Low Cost Path for Southern Company to Comply with EPA’s Clean Power Plan

Cost of Alternative Coal Replacement Portfolios for Southern Company System (2014-2034)

With a carbon (CO2) cost, our model shows shifting from coal to gas increases costs by $1 billion total over 20 years. This is actually a pretty small number compared to the total cost over two decades. Shifting to gas and renewables, however, results in a *lower* cost, saving customers $1.2 billion.

With the US Environmental Protection Agency poised to release its final Clean Power Plan rule, some utilities have raised alarm about the rule’s cost. Some of those same voices have raised alarms about reliability, but as I wrote in May, cutting carbon pollution won’t make the sky fall.

Today we release Cleaner Energy for Southern Company, a research summary that explains how every $10 million invested in renewable energy should save Southern Company customers about $1.3 million as part of a least-cost plan for reducing carbon pollution. Our research shows that for Southern Company, future power plant developments that balance both natural gas and renewable energy could cost significantly less than plans that rely on natural gas alone. An aggressive, cost-effective renewable energy strategy could result in Southern Company cutting carbon emissions 18% below today’s pollution level.

The cost savings associated with the Gas + Renewables scenario are $1.3 billion compared to the baseline (coal) case and $2.4 billion compared to the gas only case. As discussed in the report, these cost estimates come with significant uncertainties. Nevertheless, our analysis shows that renewable energy is an essential part of a cost savings strategy  for serving customers of Southern Company with cleaner, more sustainable power supplies.

This isn’t the first time we reached this conclusion: In 2013, we filed testimony backed by extensive modeling that showed how solar energy and energy efficiency could lower costs for Georgia Power’s customers. Unfortunately, most of the technical data and quantitative findings were held back due to Georgia Power’s trade secrecy policies.

The research we are releasing today is the first publicly available report that takes a data-driven approach to studying costs of compliance at Southern Company. Of course, Southern Company has certainly studied its own costs, but although regulated by four state utility commissions, Southern Company does not provide public access to basic information about what it plans to do, what its future costs will be, and why it has chosen those plans.

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New nuclear reactor designs and concepts are expensive, challenging – New GAO report

TVA's Clinch River Site - Proposed for SMRs

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new technology assessment report yesterday, “Nuclear Reactors: Status and challenges in development and deployment of new commercial concepts.” But the results of the study were anything but new. The GAO’s findings confirmed that new nuclear reactor technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), and other new reactor design concepts are extremely expensive and face numerous, significant challenges. We haven’t forgotten that Taxpayers for Common Sense claimed SMRs were a taxpayer boondoggle and in 2013 awarded “The Golden Fleece” to the Department of Energy for federal spending on them.

To us the GAO’s findings sound eerily familiar to what has been experienced by the five nuclear reactor projects under construction here in the U.S., which are all in the Southeast. TVA’s Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee has been under construction for well over 30 years and has busted it’s budget more than once. And the four new Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors being built (two each) at Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle in Georgia and SCANA’s V.C. Summer in South Carolina are at least 39-months delayed and billions of dollars over budget, with many challenges remaining. Read more…

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Climate Change is Risky for Business in the Southeast

Yesterday, a new report was released from the Risky Business Project about the economic threats to the Southeastern U.S. posed by climate change. The report, titled, Come Heat and High Waterhighlights that the current economic boom enjoyed by the Southeast is jeopardized by impacts of climate change, and that in order to continue our gains in prosperity, we must make significant strides in climate change pollution mitigation and adaptation.

The report specifically highlights economic impacts from climate change to manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture, as these industries comprise such a large portion of our region’s economy. The Southeast and Texas make up about 34% of U.S. manufacturing output and generate more than $700 billion. Recent trends indicate that manufacturing is undergoing a resurgence in the Southeast, evidenced by the major investments multinational companies have made in infrastructure in the Southeast. For example, BMW has committed to invest $1 billion in its Spartanburg, SC plant, growing it by 800 jobs; Nissan is investing $160 million in its assembly plant in Smyrna, TN, adding nearly 1,000 jobs, and DuPont recently built a $500 million plant near Charleston, SC.

This growth in the manufacturing sector has been a critical driver of post-recession economic development, yet climate impacts, such as increased incidents of extreme heat and flooding, could reverse this growth, especially without significant efforts to cut carbon pollution and build resilience to climate impacts. Manufacturing facilities are often sited beside assets, such as waterways for industrial cooling systems or transportation infrastructure such as rivers, ports, roads, and railways, all of which are at risk from climate change impacts such as rising temperatures and flooding risks from higher sea levels, increased extreme rainfall events, and heightened storm surge. Read more…

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SACE on the West Coast – Intersolar North America Conference

Discussing solar education with Kathie Zipp, editor at Solar Power World

When it comes to solar, it can sometimes feel like the West coast is more than 10 years ahead of the Southeast region – probably because they are! By a variety of measures, from installed capacity, to advanced renewable policies, to the shear number of local solar jobs and the entrepreneurial community that is constantly developing ways to advance solar, the West coast is a much more mature solar market than most areas in the Southeast. These cross-country differences were highlighted in the recent Intersolar North America Conference and Exhibition, which I had the opportunity to attend and participate in.

As with any successful conference or event, there were a lot of very interesting conversations and eye-opening discussions about the challenges and opportunities that the solar industry is facing across North America. The next step, now, is to share those conversations and continue to take action and move forward, armed with new knowledge and strategy.

I had the opportunity to participate in a conference session on Monday afternoon titled “Global PV Markets: Performance at its Best – North America”. The presentations were followed by a diverse panel which included: Paula Mints of Solar PV Market Research, Galen Barbose of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Katie Bolcar Rever of SEIA, Bernadette Del Chiaro of CalSEIA, Stephane Dufrenne of Upsolar America Inc., and Tony Clifford of Standard Solar Inc. As I discussed the current state of the solar market in the Southeast with this international group of professionals, it was very clear that we need to continue to fill in the gaps between the mature and younger solar markets, as well as continue to fight for good policy. The solar ITC was a hot topic of discussion as well as the current Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative that continues to gain momentum in the Sunshine State.

Read more…

Amazing wind power innovations that will keep prices dropping

UpWind Solutions and SkySpecs awarded 333 Exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration

UpWind Solutions offers a camera-equipped drone to visually inspect wind turbines.

Wind energy prices have dropped substantially over the past five years and wind power prices are now regularly in the $0.02-$0.035 per kilowatt hour range ($20-$35/MWh). As turbines improve performance and manufacturers reduce costs, utilities are beginning to naturally and voluntarily prefer wind power as an energy resource, even in states where wind power was previously considered infeasible. Researchers and manufacturers are hard at work to ensure wind turbine performance and costs continue to drop in the near future. Here are just a few innovations the wind industry is testing and preparing for primetime.

DRONES – Wind turbines are regularly inspected to ensure peak performance. Instead of having people climb the tall towers, and rappel down blades for blade inspections, some companies are now looking into using drones for basic blade inspections. UpWind Solutions recently achieved key approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate small drones that will help inspect wind turbines.

BLADE EXTENSIONSGeneral Electric has a new product, a 10 meter blade extension, where a turbine’s blade is cut in half and then extended to expand the rotor swept area. Rotor swept area is a key metric in determining how much kinetic wind power a turbine can transform into electric power.  Longer blades collect more wind power, which boosts performance, and can reduce costs. Wind turbine technology is advancing so quickly it may make sense to do some upgrades to older turbines to boost performance and reduce costs. Read more…

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The Potential for Solar to Power Low-Income, Minority Communities

This guest blog by Marvin Smith with Future 500 was originally posted here

Solar power is on the rise faster than a Steph Curry shot. Not only is its adoption exceeding predictions, but the demand for third-party solar and net metering is so wide-ranging that it has broken down the political divides we’ve grown accustomed to. Taking the form of the Green Tea Coalition and the oddest of bedfellows in Florida and North Carolina, stakeholders are uniting around the environmental and economic benefits of rooftop solar. Despite all this positive momentum in the solar industry however, minorities and women remain woefully underrepresented. This lack of representation hurts both vested community-based groups and the solar industry.

Solar Support Across Party Lines

Solar energy spans party lines. Liberals and Conservatives love solar, and so do a growing number of minority and low-income communities. The combined determination of these groups has led to the emergence of a message: “Solar energy is bountiful, bipartisan, and beneficial to impoverished communities.”

Read more…

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Obama threatens to veto bill that would undermine EPA coal ash rule

Today, the U.S. House of Representative is scheduled to vote on H.R. 1734, a dangerous bill that threatens the health and safety of communities here in the Southeast and across the country. Rep. David McKinley’s (R-WV) deceptively-named “Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015″ actually undermines EPA’s recently published, federal minimum standards for coal ash disposal and handling. This bill is so dangerous that the Obama Administration yesterday issued a strong statement of opposition and warned, “If the President were presented with H.R. 1734 as drafted, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

EPA finalized its first-ever coal ash rule in December 2014. The agency took nearly 6 years to craft the rule, soliciting input from utilities, states, citizens, and advocates in the process. Under the rule, EPA is regulating coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and declined to classify the toxic substance as “hazardous” under RCRA. This means that states are not required to implement the rule and the federal government is not enforcing the rule—leaving enforcement to the utilities (and other owners) themselves, the states, and via citizen suits. All in all, EPA’s rule falls short of the protections communities and waterways in our region need. Rep. McKinley’s bill would undermine even these basic protections provided by EPA’s rule.

Read more…

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White House Has Plans to Help Low-Income Communities Gain Access to Solar

Angela Garrone, Southeast Energy Research Attorney with SACE, co-wrote this blog with Alissa Jean Schafer, SACE Solar Communications and Policy Manager.

In early July, the White House unveiled a new plan to help cut energy costs for low- and middle-income families. The new program would make it easier for people who lack startup capital, or who rent rather than own their homes, to invest in solar.

According to the Obama Administration, the United States brought as much solar energy online every three weeks in 2014 as it did in all of 2008. The solar industry added jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy, and one out of every 78 new jobs created in 2014 was in the solar industry. This positive growth and economic activity, combined with continuously lowering price for solar energy is part of the inspiration behind the Administration’s effort to increase access to solar in low-income communities. Historically, low-income communities have been economically unable to access clean energy resources, despite the fact that access to solar energy has the potential to provide affordable electricity to those who need it most. Read more…

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Can we talk? Here’s the conversation African Americans need to have about climate change

This guest post, by Danielle Hilton and Seandra Pope, was originally published on Grist on July 8. You can see the original post here.

Last year, the African-American author and commentator Charles D. Ellison asked, “Where’s the Black political conversation on climate change?”

Now that conversation is happening, but it’s not the one we need.

Case in point: Charles Steele, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, recently weighed in against Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan will hasten the phaseout of coal-fired power plants—reducing air pollution today and limiting the long-term impact of climate change.

But Steele—along with some other African-American leaders—expresses concern that the Clean Power Plan will eliminate “cheap coal,” raising energy costs and hurting low-income families. It’s a view that has been widely promulgated by the utility industry and its supporters. Indeed, some have speculated that generous donations from utilities to civil rights groups have shaped the views of Black leaders on this issue. Steele himself has close ties to utilities and related interests, and has testified on their behalf. Read more…

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First in Flight North Carolina Gets First Wind Farm

Outer Banks Brewing Station in North Carolina was the first wind-powered brewery in the country.

In 2011, Iberdrola Renewables announced plans to develop a huge wind farm in North Carolina. Nearly five years later, the Desert Winds wind farm is about to become a reality.

Based on recent news reports, construction for the Desert Winds wind farm project should begin next month and be online sometime in 2016. The 102-turbine project is slated to generate as much electricity as the equivalent of 61,000 homes. Amazon, the online retail giant, will purchase the power to run its “future and current” data centers. The Desert Winds wind farm project will be renamed “Amazon Wind Farm US East.” This is Amazon’s second big wind power purchase this year, with its first announcement coming from the “Amazon Web Services Wind Farm” in Indiana (formerly the Fowler Ridge wind farm project).

Major clean tech companies are rapidly snapping up renewable energy contracts to fulfill self-mandated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goals. In 2013, Apple announced plans for a new data center in North Carolina and corresponding solar power farms, also in North Carolina. In October last year, Yahoo! signed a long-term power purchase agreement with OwnEnergy to offset much of Yahoo’s energy usage in the Great Plains region. In June, Google announced that it would refurbish an old retired coal-fired power plant in northern Alabama with a brand new data center that will receive 100% of its electricity from renewable energy. Along with Amazon, these clean tech companies not only receive the clean energy benefits of these power purchases, they also receive the low-cost and stable, predictable prices of renewable power. Read more…

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