Monday, April 29, 2013

Colorado Legislators Strengthen Renewable Policy

More links today. While Iowa is on track to do nothing for distributed renewables this year, Colorado legislators bucked heavy utility opposition and strengthened their state clean energy standard. It looks like Minnesota will do the same. Hey Iowa senators, just because there is a lot of installed wind in Iowa (quite a bit of it serving renewable mandates in other states), doesn’t mean you’re leading in in renewable policy. 

Reader question- Can anyone supply me with figures showing how much of Iowa’s wind energy is exported and how much serves in state electrical load?   

Cool tech link – new solar design ups PV output by capturing waste heat for water.

Cool policy link – Germans pay about the same per month for electricity as U.S. citizens. Craig Morris has been writing some excellent articles on renewables.
Germany - 25% renewable energy – U.S. – 4% renewables.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Nebraska enviro group claims that state lost data center because of Iowa Wind .

Today , a couple of links that definitely clash with each other.  Nebraska Sierra club thinks the “data center” went to Iowa because of available wind capacity.   But, the group will not be glad to see this story. The social media CEO has a political group that is advocating for Keystone XL.      
Thanks to Steven Lacey and Midwest Energy News for these links

Sunday, April 21, 2013

MidAmerican Wind Property Tax Update Coming Soon

I'm preparing an update on this issue

How To Advance Wind Energy In The Midwest - Part 2

When I think about the wind “blowback” that’s occurring around the Midwest, it seems to me that it could be more of a judgment of federal and state policy decisions, than people railing against the wind technology itself.

Let’s start with the main incentive for wind, the federal production tax credit. This credit only offsets tax liability from passive investment income. Local farmers and residents have trouble utilizing this credit, MidAmerican energy and other utilities can utilize it. Lehman brothers  (no longer with us) and Goldman Sacs have made good use of the wind PTC.  Changing the wind PTC to allow offset of active income would be much fairer to farmers and Iowans. By the way, a number of fossil fuel tax credits allow the offset of active income. 

On the state level, the Iowa legislature made a specific law change in 2003 that allowed MidAmerican energy to build their wind assets in Iowa. It allowed MEC a guaranteed rate of return on wind generation. Federal law requires MEC to purchase wind energy from farmers and locals at the utilities “avoided cost”, a figure too low to finance wind energy. MEC skillfully steered legislation through the state capital that allowed them to build wind, but shut out farmers and independents who would like to do the same. It’s probably not a coincidence that MEC opposes any state legislation that attempts to remedy this and level the playing field for the states farmers, including this year’s SF372.  

This gives credibility to locals and the anti-wind crowd’s claims that wind energy is just “a rich guy’s tax subsidy”. They have to deal with and look at some big companies wind farm, but the profits go somewhere else. They also have to deal with developers intent on delivering the lowest cost project to a utility. Not necessarily a recipe for good treatment of local residents. I think it also makes locals more likely to buy into bogus claims by the established fossil fuels gang, that renewables aren’t cost effective. Eventually, it could cause them to vote against renewable supporting legislators. 

My point here is that we are getting exactly the type of wind energy that federal and state policy is telling companies to build, absentee owned wind projects that extract a lot of money out of Iowa’s rural areas.   Wind energy costs the same, no matter who the owners are. Will enough of the locals start telling legislators that they want to own wind farms? Wind energy is a fantastic, transformational technology. I just think we are doing average things with wind so far. 

I’m pretty confident that that as long as we have mostly absentee owned wind farms in the Midwest, opposition to them will continue to grow. I could put together a substantial post (and probably will) about the troubles I had with MidAmerican energy and their wind project here. If several of us here could have built our own wind project, it would have made it a lot easier to negotiate terms with MEC, like keeping more profits local, and building better terms into the utilities local lease agreements that would have avoided most of the problems we had at this wind project.  

That about covers my thoughts on how to gain more public support for wind energy in the Midwest.

Friday, April 19, 2013

How To Advance Wind Energy In The Midwest

While you won’t find a bigger supporter of wind energy than yours truly, I’m well documented on my preference for local owned wind farms over the utility scale, absentee owned wind farms that prevail so far in our state. I haven’t been afraid to point out when issues –problems arise with the current wind farm business model in Iowa. 

I was recently contacted by a reporter who wants to do an interview about my experience leasing some of my farmland to a wind farm developer. That developer built one of the largest wind farms in Iowa, which was purchased by MidAmerican energy. I had a pretty miserable experience dealing with several issues because of the easement I granted the utility (subject of a future post), in addition to the latest attempt to get MEC to be more transparent about the property tax issue I’ve been researching. Because of this, I sincerely doubt I would lease my land to another absentee wind developer again. In fact, I’ve formed a business that aims to help farmers build their own wind projects, and help them make decisions when approached by wind developers. 

Anyway, back to the reporter. While I was thinking about this interview and potentially putting her in touch with some locals who are really unhappy with this project (with some very valid reasons, subject of that future post), I came across this post from Midwestenergynews . Before that, it was this one ... and  this one.  Frankly, anyone with an internet connection can see that wind energy is catching pretty heavy flak.  From local push back to political opposition, when it comes to wind policy on the federal and state level, the public is reading some very negative things about wind energy, and most of them have no personal experience with wind to form their own opinions. And since most folks only experience comes from leasing land to wind developers, their opinions are formed by how well that developer performs. 

And gosh... if you have to look at or farm around someone’s absentee owned wind project, locals can have some ambivalent or downright poor opinions of utility scale wind.  County supervisors and economic development offices love wind farms, and get so excited about incoming development , that they sometimes forget to watch over the interests of the folks already living in the development area, for fear of appearing too restrictive to the big wind boys.   Add on that about 1% of wind farm gross revenue stays in the local economy the way Iowa currently builds wind, and it’s kind of easy to see why locals push back. 

So, the renewable wind industry, which I care deeply about, is really having issues. On one side, there is an increasingly vocal local opposition to wind, some with valid concerns, and some not so valid. I haven’t dug into to this much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the anti-wind talking points are ginned up by fossil fuel funded entities that like things just the way they are now, thank you very much. I’m not in the “no wind” crowd, as I think renewable energy is one of the best rural development opportunities Iowa has ever had.  I think rather than saying “no wind”, these advocates should be burning legislator’s ears about forming policy for locally owned wind, because we are going to develop our renewable resources in this country. The only thing that’s up for discussion is how great a job we will do with the opportunity in front of us.  

I’m not going to let the “pro wind” advocates off easy here either. I know most of Iowa’s renewable advocates personally. These are some pretty smart folks (a lot of PHDs here). I meet with them frequently. They don’t want to hear it when I raise issues with renewable energy development in Iowa.   I’ve invited all of them to visit my home town and meet some of the locals and hear their concerns, so they can do their job better. None of them have made a visit yet. Some of them get a lot of funding from national energy groups, who dearly want some more renewable energy in this country. They think enough education will build adequate public support for renewable policy in the U.S.  

Which brings me to the part where I will try to make a point.  Of the many renewable energy conferences I attend, I still remember one above all.  A feed in tariff conference organized by John Farrell and the gang from the Institute of local Self Reliance. They brought in a German farmer and posed a lot of these issues to him. He just chuckled, and mentioned that Germans had already had all these discussions a decade ago. Germany wanted to drastically increase renewable energy, and adopted policy that would make farmers and other citizen’s major players. That in turn educated the general population on renewable energy, and also built bulletproof support for keeping renewable policy in place.   
I’ll add a couple slides from this presentation by German farmer Michael Diestel, please check the link.  The Germans will be pretty frank with you about how to increase wind energy in the U.S. 


   I’ll close with a quote by Max Planck-  “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
I'm hoping that renewable advocates here don’t wait for the next generation to advance renewable policy.  
I decided to send the reporter a link to this post and see where the conversation goes from there. 

 A couple of fresh articles on this issue , courtesy of Midwest Energy News. 
Landowners in Kansas are resisting a new transmission line & An Illinois county argues about wind zoning.    

Friday, April 12, 2013

Iowa Court Ruling Favors Distributed Generation

Today, Midwest Energy News ran the first coverage I’ve seen on an Iowa district court ruling in favor of allowing solar installers to install PV systems on a customer’s property and enter into a power purchase agreement with that customer.  While great news, I’ll explain why you may not want to get overly excited over this development. I’ll apologize in advance for sounding like a grumpy curmudgeon. I’m a fun guy – Really!! 

There are reasons I’m sounding “glass half empty” here.  First, this ruling could be appealed (and over turned by a higher court). This happened in 2005 when the Iowa Supreme Court reversed its ruling that required rural electric cooperatives to offer net metering. Let’s hope this recent ruling fares better. Still, as the good folks quoted in the article note, this decision will no doubt influence other court and utility commission rulings around the country. That’s good news.
The next reason I’m only moderately excited here is that this ruling only affects one financing method for solar PV, not any of the underlying regulatory changes necessary for its use to become widespread in Iowa. Many Iowans’ don’t have access to net metering or standard interconnection procedures (investor owned utilities only, not RECs and Municipals). They also can’t get a fair price for electricity sales. Remember that feed in tariff legislation I’ve been blogging about? The state Senate Democrats were unable to bring SF372 to the senate floor for a vote. Chalk up another one for the utility lobby. So, if you’re dealing with any or all of these issues, you probably don’t care much about leasing a PV system. Your potential PV system salesman won’t be very interested either. 

Also, there are ways to structure a lease agreement without entering into a Power Purchase agreement with your PV salesman. Ideally, leases should also save you money over your current monthly electric bill and eventually enable you the option to own the asset. Leasing does have its place, schools, hospital, and other non-profit entities will be interested for sure.

Finally, my opinion is that third party PPA leasing will be mostly used by customers interconnecting to Alliant energy, a utility with relatively high Iowa retail electric rates, net metering, and standard interconnection procedures. I see this as a continuation of the unequal experience Iowans have when trying to build renewable energy systems. Solar installs in Alliant Energy service territory have become fairly easy and will become commonplace. Iowan’s working with other Iowa utilities could have more difficulties or find out it is almost impossible to build the same system. This unequal treatment for Iowa ratepayers will most likely result in more constituent calls to Iowa legislators to fix these regulatory issues and level the playing field in Iowa. Hopefully Iowa policy advocates will also unite and send a clear message to Iowa legislators about the policy changes Iowa needs to advance locally owned renewable energy. This court ruling should help move our state in the right direction.