Farmland solar installations on the rise, but meeting local pushback

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 13, 2018  /   Posted in solar  /   No Comments

Farmland solar installations on the rise, but meeting local pushback

Solar photovoltaic panels generate electricity at an Exelon solar power facility on September 1, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.
Solar photovoltaic panels in Chicago, Illinois. Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

Development and deployment of solar farms continue to increase across the U.S., driven by tax incentives, falling costs and renewable energy mandates for electric utilities. Solar farms are built on farmlands that no longer generate enough revenue or have been abandoned, with some farmers entering into leases of 15–20 years with local utilities and others selling the land directly.

The big picture: Farmers who enter such leases benefit from greater revenue and stable income from rents, while utilities and solar companies benefit from access to cheap land. Although this seems like a win-win for all, some neighbors are getting upset at the change in landscape.

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The background: Farmlands offer flat, well-defined properties without the risk of floods, making them well suited to solar farm installations. In Illinois, the Future Energy Jobs Act set targets for the state to get 25% of its electricity from renewables by 2025. This has spurred a great deal of interest from private developers both in and out of state.

Yes, but: Residents and landowners around these planned solar farms are expressing concerns. In addition to being unsure about the benefits and long-term impacts, they're worried about the lengthy construction timeframes — some projects will take years to complete — and the reduction in property values that may result in the surrounding land. (Solar farms are not generally considered aesthetically pleasing.)

Similar disputes are occurring in North Carolina and Florida. And in New York, residents are complaining about out-of-state companies applying for permits without the landowners' consent, forcing the state to require that developers show landowner consent as part of the project review.

What’s next: Local zoning and planning boards will typically hear concerns and develop ordinances to establish rules for site acquisition and construction, though it's unlikely they'll be able to satisfy all parties. But despite setbacks and delays, the environmental and financial benefits of solar on U.S. farmlands will most likely lead to more developments.

Maggie Teliska is a technical specialist at Caldwell Intellectual Property Law, an intellectual property law firm. She is also a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.

Duke tries to sock it to rooftop solar in SC with massive fixed charges

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 13, 2018  /   Posted in Duke Energy, Net Metering, solar  /   No Comments

Duke Energy Carolinas

Duke tries to sock it to rooftop solar in South Carolina with massive fixed charges

Duke Energy Indiana Announces Stan Pinegar Indiana State President

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 09, 2018  /   Posted in Duke Energy  /   No Comments

Duke Energy Indiana logo

Duke Energy announces new leadership appointments for Indiana state president and chief procurement officer

Cropped Crane photo

Left to right: Laura Ann Arnold, IndianaDG President; Stan Pinegar, Duke Energy's new state president; and Kerwin Olson, CAC Executive Director

November 08, 2018 | About: 
  • - Stan Pinegar named Indiana state president
  • - Melody Birmingham-Byrd named senior vice president and chief procurement officer

PLAINFIELD, Ind.Nov. 8, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Duke Energy today announced two executive appointments for the state president of Indiana and chief procurement officer, effective Nov. 16, 2018.

Stan Pinegar – currently vice president of Indiana government affairs, will become Duke Energy's state president in Indiana, succeeding Melody Birmingham-Byrd who will become Duke Energy's senior vice president and chief procurement officer.

As state president, Pinegar will manage state and local regulatory and government relations, and community affairs. Pinegar, 54, will work with the corporate and regulatory strategy teams to advance the company's rate and regulatory initiatives. He will also be responsible for the financial performance of the company's Indiana operations.

Pinegar joined Duke Energy in July 2012 after eight years in leadership roles, including president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Energy Association. In his current role, he is responsible for leading the company's Indiana legislative affairs team and coordinating regulatory affairs with the executive branch of Indiana government.

Prior to his appointment with Duke Energy, Pinegar spent more than 20 years leading various trade associations, representing members before the Indiana General Assembly and Indiana regulatory agencies. He is a member of the Indiana State Bar Association and its Taxation, Utility and Environmental Law Sections. He also serves on the board of directors of the Indiana Legal Foundation and the Indiana Manufacturers Association.

  • "Stan's extensive regulatory and legislative experience has prepared him well for this important role," said Doug Esamann, executive vice president, energy solutions and president, Midwest and Florida regions. "He has extensive knowledge of Indiana operations, relationships with our stakeholders and a strong understanding of customer expectations. In his new role, he will continue to advocate for policies and practices to meet the energy needs of our customers that are environmentally sound and cost effective."

Pinegar's successor will be named later.

Melody Birmingham-Byrd – currently president of Duke Energy Indiana, will become senior vice president and chief procurement officer. In her new position, Byrd, 47, will be responsible for Duke Energy's sourcing and supply chain functions for both the company's regulated and commercial operations.

Byrd succeeds Swati Daji who became Duke Energy's senior vice president of Customer Solutions on Nov. 1, 2018.

"Melody has provided solid leadership in Indiana for the last three years," said Esamann. "She has placed a strong emphasis on serving our customers better and engaging with customers through various forums to understand more clearly what they would like to see from their electric energy supplier. She has created a strong foundation in Indiana and I expect a seamless transition with this change thanks to her efforts."

Byrd has 24 years of leadership and managerial experience in the electric and automotive manufacturing industries. She has served in roles within distribution, transmission and fossil generation. Prior to the merger between Duke Energy and Progress Energy in July 2012, Byrd served as vice president of the Southern Region for Progress Energy Carolinas.

Prior to becoming Indiana's state president in June 2015, Byrd served as senior vice president of Midwest delivery operations, overseeing the company's electric distribution system in IndianaOhio and Kentucky. This included construction, maintenance, operations, engineering, and resource and project management.

About Duke Energy

Duke Energy Indiana's operations provide about 6,700 megawatts of owned electric capacity to approximately 820,000 customers in a 23,000-square-mile service area, making it the state's largest electric supplier.

Duke Energy Indiana is a subsidiary of Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK).

Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Duke Energy is one of the largest energy holding companies in the U.S., with approximately 29,000 employees and a generating capacity of 49,500 megawatts. The company is transforming its customers' experience, modernizing its energy grid, generating cleaner energy and expanding its natural gas infrastructure to create a smarter energy future for the people and communities it serves.

The company's Electric Utilities and Infrastructure unit serves approximately 7.6 million retail electric customers in six states – North CarolinaSouth CarolinaFloridaIndianaOhio and Kentucky. Its Gas Utilities and Infrastructure unit distributes natural gas to approximately 1.6 million customers in five states – North CarolinaSouth CarolinaTennesseeOhio and Kentucky. Its Commercial Renewables unit operates a growing renewable energy portfolio across the U.S.

A Fortune 125 company, Duke Energy was named to Fortune's 2018 "World's Most Admired Companies" list and Forbes' 2018 "America's Best Employers" list.

More information about the company is available at duke-energy.com. The Duke Energy News Center includes news releases, fact sheets, photos, videos and other materials. Duke Energy's illumination features stories about people, innovations, community topics and environmental issues. Follow Duke Energy on TwitterLinkedInInstagram and Facebook.

Contact: Valerie Patterson
Office: 980.373.8378 | 24-Hour: 800.559.3853

Regulatory hoops hinder ground-based solar in Ft. Wayne and Allen County (IN)

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 06, 2018  /   Posted in solar  /   No Comments

Ground-mounted solar arrays, like this one on St. Mary's Avenue require special zoning permits from Allen County and Ft. Wayne.

Regulatory hoops hinder ground-based solar

The Journal Gazette

Just call Mark Brough Fort Wayne's Mr. Sunshine.

Since moving back to the city 10 years ago to remodel and resell houses, Brough lately has turned his attention to selling and installing solar arrays. That's the business he pursued during the years he spent in San Diego.

Brough says with recent and anticipated rate hikes by area electric utilities, solar power now makes sense locally, and his business has been growing rapidly. It's one of a few in the area specializing in solar arrays, which convert sunlight into storable electric power.

But the business also has thrown the 45-year-old into the territory of Fort Wayne's and Allen County's boards of zoning appeals, where the outlook has not always been sunny.

Solar arrays mounted on a roof? No problem – they need just routine building and electrical permits and inspections, said John Caywood, Allen County's building department director.

But a sizable portion of Brough's business, Modern Mill Solar LLC, involves solar arrays mounted on the ground. Each requires a zoning board application, public hearing, favorable board decision, sign-offs from other agencies, the possibility of board-mandated design changes and, Brough said, about three months from sale to installation.

“We don't really like to do them,” Brough said of ground-mounted arrays after last month's Allen County Board of Zoning Appeals public hearing and business meeting. He cited time required and the amount of paperwork.

And he's not the only one. “It's a real journey with Allen County,” said Doug Ahlfeld, project manager with Renewable Energy Systems in Avilla, in the solar business more than 35 years.

Most places he's worked in northeast Indiana require very little in the way of permitting, he said. “But the Allen County planning department requires this whole process, and it's very detailed and time-consuming.”

It can add hundreds of dollars in cost because of time needed to travel to and attend board meetings, which either occur on work time or require him to give up evenings, he said.

Still, ground mounts can be necessary, Brough said.

Roof configurations or shade patterns from trees can make roof-mounted designs impractical or inefficient, he said. And often, the customer has a large lot where a ground mount would not take up too much space and would be easier to install.

No ordinance

But for zoning appeals boards, decisions aren't always easy. That's because neither the city nor county has an ordinance automatically allowing or streamlining the process for ground-mounted residential solar installations.

They're allowed only after being individually approved under special-use provisions of city and county zoning codes.

That's because an array, depending on design, “potentially might have a pretty significant impact on a neighboring property,” said Bryan McMillan, senior planner for the Allen County Department of Planning Services. He said roof-mounted arrays are of less concern because they're on an already sited and approved structure.

McMillan said the area's regulatory approach, which includes opportunity for public notification and comment, ensures that a ground-mounted array meets setback requirements and doesn't reflect onto someone's house or even into the path of aircraft.

Planning records show that since the solar array provision became part of an updated zoning ordinance in 2014, there have been only one or two requests a year.

But in October alone, seven applications, all from customers of Brough's business, had public hearings before boards of zoning appeals. Deliberations took 15 minutes to more than an hour – for each project.

Objections

In some cases, deliberations were lengthy because board members were unfamiliar with solar arrays and asked basic and technical questions. In about a third of cases, neighbors objected and were given time to testify.

Neighbors contended that ground-mounted arrays would produce glare and obscure sight lines and are unsightly and likely to become more so over time.

At the recent city board of zoning appeals meeting, two requests were approved without much discussion. But one “had a lot of neighbor opposition, and that tells us that this is something that is subject to debate and should be looked at more carefully,” McMillan said.

The Fort Wayne International Airport also has weighed in on two recent cases because the properties were in airport overlay districts, which restrict uses that might impede flight paths.

Letters sent to the planning department said airport officials “don't want permits issued until information is provided about the anti-glare properties of panels in overlay districts,” McMillan said.

Scott Hinderman, Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority airports executive director, said he's all for renewable energy – and the local airport is considering a solar array for the grounds. However, the Federal Airport Authority requires pre-installation glare studies, he said.

“There should be a glare study done. It's not a complex study or a difficult study. We have safe airports and we want to keep it that way,” Hinderman said.

Brough did not offer a glare study but at the meeting said nearly all panels now are considered anti-glare.

Allen County's agency overseeing drainage and septic issues also has to sign off, Ahlfeld said. That largely is to prevent interference in drainage patterns or flood plains, he said.

But in one of his customer's cases, he said, the agency said it would not allow an array until a malfunctioning septic system on a neighboring property of the same owner was replaced – and that caused the customer to call off the job because of the increased expense, he said.

“When you're involving a septic system, I don't see the relevance,” Ahlfeld said.

Zoning appeals boards did not disallow any of October's applications, although they did restrict at least one. Extra requirements, such as screening or fencing, can be added by boards through written commitments to applications.

Case-by-case approvals run the risk of having identical installations with very different restrictions based on neighbors' opinions, Brough and McMillan agree. But they also agree it would be difficult to write a general ordinance to streamline procedures. That's because each is customized as to height, pitch, site characteristics, and the size and number of panels, Brough said.

A ground-mounted solar array ordinance “isn't on our radar,” McMillan said.

Ahlfeld, who has been in the business since 1979, said he sees solar installations as becoming more standardized and therefore easier to regulate. But he doesn't see Allen County changing its policies.

“These (ground-mounted arrays) should be allowed through the electrical permit. I don't see why the land-use people should be involved,” he said. “It's hindering the progress of the industry.”

rsalter@jg.net

Can Illinois Handle a 2000% Jump in Solar Capacity?

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   October 31, 2018  /   Posted in solar  /   No Comments

Illinois has a lot of wind power but limited solar capacity. That's about to change fast under an ambitious renewable energy law. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Illinois has a lot of wind power but limited solar capacity. That's about to change under an ambitious new renewable energy law. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Can Illinois Handle a 2000% Jump in Solar Capacity? We’re About to Find Out.

A new state law could turn Illinois into a Midwest solar energy leader in just a few years. First, it has to build a solar industry almost from scratch.

Illinois is about to learn what it takes to manage a nearly 20-fold increase in solar power.

A new state law requires utilities to dramatically increase their purchases of renewable energy, with a goal of getting at least 25 percent of the state's electricity from clean energy by 2025, a large part of it from solar.

For a state starting with very little solar power now—less than 100 megawatts—becoming a Midwest solar leader will mean building an industry infrastructure almost from scratch, and doing it fast.

IndianaDG Note: To see how Illinois compares with other states including Indiana please see 

Table 1.17.B. Net Generation from Solar Photovoltaic
by State, by Sector, Year-to-Date through August 2018 and 2017 (Thousand Megawatthours)

To ramp up by the deadline, the state needs two things: workers and projects.

People involved in the effort describe an atmosphere of almost chaotic progress. State officials and clean energy advocates want Illinois to be a model for how to expand clean energy in a way that provides targeted help to the local communities.

"The stakes are high," said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based consumer advocacy group involved in the process. "I think we have a good plan and we have reasons to be optimistic in general, but there's no question we'll face some roadblocks and things we didn't think of."

Hundreds of people have enrolled in job-training programs across the state, organized by nonprofit groups as part of the law. Developers are submitting proposals for new solar projects. And some of the established developers are starting to complain that the process for selecting projects—designed to give a wide number of developers a chance—is flawed.

Catapulting Illinois to a Midwest Solar Leader

Illinois ranks 35th in the country in solar power right now, with 98 megawatts, less than 1 percent of its electricity generation. Development has been slow here in part because the state lacks the supportive policies from the government and utilities that have boosted solar elsewhere.

Five years from now, analysts expect to see nearly 2,000 megawatts of solar power in Illinois and the state in 17th place nationally, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association. No other state has Illinois' combination of starting from so low and being on track to rise so high during that period.

"It's going to catapult Illinois to the forefront of the solar market, and put our state on the path to the renewable future we need to limit the worst impacts of climate change," said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Chart: Which states are adding the most solar capacity?

This boom in renewable energy stems from the state's Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law that provided subsidies for two nuclear power plants and also set the target to get 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, among other requirements. The renewable energy provisions were part of a legislative compromise to get enough votes to approve the nuclear power subsidies. (The law was upheld by a federal court in September.)

The Illinois Power Agency earlier this year spelled out how the renewable energy programs would work.

The state's approach is unusual in part because of requirements that projects be located in the state or close to the state's borders, and that steps be taken to steer economic benefits to local communities and workers, Hessel said. In many other states, clean energy requirements can be met with projects that are nowhere near the home state, and few have job-training provisions.

The Illinois plan also places a heavy emphasis on small projects. One set of programs will help pay for scores of local projects, such as community arrays serving multiple subscribers, adding up to about 650 megawatts statewide. A portion of the new solar will also be used to reduce utility bills for low-income residents.

State regulators and utility companies will oversee the program. Charges on household bills, typically a dollar or two a month, will pay for it.

Like much of the Midwest, it's windy here, and most of the state's renewable energy today comes from wind farms. Illinois already has about 4,400 megawatts of wind energy, and that's expected to rise to 5,600 megawatts by the mid-2020s under the new law.

Now, the falling price of solar components and increasing efficiency of solar panels is starting to make solar projects more financially attractive, as well, in Illinois and across the country.

Building a Solar Workforce Almost from Scratch

Job training is a key part of the law, including provisions aimed at hiring people from minority communities. There is a social mission here along with the practical need to tap many sources of workers in a tight labor market.

Chris Williams, a solar installer and business owner, now spends much of his time in a classroom helping adult students learn to do what he does.

"These students typically come in knowing nothing about construction, nothing about solar energy," said Williams, who owns Millennium Solar Electric Construction and is teaching job-training courses in partnership with a Chicago nonprofit called Elevate. "We teach them job safety, how to use tools properly, the basics of electrical."

Most of his students complete the 12-week course, and most of them have job offers already, he said.

Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Illinois law and the state's rules for carrying it out emphasize job training and projects that serve local communities. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

His classes are part of one group of training programs run by nonprofits across the state that have slots for about 450 students. There are several other job programs, as well.

The challenge is making sure workers are available in the parts of the state where projects are selected. Program organizers say they are aware of this and will adjust as needed.

Big Challenge: How to Pick Projects Fairly

The other major challenge is choosing and launching all those solar projects.

Officials are now setting up a process for selecting the first wave of community solar projects. Developers, eager to participate, have submitted proposals that together are worth 10 times the funding available in some areas.

Those that are selected will get a 15-year contract to support their projects with renewable energy credits.

The Illinois Power Agency has said it will select the projects through a lottery. To enter, a developer must have a lease for land, local zoning approval, and an agreement with a utility to transport the electricity.

Some developers say this sets the bar too low, especially in parts of the state with no local zoning and where the utility has waived the usual fees on connection agreements. They say the ease of entering the lottery has contributed to the glut of applications, with a wide variation in the viability of plans that all have an equal chance of being selected.

"It's no way to run a market," said Kevin Borgia, Midwest policy director at Cypress Creek Renewables, one of the country's largest solar developers. He argued that it could mean some projects selected don't get completed, which would slow the progress of meeting the state's clean energy goals.

Anthony Star, director of the Illinois Power Agency, says the lottery has the advantage of not giving unfair favor to anyone. "The simple fact is that there are more projects available than there is funding available," he said.

There is still time for officials to change the process before the first lottery is scheduled to be held in early next year, and the Illinois Power Agency has asked participants for more comments on the process.

The entire undertaking is so large that some things will inevitably need to be changed as the state moves forward, said Kolata, from the Citizens Utility Board. But he said he is confident that the major elements of the law's implementation are on the right track.


 

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