Kansas Tax Authority Confirms Only a Utility May Sell Power in Kansas

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 04, 2016  /   Posted in Net Metering, Uncategorized  /   No Comments
February 3, 2016

Indiana is the latest front in utility fixed charges battle in NIPSCO rate case

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 02, 2016  /   Posted in Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Indiana is the latest front in utility fixed charges battle

WRITTEN BY Kari Lydersen

Marvin Bartel checks the electric output of the solar collectors on the lot that he owns in Goshen, Indiana, in 2012.


AP Photo/The Elkhart Truth, Evey Wilson

Marvin Bartel checks the electric output of the solar collectors on the lot that he owns in Goshen, Indiana, in 2012. 

An Indiana utility is requesting a fixed rate charge increase of more than 80 percent, even as nationwide utility commissions have denied or curbed many such requests and utilities in other states have backed off the strategy.

The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO argues, as other utilities around the country have, that it needs the rate structure revision to make sure that all customers pay their fair share for upkeep of the grid.

Increased fixed charges are widely seen as an attack on distributed solar, since a set charge regardless of how much energy one uses discourages generating one’s own electricity. The increases also discourage energy conservation and efficiency.

In a case filed October 1 (docket number 4468), NIPSCO asked for fixed monthly charges to be increased from $11 to $20 per month for residential customers. Previously the utility Indianapolis Power & Light Company also asked for a fixed charge increase, from $11 to $17 monthly. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is currently considering both cases.

The commission is often viewed as accommodating to utilities, so clean energy advocates fear the fixed charge increases may be approved. A bill introduced, then later pulled, in the Indiana legislature last year would have forced the commission to approve any fixed charge increase requests.

“This conversation is getting underway in Indiana and the NIPSCO case is on top of the list because of the language they used and their stated intent that, ‘This is just the beginning folks, we’ll be back for more every few years,’” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizen Actions Coalition. “It’s something we’d like to nip in the bud.”

Indiana currently has only a very small amount of distributed solar installed.

In discovery for the rate case, the coalition and the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) found that NIPSCO has only 80 residential and small commercial customers with distributed solar, out of a total of 410,000 residential customers and about 51,000 small commercial customers. Statewide, there are only about 1,000 utility customers with solar.

“The solar industry is in its infancy in Indiana, but there is much potential,” said Amy Heart, senior manager of public policy for Sunrun Inc. “Large increases in fixed costs at this time, like in NIPSCO's proposal, will not only hamper residents’ ability to manage energy bills but also eliminate the viability of solar to help lower energy bills. This eliminates options for customers, but will also be damaging to the growing solar industry in Indiana.”

NIPSCO spokesman Nathan Meyer said that the utility supports renewable energy and customers who want distributed solar, through feed-in tariff and net metering programs that pay or credit customers for energy they generate.

“Our proposal is not intended to discourage growth of this form of energy,” Meyer said. “We believe that any future programs should balance the cost impact on those customers who do not wish to participate.”

Recouping costs

Meyer said the increased fixed charge “is intended to capture those costs that exist for all residential customers regardless of whether a customer uses 1 kWh or 10,000 kWh of electricity each month.

“That includes the cost of providing 24/7 customer service, billing and meter systems and the basic infrastructure required to ensure power is available whenever a customer flips the switch,” he continued. “Customers are still incentivized to save energy, as a majority of a customer's bill would still be tied to the amount of electricity used.”

Karl Rabago, a former Texas public utility commissioner and expert witness for the ELPC and CAC, testified that NIPSCO did not adequately demonstrate that it needs the fixed charge increase to recover its costs. He said the company “produced no studies, surveys, analysis or other data to demonstrate the actual existence of any actual problems.”

Rabago added that relying on fixed charges for full cost recovery makes sense only if a utility is unable to adequately forecast energy use and unable to come up with an adequate volumetric billing structure (based on amount of energy used), and if “one believes several other impossible things” related to the utility’s options for recovering costs.

“Presumably, the utility is doing this not in response to any real problem but instead in an effort to guarantee more revenue that is unrelated to usage, and thus shift risks from its shareholders to its customers,” said Klein.

Low-income pain

John Howat, Senior Policy Analyst at the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), testified that higher fixed charges are harmful to low-income people, households headed by African-Americans and households headed by senior citizens, since on average these groups use less electricity, according to an analysis of utilities around the country.

Howat testified “that increased monthly fixed or customer charges therefore unfairly and unjustly cause disproportionate harm and exacerbate pre-existing electric utility affordability and home energy security problems faced by many of these households.”

However, NIPSCO filed testimony showing that their low-income customers use more energy than average, 726 kWh a month compared to 679 kWh for all customers.

“Lower usage doesn't correlate to low-income,” Meyer said. “NIPSCO provided evidence that low-income customers use more than average and are actually disadvantaged by highly variable rates.”

He added that NIPSCO is proposing assistance to low-income customers in the form of a lump sum payment of $50 in June, when electric bills are typically high. In his testimony, Howat proposed more aggressive low-income assistance and blasted NIPSCO for charging late fees to and disconnecting low-income customers. He said NIPSCO should be required to report data on these issues to the commission monthly.

Howat cited data to show that: “a minimum wage worker must devote about nine times the percentage of total income for home electric service as a higher-income household, raising an equity concern in light of the fact that electricity service is a basic necessity of life.”

Against the tide

ELPC senior attorney Brad Klein said that “NIPSCO is coming in a bit late to the game as the national conversation seems to be shifting away from fixed charges.”

Klein noted that Peter Kind, author of a report for the Edison Electric Institute “that seemed to instigate this wave of utility fixed charge proposals, has since backtracked.”

Even in Wisconsin, where regulators have approved multiple large fixed charge increases, utilities have scaled back their requests for drastic increases. Klein noted that other Midwestern regulatory commissions have denied significant increases, notably in Michigan for DTE, in Minnesota for Xcel, and in Missouri for Ameren.

“We believe that commissions have largely rejected mandatory fees because they’re unfair, extremely unpopular, disproportionately harm the utility’s most vulnerable customers, and send a strong signal that the state is not open to competition, innovation and new business growth,” said Klein. “While this may be good for monopolist utilities in the short run, it sends all of the wrong signals for the state to be competitive in a 21st century economy.”


>>>Download a Word version of  the testimony of Karl Rabago, a former Texas public utility commissioner, without attachments.

Rabago CAC IURC Cause 44688 Direct Testimony FINAL WORD DOC

Bloomington (IN) Clean Power Plan (CPP) Public Forum 2/15/16, 6-7:30 pm EST

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 02, 2016  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

What: Clean Power Plan Public Forum

WhenFebruary 15, 6-7:30pm EST

Where: City Hall, 401 N. Morton, Bloomington, IN

WHO: Everyone! Free and open to the public!

The EPA's Clean Power Plan is the most ambitious effort to tackle climate pollution in the United States to date. Advocates say it will help turn back the effects of global warming, while detractors say it will hurt the Indiana economy.

On February 15, the EPA's Janet McCabe and other expert panelists will discuss the Clean Power Plan and what it means for Hoosiers. Come learn the facts from esteemed panelists, featuring:

  • Janet McCabe, Acting Administrator for the EPA's Office of Air & Radiation. Janet has spearheaded the implementation of the Clean Power Plan.
  • Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, which focused on education and advocacy around environmental issues and policies.
  • Mark Maassel, President of the Indiana Energy Association, which represents the interests of Indiana's energy utilities
  • Ken Richards, Professor of Environmental Economics, Indiana University School of Public & Environmental Affairs.

The panel will feature informative presentations and time for questions. Herald Times Editor Bob Zaltsberg will moderate the discussion. This event is free and open to the public.

The event and panelists are sponsored by the the Monroe County Energy Challenge and Monroe County's Environmental Quality & Sustainability Commission. The Commission serves in an advisory role and focuses on engaging residents and businesses in supporting initiatives that ensure a healthier and more economically viable future for the County.

Goshen-based Green Cow Power Uses NIPSCO Voluntary Feed-in Tariff (VFIT)

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 02, 2016  /   Posted in biomass, Feed-in Tariffs (FiT), Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Converting poop into power

Andrew Sloat, operations manager of Green Cow Power in Goshen, explains how power is generated at its biogas plant. Green Cow converts farm waste into enough energy to power 1,900 homes for a year. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ [Additional photos available via link below.]

Goshen company turns poop into power

Company converts farm and organic waste into energy

Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2016 6:00 am | Updated: 12:01 pm, Sun Jan 31, 2016.

GOSHEN — A Goshen business is turning poop into power.

Green Cow Power Energy Center has two anaerobic digesters that turn the waste from the 1,500 cows on a nearby dairy farm into electricity.

In April, Green Cow Power turned on its first engine at 24130 County Road 40, said Andy Sloat, the plant's operations manager. It is the largest waste-to-energy facility in Elkhart County and it is believed to be the eighth such operation in the state.

Brian Furrer, who operates another digester in Reynolds, Ind., just north of Lafayette, and Brent Martin, of Goshen, who owns a local dairy farm, collaborated on the project.

"They wanted to add more cows and as you add more cows you get more manure," Sloat said. He explained that there are restrictions to the amount of manure that can be spread on fields and, of course, neighbors complain about the smells. The anaerobic digesters help cut down on the odor and turn the manure into other products like biogas, mulch and a liquid fertilizer.

The project cost at least $7 million when it was built nearly a year ago. But the company expects to see a return on that investment in about six years.

As of last March, there were about 247 operational anaerobic digester projects nationwide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. At least 13 more were under construction.

Green Cow Power is not the only local digester. Culver Duck Farm in Middlebury uses duck parts that are not salable — blood and innards of the nearly 6.5 million ducks it processes each year — to power a $4 million facility that generates about 1.2 megawatts of power, which it sells to Northern Indiana Public Service Co. That's enough energy to power about 500 homes per year.

Since October of 2013, Homestead Dairy in Plymouth also has used a digester to generate about 1 megawatt of electricity, which it sells to NIPSCO.

How it works

The 1,500 cows produce close to 100,000 gallons of manure in a day, Sloat said. It gets sent next door to Green Cow Power, where it is added to the tanks — which hold a total of 5 million gallons — and blended with other biodegradable waste.

"We accept all kinds of organic waste," Sloat said. "Factories make everything from corn dogs to multivitamins and they will have waste streams throughout the process of making it. A lot of that we're diverting from the landfill. They are paying to dump it in here, but we charge typically less than the landfill."

For example, a truckload of pancake batter recently arrived. An animal had gotten into the truck and the producer had to throw away all of the product. Another time, a company printed its maple syrup labels upside down and it cost too much money to repackage them, so the syrup was sent to Green Cow Power.

Basically, anaerobic digesters are like a giant stomach, Sloat said. The tanks are kept void of oxygen and at about 101 degrees. They contain bacteria, which break down the manure and other biodegradable material over the course of 30 days and turn it into a black sludge that resembles oil.

The digester usually receives about 160,000 gallons of waste per day and is fed every four minutes.

But Sloat has to be careful to balance its intake. For instance, if a jelly factory brings loads of jelly, he has to make sure that the digester doesn't get a sugar overload.

"It got upset once, so I didn't feed it much, gave it a lot of water and let it rest a couple of days and then it was good to go again," he said.

Electricity and other byproducts

During the anaerobic process, the methane gas rises to the top and is piped off.

"Methane is what you smell. It's the stinky part of manure," Sloat said. "In its purest form, it's pretty much natural gas."

There is too much gas for the plant to store. Instead, it uses the gas to power three engines that produce 3 megawatts of electricity. It transfers enough energy to power 1,900 homes for a year to NIPSCO's substation in Wakarusa.

NIPSCO buys the power through its Feed In Tariff program, which currently has 112 participants, including biogas, wind and solar. The program's first year, the utility bought about 6,200 megawatts of electricity from participants' renewable sources. That number increased to 96,000 megawatts in 2015, said Kathleen Szot, a spokesperson for NIPSCO.

But electricity isn't the only byproduct of the waste. Nothing at Green Cow Power is trucked to a landfill.

Solids from the waste, which no longer smell like manure once the methane is removed, are dried and used as bedding for the cow barns. A truck load is picked up twice each day from Green Cow Power and returned to the dairy.

"We used to use sawdust to bed the cows," Sloat said. "That was a $1,200 a week deal, which is now zero because we recycle all this."

The solids can also be sold as a compost, or mulch. In the past 50 years, use of manure as a fertilizer has declined because it is bulky and costly to transport, and synthetic fertilizers are cheaper, according to a University of Minnesota extension study. However, post-digestion compost is popular with greenhouses, Sloat said, because it contains the nutrients of manure but has less odor and eliminates the problem of weed seeds being mixed into the soil.

Leftover liquid is also used. It is sent into a 25-million-gallon open lagoon, where it is stored until the dairy farmers can spread it on crops as fertilizer. It's not very smelly because the fatty acids, which cause the most odor, are removed in the digester, but it still contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Sloat said Green Cow Power sold 19 million gallons during the fall, which went to different farmers.

The plant even uses the heat the engines produce, to warm the plant and dairy and to provide hot water for the farm.

Some operations similar to Green Cow Power are beginning to add greenhouses, Sloat said, because they have fertilizer, compost and heat. They can even pump pure CO2 into tomato gardens if they want.

It's a good way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — methane is the most common greenhouse gas — and make farming more sustainable, Sloat said.

"We aren't reinventing anything," he said. "We took something that is already happening. All we did was put a roof over it."



Benefits of anaerobic digestion

In 2014, anaerobic digesters on livestock farms throughout the United States generated 948 million kilowatt hours of equivalent energy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million metric tons.

This is the equivalent of:

  • the annual carbon emissions of 631,000 passenger cars,
  • more than 16,000 rail cars full of coal,
  • 6.9 million barrels of oil.

SOURCE: AgSTAR data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency



Battle over lawmaker emails rages on in Indiana Supreme Court

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   February 01, 2016  /   Posted in 2015 Indiana General Assembly  /   No Comments

Battle over lawmaker emails rages on in Indiana Supreme Court

INDIANAPOLIS -- The battle over access to lawmaker emails and records continues to rage on at the Indiana Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the Energy and Policy Institute, Citizens Action Coalition and Common Cause Indiana filed a brief Monday in the Indiana Supreme Court arguing the Indiana House Republican Caucus and Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) are subject to the Access to Public Records Act.

The brief cited a recent decision by the United States Supreme Court, “which found that the benefits of transparency embodied in state public records laws trumps any countervailing privacy considerations.”

The controversy stems from public records requests submitted by the Energy and Policy Institute out of Washington for emails, documents and other correspondence between Rep. Eric Koch and various groups.

Chief Counsel for the House Republican Caucus, Jill Carnell, denied the requests.

The House has said the public records laws do not apply to them .

William Groth, Indianapolis attorney for Common Cause and other groups, told Call 6 Investigates the implications for the case are “stunning,” especially if the Supreme Court decides the case can’t be considered or decided by a court.

PREVIOUS | Indiana attorney general clarifies stance over public records requests

“It would effectively remove the General Assembly and all its members from having to respond to requests from the media or members of the public for what APRA defines as public documents, meaning state legislators could operate secretly and non-transparently,” said Groth.  “(Such a ruling would) usher in an era of legislative branch supremacy, which has dangerous implications for the future of the structural checks and balances we rely on to keep the humans who comprise each branch honest as well as responsive to the will of the people, particularly in light of the fact that due to gerrymandering the role of the minority party has been reduced to the point of near irrelevance and thus there are no longer any political checks on abuses by those holding political power.”

Geoffrey Slaughter declined to comment to RTV6 on the February 1 Supreme Court filing.

“I’m afraid I have no thoughts to share about a brief I’m just now seeing and haven’t yet read,” said Slaughter.

Slaughter argued in a January 13 Supreme Court brief that the House and Koch are not a “public agency” and legislator emails with constituents and staff are “an integral part of their constitutional authority to enact laws.”

Common Cause, the Citizens Action Coalition and the Energy and Policy Institute originally filed a lawsuit last year against the Indiana House Republican Caucus and Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) alleging they violated the Indiana Access to Public Records Act by not providing  access to lawmaker emails.

ALSO READ | Lawsuit filed in House records dispute

A judge dismissed the lawsuit.

PREVIOUS | Judge drops public records lawsuit against Ind. House

Last year, Common Cause Indiana and other groups filed an appeal and asked the Supreme Court to assume emergency jurisdiction over the case, thus bypassing the Court of Appeals.

Groth expects the court to schedule oral arguments in the near future.

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