Justice for Electric Customers - Our Day in Court
Badger-Coulee Appeal, October 10, La Crosse, WI
In June, the Town of Holland in La Crosse County filed arguments in state district court calling for the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) to vacate its approval of the Badger-Coulee high-capacity transmission line slated through 170 miles of lands between La Crosse and Madison Wisconsin. The controversial proposal prompted a record number of local governments and electric customers to demand that the PSC thoroughly examine non-transmission alternatives in its review process. In the PSC's 2015 decision, the agency ignored that transmission builders refused to compare benefits electric customers would receive if the same billions they sought for transmission expansion was invested, instead, on energy efficiency, local renewable generation.
In other states, preference for Non-Transmission Alternatives (NTA's), are lowering costs and slashing carbon emissions. NTA's avoid long-term, massive utility debt and unlike transmission expansion environmental impacts under monopolized electricity market practices, NTA's guarantee that CO2 emissions will be reduced over time. Also of high importance to families and businesses, NTA dollars going to energy efficiency and solar rebates flow into local economies instead of the finance industry.
All electric customers are welcome to respectfully witness oral arguments of the PSC and the Town of Holland (representing electric customers) as they defend their positions starting at 1:45 pm at the La Crosee County Courthouse at 333 Vine St. on Monday, October 10th, 2016. SOUL previously summarized of the Town of Holland's position. The town's attorney is known for using lay person language, but the PSC's position relies amply on legal speak. In interest of newcomers being able to follow the arguments, here is a summary of the key assertions SOUL expects the PSC attorneys to make:
- That the 345 kV Badger-Coulee transmission line COULD be needed in the future to serve the La Crosse area need SHOULD demand for electricity dramatically rise from 481 MW to 750 MW and exceed what the recently added 345 kV CapX2020 can supply. [Tips: A 345 kV line like CapX2020 typically carries from 700 to 1000 MW plus other large lines currently power the area. Notably, the PSC repeatedly refused to require the transmission builders to study future need using the most recent, declining-use data. SOUL has incorporated this data into a more complete trend that suggests area demand will decrease - not to mention increase at the dramatic rate the PSC quotes.]
- The Public Service Commission feels that the agency deserves exceptional “deference” where a court cannot judge their decision-making. [Deference is usually evoked in matters of national security and fundamental changes in constitutions. In performance of routine duty, deference can mean having the powers to make a decision without having to legally account for reasons or consistency.]
- The commission feels it is not obligated to address evidence that a similar, “economically justified" transmission line approved in 2008 is now losing rather than saving electric customer dollars. [Tip: Transmission builders, themselves, predicted that the Paddock-Rockdale 345 kV line between Madison and Beloit would add cost to electric bills under current, flat energy usage. Though state law requires transmission spending to be "commensurate" or produce net savings, for Badger-Coulee, the commission refused to make transmission builders to show potential net savings under contemporary flat and declining use and provide ratepayers an estimate of the impacts on typical electric bills over time. Customers pay off the substantial debt of transmission expansion over 30-40 years.]
- In another cost-related factor, the commission feels it does not need to compare savings electric customers would receive if the large sums required for Badger-Coulee were spent, instead, on energy efficiency, load management or local power development. Criteria for the Environmental and Economic Impact Statement (EIS) which the PSC must prepare state that non-transmission alternatives must be studied and commented upon. [Tip: The PSC chose to essentially ignore this section of the EIS despite more than 90 municipalities formally notifying agency years in advance of the importance of including the information in the Badger-Coulee review. Further, the agency describes the legally recorded resolutions from towns, villages, cites and seven counties as "comments" and choose to not quote a single passage from them in their 563 page EIS. The resolution requests were reinforced with letters to the Commissioners from 12 state legislators.]
INNOVATIVE DIY SOLAR WORKSHOP
by Pete Gruendeman
Sat., September 24, 10AM, La Farge, WI
Many energy users are striving to lower their energy use to help stop unnecessary power lines and frac sand mining. Many are equally aware of contributing to environmental harm with every dollar they spend on electricity or gas. I would like to share with you a novel way to profoundly reduce your household dependency on dirty grid power and natural gas while saving thousands in coming years.
As a DIY enthusiast, my workshop will promote a unique application of existing technologies that people with basic power tool and electricity understandings can use to slash their negative environmental impacts up to 33%. Once materials are in hand it takes about 3 to 4 days a dedicated work.
The project involves directly wiring the output of 6-8 off-the-shelf solar panels to the bottom heating element an electric hot water heater. If you have a natural gas or propane hot water heater, another electric tank is added to pre-heat the water before it reaches the gas or propane unit. The system I installed last January for my personal use used only 15 cents of electricity from the grid over the last 7 months. Unassisted, the water heater would have used more than 1100 kWh’s of power.
Thirty-five years ago "solar water" was only done with the large, black, solar panels that circulated water. Many households found these systems too complex, expensive to install and requiring too much maintenance. My system has none of these challenges and will save me about $4,400 over the next 20 years. It cost me $2,100.
The installation requires a sunny location of about 150 square feet for the photovoltaic panels and another person with electricity experience to confirm your wiring with you. Licensed electricians will either shudder at the notion of directly powering a hot water tank with DC power or deeply appreciate the elegance. My favorite part is there is no reason to get the electric company involved as the PV system is not “grid-tied.” Most DIYers can rack and mount the 45 pound solar electric panels on their roof, garage or stand in the yard.
Judging from personally building three PV--> DHW systems, 2,000 Watts of PV is about the right amount to provide hot water for a family of four. Here is a basic budget:
* Solar Panels and mounting hardware $2,000- $2,500
* 8 gauge copper wire $50- 120
* Controller (optional) $300- 350
* Disconnect Box $30
* High Temp Shut-Off Switch $50-$350
* If you not have an electric water heater: 80 gallon water heater
$800 (Best with a standard 11.5 NPS element thread)
The project I helped Mike plan for his house in Stoddard, WI uses 1,600 Watts of PV, and cost $2,650, complete. He did all of the installation on his own wiring it to an existing 50 gallon electric water heater. He and I agree that an 80 gallon tank and 2,000 Watts of solar PV would improve environmental and monetary benefits over time. The savings from using much less, dirty, grid power will re-pay our investments in 10 to 13 years. Persons who pay federal taxes can take a tax credit up to 30% of the investment and reduce the pay back period to 7-10 years.
I hope you will be able to join us at the free workshop SOUL of Wisconsin and Riverdream Farm is sponsoring in the beautiful Kickapoo River Valley.
Photovoltaic Direct to Electric Hot Water
Workshop w/ Pete Gruendeman
Sat., September 24, 10 AM - 12 Noon
E11762 Tunnelville Rd la Farge, WI
There is no charge for the Workshop
Email info@SOULWisconsin.org to make a reservation
News - Cardinal Hickory Creek
Grassroots and local government efforts opposing the possibility of yet another high capacity transmission line across Wisconsin lands and communities
Congratulations to the Town of Lima (Grant Co. WI) who adopted a PSC Information Request Resolution on August 11 to help ensure transmission builders provide cost benefit analysis of all energy options and the PSC conducts their own analysis for the Environmental and Economic Impact Study. Citizens from the town are reaching out to neighbors in adjacent towns sharing information and encouraging the towns to examine the advantages. Consideration of the resolution or related discussion is expected to be on the agenda of the next meetings of the following town boards. Nothing encourages a town board into constructive action better than a large turn of residents.
- Town of Belmont (Lafayette Co.) Tuesday, September 20, at 7:30 p.m, Belmont Town Shed
- Town of Platteville (Grant Co.) Monday, October 10th at 7:00 p.m, at the Township Shed on County D South.
Discussion is underway about the possibility of holding another informational meeting for all municipalities in Grant County. Contact Laurie Graney at 608-348-3638 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how your town can become involved, "We are all in this together. With each passing day I become more confident that we can prevent this unnecessary and wasteful eyesore from mariring the farms and communities we love."
Achieving Fair Allocation of Grid Costs
by Rob Danielson
Former WI Public Service Commissioner Mark Meyer recently joined
acting Commissioners in declaring that fair distribution of utility grid costs depends on getting the rate right for solar power produced in our homes, farms, businesses and in community solar gardens.
It disappoints me to see Myer foreground the economic rights of a tiny number of well-intending individuals without mentioning a single advantage bestowed on utility interests. As electric customers, we are the only parties that pay for grid expense. As a former public servant, Meyer is in excellent position to help ratepayers understand how costs are accumulated, paid for and make fresh suggestions.
Even before our use of electricity started to drop, the PSC pegged our rising rates on a 15 year ”spending cycle” for new power plants and transmission expansion. Now, to continue paying off the debt that will persist for 30 years and longer, the PSC has allowed utilities to run up fixed fees to cover the drop in use. The result is making families who are trying to conserve pay more while giving high-use households effective rate reductions. We have a lot of utility debt. Totaling up just the fee increases since 2012, Wisconsin households will pay $7 billion more over the next 30 years.
The higher costs and environmental consequences have revived “waste not - want not” values. Even with meager rebates for energy efficiency and solar compared to adjacent states, Wisconsin electric customers are collectively using less and less power. So why are the utilities so committed to “waste more - want more” utility infrastructure?
Pin this on your 1990 refrigerator: Foremost, for-profit electric utilities seek to keep customers on-grid paying down the massive debt they profit from. Every time the PSC permits a new transmission line, substation or power plant, utility interests are guaranteed 10-13% interest, plus operation, maintenance and other collections over the 30-40 year mortgage periods. The PSC does not tally up and print the billions in debt amassed. It allows utilities to hide long term indebtedness by publicizing only initial construction costs for new projects.
Records show that energy efficiency and solar are, by far, the most cost-effective measures to slash CO2 emissions and control costs and utility debt. Wisconsin lawmakers must create precise PSC policy that allows these end-user improvements to fairly compete with utility infrastructure proposals and do their magic. Legislators can insure that all electric customers pay fair share of the accumulated utility debt through these goals:
- Make utilities compete with debt-free, end user investments to prevent the PSC from adding non-essential, utility debt;
- Triple available rebates in our energy efficiency and renewable energy program. The required $1 per month would dramatically reduce use and return billions in net savings. If Wisconsin lawmakers approve the same Focus on Energy increase they did in 2009 (rejected by the PSC in 2010), we would meet more than 50% of the EPA’s CO2 reduction goals, save $16 billion in energy costs, spur $50 billion in economic benefits and create 380,000 new jobs over the next 30 years;
- Stop increasing facility fees. Apply the golden rule to utility debt with customers paying proportionally to the amount of electricity they consume. This requires much smaller rate increases over the next 5-7 years than those induced by new debt and growing waste. Solar customers would pay their full fair share of debt in the cost of grid power they use at night and on cloudy days.
Most non-solar households greatly prefer buying clean power produced by their solar neighbors instead of fossil fuel-laden grid power. Home, business and community solar improvements add no collective debt, lower grid costs and so deserve the same, retail, rate utilities are paid.
Eventually all of the above will happen because it’s the only spending path we can afford. The essential lobbying efforts that finally tip the scale will not come from organizations or energy specialists but regular customers who understand where energy dollars need to go.
Editorial of the Month
Spring Green Home News, By David Wernecke
Understanding Transmission Impact Fees Paid to Local Governments
The Spring Green Home News recently printed a report on the receipt of over $908,000 by Sauk County from the American Transmission Company (ATC) to compensate for the negative effects of the Badger-Coulee Transmission line. In addition, three Sauk County municipalities hosting the new line were given payments of $846,000 along with assurances of annual payments of $102,000 to compensate for the same.
Generous of ATC? Well, you decide. These funds are just a small part of an arrangement with the state legislature and the Public Service Commission whereby ATC gets to “tax” the residents of the upper Midwest (you) to pay for the transmission lines it builds and profits from.
The recently proposed high-capacity, Cardinal Hickory Creek line potentially from Dubuque through Montfort to Madison would cost electric customers roughly as much as the Badger-Coulee line —approximately $2,000,000,000 (yes, that’s 2 billion dollars). Your payments for these and other existing and proposed lines cover many costs: total costs of constructing, operating, and maintaining the lines; paying landowners for land voluntarily sold or forcibly condemned; and compensating local municipalities for the (under)estimated economic, environmental, and social impacts of the lines.
Your payments over the 30 to 40 year debt period include the financing costs from a guaranteed 10%-13% return on investment to transmission builders. That’s an especially generous investment return considering you are effectively forced to buy their product. These unnecessary profit incentives tend to cause ATC and their power company owners to choose high-cost projects over lower-cost and more broadly beneficial alternatives.
Neither ATC nor the Public Service Commission (PSC) took seriously over 100 resolutions adopted by municipalities across Wisconsin. Municipalities requested a comprehensive comparison of benefits from lower-cost alternatives such as reducing electrical use and expanding renewable energy instead of building ATC’s high cost transmission lines. Twelve state legislators also filed letters supporting these requests. PSC commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, decided not to require this comparison even though they knew that the actual need for the lines was not demonstrated by ATC or by PSC’s own projections. Result? Our electric rates and fixed fees are the highest in the Midwest and getting higher.
Climate scientists as well as many energy professionals at ATC, power companies, and the PSC know that we need to drastically reduce carbon emissions if we are to mitigate the negative effects and costs of climate change. They also know that the most timely and least expensive way to do this is to reduce energy use, increase energy efficiency, and manage electric loads. These approaches tend to benefit local communities, reduce or stabilize local cost of living, support local employment, and reduce our debt payments to Wall Street interests.
Whether or not a transmission line directly affects your home or property, I hope you can see that you are affected in a substantial way. That leaves it to us to pressure state legislators and the PSC to establish rules which serve the common good in energy and climate matters. We cannot afford to allow vested interests to burden us with projects which enrich them and which impede necessary actions to build healthy communities and preserve a livable climate.