2 November '10
5:09 PM UTC
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Midwest Utility Eyeing 100 MW Wind Expansion

A Wisconsin utility  is expected to decide in the next few weeks on whether to develop up to 100 megawatts of new wind capacity. Read More »

23 July '09
1:41 PM UTC
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Perfect Storm of Growth for Solar Sector, Predicts Research Firm

A  research note released today by market research firm Emerging Energy Research (EER) says that solar developers in the U.S. and abroad are poised for growth, benefiting from  an improving global economy, competitive pricing of solar PVs, and growing direct investments by cash-rich power utilities.

Reese Tisdale, research director at Cambridge, Mass.,-based EER, writes:

PV attracts spiking utility interest on both sides of the Atlantic. The second quarter of 2009 has revealed utilities’ continued interest in purchasing and owning PV projects. The shift is largely due to PV’s improved competitive economic positioning, improved regulatory regimes, and its siting versatility. In Europe, leading renewable developers and utilities such as EDF, Enel, Statkraft, and E.ON are stepping up their PV activities across the value chain and beyond their borders. While constrained to their service territories, North American utilities in Florida, Ohio, and Ontario are raising their solar stakes through a series of PV developments. With access to the ITC, land, and transmission, utilities are forecasted to be key players in development.

With independent developers all but shut out of the credit markets since the implosion of the financial system last fall, utilities, such as San Francisco’s Pacific Gas and Electric or Alliant Energy in Madison, Wis., have announced significant direct investments in solar and wind projects. For more on that, see here and here.

9 July '09
2:55 PM UTC
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Alliant Energy to Launch Construction of 400 MW Wind Project

Wisconsin Power and Light (WPL), a unit of Alliant Energy in Madison, Wisc., is poised to start construction on a wind farm in Freeborn County, Minn., that could produce up to 400 megawatts of electricity once it reaches full capacity.

WPL could start construction on an an initial 200 megawatts this fall, after it receives a green light from both the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission — where the project is located, and the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, where the project’s electricity is being sold.  Earlier this year, WPL acquired the land and development rights for the wind farm from Bent Tree Wind, an independent developer in Saint Louis, Mo.

The project’s initial 200 megawatts are expected to cost between $425 and $475 million to develop.

The Freeborn wind farm would be the second wind facility fully owned and operated by WPL, says Steve Schultz, a spokesman for the utility. WPL also owns a 68 megawatts wind farm in Fond du Lac County, Wisc., which went live in December 2008. The state of Wisconsin mandates WPL and other state utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2015. As a point of comparison in California utilities will have to produce 20% of their output from renewables by next year. Read More »

7 March '09
11:14 AM UTC
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The week in green energy

With the U.S. economy showing no sign of bottoming out — on Friday the government announced that a staggering 651,000 jobs disappeared from the economy in February –  the credit crunch is not likely to fade anytime soon.

And so with no fresh capital in sight, clean energy companies looking for investment capital are selling the family jewels.  That’s what Municipal Mortgage & Equity did on Monday when it announced the sale of its clean energy subsidiary, MMA Renewable, to Madrid-based developer Fotowatio.

“The capital needs of the business, coupled with our need to address corporate liquidity concerns make this a prudent time to sell the business,” explained MuniMae ceo Michael Falcone in announcing the sale.

The $19.7 million deal gets Fotowatio 35 megawatts  worth of  operational solar plants; 400 megawatts of projects under development and marks the Spanish developer’s third U.S. acquisition in seven months.

Also on Monday, — often the preferred day for a deal announcement — First Solar, a Tempe, Arizona maker of photovoltaic cells, snapped up the rights to develop utility-scale solar projects from rival OptiSolar in an all-stock transaction worth $400 million.

The deal acquisition gives First Solar a footing in the lucrative utility market. This is quite a reversal for OptiSolar, which just a year ago had inked a landmark agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric for the development of its 550 megawatts  in Central California. But unable to secure financing to  develop the project, which included the construction of a solar cell manufacturing plant,  last November the Silicon Valley company  was forced to lay off half of its work force.

Besides Topaz, First Solar gets a project pipeline totalling  300 megawatts  and  federal land claims  on 136,000 acres (55,000 hectares) in the Southwest desert that could support 19,000 megawatts in potential generation. OptiSolar is not totally exiting the cleantech business as it plans to continue to manufacture solar cells and is in talks with the government for financing.

Google also took central stage in the energy policy debate this week when, at an industry conference in Santa Barbara, Calif., CEO Eric Schmidt his company’s ambitious U.S. energy plans, saying corporate America “needed to take a stand,” arguing that the issue of climate change is as crucial to Google’s economic success as it is to the nation’s.

He also said companies should not be deterred by current economic conditions.  “Change occurs when people are scared. This is the time to have this conversation,” he said. Google’s energy plan calls for enacting a national renewable portfolio goal of 30% by 2030.

While Schmidt called for bold investments, BP went the other way, announcing steep cuts in its clean energy investments, which it said would hover between $500 million and $1 billion in 2009, from $1.4 billion in 2008. CEO Tony Hayward said the tightening investments would support wind projects in Europe and the U.S. — not in Asia — as well as biofuel refineries in Brazil.

Also, of note this week was Alliant Energy’s decision not to build a fourth coal-fired unit at one of its plants in Iowa; Joseph Budano joining Energy Innovations as the new CEO of this solar tech company; and  Jean Wilson joining SunPower to head the company’s North American utility and power plants division.

In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, on Thursday, introduced legislation that will overhaul the national electricity grid. If passed into law the legislation would bypass local regulators and allow the President to declare areas with great potential to generate electricity from the sun or wind as “renewable energy zones.”

The rules are likely to fuel strong debate with advocates of states’ rights. Already state utility regulators responded cautiously to the Reid proposal, urging  that federal and States governments should work in concert and not “as adversaries.”

5 March '09
11:49 AM UTC
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Midwest power company scraps plan for new coal-fired plant

Interstate Power and Light Company, the regulated Iowa utility of Madison, Wis., -based announced on Thursday that it would not construct a new coal-fired plant.

Alliant said the poor economy as well as  “regulatory uncertainty regarding regulations of future greenhouse gas emissions” motivated its decision not to expand the Sutherland Generating Station by adding a fourth  coal-fired unit.

This is the second time that Alliant curtails plans to grow it coal-generation portfolio. Last December Wisconsin regulators denied Alliant’s proposed development of a 300 MW coal-fired plant in the sate.

“When combined with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin’s denial… last December, the decision not to move forward with Sutherland Generating Station Unit 4 removes the option of adding new coal-based capacity to meet our customers’ future energy needs,” said Alliant’s Chief Executive Officer Bill Harvey.

The company said  it would save  about $945 million over the next three years with this decision.

Alliant is also developing a clean energy portfolio. This year it will begin construction of  its 200 MW Whispering Willow wind project in Iowa and is expected to get state regulatory approval for a  200 MW facility it is developing in Minnesota. For more on these, see here.

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