Thursday, December 22, 2011

Epic Systems Goes Solar

I had occasion to drive by the huge Epic Systems campus near Verona Wisconsin a couple weeks ago, and took this chance to catch sight of the largest PV array in Dane County, and soon, largest in the state.

Here is what you see when you first drive up the Epic highway

On the Left
                                    On the Right

Then, after winding around the very handsome campus of buildings, gardens, and walkways, we come to the visitor parking center, most of which is covered by an extensive canopy of.... SOLAR!!!!

At this point, totalling somewhere around 400 kilowatts.

Eventually, the total is reportedly going to exceed 2.2 MW,
that's 2,200 kilowatts!!!!  Even if this provides less than 2% of the total energy consumed by Epic, it probably accounts for 10% or more of their energy costs.  This is only a guess, but is based on the fact that Epic Systems has tons and TONS of computer servers, all which require significant cooling capacity to keep them running smoothly.  And, when the summer sun is hot, Hot, HOT, the energy requirements are hi, High, HIGH, and their DEMAND COSTS go way up.  Having solar online will help keep their PEAK demands more manageable and normalize their grid energy requirements, which will improve their cost profile very much.  Smart going, Epic Systems!!

Buy Now, or Soon. Solar prices are stabilizing and some are already rising again.

From: Investor Ideas dot com

December 22, 2011 ( Newswire) - According to EnergyTrend research, the current spot market price has ceased falling and stabilized – some products have even seen a price increase. In terms of January 2012 contract price, some upstream suppliers are planning for a slight increase. However, negotiations are still underway, and EnergyTrend believes that the polysilicon contract price trend in 2012 will depend on the stance of downstream makers – wafer manufacturers in particular.
Read more: 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Goodbye, Section 1603, Hello 50% Bonus Depreciation

As 2011 draws to a close, the congress in Washington has had enough trouble tying their shoelaces much less get anything done to help stimulate the economy or to improve the tax burden for the middle-class.  So, one of the casualties is certain to be the Section 1603 Treasury Grant for qualified energy equipment.

Slated to expire December 31st, the 1603 grant allowed billions in investment capital to be put into service to develop wind, solar, and other renewable energy projects that bring jobs and new market opportunities (as well as increased grid security) to America.  Although there is still a chance for more projects to get a headstart through a 5% Safe Harbor down payment  before the end of the year, next year's solar projects will still benefit from the 30% Investment Tax Credit still in play through the end of 2016.

Another silver lining is the continuation of BONUS depreciation for commercial firms who invest and put into service solar equipment through the end of 2012.  In January, a 50% Bonus Depreciation is allowed for year one in addition to the standard MACRS depreciation for this type of equipment.  One stipulation may be that the equipment must have a usable lifespan of 20 years or less.  Talk with your tax advisor for more information on this opportunity.

For any and all solar questions, please feel free to contact Kurt at  If I can't answer your question today, I have an extensive network of professionals in this field who can help.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Solar Savings Lease

Solar Connections, LLC is teaming up with solar advocates in the Madison area to offer folks in southern Wisconsin the chance to gain access to the solar market without having to go deep in debt in the first year.  Once this program has established a good track record, we will extend this opportunity to any commercial or residential customer in the state of Wisconsin.

Our goal is to be able to offer you the following:

10% down, sign a Solar Savings Lease, and start saving $$ on your electric bills in YEAR ONE!!!

Who can benefit from this?
Any home or business with space that is free from shading (usually, a roof) and is generally facing South should be able to participate in this program.  We can customize a Solar Savings Lease to meet the needs for the following:

1.  Single-Family Homes
2.  Condominiums
3.  Not-for-Profit Businesses
4.  Commercial Businesses
5.  Churches
6.  Libraries,
or other public spaces

How does this work?
A Solar Savings Lease is like a lease for a car or for other expensive equipment.  Except we can help customize a project and an offer that best meets your power demands AND your budget!

For more information and a private conversation about the benefits of this program, and to answer any questions or concerns you may have, contact Kurt at
or call (608) 957-6801

Sunny Regards,


Disclaimer:  A portion of the research in 2009 that led to some of the assumptions and components to this program was supported in part by a grant from Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.  It has been a collaborative project with many experts in the field and with community stakeholders.  Solar Connections, LLC is a consulting firm (of one) whose mission is to implement remedies to the barriers that exist between solar energy technologies and those who could benefit from them.  Community solar has been the main project focus for the past 2 years.  Other areas of investigation are plug-in electric vehicle technology in conjunction with solar technology and time-of-use metering, which when combined, can help bring the cost recovery time down for both technologies.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Community Solar Takes Flight

Greetings solar fans!

After 3 years of false starts, rigorous research, and hundreds of interviews and conversations with experts in many fields, Community Solar in Wisconsin will be making an appearance in 2011.

There are many definitions for what is meant by "community solar".  Basically, if you have shading on your property, or have some other obstacle that gets in the way of your desire to buy into and benefit from clean energy technology from the sun, then you need a community solar project to fulfill your solar needs.

Traditionally, community solar projects have been owned and sponsored by utilities or municipal entities who want local folks to buy into the project.  There is no ideal or standard way to organize this that can be easily replicated elsewhere.

Our solution is to form small private groups that will allow solar projects to be developed in order to help local landowners gain the benefits from owning and/or using solar power for their home or business needs.  This becomes a Win-Win-Win scenario helping those who have a sunny spot but can't afford solar, those who have money, but can't put solar on their own property, and helping the local environment while greening the local electrical grid.

Contact Kurt for more information at:

Follow me at

Hope to hear from you soon.

Renewably Yours,

Kurt Reinhold
Solar Connections, LLC.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Bulb for the Ages

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 put limits on the types of lightbulbs that will be available in the coming years.  In fact, by 2014, the age-old glowing filament we call incandescent bulbs will not be the same anymore.  Some incandescents will sport lighter energy consumption profiles, while the older energy-hogging incandescent burners will no longer be available.  2014 is not that far away.  Have you found a favorite CFL or LED bulb you want to put in your light sockets yet?

Here's one that's pretty cool.  Literally.  It's a L.E.D. bulb that produces light that looks more like what we are all used to, unlike the flickering glow of compact fluorescents or the sharp light 1st generation LED bulbs gave us.  See the link below for more information on this new lightbulb start-up company, called Switch Lighting.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Renewable Energy as the Poor Orphan Child of US Energy Policy

Call me dramatic, but compared to the heavily subsidized oil and gas industries, renewable energy has long been the poor orphan child of US Energy Policy.  Oil and gas subsidies have existed for decades and beyond that, geopolitical capital in the form of diplomacy and military interventions in oil-rich regions of the world have kept these fossil fuel industries strong and vital.  It seems very disengenuous then, when someone tells me that renewable energy has to prove that it can stand on its own without federal subsidies. 

The short answer is, of course various forms of renewable energy WILL have to stand on their own in a balanced market economy.  My argument is with those who believe that solar or wind or biofuels, or any other renewable energy competitor for our public and private energy dollars, must be able to compete with cheap methane (natural gas) and coal, in order to survive in our free-market economy.

That all sounds very reasonable from an ideological point of view.  The problem is, there is no such thing as a "free" market economy.  Even the staunchest liberatarian who knows what's what will tell you that every market is regulated, and that every commodity or service has public dollars propping it up either directly (oil, gas, agriculture, aerospace, information technologies, auto manufacturers, and of course, the banking and finance industries), or indirectly, through market regulations by federal or state agencies, or from local financial support decided upon in city or township councils for tax-incremental financing or other such incentives.  We're all on the public dole somehow, like it or not.  Which markets should we favor in our regulatory policies is a matter of debate.  And that debate is about our values.  What is important to us?  Short-term profiteering by multinational oil and gas interests?  Or long-term sustainable economic growth, jobs, and (oh yeah), a cleaner environment for our children's future?

The truth is renewable energy technologies will require long-term public support for R&D, for commercialization, and for market development and support.  Part of the challenge will always be engineering, and part will always be financial.  Put it this way, how many years earlier would the Hummer brand have gone out of business if there was no such thing as low-interest financing?  Or a leasing program with only $1995.95 due at closing?  How many people could afford to pay $40,000 or more by just writing out a check at the Hummer dealership and be able to drive home with that brand new urban assault vehicle?  And, let me ask you, what is the return-on-investment for that purchase?  These questions are always put to renewable energy investments, and some of the purchase decision is a straight financial analysis, and part of it is related to values and priorities.  Part of the answer for renewables is making available competitive financing options.  The other part of the answer is putting our money where our mouth is and facing the facts regarding pollution and global climate change, and doing right by our children, and protecting our nation and our planet for future generations beyond our own lives.

For the perpetually skeptical renewable energy consumers who argue that solar, wind, or other clean energy technologies are too expensive:

Step one = Admit that there is no free-market economy (producers, the service economy, and consumers are all interdependent on each other.  It goes way beyond straight supply and demand cost-benefit analysis.)

Step two = Acknowledge the presence of global climate change, and the threats of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions.  Our congress has passed resolutions denying the existence of global warming and has recommended that the science be studied further before any serious action be taken.  This is complete baloney and highly reckless and irresponsible.  We know man-made greenhouse gas emissions are the problem.  We know we must reduce our appetite for burning fossil fuels to that of approximately 80% of 1990 levels of emissions.

Step three = Gradual incentivized changing of the guard.  US Energy Policy must begin rewarding low-carbon intensive technologies (non-nuclear, see post from Earth Day), and the US Environmental Protection Agency must start regulating large and medium greenhouse gas emitters with a gradual, legally-binding system to create an ever-growing market demand for renewable energy by making fossil fuel energies more and more expensive.  The external costs of burning coal alone are incredibly expensive for our healthcare system and for the children and adults who suffer and endure conditions such as asthma and mercury poisoning from coal use.  We need a system that internalizes the costs of global climate change and internalizes the costs to society in general, from the cheap and under-regulated fossil fuel industries.  We need to find a way to make it (more) profitable for coal, oil, gas, and nuclear industries to invest in RE manufacturing and commerce, and much less profitable for them to continue feeding our addiction to cheap fossil fuels.  Even without regulation, oil and gas will become much more scarce by mid-century.  And resources like clean potable water will start to be a limiting factor when it comes to hydro-fracking for cheap methane (natural gas).  We can't put off the transition to get off of fossil fuels until then.

The romantic image of the rugged individualist who conquers society and nature and makes his own destiny by setting out for the untamed wilderness that was the wild west in the 1800's--that image is not only an historical mirage and quite frankly a hollywood genre of its own, it also serves neither the individual nor the society as a whole.  It is our shared struggles and our shared riches that make the social fabric of our country strong.  Lending a helping hand, smiling at strangers in public, and yes, paying our share of the taxes required to keep America great are what should make up that romantic and exciting image we all cherish.  Let's get beyond partisan politics and make that dream a reality!

That is my romantic and optimistic view for today -- focusing on what is good for the future of our nation and the world, not what is good for the quarterly profit statement or for the billionaires who help fund our nation's republican party.

Lean Clean Energy: Businesses Choose Solar over Utility's Power

It's not just for the environmentally-minded anymore.  Solar goes good with just about ANY commercial business operation.  With a return-on-investment (ROI) hovering around 7 to 8 years, there really isn't any downside to investing in solar for your business.

Promega Corporation just added 58 Kilowatts of photovoltaic solar power to the metal-seam roof of their airport hangar at Madison's Dane County Regional Airport.  Chris Collins from H-H Solar reports the economics of solar made it possible for Promega to see a return on their investment at 8 years.  This includes the Federal Investment Tax Credit of 30% realized in the form of a cash grant from the US Treasury for projects installed in 2011.  Another incentive includes the 100% first-year depreciation on the capital equipment used in the project, as well as Wisconsin Investor-Owned Utility (IOU) Focus on Energy Cash Back reward for energy efficiency and renewable energy investments by this commercial enterprise.

Beyond the IOUs being mandated to provide community reinvestment dollars for energy efficiency and renewable energy, many utilities have used a Feed-in Tariff to help the small solar investors by offering a $.25 per kilowatt-hour premium buy-back rate for the first 10 years to help defray start-up costs.  Unfortunately, there is only one known utility left in Wisconsin that offers this program.  Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) has approximately 250 kilowatts of allotment left in their 1 Megawatt Clean Power Partners program, authorized by the Public Service Commission (PSC) for solar projects under 10 kilowatts each. 

The main reason for the lack of programs in this state is the lack of incentives for utilties to go beyond the 10% renewable energy mandate by 2015.  Many utilities in Wisconsin have satisfied this 10% by investing in or buying wind energy, methane biodigestor energy or so-called "Cow Power", or solar.  Other states like Illinios have adopted legislation that mandates a 25% renewable energy goal by 2025.  This means that 25% of the power sold by the utilities must be clean renewable energy.

Not only has the Republican-dominated Wisconsin government shot down a Green Jobs Initiative last year which would have raised the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 20% or 25% for the next decade or so, they also have created more barriers for private citizens and businesses who wish to invest in renewable energy projects for their own property.  This includes a new rule extending the "set-back" parameters for wind projects and proposing that utilities can ignore wishes for more in-state investments for renewable energy and, instead, buy cheap hydroelectric power from Canada.

If any of this seems like a downer for clean energy advocates, one optimistic side of it all is the ever-growing support to unseat freshman Governor Walker and 3 or 4 key Republican State Senators in the coming year here in America's Dairyland.  If New York's recent election for the vacant seat in their 26th congressional district is any indication, 2012 promises to be a year of widespread privatization for republican politicians.  Congratulations,  Kathy Hochul!!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Solar-Powered Ice Cream

Izzy's in St. Paul is a local ice cream manufacturer who has since 2005 been powering their operations with solar photovoltaics on their roof.  Here is a video explaining the history of this project:

Kudos to Izzy's and other commercial operations around the world who are investing in the future of clean energy (and profiting from this bold business decision!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Climate Volatility equals Economic Instability

Global Warming is a false scapegoat for the casual observer.  When it's bitter cold out, we say "where is that global warming they talk about?".  When pundits talk of a warming trend, some indicate the benefits for agriculture and the reduced need for heating fuel.  They make it sound like global warming is not such a bad thing; in fact, that warming the earth could be a good thing.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Besides rising seas and diminishing beach front property over the decades to come, there is a whole host of problems associated with Global Climate Change.  In fact, the terms "Global Warming" and "Global Climate Change" just don't do this concept justice.  I suggest a new term which more adequately connotes the seriousness of this problem.  It is not the gradual warming itself that we should be concerned about in the short and medium term, it is the volatility of the climate which may wreak more havoc in the decades leading up to rising sea levels.

Climate Volatility is not a hard concept to understand.  Just like Market Volatility, one can appreciate how radical spikes in weather patterns or prolonged periods of drought (hello Texas) can affect our daily lives. So should our respect for the forces of nature be factored into our decisions about how to prepare ourselves for a changing world as we continue burning fossil fuels.

Market Volatility is being discussed right now with respect to the oil commodities.  This market is being manipulated thanks to poorly-regulated trading of oil futures.  The results are very expensive for all of us.

Climate Volatility is not so quickly controlled by humans.  We can, however, take solid measures to mitigate the worst effects of climate volatility on our society.  We need to move beyond partisan politics and create positive opportunities for investments that favor reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Right now, republicans are gambling with our nation’s economic future by playing politics with the debt ceiling, AND playing politics with arbitrary program cuts that affect our country's social and economic fabric.  These political jabs by extremist republicans are also damaging private sector job growth and strategic planning for business investments.

We need to tell the GOP that we will not stand for their political gamesmanship when it comes to economic stability, or when it comes to acknowledging and ACTING on responsible public policy that addresses Climate Volatility.

Friday, April 22, 2011

An Earth Day Antidote to Republican Pessimism

Always look on the bright side of life

Republicans want to play politics with raising our debt ceiling.  They want to perpetuate the fear that our deficit cannot be addressed without massive and destabilizing cuts in spending.  Republicans are fond of creating doubt about climate change where there should be no doubt whatsoever.  In short, the Republicans are the doubting fear-mongers of our time.  On this Earth Day, let’s examine why.

The motivation behind the GOP is simple:  taking a mature and responsible attitude about the long-term effects of global climate change would threaten their radical agenda to shrink government until it is so small, you can drown it in a thimble.  Republicans (a great majority of them) want to allow the U.S. to be fully dependent on today’s fossil fuels, to fully exploit the cheapest and dirtiest sources of energy, and give only a cursory nod to what they consider “clean” energy (nuclear fission); but, even that is losing public support since the tragedy in Japan.  What the American people need is the truth about Global Climate Change, and the truth about our energy policy options, not the trumped-up hype or lies.

The truth of global climate change can be very daunting to accept for most Americans.  The facts behind the existence of global warming are not in dispute.   What is in dispute is only the severity of the worst effects and when we might encounter these effects during the next century or so.   What does not get enough emphasis in the emotionally charged debate are the win-win solutions that help both our economy and the environment regardless of the severity of the effects of global warming.  This is the optimistic view that Republicans do not want to discuss, because it’s bad for their market share in the industry of political gamesmanship.  The GOP prefers to use the strong influence of fear and pessimism to maintain the status quo business climate which favors their party.  And Republicans get the lion’s share of political donations from the energy sector of our economy.  It is this sector upon which our nation’s future economic and homeland security rests.

I have two suggestions for public consideration.  First, increase tax credits for investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.  This will have a direct effect on creating good steady job growth.  Second, remove tax credits for oil, gas, and nuclear industries as soon as possible.  Do not make loan guarantees to these dirty, costly, addicting industries.  This will send a strong market signal that will result in a flow of capital from the older, dirtier energy sector to the maturing and expanding renewable energy markets and smart grid sectors of our economy.   Our country needs to be on the right side of history in order to prosper.

Consider these facts.
1.        Already, the number of jobs in the wind industry exceeds the number of jobs in the coal mining industry;
2.        Over 50% of all new expansion of electrical power since 2009 has come from renewable energy (mostly wind);
3.        Energy efficiency and energy conservation are the least expensive ways to expand available energy to meet a growing demand;
4.        Investing in renewable energy is less expensive than retro-fitting 40-year old dirty coal power plants;
5.        The price of solar continues to drop every year while the costs of methane (aka “natural gas”), coal, and nuclear continue going up;
6.        Solar power technologies are already on pace to be less expensive than coal and natural gas within this decade;
7.        Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy will produce many times more jobs of all kinds than will relying on coal, natural gas, or nuclear;
8.       As benign as “natural gas” sounds (chemically called methane gas), the greenhouse gas potential of unburned methane is 21 times that of carbon dioxide, and the practice of hydro-fracking may rival some of the dirtiest results of extracting and burning coal in terms of polluting water and air;
9.       Nuclear power is arguably the most expensive form of energy in terms of lifecycle costs, health and safety issues, and homeland security issues (anti-terrorism);
10.     Smart grid and renewable energy storage technologies are markets with several decades of strong growth potential, compared to the inevitably declining fossil fuel markets.

Simply put, a steady divestiture from the fossil fuel industries (oil, natural gas, and coal), coupled with a doubling or tripling of federal spending on renewable energy research, tax credits for investments, improving our nation’s building and transportation energy use, and  improving infrastructure relevant to our electrical grid, will do much more to stimulate jobs, revitalize our economy, reduce our federal deficit, improve our homeland security and position us to be more competitive in the emerging energy markets around the world.  

Specific steps to encourage private spending and reduce our national debt are listed below.  These are win-win scenarios for both the economy and the environment:
1.   Create a gradual carbon tax for medium and large polluters of greenhouse gas emissions.  The gradual part is important, since we clearly need to rely on existing dirty energy for a transition period, and we don’t want to create undue hardships for business or consumers.  Phasing-in a carbon tax starting in the next tax year (2012) and slowly increasing it for 10 to 20 years will give a sustainable boost to competing clean energy markets while recognizing the damaging and declining interest in dirty energy as world fossil fuel markets become more volatile.
2.   Create a long-range Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to ‘green’ our nation’s energy mix on a federal level.  Currently, many states have a RPS for a 5 to 15 year horizon.  Creating a plan that boosts clean energy requirements beyond 25% by 2025 will create not only investment opportunities, but a market demand which will further spur new investments and new job growth.
3.   Refine the agricultural side of energy policy to include the life-cycle analysis of all biofuels when determining what qualifies to meet the RPS for biofuels in the marketplace.  This will reward the most efficient technologies, rather than the most popular (corn-based ethanol currently);
4.   Expand and Extend private Investment Tax Credits (ITC) to all renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures for 10 years.  This will improve the stability and strategic planning for both small and large-scale projects;
5.   Allow (IRS) Passive Loss exemptions for all renewable energy investments, just as the oil and gas exploration industries have enjoyed for decades.  This will allow smaller stakeholders who make less than $200,000 per year to invest in projects which are not sole-proprietor enterprises and be able to take the investment tax credits on their individual tax returns.
6.   Allow Securities Law exemptions for community-supported investment projects.  This “Crowd-funding” exemption would release investment capital on a wide basis in small amounts, in order for local communities to campaign for projects deemed important to local residents, like retro-fitting homes and buildings or investing in community solar projects or other group-owned enterprises;
7.   Create mandates for state public utility commissions to allow “virtual” net-metering for community energy projects without being defined as a public utility.  This will allow private groups to create clean energy power plants and “credit” the investors who may not be able to install renewable energy on their own property due to inherent limitations on development.

If you look carefully, what you see in these recommendations is the reliance on our market economy with smart regulations in order to spur economic development.  You see clear funding sources for tax credits (by shifting existing subsidies from oil/ gas, and by a gradual carbon tax).  You also see a strong and stable market signal from the federal government to allow state and local communities to invest freely in emerging and expanding energy markets without:  1) Fossil-fuel protectionism on monopolized markets; or 2) Governmental obstructionism in the form of limitations by the IRS and Securities Law rules on how small businesses can behave.  And nothing could be better for growing jobs than to spur small business growth.   In addition, investors of all types will benefit from the long-term market stability (gradual carbon tax and investment tax credits) and a growing demand (renewable portfolio standards) for investments in clean energy technologies.

This is our decade’s space race.  With public support, our country can win the future of prosperity and reduce our reliance on foreign and domestic dirty energy.  We will be setting a precedent for world markets in mitigating the worst effects that global climate change will have on this and future generations.  We will lead the world in peaceful prosperity, and improve the lives of all Americans instead of just the upper classes.  This is how our leaders can inspire consumer confidence in emerging and expanding clean energy markets.  And this is how we can tackle our national debt while growing our economy.  This is the reasonable approach that all politicians should embrace. 

Naysayers not allowed.