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Some rural Minnesota businesses embrace solar to control energy costs

Prairie Business Magazine | Posted on December 7, 2016

Jane Anderson could’ve bought a new pickup, but she had another bright idea for what to buy with that money — 72 solar panels that could make enough electricity to offset her home and business power needs.Anderson, owner of The Groom Room dog boarding and grooming business east of Hawley, said she’s always been curious about solar but assumed it was unaffordable.Glenz said customers can expect to pay about $75,000 to get a solar array like the one Anderson now has. But that number quickly starts to drop — in her case, to around $30,000 — when tax and energy savings enter the picture.She said she’ll get an energy tax credit of 30 percent of her cost for five years, bringing her out-of-pocket costs down, and she can depreciate the solar panels as business equipment.

Illinois Ameren customers should see savings from new energy bill

News Gazette | Posted on December 7, 2016

The typical Ameren Illinois residential customer will pay about $1.93 less per month for power after a far-reaching energy bill goes into effect June 1, 2017, according to an analysis of the Future Energy Jobs bill by the Illinois Commerce Commission. Eventually, however, rates will start to increase beyond today's levels around 2023, according to the ICC model.The energy bill, promoted for almost two years by Exelon Corp. to preserve its nuclear plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities, was approved by the Illinois Legislature on Thursday. The main feature of the measure is a subsidy of up to $235 million a year to keep the two nuclear plants open for at least 10 more years. Among the legislation's other provisions is one that imposes a cap limiting increases in Ameren rates for the average customer in the residential-rate category to no more than 35 cents a month during the life of the legislation, which extends to 2030.

Wind developer drops plan for 119-turbine wind farm in Maine

Portland Press Herald | Posted on December 7, 2016

EDP Renewables says the need to build new transmission lines and the loss of a power-purchase agreement with utilities in Connecticut contributed to the company's decision to withdraw its application. The project was proposed three years ago for ridges west of Bridgewater, but needed new transmission lines to connect it with the New England grid. That has taken longer than expected, and last summer, the project lost a power-purchase agreement with utilities in Connecticut. Since then, a proposal to build new transmission lines from northern Maine was rejected during a bidding process in which the three southern New England states were choosing clean-energy projects. Number Nine Wind Farm would have had an installed capacity of 250 megawatts, which the company said could power 51,400 homes for a year.

Only Democrat on Ohio Public Utilities Commission resigns rather than face senate rejection | Posted on December 5, 2016

PUCO commissioner Howard Petricoff, a lawyer who has practiced energy law for 40 years, resigned today rather than face an Ohio Senate rejection in the final weeks of the year. Gov. John Kasich appointed Petricoff, the commission's only Democrat, to a five-year term on the commission in June. He was one of 19 candidates. The Senate had until the end of the year to vote on the appointment or allow it to become permanent without a vote.In a hearing soon after the appointment, the Senate's Public Utilities Committee questioned his ability to rule on pending commission cases because he had appeared before the commission a number of times over the years representing clients. But the committee did not vote on the matter.Petricoff had over the years represented independent power and gas companies, to the annoyance of the state's regulated utilities.In the months since his appointment, Petricoff had recused himself in a small number of cases, including the FirstEnergy, American Electric Power and Dayton Power & Light rate cases, because he had represented opponents.At the same time in recent months a conflict developed between the legislature and the Kasich administration over the state's renewable energy and energy efficiency rules that all power companies have had to follow until the lawmakers "froze" the rules in 2014, but only for two years.The rules are set to spring back into life on Jan. 1, unless the legislature suspends them again, an act that Kasich has vowed to veto.

Kansas farmer sues to stop wind farm to protect cranes | Posted on December 4, 2016

A Kansas farmer has filed a federal lawsuit to stop a new wind farm from operating out of concern for the endangered whooping crane. Edwin Petrowsky of Pratt County filed the lawsuit last month seeking injunctions against NextEra Energy Resources, whose Ninnescah Wind Farm is scheduled to start operating next week, The Hutchinson News reported. Petrowsky contends the wind farm is located in the bird’s flyway. At last count, there were an estimated 329 wild cranes in the flock that migrates between Canada and Texas. Parts of the wind farm, which will generate 200 megawatts of electricity that Westar Energy is under a 20-year contract to buy, are within 35 to 40 miles of the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms — both designated as critical habitat for the whooping crane. The Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, another designated habitat, is also nearby. “Whooping cranes have been recently documented to use the farmland in Pratt County for feeding while roosting at Critical Habitat areas,” Petrowsky states in the lawsuit. The American Bird Conservancy also lists the Ninnescah project as one of the 10 most dangerous wind projects in the nation for birds and one of the worst for potential mortality of endangered species.

Governor on board with forthcoming changes to Exelon bill

Quad City Times | Posted on December 1, 2016

With only one scheduled day remaining in the General Assembly’s fall veto session, a deal has taken shape between Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office and Exelon Corp. that could pave the way for passage of the company’s proposed energy policy overhaul. Exelon has changed the proposal several time in recent weeks in attempts to address the concerns of environmental groups, consumer advocates and, in a forthcoming amendment, large manufacturers. However, subsidies to keep open the company’s financially struggling Clinton and Quad-Cities nuclear power plants remain at the heart of the package, along with other policy and rate changes designed to increase investment in renewable power and energy efficiency. Exelon has said it will take steps toward shutting down the Clinton plant on June 1 if lawmakers don’t approve the bill during their fall veto session

Amid Dakota Access protests, tribes continue to pursue clean energy

Midwest Energy News | Posted on December 1, 2016

While the Sioux nation has been in the spotlight almost daily for its opposition to construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, it has much more quietly been pursuing renewable energy development on the Standing Rock Reservation and other tribal lands across North and South Dakota.  Seven Sioux tribes in the Dakotas are developing what would be an enormous collection of wind farms on six reservations scattered across what is generally rated as one of the windiest areas in the country.

Michigan’s energy efficiency standard continues to exceed targets

Midwest Energy News | Posted on December 1, 2016

Michigan’s 2008 law requiring utility spending on energy efficiency programs continued to exceed targets in 2015, surpassing goals for cutting electric and natural gas use by roughly 20 percent and proving to be a good investment for ratepayers. According to a state report, ratepayers will ultimately see $5.2 billion in savings since the program started. In 2015, utilities spent $262 million on various energy efficiency programs that will generate $1.08 billion in lifecycle savings for ratepayers. Or, for every dollar spent in 2015, customers are expected to see $4.35 in benefits.

aCounty passes frac sand ban, first in the state to take such a stand

Minneapolis Star Tribune | Posted on November 30, 2016

Sand mining in Minnesota and Wisconsin boomed and waned along with the oil and gas production practice known as hydrofracking.  The particular kind of sand found in parts of southeast Minnesota was in huge demand by exploration companies, which use it to prop open cracks in the underground shale formations that produce oil and natural gas.  Mining supporters in Winona County have said they’re trying to protect private property rights, provide jobs and preserve the region’s chance to cash in on changes in the nation’s oil industry. Commissioner Steve E. Jacob, who voted against the ban, said he wanted to find “common ground and compromise” by regulating the number of sand mines in the county, but despite approval by the planning commission, it was voted down by the majority County Board.“It was a rural versus city issue, and I voted in favor of my district,” Jacob said. “We’ve been fighting this issue for five years now.”Opponents fear destruction of scenic bluffs along the Mississippi River, health problems from blowing silica sand dust, contamination of groundwater, and damage to roads and more accidents from the trucks that cart sand to and from transportation hubs.

Report Suggests Ways to Fix Renewable Fuel Standard

DTN | Posted on November 30, 2016

The future of the RFS remains in question. Though President-elect Donald Trump pledged support for the RFS during the primary campaign, the direction of his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency remains an open question.  Oil industry interests and others have called for RFS reform or repeal. According to the GAO, however, experts say there are ways to make the RFS work more effectively."For example, some experts told GAO that maintaining a consistent tax credit for biofuels, rather than allowing it to periodically lapse and be reinstated, could reduce uncertainty and encourage investment in advanced biofuels," the GAO said.In particular, the second-generation biofuel producer tax credit has been allowed to expire about every two years."These experts told us that investment in cellulosic biofuels could be encouraged, in part, by maintaining the second generation biofuel producer tax credit consistently, rather than allowing it to periodically lapse and be reinstated," GAO said.One expert, the GAO said, suggested three changes to the credit. One would be to make the credit more long-term up to 10 years. A second idea is to make the credit refundable to make sure biofuel producers receive the subsidy in early years when they are sustaining financial losses. Third would be to couple the producer tax credit with an investment tax credit to decrease capital costs and improve the financial incentives for building cellulosic biofuel plants.