Wisconsin deregulation bid sidetracked; More co-op solar on line; Is Paris burning? 2019 goal set for St. Croix wind farm; Clean Power Plan order expected


Wisconsin deregulation bid sidetracked

A move by high-volume industrial electricity users to revive Wisconsin’s plans for retail electric deregulation has lost momentum after morphing into a proposal to repeal a partial deregulation compromise enacted 16 years ago.

Instead of opening up retail customer choice—an idea the Public Service Commission pursued in the 1990s but scrapped in 2000—four Republican state lawmakers last month proposed to reopen leased generation contracts authorized in 2001 to address shortages of Wisconsin-based generation that had caused major service interruptions.

The arrangement addressed a construction financing challenge by allowing utilities to lease back and operate power plants built by their non-utility affiliates. Few power producers participated but new generation was built and the shortages resolved. However, the resulting power purchase contracts were placed outside Public Service Commission review and the lawmakers now say the lack of regulatory oversight of the contracts has allowed rates to climb excessively.  Critics of the new legislative proposal—including the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association—argue it would be unconstitutional on the grounds of impairing lawful contracts.

Since talk of deregulation resurfaced last summer, the Public Service Commission has indicated a preference for addressing cost issues for high-volume users through new rate designs rather than restructuring the regulatory apparatus.

More co-op solar on line

Two more of Dairyland Power Cooperative’s utility-scale solar energy projects have achieved commercial operation, the La Crosse-based generation and transmission co-op has announced.

A one-megawatt facility at Downsville and a two-megawatt facility at Medford were brought on line in mid-February. The Downsville facility also hosts a 250-kilowatt community solar project undertaken by Dunn Energy Cooperative, boosting the site’s total rated capacity to 1.25 megawatts.

Six of the 15 solar projects announced by Dairyland last year have achieved commercial operation. For the other nine, construction activity is expected to pick up this spring and two additional sites are anticipated to come on line in May. The seven remaining projects are slated for completion by the middle of this summer.

Is Paris burning?

Media speculation about a Trump administration attempt to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement could become a moot point, based on reported developments within the G-20 group comprising the world’s largest national economies.

In mid-March, G-20 finance ministers were reportedly weighing a draft statement that hinted at retreat from the aggressive taxpayer expenditures for international climate programs endorsed by the organization last summer.

Last July, the annual G-20 summit called on developed nations to follow through with the Paris commitment to transfer $100 billion every year to less-developed nations, theoretically to restrain their greenhouse emissions. But in March a Bloomberg News report said a new draft statement being prepared for this year’s July summit is silent on the commitment while advancing an entirely different approach.

In the new draft, according to Bloomberg, the fewer than 50 words allocated to the Paris agreement refer to “scarce public resources” and focus entirely on urging development banks to finance climate goals by raising private money. Government financing is left unmentioned.

The draft could be substantially revised by the time the G-20’s 19 member nations and the European Union take up the issue this summer.

2019 goal set for St. Croix wind farm

Construction could begin within two years at the long-delayed Highland Wind Farm in St. Croix County, according to the project’s new owners, Dallas, Texas-based Leeward Renewable Energy.

“Our current goal is to start construction in 2019, although this could come sooner or later depending on several development staging items that are not entirely within our control,” Cedric Ireland, counsel to Leeward Renewable, told Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News. Leeward acquired the project in February from Hubertus-based Emerging Energies of Wisconsin for an undisclosed price.

Leeward has ownership and operational interests in 17 wind projects among eight states.

The project has been entangled in litigation for years but Ireland said most legal disputes have been resolved, adding that he and his associates “do not view there to be significant litigation risk to the project going forward.”

Clean Power Plan order expected

A wide-ranging executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to go back to the drawing board with its carbon dioxide regulations for new and existing power plants was expected to be signed by President Trump in March.

The order was expected to result in a new round of notice-and-comment rulemaking to establish a rationale for withdrawing and replacing the Clean Power Plan (CPP, for existing generation facilities) and the New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for plants yet to be built.

That process would be expected to take more than a year. Timing of the order coincided with the deadline for this month’s Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News. A more detailed report on the order and other regulatory actions can be found on page 12.