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Clean energy advocates skeptical, cautious about retail choice bills in Nebraska and Kansas

Bills before the Nebraska and Kansas legislatures to allow electricity customers to choose their power provider are being viewed with caution, and a little skepticism, by clean-energy promoters in the two states.

A Houston-based energy developer with Nebraska ties, Gary Aksamit, appears to be the driving force behind the legislation.

Aksamit argues that a freer energy marketplace could mean more access to renewable sources. However, such a fundamental remaking of the electricity marketplace has people concerned about possible unintended consequences.

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Corporate clean energy deals are a bigger priority than ever

Visionary solutions to climate change are unlikely to come primarily from top-down central government mandates, at least in the United States. Rather, they will come from voluntary decisions by customers, communities, corporations and others to choose clean and affordable energy options. And when more than 80 of the world’s largest corporations — including Walmart, Microsoft and Google — commit to 100 percent renewable energy, the market responds.

A 2016 report by Advanced Energy Economy stated:

Less than a decade after companies first started to sign large-scale, long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) for renewable energy, corporate wind contracts outstripped utility demand. These purchases were dominated by a small number of large corporations, but as costs of renewables have become equal to — or often cheaper than — fossil-based sources, businesses large and small are increasingly seeking ways to invest in wind, solar, energy storage, fuel cells and other more sustainable energy technologies.

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Bipartisan effort seeks to double Minnesota’s renewable energy standard

Minnesota’s renewable energy standard would increase to 50 percent by 2030 under a bipartisan plan unveiled Monday by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

The state’s current renewable energy standard, or RES, stands at 25 percent by 2025 for all utilities, with a more aggressive target for the state’s largest investor owned utility, Xcel Energy.

The standard was established in 2007 in the Next Generation Energy Act and signed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. In 2013 legislators passed an additional requirement for public utilities to generate or buy 1.5 percent of their retail sales from solar energy.

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How drones are helping design the solar power plants of the future

At the edge of a plot of muddy farmland, a few miles down the road from the University of California at Davis, an engineer takes a few quick steps across crop rows and lets go of a three-foot drone. Within seconds, the device – which weighs less than 2lbs and carries a powerful camera – ascends hundreds of feet into the cold, clear, blue sky and begins to snap detailed photos of the ground far below, including a long row of large solar panels mounted on steel poles.

This flight is just a test, demonstrated by Kingsley Chen, the drone fleet coordinator for SunPower at the solar company’s research and development center, which is under construction and about a two-hour drive northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area. The drone will enable SunPower to survey a wide region and help design a solar power farm that can fit more solar panels on a piece of land, more quickly and for lower costs than it previously could.

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Apple Nears Completion Of Futuristic, Solar-Powered Campus

Tech giant Apple has announced that Apple Park, the company’s new 175-acre campus in Cupertino, Calif., will be ready for employees to begin occupying it in April. With 17 MW of rooftop solar, Apple Park will run one of the largest on-site solar energy installations in the world.

The company says the process of moving more than 12,000 people will take over six months, and construction of the buildings and parklands is scheduled to continue through the summer. Apple notes the campus’ ring-shaped, 2.8-million-square-foot main building is clad entirely in massive panels of curved glass.

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California lawmaker proposes to raise renewables mandate to 100% by 2045

Dive Brief:

- A bill, SB 584, introduced in the California legislature last week would increase the state’s current 50%-by-2030 renewables mandate to 100% by 2045.

- The bill, introduced by Sen. Kevin de Leon (D), would also move up the state’s 50% renewables mandate by five years to 2025.

- The chances of a favorable vote on the bill are bolstered by the fact that the Democratic party controls both houses of the state’s Assembly, and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has been a strong supporter of higher RPS targets.

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North Dakota amended bill seeks to halt wind development for two years

Dive Brief:

- An amendment to a bill under consideration in North Dakota would pause wind power development in the state for two years, according to media reports.

- The amendment, introduced by Sen. Dwight Cook (R), would bar the state’s Public Service Commission from approving a wind power plant between Aug. 1, 2017 and Aug. 1, 2019.

- Under the bill, the legislature would undertake a management study during the term of the moratorium on the state’s long term energy plan.

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Indiana Senate committee clears bill to end net metering

Dive Brief:

- The Indiana Senate Utilities Committee voted 8-2 last week to advance a bill that would phase out net metering by 2027, heeding the concerns of a Republican lawmaker who says solar customers are getting hefty subsidies.

-Senate Bill 309 replaces net metering with a policy requiring solar customers to sell all the energy they produce to the utility, and purchase it back as needed.

- Local news station WLFI reports the bill's sponsor, Sen. Brandt Hershman (R), received almost $20,000 in campaign contributions from utilities in the last year, leading some critics to question the motives behind the bill.

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Saudis Kick Off $50 Billion Renewable Energy Plan to Cut Oil Use

Saudi Arabia is kicking off its $50 billion renewable-energy push as the world’s top crude exporter turns to solar and wind power to temper domestic oil use in meeting growing energy demand.

Bidders seeking to qualify to build 700 megawatts of wind and solar power plants should submit documents by March 20, and those selected will be announced by April 10, Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry said Monday in an e-mailed statement. Qualified bidders will be able to present their offers for the projects starting on April 17 through July.

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Solar jobs soar as Maryland prioritizes renewable energy

Matt McDonough and his crew rolled up to the Brooklyn Park home around 8 a.m., unloaded their ladders, harnesses and tools, and got to work tiling another roof with solar panels.

It was a typical workday for the four-man team. They don't talk much as they check electrical connections and begin hauling equipment up to the roof of the single-story 1920s home because, after hundreds of installations, they have it down to a science. The job will take a day, maybe two, and when it's done, they'll be on to the next one.

"There's never a time we don't have work," said McDonough, who leads one of 10 installation crews at Solar Energy World.

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