A trio of environmental groups has taken aim at a proposed 250 MW pulverized coal plant near Great Falls, Montana in an effort to block the plant's construction and end federal financing of coal plants for rural electric cooperatives.
As reported in May (see previous post), a Depression-era program to help electrify rural areas is still providing low-interest loans to rural electric cooperatives to build new coal-fired power plants.
This government program, the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service, is often the only source of financing for rural electric cooperatives with less than perfect credit ratings and is a major force behind the rush to build dozens of new coal plants in the U.S.
These new conventional, or pulverized coal plants spew carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas and contributor to global warming.
The suit, brought by the Montana Environmental Information Center, Citizens for Clean Energy and the Sierra Club, argues that the USDA's Rural Utilities Service did not consider greenhouse-gas emissions in its analysis of seven coal-fired power plants it is financing across the country, including the 250 MW Highwood Generating Station near Great Falls, according to Northwest utility industry newsletter, Clearing Up (subscription required).
In May, RUS agreed to provide 85% of the Highwood plant's $600 million price tag on behalf of the Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative, an association of small Montana electric cooperatives.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) in 1935 during the Great Depression to help electrify rural America and the program has continued providing low-interest loans for power plant construction to this day. The lawsuit argues that the program is outdated and is no longer fulfilling it's mission.
RUS is currently financing seven coal-fired power plants in Idaho, Wyoming, Missouri, Oklahoma, Florida and Kentucky, Clearing Up reports, totaling 3,441 MW.
"While rural communities now generally have access to affordable electricity, RUS still has considerable funds at its disposal to spend in areas that in many cases are no longer rural," the suit says. RUS has provided over $1 billion in low-interest loans for projects serving booming suburbs of Atlanta, GA and Tampa, FL for example, just one sign of how much things have changed since the RUS was created over seven decades ago.
The suit alleges that RUS did not consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions spewing from the pulverized coal plants the program is financing and the impact those emissions will have on global warming. The suit's plaintiffs claim that RUS is therefore in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court's recently ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that affirms that greenhouse gases are a pollutant and that "the harms of climate change are serious and well recognized" (see previous post).
The Highwood plant alone would emit 2.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, according to the suit, and annual emissions from two other RUS-financed plants in Missouri and Florida would total 12.5 million metric tons.
"RUS has never fully considered how financing coal plants ... contributes to climate change," the lawsuit said.
A powerful lobbying force, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is fighting to keep the federal financing program intact amidst opposition from environmentalists. The organization recently deployed 3,000 members on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress in support of the program. The Cooperative Association argues that the loans for new coal plants are needed to keep electricity cheap and reliable in rural areas.
Environmentalists counter that the subsidized loans and artificially cheap power removes any pressure for the rural co-ops to promote energy efficiency or aggressively tap renewable resources. They also point out that rural coops already rely on coal for 80 percent of their electricity, compared with 50 percent for the national average, and electricity demand at rural co-ops is growing at twice the national rate.
Federal financing, if necessary, could also be directed to low-emitting, climate-friendly energy sources or increased energy conservation and efficiency, rather than dirty, coal-fired power plants.
Monday, July 30, 2007
A trio of environmental groups has taken aim at a proposed 250 MW pulverized coal plant near Great Falls, Montana in an effort to block the plant's construction and end federal financing of coal plants for rural electric cooperatives.
As I mentioned last week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on an amendment to an energy package that would create a national renewable energy standard (RES) requiring utilities to increase the amount of renewable energy in their mix.
This is going to be a very key vote, and all the 'intel' is that the vote count is exceedingly close! It may come down to just a handful of votes, and since the Senate failed to make progress on a national RES last month (see previous post), this may be the last chance this year to get this crucial clean energy legislation passed.
The American Wind Energy Association is targeting the following 11 members of Congress with a media and grassroots campaign to pressure these key swing votes:
Rep Affiliation Media Market
If any of these congress critters belong to you (are your reps), now's the time to get on the phone, write a letter and generally give 'em hell until they support the Udall-Platts Renewable Energy Standard amendment.
Let them know that the U.S. needs a National Renewable Energy Standard to spur the country’s renewable energy market, generate millions of new jobs over the next decade, and lower electric bills for consumers and businesses alike — not to mention help slow the devastating impacts of global warming.
A National Renewable Energy Standard is a win-win-win-win piece of legislation! Let your representatives know. There's plenty of info and talking points and an easy 'take action' link at PowerOfWind.com
According to AWEA, studies show a National Renewable Energy Standard will:
All good reasons your representative should vote in support of the Udall-Plats Renewable Energy Standard amendment.
Shell Wind Energy and TXU subsidiary Luminant Energy planning a 3,000 MW wind megaproject in Texas panhandle and are considering compressed air energy storage to firm and shape project's output
[From the Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, TX):]
TXU Corp.'s generating subsidiary and Shell WindEnergy plan a huge Panhandle wind farm that could include the use of compressed air to generate electricity when there's not enough wind to spin the big turbines.
The 3,000-megawatt facility is slated for windy Briscoe County, southeast of Amarillo, Luminant Energy and Shell said Friday. That would rank as the world's largest single installation and roughly matches the wind farm recently announced by Texas investor Boone Pickens, whose Mesa Power is seeking to install 2,000 to 4,000 megawatts of wind power in four Panhandle counties.
The companies did not say when they expect to begin the project or what it might cost. They said they also plan to work together on other renewable-energy projects in the state.
"We are very excited about this project, using compressed air to provide power when we need it, without pollution," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen's Austin office, which has criticized TXU's plans to build more coal-fired power plants. He said that if all health and environmental costs are included, "this is the lowest-cost way to generate electricity," a view shared by Shell in recent testimony before the Public Utility Commission.
"Our approach is a cost-effective solution for consumers," John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co. in Houston, said in a prepared release Friday.
Putting wind to work
The new project further solidifies Texas' standing as the nation's No. 1 wind-power generator. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the state had 2,768 megawatts of wind capacity at the end of 2006, including 240 megawatts at two Shell facilities.
It also would mark TXU's first direct ownership of a wind farm, although the Dallas-based utility is the state's largest purchaser of wind power and the No. 5 purchaser nationwide, it said.
Greg Wortham, director of the West Texas Wind Energy Coalition in Sweetwater, said the use of compressed air to balance the unpredictability of wind power represents what he called the industry's "holy grail" -- the ability to store wind energy so that it is available on demand, just like electricity from traditional power plants that rely on natural gas, coal and nuclear energy.
On average, wind farms operate at peak capacity only about 30 percent of the time. That drops even lower during the hottest summer days in Texas, when wind drops at the same time electricity demand surges.
Two compressed-air energy facilities are in use worldwide, one in Germany and one in Alabama. Neither uses wind, but both use electricity generated in periods of low demand to pump air into underground storage. Then, during times of peak demand, that pressurized air is mixed with natural gas to drive generators.
Using compressed air
Alabama Electric Cooperative has operated a 110-megawatt compressed-air generator since 1991, spokesman Mark Ingram said. He said the utility uses electricity generated at night from one of its coal-fired units to pump air into a 19 million-cubic-foot, underground salt cavern.
The air, stored at more than 1,000 pounds per square inch, is retrieved the next day and mixed with natural gas to drive a turbine that can produce electricity on 14 minutes' notice, Ingram said. Because of the air's added energy, it requires only a fraction of the amount of natural gas that otherwise would be burned to generate the same power.
The Iowa Stored Energy Park is the only announced project that combines wind and compressed air to generate electricity. That facility, which will use an underground water aquifer to store compressed air, plans a 2011 completion date.
Although wind power has become a fashionable source of nonpolluting electricity, its variability poses challenges in the demanding, day-to-day management of electricity supply and demand. Wind turbines perform best at wind speeds of roughly 10 mph to 35 mph, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
"It's stronger in the spring and fall, weaker in the summer. Further, it blows more consistently in the early morning and evening," said Bill Bojorquez, vice president of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, operator of the electricity-transmission grid that serves most of the state.
"The compressed-air technology promises to solve the second problem," he said.
Bojorquez said that ERCOT managers consider only 8.7 percent of reported wind capacity to be reliable when they are scheduling supply.
As a result, a wind-power provider must arrange a backup supply from another generator or rely on ERCOT to buy power to make up for a shortfall, which can get expensive during peak demand.
As for the seasonal variation, he said, that would depend on how long the air can remain in storage under pressure.
That doesn't seem to be a problem, at least not in the natural gas storage business.
Rand LaVonn, a spokesman at Atmos Energy, North Texas' natural gas utility, said Atmos buys and stores natural gas in the spring and fall so it is available in the summer and winter.
It stores gas underground at pressures up to 3,000 pounds per square inch, he said, where it remains in storage throughout the year.
Wind farms that supply a more constant stream of electricity also would help make the construction of high-voltage transmission lines more cost-effective, because the wires must be designed to carry a peak load whether it's delivered or not.
The Public Utility Commission last week recommended eight [Competitive Renewable Energy Zones] as the best routes for new transmission lines to serve Texas wind farms.
One of those zones includes Briscoe County, the site of the Luminant-Shell wind farm and, in Wortham's words, "the platinum region" of Texas wind resource.
I don't normally blog on specific project announcements for wind projects. However, this project is notable for two reasons:
a) it's size: at 3,000 MW this is a true megaproject, and if completed would probably be the largest wind project in the world. For comparison, there is roughly 11,000 MW of installed wind power capacity in the United States. The entire Northwest (OR, WA, ID and MT) currently has 1500 MW installed, while California and Texas lead the pack with around 3,000 MW each.
b) the (possible) use of compressed air energy storage: the possible use of CAES to shape and firm some of the output of this large plant is very notable.
While integrating intermittent wind resources onto regional grids hasn't posed too much of a problem so far (adding wind requires some new operating procedures, but hasn't been too challenging or costly so far), as wind power scales rapidly to becoming a major source of energy in various utilities' mixes, it will become more of a challenge.
One particular problem is the rate at which wind farms ramp up - wind farms can ramp up faster than other plants can be taken offline, potentially creating grid instability problems. The ramp rate of a plant can be controlled by curtailing production at the wind farm (simply turning off a couple turbines during quick ramps for example), but wind plant operators are reluctant to do so since it entails lost production and revenue.
CAES or other energy storage options present an alternative to curtailing output: simply send a portion of the output to the energy storage device to save for later.
The use of CAES to shape and firm wind power seems to be catching on. In addition to this announcement, a group of Iowa municipal utilities said they are planning on constructing a wind farm that will be paired with a CAES system back in January 2006 and BP is also reportedly looking into the concept.
Meanwhile, a new wind turbine technology firm, General Compression, is taking the idea and running with it. They plan to build and install turbines that compress air directly, avoiding the wasteful conversion of wind energy from mechanical energy in the turbine to electricity and then back to mechanical energy in the compressor. Instead of generators, their turbines feature compressors that would directly compress air for storage in either an underground pipeline system and/or natural geologic storage formations like salt caverns, if available.
While their first prototype won't be built until 2009, it remains to be seen if General Compression can succesfully commercialize this concept, but who can deny the appeal of clean, fully dispatchable, on-demand wind energy?!
[A hat tip to Wind Energy Weekly]
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The 2008 Democratic presidential candidates fielded a range of questions on how they would tackle global warming and increase America's energy independence in two recent, innovative, 'people-powered' debates. Both events - MoveOn.org's 'Virtual Town Hall' on Climate Change and the CNN-YouTube Debates - posed questions to the candidates that were submitted by individuals via video and the internet.
Earlier this month, the full range of candidates fielded three questions each on how they would tackle the climate crisis in MoveOn'org's Virtual Town Hall on Climate. The event was organized in conjunction with the LiveEarth global concert series, held on July 7th. You can watch the candidates' responses to each question online here.
Last night, CNN and YouTube organized a similar event that used internet-submitted videos to pose questions from average Americans to the Democratic candidates. This format was both innovative, and in my opinion, effective. The questions were harder hitting, more pointed and even in many cases entertaining than the previous television debates. The candidates fielded three questions on energy and climate change, although not all candidates responded to the questions. You can see the three energy and climate focused questions from the debate below. The debate was broadcast live on CNN on July 23rd and you can head to the CNN-YouTube Debates website for videos of the full debate. CNN and YouTube plan another 'people-powered' debate with the Republican presidential candidates soon.
Question: "How will you save the snowmen from global warming?" [note: this one is a humorous question on a serious topic!]
Candidates who respond: Kucinich
Question: "How will your policies reduce energy consumption in the United States?"
Candidates who respond: Gravel, Dodd
Question: "What is your stance on nuclear power?"
Candidates who respond: Edwards, Obama, Clinton
Monday, July 23, 2007
The United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced a proposal to shorten the permitting process for pilot ocean energy projects to as little as six months, according to a news release (pdf) from Finavera Renewable Energy, Inc..
Finavera Renewable Energy, Inc. is a wind and wave energy developer with pilot wave energy projects in the works in Oregon and Washington (see previous post) that will utilize their patented AquaBouy wave energy conversion device (click the image at right for an animation).
The proposal made by FERC is for projects five megawatts or less, removable or able to shut down on relatively short notice, located in waters that have no sensitive designations, and for the purpose of testing new hydro technologies or determining appropriate sites for ocean, wave and tidal energy projects.
To date, the regulatory process has been one of the primary hurdles to the commercialization of offshore wave energy. Trial projects have taken years to move through the permitting process, taking away valuable time in enacting a technology that shows great promise in reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
“By proposing to reduce barriers in the permitting process for trial projects, the Commission is providing a framework for projects that fall within its jurisdiction, and for state-led initiatives as well,” Finavera Renewables CEO Jason Bak said. “FERC is providing a significant boost for the industry.”
As part of its proposal, FERC will convene a public hearing on licensing pilot projects in Portland, Oregon on Oct. 2, 2007.
“We look forward to the hearing in October and want to extend our thanks to the FERC commissioners and staff for the tremendous commitment they’ve shown to offshore wave energy development. This decision shows strong leadership in promoting a clean, environmentally friendly renewable energy source that has the potential to satisfy a significant portion of the total energy demand in the United States.”
Finavera recently began construction of their second generation wave energy conversion device, the AquaBuOY 2.0 wave energy converter. Fabrication of the device is being carried out at Oregon Iron Works in Portland, Oregon. Finavera plans to deploy the test buoy later this year off the Oregon coast (see previous post).
Finavera recently received a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) to explore a 100 MW wave energy project off the coast of Coos County, in southern Oregon (see previous post).
The company and it's now wholly owned subsidiary, AquaEnergy, have also been working for several years towards deployment of a pilot-scale (2 MW) wave energy park in Makah Bay off the northwestern tip of Washington state's Olympic Penninsula for several years (see previous post).
This sounds like good news to me. Without any buoy or turbines in the water, it is very difficult to both assess their performance and reliability in real-word conditions and to assess and study the potential environmental impacts of wave energy development. Streamlining permitting for small, pilot-scale projects will allow developers to get experience in the water while permitting agencies can gather data and real-world experience on the environmental impacts of wave energy buoys and tidal turbines.
Without this real-world experience, permitting agencies are largely relying on conjecture as to the impacts of the first proposed commercial-scale projects, which shouldn't put anyone at ease. The last thing the emerging wave or tidal energy industries need is the equivalent of an Altamont Pass on their hands, which is possible if commercial-scale projects are permitting without first studying the impacts of a few pilot-scale projects.
All in all, this is a good sign that the wave and tidal energy industries can move forward with proving both the reliability of their technology and it's environmentally benign nature.
Florida Governor Gets In Global Warming Game - Executive Orders Will Tackle State's Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Recognizing the state's particular vulnerability to the threats of climate change, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed three Executive Orders, tackles state's greenhouse gas emissions with a bold, multi-prong approach.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed three Executive Orders on July 13th, establishing a multi-pronged strategy to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions. The Orders set statewide greenhouse gas emissions targets and call for increased energy efficiency, an increased use of clean, renewable energy sources and regulation of vehicle tailpipe emissions.
"I am persuaded that global climate change is one of the most important issues that we will face this century," Governor Crist said. "With almost 1,200 miles of coastline and the majority of our citizens living near that coastline, Florida is more vulnerable to rising ocean levels and violent weather patterns than any other state [see graphic above left]."
The three Executive Orders are as follows [summary from Green Car Congress:)
[Executive Order 07-126:] Leadership by Example: Immediate Actions to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Florida State Government. This order requires the state government first to measure its own greenhouse gas emissions and develop a Governmental Carbon Scorecard. The state government is then to work to reduce its emissions 10% by 2012, 25% by 2017, and 40% by 2025.
To achieve that goal, state buildings constructed in the future will be energy efficient and include solar panels whenever possible. Office space leased in the future must be in energy-efficient buildings as well. Any purchased state vehicles should be fuel efficient and use ethanol and biodiesel fuels when available. State government will also seek to partner with an energy-efficient rental-car company for the 2009 contract.
[Executive Order 07-127:] Immediate Actions to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions within Florida. This order directs the adoption of maximum emission levels of greenhouse gases for electric utilities. The standard requires a reduction of emissions to 2000 levels by 2017, to 1990 levels by 2025, and by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.
Florida will also adopt the California motor vehicle emission standards, pending approval of the US Environmental Protection Agency waiver. The standard is a 22% reduction in vehicle emissions by 2012 and a 30% reduction by 2016.
Florida will also require energy-efficient consumer appliances to increase efficiency by 15% of current standards. Governor Crist also requested that the Public Service Commission adopt a 20% Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2020, with a strong focus on solar and wind energy.
[Executive Order 07-128:] Florida Governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change. Governor Crist will appoint diverse stakeholders to a Governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change. Team members will create a Florida Climate Change Action Plan that will include strategies beyond today’s Executive Orders to reduce emissions, including recommendations for proposed legislation for consideration during the 2008 Legislative Session and beyond.
"I will bring together the brightest minds to begin working on a plan for Florida to explore groundbreaking technologies and strategies that will place our state at the forefront of a growing world-wide movement to reduce greenhouse gases. Florida will provide not only the policy and technological advances, but the moral leadership, to allow us to overcome this monumental challenge." - Governor Crist. The Governor's Executive Orders make Florida the thirteenth state in the nation to adopt the California greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions standards (see map below, from Green Car Congress).
The thirteen states planning to adopt the California tailpipe standards are awaiting a federal waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency that would allow them to implement the regulations. The EPA concluded public hearings on the waiver at the end of May, but has yet to issue a decision. US Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) recently introduced a bill designed to force an EPA decision on the waiver within 30 days of the passage of the bill or by September 30th at the latest.
Florida also joins 14 other states with emissions reduction targets or mandatory emissions reduction law on the books (see previous post).
If implemented, the provisions on the Orders mark several firsts for a Southern state, including the first Southern state to adopt the California GHG tailpipe standards, the first Southern state to adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard and the first Southern state to set greenhouse gas reduction targets.
As usual, more and more states continue to lead the way on the climate change regulations while we await comprehensive action from the federal government.
Adding Florida to the list of 'climate leader states' is an important milestone. As noted above, Florida is the first Southern state to get in the game. Additionally, as the wonderful mapmakers at Sightline have illustrated (see previous post), Florida's emissions alone are not insignificant, even in global terms. The emissions of the states of Florida and Georgia combined are roughly the same as the total emissions of the entire nation of France, according to Sightline.
Bravo to Governor Crist and to Floridians for taking a leadership position and joining the fight to solve the climate crisis!
[A hat tip to Green Car Congress, and an apology for the tardy reporting on this major announcement. Work and the real world have conspired to limit my blogging time these past two weeks...]
Friday, July 20, 2007
House expected to vote on national renewable energy standard amendment in the next two weeks.
The message is the same in report after report: The U.S. needs a National Renewable Energy Standard or Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to spur the country's renewable energy market, generate millions of new jobs over the next decade, and lower electric bills for consumers and businesses alike -- not to mention help slow the devastating impacts of global warming.
But with progress ‘sluggish' on Capitol Hill — last month's RPS amendment proposed by U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to the Senate Energy bill was killed before it could be voted on (see previous post) — it's been left to individual states to set the standard when it comes to renewable energy initiatives (see previous post).
Currently, 23 states plus Washington, DC, have implemented an RPS or RES, many of which include solar carve-outs.
"In the absence of Federal leadership, the states have really taken the initiative on this issue," said Cliff Chen, a clean energy analyst in the Union of Concerned Scientists' California office, during Solar 2007, the American Solar Energy Society's (ASES) national conference in Cleveland, Ohio.
"But we're simply not going to get the high results and efficiency that we all desire unless we see some [long-term] federal support. ...George Bush did sign an RPS in Texas—so there is some hope," added Chen.
That hope may come in the form of another Energy bill that will be up for vote later this month on the U.S. House of Representatives floor. Although the bill currently contains no provisions for a National RPS, a proposed amendment is expected to be offered by Reps. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Todd Platts (R-PA), which is based on their bill H.R. 969 requiring utilities to increase their use of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2020.
"There are currently 120 cosponsors (out of 435 Representatives in the House) on H.R. 969. To move the RPS forward, we need more cosponsors on H.R. 969 and we need members of the House to support the Udall-Platts RPS amendment when the energy bill comes to the House floor in July," according to a legislation update issued last week by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
If an amendment requiring utilities to increase their use of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources is not adopted by the House this month, stated AWEA, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to secure enactment of an RPS this year.
The latest report highlighting the benefits of a national RPS was released by ASES last week. Led by energy economist Roger Bezdek, Ph.D., President of Management Information Services, Inc. in Washington, DC, key findings in the report indicate that by the year 2030 the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries could generate up to $4.5 trillion in revenue in the U.S and create upwards of 40 million new jobs.
The report clearly states, however, that these figures will only be achieved with the appropriate public policy, including a National RPS, long-term renewable energy incentives, public education and R&D. The report also notes that, combined, renewable energy industries generated 8.5 million jobs and nearly $1 trillion in revenue in the U.S in 2006.
Similarly, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report last week examining the impact of a proposed national RPS on the nation as a whole—and on 20 individual states—highlighting that a 20 percent National RES would:
The UCS analysis reviewed the impact of the proposed national standard in 20 states: California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
You can find a list of co-sponsors of HR 969 by searching for the bill (by bill number) at the Library of Congress' THOMAS database.
I'd strongly encourage you to find the co-sponsors list, check if your representative is on the list and if not, give 'em hell until the vote comes up! Keep the pressure on. This is probably the last chance to pass a federal RPS this year. If the upcoming House vote fails, it's unlikely that an RPS will be considered until climate change legislation is taken up and passed, and who knows how long that process will take...
Let's keep the pressure on and make the most of this chance to move America towards a clean energy future!
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
The 2007 Oregon Legislature closed a landmark session advancing clean energy legislation and putting Oregon on the map as a clean energy leader.
The Oregon Legislature wrapped up it's 75th Legislative Assembly on June 28th, ending a session that can only be considered a landmark year for clean energy and the environment.
The 2006 Elections saw Democrats strengthen their majority in the Senate and squeak out a one vote majority in the House while Oregonians re-elected Governor Ted Kulongoski who made clean energy a top priority of his second term. The Governor and the Legislature certainly delivered this year, passing a slough of bills this session promoting renewable energy generation, renewable transportation fuels, increased energy efficiency and even took an initial step towards addressing climate change.
Here's a recap of the flurry of activity in Salem this session:
Renewable Energy Standard: Perhaps the most high profile, and arguably the most important, piece of clean energy legislation to pass this session was the 25% by 2025 Renewable Energy Standard legislation, the Oregon Renewable Energy Act (SB 838).
The standard enacted by the Act requires Oregon's three largest utilties - Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and Light (PacifiCorp) and the Eugene Water and Electric Board - to acquire at least 25% of their electricity from clean, homegrown renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal and ocean energy by the year 2025. The utilities face interim targets of 5% by 2011, 15% by 2015, and 20% by 2020 as well.
Oregon's numerous smaller publicly-owned utilities are required to meet smaller standards of just 5% or 10% by 2025, depending on their size. However, if any of these utilities invest in new coal-fired power plants, they lose their exemption from the full standard and must meet the full 25% by 2025 requirement. Oregon's public utilities had argued that the 25% standard was unnecessary for them, since they relied largely on hydropower to meet most of their load. This provision provides a strong incentive to put their money where their mouths are and stay away from investments in dirty, coal-fired power plants.
The Oregon Renewable Energy Act will require Oregon utilities to generate approximately 1,500 average megawatts (aMW) of renewable energy generation by 2025, enough to meet the needs of 1.25 million average Oregon homes. Increasing Oregon's use of clean, homegrown renewable energy sources will also strengthen Oregon's economy, increase the state's energy independence, help hedge against volatile fossil fuel costs and make a major dent in greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector.
Given this win-win-win-win-win situation, it's no wonder the Oregon Renewable Energy Act was supported by a remarkably broad and diverse range of constituencies, received strong, bipartisan support in both the Senate and House and was hailed by Governor Kulongoski as "the most significant environmental legislation ... in more than 30 years.”
In addition to establishing the Renewable Energy Standards, the Act requires all Oregon utilities to offer their customers a voluntary green power product, extends the public purpose charge on PGE and Pacific Power customers' bills to 2025 and re-dedicates the renewable energy portion of those funds to support small, 'community-scale' renewable energy projects less than 20 megawatts.
If you're curious, there's plenty more on the Oregon Renewable Energy Act at the Powering Oregon's Future site.
[Full Disclosure: I maintain the Powering Oregon's Future site and am responsible for much of its content. I also worked directly to help pass the Oregon Renewable Energy Act in my position at the Renewable Northwest Project].
Biofuels: Succeeding where it failed last session, the Oregon Legislature also passed a bill promoting the use of renewable biofuels in the transportation sector. The biofuels bill, HB 2210, includes a package of tax incentives promoting the production of biofuels and feedstocks in Oregon.
The bill also includes a renewable fuels standard requiring the use of ethanol and biodiesel in gasoline and diesel fuels sold in the state, but only after biofuel production in the Oregon and the Northwest reaches a substantial level, to ensure that the standard will support a local, homegrown biofuels industry.
Fuel stations will be required to sell at least a 2% blend of biodiesel in their diesel fuel once biodiesel production in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana reaches at least 5 million gallons per year and a 5% blend once production in the Northwest states reaches 15 million gallons per year. A 10% ethanol blending requirement will also kick in for gasoline sold in the state once ethanol production within Oregon reaches 90 million gallons per year.
The bill also directs the state government to use biofuels in fleet vehicles and stationary backup power generators and provides a $200/year tax incentive to individuals who use biodiesel (B99/B100) and ethanol (E85) for transportation and solid biomass from agricultural or forestry wastes for heating.
The biofuels bill received very strong support, passing the House 53-4 and the Senate 24-3.
Clean Energy Tax Incentives: The Legislature also expanded two popular and successful tax incentives supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency investments. Eventually rolled into an omnibus tax package, HB 3201 , expansions of Oregon's Business Energy Tax Credit and Residential Energy Tax Credit passed with unanimous support in the House early in the session and finally passed the Senate in the final days of the session.
The tax bill expands the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC), which businesses and corporations can claim on investments in solar, wind and other renewable energy systems, energy efficiency investments as well as investments in manufacturing plants used to produce clean energy technologies or components. The credit is expanded from a credit worth 35% of eligible project costs, capped at $3.5 million, to a whopping 50% credit, capped at $10 million.
The BETC expansion also includes a new $9,000 tax credit available to homebuilders for solar electric and solar water heating systems installed on new construction single family dwellings.
Additionally, the tax bill expands the Residential Energy Tax Credit, available to homeowners who invest in renewable energy systems, efficient appliances, weatherization and other home efficiency retrofits. Homeowners can now claim the credit on more than one investment in a given year, allowing them to claim a credit on both a solar electric system and a solar water heating system installed in the same year, for example. The bill also raises the maximum credit for fuel cells and small wind power systems to $6,000 (up from $1,500), the same maximum credit available for solar photovoltaic systems.
The Legislature also passed two other tax bills aimed at clearing up important problems in the tax code. One bill, SB 819, fixed a problem in the interaction between the Business Energy Tax Credit and Oregon's corporate income tax 'kicker' refund which hampered businesses ability to take full advantage of the credit.
The other bill, known as the Solar Teamwork Bill (HB 3488), amended the exemption given on property taxes leveled against the increased property value due to renewable energy investments, like the installation of solar arrays. The exemption now applies to systems installed by a third party on a property-owner's property, as long as that system is a net metering system or otherwise designed to primarily offset on-site electricity use. This provision will help encourage distributed generation for renewable energy by not discouraging building owners from allowing alternative energy systems to be installed on their buildings because of increased property taxes.
HB 3488 also directs the Oregon Public Utility Commission to authorize the state's two large investor-owned utilities to provide low interest loans for customers who install solar arrays.
Finally, an uncontroversial tax credit bill, SB 875, added ocean wave energy to the list of BETC-qualifying renewable energy resources.
Solar on Public Buildings: Rounding out a series of measures that ought secure Oregon's position as a leading pro-solar state, HB 2620 also passed this session and provides that public improvement contracts for construction or major renovations of public buildings appropriate at least 1.5 percent of the total contract price to pay for the installation of solar energy technology, including solar electric, solar water heating and solar space heating systems.
It's solar on every public building in Oregon from now on!
Energy Efficiency: A bill establishing minimum efficiency standards for a number of additional home and commercial appliances not previously covered by efficiency standards passed the Legislature this session as well. While not including as many appliances as originally hoped, SB 375 will help Oregonians save energy, reducing our energy costs and environmental impacts.
Unfortunately, a bill requiring all major facility projects to be planned, designed, constructed and renovated to meet sustainable building standards died in the Senate Ways and Means committee and a bill requiring the state government to reduce energy use 20% by 2015 passed the House 44-14 but died in a Senate committee. [Well we had to leave something left to do next session, right?]
Global Warming: Last but definitely not least, the 2007 Legislature passed it's first piece of legislation specifically addressing global warming in Oregon!
Originally seen as a long shot, three global warming bills were introduced early this session in the hopes that the large clean energy agenda might move quickly, allowing the Legislature to move on to specifically tackle global warming. In reality, the measures were introduced largely to lay the groundwork for upcoming sessions, and while public hearings were held on the bills, it wasn't expected that they would pass until future sessions.
Well, while two bills were indeed dropped after two hearings, as the session neared it's end, it looked like one, the Global Warming Integration Act, just might have some legs and the Act, HB 3543 managed to squeak passed the finish line right before the end of the session.
The Global Warming Integration Act codifies greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals (10% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 75% below 1990 levels by 2020) and creates the Oregon Global Warming Commission which will coordinate local and state efforts to halt growth of greenhouse gas emissions. It will also fund a new Oregon Climate Change Research Institute within the Oregon University System.
The bill not only passed, it passed with a bipartisan 40-16 vote in the House with moneys fully appropriated to not only fund the commission's activities, but also fully fund the research center. Not at bad ending to a busy session for clean energy advocates and a hopeful sign for the chances of future global warming legislation!
Next Steps: In the face of such a landmark session for clean energy legislation - clearly the most significant session for energy legislation since Oregon's electricity restructuring law passed in 1999 - you might be wondering what's left to do to complete Oregon's transition to a clean energy state?
First, while the clean energy provisions passed this year will certainly make a major dent in the state's greenhouse gas emissions and help promote a sustainable energy future, work has just begun to specifically tackle climate change. The Global Warming Integration Act is a nice step forward, but far from the end of the road, and the Legislature is likely to consider a cap and trade program and an emissions performance standard, both designed to limit global warming pollution from the electricity sector, when next they meet (perhaps as early as a short special session in early 2008 - the Oregon Legislature normally meet biennially).
Additionally, Oregon would probably be smart to follow in the footsteps of other states pushing renewable energy development, including Colorado and Texas, by working to establish renewable energy resource zones and expedite investments in electricity transmission to tap the resources in those zones and bring them to population centers.
I hope the Legislature also revisits the two energy efficiency and green building bills that died this session and takes a hard look at how Oregonians can push energy efficiency to the max. Stronger building codes that include advancements in sustainable and energy efficient design would make sense, and there are always updates to appliance and lighting codes that can help us squeeze more out of the same amount of energy.
A Session to be Remembered: While there's always more work to be done, the 2007 Oregon Legislature should go down in history as the year Oregon took a giant step towards a sustainable energy future. 2007 was clearly the 'Year of Clean Energy' in Salem. Let's hope 2009 (or even 2008) is the 'Year of Global Warming Solutions'...
[A very appreciative tip of the hat to the folks at the Oregon League of Conservation Voters' SalemWatch newsletter whose diligent reporting kept me up to date all session on the wide range of clean energy bills moving through the legislature.]
Monday, July 09, 2007
States Continue to Lead in Absence of Federal Action
The legislatures of Hawaii and New Jersey both recently passed laws specifying mandatory greenhouse gas reductions, joining California (see previous post) as the second and third states in the nation, respectively, to enact mandatory greenhouse gas laws.
Eleven other states have set greenhouse gas reduction targets and four of them - Maine, Minnesota, Washington and Oregon (see this post) - passed legislation this year setting those reduction targets in state statute, according to this CDM Knowledge Center update on state greenhouse gas laws and actions. The other state targets were issued by governor's executive order.
Like California's similarly named law, Hawaii's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2007 (HB 226 CD1), declares that the state shall reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels "at or below" 1990 levels by 2020, an estimated 25-30% cut over business-as-usual projections and a roughly 15% cut over current emissions levels.
The bill, calls for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to update greenhouse gas emission estimates for the base-line year of 1990 and to estimate current emissions. It also establishes a 10-member greenhouse gas emissions reduction task force to draft "practical, technically feasible and cost-effective" ways to do achieve the reductions targets by the end of 2009 and appropriates a half a million dollars in fiscal 2008 and 2009 to pay for necessary departmental and committee work.
The law specifies that rules establishing greenhouse gas emissions limits necessary to meet the 2020 target must be adopted by December 31st, 2011, with monitoring and enforcement of these rules beginning January 1st, 2012.
The bill passed the Hawaii legislature with strong, bi-partisan support, passing by a 48-2 margin in the House and 23-2 in the Senate, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Jeff Mikulina, state Sierra Club director and a proponent of the legislation, called global climate change "the greatest threat to Hawaii's prosperity" and "truly the greatest challenge of our generation."
The Legislature's approval is "making a promise to future generations that we're serious about addressing this critical issue," Mikulina said.
Hawaii's Governor Linda Lingle signed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2007 into law on June 30th, Green Car Congress reports [although I can't find a press release on the signing; the Governor had until July 10th to sign the law, veto it, or let it become law without her signature].
New Jersey's Governor Jon S. Corzine signed a similar greenhouse gas reduction law on Friday, July 7th.
The legislation, the Global Warming Response Act of 2007 (A 3301) also sets a mandatory limit on greenhouse gas emissions not to exceed 1990 levels by 2020, a roughly 20% reduction [over current emissions levels I believe, although this could be business-as-usual 2020 levels; the press release is unclear].
The Act also sets a longer-term target of an 80% reduction in emissions below 2006 levels by 2050, making New Jersey the first state to enact a long-term greenhouse gas emissions limit.
The legislation tasks the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to work with the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and other stakeholders to evaluate methods to meet and exceed the 2020 target reductions.
The Department of Environmental Protection is also charged with establishing rules and regulations establishing a greenhouse gas emissions monitoring and reporting program to monitor and report Statewide greenhouse gas emissions no later than January 1st, 2009. DEP will report progress towards the target reductions to the Governor and the Legislature no less than every two years and if necessary will recommend additional actions to reach the targets.
To further reduce emissions, the order calls for the Director of Energy Savings to develop targets and implementation strategies for reducing energy use by state facilities and vehicles fleets.
“In the absence of leadership on the federal level, the burden of reducing greenhouse gases has now fallen upon the states,” Governor Corzine said in a press release. “I’m proud that New Jersey is one of the first among a handful of states that are leading the nation to combat global warming and I hope more states will follow in our model.”
[Table source: Green Car Congress]
States continue to out pace the federal government on taking action against the climate crisis.
In addition to these greenhouse gas reduction targets and requirements, 16 states (and two Canadian province) have partnered to develop regional initiatives to cap and trade emissions from the electricity sector.
Ten Northeastern states have partnered to form the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) which aims to establish a regional program that would cap and then begin to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector 10% below current levels by 2019, roughly the same as 1990 levels and a 35% reduction over business-as-usual electricity-sector emissions projections (see previous posts here and here).
RGGI has developed a model rule that partner states can adopt to cap electricity sector emissions and participate in a trading program with other RGGI states.
Maine has already adopted legislation authorizing participation in RGGI's cap and trade program, according to CDM's Knowledge Center. The other states must enact authorizing legislation before the RGGI cap and trade program takes effect on January 1st 2009.
While the program initially only applies to the electricity sector, it may be extended to cover other major sources of emissions in the future.
Not to be outdone by the Northeastern states, a partnership of six Western states also formed this year to tackle climate change and develop a regional cap and trade program on electricity-sector emissions.
Originally launched in February 2007 with five members (see previous post), with the inclusion of British Columbia, Manitoba and Utah, the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative (WRCAI) now includes six Western states and two Canadian provinces, making it an international partnership.
Each partner state or province has agreed to identify, evaluate and implement ways to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region. The initiative requires partners to set an overall regional goal to reduce emissions, develop a market-based, multi-sector mechanism to help achieve that goal - i.e. a regional cap and trade program - and participate in a cross-border greenhouse gas (GHG) registry. 31 states plus British Columbia and Manitoba launched the GHG registry in May (see previous post).
At this point, the WRCIA states lag behind the RGGI states in developing a concrete cap and trade proposal, although with California leading the way, most of the WRCIA states are pursuing or have already enacted renewable energy standards (see previous posts here and here), regulations on vehicle tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions (see previous posts here, here, and here), emissions performance standards (see previous post here) and other policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from key sectors (see previous post here).
It is likely that that WRCIA states will link their carbon market with the RGGI states (see previous post and perhaps with other European countries (see ) participating in cap and trade programs as part of their implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.
In addition to these actions, 12 states have now adopted California-style tailpipe emissions standards for greenhouse gases (see previous post) and 23 states now have renewable portfolio standards requiring utilities to increase the amount of renewable energy in their electricity mix (see previous posts here and here).
[Image: Twelve states (dark green) have now joined California in enacting tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks. Five more (yellow) are actively considering joining. (Click to enlarge).]
While federal climate change legislation is clearly a high priority and will ultimately be both more impacting and likely more effective than a collection of state or regional actions, these proactive state efforts to lead the way ahead by enacting policy solutions to the climate crisis should not be dismissed. As this previous post illustrates, states have emissions footprints as large as many other countries, and their actions are not insignificant.
Furthermore, these state actions help drive federal action by serving as 'laboratories of democracy' and create sizable markets that move businesses to develop new products (like efficient cars and trucks).
They may also ultimately encourage federal action in another way: by encouraging large business players to push for standardized federal legislation to preempt a patchwork of state policies. There has already been evidence of this phenomenon as business interests are advocating for a nationwide, economy-wide cap and trade policy that would preempt or replace state and regional policies mandating emissions reductions.
Congress is expected to take up climate change legislation this fall.
The following video was produced by Greenpeace and released in conjunction with the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report in February (see previous posts here and here). That report found that the occurrence of global warming is "unequivocal" and concluded with greater than 90% certainty that human activity is to blame for rising temperatures.
Watch this video (click on the image below to follow the link) and listen to the voice of today's youth and of those generations yet to come.
While this child's apparent anger is justified in my opinion, it may not make for the most effective call to arms. Still, listen to his words, recognize the intensity with which they are spoken, and realize the truth in his message: climate change doesn't just put "the future" at risk - it puts our future at risk, the future that today's young people will inherit, live our lives in, raise our children in.
For today's youth - and for those yet unborn, if only they could speak - the climate crisis is real, it is urgent, and it is of the highest priority: our very future hangs in the balance.
And yet we cannot solve it without the assistance of today's adults - those who hold positions of power, wealth and responsibility.
Unless we begin today to make the necessary investments and set the public policies that change course towards a sustainable future, today's youth will be left without the tools we'll need to rise to our greatest challenge: de-carbonizing the planet and building a sustainable energy future.
We're your children and grandchildren, your neighbors, friends, and as some of us enter the workforce, your co-workers.
Who's side are you on?
Will you help us? Or will you condemn us to clean up your mess in a darker future?
We are ready to rise to the challenge - but we can't do it alone!
Will you join us?
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Can an individual state really make a difference in the climate crisis? Will California,or New Jersey or Minnesota or Washington or Oregon or any of the other states that have taken proactive steps to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of federal leadership really have an impact, or are they largely symbolic gestures?
Well, the answer to that question will not doubt depend on how effective the policies are, but as this excellent map from Eric de Place (originally posted at Sightline) illustrates, the climate impacts of various U.S. states are the equivalent of entire nations, and state action is clearly meaningful.
For each state, the above map shows a nation with equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from energy. Click on the image here to see the full map of the United States. How does your state compare?
Eric de Place has this commentary on his map:
When I've shown drafts to people, almost everyone wants to compare populations. The Western states population comparison is after the jump. The full data are here (xls).So bravo to those states who have taken the lead on climate policies. And let's keep the pressure on Congress to step it up and enact comprehensive climate change legislation. It's time to do our part, to lead the nation in enacting solutions to the climate crisis. Several states have shown the way; now Congress must follow the path.
I find the full US map a bit overwhelming. Even more so when I realize that the 2003 population of the US - less than 300 million - has the same climate impact as the more than 1.5 billion people represented by the other countries listed on the map.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Carbon Backlash: Coal Companies Pitted Against Major U.S. Corporations Pushing for Climate Regulations
This is certainly an interesting development: coal companies are starting to push back against major corporations, including GE, General Motors, Caterpillar and Alcoa, who have come out in support of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.
One coal company exec has even gone so far as to call these companies "un-American" and is refusing to do any more business with one member of the United States Climate Action Partnership, an organization of 23 major corporations and six national environmental groups calling for nationwide carbon regulations.
Reuters has the full story:
U.S. coal mining companies, which for years have been branded the bad guys of global warming, are fighting back.
They are questioning not only the science but also the motives of some of the big-name corporations who have made well-publicized commitments to cleaning up their act.
At a recent industry conference in New York, Arch Coal , one of America's "Big Four" producers, stressed the need for research and investment in "clean coal" technology that would allow the country to utilize its abundant reserves while weaning itself off foreign oil.
"If we want to address climate concerns, we need to invest more heavily in coal -- not less," Chief Executive Steven Leer told the McCloskey Coal USA conference.
"We cannot reduce foreign oil dependence without increased coal use," he said. "Debate can help advance clean-coal technology investment."
A more outspoken executive, Robert Murray, chairman and chief executive of Murray Energy Corp., warned the coal industry could collapse with the loss of 3 million to 4 million jobs if carbon dioxide emission controls are introduced.
He has even put his money where his mouth is by refusing to do business with Caterpillar Inc. -- a manufacturer of the very mining equipment his company needs.
"There are a number of companies that are promoting constraints on coal use to achieve greater profits and/or competitive advantages," Murray said at the coal conference.
He branded more than 20 major corporations that make up the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) "un-American" for allying with environmental groups he calls "enemies of coal."
USCAP, which backs moves to cap carbon dioxide emissions, includes Caterpillar, General Electric Co. , Dupont Co , AIG , General Motors Dow Chemical Co , Johnson & Johnson , Pepsico Inc. , Alcoa Inc. and ConocoPhillips.
"I've been trying to get their attention," Murray said. "(CEO) Jeffrey Immelt of GE and I debated this for about 45 minutes, but I didn't convince him of anything because he sells windmills ... he wants to see the global warming come along."
There was no immediate comment from GE. Caterpillar said that while it would not debate the science, it believes it is incumbent on industry to reduce emissions.
"Knowing this debate is going to get under way in earnest we're here to protect the interests of our customers, particularly coal," the truck and tractor maker said in a statement. "We can be more effective protecting those interests by supporting a single national mandate ..."
Congress is considering several bills that aim to fight global warming by putting tough limits on greenhouse gases. Supporters say the bills would provide incentives for companies to invest in technology to cut emissions.
Murray, whose private company produces about 30 million tons of coal per year, has formed the Coal-based Stakeholders Chief Executive Officers Group, comprising CEOs of railroads, some coal companies and utilities. It opposes so-called "cap and trade" regulations, arguing that caps on emissions will devastate the U.S. coal industry which fuels about 50 percent of the country's electricity generation.
Murray said he sent Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens a letter a few months ago telling him he would no longer do business with him - a decision he said will result in the loss of millions of dollars in business to Caterpillar.
He also pointed out power company Exelon Corp's John Rowe, as "one of the biggest enemies of coal for decades because he's got nuclear."
Chicago-based Exelon, which is not a member of USCAP, said in a statement that Rowe is "a leading proponent of moderate and thoughtful climate change legislation that preserves all technological alternatives."
He co-chairs the National Commission on Energy Policy, which has advocated for a variety of technologies to address climate change, including clean coal and carbon sequestration. "And certainly John is an advocate for nuclear power."
USCAP includes six environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, whose climate expert, David Hawkins said that getting big-name companies to join was crucial to achieving its aims.
"They put the issue on the radar screens of many more members of Congress who no longer see it as an issue that environmental groups are exaggerating.
"These companies validate the seriousness of the issue," he told Reuters. Hawkins said there was "a serious shot of legislation being enacted in this Congress and signed by this president."
[A hat tip to Joshua Skov. Image source: www.coalscience.com]