A provocative piece by Robert Lee Hotz in the Wall Street Journal states that researchers from the State University of New York and University of Illinois determined that large wind farms located in certain regions of the United States can cause a slight increase in local temperatures, potentially impacting local climate and farming while also raising doubts about the long-term sustainability of wind power. Researchers from the State University of New York and the University of Illinois spent nine years analyzing satellite readings of the areas surrounding four of the largest wind farms, all of which are in Texas. On the one hand, the wind industry is part of a larger initiative to cut greenhouse gas emissions believed to be responsible for global climate change. On the other hand, this report reveals a direct correlation between the location of those facilities and a nighttime temperature increase of 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
Energy and environment approriations legislation is coming together. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies approved a $32.1 billion energy and water appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013. The bill would provide $26.3 billion for the Department of Energy, a $358 million reduction from current funding levels and $1.8 billion below the president’s request for 2013. The Senate Appropriations Committee cleared its $33.4 billion energy and water spending bill and will now consider amendments. The bill includes language authorizing the Energy Department to set up one or more interim nuclear waste storage facilities. While it cuts $373 million from fiscal 2012’s spending level, it would give a bump to renewable energy and efficiency programs and the somewhat controversial Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
Meanwhile, back to the wind industry, the House Science, Space, and Technology Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a joint hearing to discuss tax policies. The debate focused primarily on the Section 1603 Treasury grant program and the cost effectiveness of renewable energy tax incentives - something that the wind industry has been pushing with some bipartisian success. Whether or not these incentives get reauthorized, is another story.
American Electric Power (AEP) President Nick Akins spoke to the Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday. He warned that natural-gas prices, which are hovering around $2 per 1,000 cubic feet, could surge and undercut the current rational behind increased reliance on natural gas. Poining out the past volatility in the price of natural gas, I quote Akins, “Betting on just one fuel to power our energy fuel isn’t smart. Whether that volatility has changed permanently remains to be seen." Coal makes up a major portion of American Electric Power's (AEP) generating capacity, but low natural-gas prices and new EPA air pollution regulations have driven AEP to diversify its fuel mix. AEP has said it will retire more than 5,000 megawatts of coal-fired power, switching to natural gas and other fuel sources.
The American Society of Civil Engineer (ASCE) released their latest report on the current state of the United States electric grid system. This special report described the nation’s electrical grid as a patchwork system that ultimately will break down unless roughly $673 billion is invested in it by 2020. A staggering piece of information from an organization that is not prone to exaggeration. However, some believe that fixing our grid system is a possibility. The Honorable Curt Hebert, Jr., a highly thought of former FERC Chair, states the good news is that private capital is available for investment in electrical infrastructure. He says the money is sitting on the sidelines because we haven’t inspired anybody to get out there and build this infrastructure in a way that they might believe there’d be a return on their investment.
United States Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazer outlined the DOI’s energy strategy to a packed room at a luncheon held Wednesday, April 25 at NDN/New Policy Institute. Click here to watch the video of Salazar's speech.
Under the Obama Administration, Secretary Salazar and the DOI have made remarkable progress through their 'all-of-the-above' approach to energy over the last three years. The United States' gas production is at an all-time high and oil production has increased by 13% during the first three years of this Administration. Correspondingly, America’s dependence on foreign oil has decreased every year since Obama took office. In 2008, we had a net import of 57%, but with Obama's energy policies in place, by 2011, our net import was 45%, the lowest level in16 years.
Secretary Salazar pointed out that DOI has made significant strides in promoting renewable energy technologies on federal lands. Since 2009, DOI has authorized 29 utility scale solar, wind and geothermal projects and, if built, will provide 6,5000 MW of clean power for 2.3 million homes.
This speech by Secretary Salazar was the 10th in the Clean Energy Initiative’s Solution Series to showcase the leaders, companies, ideas and policies who are hastening our transition to a cleaner, safer and more distributed energy paradigm of the 21st century.
President Clinton, in a speech to the Sustainability Conference was optimistic on the continued investment and commercial development of clean renewable energy. He o sees upgrades as a way to create jobs and boost the economy, has made a cause of retrofitting buildings to conserve energy through his Clinton Climate Initiative and President Obama’s Better Building Challenge, which promotes public and private investment in energy efficiency projects.this is a process that will not happen overnight.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is trying to build support for a proposal that requires power companies to supply escalating amounts of electricity from low-carbon sources. Bingaman, in his final year in the Senate, has acknowledged that the White House-backed plan is extremely unlikely to pass in 2012, but hopes to lay a foundation for future action. He will hold a hearing next month on this topic.
Solar manufacturers, which expanded rapidly to meet double-digit demand growth in the past decade, are struggling mightily these days. Not only is U.S. Congress balking at tax subsidies, but governments in Europe are doing the same. The plunging natural-gas prices make renewable energy less competitive. First Solar recently laid off 30% of its staff, demonstrating the even the biggest solar panel makers aren't immune. In the last year, 4 U.S. and 4 German solar companies filed for bankruptcy. The largest producers in China say their profits will slump this year as shipments grow.
In fact, U.S. federal spending on clean energy will drop 75 percent by 2014 from a 2009 stimulus-related high which could lead to bankruptcies and market consolidation. A recent report, 'Beyond Boom and Bust' by a group of analysts from the Brookings Institution, Breakthrough Institute and World Resources Institute outlined likely changes to clean tech markets due in large part to declining federal subsidies. This report also delineated targeted policy reform on sectors that will experience the most financial difficulty.
As expected, the House passed the combination transportation and keystone bill by a vote of 293-127 yesterday. It goes to the Senate where the Republicans are optimistic about their ability to get this Keystone infused transportation bill through. The Administration and Senate leadership have a completely different view and it remains to be seen the ultimate outcome.
Today, President Obama will receive endorsements from the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action and Environment America. The announcement on a 9 a.m. conference call with these key environmental groups.
According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, President Obama's lead over Mitt Romney stands at 49 percent to 45 percent, which, of course, at this early date, is very fluid. Interestingly, however. sixty-one percent of voters said energy was "very important" to their vote, while 51 percent say the environment is “very important” for them at the ballot box. Not surprisingly, Obama has a huge 68-29 edge with these environmentally-minded voters. We'll see how much energy/environment matters in the real election as 86% say the economy is "very important" to them.
Speaking of politics, the Republicans continue to keep Keystone XL oil pipeline on the legislative agenda as this is an election priority for them. The House is slated to vote on legislation extending transportation programs, a bill that also mandates federal approval of the TransCanada Corp.’s project to bring oil sands from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries. The Obama Admininistration has threatened to veto the bill if it passes the House (likely) and the Senate (unlikely).
Global temperatures last month were the coolest since 1999, providing a contrast to the lower 48 U.S. states, where March was the hottest on record. “The average global temperature for March 2012 made it the coolest March since 1999, yet the 16th warmest since record keeping began in 1880,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its monthly analysis. “Warmer-than-average conditions occurred across nearly all of Canada, the contiguous United States, Mexico, Europe, Argentina, Peru, and parts of northern and central Russia, India, China, and eastern Brazil. Cooler-than-average regions included Alaska, Australia, eastern and western Russia, and parts of New Zealand,” states the agency’s National Climatic Data Center.
The Department of Defense set a goal of uisng 3 GW of renewable energy by 2025. Each of the armed services has committed to use 1 gigawatt (GW) of renewable energy by 2025, for a total of 3 GW. According to the announcement, the renewable energy purchases will be made at no net cost to taxpayers, using contracting vehicles such as power purchasing agreements, utility energy savings contracts, and other financing mechanisms. The new DOD initiative builds on the President’s announcement in the 2012 State of the Union address that the Navy would use 1 GW of clean energy by 2020.
The President issued an Executive Order to establish a new "Interagency Working Group to Support Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources." Led by the Domestic Policy Council, the new working group has an overal mission to mutually coordinate, share, plan and consult with other agencies and White House Offices participating in the working group. Included are the Department of Defense (DOD); the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the Department of Interior; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Commerce; the Department of Health and Human Services; the Department of Energy; the Department of Transportation; the Department of Homeland Security; the Council on Environmental Quality; the Office of Management and Budget; and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Executive Order does not alter the regulatory authority or responsibilities of any of the participating agencies.
In advance of Earth Day, Deputy Assistant to the President on Energy and Climate Change, Heather Zichal has an op-ed in Politico on the myriad of Administrative initiatives to support a clean economy for America. She outlines proposals by this Administration to support small businesses, encourage broad-based economic growth and protect the health and welfare of its people and environment. Zichal also points to the record number of anti environmental legislation initiated in Congress this session.
Like the energizer bunny, the House of Representatives has yet again put the Keystone XL pipeline back in the national spotlight, attaching language green-lighting the pipeline to a 90-day extension of transportation programs. The House Rules Committee meets Tuesday on the extension, which means it could be on the House floor as soon as Wednesday.
The Washington Post has a lead editorial today on the critical role of cheap natural gas to today's energy supply. Using natural gas to run heavy fleet vehicles is a good thing, they say. But the rules about to be finalized at the EPA, which would require natural gas producers to prevent leaks from wells, pipelines, storage tanks and other infrastructure could have a significantly higher impact on the environment. These rules, would reduce the release of volatile organic compounds that form dangerous smog, but the EPA estimates that they would also result in the collection of 3.4 million tons of methane annually, a quarter of current methane emissions from the sector.
Deputy Assistant to the President on Energy and Climate Change, Heather Zichal has an op-ed in POLITICO in advance of Earth Day about the myriad of Administrative initiatives to support a clean economy for America. She outlines a list of proposals by this Administration to supports small businesses, encourage broad-based economic growth and protect the health and welfare of its people and environment. Zichal points to the record number of legislation initiated in Congress to that, in the opinion of the Administration, are anti-environment.
Like the energizer bunny, the relentless House of Representatives has yet again put the Keystone XL pipeline back in the national spotlight, attaching language green-lighting the pipeline to a 90-day extension of transportation programs. The House Rules Committee meets Tuesday on the extension, which means it could be on the House floor as soon as Wednesday.
The Washington Post has a lead editorial today on the critical role of cheap natural gas to today's energy supply. Using natural gas to run heavy fleet vehicles is a good thing, they say. But the rules about to be finalized at the EPA, which would require natural gas producers to prevent leaks from wells, pipelines, storage tanks and other infrastructure could have a significantly higher impact on the environment. These rules, would reduce the release of volatile organic compounds that form dangerous smog, but the EPA estimates that they would also result in the collection of 3.4 million tons of methane annually, a quarter of current methane emissions from the sector. On top of environmental benefits, gas producers would have more product to sell. Reducing leaks might not be a money-making proposition at every well — and the industry naturally claims the government is off in its figures — but the EPA reckons that, overall, new standards will save the industry about $30 million a year committee.
The future of electric vehicles has had it's ups and downs, but it does seem to get more interesting as newer and more refined technologies emerge. An example is the partnership between IBM and Honda, who are working on a new technology to enable communication between electric cars and power grids. Traditionally, electric car owners power their vehicles by simple plug and charging. However, "plug and charge" risks overloading power grids as more hybrid cars are produced. The technology under test may prevent this danger and enable electric cars to only charge when it’s necessary. Using the Honda 2013 Fit electric car, they are testing the technology by creating a system through which electric cars and the power grids can communicate to determine the best charging times.
Last Friday, April 6, our Clean Energy Initative hosted an panel discussion with Opower on the ever important role of the consumer in shaping energy policy. This week, Washington State University announced it’s created a new research center. It will look for ways to bring the country’s aging electricity system in line with 21th century power needs. Besides experts in energy and computer science, the assembled team of researchers includes sociologists and psychologists. The project is called the Energy Systems Innovation Center. Funders include Avista Utilities and the U.S. Department of Energy. The goal is to advance so-called “smart grid” technology to make the power system more efficient and responsive. A key ingredient is a network of “smart meters” that allow consumers to see in real-time things like how much energy they’re using -- and how much it’s costing them.