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Energy mix of the future? State legislation, plans of some utilities envision power sector that emits much less carbon — or none at all

by Ilene Grossman ~ June/July 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The mix of electric power generation has changed dramatically over the past decade or so in much of the 11-state Midwest — more wind power and more natural gas plants, for example, and much less reliance on coal.
Will the shift be even more dramatic in the years ahead? That is the vision laid out in new legislative proposals this year in states such as Illinois and Minnesota, as well as in recent plans unveiled by some utility companies themselves. More »



South Dakota adopts pipeline protest law, faces legal challenge

by Jon Davis ~ April 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »

In anticipation of new protests over the Keystone XL pipeline, South Dakota lawmakers adopted two bills (SB 189 and SB 190) in March known as the “pipeline package.” According to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the state, or a third party in partnership with the state, can now sue “riot boosters.” These individuals would have to pay damages equal to “three times a sum that would compensate for the detriment caused.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota filed suit in federal court soon after passage of the pipeline package. It says the measure fails to adequately describe what speech or conduct would qualify as “riot boosting” and, as a result, is unconstitutional. Elsewhere in the Midwest, Iowa legislators in 2018 enacted a law (SF 2235) to punish sabotage of “critical infrastructure,” including oil pipelines.
In 2017, North Dakota increased penalties for rioting, expanded the scope of criminal trespass onto private property to include “when notice against trespass is clear from the circumstances,” and banned protestors from concealing their faces. This year, legislators approved SB 2044, which enhances punishments for protests that encroach on or near pipelines and other “critical infrastructure.” Similar bills have been proposed in Illinois (HB 1633), Indiana (SB 471) and Ohio (SB 33).


Michigan paves way for new tunnel, oil pipeline under lakes

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Michigan Sen. Curt VanderWall calls it the “most scrutinized pipeline in the nation.” And whatever one thinks the state should do about the future of Line 5 ­­— which is located under the Straits of Mackinac and carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids every day — it’s hard to disagree with the observation. The state’s policy solution, at least for now, is this: Allow Line 5 to continue to operate for another few years, under enhanced inspections. Meanwhile, begin construction on a utility tunnel, located up to 100 feet beneath the lakebed, that would secure a new pipeline. More »


Potential change in EPA rules would allow year-round sales of E15

by Carolyn Orr ~ November 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »

A summertime ban on E15 sales may soon be eliminated by the federal government, a move expected to help the Midwest’s corn producers and ethanol industry. In October, President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to initiate a rulemaking process that allows for year-round sales. Seven years ago, the EPA approved the use of E15 in all light-duty vehicles built in 2001 or later.
According to the Renewable Fuels Association, more than 1,300 retail stations in 29 states currently sell E15. It says allowing year-round sales would lead to a “rapid expansion” of E15 availability. Close to 90 percent of the nation’s ethanol production capacity is in the 11-state Midwest. Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana are the five leading producers of ethanol. Between 2007 and 2017, total U.S. ethanol production rose by 143 percent, from 6,521 gallons to 15,845.
A move to year-round sales requires the EPA to waive certain requirements under the Clean Air Act. The American Petroleum Institute says the federal agency does not have this authority. It also derided Trump’s directive as “anti-consumer ethanol policy,” saying a “vast majority of cars on the road were not designed to use” E15.


Looking for breakthrough energy policies? Much of the action is in the states, former governor tells region's legislators

by Tim Anderson ~ August 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For policymakers interested in getting innovative energy bills signed into law, the nation’s capital is the last place to be, a former U.S. governor told the Midwest’s legislators in July. Instead, he said, go to Springfield, Lansing or the many other state capitals where policy breakthroughs have occurred. “We haven’t had comprehensive federal legislation since 2007, so what do we do? We turn to the states,” said Bill Ritter, currently the director of Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy. More »


Two-year-old law has brightened future of solar energy in Illinois, led to new proposals in 2018

by Carolyn Orr ~ June/July 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
With one glance at the most recent U.S. rankings on solar energy, it becomes clear the Midwest has a long way to go if it wants to catch up to other regions on the use of this renewable source. Only Minnesota and Indiana placed in the top half of states as of 2017. But in a third Midwestern state, Illinois, big changes appear on the horizon, with landowners and county governments alike showing interest in making solar a new “cash crop” — whether it be on farmland, brownfields or even publicly owned property. More »


Minnesota meets its renewable energy goal seven years early

by Jon Davis ~ March 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A quarter of Minnesota’s energy was being generated by renewable sources as of March 1, according to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That meets the state’s target for the year 2025, Gov. Mark Dayton’s office announced. In the same statement, Dayton also endorsed an effort by some legislators to set a new standard: that 50 percent of its electricity come from renewable by 2030s. Just 17.2 percent came from renewables as recently as 2011, his office noted.
Minnesota is one of six Midwestern states with renewable portfolio standards. According to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report from July 2017, the others include:
Indiana has a renewable portfolio goal of 10 percent by 2025; it includes energy generated by non-renewable alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Iowa (the nation’s leader in wind energy use) exceeds its target of 105 megawatts of renewable energy, and Wisconsin is meeting its RPS standard of 10 percent.



Devalued, shutdown nuclear plants leave tax hole — and tough questions for lawmakers

by Katelyn Tye ~ November 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In Midwestern communities that host nuclear power plants, the utilities generate more than just electricity. The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates that, on average, a nuclear power plant pays almost $16 million in state and local taxes each year. More »


In Ohio, future of wind power turns on rules for siting turbines

by Carolyn Orr ~ October 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In the northwest part of Ohio that he represents, state Sen. Cliff Hite says, “wind is our shale,” an energy resource that has the potential to boost revenue on agricultural land and improve the region’s entire economy. More »


New laws in Illinois, Michigan seek to tap power of energy efficiency

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
When it came to helping craft a complex, landmark package of bills to revamp the state’s energy policy and map out the future of electric power in Michigan, Sen. Mike Nofs tried to at least keep one part of the legislative work simple and unchanging — the measure’s overarching goals. “We wanted to control our destiny, regardless of the policies being set at the federal level,” he says. “And that meant focusing on affordability, reliability and clean energy.” That, in turn, led him and other lawmakers to make efficiency a big part of the state’s new energy law. Only weeks before, another Midwestern state, Illinois, also took sweeping actions on energy policy, with a law that includes new incentives and standards for its utilities to achieve greater efficiency. More »



Michigan looks to Ontario as provider in plan to boost Upper Peninsula’s electricity supply

by Ilene Grossman ~ January 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Michigan lawmakers are looking for ways to improve the availability, reliability and affordability of electricity in the state’s Upper Peninsula, and one potential solution is to bring in more power from neighboring Ontario.
In a letter this fall, the province backed Michigan’s request for the Midcontinent Independent System Operator to study the idea of extending electric-generating connections across the U.S.-Canada border. More »


Illinois approves a major overhaul of its energy policies

by Jon Davis ~ December 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Illinois will give Exelon Corp. $235 million in ratepayer subsidies to keep the company’s Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants open, as part of a bipartisan deal that drew support from the state’s renewable-energy community. The legislation also updates Illinois’ renewable-energy portfolio standard, expands efficiency programs and preserves net metering for rooftop solar projects. The final version scrapped Exelon’s proposed mandatory demand charges on all residential customers.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed SB 2814 into law on Dec. 7. Exelon Corp. had said the two nuclear plants would soon close if the legislation failed to pass. Michigan’s Agency for Energy was watching the proceedings in Illinois with some interest, because the Clinton and Quad Cities plants contribute to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s reserve margin, upon which the state relies for summertime electricity imports.
Midwest Energy News reported on Dec. 5 that Michigan’s three nuclear power plants — Palisades, Cook and Fermi 2 — are on solid financial footing at least through 2021. Palisades’ power-purchase agreement with Consumers Energy expires in 2022, however.


As more nuclear plants close, Illinois bill seeks better market conditions for power source

by Katelyn Tye ~ November 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Three nuclear plants in the Midwest are scheduled to cease operations permanently over the next two years, on the heels of other recent, unexpected closures of plants around the country, including Kewaunee in Wisconsin. More ยป


Minnesota inks deal to power Capitol with renewable energy

by Jon Davis ~ November 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »

One-third of the electrical power used in Minnesota’s Capitol Complex will come from solar and wind sources under a new deal with Excel Energy. State officials say the 20-year agreement with Excel locks in prices for renewable energy that will save about $100,000 over that time period. The state spends about $5 million on electricity annually for the Capitol Complex.
The Renewable*Connect Government Pilot Program deal must be approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission. If successful, it could expand to other state or even local government buildings, says Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who announced the deal with Excel Energy-Minnesota in September.
In 2011, Gov. Mark Dayton directed state agencies via an executive order to reduce their carbon footprints. Energy consumption at the Capitol Complex has decreased 25 percent since 2008, state officials say. The state also created the Office of Enterprise Sustainability to reduce the state government’s overall carbon footprint, and launched a “Green Fleet Initiative” to improve fuel efficiency for state-owned vehicles.


Fight over Dakota Access reflects rise in attention, resistance to new pipelines

by Jon Davis ~ October 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Out of sight, out of mind — until they aren’t — pipelines are as yet a necessary piece of the nation’s energy puzzle, moving oil and natural gas from their origins to refineries, and thence into our gas tanks, stoves, roads, roofs and more. But against a backdrop of heightened environmental and climate-change awareness, crude oil pipelines now also carry controversy, raising the stakes for the states. More »


Iowa blows by another milestone in wind energy generation

by Tim Anderson ~ April 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The nation’s leader in wind energy and use has hit yet another milestone. Iowa is now getting more than 30 percent of its electricity from this renewable source — the only U.S. state that has reached this threshold. According to Gov. Terry Branstad, the state has the potential to reach 40 percent within the next five years.
In 1983, Iowa became the first U.S. state to adopt a renewable portfolio standard. But in more recent years, the state has employed incentives to promote the growth of renewable energy, most notably through the use of production tax credits. These credits are available to utilities and independent power producers. Iowa state law also allows local communities to become “small wind innovation zones.” This designation is based on local ordinances that simplify the process for installing small-scale wind turbines.
Some Midwestern states are not far behind Iowa. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this region has five of the 10 U.S. states with the highest share of electricity generation coming from wind: Iowa (first in the nation, 31.3 percent); South Dakota (second, 25.5 percent); Kansas (third, 23.9 percent); North Dakota (fourth, 17.7 percent); and Minnesota (sixth, 17.0 percent).



Citing benefits of continental market, U.S., Canada, Mexico pursue closer ties on energy

by Ilene Grossman ~ March 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Canada and the United States have long been each other’s most important energy partners, with annual trade between the two countries in this economic sector at nearly $100 billion. Cross-border pipelines bring natural gas and oil south to major U.S. markets, and two Midwestern states, Minnesota and North Dakota, imported 12 percent of their electricity from Canada in 2014. “North America is an integrated market,” notes Dan D’Autremont, speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. But leaders at the federal, state and provincial levels are taking steps now to deepen the two countries’ relationship. More »


Rise in solar power generates interest among Midwest's state legislators

by Ilene Grossman ~ February 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The Midwest is not known as a center of solar energy development, but in fact, electricity from the sun is being generated across the region. Various market forces have driven down the costs of installing rooftop PVs, and various state policies are also encouraging an increased use of solar energy — tax exemptions and deductions, for example, as well as renewable portfolio standards and net metering laws. More »


Do any states in the Midwest have bans on the construction of new nuclear power plants?

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2015 ~ Question of the Month »
Minnesota is the only U.S. state with an outright ban on construction of new nuclear power facilities. The state’s prohibition dates back to legislative actions taken in 1994 amid concerns and legal disputes about how and where to store the high-level radioactive waste from these plants. Minnesota has had two such facilities in operation since the early 1970s (Prairie Island, which has two units, and Monticello). More »


U.S. announces two-pronged plan for storage of ‘defense-only,’ commercial nuclear waste

by Katelyn Tye ~ May 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For decades, the federal government’s plan for nuclear waste — both from production of nuclear weapons and from commercial nuclear reactors — has been to store all of it at a single, permanent geologic repository. But in March, the Obama administration announced a significant shift in that policy strategy. The U.S. Department of Energy now plans “to move forward with the planning for a consent-based, defense-only repository for some of the DOE-managed high-level wastes,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said. More »


New oil regulations in North Dakota aim to improve rail safety

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »

In August of last year, monthly oil production in North Dakota reached yet another milestone. For the first time, more than 35 million barrels of oil were being produced. Just seven years ago, monthly production in the state was below 4 million barrels.
Over the past several years, too, a big change has occurred in how North Dakota’s oil is transported. Most of it now moves out of the state by rail rather than pipeline, and this shift has raised safety concerns inside and outside of North Dakota — especially in light of recent serious accidents and explosions involving oil tanker cars in the United States and Canada.
In December, North Dakota’s three-member Industrial Commission adopted new regulations to address some of those concerns. The state will now require well operators to meet a series of standards for the conditioning equipment that they use to separate volatile gases from crude oil, The Bismarck Tribune reports. The penalty for noncompliance will be up to $12,500 per day, and in his proposed biennial budget, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple calls for more staff to enforce the regulations. According to the Association of American Railroads, as of mid-2014, about 750,000 barrels of oil were being shipped out of North Dakota by rail every day.


World’s first commercial-scale carbon-capture coal plant opens in Saskatchewan

by Ilene Grossman ~ November 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In early October, a facility in the province of Saskatchewan became the first commercial-scale coal-fired plant with carbon capture and storage capability in the world. The Boundary Dam Power Station is run by SaskPower, a crown corporation — meaning it is owned by the provincial government but operates like a private company. The plant uses clean coal technology to prevent most of its carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere. More »


Minnesota poised to have strongest biodiesel mandate in the nation

by Tim Anderson ~ November 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A decade ago, Minnesota became the first U.S. state with a biodiesel mandate, a move that has since been followed by six other states (none in the Midwest). The state now hopes to advance production and use even further, with plans in place to adopt a first-in-the-nation B10 mandate: a requirement that all diesel fuel sold in the state contain 10 percent biodiesel and 90 percent petroleum. The higher mandate, set to take effect in July of next year, will only apply in warm-weather months.
Under Minnesota’s groundbreaking 2002 law, B2 was required. Subsequent legislation increased the mandate to B5 and called for an increase to B10 provided that a variety of conditions were met (a sufficient fuel and feedstock supply, for example, and an adequate blending infrastructure). The mandate will be raised to B20 in 2015 if those same conditions are met.
Though no other Midwestern states mandate that biodiesel be sold, some encourage or require its use in government vehicle fleets, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. Five of the nation’s top 10 biodiesel-producing states are in the Midwest: Iowa (second), Illinois (fourth), Minnesota (fifth), Indiana (eighth) and North Dakota (10th).


How many states in the Midwest have adopted renewable portfolio standards, and how far along are the states in meeting them?

by Ilene Grossman ~ July/August 2012 ~ Question of the Month » 
In the Midwest, 10 of 11 states — all but Nebraska — have passed a renewable or alternative energy portfolio standard or voluntary goal. More »


How much Canadian oil and gas are imported into the Midwest?

by Ilene Grossman ~ July-August 2011 ~ Question of the Month
The U.S. is a net energy importer in terms of oil and gas trade with Canada. Canada’s energy exports to the United States were valued at $76 billion in 2009, while U.S. exports to Canada were valued at $11.5 billion. Canada provides 21 percent of U.S. crude oil imports (nearly 2.5 million barrels a day) and 87 percent of U.S. natural gas imports.  More »