FPL’s Solar Plan: It’s a Joke, But It’s Not Funny

Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Georgia Buoys Offshore Wind Power

Potential design of a meteorological tower. Source: BOEM

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) just recently released a “finding of no significant impact” for Southern Company’s proposed offshore wind energy study equipment. The draft environmental assessment found that a meteorological tower or buoys offshore Georgia would have negligible environmental impacts.

If the environmental assessment by BOEM is finalized, Southern Company may be allowed to lease three areas offshore near Tybee Island, Georgia. In those three lease blocks, Southern Company would be permitted to install “a meteorological tower and/or up to two buoys for data collection.” The lease and data collection could continue for up to five years. A separate process is required for development of an offshore wind farm, but data collection is a vital step before a company decides to further invest in offshore wind development. Developing an offshore wind farm off Georgia’s coast is not a foregone conclusion.

The environmental assessment for Southern Company’s activities comes about a week before a group of environmental organizations announced a lawsuit that may have implications for the offshore wind industry along the Atlantic Coast. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife and Whale and Dolphin Conservation lawsuit would expand critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales - a critically endangered species (only about 450 individuals exist). The critical habitat designation would limit activities offshore that may harm North Atlantic right whales, potentially including activities associated with offshore wind development. Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Duke Energy’s Commitment to Overspend on Coal Plants

Using the Coal Asset Valuation Tool from Synapse Energy Economics, the total cost to update certain Duke Energy coal units in the Carolinas is compared with the cost of widely-used electric industry benchmarks. DEC refers to Duke Energy Carolinas plants; DEP to Duke Energy Progress.

Duke Energy is banking on charging customers in the Carolinas an estimated $7.7 billion just to keep its existing fleet of coal plants running. For at least thirteen of those units (at 5 plants), however, it is pretty clear that the additional investment is not worthwhile, and Duke Energy should change its plans.

What’s worse, Duke Energy is trying to wow financial analysts with these costs, while keeping them out of legal proceedings before state regulators. In February, Duke Energy pointed to projections of these expenditures as “earnings base growth” when speaking to financial analysts and shareholders.  While not all of the cost estimates included in the model we used appear to be in Duke Energy’s financial plans, the company did include an estimate of $2.9 billion in planned “investments” in Carolinas coal plants for environmental controls.

Yet in a legal filing with state regulators, Duke Energy insisted that studying these costs today would be imprudent.”  There’s no question that Duke Energy agrees that compliance with future environmental regulations will have costs, and that it decided not to estimate those costs in its resource plans.  Resource plans are the documents in which the utility demonstrates how it will continue to provide reliable and cost-effective electricity service to their customers. Duke Energy’s failure to include any cost estimate whatsoever in its resource plan is a clear failure to seriously consider whether there are cost-effective alternatives to keeping those coal plants in operation.

It’s a cycle we’ve seen before: Utilities that fail to evaluate the costs associated with avoiding environmental problems try to foist those costs on their customers sooner or later. Today, Duke Energy is struggling with the Dan River coal ash disaster. As the public once again learns about the consequences of bad planning and how utilities coordinate with environmental regulators to avoid compliance lawsuits, Duke Energy is hardly in a position to say that evaluating whether it makes sense to keep coal plants running is “imprudent.”

Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Toxic Mercury Pollution Limits Survive Major Court Challenge

This guest post was originally published by Environmental Defense Fund on its Climate 411 blog and was co-authored by Pamela Campos, EDF attorney, and Mandy Warner, EDF Climate & Air Policy Specialist.  Find the original EDF blog post here

Some environmental threats are hard to explain. Toxic mercury is not. A dangerous neurotoxin that threatens young children, developing babies, and others, almost everyone reacts viscerally at the idea of ingesting it. And the scientific evidence endorses that instinctive response.

That’s why [yesterday’s] decision by a federal court to uphold the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics (MACT) rule is cause for celebration. For decades, power plants have been spewing out mercury. It ends up in our lakes and rivers, in fish, and ultimately in our bodies. It’s been closing favorite fishing holes and, more ominously, delaying mental development for our children. Even spiders in the Sonoran desert and trout in Colorado’s highest mountain lakes are affected.

When the EPA finally issued rules under the Clean Air Act to limit mercury pollution, the owners of the dirtiest power plants sued to stop it. Just like with every other major air pollution rule, they claimed it would be unaffordable, ignoring clear evidence that clean air protections are consistently shown to have public health benefits that far exceed the pollution control costs.

So [yesterday's] decision is a big deal for protecting our health. The court was sweeping in its denial of industry challenges, confirming that EPA’s technical and legal judgment was sound.
Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

New Round of IPCC Reports Keep the Climate Drum Beating

IPCC AR5 WG3 Report CoverThe latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out this month on the impacts of climate change, how to adapt to those impacts, and how we must reduce greenhouse gas pollution. These two reports compliment the IPCC’s report last fall on the latest physical science of climate change. All three reports, respectively called the Working Group or WG 1, 2, and 3, are part of the 5th Assessment Report, or AR5 for short and are being released as a series, with WG1 covering the physical science of climate change, WG2 covering the impacts of climate change and adaptation strategies, and WG3 covering climate change mitigation.

As we reported in September, the confidence of AR5 is much higher than in previous assessment reports (AR4 was released in 2007) that climate change is happening now, that it’s due to human activity, and it’s having negative impacts on society and the environment. WG1 stated greater-than-ever confidence (95% confidence) that human activity is the cause of climate change; WG2 states that climate change is happening now on every continent and that its impacts, such as the extreme weather we have experienced recently, are becoming ever more evident.

The report released yesterday, WG3, stresses the urgency of transitioning into the clean energy economy.
If we are to live in a future in which global average temperatures do not rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius–the level agreed upon by international scientists and policymakers–we need our fossil-fuel-caused greenhouse gas emissions to drop by 40-70% from 2010 levels by 2050, and to practically zero out by 2100. To help this happen, WG3 says we need to triple or quadruple, worldwide, our carbon-free energy sources such as solar, wind, and other renewable technologies by 2050. Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Solar Uprising Begins

Floridians stood up for solar in a major way at last Thursday’s Solar Uprising Rally in Tallahassee, FL.  With over 300 people in attendance, loudly calling for the state to adopt policies that support solar power in the Sunshine State, we made quite an impression.  Now, it remains to be seen whether Florida legislators will heed the call for action.

Students and solar proponents from across the state, including as far away as Miami, traveled to the Capitol to make their voices heard. Energized by great local bands and abundant sunshine, the crowd brought a lot of spirit to the steps of the Capitol. In the crowd, there were students supporting solar as the cleaner energy source for their future, solar installers whose livelihood depends on an active solar market, and consumers who believed they should have the ability to install solar on their homes as they wish.  Our fantastic speakers highlighted all of these perspectives and more in their comments.

Student speakers LaQuinta Alexander and Jabari Mickels

Student speakers and younger voices lent a lot of passion to their arguments for solar and for the younger generation being involved, engaging in the political process to make sure they are represented in Tallahassee.  Justin Vandenbroeck, an engineering student from the group IDEAS For Us, spoke about having to leave Florida since the state’s market no longer can support his work with a solar energy company. Dream Defenders Jabari Mickles and LaQuinta Alexander described an imperiled future for communities that bear the burden of our current dirty energy policies through high utility bills and adverse health impacts, and spoken word poet and FIU student Anthony Paz called for people power to make transformative changes to our current system. Despite their urgency, the message was very positive: Chris Castro described the moment as a crisis leading to opportunity.

Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Burying the evidence and our heads: North Carolina deletes climate docs

I don’t know about you, but I’ve really found the breaking news on climate change assaulting and terrifying lately. Headlines like “Climate Change: ‘Abrupt,’ Unpredictable,’ ‘Irreversible’ and ‘Highly Damaging‘” have frequented my news feed illustrating how catastrophic the effects of climate change will be and actually already are. Just last week I saw the first “official” climate refugee story break as residents of Papua New Guinea began fleeing their homes. There’s even one threatening my own wanderlust featuring climate-hit-list tourism destinations.

Reports of record breaking extreme weather and the UN’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report emphasize the urgent need to adapt to climate change. NASA is also looking toward the future of understanding, mitigating and surviving man-made climate change, illustrating that it’s more clear than ever before that this is not some future threat, but a reality being felt now.

But what is even more disturbing to me than all of these news stories is fact that the state of North Carolina continues to deny the very real threats facing our communities, natural resources and economy despite years of work in our recent history to understand, mitigate, and prepare for the role we bear in contributing to climate change. The state that once showed promising leadership and a commitment to tackling climate change has now not only abandoned those efforts, but is also trying to destroy the evidence that climate change is happening and all the work the state itself supported for years.

Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Floridians Stand Up for Solar Today at the State Capitol

Hundreds of Floridians – including a former governor, college students, solar industry developers, faith leaders, clean energy advocates and more – converged on Florida’s State Capitol in Tallahassee for a #SolarUprising Rally to demand that elected leaders act to unlock solar power development in Florida.

As we’ve noted in recent blogs, Florida has the best solar potential east of the Mississippi and the third largest potential for rooftop solar generation in the nation, yet ranks only 18th for solar PV installation in 2013. The sad truth is that solar energy in the Sunshine State is greatly under-utilized because Florida lacks the leadership and policies needed to unlock the solar market.

A detailed blog about the rally and the policies and leadership Florida needs will come on Monday – but you can follow real-time updates all day through several digital media accounts – InstagramFacebookTwitter – and the rally can be tracked via social media with the #SolarUprising hashtag. For now – here’s a brief round up:
Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tax Policy Can Create Level Playing Field

This is a guest post written by Paul Holshouser of the American Wind Energy Association. The original blog is available through this link.

A level playing field. The idea of it is synonymous with balance, fairness, and even democracy itself. Americans expect it when we go to see baseball games or when businesses compete in the marketplace. This same principle is needed when it comes to making choices about our homegrown energy needs and sources.

While federal tax policy has helped create the level playing field needed for a surge of wind power growth, regular expiration and renewal of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) has also caused a lot of unnecessary steps backward. All while other forms of energy enjoy long-term policy support.

Opponents of wind energy like to question the tax credit’s effectiveness and affordability, but the PTC is sound tax policy that more than pays for itself. New Department of Energy data even show the eleven states with the most wind power have seen their electricity rates drop while all others have seen theirs rise.

Others like to recommend that clean energy must survive on its own in the free market without receiving support via federal tax policy. However, there has never been a free market in energy.  Energy has always been heavily regulated and incentivized, particularly in the electric power sector.

The fact is, as a 2011 DBL Investors report found, oil and gas companies have historically received more than 75 times the total cumulative dollar amount of federal subsidies that renewables have ($446.96 billion vs. $5.93 billion through 2009). Many incentives for conventional sources have been permanent in the tax code since 1916 (the same year the light switch was invented), and are coming up on their 100-year anniversary.

Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , ,

No Solar, The Buck Stops Here

Governor Rick Scott

I’m not going to mince words here – the political process in Tallahassee is “utterly broken” and corrupt. There is plenty of blame to go around, but the buck stops at the top, and that is with Governor Rick Scott. In a critical election year with control of the Governor’s seat in play, you can be assured that his party, which controls both chambers of the Legislature, will be tightly coordinated with the Governor’s wishes.

This year’s legislative session has seen a focus on tax cuts, with a number of cuts smoothly moving towards passage. Ironically though, a tax abatement measure for commercial solar power has been held up and appears to be in trouble. When things like private gym memberships are getting tax breaks, why would something as important to Florida’s economy as growing the solar market be held up?

The bill is sponsored by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, and as proposed addresses only the commercial property tax, which provides only a modest amount of tax relief.  It requires a key amendment to truly open the solar market: the addition of the tangible personal property tax to the abatement so that the third party leasing would make financial sense for both consumers and the companies.  This model would allow Florida consumers to overcome the upfront cost of placing a solar system on their homes, a strategy that has successfully grown solar in other states. Florida has the third largest potential for solar in the nation, but ranked only 18th for solar installation in 2013.  Addressing the continued failure to reach this potential is a high priority for our organization and others.

So why in a year of tax break mania would a break to benefit solar get blocked? One need not look very hard to see how the “pay to play” world of Tallahassee has allowed the large investor owned utilities led by Florida Power and Light to express their “interest” in blocking the evolution of a robust distributed solar market in Florida.  The large investor-owned utilities who currently enjoy a monopoly over the vast majority of the Florida energy market are opposed to opening the market to more solar competition in Florida. They have chosen to do virtually nothing to encourage the growth of the distributed solar market and are happy with the sad fact that customers have little choice other than to buy coal, nuclear or natural gas generated electricity to meet their needs – in the Sunshine State! SACE has struggled for years with this political reality in Florida and has this year decided that we need to challenge the hegemony of the big power companies. Read more…

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,