Wednesday, May 25, 2011

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!!!

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