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Solar Power Coming to Delran Schools

Delran Schools kick off energy efficiency project

Pictured (from left to right): Bryan Brotschul, Superintendent Delran Township School District; Daniel Riggle, Schneider Electric; Tom Jackson, Vice President Delran Board of Education; Rob Porreca, Delran Board of Education; Glenn Kitley, President Delran Board of Education; Chris Russo, Business Administrator Delran Township School District (holding scissors); Amy Rafanello, Mary Melvin, Chris Oberg and Melanie Goodwin-Ogozalek, all from Delran Board of Education; Ian Palmer, New Energy Equity; Shannon Croly, Student Representative; Ken Long, Pennoni Engineering; and Adam Taylor, SunVest Solar Inc. (Submitted photo)

Pictured (from left to right): Bryan Brotschul, Superintendent Delran Township School District; Daniel Riggle, Schneider Electric; Tom Jackson, Vice President Delran Board of Education; Rob Porreca, Delran Board of Education; Glenn Kitley, President Delran Board of Education; Chris Russo, Business Administrator Delran Township School District (holding scissors); Amy Rafanello, Mary Melvin, Chris Oberg and Melanie Goodwin-Ogozalek, all from Delran Board of Education; Ian Palmer, New Energy Equity; Shannon Croly, Student Representative; Ken Long, Pennoni Engineering; and Adam Taylor, SunVest Solar Inc. (Submitted photo)

Delran Schools kick off energy efficiency project

The 2016 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award winning Delran Township School District and Schneider Electric held a ribbon-cutting celebration at Delran High School to recognize the start of construction for a district-wide energy efficiency project on Dec. 12. As part of the event, Superintendent Brian Brotschul and Business Administrator Chris Russo, provided remarks on the project’s positive environmental and economic impact for the district.The Delran Township School District is implementing a $4.5 million capital improvement project through an energy savings improvement program (ESIP) which uses projected energy savings to fund efficiency upgrades and to enhance learning environments caused by outdated control systems and poor insulation. The project will consist of more than a dozen energy conservation measures including new air conditioning units, improved lighting and roof-top solar panels at the district’s four schools that will produce 75 percent of the district’s electricity. In addition, students will have access to hands-on learning about energy efficiency through kiosks and dashboards that will display energy usage information.

The project will reduce the district’s utility bill by 32 percent, which equals nearly $285,000 per year. The district also expects to secure $325,000 in anticipated rebates and incentives from the N.J. Clean Energy Program and the PJM Energy Efficiency Credit.

Additionally, the Delran Township School District was recently awarded the 2016 New Jersey Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in the Clean Air category as a result of its partnership with Schneider Electric. The award recognizes significant contributions to environmental protection throughout the state of New Jersey.

Solar Power Helps Couple Cut Power Bill

Oct. 6 was a big day in the Wilkinson household.

That’s the day Dave and Colleen Wilkinson had their home commissioned as a production station for electrical power in the state.

It came as a result of the Wilkinsons installing 16 solar panels on the south-facing portion of their home’s roof at 9304 60th Place.

They were able to be part of a group buy-in with SOLARacine earlier this year.

The Wilkinsons had been talking about going solar for years and made the leap this summer.

“I was worried that the technology hadn’t come far enough to make this financially viable,” Colleen said. “But I also realized it was a good deal to take advantage of, and we probably wouldn’t see another one come along like this. We thought about it quite a bit, and in the end decided it was the right thing to do.”

The Wilkinsons are cutting-edge green when it comes to their lifestyle. They use rain barrel water storage to water their vegetable garden and drive a gasoline/electric hybrid Toyota Prius. They installed a geothermal system to heat and cool their 1,700-square-foot home in 2011.

They use no natural gas or propane. They cook, heat water, run the clothes dryer, power a fan to push air through the heating and cooling vents all with electricity.

The solar power installation was just the next step in making the Wilkinson home more energy cost efficient.

Project gets the green light

They hired Sunvest Solar Inc. of Pewaukee as their contractor for the project.

At the end of June, the company assessed the structure, roof pitch, lack of trees and south-facing roof for suitability. The weight of the solar system wasn’t an issue on their standard roof.

No other rewiring or electrical panel upgrades were needed.

The panels, which face the street side of the home, will increase the value and ease of sale of the property in the future, the Wilkinsons said.

Seeing the savings

The savings are already reflected in their utility bill.

In October 2015, they paid a $103 We Energies bill for 18.3 kilowatt hours on an average day. This October — or the last three weeks of it — the electric bill was a mere $35 for 7.3 kilowatt hours on an average day.

And in the future, they will be producing more electricity than they can use, so they’ll get credits on the their electric bills in the early summer months, when there are longer hours of sunlight.

Although they’ll never get a check from We Energies for their home power production, credits will roll over into the fall and winter to offset their electric bill, Colleen said.

“More or less, we are a production station. There’s no battery in our house. We’re not storing electricity. We’re a remote location that’s producing energy for the state of Wisconsin,” she said.

The full impact of the dwindling light will come on the winter solstice, Dec. 21.

“This is a hard time of the year to assess this because the daylight is continuing to wane. I think it’s fascinating that we are making as much electricity as we are,” Colleen said. “It will be very interesting to compare October to May of next year.”

Installation costs an investment

There was a hefty initial investment of about $13,000 before rebates and tax credits. The final first year investment after the incentives roll in will be $7,577.

Depending on the electricity costs in the future, the Wilkinsons believe payback on the system will come in seven to 10 years. If the rates go up, the payback will be quicker.

“It’s an investment, but I think (other people should do this). Each and every time more people do this, it’s not just an environmental saver, it’s a money saver,” Dave said. “You have an initial payback period, but after that you’re creating energy at no cost.”

Will the Wilkinsons worry if hail pelts their solar panels?

“Only if the hail is grapefruit-sized, but that would do roof damage, not just solar panel damage,” Dave said, adding that such an event would be covered by insurance.

He noted that his insurance rates hadn’t risen with the installation of the panels.

In another improvement, the couple installed two Solatubes to light the home’s kitchen and laundry room.

“It’s more of a new kind of skylight,” Colleen said. “It’s magnified and doesn’t go to the ceilings, so we don’t lose heat energy or cooling energy.”


Report: WI Renewable Energy Presents Economic Opportunity

March 11, 2015

MADISON, Wis. – Solar- and wind-energy companies account for a lot of jobs and economic activity in Wisconsin, according to a new report that says the state has huge growth potential in renewable energy.

Renewables are a big part of the state’s economy, said Andy Olsen, senior policy adviser at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which released the report.

“There’s over 6,800 jobs from wind and solar companies alone, in addition to other renewable technologies, and over 500 companies profiting from renewable-energy growth,” he said. “So, there’s great economic opportunity here, especially for a state like Wisconsin with a strong manufacturing base. And what our report showed is that a lot of small businesses have benefited from renewable-energy growth.”

He pointed to advantages such as the state’s top university system and research institutes that have helped to develop new technologies and find new ways for them to succeed in the marketplace. The report also cited Wisconsin’s central location in the United States as a benefit for the state’s renewable-energy companies.

The report made the point that renewable energy is Wisconsin’s only domestic energy source; no others are produced in the Badger State. Although the state has made major strides in renewable energy, it said Wisconsin recently has begun to fall behind in terms of wind and solar development.

Matt Neumann, president of the Pewaukee-based solar energy firm SunVest Co., echoed that warning and said the state is at an important crossroads.

“The opportunity is being capitalized on by other states throughout the country, and we have to make a choice of whether or not we’re going to stick with a 20th-century energy portfolio or whether we’re going to move into the 21st century,” he said. “If we as a state are serious about job creation, we’d better get serious about supporting innovation and technology related to the energy sector.”

The report is online at elpc.org.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service – WI


Wis. farmers turn to solar power

Posted: Jan 24, 2015 7:22 PM CST
By Kaitlyn Riley

Spring Valley (WQOW) – Hundreds of farmers are visiting Eau Claire this weekend for the 84th Annual Wisconsin Farmer’s Union Convention. One of this year’s major topics is using solar energy in agriculture.

Spring Valley Farmer Joseph Bacon first started turning sunshine into savings in 2009.

“We wanted to get into solar just because we wanted to feel like we were a green business, so by doing this, we help the electric co-op and ourselves become more energy independent.”

“I think solar is critical for the economic viability of agriculture going forward because we need to find a better distributed system of electricity,” Wisconsin Farmers Union Special Projects Coordinator Sarah Lloyd says.

But cost is often a big factor. To help foot the bill, Bacon applied for solar energy grants. They paid for half of the $80,000 dollar project. But many are paying even less today.

“If you were to build our system today, you could build our system with less than what our share of the grant was less than half,” Bacon says.

John Daugherty with Sunvest Solar Inc. says panel prices have dropped 80% in the last five years with an increase in panel production. But he think that’s about as good as the prices will get.

“We’re not going to see anything like that again,” Daugherty says. “It already happened. Now is a good time. It’s going to continue to be a good time.”

But for Bacon, the project seems to be paying off. He says they only pay for electricity in November and December, and even get money for the extra electricity they produce.

“You really come to appreciate the sun when you are making electricity because when there is no sun, you are not making any,” Bacon says.

His solar electricity does everything from heating his cows’ water in the winter. To giving his car enough energy to drive 20 miles without gasoline.

Bacon says his heating bills in the winter months usually come to about $200. Less than 1% of Wisconsin’s energy is produced by solar power. The Wisconsin Farmer’s Union is pushing state policy that allows more agricultural use of solar energy.

Advocates: Wisconsin solar fight could spill into other states

A single solar panel prior to installation at the Lester Public Library in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. (Photo by Lester Public Library via Creative Commons)

A closely watched battle over utility policy in Wisconsin could determine the fate of solar development throughout the region, advocates say.

The dispute is over three major rate cases recently filed by We Energies,Madison Gas & Electric andWisconsin Public Service Corporation. The three utilities cover much of the eastern half of the state as well as its largest cities.

If the state Public Service Commission (PSC) approves the cases, solar experts say there will be a massive chill over solar development in these utilities’ service territories. And they expect other utilities in Wisconsin and beyond will file similar requests.

All three cases would significantly restructure the way residential and business customers are charged for electricity, so that all customers pay a higher fixed amount each month while the variable charges based on electricity use are reduced.

This creates an inherent disincentive to reduce energy use – whether through installing solar panels or increasing energy efficiency. RENEW Wisconsin program and policy director Michael Vickerman described it as a “reverse Robin Hood” move that shifts the burden of paying for electricity from large energy consumers to small consumers.

The We Energies case, which advocates find the most objectionable, also changes the terms of net metering so it would be far less beneficial financially to send energy back to the grid.

We Energies also wants to impose an additional monthly charge on distributed energy installations, and would prohibit solar installations owned by a third party from interconnecting to the grid. Since a majority of residents installing solar nationwide now use such third party financing and ownership arrangements to make solar affordable, this could be a death knell for residential solar in Wisconsin.

Some solar advocates fear the ripple effects could also be felt in other states. We Energies’parent company is in the midst of acquiring Integrys in a $9.1 billion merger. That means its solar plans could have direct and indirect influence on utilities around the country.

“These proposals are designed to do one thing – eliminate solar and stop competition,” said Bryan Miller, executive director of The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), a coalition of rooftop solar companies. “These are being pushed in a state that has very little solar. It is the ultimate swatting a fly with a nuclear weapon.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state regulators in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin will need to approve the merger. Solar advocates hope regulators will take the rate case into consideration as they make their decisions.

Shifting costs

Spokespeople for We Energies and WPS said the restructuring is an overdue and necessary way to more accurately reflect the costs of delivering electricity. They say that customers who generate energy onsite are essentially getting the benefit of the grid when they need it but aren’t paying their fair share to keep that infrastructure in place.

“We want to make sure the costs for maintaining our electric system are shared in a fair manner, that is more representative of where those costs lie,” said We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey.

“The actual fixed cost for meters, poles and wires are things that really don’t vary from customer to customer – they are just as much for a customer using a small amount of electricity as a customer who uses a lot of energy,” Manthey said. “But they’re being picked up by the other customers who can’t afford renewable energy systems or don’t want them.”

Nationwide, clean-energy advocates say that utilities fear a fundamental shift in the energy landscape wherein the rise of solar and distributed generation greatly reduces demand for their services and slashes into their profit margins and their ability to pay for infrastructure.

But in Wisconsin, the amount of distributed solar energy is still “infinitesimally small,” in Vickerman’s words, between 3 and 8 MW in each service territory. So, advocates say, concerns about the grid falling into disrepair ring hollow.

“That is pure poppycock,” said Vickerman. “All three utilities are financially healthy, they are bringing in revenue to cover expenses and earn returns for shareholders. It’s not as if they are losing money and ailing. They are doing just fine.”

“It’s early in Wisconsin but you can see where it’s going,” countered WPS spokesman Kerry Spees. “The way we’re collecting those costs right now is not going to be viable for the long term as people use less, whether because of distributed generation or energy efficiency.”

In a regulated state like Wisconsin, where the same companies generate and distribute electricity, utilities can also try to recoup sunken costs from building power plants through their electricity charges. Vickerman thinks that’s part of the motivation for the rate changes.

The numbers

We Energies wants to create a new fixed monthly charge for distributed generation based on capacity: $3.79/kW for solar and wind generators and $8.60/kW for baseload generators, like biogas operations at dairy farms or even the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which generates electricity from landfill and sewage operations.

The new charge would apply to any new customers starting in 2016 and also to existing customers who don’t have a power purchase agreement to sell their electricity back to the utility. The new charge could reduce returns by nearly 30 percent, according to analysis by RENEW Wisconsin.

Meanwhile We Energies would also cut by more than half the amount paid for bioenergy derived from manure or food waste processed into methane in digesters, a growing movement in Wisconsin. The rate per kWh would go from 9.2 to 4.2 cents.

The WPS case would raise fixed costs from $10 a month to $25 for residential customers and $35 for business customers. Meanwhile it would lower the charge for amount of electricity used from 11.3 cents/kWh down to 10.1 cents/kWh.

Midwest Utility Fixed fees

chart prepared by RENEW Wisconsin shows that the three utilities’ planned fixed charges are significantly higher than other major utilities in the state, with WPS by far the highest.

Spees said that’s because WPS’s territory in northern Wisconsin is largely rural, meaning fewer people bearing the costs of the grid.

The proposed cost restructuring means that it will take solar customers much longer to recoup the cost of their installation through savings on energy bills. Meanwhile a rate change also creates uncertainty, according to Vickerman, wherein customers will expect that rates could keep changing and make it impossible to predict the economics of solar or get financing for an installation.

The change in net metering in We Energies case would mean a loss of about 28 percent, or $22.75 a month, for a 6kW installation, according to RENEW’s calculations. The rate case proposes changing how net metering is calculated, and also reducing the rates paid to customers for electricity they generate – treating it as cheaper wholesale rather than retail rate electricity.

Matt Neumann is owner of SunVest Solar, Wisconsin’s largest solar installer, founded in 2009. If the We Energies case is approved, he predicts solar installations plummeting and significant layoffs at his and other companies.

““It would be devastating – it would end the economic argument to install solar at all,” he said. “The number one item everyone wants to know is how long is the payback? [Under the proposed rates] there’s not going to be economic justification for doing it, which would basically kill the industry.”

Third party pain

Currently Wisconsin’s electricity interconnection rule does not take any stand on third-party ownership — where an entity other than the utility or the customer can own the solar array — though the PSC has issued non-binding letters indicating resistance toward third-party financing.

Efforts to allow third-party ownership, including a recent proposal that drew support from the state’s Libertarian Party, have stalled in the legislature.

In July, the Iowa State Supreme Court supported the concept of third party ownership in itsdecision on the Eagle Point Solar case. While that case doesn’t have any official bearing on the Wisconsin commission’s decision, advocates say it should be taken into consideration.

Manthey said We Energies is just clarifying what the company views as the state’s existing position on third-party leasing.

“At this point it is the interpretation of state law that third-party generation is not something that can be done,” he said.

The City of Milwaukee is promoting solar energy as a key plank of its new sustainability program. Amy Heart is solar program manager for the city’s sustainability office, which runs the solar initiative Milwaukee Shines. She said that city efforts yielded 30 new installations in 2013 and that number has already been topped for 2014.

Because of uncertainty over the PSC’s stance on third-party ownership, she said the city has found other ways to fund solar installations. A city program with a credit union provides low-interest loans for the upfront costs, and the city also administers a bulk buy program allowing customers to get installations at a discount.

While We Energies’ prohibition on third-party ownership would not apply to these installations, Heart is very concerned about the implications if We Energies is allowed to basically enshrine a ban on third-party ownership. She said city officials are also worried about other provisions of We Energies’ rate case and feel it could torpedo key goals of thesustainability plan, including increased energy efficiency and solar and wind installations on city property.

“The third-party limitation has already limited who moves forward with solar in the state,” Heart said. “The fact that it’s a gray area has already limited many people, including the city of Milwaukee from getting solar. Our concern is that barrier will continue to be a problem if this case goes through.”

Public process

Environmental and clean energy groups including RENEW Wisconsin, the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District are intervenors in the rate cases. That means they have legal standing as parties in the case and they will participate in the legal proceedings, which include calling witnesses and cross-examination.

Each case will have technical hearings and public hearings before the service commission. The public hearings are scheduled on September 10 in Madison for WPS, October 1 in Madison for MGE and October 8 in Milwaukee for We Energies.

The cases can be viewed and public comments submitted on the Public Service Commission’swebsite. The docket number for WPS is 6690-UR-123, We Energies is 5-UR-107 and MGE is 3270-UR-120.

We Energies had filed a motion to prevent the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and TASC from being intervenors in the case, arguing that they had no local standing. But under public pressure that request was withdrawn.

Crowds are expected at the rate case hearings, a change for the usually arcane affairs that draw little public interest. A Credo petition calling on the utilities to withdraw their proposals drew almost 3,000 signatures within a few days of posting.

Arthur Harrington specializes in renewable energy and teaches an energy law course at Marquette University. He is installing solar he purchased through Milwaukee’s bulk buy program. He is disturbed by We Energies’ proposals, and also by the polarization of the debate.

“I really understand and appreciate We Energies’ need for a reasonable contribution of fixed capital for solar,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be so high as to discourage investment by homeowners. And there’s the whole issue of transparency.

“I think the current rate case provides an interesting opportunity for We Energies to engage in some creative solutions that are good for the environment and the ratepayer and send some positive signals in a baseload system that is heavily invested in coal.”

RENEW Wisconsin and the ELPC are members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.