ISEA Blog

Welcome to the ISEA Blog. Catch up on the latest issues related to the adoption of solar and small wind energy in Illinois. We welcome your feedback and referral of newsworthy developments. 

  • 20 Oct 2011 12:23 PM | Michelle Hickey

    Submitted by Peter Gorr*

    It is a common misconception that what is good for the environment will be bad for the economy and vice versa. Nothing could be further from the truth. A strong economy and a healthy environment are inseparable.

    We are experiencing a struggling economy with what I see as no solid strategy to correct the situation. Our economy has been moving away from manufacturing and towards services for many years. Financial services as a percent of GDP is at an all time high and higher than what is recommended. I, for one, do not feel secure with an economy that is built around managing other people's money in ever more creative ways. Recently every household's wealth has been negatively affected because of this. And what have we learned and how has our behavior changed as a nation?

    Taking tax dollars and throwing them at the problem is not a solution. As well intentioned as this is and as appreciative as we are for infrastructure improvements, this is just a tactic to buy time while a real solution hopefully surfaces before the money runs out. Well the money has run out -- ask the unemployed if they feel the solution has been found.

    A basic remedy for a downturn in an economy or, for that matter, a business seeking growth is to find a significant new demand to supply. Sounds simple but it is not. Certain criteria need to be met or we may experience another dot com-like bubble which offers a brief lift followed by an even more painful fall.

    Fortunately we have an opportunity with all the right criteria sitting right on our doorstep. Unfortunately it is our assault on our environment and the imperative that we reverse the track we are on that has created this opportunity. We only lack the will and the necessary information. The opportunity is to transition our energy source from outdated, dirty, dangerous, largely foreign, and finite resources to state of the art, clean, safe, domestic, and unlimited resources. Jobs are not lost. They are transitioned and added to.

    In simple terms the criteria necessary to initiate meaningful economic growth are the following - 1 - 2 - 3 

    1. A large and growing market.

    Energy is used by everyone - it is increasingly used by everyone and considered not a luxury but a necessity - there can be no stronger market than EVERYONE!

    2. The current supply is inadequate or can be improved upon.

    Here are a few descriptive terms that can be associated with current fossil fuel based energy sources:
    Acid rain, air pollution, black lung, cave-in, cancer causing, clean-up, climate change, diminishing, embargo, explosion, extinction, finite, foreign, greenhouse gas, habitat destruction, hazardous waste, leak, meltdown, mountain top removal, radiation, strip mining, toxic spill, water pollution.

    I'm sure many more can be listed. A supply with so many negative and undesirable attributes is ripe for replacement. There is an obvious opportunity to generate energy without most of these problems. It is rare in business to identify such an attractive opportunity for improving matters. But current energy sources have very formidable strengths. They have artificially low pricing (see item 3), a strong distribution network, and huge wealth that can be used to influence public opinion and political action. Who hasn't heard the fictional term "clean coal" and been led to believe that it is real?

    3. The new alternative needs to be available now.

    The good news: New state of the art wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower technology is available.

    The good news here is that there exist many alternative energy sources without the negative features listed in item 2. New state of the art wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower technology is available. But the bad news is that since there is not a level playing field for these technologies to compete on, they are struggling to gain meaningful market share – and that drives innovation and lower prices as well as the associated jobs they create.

    Since current energy suppliers do not factor in all environmental impacts into their cost structure (in economic terms this is known as a negative externality) their pricing is lower than it should be which provides them with a huge competitive advantage. These costs do exist but are being transferred to a future time and future payers; our children and grandchildren. The idea of a "carbon tax" or "cap and trade" is an attempt at monetizing some of these negative externalities. A cap and trade mechanism was implemented to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants, a cause of acid rain. It was highly successful and demonstrated how market forces can achieve cost effective environmental protection.

    The EPA has published a series of studies that detail the costs and benefits of the Clean Air Act since 1970. It is estimated that we will spend $65 Billion in 2020 to address air pollution related effects(1.). How less competitive would fossil fuels be if these costs were factored in (and these are not the only ones). Regarding CO2, another common by-product of fossil fuels, the Stern Report puts the cost of no action on the mitigation of climate change at 5% to 20% of global GDP. This is unimaginable. At a minimum, with proper action, we face a cost of 1% of global GDP due to the damage already done according to this report. Each tonne (metric ton or 2,205 pounds) of CO2 we emit causes damages worth at least $85( 2.). Keep in mind the US alone emits over 6 Billion tonnes of CO2 per year. Each gallon of gas emits some 20 pounds of CO2. These are some of those external costs which are being ignored by the producers to their gain and to everyone else's loss. These costs are being or will be paid by us but unbundled from the products that are the cause. They may show up in tax bills or health care costs or in other ways. This is unfair and deceptive.

    Addressing our energy need is clearly a huge environmental protection imperative and a great economic development opportunity. It's ironic that certain political talking heads and elected officials who preach fiscal responsibility and job growth so actively oppose this. It mystifies me that conservatives reject anything related to protecting the environment as if they are immune to the perils and the costs of such a short-sighted approach. Everyone benefits from a healthy environment. It is not a liberal policy. It is a human policy.

    This has been a macro economic view and opinion of the current economic and environmental situation and the basic steps needed to improve it. In upcoming articles I will describe a more micro or street level view of these principles in action. Specifically, I am investing in converting my home to solar generated electricity. What I am experiencing is a win-win-win-win scenario. I am supporting domestic job creation, my energy dollars are staying in the USA, I have increased my wealth and am protected from wildly fluctuating energy prices, and I am protecting the environment. Please join me on this journey.


    (1.) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation, The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020, Summary Report, March 2011.
    (2.) Stern, Nicholas, The Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change, 2006, HM Treasury, London.

    *Peter Gorr lives in Palatine, IL and is a husband, parent, and grandparent. He is a retired business executive and holds a MBA from the University of Chicago in Marketing and Statistics. He is on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club NW Cook County Group and an active member of Illinois Solar Energy Association.

  • 29 Sep 2011 7:32 PM | Michelle Hickey
    The ELPC conference call will be at 9:30 am Central Time Friday.  We will summarize how the IPA Procurement plan was modified to include distributed SRECs and we'll answer any questions you may have.  The dial in details are:
     
    Call in number 866-394-4146
    Participant Pass code 11188695

    Wednesday evening (9/28) the IPA released its proposed procurement plan to the ICC.  The plan included a process to procure SRECs from distributed solar energy systems and reflected our recommendations on how the program could be structured.  It also included our recommendation for a workshop process to design program details with input from a broad range of stakeholders.   
     
    This is great news and it would not have happened without the comments that many of you filed with the IPA.  However, this is only the beginning of the ICC's review process and it will take a lot of work to make sure the plan is approved by the December 27th deadline.  
     
    The ICC's briefing schedule begins on Monday, when objections to the plan are due.  ELPC will intervene in the case and file support for the plan.  We anticipate that there will be objections and that we will need to stay actively involved to defend the proposed distributed SREC procurement program.  There will be an ongoing opportunity to file public comments and we encourage all of you to do so.  We will provide additional information on tomorrow's call.
  • 29 Sep 2011 10:45 AM | Michelle Hickey
    Thank you to those of you who submitted comments to the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) about the lack of distributed solar in the 2012 Draft Procurement Plan.  

    Click here to read ELPC’s comments

    Click here to read other parties' comments
     
    There was a solid response from supporters of a distributed solar program – this is clearly an issue that many residents and businesses care about in Illinois.
     
    As the next step in the process, the IPA will submit the FINAL Procurement Plan to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) next Wednesday, September 28th.  At that point, the ICC will initiate a formal proceeding to seek additional comments and solicit input about the controversial issues.  This process will last until the end of December, at which point they will issue an order either approving or modifying the plan.
     
    We do not know yet whether the Final Plan will include a distributed solar procurement.  Either way, it will be an uphill battle to obtain ICC approval, and generating additional public comments will be essential.
     
    Conference Call Friday 9/30 at 9:30 am. 

    • summarize the solar procurement provisions in the IPA’s Final Plan,
    • outline the schedule for the ICC proceeding,
    • and highlight the opportunities for you to influence the ICC’s final decision. 
     
    Thank you,
    The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) Solar Team
     
  • 20 Sep 2011 10:55 AM | Michelle Hickey
    The IL DCEO Solar & Wind Rebate for FY2012 is CLOSED. 

    Please educate your legislators about how quickly this program closed due to lack of funding.  The speed of allocation demonstrates that people are ready to install solar and wind, and jobs could be supported if the rebate were better funded.
  • 17 Sep 2011 3:39 PM | Anonymous

    Solyndra, the California-based solar-panel maker, recently filed for bankruptcy.  This event was used by the media to announce the end of solar technology, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The solar industry is thriving more than ever before.

     The attention is understandable, as Solyndra received a $535M loan from the Department of Energy in 2009.  In the scheme of loan guarantees, though, this only accounted for 1.2% of the total $38.6B loan guarantees issued by DOE (read more).  And being the only of these companies to file for bankruptcy, the attention should not be focused on the energy-loan guarantee program.  Solyndra remains the exception to the rule (read more).

     With that being said, what happened to Solyndra?  Simply put, solar is getting cheaper and cheaper.  Specifically, silicon is getting less expensive.  Companies, such as Solyndra, whose business models require a higher price, are unable to keep up with the competition (read more).  When Solyndra began, silicon was the dominant raw material for PVs.  As the solar market here and in Europe took off, there were silicon shortages, and it became expensive.  As solar-grade silicon was never demanded before in such high quantities, the supply did not yet exist and prices went up (read more).  Most solar companies invested their time and energy into alternative solar methods.  Solyndra , among other companies such as Nanosolar, Miasole, HelioVolt, received millions of venture capital dollars to look for other non-silicon solar methods.

      As one would expect, silicon prices have since tumbled.  Therefore, Solyndra’s  $2/Watt technology was unable to compete against $1/Watt silicon PV.    In fact, the solar industry has reduced the cost of solar by 70% since 2009!  This increase in competition and reduction in cost proves that solar is a growing market.  It is more affordable than ever for consumers to invest in solar.  “As of June, California utilities have signed over 8 GW of solar contracts…half of which are below the price of new natural gas generation.  That’s right – “gigawatts of solar cheaper than the fossil fuel alternatives.” (Read more).  While Solyndra closing is not a positive event in itself, it represents the growing market of solar power and the renewable energy field!  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date on Solyndra and other renewable energy news!

  • 16 Sep 2011 5:57 PM | Michelle Hickey
    The Born's (site 32) are ready for you to visit their home on October 1st as part of the 5th annual Illinois Solar Tour.  Their home is equipped with a 5 kW PV array to provide the majority of their electricity needs and to charge their new Chevy Volt.


     
          



  • 09 Sep 2011 5:16 PM | Michelle Hickey
    Solar and Energy Rebate Program is now open and accepting applications for Fiscal Year 2012.

    IL DCEO website - guidelines and application

    Download Application Form

    There are a few changes to the program:
     
    1. The biggest change to the program is that the per watt incentive limits for solar PV and wind energy projects have been decreased, as has the maximum rebate amount.   Rebates will be limited to no more than $2.25/watt for solar photovoltaic systems and $2.00/watt for wind energy systems purchased by residential and business entities, and $3.75/watt for solar photovoltaic systems and $3.25/watt for wind energy systems purchased by public sector and non-profit entities.  Otherwise, the rebate is still based on 30% of total cost for homeowners and businesses and 50% for governmental and non-profit entities, with a maximum rebate of $30,000.
     
    2.  Another provision (Section 2.3.3) encourages that the applicants submit a report by a certified wind site assessor for wind projects but does not require that it be submitted.
     
    3. We request information on installers/developers related to whether they are a minority business in the application.
     
    4. We also added Appendix B to provide a timeline of the rebate process and to provide a checklist of what to provide with application.
     
    Applicants from FY 2011 who did not get considered for a rebate and are still interested in a solar or wind rebate this year, must reapply using the new form.  All applicants will be considered on a first come, first serve basis.
     
    If you have any questions with regards to the new guidelines and application form, please email or call Wayne Hartel.
     
    Wayne Hartel
    Energy Program Specialist, Illinois Energy Office
    Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
    500 East Monroe
    Springfield, IL  62701-1643
    Phone: (217) 785-3420
    Fax: (217) 558-2647
    Wayne.Hartel@illinois.gov
  • 09 Sep 2011 4:05 PM | Michelle Hickey

    The IPA’s draft plan proposes to buy all SRECs (solar renewable energy credits) needed to comply with the Illinois Solar Carve Out through a competitive auction designed with large, utility-scale projects in mind.  If past procurements serve as an example, participation requirements will be too complex and transaction costs will be too high for distributed solar developers and owners to participate.  There is no separate procurement program proposed for small and mid-size rooftop and ground mounted systems.  Without a separate procurement program, it is likely that our state’s very aggressive Solar Carve Out (which will require output from about 600 MW of installed solar by 2015) will be met entirely with SRECs from utility-scale solar projects, some located outside of Illinois.

    ELPC strongly encourages you to submit comments on the 2012 Draft Procurement Plan and tell the IPA that Illinois needs a solar procurement program that will drive real expansion in Illinois’ solar industry.   A template is attached to provide some sample language and comments, but unique and personal comments will carry more weight than a standard form letter, so please make sure to modify this so that it reflects your own voice.  Please abstain from using these comments to promote any single project or individual agenda, but focus on the broad policy objective.

    Comments are due next Wednesday, September 14th, at 5:00 pm and should be emailed to the IPA in care of Julie Musselman Oost.  There are public hearings on the Draft Plan on September 9th in Springfield and September 13th in Chicago
  • 02 Sep 2011 5:32 PM | Michelle Hickey
    DCEO Announces RFA for
    Community Solar & Wind Grant and
    Renewable Energy Business Development Grant

    DCEO has just released a Request for Application for the Community Solar and Wind Grant Program.  This RFA is a competitive solicitation, with applications due to DCEO on or before 4:30 p.m. on October 28, 2011. Click here for program guidelines and application forms.  They may be also be accessed from the Illinois Energy Office’s website at http://www.illinoisbiz.biz/dceo/Bureaus/Energy_Recycling/Energy/Clean+Energy/.

     
    The focus of the Community Solar and Wind Energy Grant Program is to support the development and implementation of distributed community and commercial-scale solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, and wind energy technologies in Illinois.
     
    Proposed projects are eligible for grants up to 30 percent of eligible project costs for business entities and 50 percent for local government and non-profit entities.  The maximum grant award is $250,000.  Eligibility is limited to project costs for the purchase and installation of solar and wind generation equipment, and related metering components as appropriate.
     
    Total Funding for the program is approximately $1 million for Fiscal Year 2012.

    Renewable Energy Business Development Program


    DCEO has just released a Request for Application for the Renewable Energy Business Development Program.  This RFA is a competitive solicitation, with applications due to DCEO on or before 4:30 p.m. on October 28, 2011.  Click here for program guidelines and application forms.  They may also be accessed from the Illinois Energy Office’s website at http://www.illinoisbiz.biz/dceo/Bureaus/Energy_Recycling/Energy/Clean+Energy/.
     
    The purpose of this incentive program is  to support development or expansion of renewable energy businesses and component manufacturers. The Program targets projects that develop and expand these manufacturing sectors and corresponding supply chains while improving the economy of the State through new business development.
     
    The Department will solicit and receive applications through a competitive Request-for-Application process. Proposed projects are eligible for grants up to 50 percent of eligible project cost.  The minimum grant award allowed is $100,000, and the maximum grant award is $500,000.    Eligible expenditures include the purchase and installation of machinery, equipment and new industrial systems, project necessary site improvements, technical or engineering services for process improvements in key functions, and/or the conversion of existing processes.
     
    Expected total funding for the program for Fiscal Year 2012 is approximately $2 million.
  • 01 Sep 2011 3:58 PM | Michelle Hickey

    Illinois State University will receive $850,000
    to design, populate and maintain a comprehensive national database of utility rates an rate design.

    University of Chicago will receive $1,500,000
    to develop new nanocrystal-based materials for next-generation solar cells.  The nanocrystals will be fabricated by very inexpensive and scalable wet chemistry which will allow combining the advantages of conventional inorganic semiconductors with inexpensive fabrication.

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will receive $1,192,250 to develop new materials for contacts used in cadmium-telluride PV cells.  Contacts are used on the front and back of solar cells to allow current to flow to an external circuit.  The new materials will reduce the back-contact barrier to zero, increasing the current flow and thus the efficiency of the PV cell.

    For a full list of awards by state, click here.
 

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