Author Archives: Parker Lindo

2021 Solar Policy Recap

2021 was a major year for the US solar industry and solar policy as the country re-opened. Despite a recovering economy, solar accounted for 54% of all new electricity-generating capacity added in the first three quarters of 2021 according to the SEIA. 

2021 National Solar Policy Updates

Solar took several steps forward this year with substantial policy updates on a national level. The US re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement1, pledged to cut emissions in half by 20302, the senate passed the infrastructure bill3, the Solar Investment Tax Credit was extended4, and section 201 tariffs on imported solar modules were repealed5. Meanwhile, the DOE released a blueprint for massive solar expansion6, set an enormous goal for community solar for the next four years7, and prepared the grid for a large influx in solar8. The White House announced plans for the Environmental Justice Advisory Council9, while SEIA added an environmental justice platform10, and the NAACP published equitable solar policy principles for advocates and lawmakers11. As the US moves toward a clean energy economy, it’s clear that it must be an environmentally just and equitable transition. 

Solar Panels in front of the American Flag

2021 Midwest Solar Policy Updates

In the Midwest, Wisconsin12 and Ohio13 Republicans worked on community solar enabling legislation. Minnesota passed the Omnibus Energy Bill, providing millions of dollars to support solar on schools14, and will soon host one of the largest solar manufacturing plants in North America15. Illinois primed itself for a solar revolution, passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act16. With strong bipartisan support, solar appears to be a critical element in the Midwest’s recovering economy. 

IPS Company News

As a company, we celebrated our 30th year in the solar business17 and were recognized as a Top Solar Contractor for our 10th consecutive year18. Once again, we’d like to thank our clients, team, and collaborators for making this possible. We look forward to empowering energy customers to choose community solar as a leadership member of the CCSA19, as we prepare to expand into new markets and continue to positively impact people, power, and the planet with solar energy into 2022.

IPS founder, Ralph Jacobson speaking at our 30 year solar-bration
Photo Credit: Gregg Mast, CEEM 

Reflecting on the UK Trade Mission

By Eric Pasi

It was an honor to join Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on a trade mission to Europe in mid-November. The delegation was filled with experts from various fields including ours, Energy and Environment. I was only able to join for the UK portion which was jam-packed with productive meetings, conversations, and idea-sharing. Regional Trade Manager Steve Riedel from Minnesota Department of Economic Development was a great leader for our Environment and Energy delegation. He helped identify and facilitate a variety of engagements with our European counterparts, distilled into concise daily agendas.

There were multiple references to the “special relationship” enjoyed by the US and UK. In terms of climate goals, Minnesota and the UK share an outsized ambition to significantly curb GHG emissions over the next few decades. Our common interests include the accelerated adoption of cold-climate electric heat pumps, electrification of our transportation industries, and advent of offshore wind technologies in the US, much of which has been pioneered in the UK.

Several event highlights included visiting start-up accelerator Sustainable Ventures, whose offices boasted an incredible view of parliament and Big Ben. We toured London’s greenest office building at Southworks and learned about AI technology for autonomous vehicles at the Smart Mobility Living Lab. My favorite part of the trip had to be the briefing and social hour at the US Embassy, which played host to most of our UK collaborators.

An obligatory selfie of Eric Pasi at the United States Embassy in the United Kingdom.

The view of Parliament and Big Ben as seen from Sustainable Ventures.

At the conclusion of our trip I was thankful to have had an opportunity to share my relevant experience with our counterparts in London. The intersection between clean, but intermittent resources like wind and solar, and flexible loads like electric cars, green hydrogen, and heat pumps can improve the grid and reduce costs. The orchestration between generation and loads will be absolutely critical. Several contacts I met specialize in different facets of these value chains; fostering further innovation in this space will help ratepayers, utilities, and the planet. I look forward to building on these relationships and ideas in my development role at IPS.

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What’s Holding Energy Storage Back in Minnesota?

This content was originally published by Clean Energy Economy MN, the business voice for energy efficiency and clean energy in Minnesota. View the original post, guest authored by our founder, Ralph Jacobson here

Most people understand generally that solar energy becomes more valuable if some of it can be stored, to be available to be “dispatchable” when it is needed, and not just when the sun shines. It’s also pretty obvious that we can deploy more solar capacity if some of the energy can be stored, rather than waste solar production that can’t be used immediately. But precisely because storage is such a boon to solar, most of us tend to view energy storage as just an extension of solar technology, like solar on steroids. This is not very helpful for building a market for energy storage, because while solar needs to be optimized for maximum energy production, storage needs to be optimized for reliable capacity in specific functions (or “use-cases”) in the electric power grid. Effective storage policy should identify which use-cases will have the most value at different stages in our shift to cleaner energy sources.

Energy storage will pattern after the solar market in one significant way however: as the price of storage technologies comes down, the market will open up little by little. Uses for stored energy that are too expensive to finance today will become viable in the energy market as milestones of cost reduction and innovation are passed. Ironically, fossil fuels are stored energy, while direct use of solar energy is a new thing – storage brings it full circle, in a way. Our whole way of thinking about the electric power system is based on the luxury of drawing from huge reserves of fossil energy stored underground. Not only will energy storage make solar energy a better fit for the power grid but the timing of stored solar dispatch to the power grid can replace the dirtiest fossil-based power.

Our Starting Point in Minnesota

In 2013, the Minnesota Department of Commerce completed a cost-benefit analysis of four different use-cases for energy storage, commissioned by the 2012 legislature. At the annual CERTs conference that year, we sat through a presentation of the results and learned that only the case of utility-controlled storage had some near-term promise. I looked around the room at the assembly of solar industry advocates and leaders and felt a mood of dismay that the study had found so little market potential for any of the non-utility cases in the existing solar market. I will admit we were hoping some easy opportunities would be handed to us, and little did we know how important that information could be.

Energy Storage Infographic

Learning from Other States’ Experience

At an energy storage conference in California the next year, I learned that the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had just set a target of an amazing 1.3 gigawatts of storage capacity by 2020, and that the state suddenly had the hottest market for storage in the US. Two of the best presentations were given, notably, by Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Power and Gas. They each clearly described the issues they were having, and had practical ideas for developers.

Utility Acceptance of ES: the Vital Link from Good Policy to Good Programs

SCE was pioneering the “stack of values” approach to making stored energy more financeable at utility, community, and residential scales. I could see that in the CA regulatory environment, the utilities were taking a leadership role, working with the independent solar and storage industry to figure out solutions and make the storage market work. Understanding what has driven the creation of good programs, beyond merely good policy, will be helpful for figuring out an effective strategy to stimulate the market here in Minnesota. In each state where there is significant market activity, energy storage has shown up as a viable solution to major reliability challenges faced by utilities.

Smog Curve

Avoiding Smog in Southern California

An average day of smog in LA might compare to the worst days of wildfire smoke last summer in Minneapolis. To keep the area more livable, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has some of the country’s most stringent air quality regulations. This aggressive regulatory environment has led to earlier utility acceptance of solar energy than in most other states. Solar energy now generates a significant percentage of California’s electricity, so that the daily peak load has been pushed further and further into the evening hours, when the sun is setting. The “Duck Curve” below illustrates this challenge. SCE either has to fire up peaking plants for a short duration – an inefficient, expensive, and polluting option – or to store enough daily solar production to cover that peak.

Upstate NY

Moratorium In Near Upstate New York

A strong policy push over the past decade to move oil-based home and building heating to natural gas was so successful, that demand for natural gas exceeded supply capacity. This is a dangerous situation, and so the NY State Public Service Commission declared a moratorium on new applications for gas service and approved a suite of non-pipeline solutions. In addition, the Commission noted that the approved measures are the early stages of a long-term, comprehensive approach. This has created a strong movement towards electrification, such as heat pumps for space heating, which in turn is driving utility acceptance of solar plus storage for dispatchable electric capacity.

Replacement of Spinning Reserves in Indiana

An early use-case developed by Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL) several years ago was the replacement of some of their spinning reserves (see description below) by their 20 MW lithium battery facility. Electric utilities are required by state regulators to maintain extra generation capacity equal to a percentage of their average minimum daily load; this emits a significant level of CO2 just to keep generators spinning on idle. IPL reserved a portion of their battery capacity to sit full and ready to discharge if needed, then removed an equal number of MWHs from the daily workload of a coal-fired plant, and thereby took a large step toward reducing their GHG emissions. This is known as “spin” in the storage world, and it will have more value when supported by carbon pricing. Spin applies to both coal and gas-fired generation, and it could be an important element in the value stack for our utilities.

Which Market Drivers for Energy Storage in Minnesota?

Thankfully, Minnesota utilities do not yet have challenges of such magnitude, nor do we wish to wait until they do. But if we need strong drivers to accelerate utility acceptance of energy storage, what DO we have here to provide that push toward action?

  1. GHG reduction: Some higher expectations have been set at the global climate summit COP26, so our state must move toward more enforceable greenhouse gas reduction targets. When paired with storage, wind and solar can play a larger role in meeting aggressive targets and helping utilities decarbonize sooner.
  2. Accelerated coal phase-out: Although this issue is related to reduction of GHG emissions, economic pressure continues to build for utilities to phase out coal plants. Because energy storage is dispatchable, it can help offset some of the baseload power that utilities have long relied upon for coal to provide. The challenge is to ramp clean energy and storage up and ramp coal down in a way that minimizes worker dislocations and excess financial burdens. A report by the Rocky Mountain Institute discusses several mechanisms being developed to help utilities finance that process with minimum disruption.
  3. Reliability: Because utilities are held accountable for a high level of power reliability, energy storage can be used to support the distribution system for volt-var management and frequency regulation, as costs for storage come down.

Policy Foundation for Market Development

  1. Carbon pricing or carbon tax: For some use-cases, carbon pricing would enhance the value of energy storage for utilities and provide some capital, depending on how the money is used. A carbon tax is easier and quicker for governments to implement, and can be implemented in just a few months. Cap-and-trade requires more time to develop the necessary regulations, and is more susceptible to lobbying and loopholes; it also requires the establishment of an emissions trading market.
  2. Targeted tax credits: While it may be attractive to consider a general state tax credit for energy storage, tax credits which target specific use-cases will gain broader political support, because they are less open-ended. These could be enacted to incent utilities to apply energy storage to targeted high-priority loads: for example, the large industrial customer who has an interruptible power rate with a backup diesel generator, could see a utility program to offset some of that generator use with batteries.
  3. Wholesale market: the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) is preparing interim wholesale market rules for energy storage to roll out in 2022, under FERC Rules 2222 and 841. In Minnesota, where we have a highly-regulated utility structure, the best access to the wholesale grid services markets may be by incenting the utilities themselves to act as aggregators, allowing them to keep direct relationships with their customers who want storage.
  4. Least Cost vs. Best Value: When paired with solar, energy storage does not generate any new kilowatt-hours of energy beyond what is generated by the solar. Therefore, any policy analysis mechanisms based purely upon minimizing cost per unit generating capacity will make storage look like an additional cost with little benefit. A ”best value” approach will take into account the flexibility and versatility which storage can add to the power system.
  5. Good contracts vs. overly prescriptive legislation: At larger scales, good contract templates would allow all parties to create the stack of values needed to achieve a financeable level of cash flow. For aggregation of smaller behind the meter storage systems, where tariffs are offered as standard contracts, these could allow for utility control at key times only, which would help smaller customers pursue other revenue opportunities at other times.

Peak-Shaving Is Load Management: Just Add Batteries!

Many utilities have been implementing load management for decades, using tools such as yard lights, night-time heaters, interruptible power rates and conservation programs to engage their customer bases to help minimize the high and low extremes of the daily load profile. Everybody wins when the whole electric system operates more efficiently: rates remain lower and less fuel is required. However, the evening peak load continues to be a challenge, and as more solar generation is added to the system, this will get worse: Minnesota utilities will have their own “duck curves”. Energy storage provides two benefits: not only can solar energy be stored to avoid curtailment in the middle of the day, but that stored solar energy can be applied several hours later during the peak load. The good news is that existing load management programs have already put most of the customer relationship pieces in place for energy storage to enter the market, as prices decline.

Milestones for Market Growth

Let’s imagine a timetable for use-cases to become financeable, beginning with what we learned from the 2013 Department of Commerce study. That is, for any storage use-case to achieve a high value for a utility, it must be utility-controlled, or at least allow for shared-control at key times. In several states this is already a reality, where control shifts back and forth between a non-utility owner of energy storage and their utility provider. A near-term timeline for Minnesota could include replacement of spinning reserves at key times and peak-shaving. The electric power market in Minnesota is ready for bigger policy steps to create value for energy storage, addressing challenges faced by utilities as well as communities. And if we want to see the whole process move more quickly, we must consider storage on its own terms, and not just as an extension of wind and solar.

What to Consider When Designing a Solar Ready Building

What to consider when designing a solar ready building

Why Design Solar-Ready Buildings?

Solar-ready buildings allow for future solar installations without the need for expensive adjustments and retrofits. Many existing buildings aren’t a good fit for rooftop solar due to orientation, roof size, shading or other factors. It can be incredibly expensive, or even impossible, to retrofit these buildings in a way that makes solar viable. Even new buildings may need substantial improvements to capitalize on their solar potential. 

This can be avoided by including solar production as a design criteria in the building plan, not adding it after the fact. A few simple changes to the design of a building can make adding solar more predictable and less expensive. 

Building orientation, roof layout, space for PV equipment and knowledge of local zoning and regulatory requirements are all important factors to address. NREL has published two detailed reports here and here detailing the specific technical considerations, which we’ll summarize below. 

Building Orientation & Shading

Anywhere north of the equator, PV systems perform best when facing due south. With this in mind, sloped roofs will work best with one south facing side. While flat roofs are more straightforward, they are still susceptible to shading from nearby buildings and trees. Even small amounts of shading can decrease solar production, so finding a clear area for the solar array is crucial. 

Roof Layout

A contiguous rectangle of solar panels is the most efficient layout, maximizing the system size and reducing load on the roof. A building must have enough flat, unobstructed roof space to accommodate this. With today’s current solar technology, we typically estimate that 10,000 square feet of unobstructed roof space can fit a 126kW solar array (which would produce around 148,600kWh here in Minnesota). For example, take a look at these office and multi-family residential projects. 

Plumbing & exhaust vents, chimneys and other rooftop equipment can interfere with the placement of a solar array. These obstructions should be minimized when possible, and clustered together on the north side of the roof to save space. A good rule of thumb is to place an obstruction twice as far away from the array as the obstruction is tall, to avoid any shading. 

A ballasted solar array can add between 3 to 10 pounds per square foot of load to a building’s roof. The ballast is needed to counteract potential wind uplift. This additional weight should be accounted for when determining the roof’s load capacity. This is another reason that it’s helpful to cluster your rooftop units and other obstructions together in a spot away from the solar array. Having to work around those elements will change the layout of the system, and increase the load on that particular area of the roof. 

The color and material of the roof can also impact solar performance. White TPO membrane roofs, which provide increased reflectivity, can boost solar energy production up to 15% when bifacial modules are used.  

Your roof is a long-term investment and maintaining the existing warranty is key. Before selecting a roof material and manufacturer, it’s good to look into what is required to install solar on top of that membrane and how the warranty will be maintained. Most, if not all roof manufacturers have a process in place to retain the roof warranty after a solar installation, but the requirements (and associated costs) can vary widely. 

Electrical Requirements

Designing the building’s main electrical panel to accommodate solar without utility upgrades will also make interconnection easier. A good rule of thumb is to allow for 100 amps of electrical gear for every 100kw of solar. So a 1MW rooftop solar array would require the ability to connect a 1,000 amp service to the electrical gear, via a disconnect or breaker integrated into the gear. 

Identifying where the inverters and other solar electrical equipment will be located (on the roof or near the main electrical panel) should be part of the building design process. Ensure that adequate space is left at whichever location is chosen, and there is easy access for future maintenance. We recommend leaving 15 linear feet available for new solar equipment.   

Zoning, Permitting & Policy

Zoning laws, permitting requirements and their potential impact should be understood during the building planning process. These rules can cover the potential height of new neighboring buildings, how close a solar array can be to the edge of the roof or if there are historic preservation protections in place. 

Depending on the location of the building, there may be system size limits or interconnection restrictions that impact the solar system design. For example, in Xcel Energy territory in Minnesota, solar systems can be net metered up to 120% of a building’s energy usage or 1MW, whichever is reached first. Most other utilities in Minnesota only allow net metering up to 40kW. Similarly, knowing which federal, state and utility incentives are available will help maximize the solar project’s positive financial impact. 

Let’s Talk About Solar-Ready Buildings

Overall, there is a lot to consider when designing a solar-ready building, but the long term benefits are more than worth the extra planning. Impact Power Solutions has been helping organizations implement solar projects for over 30 years. If you’re interested in learning more about designing a solar-ready building, or want to see how solar can work for your organization, reach out to us today! 

Illinois’ Upcoming Commercial Solar Revolution

By Eric Pasi, CDO of IPS Solar

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) was passed into law on Sep 15th as a landmark bill that prioritizes renewable energy investment in Illinois through the 2020’s, on a pathway to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.  There are many implications and opportunities for organizations looking for predictable and lucrative returns while addressing environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. This is the most opportune time for Illinois facility operators to adopt clean energy strategies. 

Why CEJA and Why Now?

In order to meet carbon reduction goals, nuclear energy is a “must have” technology, at least as it stands today.  Exelon, parent company of ComEd – the state’s largest utility and primary service provider to the Chicago-land area, was on the verge of shutting down two of its nuclear facilities in Dresden and Byron due to a lack of sufficient funding. This bill provides up to $700MM in funding for nuclear facilities, some of which may be matched by federal dollars. Recent extreme weather events were also on the minds of state officials.  At the bill signing Governor Pritzker remarked on historic disasters over the past two and half years including polar vortexes, flooding, record lake levels, heat waves, all of which resulted in emergency declarations in more than a third of Illinois counties. In 2016 the state passed the Future Energy Jobs Act which allocated funding for residents, businesses, municipalities and other organizations to adopt clean energy.  The primary problem was a lack of ongoing funding, which created a boom and bust for the solar industry, putting thousands of jobs in limbo. As part of the Climate & Equitable Jobs Act, this funding is set on a more sustainable pathway, with funding allocations in place through 2030.  Other aspects of the bill include a focus on marginalized communities and entrepreneurs of color, as well as jobs training and placement for fossil fuel workers as those facilities retire across the state. There will be significant investment into utility-scale clean energy projects, but how does the bill affect Illinois organizations and how can they get in on the action?

Solar Means Business (Opportunities)

The primary incentive program for solar and renewable projects is the Adjustable Block Program (ABP), which is curated by the Illinois Power Agency.  With the new bill the ABP is fully funded for the next decade, with allocations specifically for organizations and public entities.

Onsite Solar

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act - rooftop

Onsite solar projects, located on roofs, on the ground, or on carports, have an allocation of at least 100 megawatts DC per year.  This is the best ROI opportunity for organizations.

  • Incentive compensation is based on selling Renewable Energy Credits (or RECs) to the utility via the ABP program.
  • No project can be larger then 2 megawatts AC (DC sizing can vary but is generally estimated at 1.4MWdc to 1MWac)
  • The pricing of these RECs is attractive, often valued as much as the utility rate itself. REC contracts have a term of 15-years, but accelerated funding payments are fully paid  in  only 7 years.  There are clawback provisions should the system underperform over that 15-year period.
  • Each year incentive funding is segmented into blocks, which decline in value slightly as allocations fill up.
  • Prevailing wage required for all projects except single family residential, multi-family residential, and houses of worship under 100kW.
  • There is a Smart Inverter rebate from the utilities which results in ~10-15% of the project cost being paid upfront as a cash rebate.  This rebate is recalculated once market penetration reaches a certain threshold, as determined by the utilities and Illinois Power Agency
  • Most organizations will realize a 4-5 year simple payback, for an asset that operates for 25 years or more.
  • There are many financing options including Power Purchase Agreements and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), which allows organizations to pay for energy improvements via their property taxes (see our PACE blog here).

Community Solar 

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act - Community Solar

Community Solar allows residents and organizations to participate in offsite solar projects, in instances where they either can’t or don’t want panels installed on their homes or buildings. 

  • At least 50% of a community solar project must be subscribed by residential accounts, leaving up to 50% eligible for commercial entities.
  • Organizations with significant roof space or open land can lease space for community solar projects.  This can be an excellent community engagement tool. For building owners, revenues may be lower compared to traditional leasing but these areas are typically underutilized.
  • The first 2 years of annual capacity (250MWac) will open simultaneously within the first 6 months of the bill passing. 
    • 70% of capacity will be designated for Group B (ComEd area)
    • 30% of capacity is available to Group A (Ameren area)
    • Projects will be selected from the existing community solar project waitlist, which means developers will have up to 250,000,000 kWh of subscription capacity for commercial entities in 2022 statewide.
  • New community solar applications allow for project sizes up to 5MWac per site.
  • Specific funding and preferences will be given to projects that address under-served communities via the state’s “Solar for All” program.

Other Programs

  • Electric vehicle incentives will be available both for the vehicle purchasing and charging infrastructure.
  • Energy efficiency and innovation programs will be funded via the utilities.
  • The Solar for All program will support new BIPOC-led businesses with grant funding.

The Time is Now

Impact Power Solutions is proud to have advocated for this bill over the last several years alongside many other stakeholders. IPS helps its clients analyze, prioritize and adopt solar strategies across their portfolio of properties. The popularity of these programs will only increase so it is critical to start the evaluation process in order to benefit from upcoming rounds of the Adjustable Block Program.  Organizations interested in learning more about the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act can contact IPS.

How Solar Can Help Your Company Achieve Corporate Sustainability Goals

Many companies are turning to solar to achieve their corporate sustainability goals in response to shifting external factors, investor attitudes, and stakeholder preferences. With interest in corporate solar surging, we wanted to highlight recent examples of those external factors, show how solar can help, and illustrate how solar has helped our clients and collaborators achieve their goals. 

What Is Corporate Sustainability?

As the Ivey Business Journal puts it, “Corporate sustainability recognizes that corporate growth and profitability are important, it also requires the corporation to pursue societal goals, specifically those relating to sustainable development — environmental protection, social justice and equity, and economic development.”

Unfortunately, many companies struggle to gauge the effectiveness of their programs. A recent survey of both public and private companies revealed that while 81% of respondents’ companies have formal programs in place, only 50% of those respondents believe their company performs effectively. Fortunately, solar can help companies produce substantial, measurable results for their corporate sustainability goals. 

Environmental Protection 

A recent United Nations report, approved by 195 governments and based on 14,000 studies, confirms that humans are responsible for climate change. While the results are unsettling, there is still hope to achieve the best outcome with a coordinated effort and swift policy change. Since solar energy systems do not produce air pollution or greenhouse gases, they can drastically reduce your organization’s carbon footprint and are also an impactful way to advance your building’s green credentials. While your company may not influence policy, it can still take part in the coordinated effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

Take The Vomela Companies’ on-site solar array as a recent example. The company is projected to offset nearly 36,000 tons of CO2 over the next 30 years, which will make a significant and positive environmental impact. That’s the equivalent to adding 44,000 acres of trees to our forests. Additionally, the company achieved the sustainable green printing certification by pairing solar with other environmentally conscious practices.

 

The Vomela Companies Rooftop Solar Array  An Aerial View of The Vomela Companies’ rooftop solar array in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Social Justice and Equity 

The senate recently passed the $1 trillion infrastructure plan, allocating $36 billion in investment to fight climate change. In the proposal it states that, “the plan prioritizes addressing long-standing and persistent racial injustice. The plan targets 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to disadvantaged communities.” 

According to the IEA, solar energy has surpassed all other forms of energy as the most affordable electricity source in the world. Despite this, disadvantaged communities have less access to solar energy and its benefits compared to their counterparts. As outlined by the Scientific American, ”Racial and ethnic minorities have less access to solar power, regardless of income, highlighting the need for environmental justice.” Providing these communities with access to cheap, clean energy is an actionable way for organizations to take part in both social and environmental change.  

Look at Shiloh Temple’s rooftop community solar project as a recent example. Faith groups, businesses, and organizations across North Minneapolis banded together to create positive change. While other solar gardens are being developed to allow large corporations or municipal governments to subscribe, this garden demonstrates a new model by placing clean energy in a low-income community of color, creating green jobs for local residents, and ensuring access to community solar. 

 

Community members participating in Shiloh Temple's ribbon cutting eventCommunity members participating in Shiloh Temple’s ribbon cutting event.

Economic Development

In a recent statement by SEC chairman Gary Gensler, it was announced that plans are in development for mandatory climate reporting by the end of the year, signaling publicly traded organizations to be prepared for addressing environmental, social, and governance issues. Larry Fink’s 2021 annual BlackRock CEO letter said it best. “There is no company whose business model won’t be profoundly affected by the transition to a net zero economy.” 

Jobs in the solar industry are growing 17 times faster than the US economy and 90% of newly installed electric capacity was from renewable sources in 2020. Solar installer has been consistently ranked as one of the fastest growing jobs in the US in the past 5 years, according to the SEIA. Companies that meet their energy needs with rooftop solar are supporting economic development through manufacturing, installation, and more. Opportunities for companies to support economic development with solar are not limited to rooftop installations, either. Sourcing energy from community solar gardens provides economic support to rural communities, while giving farmers and landowners a valuable opportunity to diversify income streams. 

In a recent collaboration with Summit Academy, Target Corporation, and the City of Minneapolis, IPS led a workshop with recent Summit Academy grads and solar career hopefuls to help prepare them for NABCEP certification, the most well established certification in the renewable energy field. The IPS team shared their solar industry knowledge, the students received real world experience, and Target Corporation reinforced their commitment to renewable energy by supporting future renewable energy leaders.

 

Recent Summit Academy Grads, IPS team members, and Target representatives

Recent Summit Academy grads, Target representatives, and IPS team members.

Consider Solar for Accomplishing Your Company’s Corporate Sustainability Goals.  

If your company is looking for practical ways to achieve its corporate sustainability goals, we encourage you to evaluate solar. In addition to drastically reducing energy costs and carbon emissions, solar can compliment multiple company initiatives. Interested in learning more about what solar would look like for your company? Request a quote to see if solar is right for you! We’ve been happy to learn about your energy needs, educate inquirers, and demonstrate Solar’s payback for over 30 years.

The Infrastructure Bill & Climate Change: Clean Energy Connection EP. 6

(Interview starts at 0:21:00)

 

Proponents of Clean Energy: About the Guests 

Eric Pasi, Impact Power Solutions

Eric Pasi, Chief Development Officer, IPS 

As Chief Development Officer for Impact Power Solutions, Pasi has helped organizations analyze and adopt clean energy strategies nationwide.  He is extremely passionate about renewable power, entrepreneurship and the climate crisis. In 2020, he released his first book called “CleanWave: A Guide to Success in the Green Recovery” where he outlines the past, present, and future of clean tech, and its role in a post-COVID19 and post-George Floyd recovery.  

 

Interview Transcript

Joan E: Eric Pasi is the Chief Development Officer at Impact Power Solutions, and joins me once a month to talk about green energy issues. Eric, how are you? 


Eric P:
I am doing great. It’s infrastructure week. There’s a lot of things to talk about and a lot of things to be excited about.


Joan E:
Before we get to infrastructure, though, I want to get your reaction to the report on climate change that came out earlier this week where an international group looked at 1000s of studies that have been done all around the world, and came to the conclusion that “Yep, yeah, well, people are definitely causing climate change.” Some of it, like rising sea levels, may be with us forever, but there are other parts of what we’ve done that we might be able to undo. What did you think of the report?


Eric P:
The report
, which is known by its acronym, IPCC, which stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is put together by a group of climate scientists from around the world. Just as a background, it’s sponsored by the United Nations, who develop the reports detailing data behind climate change, and the findings must be agreed upon by the 195 participating countries before release, including us. So that makes the report the definitive source of information on the subject. And the previous report, which was released in 2013, influenced the creation of the Paris Climate Agreement. And so there’s a lot of folks in the energy community who were hotly anticipating the release of the report this year.


Joan E:
Even for climate deniers, I think that things have gotten so extreme that it’s a little bit hard to say that we don’t have any role to play in this. I mean, we’re watching what is probably the second largest wildfire, the Dixie fire in California, just burning 1000s and 1000s of acres. And couple that with all these pictures I’m seeing of rivers that are half dried up and reservoirs that are 15 and 20 feet below where they normally run. I mean, how does anybody at this point say, “Well, you know, that’s not climate change.” What are the things that I used to hear all the time? “Oh, just because we have one winter where the weather’s extreme, that doesn’t prove that there’s climate change.” But now we’ve had winter after spring, after summer, after winter, after spring after summer. It seems to me overwhelming and something that just simply cannot be denied at this point in time. Is that the way you see it?


Eric P:
Yes, absolutely. I think that there’s been some moderation on on behalf of Republicans who have traditionally stood with the fossil fuel lobbies and disinformation campaigns that we’ve been seeing over the last decade plus, and I think we both can remember back to Senator Inhofe on the Senate floor with a snowball in his hand, saying that the fact that he had ice was irrefutable evidence that climate change did not exist. But I think we’re seeing a lot of moderate Republicans, young republicans, come out strong on this issue. Having the private sector and the markets really lead the transformational change. There’s a lot of data and facts to help to support that. We are seeing corporate America step up in ways that we’ve never seen before on this issue. Google is really leading the charge on providing 24 hour clean energy to their facilities, which is something that’s never been done before. We’re seeing other groups leading in this regard as well, including utilities, who have traditionally been on the opposite side, are saying now, that clean energy is the most cost effective solution for ratepayers and it is reliable. We’re seeing with the adoption of these 100% or 80% clean energy by 2030 or 2040 mandates, as really being the future. That’s given cover to a lot of folks on the right who have been on the opposite side of this issue to say, “Well, if the markets and corporations are seeing this trend I think it’s time for us to kind of set aside the differences and get on board.”


Joan E:
I know that my daughter and I did a bucket list trip, right before the pandemic really closed up the world. We went diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and they’ve had periodic problems. It’s the world’s biggest reef, but they’ve had periodic problems with bleaching. That is where the water gets so warm that the coral starts dying. When the coral dies it sets off a domino effect. When we were there in January they told us as we were diving that the temperature in the water was a degree or less away from the temperature where they know the bleaching starts. The people we were diving with said, “it’s good that you’re going on this trip now, because we don’t even know what this reef is going to look like two years from now.” Because we were teetering on the edge of the temperature that would basically kill off of the reef. It was really climate change brought home in a way that maybe the people who’ve lived through these wildfires in California, also feel it up close and personal. For so many of us, Eric, it’s been kind of theoretical. Yes, we see the ice breaking off in the Antarctic, but when you are faced with your home burning, or faced with the fact that this reef that you’re diving into may not exist two years from now, it’s just staggering the effect that it has on you and how it really creates this incredible desire to do something. I think that’s part of the problem. So much of this is human generated, but it seems so much bigger than what any one person can do. How does one person make a difference?


Eric P:
You’re totally right on, Joan, with what your experiences have shown you. There’s climate injustices all around the world. For me personally, just as an anecdote, my father was an immigrant from Tonga and I had a chance to visit his home several years ago. The island that he’s from, Tonga, is in the South Pacific, kind of near New Zealand, and it is only about nine feet above sea level. Thinking about these folks, my ancestors, being really at risk for climate devastation, when they had no role in the warming planet and releasing all these greenhouse gases, is just something that drives me. I think that when people find similar stories that are in their own lives, that can give you the power to become your own advocate. I think what needs to happen is an uprising, like maybe we haven’t seen since the Vietnam War, where people are demonstrating and out on the streets showing their passion for this issue. It’s not just the humanitarian aspect, but also the ecological aspect to this as well. Needing to preserve what’s left of this planet for future generations. That is what drives me every day. I think folks, when they tap into that power, really can spend the time and energy on this issue that it demands, and I’m hopeful that we can all do that.


Joan E:
Toward that end, as you mentioned a moment ago, it looks like we’re going to be getting a new infrastructure bill. We’re going to take a break. And when we come back, I want to talk to Eric about what this new infrastructure package may or may not mean for clean energy in this country. We’re gonna take a break and be back with Eric Pasi right after this.


Joan E:
Before the break, Eric had mentioned this new infrastructure bill that the Senate passed with a 60 to 30 vote. We are going to find out what, if anything, this potential package will mean for the clean energy industry. Eric, is there a breakdown?


Eric P:
Yeah, absolutely. So there’s two aspects of what’s happened in the last 24 hours or so. The traditional infrastructure bill, which was a bipartisan bill, was really spearheaded by folks in the Senate, like Joe Manchin, who said that we’re not going to be able to address the larger issues without at least trying for a bipartisan solution. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which included about $550 billion of new spending, did have some aspects that were pro-clean energy. That includes $73 billion for the electric grid and our infrastructure. That’s going to be super important. As we try to onboard the backlog of solar wind and other clean energy assets onto the grid, we need some upgrades to that infrastructure. There’s $21 billion for environmental remediation projects, like cleaning up Superfund sites and brownfield sites, and to sort out the abandoned gas mines which have become an increasingly big issue as companies have left these mines to essentially spew out methane and other harmful greenhouse gases. There’s money in there to address those projects.


Joan E:
Okay, I know what a Superfund site is, but what is a brownfield site?


Eric P:
It’s also a contaminated site. They’re almost synonymous, but both are having to deal with environmentally contaminated sites.


Joan E:
We have the steel works plant over by the Chicago – Gary border. There have been lots of ideas from time to time about what should be done with that land. The fear of doing anything over there is about what kind of contaminants are in the ground. Would the old steel works plant qualify under this infrastructure bill? Is that someplace that could get cleaned up once and for all?


Eric P:
Yes, absolutely. It could qualify. What we’re seeing for a lot of these superfund sites, brownfield sites and landfills is that a great pairing in those situations is to repurpose those sites as solar sites. What we’ve seen is that a lot of developers are placing solar arrays where they’re not penetrating or disturbing the ground. They’re using ballasted solutions, allowing the remediation of that site underneath the systems and then also just having a dual use where we, you know, we need this infrastructure. We need clean energy. There’s a happy medium or Mayor Between these contaminated sites and solar projects.


Joan E:
I know this might be getting too far into the weeds, but I’ve read about this before, not recently because I think the technology is changing. We were having a discussion about infrastructure and Joe Biden’s desire to promote electric vehicles and somebody texted me and said, “Well, wait a minute, didn’t I read that these electric vehicles need these special lithium batteries, and that making these lithium batteries can be as polluting as refining gasoline and burning gasoline in an engine?” I haven’t read anything about that recently. I know that when electric cars first came to prominence that was a big concern. Has the technology advanced when it comes to batteries and how they’re made and how they’re disposed of?


Eric P:
The production of lithium ion batteries is actually well established now, including recycling programs and repurposing programs. There’s quite a few examples out there, but what we are seeing is a move for some advanced battery technology away from lithium. Traditionally, China has been the by far the leader in lithium production. There’s actually some legislation that is hoping to develop some of those resources that we have in the US, including in California, but new battery technology, which would include zinc and iron ore technology, is plentiful in the US and much easier to refine. We are seeing the next generation of batteries, which will likely be coming later this decade, as more powerful, longer lasting and cheaper batteries compared to lithium ion, but lithium ion does have good processes in place for environmental mitigation.


Joan E:
Oh, well that’s good to know. Because you don’t want to make the investment of buying an electric car and then feel like you’re not really helping the environment the way you thought you were in the first place. I know that. in China they’ve mandated that not too many years in the future electric cars are going to be all that they permit. They have a huge pollution problem over there. Do you think that the scales are going to tip at some point in the near future? And what point would that be? I read the car guy who writes on weekends for the Wall Street Journal. He reviews all these Lamborghinis and Ferraris, and it’s always fun to read about him driving these supercars. Oh my god, this has to be like four years ago, I was reading his column on the weekend and he said, “you know, guys, gas engines, they’re really gone. You might still be driving one, maybe the next car you buy will still have one, but for all intents and purposes, folks, they’re gone. That technology is gone. It is part of the past. At some point, maybe in the far future, or the near future, you’re going to be driving an electric car.” This is a guy who lives and breathes V8s and V12s. For him to say this, it really made me sit up and take notice. This really is coming, isn’t it, Eric?


Eric P:
Yes, all the major car manufacturers have laid out blueprints for their future fleets and all of it is electrified. The question between them is just really how soon. We’ve seen folks as aggressive as Volvo coming out to say that they are going to have 100% of their offerings be electric by 2030 to GM and Ford, who are saying half of their fleet’s offerings will be electric by 2030. It’s really on a fast pace. Right now in the US about 2% of new car sales are electric. That’s up from about 0.1% just a few years ago. Then if you look at places like Europe, that number is closer to 8% of new cars being sold as electric and in China up to 20% already of new cars being sold being electric. This is definitely coming. Within the bipartisan infrastructure bill there is $15 billion for electric vehicles, $7.5 billion to electrify public transportation and then $7.5 billion for additional EV charging stations. We’re going to see this transformation really happen in a blink of an eye. By mid decade most folks will be opting for EVs because they’re just the better option at this point. You know if you’ve ever driven an EV that it’s just the pure joy of driving the car. It’s just so much more fun. There’s environmental benefits. It’s just a clear winner, at least from my point of view, to head in that direction.


Joan E:
Oddly, even though I wasn’t going anywhere, eight months into the pandemic I bought an electric car. Here’s the thing that was the biggest surprise to me. Even though I wasn’t driving it very often, I was driving it to the grocery store or something once in a while and I still had my previous car, the gas car. For some reason, one time I went to drive that instead of the electric car and I turned it on in the garage and all I could think of was, “oh my god, this car stinks.” I never noticed the exhaust before, but now with this car, I smell gas, I smell exhaust. I had gotten used to not having that smell. And I realized, “Oh my god, I really get it. I understand now why you know what this car is throwing up into the atmosphere, because I can smell it like I’ve never smelled it before.” One of our listeners just texted this in. “Scientists were worried about an ice shelf on the Antarctic coast the size of New Jersey. The debate was between those who thought it would be gone in 20 years and those who thought that attitude was alarmist. One lone voice said that the ice shelf could be gone in two years and everybody said he was crazy. It was gone two weeks after the debate hit the press and that was 20 years ago.” So in some respects, I think a lot of us really have been crossing our fingers and looking the other way. One of the things I wanted to talk to you about is the Illinois Path to 100 bill, because we haven’t passed the clean energy bill. I know previously, you said that there’s a soft deadline at the end of August, but we haven’t passed it. Exelon says that they’re going to be shutting down the Byron and Dresden nuclear power plants. So what is that going to mean for the state of Illinois?


Eric P:
I think that this really steps up the pressure on lawmakers to get some type of deal done. Stakeholders, including the folks on our side, are hoping that a deal to make some type of bridge for labor and retiring coal facilities is going to be part of the solution there. I can really see both sides of the argument. We need to support a transitioning workforce in Illinois that is moving from coal to renewables, but every pound of additional CO2 in the atmosphere is really compounding the drastic effects of a warming planet. In my opinion, clean energy advocates should accept what’s on the table, which is the fossil fuel subsidy as a short term trade to keep low emission nuclear facilities online, and then also new wind and solar developments on the horizon. That’s my take on it. I think we’re getting to one of the Republican lawmakers who said that this is not a bluff. Meaning that we’ve heard that Exelon is rolling out their shutdown plans this month. We need low emission nuclear facilities as a part of the solution to combat climate change. I think this is a compromise that we all need to take very seriously.


Joan E:
When the bill didn’t pass the first time around they said they weren’t waiting and were going to start the procedures. I think they were threatening to shut Byron down by the end of September, certainly by the beginning of November.


Eric P:
I feel like there’s so much at stake. I think the fossil fuel subsidies are a mistake, but we all need to just focus on the larger picture here and get a deal done. This reminds me a little bit of 2016, when there was an extension of the solar and wind tax credits at the federal level. That was made in exchange for the lift on the oil export ban. We removed that ban, but it unlocked so much more in solar and wind development. That seems like a similar situation where we have to play ball and look at the bigger picture.


Joan E:
Yeah, and while everybody would like a perfect solution, maybe in the short term, we have to settle for good and then work from there. I agree with you. I know you said before, that probably August 31st was a soft deadline for this. So let’s hope that next time you and I talk, we can say “whew, crisis averted. They did it!”


Eric P:
That’s right. This, along with the other stuff that’s happening on the federal level, could lead to a very exciting end to summer here.


Joan E:
Thanks so much, Eric. I appreciate talking to you about these issues. Thanks for joining me today. 


Eric P:
Absolutely! Have a great rest of the afternoon. 

 

If you’re curious to see what solar would look like for your organization, feel free to reach out via email at info@ips-solar.com, contact us, or request a quote to learn more. 

 

IL’s Solar Jobs Program & Climate Change: Clean Energy Connection EP. 5

(Interview starts at 0:21:00)

 

Proponents of Clean Energy: About the Guests 

Eric Pasi, Impact Power Solutions

Eric Pasi, Chief Development Officer, IPS 

As Chief Development Officer for Impact Power Solutions, Pasi has helped organizations analyze and adopt clean energy strategies nationwide.  He is extremely passionate about renewable power, entrepreneurship and the climate crisis. In 2020, he released his first book called “CleanWave: A Guide to Success in the Green Recovery” where he outlines the past, present, and future of clean tech, and its role in a post-COVID19 and post-George Floyd recovery.  

 

Interview Transcript

Joan E: Eric Pasi is the chief Development Officer of IPS and he joins me today to do a round up on a lot of things that are happening here in Illinois. Welcome, Eric. How are you?

Eric P: Good afternoon, Joan. I’m doing fabulous today. How are you?

Joan E: I’m doing really, really well. Summer used to be a time when everybody got kind of sleepy. We could do stories on trees in the park, that kind of thing. Ever since the previous administration in Washington, summer is no longer sleepy. Summer is like, oh, my god, there’s a firehose, what’s happening today. So it kind of kind of keeps me on my toes. Hey, one of the things that I wanted to ask you about, speaking of clean energy, was the clean energy bill in Springfield. It looked like a lot of people were working on it and it was very close to being a done deal. There were some last minute snags, then there was the report that maybe when they came back in a lame duck session it would be voted on there and that didn’t happen either. Is this thing permanently stalled do you think? Or is it just a temporary delay?

Eric P: I think it’s a temporary delay. The reason why is that there’s so much on the line for a lot of different industries, and specifically clean energy. Our company, Impact Power Solutions, has a ton of projects that are waiting to be constructed if that bill passes, and so we’re talking about billions of dollars that would be unleashed for new landowner payments, for new tax revenue within the state. Not to mention just transitioning the grid to a much cleaner state. So we do expect that by the end of next month, August 31st is kind of a soft deadline, where we expect some movement. There’s a lot of optimism from people that are very close to the negotiations. As maybe some of your listeners know, really what happened at the end of the session was that downstate Illinois was really hoping for an equitable transition from coal, specifically at the Prairie State facility that has contracts that are lasting into the next 25 years. We understand that coal has been a strong source of good paying jobs in the region for decades, and this transition should and will recognize coal’s importance to the state and help those workers and families transition to the green economy. That’s really our hope. And we’re optimistic about it.

Joan E: Well, speaking of transitioning and training, I’ve heard of something called the Illinois Solar Training Pipeline Program. What is that?

Eric P: Audrey Henderson, who joined us in April on this segment, wrote a great article about the pending program rollout for Energy News Network. The Illinois Solar Training Pipeline Program is one of three workforce development programs under the state’s 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act that hope to close the gap with clean energy jobs that disproportionately disadvantaged communities have not been able to access. We’re talking about bringing in folks that have been formerly incarcerated, former foster care members, women and people of color until the program is administered by ComEd. There is a goal of training 2,000 individuals, especially from those groups that I’ve just mentioned, with a target of 50% of these trainees coming from environmental justice communities where there are existing fossil fuel plants that are causing environmental harm. The program is really designed to promote renewable energy throughout the state, provide savings on utility bills for consumers and then most importantly, create a diverse pool of solar and renewable energy installers and give them an opportunity to land good paying jobs created throughout the state.

Joan E: Just to clarify one thing that you just said. We talked about the closing of the coal plants and how those people obviously need jobs. Did you just say that a certain percentage of this solar training program was going to be set aside for people coming from the coal industry? Did I understand that correctly?

Eric P: It’s actually a little bit more nuanced. The environmental justice communities are really where the plants are located, and not necessarily just the workers that are working at those plants, but really the facilities that are causing asthma and other health issues for the public and population that are located near these facilities. This program is really meant to address those individuals, first and foremost. There are separate kinds of training programs and transitioning programs that would be set aside, specifically for workers in the fossil fuel industry.

Joan E: How are the people eligible for this? I mean, it sounds great. People who’ve got prison records and have trouble getting work, people coming out of the foster program, people in these communities that have been built on coal. What kind of an outreach program exists? How are they going to find these people? Do you have any idea about that? 

Eric P: They partner with organizations that are really focused on the ground. So in Chicago, the Cook County Workforce Partnership, for example, will help ComEd find organizations to receive workforce development grants. Applicants would essentially be organizations within the community. Those grants range anywhere from $150,000 to a million dollars, which would be distributed over four years to really create a pipeline of applicants. Eligible grant recipients include not for profit, actual government entities and for profit entities, along with educational institutions. Organizations located in and providing services for environmental justice communities will have priority. They’re starting in the next two weeks. We’ll hear the first round of grantees for that program and we’ll understand more about what kind of communities are going to start to have to develop the trainings within this program.

Joan E: Okay. We are going to take a real quick break. One of the things I want to talk to you about Eric, when we come back after this break, is climate change, particularly the craziness that we have seen in the Pacific Northwest. We were talking with Tony Fitzpatrick a couple of weeks ago, a gallery owner out there, who said he doesn’t have air conditioning in his home, he doesn’t have air conditioning in his art gallery, because he’s never needed it. People out there wear jackets in July, and suddenly they’re dealing with 110 degree heat. Eric and I are going to have a conversation about what the hell is going on in the Pacific Northwest right after this.

Joan E: Before we went to commercial break, I said I wanted to ask Eric what’s going on in the Pacific Northwest. So Eric, I know that I see climate change. Do you think other people see climate change in that bizarre weather, the bizarre heatwave that they were hit with?

Eric P: It’s been very tragic to see what’s happened up there. I think any logical person looking at what had occurred over that two week stretch is coming to a conclusion that anything but climate change would be unrealistic. So you’re right when you talk a bit about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest having record heat. I was looking at the data, from 1894 until last month, Seattle had only recorded three days in its history over 100 degrees, and that happened three days in a row in June. Speaking of the tragedy, almost 200 people lost their lives across the Northwest and this is just becoming more common, unfortunately. 

Joan E: I was talking to an expert in the field of climate who said that heat as a natural disaster kills more people than all the other natural disasters. More than tsunamis, more than hurricanes, more than tornadoes, and we tend to think of those as catastrophic events. He said, if you’re really looking at the big picture, as far as the ways that weather can kill us, nothing comes close to heat.

Eric P: That’s right. And it really affects disproportionately, folks that are lower on the economic ladder. We saw this in Seattle, where about 50% of owner occupied homes have air conditioning, but for renters, it’s less than 30%. So when you’re talking about heat of that magnitude, really the ones that are most affected are the ones that have the least.

Joan E: Hmm. So what can government officials, policymakers, utility companies, what can they do to prepare for a future where weather is going to be more unpredictable?

Eric P: When we were looking at statistics for this segment, one that really jumped out to me was that in the US, according to government data in 1992, non weather related outages in the power system outnumbered weather related outages like heat waves, four to one. But by 2012, just two decades later, those numbers have slipped. Weather events account for four times as many outages now compared to non weather events. That number, just the total number increased by more than 10 times. So this is happening at a frequency that we’ve never seen before. Extreme heat in the Northwest may force the Bonneville Power Administration, who’s the grid operator up there, to impose rolling blackouts in Eastern Washington. This is similar to what was seen both in Texas earlier this year, and in California last year due to the wildfires. Grid operators are maximizing the available power by doing the easy thing. So scheduling all the maintenance that was said to be scheduled on the system gets put on a pause. Similarly, for any electricity generators, they must also generate electricity with no maintenance outages. Those are the easy things, but also the things that aren’t necessarily going to flip the needle here. We need infrastructure spending to the tune that the Biden administration is talking about. 10s of billions of dollars to beef up and secure the grid infrastructure to allow for the transfer of power from certain areas in the country to others when we do have these, these weather events. It’s more necessary now than ever.

Joan E: I’m looking at the Midwest, where I was talking to one of my girlfriends about a year ago talking about whether it was a good place to retire to. She is much more environmentally astute than I am, and she said, “You know, I’ve got to tell you, with all the reading that I’m doing about climate change, with all the mudslides and fires and outrageous temperatures and ocean rise” she said, “I’m starting to read that the Midwest is actually the best place to be to ride out climate change.” So Eric, what do you see happening around the Midwest, whether it’s Illinois or other states near us, as far as energy policies being talked about or adopted?

Eric P: I totally agree with your friend’s assessment. I think recently, and I forget who wrote the study, but they found that Duluth, Minnesota is the most climate crisis prepared city in the country with its access to fresh water and a temperate climate. In terms of Midwest policy, we talked a little bit about Illinois and the Path to 100. How important that is to the state’s clean energy economy and to the state’s ability to fight the climate crisis. I’d be remiss if I didn’t put a plug in for it. We are encouraging everybody that we know to visit www.Illinoissolar.org. There’s a tab for Path to 100 and then you can click on a link there to take action and notify your representatives about the importance that you find in taking action on climate. In Iowa, just next door, we’re seeing some countervailing or opposite results. They passed a law in 2018 that affected their energy efficiency policies in the state and we’re now just getting some updated reporting on the impact. Iowa’s largest utilities have dramatically scaled back efforts to help customers conserve energy since the 2018 law. We’ve seen that Mid American Energy reported kilowatt hour savings in 2020, which were 64% lower than what the utility achieved the year previously. Alliant Energy’s savings were down 40% during that same period. It’s very simple things like energy efficiency that you feel like should be a no brainer are getting lost in the shuffle in certain instances.

Joan E: That seems counterintuitive. I mean even skeptics are now saying that at least they see bizarre weather patterns, even if they might not attribute it to climate change. But everyone acknowledges that we’re seeing these extremes, more so than we have in years past. How does a state justify not doing not only not doing more, but actually doing less?

Eric P: It baffles me and if I knew the answer, then maybe I wouldn’t be with you here. What we found is the best policy regarding energy efficiencies for utilities is when you decouple profits from revenue. What I mean by that is, if the utilities are incentivized to sell more energy, they’re going to make sure that you’re buying less efficient equipment, and not conserving energy. As we’ve seen in Minnesota, when we’ve decoupled the profits from the utility and from revenue, basically guaranteeing a rate of return, that then incentivizes the utilities to do as much as they can to preserve the amount of power that’s being produced. It’s really about aligning the interests of the publicly regulated utilities and the general population. We all understand that climate is a big issue and now it’s time for corporations, and specifically utilities, to step up and do their part in that regard.

Joan E: It’s kind of a catch 22, isn’t it? Because utilities, they really are a public good. They are very necessary for us to live our lives. But by the same token, as somebody who may buy their stock, you’re expecting them to show some kind of a profit. It seems like they’re being pulled in two different directions, to some extent.

Eric P: That’s right. I mentioned Minnesota, this legislative session they passed the ECO Act, which actually increases the amount of money available for energy efficiency projects in the state. it emphasizes the amount that’s available to under-resourced and communities of color. It’s almost a complete 180 from what you see in a neighboring state.

Joan E: I had an opportunity to look up Illinoissolar.org and click on the Path to 100 and I’ve got to say, it is a really clearly laid out page that will show you the legislation that is existing. They know who’s doing what, what it’s going to accomplish, and if this is something that you care about. I know that a lot of people who listen to this radio station do care about it. This is a great place to go to look at the legislation that is being considered and that Will Davis and Bill Cunningham are two of the people who are really working on this. You should reach out to your state rep and your state senator and let them know that this is something that’s important, especially as we’ve got this clean energy bill. Part of it is “when are we going to close up these coal plants?”. then down the road “Well when are we going to be sustainable enough that we can close up the nuclear plants and and move forward”. I just can’t see anybody being in opposition to that. Unless maybe you make your living off of coal? .

Eric P: Right. We recognize that there are interests, especially in Southern Illinois, as we mentioned before, that have decades long involvement with coal and we by no means want to disrespect them or those traditions, but right now we’re in a time of transition and we need to start thinking about our children’s future and their children’s future. If we continue with the status quo, it’s simply unsustainable. So you’re right, go to Illinois solar.org/path-to-100, or you can just go to the homepage and click on the link there. It really does lay out everything that’s at stake. Our company, and many companies like us, have developed projects spending money in the state as far back as five years ago, when the original Future Energy Jobs Act was passed. Now we’re looking at a cliff, essentially, where funding is dried up for these types of projects. We’re set to lose an estimated 3,500 jobs in the solar industry. It’s just untenable to me to know that there’s so much need for what renewable energy is, there’s so much need for it in the world, yet we’ve gotten in our own way, in terms of politics, that are preventing progress on this very issue. So, lots at stake and we’d encourage your listeners to head over there, Illinoissolar.org, and take action.

Joan E: I just tweeted out that link so if you are a listener who follows me on Twitter, I’ve tweeted out the link, and you can click on the link. So you think that we have a soft passage date of the Illinois clean energy bill by the end of August? Also, I’m imagining that there would be some benefits for Illinois once Joe Biden gets his infrastructure package passed? Because I know that there were some provisions in there to build more electric charging stations and things like that. Will that be a big help to Illinois as well? 

Eric P: Yep, absolutely. You’re right that the infrastructure bill goes beyond just clean energy to talk about the transformation of the transportation system. As you mentioned, there’s funding in there too, to install upwards of half a million electric vehicle charging stations across the country. There’s investment into research and development for everything from carbon capture to green fuels that can be used in airplanes. This is a monumental opportunity in terms of federal policy that we’re cautiously optimistic about. It’s time for progressives to put their foot down and just say “if we have a bipartisan bill on infrastructure that doesn’t address climate, that’s not acceptable”. The very infrastructure that we’re talking about is crumbling due to the climate crisis so any discussion about infrastructure without climate is not acceptable. We were hopeful for this two path approach that seems to be ironing itself out with half of the bill essentially going through budget reconciliation, but it’s tough to hold your breath for anything these days so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Joan E: Eric, thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. And I know, it’s an interesting conversation for our listeners. Thank you for being here. 

Eric P: Thanks, Joan. Have a great day. 

 

If you’re curious to see what solar would look like for your organization, feel free to reach out via email at info@ips-solar.com, contact us, or request a quote to learn more. 

 

2021 Top Solar Contractors: Our 10th Year

What is the 2021 Top Solar Contractor’s List?

Curated by Solar Power World, the Top Solar Contractors list is developed each year to honor the work of solar installers in the United States. Solar firms in the utility, commercial and residential markets are ranked by number of kilowatts installed in the previous year. Companies are grouped and listed by specific service, markets and states.  Solar Power World has recognized our installation success by ranking Impact Power Solutions at No. 13 on the 2021 Top Solar Developers list.

From the Curators of the 2021 Top Solar Contractor’s List

“Not even COVID-19 closures and slowdowns could prevent the solar industry from installing fantastic numbers last year,” said Kelly Pickerel, editor in chief of Solar Power World. “The Solar Power World team is so glad to recognize over 400 companies on the 2021 Top Solar Contractors list that not only survived a pandemic but thrived in spite of it.”

A Year to Remember

The U.S. solar industry grew 43% in last year, installing more solar panels on homes, businesses and across the country than any other year on record. The residential market saw an 11% increase, which is remarkable considering the difficulties of maneuvering home solar projects through pandemic precautions.

The federal government passed a two-year extension on the solar investment tax credit (ITC) at the end of 2020, which will further accelerate solar adoption across all market segments. After installing 19.2 GW in 2020, research firm Wood Mackenzie expects the U.S. solar market to quadruple by 2030.

Regardless of the turbulence faced last year, solar energy has remained effective in combating greenhouse gas emissions as an alternative to fossil fuels, and will continue to aid in efforts for economic recovery

Our Take On Being A Top Solar Contractor

When asked why we keep coming back to the top solar contractors list, Chief Development Officer Eric Pasi said “In the beginning it leant a lot of credibility to our small business, and still does today. It’s also a way to push our team to new heights, trying to beat last year’s statistics and keep growing, which we’ve been able to do.” 

We’re honored to be recognized as a Solar Power World top solar contractor. In the 30 years since our founding, we have never overcome challenges like the ones faced this year. We extend our deepest thanks to our employees, clients, and community for making the installation of 34,618 kilowatts of solar capacity possible, and for the positive impact we’ve made on the environment together. 

If you’re curious to see what solar would look like for your organization, feel free to reach out via email at info@ips-solar.com, contact us, or request a quote to learn more. 

The Omnibus Energy Bill and What Solar Means for Schools

SCHOOL | Snail Lake Kindergarten | Shoreview, MN | 40 kW SystemSCHOOL | Snail Lake Kindergarten | Shoreview, MN | 40 kW System

The Omnibus Energy Bill

Minnesota legislators recently approved the omnibus commerce and energy policy and finance bill. The aim of the bill is to support renewables, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, make prescription drugs more affordable, and provide additional rights to student loan borrowers. As far as energy is concerned, over $60 million will be used by the renewable development account for the following:

  • Reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Establishing building electrification goals.
  • Creating a process and transition program for retiring generation facilities.
  • Improving siting provisions for solar on farmland.
  • Creating carbon intensity reduction standards for transportation.
  • Facilitating the expansion of a solar plant.
  • Supporting solar projects on k-12 schools and community colleges.
  • And many other initiatives.

With Minnesota’s economy reopening and the school year quickly approaching, this program will be instrumental in providing schools equitable access to solar energy. 

What it Means for Schools 

$16 million will be available for solar projects on K-12 schools, and $5 million will be available for community college projects. In greater Minnesota, the maximum system size will be capped at 40 kW and projects in Xcel will be capped at 1 MW. The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association projects that the funds could support roughly 350 schools across the state, nearly tripling the current total of school installations. 

There is a focus on equity within this program as well. Within Xcel territory, 40% of the program’s funding will be directed to schools where at least 50% of students receive free or reduced lunches. This will help school districts with a large percentage of low-income students invest in solar and save on utility bills.

Saving on Utility Bills 

Installing solar panels can greatly reduce utility spending on schools, saving significantly in the long run. For example, Mounds View School District installed solar on 13 buildings, and will reduce energy costs by $2 million over the next 25 years. With solar, schools can also protect against rising electricity costs, guaranteeing electricity prices for up to 20 years. 

Hands-on STEM Opportunities  

Solar isn’t just a way to save money on energy, it also provides an opportunity to educate the next generation of energy leaders. Take ISD 197’s sustainability manager’s example, “It’s hard to encourage kids to be excited about learning about energy. This is one way that they can actually see it in action.” In fact, schools must have an educational component in order to participate. In addition to providing an opportunity to see solar in action, IPS clients are offered standards based STEM curricula and educator workshops, free of charge with the Sunrise Program.

Acting Sustainability

Switching to solar energy is one of the biggest changes we can make in our communities to curb climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), generating electricity contributes over one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. With rising concerns about our carbon footprint and the mounting cost of energy, solar is a wise investment for the health of the environment and generations to come. 

Flip the Switch on Solar for your School! 

Nearly a third of all Minnesota schools with solar have worked with IPS, and we are happy to help educate schools about the efficacy of solar energy. If you’re interested in learning more about solar, or seeing if solar is right for your school, simply request a quote, call, or reach out to info@ips-solar.com to get started. We’d be more than happy to coordinate a tour at one of our schools to see an array in person!


Helpful Links for Schools Considering Solar Energy: 

MN Clean Energy Resource Teams | Additional Omnibus Energy Bill Info | Our Schools | Standards-Based STEM Curricula