I&M Awards Energy Assistance Funding to IN-CAA

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 26, 2018  /   Posted in American Electric Power (AEP), Indiana Michigan Power Company (I&M), Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC)  /   No Comments

I&M Awards Energy Assistance Funding

The AEP subsidiary is headquartered in downtown Fort Wayne.

The AEP subsidiary is headquartered in downtown Fort Wayne.

Fort Wayne-based Indiana Michigan Power is providing $450,000 to a statewide nonprofit group in an effort to help residents pay their energy bills. The utility says the funding awarded to the Indiana Community Action Association will also help customers weatherize their homes to be more energy-efficient.

The IN-CAA is comprised of 22 Indiana Community Action agencies throughout the state. I&M is giving $125,000 for the Energy Share program to help qualified residents pay their seasonal bills, and will give an additional $125,000 next year.

The utility is also providing $150,000 to IN-CAA to the weatherization effort for income-qualified customers.

"Given that the heating season is setting in early this fall, the money from I&M will help many households with limited incomes to be safer and more comfortable this winter," said Ed Geradot, executive director of the IN-CAA. "The network of Community Action Agencies nationwide works very hard to reduce the energy burden on our more vulnerable citizens. Funding such as this is highly valued."

I&M says the assistance is part of its rate increase approved earlier this year by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The utility encourages customers who wish to apply for assistance to contact the Community Action agency that serves their area, which can be found by clicking here.

Kankakee Valley (IN) School board reviews possible future tax changes from closing NIPSCO coal-fired power plants

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 26, 2018  /   Posted in Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO)  /   No Comments

Kankakee Valley admin office stock image

Kankakee Valley School board reviews possible future tax changes

A short presentation was given to the KV School Board Monday, Nov. 12. Tyler Loeffelholz of H. J. Umbaugh and Associates, explained the projected net assessed values and tax rates based on the closing of four coal-fired generators at the Schahfer plant in Wheatfield by 2023. The accounting firm looked at the impact this would have on property taxes.

He first showed the numbers if the corporation does not add additional debt, a scenario where a $5 million bond was taken, and another with a $15 million bond. In the first scenario, the total tax rate in 2023 would jump from $.85 in 2018 to $1.17 per $100 of assessed value. If the corporation took a $5 million bond, the rate would go up to $1.22, and for a $15 million bond, the rate would be $1.24, with the rates then dropping a few cents per year after that.

The presentation showed the rates are projected to increase by about 40 cents assuming NIPSCO’s net assessed value drops by $394 million.

For a home with an assessed value of $200,000 with a homestead credit, the amount of the annual increase would be $384.55.

Superintendent Dr. Aaron Case said there will be a budget loss of about 30 percent, but he said NIPSCO is still looking at keeping the gas generation plant running. He said he sat in a session with Dr. DeBoer, an economist at Purdue, who said the county tax rate now is about $1.20 per $100 assessed value. School districts make up the bulk of the taxes, but as long as the tax rate is less than $2, it won’t be affected by the circuit breaker tax caps on land.

Woodford County (IL) solar farm rejected, may be headed to the court

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

SolAmerica Energy

Woodford solar farm rejected, may be headed to the court

Scott Hilyard Journal Star; Nov 23, 2018

 

EUREKA — The Woodford County Board has readdressed the by-now familiar request by Georgia-based SolAmerica Energy to construct a solar-power generating facility next to a Eureka residential neighborhood.

The approach varied slightly this time, but the result remains the same: No solar farm.

On Tuesday, board member Duane Kingdon made the motion to accept the Zoning Board's recommendation and approve a special exception that would allow construction and operation of a 2-megawatt solar farm on a 53-acre tract of land that abuts the Lakeview Acres subdivision.

Board member Pete Stried seconded the motion, and at that point the issue was farther along in the process than it had been during two previous  meetings.

But the motion failed 10-2, with Kingdon and Stried casting the only votes in support.

Kingdon, who is chairman of the board's zoning subcommittee, said he voted in favor of the solar farm in support of the work done by the members of the county Planning and Zoning Board.

"They did the work and heard all the testimony and agreed that (SolAmerica) had met all of its legal requirements," said Kingdon after the vote. "I support them. I also thought that Robert's Rules of Order requires the person who makes the motion to vote in favor of it."

The proposal has been vigorously opposed by residents of Lakeview Acres and the city of Eureka. Residents argued the solar farm that would blanket about 25 acres with thousands of glass solar panels would be aesthetically displeasing, a drag on property values and a safety concern, among other reasons. The city argued the facility would block further residential development.

Outright rejection of the request was not one of two options Woodford County State's Attorney Greg Minger described in previous legal advice he presented to the board. He said the County Board had the option to send it back to the zoning board for reconsideration, which it did last summer.

The zoning board then reaffirmed its decision to recommend approval of the request. The second option, according to Minger, was for the board to approve the zoning board's recommendation.

 The County Board rejected that advice and rejected the request for the special exception.

With Tuesday's vote, "The County Board is done with the issue," Minger said. "The only thing now is to wait and see what happens."

SolAmerica officials have said they will consider a lawsuit against the county for failing to approve a special exception request that meets all legal requirements.

"If Woodford County refuses to grant the special use permit despite SolAmerica's compliance with all county requirements, SolAmerica has no other remedy than to file suit to require the county to follow their own rules," John Buffington, vice president of business operations for SolAmerica, said this week. "It's certainly not a step we want to take, but if the County Board is not going to follow their own standards, then we have no other choice."

Solar advocates stress IN net metering not dead

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 24, 2018  /   Posted in Net Metering, solar  /   No Comments

Guy On Roof

Solar advocates stress net metering not dead

MUNCIE, Ind. —  Retired Ball State University professors Carolyn and John Vann used to attract crowds of several dozen people to meetings at which the couple would sign some up to add solar panels to their homes.

Nowadays, the two grass roots solar advocates are frustrated. "We hold a meeting and no one comes," Carolyn Vann said.

A recent meeting at the Kennedy Library drew an audience of just two people, and they were invited by John Vann, who knew them from the YMCA.

The Vanns set up for a presentation in Yorktown and no one attended.

The couple attributes the lack of solar interest/awareness to net metering, which Indiana's Senate Bill 309 changed in 2017.

"That's one of the things that has made it more difficult for us," John Vann said. "There was so much press coverage of the bill and so much debate, and now no one's talking about it."

When Vann spoke to some BSU faculty members recently about going solar, he learned they mistakenly believed "you don't get net metering any more."

In fact, SB 309, championed by the state's powerful utility industry, phases out net metering — which requires utilities to pay solar users for any excess energy that is created by their solar panels — but it didn't immediately eliminate net metering.

The program was intended to provide an important incentive for Hoosiers to install expensive solar panels and produce their own energy that is better for the environment.

Thanks to SB 309, there was a rush to install solar panels before December of 2017 because customers who entered into net metering contracts before that date were able to continue their contracts for 30 years (until July 1, 2047).

But customers who still sign up before July 1, 2022, can continue net metering until July 1, 2032 — or 14 years from now, or 13 years from next year and so on until 2022, when the benefit would amount to 10 years.

It's important for potential solar customers to know three things, John Vann said. Carolyn listed them: net metering it still available; a federal solar tax credit allows you to deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes (the deduction drops to 26 percent for systems placed in service after the end of 2019 and to 22 percent for systems placed in service after the end of 2020); and you can get a group discount of 20 percent by purchasing a solar system through Solarize ECI.

"Then there are four things," John Vann added. "The fourth is: businesses, including farms, can depreciate the solar system. So they get the federal tax credit and can depreciate it in as little as one year."

There are really more than three or four benefits to going solar. For example, solar installations don't increase the assessed value of a home for property taxation purposes but typically add 15 percent to the sales price of a home, according to the Vanns.

Carolyn Vann is a retired biology professor. John, her husband, is a retired marketing professor. Both are deeply concerned about climate change. During a recent interview, Carolyn said, in reference to the phaseout of net metering in 2032, "We'll be dead by then," referring to death from climate change, not natural causes.

In 2006, when John Vann met and became one of former Vice President Al Gore's climate-change messengers, he told The Star Press, "I've become convinced there is nothing more important as a threat to humanity than global warming."

The Vanns were invited last year to Indianapolis for an organizational meeting of Solarize Indiana. "We went seeking more information, not thinking of starting a unit here," John Vann said. (Muncie surgeon) John Eliades also attended.

"It started in Bloomington," Carolyn Vann said of the Solarize initiative. "They're way ahead of this stuff. They've done hundreds of installations."

Solarize ECI was an offshoot started and operated by the Vanns and other grass roots volunteers who are unpaid. The Vanns pay expenses out of their own pockets and have had trouble finding meeting places at no cost.

Solarize Indiana sent out requests for proposals to solar companies in the Midwest, looking at reliability, product quality, tenure in business and lowest group pricing. From those companies, Solarize ECI chose to work with Icon Solar, Cincinnati.

More than 40 homeowners in East Central Indiana have installed solar panels through Solarize ECI, receiving group pricing 20 percent below what they would have to pay if they didn't go through Solarize ECI.

The Vanns themselves participated, getting 30 solar panels, for which they paid about $26,000 before the federal tax credit; they will end up paying about $16,000. The couple live in Henry County and had their panels mounted on a barn, though they provide electricity to their house.

Solar panels also can be mounted on the rooftops of garages, houses and other buildings (not on a north-facing, however) or ground mounted.

The Vanns say they installed more solar panels than normal for a residence.

For example, Solarize ECI volunteer Sheryl Swingley, a lecturer in the journalism department at Ball State, paid a more typical $12,000 for her residential solar system and received a $3,600 tax credit.

John Vann contacted The Star Press after being interviewed to add this thought: "I know we talked a lot about the financial benefits of solar, but our major motivation is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Contact Solarize ECI's John and Carolyn Vann at jvann@bsu.edu or cvann@bsu.edu

Contact Seth Slabaugh at (765) 213-5834 or seths@muncie.gannett.com

Sullivan Co (IN) Commissioners seeking options to rescind Cypress Creek Renewables solar farm tax abatement

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 22, 2018  /   Posted in solar  /   No Comments

Commissioners seeking options to rescind solar farm tax abatement 

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The Sullivan County Commissioners discussed options to rescind a tax abatement for a local solar farm with the attorney involved in advising the county council on the abatement during its meeting on Monday.

If you recall, the council reversed course on its rescinding of the 10-year tax abatement — which occurred in June — in late July, due to not meeting a deadline to conduct a public hearing.

The original tax abatement was approved by a slim 4-3 council vote in Feb. 2015. Cypress Creek Renewables actually completed the project in Sept. 2016, after the project was sold to them by juwi solar Inc., which had received the abatement.

“The county council tried to rescind the tax abatement for Sullivan Solar and in doing so were informed they had missed the deadline to be able to do that,” commissioner Ray McCammon said to Terre Haute attorney Lou Britton. “Their attorney did some checking into it and determined that was correct.

“My thought on it was they had never done what they said they would do,” he added.

Britton stated the taxpayer had filed its annual compliance with statement of benefits form in mid-May, as required.

“The county then has 30 days within which to conduct a hearing to make a preliminary determination whether there is compliance or not,” he said. “If there’s not compliance, then they have to issue a notice to the taxpayer and allow them to come in and state their case. That’s just in a normal, old tax abatement.”

Britton explained the council has to determine the property owner has not substantially complied with the statement of benefits and the failure to substantially comply was not caused by factors beyond the control of the property owner.

“It’s really hard, OK?” Britton noted. “The legislature made it really hard for a county to rescind a tax abatement. But, your case is a little bit different because the resolution adopted by the county council says that any real personal property tax abatement received by Sullivan Solar would be subject to conditions or particularly described in the memorandum of understanding entered into by the council, county commissioners and Sullivan (Solar).”

The memorandum of understanding, according to Britton, contains a number of requirements that Sullivan Solar has to meet:

• Requires its third-party contractors to provide notice to local contractors and workforce of all applicable requests for bids, pre-bid meetings, related meetings and information with respect to the project to give local folks an opportunity to bid.

“There was a request they go with local contractors, but they wouldn’t go with that,” Britton said.

• The estimated 60 construction jobs and average wage of $31.13 per hour.

“They indicated there would be vegetation control — and this was pretty loosey-goosey — they expected to spend as much as $40,500 annually with a local vendor,” he said.

“They did commit to a local vendor for that.”

• There were provisions that they were supposed to provide a copy of their personal property tax return, unless the property was assessed as utility distributable property by the state.

“I don’t know how this property is being assessed, but I expect it is being assessed as utility property,” Britton said.

• A provision that said if the nameplate capacity of the facility is not at least 4.5 megawatts, there’s a proportional reduction in their abatement.

“And I could go out and look at it all day and not know what its nameplate capacity is, but you should be able to find those things out,” Britton said.

As for the assignment of the project to another company, Britton said there are circumstances in which that would require consent from the county, noting the new company would have to sign on to this memorandum of understanding.

“So I think what we might want to do is get yourself in a position where come May you will know where you stand on all these things they were supposed to do,” Britton suggested. “You should write to them now ‘you said you would do this, prove to us that you did.’

“You’ve got more arrows in your quiver to fire at them for compliance or noncompliance than you normally do under the statute because of these things that are built into the MOU,” Britton said.

McCammon recalled an advertisement in the newspaper asking for construction workers at $7 per hour.

“I take it you got a copy of that lying around?” Britton asked.

“I think I can find one,” McCammon said.

“That would be handy to have,” Britton replied.

Britton explained the reason the commissioners were signatories for the MOU is they are the contracting body for the county and this established a contract between the county and Sullivan Solar.

“But the enforcement part is for the council, under the statute and they’re the ones that passed the resolution that says our abatement is subject to the terms of the MOU,” he said.

In checking back through correspondence, Britton mentioned the MOU was actually received, he thought, the day of the council vote.

“It’s pretty clear to everybody, (the abatement) wasn’t going to happen without that MOU,” he said.

Britton confirmed two items not in the MOU were a requirement for a site visit for the county council — which was canceled at the last minute — and rotating solar panels — which were not installed.

McCammon said while the commissioners can’t act on the abatement, he asked Britton if he would present their stance on the MOU to the council — which meets this coming Monday.

“I think they are more likely to listen to you guys than they are with me,” Britton said.

“I think you could just say you were contacted by me to come and speak to the commissioners regarding what actions could the council take,” commissioners’ attorney Ann Mischler suggested.

“I asked Ann because of the MOU that was sent to the council from the commissioners as far as the agreement,” McCammon said.

Britton felt the best course of action was to call council attorney Josh Reshey and see how he wants to proceed.

“I don’t want to jump in the middle of his party,” he said.

For additional news from Monday’s commissioners’ meeting, see a future edition of the Times.

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