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SARL Members and Alumni News

Regulatory overhaul could give boost to independent generation in Michigan

Midwest Energy News | Posted on June 23, 2017

Advocates say recent regulatory changes in Michigan could spur more solar energy development from independent producers and ensure existing renewable energy generators are paid fair prices from utilities for their power. On May 31, the Michigan Public Service Commission approved changes to the way avoided costs are determined under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978. Avoided costs are those that utilities pay independent power producers for their electricity that the utility would have otherwise had to pay itself. In Michigan, there are 45 facilities under contract with utilities, mostly landfill gas and hydro.The long-awaited changes to determining avoided costs, which are the first in roughly 25 years in Michigan, could provide protection to independent power producers who say they are at risk of shutting down. In a rate caseinvolving Consumers Energy, producers feared their avoided costs would have been cut in half, making their plants not economically viable.


Federal Pullback, Climate Change Could Boost State Spending on Disasters

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on June 23, 2017

The roughly 150 mph winds hopped over Chef Menteur Highway and blew out walls at a NASA assembly plant. By the time the tornado fizzled out over Lake Borgne, it had caused millions of dollars of damage. Together with a cluster of other windstorms, it yielded the seventh presidentially declared major disaster of 2017. States have come to rely on these declarations, a practice that helps individuals and communities recover from disasters. And since the 1980s, the federal government has been on the hook for the majority of recovery costs when a disaster is declared.But as the country faces an increasing number of billion-dollar disasters, federal officials are considering scaling back that spending, aiming to save taxpayer money and encourage states to prepare for disasters with their own resources. And that has some local officials worried. Without the federal relief they depend on, many communities could be hamstrung after a disaster, unable to help their most vulnerable residents.Some could have to hold back so much money that other programs and services would suffer, said Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management director. “They would be miserable places to live and if you have a large enough disaster, they would be destroyed.”The proposed pullback, along with the threat of more frequent and intense natural disasters linked to climate change, is already forcing cities and states to change the way they prepare for — and recover from — events like tornadoes, forest fires, floods and hurricanes.


Ohio announces agriculture easements on 59 farms totalling 8700 acres

Peak of Ohio | Posted on June 23, 2017

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) this week announced approval for local sponsors to purchase agricultural easements on 58 family farms representing 8,737 acres in 28 counties. Logan County has several such easements in place. Local sponsoring organizations, which include land trusts, counties and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, receive funding from the Clean Ohio Fund to manage the Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (LAEPP). The easement ensures farms remain permanently in agricultural production. The program supports the state’s largest industry, food and agriculture.To be eligible for the program, farms must be larger than 40 acres or next to a preserved farm, actively engaged in farming, participate in the Current Agricultural Use Valuation program, demonstrate good stewardship of the land, have support from local government and not be in close proximity to development. Landowners may use the proceeds of the easement in any way they wish, but most reinvest it in their farm operation.


Oregon moves to strengthen its unique sanctuary state status

Statesman Journal | Posted on June 21, 2017

Oregon's Legislature took a step closer Tuesday to strengthening its unique sanctuary-state status, with the House passing a bill that would bar state and local agencies from asking about a person's immigration status and from disclosing information to federal officials, except in certain circumstances.  The bill, introduced at the request of Gov. Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, both Democrats, has sharply divided lawmakers along party lines in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.Oregon became America's first, and so far only, sanctuary state in 1987 with a law preventing law enforcement from detaining people who are in the United States illegally but have not broken other laws. In February, Brown ordered all state agencies to follow it. Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill that would create another sanctuary state.A federal judge has blocked, at least temporarily, an executive order issued by Trump to cut funding to sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents.


Report challenges economics of 1950s coal plants as Ohio lawmakers seek subsidies

Midwest Energy News | Posted on June 20, 2017

As Ohio lawmakers move to advance a bill to subsidize two 62-year-old coal plants, a report released confirms older coal power plants’ ongoing difficulty competing against those fueled by natural gas. The Ohio House Public Utilities Committee’s agenda shows a version of House Bill 239 could get voted out of committee today, setting the stage for possible passage by the House of Representatives. The bill would require all utility customers to subsidize costs of two coal-fired power plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Cooperative (OVEC). Those plants are the Kyger Creek plant near Cheshire, Ohio, and the Clifty Creek plant in Madison, Indiana.Meanwhile, a June 20 report from the Analysis Group concludes that market forces — especially lower prices from shale gas development — are behind the general decline of coal-fired power plants’ competitiveness. The American Wind Energy Association and the Advanced Energy Economy Institute funded the report.


Nevada’s New Solar Law Is About Much More Than Net Metering

Green Tech Media | Posted on June 20, 2017

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 405into law to the cheers of solar companies and advocates. AB 405 reinstates net metering for rooftop solar customers in Nevada, after utility regulators eliminated the policy in December 2015, throwing the Silver State’s solar market into disarray. Because the policy change was applied retroactively, it triggered enormous public outcry, and the steep new fees effectively put a freeze on new rooftop solar installations. Nevada saw a 32 percent decline in solar jobs last year after large residential installers chose to pull out of the state. But with the new law now in place, Tesla, Sunrun and Vivint Solar said they plan to resume sales immediately. Under the new law, new solar customers will immediately begin to be reimbursed for the excess energy they generate at 95 percent of the retail electricity rate. The credit is scheduled to decline in 7 percent increments for every 80 megawatts of rooftop solar deployed, to a floor of 75 percent of the retail rate. The discounted compensation rates are designed to ensure that solar customers pay their fair share to use the power grid as solar penetration increases, but still leave a lot of room for growth. The 80-megawatt threshold for each credit tier is significant. In Nevada's biggest year, before the net metering policy changed, the state deployed around 100 megawatts of residential solar. Assuming the market booms again, it will likely still take around four years to get to 75 percent of the retail rate. And even at 75 percent, net metering compensation still looks economically appealing. The passage of AB 405 marks the first time in U.S. history that consumers have been statutorily guaranteed the right to self-generate electricity, said Wellinghoff, who helped craft portions of the bill in his new role as an independent policy consultant. Under Section 24 of the bill, consumers are granted the right to generate their own electricity and offset their own internal usage one-for-one at the full retail rate, in the same way they can install energy efficient light bulbs or appliances and save energy at the retail rate. Whatever energy you no longer take from the grid, you don’t have to pay for.


Federal Pullback, Climate Change Could Boost State Spending on Disasters

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on June 20, 2017

The roughly 150 mph winds hopped over Chef Menteur Highway and blew out walls at a NASA assembly plant. By the time the tornado fizzled out over Lake Borgne, it had caused millions of dollars of damage. Together with a cluster of other windstorms, it yielded the seventh presidentially declared major disaster of 2017. States have come to rely on these declarations, a practice that helps individuals and communities recover from disasters. And since the 1980s, the federal government has been on the hook for the majority of recovery costs when a disaster is declared. But as the country faces an increasing number of billion-dollar disasters, federal officials are considering scaling back that spending, aiming to save taxpayer money and encourage states to prepare for disasters with their own resources.And that has some local officials worried. Without the federal relief they depend on, many communities could be hamstrung after a disaster, unable to help their most vulnerable residents.Some could have to hold back so much money that other programs and services would suffer, said Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management director. “They would be miserable places to live and if you have a large enough disaster, they would be destroyed.”The proposed pullback, along with the threat of more frequent and intense natural disasters linked to climate change, is already forcing cities and states to change the way they prepare for — and recover from — events like tornadoes, forest fires, floods and hurricanes.


KY Food banks may get boost from new law protecting donors from lawsuits

Louisville Courier Journal | Posted on June 20, 2017

As thousands of Kentuckians struggle to feed their families, nonprofits hope a new law will encourage supermarkets to donate food they typically throw away by shielding them from being sued if someone gets sick after eating their donations.  There have been virtually no lawsuits filed over someone getting sick from consuming donated food, but fear of legal action has still stifled donations, said Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who launched an initiative last year that led to the "Food Immunity Bill." The law, which goes into effect June 29, protects groceries, farmers and other entities that donate food to nonprofit organizations from civil or criminal liability as long as there was no intentional misconduct.


State Labor Regulations and Labor-Intensive Agriculture

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on June 19, 2017

The state of U.S. agricultural production is changing. Over the next decade, increases to minimum wage and other changing labor regulations will have a dramatic impact on fruit, vegetable and other labor-intensive agricultural production in the U.S. These impacts will be on top of evolving immigration policies and trends, which have been receiving a lot of attention in mainstream media  as well as farm media in recent months. Many of these changes will undoubtedly be welcome to farmworkers and their families. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere, as well as the ongoing debate over what is an "appropriate" minimum wage. Here we consider the implications for agricultural production and farm management, which we believe will be substantial. While immigration is generally a national issue, many labor laws are set at the state level. Most U.S. fruit and vegetable production takes place in states that have significantly raised minimum wages in the last decade and plan further increases into the 2020s. Several of these states are also considering or have already mandated new benefits for farmworkers, such as sick leave and overtime. Many fruit and vegetable farmers, as well as other farms that rely on non-family labor, such as dairy farms, will need to reduce their labor use, increase productivity or take other measures, such as finding new markets, to remain viable. Farmers in the top 10 fruit- and vegetable-producing states (Figure 1) in the U.S. saw the minimum wage increase from 11% to 45% between 2008 and 2017. This range reflects important differences between these states, which we divide into "low-wage" and "high-wage" groups. The five "low-wage" states use either the federal minimum wage or a state minimum adjusted for inflation. The five states in the "high-wage" group have current minimum wages at or above $9 per hour and have committed to future increases. California, by far the largest fruit and vegetable producer in the U.S., will raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2023 and has also mandated overtime for farm workers. Washington ($13.50 by 2021) Oregon ($13.50 by 2022), New York ($12.50 by 2021), and Arizona ($12 by 2020) also plan to raise the minimum wage. Combined, the high-wage group represents more than two-thirds of U.S. fruit and vegetable production; California alone is 55% of production value (Figure 2).


California firms up marijuana rules, will allow deliveries

Capital Press | Posted on June 19, 2017

California would set standards for organic marijuana, allow pot samples at county fairs and permit home deliveries under legislation set to be considered by lawmakers Thursday as the state prepares for next year’s start of legal marijuana sales. Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration are working to merge California’s new voter-approved recreational pot law with the state’s longstanding medical marijuana program. They have settled on an array of regulations to protect consumers and public safety while ensuring taxes are collected.The provisions were tucked into the state budget agreement between Brown and top legislative Democrats announced this week following months of negotiations with businesses operating illegally or in the legal medical marijuana field and investors who want to enter the nation’s largest legal marijuana market.“One of the biggest challenges we have is taking a multi-billion-dollar industry out of the dark and now into the light,” said Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat whose district includes much of Northern California’s prime marijuana growing region.By 2018, state officials must have crafted regulations and rules governing the emerging legal marijuana market with an estimated annual sales value of $7 billion — ranging from where and how plants can be grown to setting guidelines to track the buds from fields to stores. Full legal sales are expected to roll out later in the year.In general, the state will treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow six marijuana plants at home.


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