We Energies blocks Eagle Point Solar in Milwaukee

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   July 12, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Solar flare-up: Utility blocks Iowa firm from harnessing the sun in Milwaukee

This solar array of 836 panels on the city of Dubuque, Iowa’s Municipal Services Center was the subject of a lawsuit that opened the door in Iowa for private companies to partner with governments and other entities to provide solar energy. A similar legal battle is playing out in Wisconsin over a proposed project in the city of Milwaukee. Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar is the private company involved in both projects. Photo taken July 1, 2019.

As solar energy has become more popular and cost-effective, this once fringe renewable source is now at the center of an energy turf war in Wisconsin.

At issue is a project in which an Iowa-based renewables company wants to partner with the city of Milwaukee to power seven municipal buildings with solar. Eagle Point Solar would help to finance the city’s project, taking advantage of federal tax breaks that local governments do not qualify for.

Eagle Point is suing the public utility, We Energies, for refusing to connect a series of solar arrays to each other. We Energies says it is simply following the law. The utility claims Eagle Point would essentially be selling electricity to the city within We Energies’ service area, which the utility argued would be illegal.

“Assuming it’s safe, reliable and legal, we have no problem. It’s just when it is not a legal agreement, we obviously can’t connect that,” We Energies spokesman Brendan Conway said.

Eagle Point also sued the Public Service Commission, which declined to take up its complaint against We Energies, also known as Wisconsin Electric Power Co., essentially ducking the bigger question of to what extent utilities in Wisconsin can control the provision of solar energy.

“This case is very important and is being watched in other states,” said Brad Klein, a lawyer with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a legal advocacy group that focuses on the Midwest. “The definition of ‘public utility’ is becoming more important as new technologies like solar emerge that allow customers and private businesses to assume roles that once could only be played by large monopoly utilities.”

I&M Granger (IN) solar farm could increase electric bills

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   July 01, 2019  /   Posted in American Electric Power (AEP), Indiana Michigan Power Company (I&M), Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC)  /   No Comments

I&M Granger solar farm could increase electric bills

By Jeff Parrott South Bend Tribune

Solar Facility Still.jpg
Indiana Michigan Power Co. is seeking state approval to install solar panels like these on 200 acres of farm land southeast of Bittersweet Road and the Indiana Toll Road in Granger.

Fort Wayne-based I&M, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, has petitioned the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to recover the project’s costs through a base rate increase it filed May 14. If the IURC won’t allow that, I&M will try to recoup the costs by increasing monthly bills in another way, through a “solar power rider,” according to I&M’s filings with the IURC.

Last month’s base rate increase request came a year after I&M won approval of a $93 million revenue increase in May 2018, hiking a monthly 1,000-kWh bill from $126 to $141. The utility in September 2017 initially had requested a $263 million increase, which would have increased such a bill to $151.

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, the state agency that advocates for consumers in regulated utility cases, has started its technical and legal reviews of both new cases but has not yet determined how the proposals would affect monthly bills if approved, said OUCC spokesman Anthony Swinger.

I&M plans to start building the solar farm in May and have it operational by the end of next year. Some homeowners in Prairie Lane subdivision, whose Campfire Drive backyards overlook the Toll Road and the site, expressed mixed views on the project Monday. None said they would mind having the solar panels nearby.

“I think overall it’s fantastic to have renewable energy in the area,” said Mike Manis, who believes carbon emissions are responsible for climate change. “I don’t have a problem at all with the farm being near me. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

Manis’ neighbor, Bob Olson, said the solar farm shouldn’t make noise or smell, so it shouldn’t bother anyone in the neighborhood, unlike the Toll Road, which he’s still not used to, despite choosing to live there 32 years ago.

“I think they do it for PR reasons,” Olson said. “It’s just like the wind power. It’s been proven that it’s a physical impossibility for it to come out on the positive side (economically). The initial cost, the maintenance and repairs over time, don’t pan out. So the price goes up to cover the boondoggle. That, to me, is irresponsible.”

I&M derives 46.5% of the electricity it generates from coal, 44.1% from nuclear, 8.7% from wind, 0.4% from hydro, and 0.3% from solar. Its four solar plants, in Marion, Mishawaka, New Carlisle and Watervliet, Mich., generate a combined 14.7 megawatts of power.

This new project would generate 20 MW, 40 percent of which would be purchased by the University of Notre Dame. The university has pledged to reduce its campus carbon emissions by 50% per square foot by 2030.

Ashley Partridge, another Campfire Drive resident, said she is not sure that the world’s climate is changing because of carbon emissions, but she supports more development of wind and solar power because it will result in cleaner air than burning coal.

“I guess I’m torn on it,” she said. “I think it would be a good thing but I don’t like the idea of our prices going up.”

But Partridge said she’s OK with paying higher rates until I&M pays off the solar farm’s costs, if it means long-term reductions in coal use.

“If the investment comes back to taxpayers and the people who live around here,” she said, “I think it’s totally worth the investment. I think I would like looking across and seeing that our county and state are putting forth the effort.”

For additional information including petition and testimony, please see:

Will Kentucky’s net metering rollback kill solar industry?

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   June 30, 2019  /   Posted in Net Metering, solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Solar panels on house 2019.jpg

Will Kentucky's net metering rollback kill solar industry?

Chris Otts; Jun 30, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When Jennifer Adam got her monthly electric bill on June 14, it showed her family of four in Louisville’s Tyler Park neighborhood owed Louisville Gas & Electric $0 for the electricity they consumed.

That’s because the family’s usage was entirely offset by the $25,000 solar-panel system they put on their roof in March, which fed slightly more energy into the electric grid than the family pulled from it.

At this rate, Adam figures it will take about 11 years to recoup the net cost of her solar system, which was about $17,500 after a hefty federal tax break.

Adam, an industrial designer at Louisville-based Humana Inc., acknowledged the solar system was “a big investment,” but she and her husband felt compelled to do their part to fight climate change.

“I don’t know how you can look at the science and have children and not want to move to renewables,” she said.

At the same time Adam was adding the solar panels to her roof, Kentucky’s Republican-dominated legislature was finalizing a new law, backed by the state’s utility industry, that will likely make it harder for future homeowners to follow Adam’s path.

Starting in 2020, the law changes how small-scale solar owners like Adam’s family are compensated for the excess power they feed into the electric grid.

Since Kentucky first adopted “net metering” in 2004, solar owners have received a simple one-for-one credit from utilities: Every kilowatt hour of electricity the customer feeds into the grid offsets any kilowatt hours the customer consumes.

The new compensation will work differently. While the details haven’t been worked out, there is a broad assumption that it will be significantly less valuable for solar-panel owners than the one-for-one credits.

Matt Partymiller, who owns Lexington-based Solar Energy Solutions LLC and is president of the Kentucky solar trade group, said the typical payback period for a residential solar investment – currently about 12 years, on average – could “more than double” after changes to the net-metering rates.

Utilities – some of whom once supported net metering – say Kentucky’s current compensation rules represent an unjust subsidy to people like Adam, one that is paid for by the great mass of customers who can’t afford or don’t want solar panels.

“For us, it was really a fairness issue,” said Chris Whelan, spokeswoman for LG&E.

When LG&E is forced to buy power at the same retail rates that it charges for power, it’s the utility’s regular customers who pick up the tab, she said.

25-year grandfathering ends soon

In a bit of twist, the new law actually creates a strong incentive for solar panel installations in the state this year.

That’s because customers like Adam and anyone who gets a solar system up and running before the new rates take effect -- which won’t be until 2020 at the earliest -- will be grandfathered, continuing to receive the more favorable one-for-one credits for 25 years.

Exactly how long homeowners have to install a solar panel before the 25-year grandfathering goes away is unclear.

Starting Jan. 1, utilities like LG&E can ask the state’s Public Service Commission to change the one-for-one credit within their territories, and it usually takes the governor-appointed commission a few months to set new rates. Once the new compensation structure is in effect, new solar systems will be subject to it.

Indiana made similar changes to its net-metering laws in 2017, and that led to a surge in installations to receive the older, more favorable rates, Partymiller said.

Then there was “big drop” in residential solar installations in Indiana, said Dan Hofmann, owner and president of RegenEn Solar, the Louisville-based company that installed the panels on Adam’s house.

Besides the changes coming to net metering in Kentucky, Hofmann noted that the hefty federal tax credit that currently offsets the cost of a solar system by 30 percent is scheduled to decrease next year and to go to zero in 2022.

“If you’re in Kentucky and you’re thinking about going solar, you want to do it now,” he said.

Net metering used to have bi-partisan support

With some exceptions, the utility-backed bill, Senate Bill 100, passed largely along party lines in the Kentucky General Assembly earlier this year, with Republicans favoring it and Democrats opposed.

But the issue wasn’t always so contentious.

The 2004 bill that created the one-for-one electricity credits passed with a dissenting vote and was signed into law by former Republican  Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

At the time, LG&E said it had “no quarrel” with the policy and that it would promote the new net metering for solar as one of its energy efficiency programs, according to a 2004 Courier-Journal story.

“We supported the bill 15 years ago because we wanted to promote the growth and education of renewable energy,” Whelan, of LG&E, said in an email. “At that time, there was little to no private solar systems installed in our service territory.”

Now there about 1,000 customers in LG&E’s footprint who take advantage of net metering, Whelan said.

But as the cost of solar panels continues to fall  “non-solar customers still subsidize those who can afford to have private system installed,” she said.

Whelan said solar-generating customers aren’t paying enough for the poles, wires and other fixed costs that are necessary to provide conventional electricity to their homes when the sun isn’t shining or in the winter, when days are shorter.

“We want to ensure that the fixed costs needed to provide energy 24/7 are fairly distributed while still allowing solar to thrive in Kentucky,” she said.

LG&E has made similar arguments in recent years as it seeks to shift more of its bills into set, monthly charges that don’t depend on how much energy a customer uses. Solar generators like Adam still have to pay those “basic service” charges – currently $13.50 per month for electric service.

State Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, sponsored the 2004 bill that created the one-to-one energy credits for solar. In February, he voted for the utility-backed bill to roll those credits back.

In an interview last week, Harris said that 15 years ago, “We all recognized that alternative sources of energy were out there. I felt it was important to try to jump start a fledgling industry in Kentucky.”

Now that the industry is established and costs are falling, Harris said he thinks “a neutral third party”—the Public Service Commission – should decide how solar-system owners are compensated.

He stressed that homeowners who relied on the current policy to offset their investment won’t be affected because of the 25-year grace period.

Falling materials costs and rising competition in the “more mature” solar industry should counteract the negative impact of the net-metering changes, Harris said.

“We don’t want to cripple the industry; we want to promote it,” he said.  “… I am hopeful it will continue to grow in the state.”

Hofmann, the owner of RegenEn Solar, isn’t so sure. He has begun selling solar systems remotely to customers in Oregon and plans to expand to states with pro-solar policies like California and South Carolina.

“Now that solar is taking a hit in Kentucky, that has given us the push that we need, so we’re expanding nationally,” he said.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook

Madison Co. (IN) Plan Commission recommends 6-mo solar farm moratorium

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   June 30, 2019  /   Posted in solar  /   No Comments
Traci L. Miller, (Anderson) Herald Bulletin
Saturday, June 29, 2019 11:56 AM

ANDERSON — In a unanimous vote, members of the Madison County Planning Commission agreed to make a recommendation that a six-month moratorium be placed on any new large-scale solar developments.

“We certainly need to take a good look at our ordinances and potentially make changes to them, which is the reason for the moratorium,” said Brad Newman, planning director.

Newman said the planning commission met during a special meeting on Thursday to vote on the proposed recommendation. Members Wes Likens, Mark Gary, Tom Shepherd, Beth Vansickle, John Simmermon, David Kane and Cory Bohlander approved the recommendation.

Members Kelly Gaskill and Lisa Hobbs were not present on Thursday.

If the recommendation is approved by the Madison County Commissioners, Newman said no petitions for solar projects larger than 50 acres will be accepted for six months.

“The board of commissioners can make changes to that,” Newman said. “This is simply what the planning commission has recommended to the board of commissioners.”

A moratorium would only be effective in unincorporated areas of Madison County and would not have an impact in Anderson, Elwood, Alexandria and Pendleton.

Newman said the recommendation follows the approval of the Lone Oak Solar Farm which is approximately 850 acres. Newman said the new solar farm comes very close to homes, surrounding a number of homes on three sides and at least one home that is surrounded on all four sides.

Anyone who missed the meeting and wants to comment on the proposed recommendation can contact the commissioners ahead of the next meeting or attend the meeting at 7 p.m. July 8 in the Commissioner's Court located at the Madison County Government Center, 16 East Ninth St., in Anderson, Newman said. [emphasis added]

IndianaDG Joins Letter about Concerns with Vectren All-Source RFP

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   June 27, 2019  /   Posted in Vectren  /   No Comments

CenterPoint Vectren logo

June 24, 2019
President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Prochazka
Centerpoint Energy, Inc.
1111 Louisiana Street
Houston, Texas 77002

Manager of Resource Planning Matthew Rice
Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Company d/b/a Vectren Energy Delivery

One Vectren Square
Evansville, Indiana 47708

Re: Concerns about Vectren’s All-Source RFP Timing, Design, and Evaluation Criteria
Dear President and CEO Prochazka and Manager Rice,
First, we would like to commend Vectren for issuing an All-Source Request for Proposal as part of its Integrated Resource Plan process. As you know, we reached out on December 4, 2018, to make this very request. However, Vectren has not afforded interested parties the opportunity to provide comments on its All-Source RFP, and the details of this RFP are significant enough and concerning enough that we felt compelled to provide some high level comments. Our concerns, outlined below, address the following aspects: timing, preference for operational control, bid evaluation, location priority, and nodal economic analysis. Ultimately, we ask Vectren to reconsider certain aspects of its RFP to ensure integrity in this exercise and ultimate procurement of resources.

1. Timing of RFP – Vectren issued its RFP on June 12, 2019, and requires that proposals be submitted by July 31, 2019. While the period from issuance to due date is similar to that of the NIPSCO RFP, NIPSCO made public its intent to issue an all-source RFP in advance on March 23, 2018, and provided stakeholders an opportunity to comment on a public RFP design summary document (and the actual RFP for those who had signed a nondisclosure agreement) in April of 2018, before it was issued on May 14, 2018. Vectren has not done this, and furthermore, as of June 24th, there is not even a press release on Vectren’s website announcing the RFP. In addition, Vectren requires respondents to hold pricing for one year from the proposal due date but will not start negotiations until mid-2020. This is despite the fact that the initial evaluation of those proposals would have been wrapped up by September 2019. Put another way, Vectren is giving itself a year and a half to evaluate bids where bidders have just 45 days to respond. In contrast, NIPSCO filed and received approval for some of the bids it selected in its RFP less than a year from the date those bids were due.

2. Preference for Operational Control – The RFP states that “Vectren has a preference for Proposals that provide Vectren with operational control of the asset, regardless of ownership position.” We are unclear why this would be necessary, particularly for renewables developers. Where a utility dispatches its own generators, this makes more sense; but as a MISO market participant, the purpose of this preference is much more muddied. Indeed, this seems likely to dissuade or disadvantage PPA offers. And the weighting of proposals which gives 20 points to Asset Purchases and zero points to PPAs bears out this concern. It is highly probable that one or more PPAs will be more cost effective for customers than asset transfer proposals and Vectren’s weighting of the latter, through multiple mechanisms in this RFP, is highly problematic.

3. Bid Evaluation – We have a number of concerns with respect to the evaluation of bids. Overall, we are concerned about the weighting of the different criteria for evaluation, how those weights were determined, and the discussion of the criteria weights.

a. For the Project Risk Factors criteria – which accounts for the largest share at 32% – it is not clear how a proposal will receive points if it does not meet Vectren’s preferences.

i. For instance, as discussed previously, one of the risks stated in the RFP evaluation criteria is operational control. The RFP states that proposals which offer Vectren operational control will receive 20 points, but there is no mention of how proposals that do not offer operational control to Vectren will be treated and no explanation as to why there is this discrimination against these types of proposals in the first place.

ii. For the ownership structure, also as mentioned previously, Asset Purchase Proposals receive 20 points whereas PPA Proposals do not receive any points for this category.

iii. The scoring metric for Fuel Risk gives a higher weight for facilities with firm and reliable fuel supply, as they receive the full 20 points available for this category, but there is no mention of how projects with no fuel supply at all would be treated. If such facilities get 0 points, this would clearly disadvantage renewables despite it intuitively having no Fuel Risk and thus warranting the full 20 points in this category.

iv. Further, 25% of the possible 20 points will be deducted for each year that a proposal’s delivery year precedes the target year of 2023/24. This seems decidedly biased against renewables which may offer a lower cost for an earlier delivery year due to the step down of the Production Tax Credit for wind and Investment Tax Credit for solar.

b. The overall weighting of the factors is surprisingly light on cost. And the weighting of cost does not make sense for Load Modifying Resources (LMR) and Demand Response (DR) in that it weighs those costs differently than generators,
40% compared to 30% of the total, respectively. In the Proposal Risk Factors category, the story is the same where generators have the highest weight at 32%, while it is just 20% for LMR/DR resources.

c. For generators, the calculation of the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) will be key; thus, we have concerns that the methodology would be entirely up to Burns & McDonnell. At a minimum, each bidder should have the opportunity to review the calculation by Burns & McDonnell and be able to provide feedback on the LCOE calculated for their bid. Furthermore, Burns & McDonnell should seek to ensure that all likely-to-be capitalized costs are included in each project’s calculation and that depreciation schedules and discount rates are consistent with those that ratepayers are likely to face.

d. Next, it is not clear how all of these bid criteria will be used to weed out bidders, i.e., what minimum number of points are necessary to pass bids onto the IRP model. We are concerned that many cost-effective projects will be weeded out before they even have the chance to be evaluated in an IRP framework.

e. Finally, each bidder, as well as interested stakeholders with executed nondisclosure agreements, should have the opportunity to review and provide changes to the representation of their bid(s) in the IRP model, and any disagreements between the bidder and Vectren as to such representations should be reported to the IURC for consideration at such time that Vectren requests a certificate of need or similar authority. This is a necessary step for transparency since it is not clear that anyone other than Vectren and its consultants will be able to view all the responding bids. Indeed, a lack of transparency, in general, is a concern with the use of the Aurora modeling platform for this purpose. We are particularly concerned with Aurora’s apparent inability to provide all inputs, modeling parameters and settings, all outputs, and a copy of the model manual to non-licensee intervenors even under a nondisclosure agreement. If this material cannot be provided, this would be the time to adopt a model that can provide the necessary level of transparency.

4. Location Priority – The RFP states that “Vectren has a preference for projects located near its load.” It is not clear how “near” is defined, despite the fact that Section 4.1 states, “Non-conforming bids by Respondents to sell a generation facility or facilities not meeting the location requirements may be disqualified from consideration on that basis alone.” Further, Vectren arbitrarily reserves the right to add up to 100 points onto a Proposal if a generation facility is located in Southern Indiana and within its service territory for LMR/DR resources. We request clear criteria and further conversation about this.

5. Nodal Economic Analysis – Vectren requires bidders to provide a nodal analysis showing “expected unit economic metrics” in 2023, 2028, and 2033. Particularly given the extremely short timeframe for bidders to respond, we are concerned that this will narrow the pool of potential bidders significantly. We think it is unlikely that respondents have
this capability in house and would need to procure outside expertise in this short window to provide this information. Further, we question why Vectren would impose this requirement on bidders when it has the modeling capability to do nodal analysis itself.

Again, we appreciate that Vectren is taking this step to solicit bids for use in its IRP. However, we have grave concerns about the timing, design, and evaluation criteria that could ultimately result in a failed outcome if these issues are not addressed. We respectfully request Vectren’s careful consideration of our concerns and an opportunity for further dialogue to rectify these issues before the RFP response time has passed.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Kerwin Olson, Executive Director
Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana
(317) 735-7727

Thomas Cmar, Deputy Managing Attorney
Earthjustice, Coal Program
(312) 257-9338

Wendy Bredhold, Senior Campaign Representative, Indiana and Kentucky
Sierra Club, Beyond Coal Campaign
(812) 604-1723

John Blair, President
Valley Watch
(812) 464-5663

Zach Schalk, Program Director
Solar United Neighbors of Indiana
(317) 268-2099

Laura Ann Arnold, President
Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance
(317) 635-1701

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