|3/6/2019 6:14:00 PM
E.ON studying Gibson and Posey counties for wind farm
Andrea Howe, Princeton Daily Clarion Editor
PRINCETON — E.ON Climate & Renewables is planning a wind farm in Posey and southern Gibson County — and is exploring the feasibility of a second wind farm in areas northwest and south-southwest of Princeton as well.Wind Development Manager Karsen Rumpf told Gibson County Commissioners and residents Tuesday afternoon that the company has been involved in land acquisition for 13 months in Gibson County as part of a three-part study of developing a Gibson County wind farm. He said more meteorological and environmental studies and permitting processes are ahead over the next two to three years, before a wind farm layout is finalized.
Rumpf said the company was involved in some prospecting work earlier, but he became involved in the project in January, 2018, gathering data on available wind speeds and infrastructure, and gauging landowner interest.
He said E.ON is a third-party contractor that would develop and generate wind energy that could be distributed via Duke Energy transmission lines through the Midwest Independent System Operators (MISO) electrical grid.
He told commissioners that the company is negotiating easement agreements with private property owners and will not be involved in acquiring any property through eminent domain. E.ON is either completing or negotiating lease agreements for about 9,500 to 10,000 acres, and would like to have agreements for about 2,000 to 3,000 more acres, he estimated.
Rumpf said E.ON will be working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Federal Aviation Administration for proper permitting, as well as working with the county regarding floodplain permits and use of county roads.
"There's a lot yet to be done," he told the group Tuesday. "That's where we are today."
Rumpf said E.ON has installed one meteorological tower and expects to erect two more towers in coming months to generate more wind speed data. Once all the data is compiled, the company can determine the location and type of wind turbines, and required access roads.
He said the company's lease terms require E.ON to place turbines at a minimum 1,250-feet setback from any residence, 550 feet from any road right-of-way, 550 feet from existing structures or power lines, and if an adjacent landowner doesn't agree to a lease, the turbine would be no less than 550 feet from their property line. The largest turbine would be about 490 feet from the base to the tip of the blade, he estimated.
Residents questioned how the project could be economically feasible, citing wind studies from several years ago, but Rumpf said the cost of developing wind energy has dropped about 66 percent.
He estimated that the company would pay about $42 million in property taxes over a 30-year period, noting that the leases are for 30 years with provisions for two additional 10-year renewal periods.
Rod Flora, a Newburgh contractor working with E.ON in acquisitions, said the company will be improving the roads it uses for construction and maintenance of the turbines, to the specifications set by the county.
Rumpf estimated more than 200 construction jobs would be involved in the development of the wind farms and about 15 technicians will work and live in the area to maintain them.
He told County Commissioner Gerald Bledsoe that once the layout of the wind farm is determined, the company will come to the county to discuss bonding to protect/improve roads, county rights-of-way and entrances, culverts and bridges.
Commissioner Mary Key asked what provisions are made for decommissioning the turbines. Rumpf said the lease agreements stipulate that funds will be allocated in escrow beginning in the 20th year of the lease.
"E.ON is a global energy company," he said, telling Key the expense and revenue stream of the project will be known "before we even put anything in the ground."
Board of Commissioners President Steve Bottoms asked how much concrete is involved in the base for each turbine. Rumpf said soil borings will be done at each location, but the foundations will include tons of concrete and about 40,000 to 45,000 pounds of rebar reinforcement for the base.
Oakland City resident Bob Zasadny asked Rumpf how the turbines will stand up to tornadoes, noting that he's seen six or eight tornadoes in the county during his residency here. Rumpf said the turbines are built to withstand hurricane-force winds, but they're locked up so they're not spinning during a storm. "We also carry a high liability policy," he said.
Rumpf said wind power is a growing sector of the U.S. energy footprint, anticipated to increase to about 35 percent of the power provided by 2035.
Jim Tate, rural Princeton, asked whether the turbines would interfere with the county's Doppler radar system. Rumpf said the Federal Aviation Administration requires turbines to be located no closer than three nautical miles from a Doppler tower. "It's part of our due diligence," he told Tate.
Dennis Kiesel of Poseyville asked why E.ON would want to encroach on small towns, questioning why setbacks aren't at least 1,640 feet.
Rumpf said the setbacks are at least 1.1 times the height of the turbine.
Ron McRoberts asked whether E.ON would make use of local union labor for its steel, electrical and iron work. "We try to outsource locally as much as possible," Flora told him.
Les Kiesel of Haubstadt noted that if he has ground adjacent to property leased by E.ON for a turbine, the terms of the lease agreement would have the turbine within 550 feet of his property line, even if he intended to build a home on the property. He also said he's read information about the physical effect of living within two miles of a turbine, making note of the turbines' flickering lights. "I'm not a lease owner, I'm somebody living in the shadow of these turbines," he said.
"I understand it's new down here," Rumpf told the crowd. A native of Iowa, he said he grew up seeing wind farms.
"This is a whole new ball game to us," Dennis Simpson said. "We're used to oil and coal leases..."
Les Kiesel asked Rumpf whether E.ON's choice of Gibson County as a potential wind farm site is related to lack of restrictions.
Rumpf said the company looks at infrastructure, whether there are other wind farms in the area, whether there is adequate wind speed and landowner interest. "Zoning comes into play as well," he said.
Kiesel asked whether the project is a joint venture with Duke Energy, and Rumpf said it is not.
Becky Kiesel of Posey County asked whether the project is a "done deal" and what it would take to derail it.
Rumpf said it's not a "done deal," with permitting processes and land leases still to be accomplished. "We have to abide by the county requirements," he said. Questioned again about setbacks and the number of turbines planned for the Gibson County wind farm, he said lease terms take the owner's other uses for the property into consideration. He said the company typically sets one turbine per 80 acres.
Terry Adler, Mackey, noted that he's lived with the impact of coal mining and coal-generated electricity in Gibson County for years. "We are an industrial area," he said. "Something's got to take the place of these aging power plants," he added, noting that wind and solar energy are renewable sources.
Rumpf fielded several other questions, including inquiries about how much money landowners get for lease agreements. "It's not my position to tell you how much they make," he told the crowd.
The company owns and operates 23 wind farms in seven states, including the Wildcat Wind Farm in Tipton/Madison Counties in Indiana. "We own and operate our projects," E.ON's Development Outreach Manager Oliver Allen reported.
According to the company's website, the Wildcat Wind Farm in Indiana includes 125 GE 1.6 megawatt turbines that provide more than 200 MW of power, enough to provide power to more than 60,000 households.
Allen said the company made a short presentation at Princeton Community High School recently and plans to be involved in the Gibson General Health Foundation and Gibson County Chamber of Commerce, as well.
Bledsoe invited those who attended the meeting to take a look at a color-coded map of parcels in various stages of lease negotiations with E.ON in Gibson and Posey Counties.
"Just remember, this is our very first meeting," Key told the crowd. "We've got a long way to go. It's a long, slow process."
- Maine lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill to eliminate gross metering in the state and reestablish net metering for solar customers, sending it to Gov. Janet Mills, D, for likely signature.
- The bill restores "decades old policy of net metering" which was "rolled back in a very awkward fashion" under the previous administration, said State Rep. Seth Berry, D, the legislation's primary sponsor. It passed the House 93-48 Thursday after approval from the Senate earlier in the week.
- Upcoming energy legislation will likely aim to boost the state's renewable portfolio standard, move forward with offshore wind and lower barriers to solar deployment, Berry told Utility Dive. There are also discussions around legislation that would purchase the state's two investor owned utilities (IOUs) and move instead toward a customer-owned utility model, he said.
The elimination of gross metering in Maine marks a shift in legislative priorities for the state, which clean energy advocates say has struggled through eight years of inaction or rollbacks on renewable power policy.
LD 91 reestablishes retail rate net metering, which credits rooftop solar customers for the energy they supply to the grid, benefiting those customers and encouraging deployment of the resource.
"LD 91 is not a solution in and of itself. It is simply a re-correction in the near term," Vaughan Woodruff, president of solar installer Insource Renewables, told Utility Dive. "We are a state that has significant economic development challenges and we have really missed the boat thus far on the economic development opportunity of solar."
Last month, Mills signed an executive order ending a wind moratorium that had been put in place by former Gov. Paul LePage, R. Clean energy was a major component of Gov. Mills' campaign and contention over solar policy "was a big part" of the state's Democratic sweep that took over the governor's seat and both chambers of the legislature, according to Berry.
"There was a lot of frustration from many parts of the ideological spectrum about the policy of gross metering and the anti-renewable policies that had been a prevalent under the last administration for the last eight years or so," he said.
The distributed solar legislation "is only the beginning," Berry said. Between lack of customer choice and barriers to clean energy deployment, the state has a lot of policy considerations in play.
Moving forward, legislation will focus on lifting those "arbitrary barriers" to solar deployment, particularly for commercial investment, said Woodruff, who was involved in policy discussions crafting LD 91.
"Hanging out with folks in California, they're like on graduate level solar policy. It feels like at times we're still in the sandbox eating crayons. And so I feel like this will give us the opportunity to really sit down and be thoughtful" he said.
Another consideration is ensuring ratepayers are given more diversity and choice when it comes to generating power, said Berry.
"Mainers really liked the idea of being able to generate our own power," he said. "And the utilities have really stood in the way of efficiency and distributed resources for decades now. So there's been a long build up of a frustration with that."
One avenue of protecting ratepayers would be a dramatic shift to the state's current utility model: Maine would buy both IOUs, moving toward a consumer-owned utility instead.
While language hasn't been written, Berry said conversations among major stakeholders, including commercial and industrial ratepayers, utility workers and ratepayer organizations indicate support for the concept.
"It's a heavy lift," said Woodruff. "If that bill passes and we forced the sale of the investor owned utilities in the state of Maine, it would be one of the most shocking things to see in a single legislative session in Augusta, related to energy, that I've seen in my time there.
"It's coming faster than I expected," he added. "It's something that a number of us have been talking about for a while and I'm pleased to see it brought to the table so people can consider other options that are out there."
Another potential shift to the utility model in the state would be to move away from quantity-based rates, toward a more reliability-based metric, said Woodruff.
"The days of the one monolithic utility that delivered power in one direction from far distance centralized generation sources is a dinosaur," said Berry. "It's a relic of the late 19th, early 20th century. And we're ready to move beyond that."
Daderot / Wikimedia Commons
Eagle Point Solar president Barry Shear says he’s prepared to take his case to state’s top court to clarify rules.
The standoff between a Wisconsin utility and solar developer intensified this week with a petition filed by Eagle Point Solar asking state regulators to force We Energies to proceed with an interconnection request for its project.
The March 6 filing also asks the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to declare that Eagle Point would not be acting as a public utility in the third-party-owned solar project it was developing with the city of Milwaukee.
Eagle Point president Barry Shear said he sees a long legal battle ahead, possibly ending up in the state Supreme Court as did his fight with a utility in Iowa, where the court ruled in favor of Eagle Point and the concept of third-party ownership.
If the Public Service Commission refuses to open a docket and consider Eagle Point’s request, Shear said he will challenge the decision in state court. If the commission were to open a docket and eventually find in Eagle Point’s favor, Shear predicted an appeal by We Energies.
We Energies spokesperson Amy Jahns said, “We are still reviewing the complaint, but the law is clear. If anyone sells electricity to our customers, they should be viewed as a public utility and should be registered as such. In Eagle Point’s case, because we already provide retail electric service to the city, Wisconsin law prohibits Eagle Point from doing so.”
In January, the commission, which did not return a request for comment, turned down a request from solar developer Sunrun to open a docket exploring the legality of third-party ownership. In his petition, Shear specified that his request is different because it involves one specific case rather than a theoretical situation.
Solar developers, municipalities, nonprofit institutions and solar advocates in Milwaukee have asked the commission and state legislators for clarity on whether third-party ownership is legal, since many seek it as a way for institutions and cities to develop solar without paying steep upfront costs or foregoing tax credits not available to nonprofits. We Energies meanwhile has been seen as hostile to distributed solar generation by its customers and has tried to ban third-party ownership.
“I fully expect We Energies to fight this at every level,” Shear said. “They will probably get collaborators in the utility universe to oppose it, since they don’t want their revenue base diluted. If the utilities prevail or the Public Service Commission doesn’t take this up, I’m going to take it to court because I think on the law we are clearly in the right.”
Defining a public utility
The petition notes that under a Solar Services Agreement signed by Eagle Point and Milwaukee, Eagle Point would own 80 percent of six different solar installations on city property, and the city would own 20 percent, with the option to take full ownership over time. Eagle Point would provide services including financing the upfront costs of the panels, maintaining the panels and passing on the value of tax credits not available to the city since it doesn’t pay federal taxes.
The electricity would only be used on the site where it is generated, a crucial factor in arguing that the company would not be acting as a public utility as We Energies has charged.
Under the agreement, neither Eagle Point nor the city would sell electricity to any third party, nor back to We Energies. The city would pay Eagle Point a fixed charge per month, not based on kilowatts per hour generated, another provision meant to underscore it would not be acting as a utility.
Eagle Point argues in its petition that who owns a distributed generation asset like solar is legally supposed to have no bearing on whether the utility interconnects it to the grid. The interconnection process is meant to ensure the generation can be integrated with the grid without causing problems.
Eagle Point has long said that We Energies knew about the Milwaukee plan for months and raised no concerns, starting with the city’s request for proposals in April 2018, and didn’t object until late in the process, when Eagle Point had already invested about $100,000 in the project and foregone about $400,000 worth of other work, keeping 21 of its 27 installers available.
“Since it was such a compressed time frame I didn’t take on other projects, I couldn’t commit to doing other things,” Shear said. “I got completely kneecapped by We Energies.”
A public utility?
Eagle Point’s petition cites other legal cases to clarify the definition of a public utility.
It notes that the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1911 decided a landlord who built a steam plant to provide electricity to his tenants and several other buildings was not providing electricity to the public; nor was a power line obtained by a group of neighbors who “voluntarily band[ed] together” in a case decided in 1924.
When Ford Motor Company built a hydropower plant to supply its factory and actually wanted to be considered a public utility, the Wisconsin court disagreed. Ultimately, such case law says that serving a “restricted group” of people does not make something a public utility, Eagle Point’s petition argues.
“You can’t have a public utility under another public utility’s service territory — that’s their rationale” in denying interconnection, Shear said.
“The problem with that is the relevant and directly on-point Supreme Court cases that exist in Wisconsin and elsewhere about what a public utility is. You have to serve all of the public, not just one customer. I don’t meet any of those criteria, but We Energies — with their economic might — think they can say whatever they want to.”
At the same time it denied interconnection for the city’s project with Eagle Point, We Energies suggested Milwaukee participate in a new utility pilot project known as Solar Now or “Rent a Roof” wherein the utility would build solar on city facilities and pay a fee to the city.
“We are in regular contact with the city of Milwaukee and, as we have told them, by working with us on our Solar Now and DRER programs they could obtain nearly 40 percent of energy from renewable sources,” Jahns said, calling Solar Now the “largest approved solar program in Wisconsin history.”
After heated debate in several city council committee meetings, city officials rejected We Energies’ proposal and decided to use unspent capital funds to pay upfront for a much smaller solar installation — about 210 kW of solar capacity built on three libraries, instead of the originally planned 1-MW on six city sites. The city will pay Eagle Point to install the 210 kW of solar, then the city will own it outright, and will not be able to collect tax incentives.
“This is specifically the reason why third-party transactions are necessary,” Shear said. “The city would have had this solar array built without any capital outlay, all they would have had to do is buy the clean energy at a direct cost savings and the project would have gone forward.”
Since legal proceedings may take years to resolve, Shear said he’s unsure whether the larger project will ever be built. But he sees his battle with We Energies as important for the future of his company and solar more generally in Wisconsin. He said We Energies’ investment in blocking the project shows its larger importance.
“This is a drop of water in Lake Michigan compared to their total energy ocean, so it’s extraordinary they’d go to these lengths to stop this project,” Shear said. “I’m going to take this to its conclusion because what We Energies did in the city of Milwaukee has chilled and effectively tabled every municipal project we were working on in the state of Wisconsin. No one is willing to go forward until this is determined. We Energies has effectively blocked third-party solar in Wisconsin because of what they did in Milwaukee.”
Want more information about the Iowa fight for third party PPAs.
According to an analysis by the SUN DAY Campaign of data just released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), new solar and wind generating capacity has taken the lead over natural gas and all other energy sources for the first month of 2019.
FERC's "Energy Infrastructure Update" report (with data through January 31, 2019) notes that 18 "units" of new solar capacity (631 MW) and four units of new wind capacity (519 MW) each beat new natural gas capacity (one unit - 465 MW) in January. No new capacity additions were reported for any other energy sources.
FERC's data also reveal that renewables (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) now account for 21.23 percent of total available installed U.S. generating capacity. Five years ago, renewables were 16.24 percent. Thus, the nation's renewable energy capacity has been adding, on average, a percentage point each year.
Total wind generating capacity (97.18 GW) is rapidly closing in on that of hydropower (100.33 GW) and seems certain to overtake it sometime this year. Meanwhile the generating capacity of all renewables combined (254.57 GW) is about to surpass that of coal (264.49 GW) - again, very possibly in 2019. In addition, utility-scale solar has now surpassed 3 percent of the nation's generating capacity (i.e., 3.09 percent).
Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) filed a proposal with the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) for a new community solar program that would offer FPL customers the opportunity to help accelerate the cost-effective growth of solar in Florida by subscribing to a portion of new solar power capacity. In return, they will receive credits that are expected to reduce their monthly bills over time.
Weve been aggressively expanding solar with one goal in mind: bringing more solar to all of our customers cost-effectively while continuing to keep their bills lower than 90% of the country, said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. This innovative program is another major step forward in our 30-by-30 plan, which is one of the worlds largest solar expansions, and also an unprecedented opportunity for our customers to harness the power of the sun like never before.
FPL SolarTogether will significantly expand solar energy in Florida. Pending PSC approval, FPL plans to install 1,490 MW of new universal solar at 20 new solar power plants across its service territory to meet anticipated customer enrollment in the program. Built cost-effectively, the new solar power plants attributed to the program are projected to generate an estimated $139 million in net savings for customers over the long term, primarily from avoided fuel and other system savings. Participating customers will receive direct credits for the savings on their monthly bills, and the program is designed to also contribute a portion of the savings to all customers, which will help keep fuel costs low for everyone.
If approved, FPL SolarTogether will be the largest community solar program in the United States. According to the Solar Energy Industry of Americas latest information, a total of 1,298 MW of community solar has been installed in the U.S. through the third quarter of last year.
This program will more than double the amount of community solar currently in the U.S., said Silagy.
FPL studied community solar programs offered throughout the country, including Florida. Program participants will not be tied to a long-term contract and can terminate or reduce their subscription at any time. In addition, because the subscription is associated with a customer account and not a physical address, program participants who move within FPLs service area can maintain their subscription benefits. FPL expects program participants to achieve a simple payback on their subscription within seven years. FPL also will retire Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) on behalf of participants who are looking to meet sustainability goals.
In order to gauge potential customer interest in a program like this, FPL has been working with its largest energy users. More than 200 of FPLs largest energy users including municipalities, national retail chains, universities, banks, restaurants and schools have committed to participate, providing the foundation for such a large program.
Broward College is committed to the education and advancement of sustainable energies that improve community wellness, said John Dunnuck, CEO, Broward College. The Colleges partnership with FPLs SolarTogether program is an investment in Floridas future.
If passed, the new energy centers built through the program will increase the use of solar power on the energy grid, helping to offset the use of other power plants fueled by non-renewable resources. The first six solar plants, each of which will have about 300,000 solar panels and be capable of generating 74.5 MW of solar, are scheduled to be operational in early 2020, with the remaining 14 facilities planned for 2021. FPL has already secured enough land to build all of these plants and the company plans to announce the individual locations in the future.
FPLs SolarTogether program provides an innovative approach to addressing business and residential needs for embracing clean energy in Florida and cost-effectively expanding the Sunshine States renewable energy footprint, said Tim Center, executive director of Tallahassee-based, Sustainable Florida. This initiative chalks up major wins for Floridas environment and sustainability.
In response, Southern Alliance for Clean Energys executive director Dr. Stephen A. Smith issued this statement:
SACE welcomes the news of Florida Power & Lights newly-announced SolarTogether Program. We believe this will be a significant move to provide low-cost solar power to a wider range of customers throughout Florida. We believe that this program, coupled with FPLs previously announced 30 x 30 commitment to utility-scale solar, shows that the utility is serious about advancing solar power in Florida. This program appears to make clean, solar power more widely available in the Sunshine State. We are carefully reviewing the details of this proposal and will provide more comments as we review this filing.
Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) is also considering a community solar program. For more information see: