Southeast Energy Savings Pacesetter: Entergy Arkansas Breaks the 1% Barrier

Entergy Arkansas has forced a paradigm shift in the Southeast when it comes to energy efficiency potential, and that’s a big deal. Clean energy advocates, including Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), have long recommended that Southeastern utilities strive to achieve energy savings representing at least 1% of prior-year sales – a symbolic benchmark for moving into the big leagues of energy efficiency.

For years, utilities have scoffed at the 1% target as unachievable in our region. As a result, utility energy efficiency programs in the Southeast have chronically lagged behind other parts of the country. However, the naysayers were finally proven wrong when Entergy Arkansas reported 2014 net energy savings of 1.1%.

This is the first post in Energy Savings in the Southeast. We will dive into the recent performance of Southeastern utilities’ energy efficiency programs, and highlight how the region can achieve more money-saving and carbon-reducing energy savings.

SACE has held up the achievements in Arkansas as a standard, as we’ve continued to push our region’s electric utilities to reap the multiple benefits of additional cost-effective energy efficiency. Entergy Arkansas first rocketed to the top of the Southeastern leaderboard in 2013, when its energy savings grew to a level equivalent to 0.89% of prior-year sales, and by 2014, the company had more than doubled its 2012 energy savings level. One factor contributing to Entergy Arkansas’ success is its robust stakeholder engagement process that brings together utility staff, regulators, advocates and others to work toward consensus solutions for growing cost-effective energy savings. SACE has looked to that engagement process for best practices that are now beginning to improve our ongoing collaborative efforts with other Southeastern utilities toward increased energy efficiency.

Southeastern states have consistently ranked among the worst in the nation in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s annual state energy efficiency rankings reports, and even the leading states in our region are a long way from reaching the high-water mark set by Rhode Island’s savings level of 2.7% in 2014. Entergy Arkansas’ achievement is a leap forward in the win-win quest to save Southeasterners money on their utilities bills while also helping to move the region toward a cleaner energy economy.
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Honoring Black History Month and the Path Towards Energy Justice: Hollis Briggs of Wilmington, NC

This blog is the first in a series that will run during Black History Month, honoring advocates and opportunities to advance energy justice. Information for this blog was taken from a phone interview with Hollis Briggs of Wilmington, North Carolina. To read other blogs in this series, click here.

Hollis Briggs (second to the right) with Dr. Bernice King daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and members of Wilmington's MLK Celebration Committee.

Wilmington North Carolina is a small coastal town in Southeastern North Carolina. It has pristine beaches that meet the mouth of the state’s largest river system known at the Cape Fear River. This daunting name has historical significance that serves as a great metaphor for the town’s deeply rooted justice issues that many Wilmingtonians fear bringing up. But Hollis Briggs is not like most Wilmington residents.

“A voice for the voiceless”

During my time living in Wilmington, I had the pleasure of working alongside Hollis to plan the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. parade. Under Hollis’ leadership for the past 14 years, this event has grown from a single parade to multiple events all over town spanning a week that lift up the importance of justice and equality. Hollis created the MLK celebrations “to fill a void in our community.” Hollis saw a need to address and improve racial relations in Wilmington and enhance the visibility of positive achievements and contributions of African Americans throughout history.

“We needed a voice for the voiceless,” said Hollis. “Oftentimes the voiceless are not even aware that they are voiceless.”

Being voiceless is unfortunately quite common when it comes to energy issues that disproportionately affect minority families in Wilmington and throughout the Southeast.

“Average folks don’t always connect energy to their everyday lives even though it’s one of the most needed resources,” said Hollis.

And therein lies the challenge in working for solutions that benefit the “voiceless.” Through collaborative and inclusive work, SACE and allies are working to right this wrong. Read more…

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Looks Like a Wind Farm Ban

Courtesy: TN Valley Infrastructure Group

Recent polling shows that over 70% of Americans support wind energy. In Kansas, where significant wind development has taken place, some 91% of voters believe that “Using renewable energy is the right thing to do for the future of our state and our country.” But the very few anti-wind activists have devised schemes to effectively ban wind farms, all under the deceptive guise of regulation. One way of banning wind farms by overregulation is by requiring extremely far “setbacks” for wind turbines.

Setbacks are a type of regulation requiring structures be a certain distance from other structures or places. But setbacks can sometimes set arbitrary limitations if applied improperly. Good regulation identifies why a setback is warranted. If anti-wind activists demand a setback because wind turbines make sound (as opposed to recommending a sound-specific regulation), you can be fairly certain their intention is to ban wind farms. So what does a wind farm ban look like? Read more…

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Did TVA stay on budget with the “new” TVA Watts Bar 2 reactor?

No, they did not. And given this has happened several times before, we can’t say we’re surprised but we certainly are disappointed, again. TVA announced during a 2016 first quarter earnings call today that they would exceed the $4.5 billion budget to complete a second nuclear reactor at the Watts Bar site on the Tennessee River, about fifty miles northeast of Chattanooga, by approximately $200 million. Watts Bar 2 represents the longest construction history of any nuclear reactor in the world.

TVA started construction on the two-reactor nuclear plant in the early 1970s at a total estimated cost of $825 million. Unit 2 was mothballed in the mid-1980s for several decades after $1.7 billion was spent. TVA revived the project in 2007 with what amounted to a low-ball estimate by Bechtel of approximately $2.5 billion because in 2012 the estimate was revised upwards by $1.5 to $2 billion to a range of $4 to $4.5 billion. TVA has experienced several delays completing the revived project, only receiving the federal operating license this past October. On today’s call the utility mentioned achieving commercial operation this June and having “full ramp up” in the September-December 2016 timeframe.

As we’ve mentioned before, the nuclear industry is the only one that celebrates bringing a project online 37 years late and many billions of dollars over budget. The Watts Bar Unit 2 project, plagued with management and construction problems since construction resumed in 2007, serves as the poster child for all that was and is still wrong with the nuclear power industry and the utilities that continue to ask ratepayers to support this extremely risky, expensive technology.

Learn more about Watts Bar 2 via our webpage, the article I co-authored on October 8, 2015 for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that outlined the long, troubled history and the subsequent LA Times October 12, 2015 column by Michael Hiltzik.

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Georgia Power’s Nuclear Expansion Project at Plant Vogtle to Seek Approval from State Regulators for Billions of Dollars in Cost Overruns

Vogtle Construction Photo: SRS Watch / HighFlyer

Just days after final briefs were filed in the 13th semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) docket, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) today voted 4-1 to approve what could be described as an expedited prudency review of all project costs to-date including litigation settlement costs. Commissioner Wise filed a motion last Friday (amended today) in response to Georgia Power’s request for the Commission to approve the recent settlement agreement between the utility owners and lead contractor Westinghouse that was first announced in late October and only recently finalized. The settlement amounts to over $916 million in cost increases to the utility owners, with Georgia Power’s share at $419 million.

We will all gain a better understanding of what exactly was agreed to during today’s confusing session once the final order is issued, but it appears that the troubled project is going to receive some form of additional scrutiny this year given the significant cost increases and schedule delays that will be conducted in proceedings separate from the semi-annual VCM docket.

So once again, the simple question of “what is the current cost estimate for building two new Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors at Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle in Georgia” clearly is anything but, which we outlined in a blog last month. It took our attorney, former PSC Commissioner Robert “Bobby” Baker, to ask key questions at the December hearing to tease out important details. Such as the fact that the 46 percent tax gross up rate on the approximately $2.4 billion in financing costs associated with the current 39-month delay should be included, which amounts to an additional $1.264 billion in financing costs.

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Taking the fight against Atlantic offshore drilling to Washington

Our delegation from South Carolina in front of the Capitol Building, walking from the House offices to the Senate offices.

Greetings from the nation’s capital! I am in Washington, D.C. on a trip to talk with Congressmen and Senators from South Carolina about the need to protect the Southeast coast from the impacts of offshore drilling.

I am honored to be one of the delegates from the Southeast to the Coastal Voices Summit, hosted by Oceana. Alongside fellow South Carolinians and partner groups, I met Wednesday with Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and Congressmen Mark Sanford, Jim Clyburn, and Tom Rice.

We informed our elected officials why President Obama’s plans to open the mid- and south-Atlantic to offshore drilling are misguided, contrary to the will of the voters, and asked for their support in halting the push to drill. Read more…

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How Clean Energy and Birds Can Coexist

David Yarnold. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

This post originally appeared on the Audubon website.

Clean energy—led by solar and wind power—is expanding quickly both in the U.S. and abroad, thanks to the economic opportunities they present as well as the momentum spurred by the recent Paris Agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy is an important way to rein in climate change and its harmful impacts on birds. At the same time, it’s crucial to choose locations for new solar farms, wind turbines, and other installations with consideration for the local habitat and wildlife.

In an op-ed for The Huffington Post, Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold explains how to balance these mutually important needs. He writes:

Great Egrets. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

As the need for renewable energy becomes more pressing, some of the fiercest duels in the West are now being fought over where to put power lines, wind turbines, solar farms and other needed energy development projects. There is so much at stake in the beautiful landscapes of a place like Colorado that we must be careful to strike the right balance in siting these types of infrastructure.

Thankfully, advocates for conservation and a commonsense approach to development now have a whole new range of tools to use in finding the best places for clean energy projects—tools they can access from their laptops and smartphones.

Smarter energy siting is the goal. That means more efficient projects that don’t waste money while preserving iconic landscapes that birds and other wildlife call home. Read more…

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Nuclear power carries extreme, persistent risks

Below is a guest blog post, published with permission, of an opinion editorial by William H. Schlesinger, Dean Emeritus at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, that originally ran in the Charlotte Observer on January 25, 2016. You can find the original publication here. We added the map to this post showing nuclear facilities in our region along with evacuation zones and ingestion pathways, that comes from our report, Code Red Alert, which can be found here.

Nuclear power carries extreme, persistent risks

William H. Schlesinger

As the world’s nations embrace a low-carbon future, it is easy to envision renewed interest in the nuclear option. But we should be cautious in our optimism for the nuclear option.

We’ve seen three big examples of the dangers of nuclear power – the meltdowns at the Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. The 1986 disaster at Chernobyl left about 1,000 square miles of land uninhabitable by humans for the foreseeable future, leaving dangerous levels of Plutonium-239 in the soil. Imagine the same for a nuclear power plant near you. For central North Carolina, this would involve the exposure of 2 million people and the instantaneous and permanent abandonment of the campuses of Duke, NC State and UNC. The half life of Plutonium-239 is 24,000 years.

The half-life of some of the other radioactive elements released at Chernobyl, such as cesium-137 and strontium-90, is about 30 years. Unfortunately, the contamination of the environment by these isotopes was more widespread, in part because they are lighter and more easily carried by winds and water.

The half-life of a radioactive element says only when half of the original content has decayed away. If the original contamination was large, even half can be significant. We should not associate a half-life of 30 years with a return to safety at Chernobyl. Read more…

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Time for North Carolina to Support Wind Power

Credit: Chrishna, Flickr Creative Commons

Wind turbine technology has advanced significantly in the past few years, enabling wind farms to sprout up in new areas, particularly in the Southeast. Taller turbines and longer blades are capable of capturing more wind, which results in harnessing more electricity and reducing costs. Even as new wind development promises sustainable economic development in rural counties, in some cases new wind farm proposals are being met with hostility and resistance. North Carolina is a recent example of new turbine technology creating opportunities and opposition, as anti-wind activists use confusion and misinformation to press for wind farm bans that are disguised as regulation.

In 2011, several new wind farms were proposed in northeastern North Carolina, amounting up to several hundred megawatts of wind power capacity potential. Private property owners exercising their private property rights and hosting wind turbines could expect about $6,000 per wind turbine via land-owner lease payments. Each project could result in hundreds of thousands of new county tax revenue, with little to no cost to the local communities.

Prior to the various wind farm announcements, county officials in northeastern North Carolina adopted reasonable wind turbine siting regulations that were created by the North Carolina wind working group, a diverse group of stakeholders from across regulatory, industry, legal, academic and environmental fields. But now, Perquimans County is entertaining proposals by anti-wind energy activists that, if implemented, would effectively kill wind farm development in their county and potentially have a chilling effect on the prospects for development in eastern North Carolina.

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Solar Jobs are Shining Bright

The solar industry has had another banner year for job growth. According to the Solar Foundation’s 6th annual solar jobs census, over 35,000 new solar jobs were added in North America in 2015, bringing the total count of US solar jobs to over 208,000. This number represents a 20 percent increase from 2014, and 123 percent increase from 2010. One out of every 83 jobs created in 2015 across the whole United States was a solar job, meaning that 1.2 percent of national new job growth last year can be attributed to the solar industry. Put another way, the solar industry is creating new jobs approximately 12 times faster than any other industry in the US. 2015 was the third consecutive year to report similar results, showing a consistent trend. 

Looking ahead, it is expected that solar jobs will continue to grow over the next several years as well. According to the census data, current solar employers are anticipating an increase to 239,625 solar jobs in the next twelve months alone, a 15 percent increase from the 2015 data. The newly extended solar investment tax credit (ITC) has given the industry a lot of confidence for 2016 and beyond. Greentech Media Research forecasted a 54 percent increase in solar installations as a direct result of the ITC extension through 2020.

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