Getting Serious About CO2
Citizen Intervenors Put Goals of Regional Utilities on Hot Seat
As the only persons contesting utility viewpoints in Iowa Utility Board proceedings last December, five, inquisitive public intervenors1 used the better part of three days asking Midwest utility interests penetrating questions. By representing their personal interests, without lawyer assistance, the intervenors’ heavy dose of down to earth questioning proved too much for the industries’s expert witnesses to withstand.
Respectful of these first-time circumstances, the three Iowa Board Commissioners welcomed, jargon-free, more accountable questions, like, “How would the transmission line affect my electric bill?’ “How many tons of CO2 would the transmission line reduce?” When the experts’ answers became confusing, the savy intervenors simply asked again,.. and again. When concrete numbers were produced, intervenors asked the experts to translate the obscure numbers into impacts on electric bills or into quantified tons of CO2.
By using these creative and inspiring means, the five intervenors unearthed facts of unprecedented value for cost-conscious ratepayers and everyone who is personally determined to address climate change:
Utilities in the Midwest don’t do energy planning. For this, they rely on annual, collective, (MISO2) Midwest Transmission Expansion Planning (MTEP) conducted for and by utility interests. Premised on capital spending first, the plans are never reviewed by impartial parties. The 100+ allied utilities consider themselves as supreme experts.
MISO’s planning has no absolutely no provision requiring input from ratepayers-- the persons who pay for the massive spending and debt they spread over decades. Worse, as Intervenor State Representative Charles Isenhart proved, MISO planners refuse invitation to talk with ratepayers and elected officials even when asked repeatedly. The silence has broad ramifications. Iowa, like many states, requires energy planning with transmission proposals and MISO “planning” has been exclusively used in most Midwest states since 2005.
The front page of MISO publicity claims that MTEP planning creates net benefits. Over the years, state utility commissioners have assumed that the word, “net” means ratepayers would receive savings from MISO’s planning. Persistent citizen intervenors showed that buried within MTEP17 planning is a core assumption. To receive the isolated “net” benefit, ratepayers must pay $200-272 billion over 15 years for conditional, new power plants. The isolated calculation is essentially false advertising. It pertains only to pennies per month of potential whole price variations and ignores about $16.60 per month ratepayers would assume over 15 years for new power plant related costs.3
The oft heard phrase, “cheap wind energy” was very usefully quantified. Again, not counting the $16.60 per month to pay for an equal amount of new fossil fuel generation, “cheap wind power” savings for the average Midwest household would not exceed 35 cents per month-- less savings than installing one, $1 LED lightbulb. 4
It was confirmed in the proceeding, without objection, that wind generation provided only 8% of the power in Midwest outlets in 2018 and that fossil fuel generation is still providing more than 70%5.
MISO’s proposed $200-272 billion spending spree envisions regional CO2 emissions dropping a mere 4.8%6 in the year 2031. This is 94% short of 2050 zero carbon goals after one-third of the time has expired.
Perhaps most egregious, the utilities’ planning screens out their fiercest economic and environmental competition. Alternative investment into energy efficiency and local power programs are capped at current levels through 2031. All growth in use of distributed generation, battery storage and community owned solar are completely excluded from the planning utilities calculate their profits with.7
Where Do Midwest States Currently Stand in Terms of CO2 Reduction?
The below graphic shows of CO2 reduction progress thus far (brown line), how much reduction we can expect in the future by continuing our existing measures (orange line) and the scale of additional measures required (red line) to reach a very doable 50% reduction in power plant related CO2 emissions over a span of 13 years.
Click to Enlarge
The graph uses the 2018 to 2031 time span to incorporate the latest data and to compare alternatives to MISO MTEP17 planning argued in support of the Cardinal Hickory Creek 345 kV expansion transmission line proposal. SOUL has written a number of articles about this proposal, http://bit.ly/SOUL-Articles
What Measures Can Achieve 1.8% Per Year Reduction in Energy Use?
The first option is evident: Can we reach this goal entirely and swiftly by addressing the lowest hanging fruit? Can we eliminate 2% of the existing waste in our homes, farms, businesses and factories each year and sustain this minimal improvement over time? Plenty of potential awaits the will to act.
More than 70% of US household’s have not yet tried LED bulbs. Most homes do not have low flow shower heads and the pipes of their hot water tank remain wrapped. There are plentiful low and no cost energy saving practices like pouring the pot of hot coffee into a thermos; setting hot water tank temperature to 110° F; air drying laundry and actually using the conservation mode on new appliances. Placing automatic countdown timers8 on appliances like cable TV boxes, fans, pumps, crock pots and battery chargers can alone save 10% year. Spend an hour exploring the internet and make up a list of conservation tips that seem fun to try: http://bit.ly/NoCost-Search
For more costly improvements, states have carefully track the energy reduction potential through audits of their Energy Efficiency programs like the Focus on Energy program in Wisconsin. .9 Audits consistently show that increasing rebate amounts and the kinds of improvements covered accelerates the benefits returned to ratepayers. When state lawmakers allow ratepayers to put more money into these effective programs energy use and CO2 emissions drop fairly proportionately.
Note that the accelerated Energy Efficiency program in Massachusetts10 is achieving a nearly 3% reduction in electricity use per year (and significant natural gas use reductions, too). Through attarctive customer rebates, extensive public education and by financially rewarding MA utilities when they achieve CO2 reduction targets, since 2006, Massachusetts CO2 emissions have decreased nearly three times faster than rates in Midwest states.
The cost of this top-notch Efficiency program averages about $6.60 per month, but as Massachusetts considers more accelerations in 2020, MA Governor Baker observes, “. . .[N]ew energy efficiency initiatives will deliver $8.6 billion in customer benefits by investing $2.8 billion in ratepayer money, more than three dollars in benefits for every dollar invested." 11 This 3:1 ratio in energy savings,alone, has been documented in Wisconsin for decades and does not include very significant job creation.
Beyond finally getting the leaks in your house sealed; beyond empowering rebates to purchase dramatically improved appliances requiring half the power, there are advancements in will power technology as well. How about an energy use monitor mounted on a wall or accessed through your smart phone that shows your house’s real time energy use?
You deserve a break from waiting for top-down policy changes. Studies have shown that personal attitude really does count. Simply checking one’s electric bill each month for kWh usage keeps laziness and inattention at bay and, in itself, lowers use about 13%.
How does $4.26 per Month For Accelerated Energy Efficiency Compare to Spending $11.62 per month for New Power Plants and Transmission Expansion?
What better way to further explore the above comparisons than to download the source spreadsheet and insert your own household figures into it!? http://bit.ly/CO2-Electric-Bill-Calculator
One can also use the calculator to estimate the profound financial and CO2 emission impacts of adding a right-sized SOLAR array to your house, farm or business. In the above example, the $4200 in savings shown over 13 years include paying for the solar investment. The calculator assumes that rates and fees will climb at a rate of 2.5% per year just like MISO planning does. The accelerated amount of $4.26 is in addition to the $1.15 per month that many Wisconsinites are paying for the Focus on Energy program with average monthly energy use of 700 kWh per month.
In STEP 2 of the calculator, you can see that a very generous matching amount has added to directly incentivize your Utility to hit CO2 reduction targets and ensure that the accelerated energy efficiency increase results in an actual, net reductions for everyone each year.
Set Your Own, Household Standards. Inform Your Wisconsin Lawmakers About Your Progress
In his first proposed budget as Wisconsin Governor, Tony Evers proposed expanding the Focus on Energy Program. Lawmakers let this improvement slip-by-- not because of opposition to the suggestion but because of lack of citizens speaking up for it.
Regardless of political party, Wisconsin Lawmakers are very aware of Wisconsin’s electric rates. Wisconsin electric service is highest in the Midwest when facility fees are included and it is making Wisconsin businesses uncompetitive with those in other states. Environmental gains, job growth and economic advantages are such that Focus on Energy incentives will be accelerated; it is mostly a question of how soon and how much.
Big changes always come from the bottom-up. As more and more Wisconsin households become true believers in Energy Efficiency and Local Power by seeing actual results, they form the basis of the popular will for meaningful change..
Should you choose to wait, rest assured that well-monied, non-local, utility interests have already planned to profit from your household’s inactivity. They are counting on you NOT developing energy management skills and an informed ratepayer voice. Whether it is another high expansion transmission line near you, a 5-10 square mile solar farm you must drive by every time you leave home, or “environmental” electric vehicle chargers that run on fossil fuel power, something very concerning, sooner or later, will jolt you into action. If you have not yet awakened, may you do so soon, and start having fun.
1 Citizens, Mike Deutmeyer, Linda Grice, Chris Klopp, Dena Kurt and Iowa State Representative, Charles Isenhart.
2 Midcontinent Independent System Operator, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midcontinent_Independent_System_Operator The annual MTEP plan is voted upon by for-profit utility interests with state regulator and consumer group stakeholders abstaining.
3 This finding is explained, step by step, in Intervenor Chris Klopp’s Post Hearing Brief in the Iowa Utility Board Cardinal Hickory Creek transmission line proceeding starting on page 12, https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mday/mde3/~edisp/2017136.pdf#page=12
4 See p. Intervenor Klopp Post Hearing Brief in the Iowa Utility Board Cardinal Hickory Creek transmission line proceeding starting on page 25, https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mday/mde3/~edisp/2017136.pdf#page=25
5 See “Energy Output Share (%)” in Table A1: Capacity, Energy Output and Price-Setting by Fuel Type, 2017–2018, 2018 STATE OF THE MARKET REPORT FOR THE MISO ELECTRICITY MARKET, https://www.potomaceconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/2018-SOM-Appendix_Final.pdf#page=12
6 MTEP 17 estimates a drop of 13.4 to 20.5 million metric tons in 2031 or 3.8% to 5.8% of the estimated 350 million MISO estimates as the baseline. See Figure 7-5: Forecasted Carbon Reduction from the MVP Portfolio by Year, https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mday/mda0/~edisp/1880065.pdf#page=40 (MISO Ellis Direct Exhibit 3)
7 See MISO MTEP17 FUTURES ASSUMPTIONS DOCUMENT, Table 11: DSM Program Impacts (Red Not Selected), pdf p.179 https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mday/mda3/~edisp/1915912.pdf#page=179
8 https://www.farmandfleet.com/products/1015461-stanley-timermax-countdown.html https://www.ebay.com/p/2255991298 http://www.nearpow.com/magreat/pro_det/3
9 American Council American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy , The 2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/publications/researchreports/u1908.pdf Other studies and resources at: https://www.aceee.org/
10 MA Governor Charlie Baker: “Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to achieve environmental benefits while lowering energy costs...” https://www.mass.gov/news/massachusetts-nation-leading-three-year-energy-efficiency-plan-approved-0
Off the Grid Perspectives After Three Years
By Dave Hendrickson and LIla Zastrow
Government in Wisconsin, dare we say the entire country is broken. It is in the hands of the monied interests. One way to combat utility corruption is for people to take control of their own energy usage and generation.
Our only regret is not doing it sooner. We built a passive solar home 30 years ago, always planning to add active solar. We live on a wooded site so the only option was to build a foundation on top of our earth home. It is essentially a ground mount system. We have walk up access to the panels for clearing snow and changing the angle seasonally (4 times a year).
The process of planning and maximizing efficiency for home solar (especially off grid solar) will cut energy usage, saving money before panels and batteries are even purchased. It is critical to know how much energy you need. The less energy you need the smaller the system can be.
We bought a super efficient Sundanzer refrigerator and freezer. Replacing the old models cut usage from 700 to 200 watts. We also removed all phantom energy load. Using a wattmeter, borrowed from the local library, we found which appliances used the most energy while in use or on stand by. The appliances using vampire energy were either unplugged or put on a switch when not in use. We were able to lower our usage to 100 kW a month. This did not negatively impact our lifestyle, the only difference is that we are conscious of how we use energy especially during winter months. Auxiliary generation has never been needed.
Because we had limited space we bought 12 of the most efficient solar panels on the market (4kWs) and due to their performance and ease of maintenance we bought 28 kilowatt-hours of lithium batteries.
We have sunny days,even in winter, when the panels surpass their rating, the batteries fill up and excess electrons are dissipated. In order to use those excess electrons we exchanged our fuel efficient gas car for an electric one, and can cover all our local driving. We are thrilled with the fact that a side effect of dropping off-grid was to nearly wean ourselves off fossil fuels. We still use gasoline to run a mini truck and chain saw to harvest firewood and plow snow on our property. (5-10 gallons a year).