Solar for Low-income Communities and More! EPA’s Clean Energy Incentive Program

Southeastern states may soon have an added incentive for developing energy efficiency and renewable energy resources that directly benefit low-income communities and utility customers. These potential new incentives come in the form of draft federal regulatory language, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to finalize as part of the entire rulemaking process for the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

This program, known as the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP), is an early-action, voluntary piece of the larger CPP aimed at ensuring communities who suffered the negative effects of fossil-fuel energy generation and economically disadvantaged communities see real benefits from increased clean energy development. Although utilities, state agencies, industry, and the general public have all weighed in on pieces of the CEIP in previous CPP related comment period, the current EPA document open for comment will become the official design details for the CEIP.  Comments can be sent directly to EPA (info on how to do that here) and are due by 11:59pm, Monday, August 29th.

Below are some key points SACE will include in comments we will submit as part of the comment period.

Read more…

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Where Are They Now: Sam Gomberg

This blog was written by SACE’s Communications Intern, Kailie Melchior. It is the fourth post in a series that interviews former SACE employees or partners and highlights where they are now in their careers. To follow this series and read other interviews, click here.

 

What was your position at SACE, and what did that entail?

My position at SACE as the Tennessee Valley Energy Policy Manager and my top priority was to engage with TVA in multiple venues to advocate for a greater commitment by TVA to clean energy resources. This included serving with Steve Smith on TVA’s integrated resource planning stakeholder group, meeting with TVA officials over program design for energy efficiency and distributed solar, and holding TVA accountable (through comments, blogs, media engagement, etc.) for their continued overreliance on fossil fuels and nuclear.

Another of my responsibilities was to advocate for supportive clean energy policies at the state level. The 2009 Federal stimulus package was released shortly after I started at SACE, and we engaged very closely with state officials on how best to allocate the funding that had been granted the state for clean energy investments, including efficiency and renewables.

What is your current position, and what do you work on?

I am currently the Lead Midwest Energy Analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. In this role, I spend much of my time analyzing the Midwest electricity sector, tracking industry trends and conduction analytics around the region’s shift to cleaner, lower-carbon electricity resources.

I also spend quite a bit of time in Michigan and Minnesota advocating for policies that support the transition to cleaner energy sources. I engage with state governments and regulatory agencies to ensure that sound analytics and science are the basis for decision-making and to defend against policies and regulations that will artificially prop up the fossil fuel industry in the face of competition from renewables and efficiency.

Read more…

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How are the White House’s transportation initiatives measuring up?

Three years ago, the Obama Administration outlined their goals for “Building a 21st – Century Transportation Sector” in their Climate Action Plan. The goal of the plan included increasing fuel economy standards and expanding advanced transportation technologies.

We’ve come a long way in those few short years. The Administration has dramatically increased fuel economy standards for our cars, which aims to achieve a 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) fleetwide average by 2025. Through this initiative alone, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) over the lifetimes of the vehicles sold (MY 2012-2025) will be cut, save families more than $1.7 trillion in fuel costs, and further reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Just last week, new rules to dramatically improve the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks and buses and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions were also finalized.

Read more…

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Florida Solar Month: When and where do I vote during August Primary election?

During the month of August, SACE will be blogging on #FloridaSolarMonth to promote solar in the Sunshine State. During August, Floridians will be considering pro-solar Amendment 4 on the August Primary ballot. This blog series is to educate voters on this ballot initiative and help them prepare a voting plan, since turnout can often be lower in primary elections. To follow along and read other blogs in this series, click here.

When do I vote?
In Florida you have three options for voting. Be sure to pay attention to the dates we’ve listed because

1. Vote by Mail – The last *official* day to request your absentee ballot is Aug 24th. Since that date is nearly here, we recommend Voting Early instead. This is a primary election and voter turnout can be lowe, especially for Early Voting, meaning short lines at the polls!

2. Vote Early – Early Voting is open statewide until August 27th (and possibly to Aug 28th depending on where you live). To look up Early Voting times and locations, go here.

3. Vote at your precinct on Election Day (Aug 30) – To look up your Election Day precinct click here.

Where do I vote?

This question will depend on which county in Florida you are registered to vote in. To find your voting precinct (note: It might differ if you are voting early!), find your local Supervisor of Elections who manages the voting in your community. For easy access we’ve linked the websites below for the bigger counties in Florida where we anticipate voter turnout to be high.

Read more…

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Colorado shows path forward on renewable energy

If policies could drive (an electric vehicle, of course), here's the route to take!

From Colorado to the Southeast? A major settlement on vexing renewable energy issues has just been announced in Colorado that has important implications for the Southeast.

On August 15, a major settlement was announced between Xcel Energy, the staff of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and numerous businesses and associations in Xcel Energy’s rate case. This rate case saw discussion of some of the most vexing issues confronting renewable energy advocates and utilities across the country, including in the Southeast. As discussed at a recent National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) meeting, economic pressures related to renewable energy development, especially electric rate structures, are some of “the most divisive issues facing regulators today.”

What the Colorado deal indicates is that there is a path forward for resolving these issues. Unfortunately, there are two big obstacles to seeing these solutions in the Southeast. First, few of these solutions are being considered (much less implemented) in the Southeast. Second, utilities and their regulators are showing little leadership on these issues. Below, I’ll discuss what I think are the five most important elements of the deal (as summarized by Xcel Energy and Western Resource Advocates), and where things stand in the Southeast on each of these five issues.

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Wind Energy’s Two Cents: Utilities Should Buy Now

The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has just published their annual Wind Technologies Market Report. Just last year, long-term contracts for power have been signed for below $20/MWh. That’s two cents per kilowatt hour. The average installed price for wind energy capacity is down 24% in just five years. While it may cost a little more to import those lowest cost wind energy resources into the Southeast using existing or new transmission, the fact remains that wind power is likely the lowest cost of new energy generation for much of the south.

Late last year, Congress passed a long-term phaseout of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy. According to the LBNL report, wind energy installed capacity is expected to increase by about 40 gigawatts over the next few years, thanks in part to the long-term PTC extension. Wind farm developers must place orders on wind turbines this year in order to safe harbor a full-value (100% PTC), but can finish construction as late as 2020. After this year, the PTC value drops by 20% and every year thereafter, until it is completely phased-out in 2020.  Wind energy buyers that wait a single year could lose millions of dollars in savings due to the PTC phaseout. As my colleague John Wilson briefly commented yesterday, utilities and corporate buyers should move quickly to secure the lowest cost wind energy resources.

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Don’t Let Louisiana Become a Climate Change Sacrifice Zone, Help Now

Flooding at the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. Simon Mahan 2016

About a third of the state has been impacted and the disaster is ongoing. I can’t list every single charity that folks should donate to, or assist. United Way (HERE), Catholic Charities (HERE), Baton Rouge Area Foundation (HERE), a list from Times-Picayune (HERE) and Weather Channel (HERE). If you know of additional resources, please feel free to post them in the comments section.

I live in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun Country. My family and neighborhood is safe from the floods, but much of the region has been horribly impacted.

What Happened? 

On August 11th, the local weather reports were showing that we were going to experience rain every day for what seemed to be the next month. But I certainly had no inkling of how bad the storms were going to get. Friday, August 12th, started like most other days getting the kids ready for school and daycare. By around 7-7:30AM Friday morning, I was notified that the Lafayette Parish Public School system was closing for the day. Childhood daycares usually follow the public schools’ lead, and I received notification our local daycare was also closing for the day due to the threat of floods. I also got a Wireless Emergency Alert on my smartphone with a loud beeping – flash flooding was expected nearby.

Flooding at the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. Simon Mahan 2016

In this part of Louisiana, rain and flash flood warnings aren’t always followed by closing the schools down. So folks still put their kids on buses to head to school for the day. Some buses were able to turn around and drop kids back off at home, some buses continued on to their school destinations. By mid-morning, local social media lit up from parents showing kids walking home in ankle-deep water, or stranded at a school.

All day Friday, the torrential downpours kept coming. Throughout the day, and well into the night, our cellphones kept getting updated with Wireless Emergency Alerts extending the local flash flood warning timelines. Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency. Curfews for a variety of parishes were getting announced. Rivers flowed backwards as lower-level swamps began to fill up. The rain finally started to slow down Saturday, August 13th, in the afternoon. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette cancelled all Masses for all parishes for that evening, and churches across the region cancelled services. Roads were closed, as were interstates.

Read more…

Seriously, utilities, buy wind NOW (yes, this year)

Really, it is time to buy wind energy. This is very simple.

Wind costs less than running natural gas power plants. Keep the power plants. Use them, we’re not saying they aren’t needed.

But it is cheaper to buy power from wind projects than to run your power plant full-out. Look at this amazing forecast from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Yes, this really says that it is cheaper to contract for wind power today than to generate electricity using natural gas. And in the future, under every single gas price forecast from the US EIA, wind is cheaper.

Here’s the kicker: the blue wedge only represents various forecasts of natural gas prices. It does not include the total costs associated with new construction and operation of a natural gas plant. If those costs are added in, wind power has an even greater cost advantage compared to both new and even existing natural gas power plants.

Who could buy this wind? We know that the Tennessee Valley Authority, Georgia Power, Alabama Power and perhaps Duke Energy are all considering purchases of renewable energy. Plus many more of the smaller utilities are in active negotiations or solicitations for renewable energy. If they make the buy, these data indicate that these utilities should see an immediate and likely permanent reduction in rates for their customers.

Utilities in the south that miss out on 2016 – The Year of the Wind aren’t just missing out on a great opportunity for their ratepayers, they risk losing billions of dollars in wind energy savings as the tax benefits begin to phase out in 2017. More on this tomorrow, including the reasons for urgency, from Simon Mahan …

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Florida Solar Month: What’s on the ballot for the August Primary election?

During the month of August, SACE will be blogging on #FloridaSolarMonth to promote solar in the Sunshine State. During August, Floridians will be considering a pro-solar amendment on the August Primary ballot. This blog series is to educate voters on this ballot initiative and help them prepare a voting plan, since turnout can often be lower in primary elections. To follow along and read other blogs in this series, click here.

What’s on the August Primary ballot?

This question will depend on which county in Florida you are registered to vote in. To find your sample ballot, find your local Supervisor of Elections who manages the voting in your community. For easy access we’ve linked the websites below for the bigger counties in Florida where we anticipate voter turnout to be high.

Read more…

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Green Light for New Nuclear Power Continues in Georgia

Plant Vogtle Construction June 2016 Photo: @HighFlyer, Special to SRS Watch

Update: The PSC issued the final order in the 14th VCM on August 23, 2016 — find it here.

On the heels of giving Georgia Power the go-ahead to explore building possibly two nuclear reactors at an undeveloped site in Stewart County along the Chattahoochee River near Columbus, today the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously approved an additional $160 million in expenditures for the at least 39-month delayed nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro along the Savannah River. It’s important to note that Commissioner Bubba McDonald was the sole dissenting vote on the Stewart Co. decision, responsibly mentioning concerns not only about the harm to utility customers but also about negative impacts to the Chattahoochee, which is at the center of the decades long Tri-State Water War among Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

The Commission has approved all of the Company’s Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) applications for expenditures, most recently the 14th, which has now amounted to over $3.27 billion. SACE intervened again, as we have in all the semi-annual VCM reporting proceedings, including submitting a hard-hitting final brief that offered what we considered several common-sense recommendations:

  • Georgia Power should submit revised operation dates that incorporate the construction schedule slippage that has occurred since the January 2015 Integrated Project Schedule was filed.
  • The Company should file a mitigation strategy that supports the revised operation dates.
  • The Commission should expand the scope of its semi-annual VCM review to also verify the reasonableness of the Company’s operation dates, the total costs of all financing and capital and construction expenditures to include all amounts to be paid by ratepayers, including all taxes and other costs, and total construction costs including any amount found to be prudent.

We believe that a healthy dose of honesty is long overdue given the very large financial burden customers are facing because of the significant and costly schedule delays. A new construction schedule based in reality needs to be made public with commercial operation dates that actually reflect achievable completion dates. Read more…

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