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. 

  • 02 Dec 2011 12:09 PM | Michelle Hickey
    Two weeks ago Diehl Controls installed a 4.03 kW photovoltaic system on the flat-roof of the company site in Naperville and plans to officially announce the commissioning of the PV system on Dec 2nd, 2011 at 5 pm.

    According to Naperville Public Utilities Diehl Controls NA is the first commercial photovoltaics system in Naperville.


    Solar Service installed the 18 Sharp polycrystalline modules using a non-penetrating roof racking system.  Diehl Controls supplied their Platinum 4301 S-A inverter and Platinum Webmaster internet monitoring system to complete the system.

    Diehl Controls is located at 1842 Centre Point Circle, Suite 110, Naperville, IL.


  • 28 Nov 2011 1:31 PM | Michelle Hickey
    The November 9th blog entry, "IL Net-metering dealt a blow," revealed the bad news about the net-metering policy recently passed in the state veto session.  None of this information has changed, but if you are still confused the Environmental Law & Policy Center has taken the time to provide a summary of the statute (220 ILCS 5/16-107.5) to provide further clarification.

    Download ELPC Summary of Illinois Net Metering Revisions.pdf


  • 11 Nov 2011 10:56 AM | Peter Gorr

    As a homeowner who recently installed a Solar PV system on my home, I am constantly asked about my payback.  My response has been and continues to be “it made me a wealthier person the day the switch was thrown”.  This response flies in the face of what people expect my response to be which is “20 years” or something along those lines.


    My response is based on factoring into the economics of my system the effect on my net worth.  Now I had to come up with over $46,000 to finance the installation, but received $27,000 in rebates and tax credits and am left with $19,000 “tied up” in the system.  Note I consider my cash “tied up” not “gone” which the concept of payback implies.  I consider this money tied up in the same sense that cash is tied up in an IRA or in stocks until you sell. 


    A study from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which came out in April, discovered that solar panels boosted home prices by approximately $3.90 to $6.40 per watt or $17,000 for a 3,100-watt PV system.  Since my system is more than twice that size if I just double that estimation I am, as I stated earlier, a wealthier person from a net worth standpoint.  Granted the proof is when I sell which I do not have plans to do, but it is important for someone considering a solar system to think in positive terms about all aspects of the purchase.  It is just putting one’s cash to work that while it is “tied up” will return a dividend in the form of monthly energy savings.  Again, for me, it has been a more stable and predictable investment than stocks (these days!) in that I get a monthly financial benefit (which equates to about a 5% annual return on my investment which is better than any CD) and all indications are when I sell this investment I will recover more than I put in.   This is very similar to a dividend paying stock but with the very important environmental benefits which was the prime driver for my decision.  Personally I couldn’t be happier and consider it a solid win-win investment which is rare to find. 


    In today’s Chicago Tribune an article, Greening your house for a sale, also refers to another recent study that supports the value addition to a home solar panels contribute.

     

    I believe the industry must focus on changing people’s impulse to think “payback” and get them to think in terms of “net worth” and the discussion moves from being somewhat negative to instantly positive. 


    There is a great class that speaks to this topic, “Greening Real Estate – Appraisal value of green improvements” in Wheeling on November 16th.

     

  • 09 Nov 2011 10:19 AM | Michelle Hickey
    If you attended Solar Drinks last night, then you learned the ugly truth about what happened to net-metering as a result of the trailer bill (HB3036) to ComEd's bill (SB1652).  Within 1-3 years, no ComEd customer will be eligible for retail net-metering.

    ELPC and the ISEA have been advocating for an increase in net-metering from 40 kW to 2 MW and a bill with that language did pass Congress during this past legislative session, but then was swallowed by ComEd's bill.  In the process of digestion the language was altered and became quite complicated.

    Thanks to the dogged work of ELPC they unraveled the language and discovered the bad news.  The net-metering cap was raised to 2 MW, but the electric customers who use that amount of energy are ineligible for the 1:1 kilowatt-hour credit because they have been declared a competitive customer.  They would only receive ComEd's "avoided cost" credit (p.335)  But that is only the beginning.

    ComEd electric customers with peak loads of 100 kW to 400 kW (medium-sized customers) and 400 kW and above (large-sized customers) were declared competitive by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) in October and August respectively.  A category of customers is declared competitive when more than 33% have chosen at least 3 different alternative Retail Energy Suppliers (RES) to supply their electricity. 

    It won't be long until all ComEd customers are declared competitive.  This means no ComEd customer with a renewable energy system of any size will be eligible for 1:1 net-metering.  All renewable energy customers will only receive the avoided cost.  In essence Illinois has taken a mighty step backwards from the previous net-metering policy.


    Off-grid living with battery storage is beginning to look appealing.

  • 01 Nov 2011 2:30 PM | Michelle Hickey

    On March 1st, 2012 Clean Energy Trust will host the second annual Clean Energy Challenge: a first in class business competition for Midwestern cleantech innovators. Finalists will present to a panel of distinguished venture investors and industry experts to vie for $250,000 in cash prizes.

    Eligibility is restricted to companies located in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky & Ohio. 

    Applications will be due December 5, 2011

    Applicants compete in either the Early Stage Business track or the Student Challenge. Grand prizes of $100,000 will be awarded in each track.

    Winners of last year’s Early Stage competition have gone on to receive significant venture funding and are well on their way to becoming sustainable clean energy businesses. Student Challenge competitors will vie for an opportunity to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s first-ever national business competition for university students.

  • 01 Nov 2011 12:00 PM | Michelle Hickey

    The SEIA has created a petition to extend the 1603 Program. 25,000 electronic signatures are needed by November 25, 2011 in order for the White House staff to review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

    Extend 1603 Program: Payments for Specified Energy Property in Lieu of Tax Credits 


    A five-year extension of the TGP to coincide with the term of the investment tax credit would support an additional 114,000 jobs in the solar energy industry in 2015, a 32% increase over baseline, and would result in 7,450 megawatts of cumulative additional capacity installed through 2016. A predictable five year policy framework will generate an environment that fosters industry growth larger than the potential year-to-year extensions and would create sustained momentum for the industry.

    The 1603 Treasury Program was created to address the shortage of tax equity available to renewable energy projects due to the collapse of the financial markets. The TGP allows developers to receive a cash grant in lieu of the Section 48 Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The TGP has supported more than a thousand solar projects representing over $3 billion in total investment, contributing to a nearly two-fold increase in solar electric capacity in 2010.

    Another benefit is that this helps to fund leases for the elderly and non-profit organizations.

    Click to download the Solar Energy Industry Association Study: Economic Impact of Extending the 1603 Treasury Program.

  • 28 Oct 2011 2:46 PM | Michelle Hickey

    Much has been going on with the IPA and the IPA 2012 Draft Procurement Plan.  In the past month the IPA (Illinois Power Agency) released their draft plan that contained no provisions for distributed generation (DG) solar (small scale, on-site installations).  Several parties intervened and commented on this oversight, so DG language was added to the plan.
     

    Then the IPA director, Mark Pruitt, was replaced by appointee Arlene Juracek, a former ComEd VP, and the plan changed again.  In the comments she filed last week, she recommended that the DG procurement be removed from the 2012 Plan.  However, she said “The IPA remains committed to the inclusion of distributed SRECs in future Plans, but finds that detailed workshops would be beneficial to the development of the issue, prior to the Commission’s consideration of the Plan. The IPA recommends that all issues raised by the responding parties be considered in workshops to be held during January 2012 through May 2012. In these workshops the IPA will further evaluate, and take input on, whether a procurement plan should include a standard offer contract in a manner that is consistent with the IPA Act and the PUA."


    Responses to the comments can be filed through this Friday, October 28th. The ISEA and ELPC will continue to push for a solar DG procurement.  We will specifically ask the ICC to direct parties to engage in a workshop process that is designed to result in a 2013 DG solar program and produces a written report/study to identify and quantify the grid benefits of DG solar in Illinois.  We will also ask the ICC to allow the IPA the flexibility to administer a pilot DG procurement in 2012 if it is determined that this would help prepare the state for the full roll-out in 2013.  


    READ all Comments & Objections


    Where can you help… After all responses are in, the ICC’s Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will issue a final plan recommendation in the form of a Proposed Order.  We will circulate the Proposed Order to you and it would be helpful for you all to write letters to the ICC, supporting the inclusion of a DG program, specifically asking for a workshop process in 2012 to design a program to be included in the 2013 Plan, with the option of a pilot program starting in 2012.  The ICC Commission itself will then review all parties’ comments, modify the ALJ’s Proposed Order and issue final approval of the 2012 Plan.


    Please let the ISEA and ELPC know if you have any questions or comments.  We will email you in mid-November with a summary of the ALJ’s Proposed Order and instructions on how to submit your letters. 

  • 27 Oct 2011 1:52 PM | Peter Gorr

    In a previous piece, I wrote on how the economy and the environment are inseparable and how developing a new clean energy based economy is a huge economic development opportunity.  I feel an obligation that if I’m going to “talk the talk”; I need to “walk the walk”.  To that end, I have recently completed a project to transition one small slice of the world -- my home -- to new clean energy.  I was hopeful that the anticipated benefits will actually be realized. 


    As someone deeply concerned about the environment, but more importantly, a parent and grandparent, my motivation for transitioning my home to solar generated electricity is that it is the right thing to do.  I used to believe that I would need to spend a lot to do this and perhaps never see a breakeven point.  But I couldn’t place a price on my children’s future.  Yes, I was also feeling guilty.  As an American I am among the worst CO2 emitters on the planet.  My children already face the prospect of a massive clean up and a difficult adaptation to climate change.  This is now a certainty.  The only question is how much.  In fact, I’m surprised young people are not more vocal and actively in the streets and in the voting booths over this burden they face. 

              

             So I solicited bids for a Solar Photovoltaic (PV) system.  Basically, solar options consist of solar panels (PV) that will generate electricity and thermal solar panels for heating water.  I just went with a PV system.  A great 4 minute video primer on solar can be viewed at http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/oer09.sci.ess.watcyc.solarhome/.


    As with any home improvement project, it is recommended that you take the basic precautions of selecting your contractor carefully and thoroughly educating yourself before signing on the dotted line.  Thankfully there are several reputable and experienced firms available these days.  So the criteria I used in selecting the supplier were the following:
     

    1.     The system should be properly designed to fit my site and to maximize benefits to me.

    2.     All equipment should be from a reputable manufacturer and must qualify as “Manufactured in USA”.

    3.    I should be given plenty of hand-holding throughout the project including details of the process required for interconnections, permitting, and renewable energy credit generation and sale.

    4.     The supplier should have the adequate experience and good references.

    5.     The pricing should be competitive (though it need not be the lowest).

     

    While I feel every contractor I accepted bids from could have done the job and done it well, only one company fit all my criteria.  This was a very important indication to me that they listened to and understood all my concerns and that they wanted to supply me with what I wanted rather than with what they wanted.  This is Sales 101 but so often such a rare experience.

               

              Here is a description of my system.  Before I called in the first contractor, I read up on solar systems and the basic building blocks of such a system as well as took a class.  They are not terribly complex but there are some different options to consider.  I’m not going to cover this in detail.  Simply put, the system consists of collectors (there are different options here both is size and design), inverters (collectors generate DC electricity that needs to be converted to AC, again a couple options to consider), mounting hardware, wiring and conduits.  I also added a communications gateway so that I could see the output of my system via an ethernet connection to my PC and to a website for remote monitoring and analysis.  All in all it is pretty basic.  The big decision is how many panels and where to locate them on your home or property.          


    I’m fortunate to have a home that is well suited for solar.  The back faces straight south, there is little shading, and there is enough roof space to accommodate my needs (for picture visit http://illinois.sierraclub.org/NWCook/Past_Articles/articles_Economy_Environment2.html).  Occasionally you hear complaints about the aesthetics of a solar system.  Judge for yourself.  I think it looks good and better than 2 or 3 satellite TV dishes hanging on the house.


    My system consists of twenty eight 240 watt panels with micro inverters (one inverter per panel rather than one inverter for the entire array).  So, total output is 6.72 kilowatts.  This is a pretty good size system for a home.  But my home is some 4,000 square feet and I have been averaging about 900 kilowatt hours per month.  The system should deliver about 80% of my current demand.  I under-sized the system for 2 reasons.  First, I believe I can continue to reduce my electricity consumption through efficiency measures and second, and this is unfortunate, net metering rules will not compensate me for electricity I produce in excess of what I use.  What is net metering?  In simplest terms, when I generate electricity and don’t use it I will feed it to the grid and my meter will go backwards.  When I call for electricity in excess of what I am producing, like at night, my meter will run forward.  I pay the net difference, if there is one, at the end of the month.  If I have delivered more than I have used, these credits roll over to the next month.  But here is the kicker, at the end of a 12 month period, the rolling over stops and I start from zero again.  So I have no incentive to produce more than I will use in a year since this would just mean providing free energy to a utility which will then sell it at full value.  Fortunately, there is state legislation pending to remedy this limitation.


    Another consideration is obtaining a building permit from the town.  Here requirements and costs can vary. In Palatine IL only requires a standard building permit and it cost me $428.  The permit required that I submit engineering calculations verifying that my roof will support the weight of the system.  An engineering firm was hired to perform this calculation.  Cost here was $750.  Next Commonwealth Edison required an application for interconnection and net metering.  Total cost was $50.  My contractor coordinated all of this for me.

              So all in all this was not complicated, especially with a contractor who managed the permitting and interconnection details.  There was some added cost but it was not prohibitive.  There is an opportunity to simplify things even further and there is pending state legislation to address some of these deficiencies.  We should feel proud to live in a state that is pretty progressive regarding renewable energy.  Currently Illinois has received a grade of B from an independent study of current state policies regarding net metering and interconnections.  If this new legislation is passed, Illinois should move to an A grade in both these categories1.  This makes our state a more attractive place in which to live and do business.

              Finally I should be eligible to sell RECs (Renewable Energy Credits).  This was something I didn’t know anything about until well into the process and it was a pleasant surprise.  For every megawatt of energy produced I will own one REC.  My system should generate 8 RECs per year.  This is a little tricky to explain but a REC is a “certificate” tied to the environmental benefits of a renewable energy system.  You might call them the “bragging rights” to clean energy.  If someone who is trying to meet renewable energy mandates or goals wants to secure this claim without having a renewable energy system they can buy RECs.  While I get the energy and savings, if I sell my RECs I cannot claim the environmental benefits, the purchaser now has that right.  But I know these benefits are there and I get all the financial benefits so I’m happy to part with these certificates which may net me in the neighborhood of $200 each.     

    In the next piece that I will write, I will concentrate on the economics of my system.  But keep in mind the benefits I am generating in addition to my personal financial gains. First, I have created a good size job for a local contractor.  Second, I am purchasing equipment all of which is manufactured in the USA.  This is generating domestic job growth.  Third, my energy dollars are staying in this country. Fourth, since my “fuel” is free and not controlled by any company or country I do not face inflationary or fluctuating energy costs or the threat of having this source shut off or held hostage.  This is beneficial to national and personal security. 

     

    1 Freeing the Grid, Best Practices in State Net Metering Policies and Interconnection Procedures, December 2010, Network for New Energy Choices, New York, NY.

     

  • 21 Oct 2011 1:59 PM | Michelle Hickey
    Research Says Military to Drive U.S. Renewable Energy 'Revolution'
    From 25x'25 Weekly Resource

    The Department of Defense (DOD) is positioned to become the single most important driver of the clean tech revolution in the United States, according to a recent report from Colorado-based Pike Research. The firm estimates annual spending on renewable energy by the DOD will reach $10 billion by 2030. While a significant portion of the amount will be spent on facilities operations, including permanent bases, the majority of the spending will be for mobility applications including portable soldier power as well as land, air, and sea vehicles.

    "Military investment in renewable energy and related technologies can help bridge the 'valley of death' that lies between research and development and full commercialization of these technologies," said Pike Research president Clint Wheelock.

    The firm estimates that the DOD currently spends approximately $20 billion per year on energy – 75 percent for fuel and 25 percent for facilities and infrastructure. Among the key sectors that will receive significant Pentagon attention and investment over the next two decades are solar power for both permanent bases and temporary facilities; fuel cells for individual soldier power; microgrids for military facilities; and biofuels for military vehicles, particularly the Navy’s “Great Green Fleet” initiative to shift to a largely biofuels-driven fleet by 2016.

    The total market for renewable energy for mobile power for forward bases and temporary installations, for instance, is forecast to reach $6.1 billion by 2030. By way of comparison, the total annual expenditure by China on renewable energy for military applications will reach $4.5 billion in 2030. For a free executive summary of the report, click HERE.
  • 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.

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