Proposal extending rooftop solar to apartments rejected by Nevada utility regulators

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 30, 2018  /   Posted in solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Public Utilities Commission of Nevada

Proposal extending rooftop solar to apartments rejected by utility regulators

by Riley Snyder, The Nevada Independent, November 29th, 2018

Renewable energy advocates and lawmakers of both parties have for the past year touted the returning rooftop solar industry after slashed favorable reimbursement rates resulted in a year-long hiatus for solar businesses.

But even as the number of rooftop solar installations continues to grow, not all Nevadans have equal access — rooftop solar and other forms of distributed generation remains largely out of reach for the nearly half a million state residents who live in apartments and other non-single family residences throughout the state.

An attempt to expand rooftop solar systems to apartment dwellers was blocked Wednesday by the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which declined to take up a request for an advisory opinion that could open the door to allowing apartment dwellers and others who live in concentrated housing to participate in net metering programs.

The three-member commission rejected an application for an advisory opinion filed by Ovation MM, a property management company run by Alan Molasky that owns 38 separate apartment communities in Southern Nevada with more than 9,220 units. In a statement, Molasky said his apartment complexes already meet energy efficiency standards and have some solar panels on parking structures at several of the properties to power light fixtures, and that filing the application “just feels right.”

“I am disappointed that the PUC has denied our petition, but I do understand the reasoning,” he said in an email. “They are concerned that they have the statutory authority under Nevada law. Fortunately, this can be fixed. I know that many of our incoming legislators and our Governor-elect are very pro-clean energy, so I am hopeful we find a way to enable us with the authority to move forward soon.”

The company’s proposal called for creation of a so-called “Tenant Solar” initiative, which would in theory allow apartment owners — either directly or through a third-party — to install a distributed energy system (solar panels) on an apartment complex. The created electricity would be used and consumed by apartment residents.

But energy regulators and the state’s primary utility, NV Energy, recommended against adopting any advisory opinion or rulemaking without a clear directive from state lawmakers, as a similar concept was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2017. PUC staff warned that proceeding with the application would constitute “impermissible ad hoc rulemaking” in violation of state law.

Curt Ledford, the attorney representing the property management company in the docket, said in an interview that the commission’s decision was “not unexpected” and that the company would consider participating in other ways, such as a change in law or the opening of an investigatory docket.

“We knew the legal arguments were going to be challenging to overcome,” he said.

The company’s application, filed in October, acknowledged the lack of administrative rules that would guide such solar installations, and asked that the commission “acknowledge that the Legislature has opened up solar opportunities to a new group of Nevada’s residents.”

Although state law doesn’t expressly allow for community solar and other forms of distributed generation for multifamily housing units (such as apartment complexes), Ledford in the application pointed to a provision in a 2017 bill that created a “Renewable Energy Bill of Rights” for Nevada residents, including the right to “generate, consume and export renewable energy.”

In the application, Ledford added that the 2017 language was “clear and unambiguous,” and that residents of apartments or other non-single family homes should have the same ability to access distributed generation. He said the 2017 law “supersedes or impliedly repealed” a 2009 state law excluding the operators of apartments or other multifamily-living residences from operating rooftop solar systems, and that the rights granted under the 2017 bill would be “meaningless” without a way to access rooftop solar.

But PUC staff disagreed, saying no conflict existed between the two laws and any further “public policy goals” in relation to rooftop solar or net metering would first require legislative action. As a workaround, it suggested connecting individual rooftop solar panels to an individual apartment’s meter, or for the apartment unit itself to become a net metering customer (as opposed to an apartment complex selling power to its tenants).

Ledford — who said the structure of the “Tenant Solar” idea was kept purposefully vague to give regulators as much leeway as possible —  said it was “telling” that no other apartment owners were using the system described by the PUC as an alternative.

“There’s no reason to employ inefficient uses of technology just because the law doesn’t allow you to,” he said. “It’s better just to change the law.”

The proposal was also opposed by NV Energy, which cited legislative history showing references to community solar gardens were amended out of an initial version of the legislation, and the fact that the community solar concept was vetoed by Sandoval in 2017.

“Petitioner is attempting to circumnavigate the legislative process by asking the Commission to effectuate public policy that the Nevada Legislature has to date declined to enact,” an attorney for the utility wrote in a briefing.

Two pro-solar advocacy groups, Vote Solar and the Solar Energies Industry Association, submitted comments in support of the proposal.

In his veto message on the 2017 community solar bill, Sandoval expressed several concerns with the concept including worries that growth of the “gardens” would avoid the costs and regulations faced by other utilities, possibly compete with large-scale solar photovoltaic plants by giving them an “unfair” competitive advantage and not enough requirements that the gardens generate electricity for low-income residents or small businesses.

At the time, Sandoval also expressed concerns about how the measure would mesh with the proposed Energy Choice Initiative — now a moot point after voters overwhelmingly rejected the retail electric market ballot question on the 2018 ballot.

Democratic state Sen. Mo Denis, who sponsored the community solar bill in 2017, said in a brief interview that he was planning to bring the legislation back in 2019 and was working with the industry and NV Energy on potential changes, including limits on how much electricity each individual “garden” could generate and an aggregate limit on overall generation.

Disclosure: NV Energy has donated $150,000.00 to The Nevada Independent.
You can see a full list of donors on our donor page.

What a gas! Dominion, Smithfield team to turn methane from hog waste into fuel for homes and businesses

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 28, 2018  /   Posted in biomass  /   No Comments
Smithfield

This 2014 file photo depicts a pig statue on Main Street in Smithfield. 

What a gas! Dominion, Smithfield team to turn methane from hog waste into fuel for homes and businesses

Dominion Energy has a new source of fuel for its natural gas business.

Hog manure.

The Richmond-based energy giant announced a $250 million joint venture with Smithfield Foods on Tuesday to capture methane from hog waste on farms in Virginia and two other states for use as natural gas by homes and businesses.

“It puts that part of the pig to productive use,” quipped Diane Leopold, executive vice president and CEO of gas infrastructure at Dominion.

Dominion — the target of criticism for its proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline — contends the renewable natural gas venture will reduce emissions of a primary source of greenhouse gases linked to climate change. Ultimately, the company estimates the new source of gas could displace up to 4 percent of the natural gas it extracts from the earth by hydraulic fracturing and transports by pipelines that are themselves sources of methane emissions.

“We recognize the need to reduce greenhouse gases,” Dominion Chairman and CEO Tom Farrell said at a public announcement at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond.

The new venture, Align Renewable Natural Gas, would begin with four projects, including one at a cluster of two dozen hog farms that supply Smithfield Foods in the Waverly area of Sussex County. The other projects include major Smithfield hog farming operations in North Carolina and Utah, where Dominion operates a natural gas transmission system.

Smithfield has experimented with the technology at a pilot project in North Carolina and hog farms in Missouri, but CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan said, “No one is doing this on the size and scale we’ve just announced.”

The system will require participating farmers to cap their hog manure lagoons in return for long-term contracts for the energy they produce. The waste will undergo a bacterial process called anaerobic digestion that produces a biogas consisting of methane and carbon dioxide — both greenhouse gases — that will be piped under low pressure to a central processing facility for clusters of hog farms.

The processing facility then reduces the moisture in the gas so it can be safely transported by pipeline to natural gas customers for home heating and other uses.

“It’s basically pure methane,” Farrell said.

Initially, Dominion plans to deliver the renewable natural gas to local distribution systems — in Waverly, that’s mostly Columbia Gas of Virginia, with some customers served by Virginia Natural Gas.

Farrell said that as the volume of converted biogas increases, it would be carried by larger pipelines, such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile, $7 billion project that would cross through Virginia and North Carolina near the hog farms that supply Smithfield.

By carrying gas produced by fracking in shale fields in West Virginia and transported by pipelines that leak methane, the pipeline represents the climate change threat the new renewable natural gas venture is trying to reduce, pipeline opponents say.

“This news shows both that Dominion acknowledges that methane is a harmful greenhouse gas that needs to be reduced; and that it’s possible to get gas from sources besides destructive fracking, pipelines, and compressor stations,” said Anne Havemann, senior counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Farrell described the converted natural gas as “carbon negative,” meaning that it would produce far less methane than the carbon dioxide that would be released when burned by gas customers. Methane is roughly 25 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, although both are linked to global warming that scientists say causes climate change.

The companies said their new venture will help Virginia and North Carolina meet targets for reducing greenhouse gases under new initiatives announced by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

Northam announced a plan in September for reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, including the methane released by natural gas pipelines, compressor stations and other infrastructure, as well as landfills.

Farrell and Leopold briefed Northam and Virginia environmental regulators on the pending announcement in a meeting last week.

The meeting attracted the attention of pipeline opponents who have criticized the governor for removing two members of the State Air Pollution Control Board before a scheduled vote next month on a state air permit for a natural gas compressor station for the pipeline in Buckingham County.

Northam did not attend the announcement on Tuesday, but Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring said in a news release, “This partnership with two leading Virginia companies shows the power of Virginia’s largest industry — agriculture — to promote cleaner energy, sustainable family farms, and a brighter future for rural communities here in the commonwealth and nationwide.”

The initiative demonstrates a continuing cultural shift for both companies in embracing environmental protection for industries that inevitably cause pollution.

Smithfield, the largest pig and pork producer in the world, threatened almost 30 years ago to move its operations out of Virginia because of the state’s new limits on phosphorus discharged in the Pagan River by the company’s meat processing operations in Smithfield. A federal judge fined the company $12.6 million in 1997 for thousands of water quality violations.

Shuanghui Group, a Chinese conglomerate now known as WH Group, purchased the company five years ago. Last year, the company formed Smithfield Renewables, which established a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025.

Sullivan called the initiative “a true win-win” by providing long-term revenue streams for farmers, while better protecting hog waste lagoons from hurricanes and other sources of flooding.

Dominion, as owner of Virginia’s largest electric utility and energy facilities across the country, said it already has reduced its carbon pollution by more than 40 percent in the last 10 years. It estimates that the renewable natural gas project will prevent 10 billion cubic feet of methane from entering the atmosphere, the equivalent of removing 120,000 vehicles from the road.

“With this transformational partnership, we are combining the environmental benefits of renewables with the reliability of natural gas to meet the around-the-clock clean energy needs of consumers and businesses,” Farrell said in a statement.

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6964

 

DC lawmakers vote for 100 percent clean power by 2032; Thrive Indianapolis 100% by 2050

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 28, 2018  /   Posted in Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL), Uncategorized  /   No Comments

District of Columbia logo

DC lawmakers vote for 100 percent clean power by 2032

Here’s Which States Are Best For Owning An Electric Car; How does Indiana rank?

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 27, 2018  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Both mainstream and upstart automakers are planning to debut no fewer than 100 electrified vehicles in the U.S. by 2022. The question is whether the nation is equipped to handle them, especially with regard to public charging stations.

Of course, the easiest way to keep an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid charged is to accomplish it at home, but this assumes one has access to a garage with electrical service. Even better would be to have a 240-volt line and a dedicated “Level 2” charger installed. It’s not cheap, but it cuts the charging time in about half.

Still, that tends to leave out city dwellers and others who either park on the street or in an apartment building garage. That’s why transportation experts agree that a well-entrenched network of public charging stations is critical to the future success of electrified rides.

As of this writing, there’s around 20,000 EV charging stations operating in the U.S., with many sites having multiple charging units. They’re typically installed in public parking garages, retail parking lots, at new-car dealerships, and even on some urban street corners. Some offer “Level 3” charging, which is also called DC fast charging. This is the quickest system of all, being able to bring a given EV’s battery up to 80% of its capacity in just 30 minutes.

With 400,000 EVs having been sold in California over the past decade, it should come as no surprise that the Golden State is home to the highest number of charging stations at 4,978 units. It’s a large and heavily populated state, however, and that number translates into one charging station for every 7,942 residents. By comparison, while Vermont has just 165 open charging spots statewide, that comes to one station for only every 3,780 residents. That’s according to a recent study of the “friendliest” states for EV owners conducted by the website YourMechanic.com.

Here’s the 10 states the study determined have the highest ratio of charging stations to the general population:

  1. Vermont: 3,780 residents per charging station (165 total)
  2. Hawaii: 5,555 residents per station (257 total)
  3. Oregon: 6,939 residents per station (597 total)
  4. Colorado: 7,681 residents per station (730 total)
  5. California: 7,942 residents per station (4,978 total)
  6. South Dakota: 8,263 residents per station (105 total)
  7. Minnesota: 8,424 residents per station (662 total)
  8. Iowa: 8,502 residents per station (370 total)
  9. Washington: 8,923 residents per station (830 total)
  10. Maine: 9,611 residents per station (139 total)

The state having the lowest charger-to-population ratio is Alaska, with just nine EV charging stations situated within its borders. That translates into one EV outlet for every 82,199 Alaskans. That’s considerably higher than the next-lowest-ranked state, Mississippi, with 58 chargers and 51,450 residents theoretically sharing each of them.

Not coincidentally, the states having the most charging stations are also the states with the highest rate of EV ownership. Again, California leads the nation with EVs accounting for 5.02% of all vehicles sold during 2017, according to YourMechanic.com. With the most popular electric car there being the Tesla Model S, the state’s EV inventory includes a handful of so-called compliance cars that are offered only in California (and perhaps a couple of other like-minded states) to fulfill a requirement that major automakers sell at least one zero-emissions vehicle.

The only other states in the union where EV sales accounted for more than two percent of new-vehicle sales last year are Washington (at 2.51%), Oregon (2.36%), Hawaii (2.33%), and Vermont (2.13%). Mississippi and Oklahoma are tied for last place with just a slight 0.01% EV market share each during 2017.

Again, not surprisingly, most of the states with the highest EV market shares offer special incentives on top of the federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Here's the richest in the nation:

  1. Colorado: $5,000 tax credit for purchase; $2,500 for lease
  2. California: $2,500-$4,500 rebate, depending on income
  3. Connecticut: $3,000 rebate
  4. Maryland: $3,000 excise tax credit
  5. Massachusetts: Up to $2,500 rebate
  6. Delaware: Up to $2,200 rebate
  7. New York: Up to $2,000 rebate
  8. Louisiana: Up to $1,500 income tax credit

Ironically, among the states in which low electricity rates make it inherently the cheapest to keep an electric vehicle charged, most have paltry EV penetration. Here’s YourMechanic.com’s list of the 10 states having the lowest refueling costs per “eGallon,” which represents the cost of driving an EV the same distance as one could on a gallon of gasoline:

  1. Louisiana: $0.87
  2. Washington: $0.88
  3. Arkansas: $0.90
  4. Oklahoma: $0.92
  5. Idaho: $0.96
  6. Kentucky: $0.97
  7. Utah: $0.98
  8. Tennessee: $0.99
  9. Oregon: $1.02
  10. North Dakota: $1.02

California, with the most EVs of all on the road, is ranked 44thin the nation with regard to electric rates, with an eGallon of electricity costing $1.72. Hawaii is the costliest state to keep an EV charged at $2.91 per eGallon, followed by Alaska ($2.02), Massachusetts ($1.97) Connecticut ($1.96), Rhode Island ($1.82), and New Hampshire ($1.80).

You can read the full study, which also breaks down other aspects of EV ownership by state, here.

Here are some of the Tables from this study. Please note where Indiana ranks.


Neighbors in eastern Iowa fight to bring down wind turbines — and win

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 26, 2018  /   Posted in Uncategorized, wind  /   No Comments

Neighbors in eastern Iowa fight to bring down turbines — and win

FAIRBANK, Ia. — Developers who invested $11 million to install three wind turbines in eastern Iowa are tearing them down, after losing a legal battle waged by nearby residents.

It's only the second time nationally a judge has ordered wind turbines to be torn down and a first in Iowa.

"It's great. We love it," said Cheyney Hershey, whose young family lives near the turbines. "You can't sit outside on the deck and have a conversation without the constant thumping of the blades going round."

The noise can even be heard inside his home, Hershey said: "There was nowhere to get away from them."

His family and others watch daily to see what work has been done: Crews have torn down two turbines and are dismantling the third. They have until Dec. 9 to complete the work.

Opponents to the 450-foot turbines believe the legal battle will empower other rural landowners and small towns to take on wind.

Residents in Palo Alto, Black Hawk and other counties are challenging wind projects as well.

"It was a shock that the neighbors and Fairbank could say we didn't want them" and win, said Ted Vorwald, a Fairbank city council member.

In 2015, the Fayette County Zoning Board provided permits that allowed the wind developers to build the turbines.

Nearby landowners challenged the permits in district court, where a judge agreed with them, saying the permits were "illegal and void."

Developers appealed the decision, and decided to move ahead with construction.

But the Iowa Court of Appeals this year ruled in the city and residents' favor. And the Iowa Supreme Court declined to consider the case, forcing the developers to tear down the turbines.

"The system worked," Vorwald said. "They were put up without the zoning ... and the courts upheld the ruling."

Wind energy supporters say the order could hurt new investment, jeopardizing jobs, landowner payments and tax revenue that come with the projects.

Court records indicate taking down the turbines will cost about $450,000 — or $150,000 each.

"There's some risk that this will chill investment," said Bret Dublinske, a Des Moines attorney representing four of the five Fayette County wind developers.

"This isn't something that's happened before, where you have a development that played by the rules, got the permit, and to have that result in a forfeiture — the actual tearing down of the turbines," Dublinske said.

That "will make some people leery about whether the rules can change after the investment is made," he said.

'It has been a long and costly four years'

Resident Joyce Kerns said Fairbank is a beautiful little town that residents want to see grow.

It sits about 35 miles from Waterloo and 50 miles from Cedar Rapids, offering an alternative for families wanting to live outside of the big eastern Iowa cities, she said.

"A lot of younger couples have moved here," says Kerns, one of the landowners near the wind turbines. "It's a nice community with a lot of professionals."

The wind turbines, about a half mile from the city's northeast side, lie in the way of Fairbank's growth, say Vorwald and others.

The turbines sit near 36 lots the city approved for residential development. "That's a lot of homes for a small town," Vorwald said.

Landowners John W. Woods and Ron Woods, owner of Woods Construction, are longtime residents who are developing the addition and challenged the wind energy project. Ron Woods is a Fairbank council member.

The Woods family said in an email the turbines would have halted their development efforts. "It has been a long and costly four years of going to hearings and disputing the wind companies. We believe Fairbank will now continue to grow and attract new" residents, they said.

Flickers are like a '70s strobe light

Kerns said she grew up on a farm near where the turbines are now located.

She said the wind developers have been "bullies," moving ahead with building the turbines knowing local landowners had filed a lawsuit against the project.

"They just weren't considerate of the townspeople," said Kerns, who is concerned about the impact of the turbines on the health of neighbors.

MORE: Six common complaints about wind turbines

She said some residents have complained about nausea and sleep deprivation from the turbines. Flickers from the turbines create an effect "like being back in the '70s with the strobe lights," she said.

"In the short-term it's not bad. But over time, it's not good for your body," she said.

"Unless you live under a turbine, you don't understand what it's like," said Kerns, who built a home near her family's farm.

She said the turbines encroach on a nearby woods, where she played as a child. Since the turbines have stopped turning, "I can hear the birds chirping again," Kerns said.

'It's all about the money' 

Dublinske is unsure whether the dismantled turbines will find a new home.

Alliant Energy had purchased the wind energy generated near Fairbank.

"Those turbines will go into storage and ... hopefully, they'll be used somewhere else," Dublinske said.

"That's one of our big concerns. Having obtained the proper authorization ... to have this end up in millions of dollars of waste is unfortunate and unfair," he said.

MORE: Is wind power saving rural Iowa or wrecking it?

Iowa has embraced wind energy since adopting a renewable energy portfolio in 1983.

The state gets 37 percent of its electricity from wind energy generation, the largest share in the nation. Wind energy generation is second only to coal.

The American Wind Energy Association says utility and wind developers have invested $14.2 billion in Iowa over nearly three decades.

MidAmerican Energy, Iowa's largest utility, is betting heavily on wind. With its proposed $922 million wind expansion, it will have invested $12.3 billion in wind energy since 2004.

MidAmerican, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, expects to generate as much renewable energy as its customers use annually.

Growing investment has brought opposition, including legal challenges in Fayette, Palo Alto and Black Hawk counties.

"The courts are the only place we have to defend ourselves," said Janna Swanson, a wind opponent who lives in northwest Iowa, where some neighbors are challenging whether the wind farms need state utility board permits to operate.

The Iowa Utilities Board says no, but the ruling is being appealed.

County officials and landowners who lease land to wind developers like the money the turbines bring, said Harold Youngblut, a Black Hawk County farmer who is fighting a $120 million wind project in court.

"It's all about the money," instead of about local residents' concerns, said Youngblut, whose attorney is challenging whether high-dollar farmland can be used to build large wind farms.

MORE: Utility's push for more wind turbines is blowing up trouble with Madison County residents 

MidAmerican Energy, for example, sent $16 million last year in payments to landowners and $20 million in property taxes statewide.

The Black Hawk County wind developer planned, but later killed, a turbine project across the street from Youngblut's family farm, where his son and family now live.

Still, Youngblut is sticking with the lawsuit.

"We need to stand up for what we believe is right," Youngblut said. "I don’t like being in a lawsuit. But I believe there are too many unanswered question about these turbines."

Always some 'not-in-my-backyard objections'

Dublinske said the legal challenges so far have been limited.

"There are a lot of wind developments going on across Iowa, and there are a lot of supportive communities, a lot of very supportive landowners," he said.

"There are always some not-in-my-backyard objections, especially for people who are not hosting the turbines and getting the revenue," Dublinske said.

Swanson said rural Iowa families shouldn't have to suffer wind turbines — which compact soil during construction and hurt crop yields — to satisfy urban residents' need to feel good about the environment.

Utilities say farmers are compensated for any short-term damage, and they use deep-tillage machines to help reverse compaction.

"A lot of places say we're against renewable energy," Swanson said. "That has nothing to do with it.

"What we care about is our homes, our health, our land, our wildlife and our economy," which are jeopardized by wind projects, said Swanson, a board member of the Coalition for Rural Property Rights, along with Youngblut.

She questions whether wind energy is really a good public taxpayer investment, given that MidAmerican will get about $10 billion in federal production tax credits for its $12 billion investment.

"It's hard for us in the country to fight this, and the utilities know that," she said, adding that rural Iowans deserve more voice in wind turbine developments.

In Fayette County, residents say a new county ordinance guiding wind development gives them a little more confidence that they'll be protected in the future.

But they say they need to be vigilant. The Woods family, which brought down the turbines, said they hope the lawsuit makes developers think carefully about where they plan to build them.

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