Minnesota’s rural distributed generation customers won a major victory this week when state regulators halted the practice by cooperatives of applying fixed charges for solar installations. Regulators ruled June 9 that cooperatives must file requests for small power production tariffs with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which makes the final determination on those fees. The commission ruled those fees must now be suspended until an investigation is completed. Rural cooperatives lost their argument that the PUC had no jurisdiction in the matter of fixed charges for solar customers. Co-ops believed their boards would be the final arbiters of those charges.
The Environmental Protection Agency must protect the Renewable Fuel Standard as Congress originally defined it nearly a decade ago, Iowa farmer Randy Caviness told the EPA at a public hearing today. He testified on behalf of Iowa Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“EPA’s decision not to follow the intent of Congress in the 2007 RFS is highly disappointing to all of agriculture,” said Caviness, who also serves as a member of AFBF Issue’s Advisory Committee on Energy. “This decision strikes a blow to conventional ethanol production and dampens the prospects for the further development of advanced biofuels.”
The award of a $500,000 grant from the prestigious W.K. Kellogg Foundation to Solutions from the Land (SfL) underscores the priority and responsibility that SfL takes in putting farmers first in developing practices and policies that can meet and address societal needs and challenges. The grant money will be used to design and begin implementing a three-to-five year climate smart/resilient agriculture action plan designed to help Upper Midwest farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions, improve the resiliency of their operations and further enable agricultural landscapes to deliver multiple food, feed, fiber, energy and ecosystems services from the land.
SfL, a collaboration led by an acclaimed group of active farm, forestry and conservation leaders, will link with ‑ and build on ‑ the multi-stakeholder partnerships that have been developing in the region around water quality, food policy and sustainable agriculture projects. The initiative aims to connect leading innovators in dialogue and planning to improve climate resiliency, while achieving nutrition, energy, environmental, health and economic goals.
In California, there is so much solar energy that grid operators have to switch off solar farms. One solution of dealing with the additional power generated is to share the renewable wealth across state borders – but in the West, it's sparking some not-so-neighborly opposition. Nancy Traweek's job is to balance California's electrical grid at the California Independent System Operator, keeping the lights on for 30 million people. She relies on huge natural gas power plants that put out a steady stream of electricity. But lately, Traweek's job has gotten harder because of solar and wind power. If clouds come in, solar power drops off. "That needs to come from somewhere else immediately," she says. So Traweek has to keep the natural gas plants going in the background in case that happens. But running solar, gas and wind together is a problem because on certain days, they make more power than California needs. Traweek will have to tell solar farms to shut off.
Brad Allamong understands the concerns about a proposed $100 million wind farm to be built near Crossville. He has heard directly from some who fear the project's impact on the community. But Allamong is urging everyone not to jump to conclusions until they get a full understanding of the project's pros and cons.
"I don't know at this point whether or not a greater calm should prevail so the facts of the project could be understood," said Allamong, president and CEO of the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce. The Crab Orchard Wind Project, to be built across 1,800 acres atop the Cumberland Plateau, has come under fire from residents who are worried that it would destroy the beauty of the scenic mountain landscape. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Diane Black recently added their voices to the chorus of opposition.
Consumer investments in distributed energy resources can save all ratepayers money by avoiding expensive grid infrastructure upgrades. Solar advocates have long been making this argument in regulatory proceedings around the country. Today, that vision is becoming a reality.
In late March, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) approved its 2015-2016 Transmission Plan, which calls for canceling 13 transmission projects planned in Pacific Gas & Electric territory. The low-voltage transmission projects were deemed no longer necessary in light of materially lower load forecast levels since the projects were approved several years ago.
In many parts of the country, areas that are now full of houses and schools and shopping centers were once oil and gas fields. You wouldn't know it by looking, but hidden underground, there are millions of abandoned wells. New development happening on top of those old wells can create a dangerous situation. In most states, there is no requirement for homeowners to be notified about abandoned oil and gas wells on their properties. In the Canadian province of Alberta, it's a different story. Theresa Watson, an engineering consultant and former Alberta energy regulator, started pushing for better tracking, monitoring and regulation of abandoned wells back in the early 2000s. That was when people started to move into rural areas that were once oil and gas fields. Alberta now has a 15-foot no-build zone around abandoned wells. Similar rules are lacking in most of the U.S., even as new development is encroaching on old oil and gas fields in places like the Front Range of Colorado.
A Butler County judge has dismissed the second lawsuit a developer and 13 landowners had filed against Middlesex residents and non-profits opposed to fracking, the defendants. Dewey Homes & Investment Properties and other property owners, who collectively hold more than 440 acres of land, originally filed the lawsuit last May against five residents, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the Clean Air Council. Dewey and the landowners said the defendants were interfering with their rights to drill by challenging the township's zoning ordinances, which allow gas drilling in 90 percent of the township. The ACLU called the lawsuit a case of “SLAPP,” or strategic lawsuit against public participation, intended to quash the residents' right to petition their government.
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Marilyn Horan dismissed the lawsuit in September but allowed the plaintiffs to amend it. Last Wednesday Judge Michael Yeager dismissed the amended case with prejudice, meaning it can't be re-filed with the Court of Common Pleas.
The first comprehensive study of the content of rare earth elements in coal ashes from the United States shows that coal originating from the Appalachian Mountains has the highest concentrations of scarce elements like neodymium, europium, terbium, dysprosium, yttrium and erbium that are needed for alternative energy and other technologies. The study also reveals how important developing inexpensive, efficient extraction technologies will be to any future recovery program.
Residential solar in the U.S. grew 66 percent in 2015 over 2014, the largest annual growth rate to date, according to a recent report by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA. In 2015, residential solar installations amounted to 2,099 megawatts, which, when converted, equals more that 1,600 megawatts. By comparison, Montana's coal-fired Colstrip plant, the second-largest power plant west of the Mississippi River, has a peak output of 2,100 megawatts. The International Renewable Energy Agency reports that between 2010 and 2015 the cost of solar photovoltaic panels dropped 80 percent, fueling the solar surge around the world.
Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have mandatory net-metering rules, but the rapid growth in residential solar has states from New York to Montana wrestling with how to promote this renewable, distributed resource in a way that placates utilities challenged by integrating the power and apportioning the associated costs. Nevada, for example, the fifth-largest residential solar market in 2015 with 17,000 producers, recently implemented drastic changes to its net-metering policy that the Alliance for Solar Choice, in challenging the decision in court, called "a stake in the heart of future rooftop solar development." The crux of the debate is how much net-metered customers should be credited for putting excess energy onto the grid. Utilities and renewable energy advocates clash on cost-benefit analyses.