholesale power market as a result, a move that it said is also a factor in higher costs for customers. . . .

On Thursday [August 18], Wisconsin Power & Light Co. [Alliant] of Madison said it would face an additional $9 million in costs linked to the air pollution rule. With the change, the utility is now seeking an increase in 2012 of $20 million, or 2%, utility finance manager Martin Seitz said in a filing with state regulators.

Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, criticized the increases, and he noted that large energy users like paper mills will see higher than average increases, compared with homeowners and small businesses. Paper mills served by WPS could see a 9% hike, he said. . . .

“Industry always cries wolf whenever EPA tries to reduce air pollution,” said Katie Nekola, lawyer with the conservation group Clean Wisconsin. “The fact is, the new rule will affect old, inefficient, unnecessary coal plants that should have been shut down long ago. The continued operation of those old units is costing ratepayers money, but you don’t hear industry complaining about that.”

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Wind generation reduces climate-changing emissions

Posted on September 10, 2010. Filed under: Carbon, Climate change, Renewable energy - generally, Wind |

From a report titled “The Facts about Wind Energy’s Emissions Savings” prepared by the American Wind Energy Association:

. . . four of the seven major independent grid operators in the
U.S. have studied the emissions impact of adding wind energy to their power grids, and all four have found that adding wind energy drastically reduces emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants. While the emissions savings depend somewhat on the existing share of coal-fired versus gas-fired generation in the region, as one would expect, it is impossible to dispute the findings of these four independent grid operators that adding wind energy to their
grids has significantly reduced emissions. . . .

DOE data show that wind and other renewables’ share of Texas’s
electric mix increased from 1.3% in 2005 to 4.4% in 2008, an increase in share of 3.1 percentage points. During that period, electric sector carbon dioxide emissions declined by 3.3%, even though electricity use actually increased by 2% during that time. Because of wind energy, the state of Texas was able to turn what would have been a carbon emissions increase into a decrease of 8,690,000 metric tons per year, equal to the emissions savings of taking around 1.5 million cars off the road.

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Political gridlock not likely to forestall energy regulation

Posted on September 1, 2010. Filed under: Carbon, Energy Efficiency, Sustainability |

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

Bayside — The partisan divide on Capitol Hill means cap-and-trade legislation is all but dead, so businesses need not worry about their carbon footprint, right? Wrong, speakers at a summit on energy efficiency said Tuesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and global corporations such as Wal-Mart are leading the nation down a path of “quiet regulation” of greenhouse gases, despite the political rhetoric and battles that have created gridlock in Congress, Mark Thimke, environmental lawyer at Foley & Lardner, said during the Green Manufacturing Summit at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

But corporate initiatives have gone beyond Wal-Mart, he said.

Suppliers to 62 corporations must provide information as part of a greenhouse gas supply chain initiative launched this year. That effort includes Racine County-based manufacturers S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. and Diversey Inc., formerly JohnsonDiversey.

Thimke said that means a host of companies that may have thought they didn’t have to worry about greenhouse gases should start paying attention.

“Even if you aren’t one of the big companies and you are selling to these people, you need to know where you’re at,” Thimke said.

Energy efficiency is a carbon strategy because emissions are linked to energy production.

Efficiency opportunities abound for many manufacturers, said Jon Dommissee of Bradley Corp., a manufacturer of commercial plumbing fixtures, which co-sponsored the event.

“There’s a lot of energy wasted – and there’s a lot of money wasted,” he said.

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UW-Madison’s Charter Street coal plant embarks on its transition to cleaner fuels

Posted on August 6, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Carbon, Clean Air, Climate change, Coal, Wood |

From an article by Ron Seely in the Wisconsin State Journal:

It’s not easy going green.

Just ask John Harrod Jr., who is helping guide the $250 million green makeover of UW-Madison’s Charter Street Heating Plant.

The coal-burning plant will be converted so that it burns natural gas and cleaner, farm-grown fuels such as switchgrass. The changeover that has won praise from the plant’s many critics, including the Sierra Club, which sued the university for violating the Clean Air Act. Gone will be the giant, dust-generating pile of coal that has become a symbol of the plant and its grimy history.

But Harrod, director of the UW-Madison Physical Plant, said getting rid of that coal pile and moving to cleaner biofuels has brought its own set of problems to solve — accommodating longer and more frequent trains, for example, or expanding the plant’s footprint in its already squeezed urban setting, or figuring out new air standards for burning biofuels when even environmental regulators aren’t quite sure what those final standards will be.

Those issues and others will be up for discussion Wednesday when UW-Madison hosts a hearing on the final version of the environmental impact statement for the project. The hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Room 1106 of the Mechanical Engineering Building, 1513 University Ave.

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Doyle launches Clean Energy Jobs initiative

Posted on January 8, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Carbon, Clean Air, Climate change, Digesters, Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Solar, Wind, Wood |

From a news release issued by Governor Jim Doyle:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today was joined by business leaders, labor, legislators and environmental organizations as he launched the Clean Energy Jobs Act, a landmark legislative package to accelerate the state’s green economy and create jobs. New industry-recognized research shows the package will directly create at least 15,000 green jobs in Wisconsin by 2025.

“Addressing climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s about creating green jobs,” Governor Doyle said.

“The Clean Energy Jobs Act offers new standards to help accelerate Wisconsin’s green economy. I am calling on the Legislature to update renewable portfolio standards to generate 25 percent of our fuel from renewable sources by 2025 and set a realistic goal of a 2 percent annual reduction in energy consumption by 2015.”

The Clean Energy Jobs Act, State Senate Bill 450 and State Assembly Bill 649, implements the recommendations of Governor Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force to address climate change and grow the state’s green economy through several key measures:
• Enhanced renewable portfolio standards – A new 20 percent standard would be set for 2020 and a 25 percent standard would be set for 2025. The current 10 percent standard would be accelerated from 2015 to 2013. By advancing our current renewable portfolio standards, and setting new standards, we will ensure more of our energy dollars stay in the state, creating thousands of jobs for Wisconsin families in fields like construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.
• Enhanced energy efficiency and conservation efforts – Graduated statewide electricity savings goals would be set, leading up to a 2 percent reduction by 2015 and annual reductions thereafter. The cheapest way to lower carbon emissions is through energy conservation. By setting achievable conservation goals, this bill will help reduce energy costs in businesses and homes across the state.

A comprehensive economic assessment of the Clean Energy Jobs Act found that the package would directly create at least 15,000 green jobs in Wisconsin by 2025. More than 1,800 jobs would be created in the first year alone. The assessment also found that between 800 and 1,800 construction jobs would be created each year from 2011-2025, and more than 2,000 manufacturing jobs would be created once the laws are fully implemented.

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin’s executive director said:

Wisconsin’s existing 10% Renewable Energy Standard has driven significant investment in rural, forestry and agriculture markets by encouraging the construction of large wind, biogas, biomass and solar projects. Increasing the Renewable Energy Standard to 25% in 2025 would continue to generate more of the lucrative payments to landowners and biofuel / biomass providers as well as create more jobs constructing and maintaining the additional projects are built to meet the new standards.

The bills also include three of the proposals backed by the Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign:
• Renewable Energy Buyback Rates, also called an Advanced Renewable Tariffs, would set utility payments for small renewable energy producers who want to “feed energy” into the electric grid, enabling farmers and rural businesses to help Wisconsin become more energy independent with biopower, wind and solar.
• The Biomass Crop Reserve Program would award contracts to farmers to plant native perennial plants, which the farmer can then sell for bioenergy production, helping to solve the chicken-and-egg problem of jumpstarting the homegrown fuels market.
• A Low-Carbon Fuel Standard would be a market-based approach to promoting the cleanest, low-carbon fuels for Wisconsin, and would put Wisconsin in a position to capture the rapidly-developing clean energy market by using Wisconsin’s abundant natural resources like switchgrass.

Statements of support for the legislation came from Customers First!, WPPI Energy, CREWE, Clean Wisconsin, ACRE, MEUW, Sierra Club, and others.

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CEO: Carbon capture technology a decade away

Posted on April 9, 2009. Filed under: Carbon, Climate change, Coal, Generation Plants |

From a post by Tom Content on JS Online:

Wisconsin Energy Corp. CEO Gale Klappa told CNBC’s Jim Cramer this afternoon that he believes it will be another 10 to 12 years before technology to capture carbon from old coal-fired power plants will be available on a widespread scale.

Cramer invited Klappa on his “Mad Money” show after a Wall Street Journal column this morning that described the company’s carbon-capture experiment at the state’s largest coal plant in Pleasant Prairie.

That catch-and-release plan, launched in February 2008, is testing the use of chilled ammonia to remove carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, from the power plant smokestack.

Weighing in on the cap-and-trade proposal that is being sought by the Obama administration, Klappa said the industry would need more time to convert to low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear and coal-fired power plants that incorporate burying carbon dioxide released by the plants underground.

Giving the industry a decade to prepare would help the nation tackle global warming emissions without imposing a significant economic burden, he said.

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Pleasant Prairie experiment: Subtracting carbon from coal

Posted on March 25, 2009. Filed under: Carbon, Climate change, Generation Plants |

From a post by Tom Content on JS Online:

The carbon dioxide catch-and-release experiment in Pleasant Prairie, which started last year, is getting some more attention today.

The We Energies power plant is the site of a project funded in part by the Electric Power Research Institute and the French company Alstom. Alstom has built a system at the state’s largest coal-fired power plant that uses chilled ammonia to separate the carbon dioxide that’s heads out into the atmosphere.

If all goes well with this test, the utility industry is planning a bigger demonstration of this technology at a coal plant in West Virginia.

Whatever technological change is forced on utilities, it won’t come cheap, Wall Street Journal Environment Editor Jeffrey Ball writes in his column today.

“Whatever the truth about ‘clean coal,’ consumers will be paying for it one way or another,” Ball writes.

The test is one way that the utility sector is preparing for regulation of greenhouse gases at some point by Congress. That’s significant for Wisconsin given how much we rely on coal for power.

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Doyle expresses support for national cap-and-trade approach to carbon emissions

Posted on March 4, 2009. Filed under: Carbon, Climate change |

From a report by David M. Drucker on

Gov. Jim Doyle Tuesday morning voiced his support for a national cap-and-trade system to help offset carbon emissions and reduce their effects on climate change.

Doyle, speaking during a news conference following a symposium on climate change held this morning on Capitol Hill, said he hopes to incorporate the work he’s done with other Midwestern governors into a federal solution. Doyle has been working with Govs. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and others on implementing a regional cap-and-trade system.

“I hope that as Congress now moves forward with this, that the work that we have done at the state levels … that we will be able to share what we have been doing with Congress,” Doyle said. “We are very hopeful that Congress will act. This is something that we have been seeking to do in the Midwest.”

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RENEW, Farmers Union, and partners launch Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign

Posted on December 3, 2008. Filed under: Biomass, Carbon, Wind, Wood |

For immediate release: December 3, 2008

For More Information Contact:
Adrienne Joseph or Sue Beitlich
715-723-5561/715-379-2712 or 608-769-7625 or

WFU and partners announce launch of
Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign

Madison, Wis. – Wisconsin Farmers Union officials gathered at the Wisconsin State Capitol today to announce the launch of the Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign. WFU and its campaign partners laid out four state policy initiatives that will address the challenge of global climate change.

“The Wisconsin agriculture and forestry industries are essential to expanding a renewable energy economy in our state,” said Sue Beitlich, WFU president. “Renewable energy will help us to achieve greater energy and economic security, create new jobs, strengthen agricultural markets and reduce carbon emissions.”

Building on Gov. Jim Doyle’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand renewable energy, and the recommendations of his Global Warming Task Force, WFU along with Clean Wisconsin, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and RENEW Wisconsin, have developed a campaign to support the following initiatives to expand energy and heat production from biomass:

• Create the Biomass Energy Crop Reserve Program, establishing 10-year contracts to pay landowners in exchange for planting bioenergy crops that are energy efficient and preserve natural resources.
• Expand Renewable Fuels for Schools and Communities by setting up funding sources for those who would like to purchase equipment for biomass systems that replace fossil fuel and save tens of thousands of dollars in fuel savings.
• Launch a Renewable Energy Buyback Program that will fairly compensate small-scale renewable energy producers who generate renewable electricity (biomass, solar, wind and hydro).
• Encourage the establishment of a Low-Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity of transportation fuels.

Read the complete media release here.

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