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Sustainable: Xcel energy program subscriptions going fast

A new Xcel Energy program offering customers an opportunity to buy renewable energy directly from the utility will help power the Minneapolis Convention Center and the University of Minnesota in the future.

“Renewable*Connect” has sold two-thirds of the 75 megawatts allotted to it since starting just over a month ago. While the cost of electricity is higher than Xcel’s standard rate, that premium hasn’t stopped businesses and government bodies from signing up, said Lee Gabler, Xcel’s senior director of customer strategy and solutions.

“I’d characterize [Renewable*Connect] as a success, a significant success,” he said. “To accomplish this in such a short window of time leaves us incredibly encouraged about the future.”

The program comes out of a desire by business and government to reduce greenhouse gases through clean-energy initiatives, he said. Many of them have aggressive carbon-reduction goals that require the purchase of renewable energy to offset their electricity consumption, Gabler said.

“This is something determined by our customers and their needs, especially around sustainability goals,” he said. “Those are becoming much more prevalent, much more important and much more high-profile. Our focus is responding as best we can to those needs.”

Xcel’s program is part of a national trend toward “green tariff” programs that allow utilities to sell renewable energy to their customers. While residents are part of the mix of customers for Renewable*Connect, Xcel’s Jaclyn Webb, product portfolio manager, said 80 percent of the early adopters are businesses, a category including local and regional government agencies. Read more

'It's Electric' — and so is new school bus serving Lakeville students this fall

The first-ever electric bus is coming to schools in Lakeville this fall.

The 72-passenger bus may look like any regular school bus, but it comes without the carbon footprint and the fumes. The wind-powered bus is part of a collaboration between the Dakota Electric Association, Schmitty & Sons and Great River Energy.

The idea started with Dakota Electric, which connected with Great River Energy about bringing the electric bus to Minnesota this year. They then collaborated with Schmitty & Sons, a school bus company that has a contract with Lakeville Area Public Schools.

Schmitty & Sons approached the school district earlier this summer about including the bus in its fleet.

“We have been working with electric vehicles and thought we would take it to the next step with electric school buses,” said Therese LaCanne, spokeswoman for Great River Energy. Read more

Solar Energy Is Big In Minnesota, So How Will The Eclipse Affect Our Power?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, now account for 22 percent of the power Minnesotans consume. It’s a growing industry, but it’s also a new industry that comes with some unusual questions.

Like what will happen to our power during next month’s solar eclipse?

Believe it or not, Minnesota “…is a very sunny place. You wouldn’t think so, but we’re ranked 12th in the nation” for solar energy potential according to MnSEIA communications director Liz Lucente.

It’s easy to throw shade at our northern climate but — with 3,500 jobs and a half-billion dollar contribution to the state’s economy — it turns out solar energy is big business in Minnesota. Read more

'Social cost' of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants increased

Minnesota utility regulators Thursday significantly increased the “social cost” of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, but not as much as requested by two state agencies and environmental and renewable energy groups.

Since the 1990s, Minnesota has been one of just a handful of states to try to quantify the economic impact of the greenhouse gases behind climate change. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 3-2 to raise that cost from the current level of 44 cents to $4.53 per short ton to a range of $9.05 to $43.06 per short ton by 2020.

“That’s a dramatic and I think appropriate increase in the value for CO2,” said Dan Lipschultz, the PUC commissioner who proposed the new cost range. “As far as I know, we are the only state in the country to adopt CO2 values comprehensively for [utilities’] resource planning.”

Consumers don’t see a carbon fee on their bills. However, Lipschultz said the decision would “in all likelihood” indirectly impact ratepayers. Read more

Regulators deciding whether to raise 'social cost of carbon' in Minnesota

The costs of climate change — in other words, putting a price on greenhouse gases — will be hashed out before Minnesota utility regulators over the next week, and it’s guaranteed to be both complicated and contentious.

Minnesota was a pioneer in affixing a price to carbon dioxide back in the 1990s and is still one of only a handful of states with such a standard. Environmental and energy groups want the state’s carbon pricing formula to be revised, adopting the federal government’s “social cost of carbon.”

“In the 20 years since the state specified the cost of carbon dioxide, there has been a wealth of new information published on the health and climate impacts of burning fossil fuel,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for St. Paul-based Fresh Energy, a renewable energy advocacy group.

The federal social cost of carbon, devised in 2010 by several government agencies, is the most complete measure of the costs of carbon dioxide emissions, Fresh Energy and environmental groups argue. Read more

CenterPoint Energy named a 2017 Most Trusted Brand

HOUSTON – July 13, 2017 – CenterPoint Energy earned a 2017 "Most Trusted Brand" designation, making it one of the nation's most trusted utilities according to a new Cogent Reports™ study by Market Strategies International. The Utility Trusted Brand and Customer Engagement: Residential study, now in its fourth year, benchmarks brand performance of 130 electric and natural gas utilities on a quarterly basis among 59,823 utility consumers. The study measures Brand Trust through scoring six factors among residential customers – customer focus, company reputation and advocacy, community support, communications effectiveness, environmental dedication and reliable quality.

"We have made substantial investments over the last several years to enhance the safety and reliability of our natural gas system and to improve our service to customers," said Gregory E. Knight, senior vice president and chief customer officer for CenterPoint Energy. "We believe being named a 'most trusted brand' clearly demonstrates that customers value and appreciate these efforts." Read more

Minnesota expected to get $47 million from Volkswagen settlement

Minnesota is in line to get a $47 million pot of money to fight pollution, and businesses that sell a wide range of environmentally friendly products are positioning themselves to get a share of it.

As part of the nearly $15 billion settlement in the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal, states receive a combined $2.7 billion to support projects that reduce pollution. The settlement details specific projects the money can be spent on, such as replacing old school buses, garbage trucks, delivery trucks and even snowplows with cleaner engines.

“We’re getting calls from Canada and all over the U.S. from consulting firms, legal firms and manufacturing firms that build buses, saying, spend Minnesota’s money on this,” said Rocky Sisk, the leader for the Volkswagen mitigation project at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the agency in charge of deciding how Minnesota will spend the money. Read more

JD Power: Residential utility customer satisfaction rises for 6th consecutive year

•J.D. Power's annual study on residential utility customer satisfaction found an increase in power outages and pricing information increased residential power customer satisfaction for the sixth consecutive year.
•The study notes more than 65% of residential utility customers surveyed are receiving critical information during a power outage, including the cause, number of those impacted and time estimates on when power will be restored. Customers who receive that information report a higher overall rate of satisfaction versus those who do not.
•Other findings include: more customers are moving over to electronic bill payments; customers believe infrastructure is being updated; and website access is shifting toward mobile. The study notes that pricing information is also key, with consumers rating their utilities higher for easier digestion of pricing numbers and "fairness" of pricing. Read more

New studies reinforce importance of natural gas for clean energy future

The advent of more efficient and affordable clean energy in recent years has left natural gas with an unwarranted bad reputation. However, a series of new studies, led by groundbreaking research at the University of Texas, Austin, could help create greater public awareness around the surprising truth of this energy source: gas-fired energy is one of the most realistic hopes for a successful Clean Energy Plan moving forward.

Because of these studies, many energy industry insiders are expecting a surge in gas-fired power generation and the creation of new technologies to support that growth. Among the exciting developments already moving forward are gas-powered micro-grids, a simple idea with the potential to completely revolutionize electric power infrastructure in America.

Poised for large-scale adoption

With businesses increasingly reliant on digital databases, even brief power outages can have widespread repercussions. This positions the gas-fired micro-grid approach as an ideal solution for large-scale adoption. Far from the violent natural disasters you might be imagining, events as common as mild rain, a wind storm or a simple, unexpected technical failure can account for blackouts capable of massive data loss.

The micro-grid system can provide emergency power to areas on the scale of a business compound or a city block, acting almost like a massive back-up generator, making it extremely attractive to businesses whose continued success can depend on avoiding seconds of power disruption. In addition, the micro-grid system is able to supplement an area’s daily energy needs. Considering increasing needs for data back-up across all business sectors, and the growing efficiency of gas-fired electricity production, it makes sense that energy analysts are excited about the potential for this new energy infrastructure. Read more

Report: Solar plus storage can beat natural gas in Minnesota

A new report from the University of Minnesota's Energy Transition Lab shows adding energy storage is becoming a cost effective way to meet electricity demand in the state.

The report looked at several scenarios, including a common one in the summer: A hot day when electricity demand is much higher than usual because of air conditioning.

"What would be more cost effective: to build a conventional plant or to put in a big battery? Or, alternatively, to put in a big battery and a big solar array at the same time? [The consultants] found that putting in solar plus storage was actually cost effective right now," said Ellen Anderson, who directs the Energy Transition Lab.

Anderson said about 1,800 megawatts of new natural gas plants are planned for Minnesota by 2028, primarily to meet that peak demand. Natural gas power plants are used for peak demand because they can be ramped up and down quickly.

Solar arrays with batteries have the ability to soak in the sun's rays during the day and store the energy for distribution when there's more demand in the evening. Most of Minnesota's current solar arrays are only feeding electricity to the grid during the day. Read more