EPA Clean Power Plan Underestimates Power of Renewable Energy to Reduce Carbon Emissions

This blog was written by Steve Clemmer, Director of Energy Research, Clean Energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and originally appeared on UCS’ blog “The Equation.”  The original post can be found here.

UCS released a new analysis [Tuesday] showing that strengthening the contribution from renewable energy can significantly increase the emissions reductions from the EPA’s 2014 Clean Power Plan. We found that increasing non-hydro renewable energy sources from about 6 percent of U.S. electricity sales today to 23 percent by 2030—or nearly twice as much renewable energy as the EPA proposed—could raise the reductions in U.S. power plant carbon emissions from the EPA’s estimated 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 to 40 percent. We also found that increasing renewables to these levels is affordable, resulting in little impact on electricity prices and lowering natural gas prices for both utilities and consumers.
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Why 2015 Will Be a Pivotal Year for the US Offshore Wind Industry

Onshore wind turbines in Atlantic City, NJ

Last week I attended the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) annual offshore WINDPOWER conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Wind energy developers, government officials, non-profit advocates and academia came together to discuss exciting developments in the U.S. offshore wind energy industry.

This was a great location to highlight offshore wind energy opportunities. Atlantic City was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and is very susceptible to climate change and sea-level rise. Fortunately, the city is already taking advantage of the benefits wind power has to offer. Atlantic City has five onshore wind turbines that serve as a major tourist attraction with some 15,000 people visiting the turbines every year! New Jersey is also moving closer to developing one of the country’s first offshore wind farms three miles off the coast of Atlantic City–which could bring 500 jobs to the local community.

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Insights on climate and energy from the newest Nobel Prize winner

Economics is present throughout the scientific study of global warming.

Can it really have been three years since I opined at length through a series of blogs on the free market perspective on climate change? Yet here we are, struggling to work through the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal.

Today we celebrate the accomplishments of French economist Jean Tirole, winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. His work is particularly relevant for those of us concerned with the leadership of electric utilities, their regulators, and the growing number of us who are trying to respond to the growing impacts of global warming. Below are a few tidbits from his work that relate to each of these issues.

Writing on regulatory capture, Tirole and of his several colleagues have explored the balance between the altruistic regulator, who wants to “do the right thing,” and the self-interested (even corrupt) regulator who has been “captured” by the monopoly that s/he is entrusted to oversee. (See p. 18 of the Economic Sciences Prize Committee’s background paper). Confronting the dismal view of mainstream economists, Jean Tirole and his colleagues argued that some regulators may not be entirely self-interested, but may have both their own interests and social motivations at heart. Read more…

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U.S. Falters Again on Global Climate Leadership Despite Small Steps at Home

Last month at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, President Obama acknowledged America’s responsibility to act on climate change. On the eve of the U.N. Summit, hundreds of thousands of people marched on the streets of New York’s financial district and called for aggressive action from the private sector to curb global carbon emissions, which increased by 2.3% in 2013.

The U.N. Summit was convened to put pressure on industrialized countries to commit to reducing emissions in advance of the 21st round of U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) international negotiations (COP21) taking place next year in Paris. In the end, 74 countries and 1,000 companies pledged their support for a global price on carbon at the NY Summit and embraced a market solution to climate change. Unfortunately, the U.S. did not sign this declaration, yet again leaving such negotiations without fully committing to serious efforts to addressing this serious global threat. Despite our years of inaction and toothless signs of support internationally, here at home recent efforts by the Obama Administration to reduce nationwide carbon emissions, like the Clean Power Plan and various executive actions, have helped raise hopes that our country will eventually stand together with world leaders on international efforts.

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Coal industry inspires easy solution to droughts

Is "low-carbon coal" like dehydrated water? Hmm, both appear to be blue.

So there’s this new group, CoalBlue, which claims that “A clean-energy, low-carbon world can only be achieved with clean, low-carbon coal.”

I got to thinking, what is low-carbon coal? According to the World Coal Association, “Coal is a combustible, sedimentary, organic rock, which is composed mainly of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.”

So, coal without (much) carbon is just hydrogen and oxygen, aka “water.”

Is CoalBlue claiming that the clean-energy future should be powered by water? Why all the verbal gymnastics? Read more…

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Southeast Florida Continues Climate Leadership

Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership SummitLast week, the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact hosted its annual Climate Leadership Summit, to highlight the work that is being carried out by Southeast Florida communities to get ready for the impacts of climate change, like more frequent and severe coastal flooding, and also help set the agenda for work to come. The Summit took place Oct. 1 – 2 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, featured 48 presenters representing government (from city councilman all the way up to the White House), business, academia, and a number of international representatives as well. The attendance at this year’s summit was the highest of any of the annual summits to date, completely selling out with 650 attendees. SACE was able to attend for the fourth year running (see blogs from previous years: 201120122013).

SACE Florida Director, Susan Glickman, with John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a keynote speaker at the Climate Leadership Summit.

As we’ve reported before, the tone of climate action in Southeast Florida is very unique in the Southern US, given its bipartisan and relatively uncontroversial nature. However this tone is a matter of circumstance–it is a matter-of-fact tone because Southeast Florida lives a daily reality of climate change. It’s hard to deny the sea is rising when tidal flooding that occurs, even without any rain, completely floods the streets, as it is doing today on the day of the highest tide of the year (also known as the ‘King Tide’). Not only is it heartening to see the local community come together around this issue, but also to see how much the Compact has made an impact elsewhere.

The Compact has spawned a spinoff climate compact effort in Durban, South Africa, and has undoubtedly inspired numerous other climate planning initiatives domestically, but in spite of this, there is still a serious lack of support from Tallahassee. In fact, Tallahassee’s failure to act on climate change is so bad that South Miami has passed a resolution in support of South Florida breaking away from the political gridlock of Tallahassee by forming the 51st state of the union, with a state government that adequately addresses threats from climate change. The governments of South Florida are forging a path forward toward prosperity in a changing climate, yet are not being supported by state officials in a meaningful way. While the opportunity for leadership from Tallahassee is certainly there–for example Florida has the greatest solar resource east of the Mississippi and also has the most coastline at risk of rising seas–the question is really whether Tallahassee or Washington D.C. politicians will act as leaders or continue to stand in the way of a better future. Read more…

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Why the South is the Next Frontier for Wind Energy

Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm

Today, SACE is releasing a new analysis, called Advanced Wind Technology: Elevated Opportunities for the South, showing that the South is the next frontier for wind energy. Our conclusion is based on analysis of new turbine technology, as well as several case studies of wind turbines that reveal a promising future for Southern wind farms.

New wind turbine technology is a game changer for wind energy opportunities in the South. In just five years, wind turbines have greatly evolved to be more suitable across the region. Wind turbine hub heights ranging from 360-460 feet (110-140 meters) are now available for wind developers. Taller turbines and longer blades are capable of capturing more wind, which results in harnessing more electricity and reducing costs. One modern 2 megawatt wind turbine can now power approximately 600 homes a year!

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King Tide Draws High Seas and Climate Champions to Miami Beach

Update: Photos from the 2014 King Tide Event on October 9 can be viewed here.

Miami Beach King Tide flooding in 2013. Credit Arianna Prothero/WLRN

Miami Beach will host some high profile visitors tomorrow as U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (FL), and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) gather to take part in an event marking tomorrow’s King Tide, the highest tide of the year. This event, expected to flood the streets with sea water and disrupt the routine of residents and business owners, will offer a preview of what lies in store as climate change and sea level rise continue to change the landscape of South Florida.  This year’s King Tide is expected to be about 1 foot higher than a typical day’s high tide, which brings about much more flooding.  In past years the King Tide flooding has caused extensive property damage and is part of the reason Miami Beach has increased their investments on stormwater management and a system of pumps that will send water back to the ocean. The King Tide has the power to seriously disrupt life in South Florida, and yet represents only a portion of the two feet of overall sea level rise predicted for South Florida by 2060 by the U.S. Geological Service.

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Lung Association Report: Energy Efficiency Saves Lives in Southeast States

A new report from the American Lung Association, authored by scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health, School of Public Health at Boston University, and Syracuse University, shows that limiting carbon pollution from coal plants can save lives in the Southeast. Furthermore, accomplishing those limits by investing in energy efficiency maximizes benefits for families everywhere. The researchers sum up their findings this way:

Overall, the study shows that the health co-benefits of power plant carbon standards can be large but the magnitude depends on critical policy choices. The carbon standard scenario that combines moderately stringent carbon targets with highly flexible compliance options and more end-user energy efficiency has the greatest estimated health co-benefits.”

“Health co-benefits” may sound abstract, but it translates to fewer families losing grandparents to premature death, fewer heart attacks, and fewer costly and stressful hospital admissions due to cardiac or respiratory distress.

Researchers used computer models to simulate the health effects of coal plant pollution in 2020 under a “business as usual” base case with no carbon limit at all, and then three hypothetical scenarios where different types of policies to reduce carbon were put into effect. They then compared the health effects of the three policies to the base case.  Of the three policies, one that allowed moderate flexibility in carbon limits, plus incentives for energy efficiency, saved the most lives: 3,500 per year in the continental US compared to no carbon policy. Read more…

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North Carolina and EPA’s Clean Power Plan

This guest post was authored by Robin Smith of Smith Environmental on September 30, 2014 and can be found here North Carolina and EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft rule to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants. Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration has taken a number of opportunities to question the legal basis for the rule. An earlier post described a presentation by DENR Deputy Secretary Don van der Vaart to the N.C. Energy Policy Council soon after EPA released the draft rule in June. DENR actually began staking out a position in opposition to the proposed carbon rule even earlier. (See the DENR website for a number of agency policy documents related to the carbon rule.) Each time, DENR focused on legal arguments — challenging EPA’s authority to regulate a power plant’s CO2 emissions under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act — rather than the actual impact of the rule on the state and its electric utilities.

Evaluating the impact of the rule on an individual state can be challenging because the rule takes an innovative approach to reducing CO2. Instead of putting the burden and cost of CO2 reductions entirely on the power plants, the rule tries to harness other trends in energy generation — increased reliance on renewable energy; adoption of energy efficiency standards for buildings, appliances and equipment; and a shift in generation from coal-fired plants to natural gas units — to help lower CO2 emissions associated with power generation. Many of those trends developed in response to other environmental concerns (stricter air quality standards for ozone and particulates) or economic incentives (the lower cost of natural gas). EPA’s proposed carbon rule builds on those trends to also drive down CO2 emissions associated with power generation.

Steps North Carolina has taken over the last 10-15 years to increase renewable energy generation and energy efficiency seem to put the state in a favorable position to meet the CO2 reduction goal in the rule and come out the other side with competitive energy costs. This post is intended to provide some (very basic) background on how the rule works and to identify the questions that need to be answered to understand what more the state may need to do to meet the CO2 reduction goal in the proposed rule.

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