Florida’s Solar Outlook Just Got Sunnier

We’re the Sunshine State, right? Yet despite having one of the largest electricity markets in the nation, Florida doesn’t make the top-ten state list for solar development. That may be about to change. Florida is poised, with the implementation of Amendment 4, the defeat of Amendment 1, and continuing dramatic drops in solar prices, to start moving its way up the leadership board.

The Florida legislature unanimously approved SB 90, a bill to implement Amendment 4 – a constitutional amendment that reduces the cost of solar power by exempting solar installations from burdensome taxes. The solar tax burden is one of several challenges to more solar power development in Florida that have been successfully overcome in the past year. The other challenge, an attack on net metering, was successfully beat back by voters with the defeat of the misleading utility-backed Amendment 1 in November 2016 – – it would have paved the way for unfair penalties or fees on solar customers.

The defeat of Amendment 1 and the passage and implementation of Amendment 4 represent big victories towards a clean energy future and are a testament to the power of grassroot campaigns – led by Floridians for Solar Choice – a diverse coalition of hundreds of organizations spanning the political spectrum, and thousands of committed volunteers.

Special thanks for successful passage of tax relief for solar goes to Senator Brandes for sponsoring both the legislative resolution that placed the Amendment 4 on the ballot and for getting the implementing legislation, SB 90, over the finish line earlier this month. The bill now goes to Governor Scott’s desk where he is expected to sign it. Read more…

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100+ Members of Congress Sign Letter: “No Drilling off Our Coast”

Congressman Mark Sanford

Earlier this week, South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford co-led a bipartisan sign on letter of his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to uphold recently-made guidelines that temporarily bar offshore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. 109 Members of Congress signed the letter demonstrating their belief that the recently completed plan, covering the years of 2017-2022, was carried out with diligence and reflects the will of Atlantic and Pacific coast residents that many signers represent. The initial five year plan proposed by the Obama Administration called for leasing large portions of the ocean off of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, however the Atlantic leasing portion was canceled as the two+ year process of public input to create the plan–including the submission of 3.4 million comments and 13 public meetings across the country–made abundantly clear that coastal communities along the Atlantic do not want offshore drilling. Read more…

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How are cities becoming more secure and resilient?

SACE has joined the City of Atlanta Office of Resilience‘s Power to Change initiative and the Electrification Coalition in hosting a series of webinars to profile electric vehicle (EV) growth, policies and programs and their role in making the city more resilient. In the first webinar of the year, the City of Atlanta profiled their EV adoption and deployment of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) or charging stations.

The City of Atlanta is working closely with the Electrification Coalition, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit groups of business leaders committed to promoting policies and actions that facilitate the deployment of electric vehicles on a mass scale.

Photo credit: City of Atlanta, Office of Resilience

Atlanta’s move to adopt electric vehicles began last summer when they formed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Coalition to create a year-long technical advisor position.  The goals of the effort are to:

  • Secure strategic partnerships with original equipment manufacturers and cities to support EV initiatives and fleet transitions to electric vehicles,
  • Identify barriers of EV adoption for cities, and
  • Develop transferrable communication tools that can be shared through networks.

This effort is also a part of the Electrification Coalition’s Energy Secure Cities Coalition efforts to unite 25 cities, retire 50,000 petroleum vehicles and save 500,000 barrels of oil per year. Other cities already engaged are Indianapolis, Sacramento, San Diego, Oakland, Charlotte, West Palm Beach and Rochester, New York.

Expanding Atlanta’s EV Fleet

Atlanta is well on its way in achieving its goals. In December of 2015, the city contracted with a third-party financier to launch a pilot program for Atlanta to lease EVs and charging equipment in bulk. Sixty EVs with telematics (for data collection) from FleetCarma were acquired. The city expects to save more than $190,000, cut 250 metric tons of carbon dioxide and save 11,609 gallons of gasoline through the program. Read more…

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Pruitt EPA Should Deny New Utility Move to Weaken Federal Coal Ash Rule

The 2008 Kingston coal ash disaster sparked a push to set safer standards for coal ash storage.

Late on Friday, May 12, following on the heels of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) giving in to industry on coal ash water pollution rules, a utility group petitioned the EPA to hold up and reconsider the landmark 2014 Coal Combustion Residuals Rule (CCR Rule or Coal Ash Rule). If Administrator Scott Pruitt approves the request as he did with the water rules, communities could continue to be deprived of basic protections like monitoring closed ash sites for toxic leakage, or applying safety standards to ash pits at inactive coal-fired power plants. Cleanup and reporting deadlines would be delayed and some parts of the rule would likely be weakened or cut out entirely.

The Utility Solid Waste Activities Group that filed the request (view their petition and cover letter as .pdf) represents all major Southeast utilities, including Duke Energy, Southern Company, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Tampa Electric through the Edison Electric Institute, as well as utility co-ops (known in the region as EMCs or Electric Membership Corporations), and municipal utilities in the American Public Power Association. These utilities are attempting to weasel out of common-sense ash handling measures, despite the fact that both of the major coal ash industrial accidents that exposed the magnitude of the coal ash problem (and led to the rule) occurred in the Southeast: the TVA spill at Kingston in 2008 and the Duke Dan River spill in 2014.

Like last month’s stay on the water discharge rule, a potential stay on the Coal Ash Rule extends unconscionable risk for the people who live near coal ash pits, which can rupture or leak toxics into drinking water, while pandering to corporate utilities that have gotten away with dangerous waste handling for decades. At the same time, staying the rule just adds to inconvenient uncertainty for utilities, which need to plan well beyond the timeframe of the current administration.

SACE joins EarthJustice, Waterkeeper Alliance, Environmental Integrity Project and other allies in urging Administrator Pruitt to deny the utilities’ petition and protect our land and water as EPA is charged to do.

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Not one more cent! Georgia Power customers irate over Vogtle nuclear mess

Georgia Power witnesses testify at Vogtle PSC hearing

Last Thursday the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) held the first hearing in the 16th semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) review, so that Georgia Power could ask for approval for $222 million in expenditures spent during the July 1 to December 31, 2016 period for their two delayed, over budget Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle. While Georgia Power witnesses did testify, they were preceded by a host of irate Georgia Power customers who are fed up because they have been paying in advance for this project whose construction is just 42 percent complete more than 8 years into construction — even as Company executives are receiving pay increases and bonuses! The angry speakers also pointed out that this is all further complicated by Westinghouse’s March bankruptcy filing and financial turmoil that its parent company, Toshiba, finds itself in stemming directly from massive financial losses due to the severely bungled nuclear construction projects in both Georgia and South Carolina.

Below is the full testimony from one such speaker, Robert Searfoss, who was cut-off just shy of his full statement due to a three-minute time restriction imposed by Chairman Wise. You can hear the full hearing here (divided into 3 parts; Mr. Searfoss is in part 1 @ ~11:55). I conducted the cross-examination on behalf of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and will report on other aspects of the hearing in separate blog posts. If you’re a frustrated ratepayer in Georgia or South Carolina, please sign this petition. Read more…

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EV Range: How far can an electric vehicle take you?

The most frequent question I get when talking about electric vehicles (EVs) is how far can they go? 

There is no single answer — it depends on your choice of EV! Today, there are now a growing number of diverse EVs on the market. Battery electric vehicles run exclusively on electricity via batteries (often referred to as BEVs or just EVs). Plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) combine an electric motor and an internal combustion engine (gasoline engine), and the electric motor can be recharged by plugging the vehicle into an electrical outlet.

Battery technology is the key to EV range (how far the vehicle can travel on a charge). Most EVs today with fully-charged batteries have a driving range between 70 to 100 miles. According to reports, this range falls well within the average day-to-day range requirements of most Americans (the average driving range for most Americans is 37 miles per day). While less than 1% of American households have gone electric, a study from the Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrates that more than 42% could use today’s EVs! The options are also greatly expanding, with more than 32 different EV models that can meet those needs.

Within just the the last year, range has also increased on most models available. Some EVs can go nearly 300 miles on a single charge. For example, the first-generation Nissan LEAF, the most popular EV on the road today, had a range of 73 miles. The 2017 LEAF has an estimated range of 107 miles! Even better, the next generation LEAF, dubbed the LEAF 2.0, is expected to have a driving range in excess of 200 miles on a single charge. Nissan’s CEO has reported that they expect to have their  “EV flagship” with a range of around 300 miles by 2020Read more…

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How Can the Southeast Benefit from Wind Energy in Texas?

Southern Cross Transmission route under study

Southern Cross Transmission route under study

It’s true what they say, everything is bigger in Texas…and that includes the wind energy industry! Texas is number one in the nation for wind energy production with over 20 gigawatts of installed capacity. With such a fantastic and cheap wind resource, is there any way for the Southeast to reap the benefits? Pattern Energy Group LP (Pattern Development) has created a solution: Build a new transmission line that can deliver 2,000 megawatts of clean, abundant, and cheap wind energy to our region. The line, Southern Cross, will connect to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) transmission grid system, enabling access to some of the best wind energy resources in the country.

Earlier this month, Pattern Development took the next step to making this transmission line a reality. They submitted their proposals to the Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC) for approval. Below is everything you need to know about the Southern Cross transmission line and the next step needed to move the project forward:

Read more…

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Memphis Wins BIG in the Solar in Your Community Challenge!

Memphis Heritage Solar Uprising - one of the local teams moving forward in the Solar in Your Community Challenge

Summer is just around the corner and the sun is already shining on Memphis, TN. Five Memphis teams are moving forward to the next phase of the SunShot Prize: Solar In Your Community Challenge, a Department of Energy initiative aimed at increasing opportunities and access to solar resources in lower-income communities (The State University of New York Polytechnic Institute will administer the Challenge). Memphis is prime real estate for solar projects, thanks both to geography and the long hours of sunlight we get throughout the year. Couple that with a high number of communities living in poverty and in need of cheap power – the SunShot Challenge is a perfect fit for Memphis.

Several Memphis teams worked to submit proposals for the SunShot Challenge, with the following five teams selected to move forward to the next round – Memphis Heritage Solar Uprising, New Chicago Community Partnership Revitalization, Rozelle-Annesdale Community Initiative, AimsSolar and EnLIGHTen Soulsville.

The SunShot Challenge supports teams across the country as they work to develop solar projects and programs and prove that their specific business models can help expand access to underserved communities. A team must be working on a solar project or program that will serve at least 20% low- to moderate-income households (LMI) or 60% non-profits. The Challenge officially began this month and will end in October 2018.

The Grand Prize, $500,000, is expected to be awarded in January 2019 and will go to the team that most effectively demonstrates an innovative and scalable solar model that can help expand access across the United States. Over the course of the entire competition timeline, $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance will be awarded, including up to $2 million in seed prizes and $2 million in technical assistance.

Read more…

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Re-cap from Climate Marches in Asheville, Charleston and South Florida!

Climate action was in the air on Saturday, April 29th at various climate marches held throughout the Southeast. SACE staff was excited to participate in four sister events this year. Here’s a short re-cap and photos from those events. See SACE’s photo albums from the events on Facebook here and on Flickr here.

Asheville, NC – “from 8th graders to elected officials”

Pack Square in downtown Asheville, NC hosted about 1,000 climate activists last Saturday. Several local speakers took to the mic, calling out the Trump administrations’ efforts to roll back climate policies and removing public climate data from the Environmental Protection Agencies’ website. By far, the most inspiring speakers were two local 8th graders, named Eliana and Cleo, who shared with the crowd their own personal “aha” moment on climate change (which involved a local science teacher!) and the importance of youth engaging on climate change. Re-live their adorable speech here.

Another note-worthy speaker for Asheville’s event was Buncombe County Commissioner, Brownie Newman (right photo), who articulated several impressive local initiatives (in the face of uncertainty at the federal level) aimed at lessening carbon pollution: WNC’s first micro-grid, Buncombe County’s retired landfill repurposed as solar farm, and a local Energy Innovation Task Force working together on clean energy and energy efficiency efforts for Western North Carolina. Read more…

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Pruitt EPA’s Water Pollution Delay Extends Uncertainty for Southeast Coal Plants

A pipe dumps runoff pollution from a coal ash pond at Alabama Power's Plant Gorgas into a popular fishing area.

Since 1982, little has changed about the toxic pollution coal-fired power plants are allowed to dump in water, although change was on its way. Unfortunately, if EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt prevails, our waterways and our health will remain threatened by our nation’s leading source of toxic water pollution: coal fired power plants.

We will have to keep on waiting for modern, updated protections, and coal plant operators face continued uncertainty over their compliance obligations – uncertainty that may actually accelerate coal’s decline. In early May, environmental groups challenged the legality Administrator Pruitt’s stay.

In the Southeast, many power plants’ operators were already preparing to meet new 2015 standards, which would go into effect in 2018, updating pollution control technology at their plants and working with state agencies to update state water discharge permits. The 2015 Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs), which represents the first update to these regulations since 1982, nearly eliminates dumping of ash-contaminated wastewater, and for the first time, limits the discharge of heavy metals that come from removing toxics from the air pollution stream and trapping them in a watery sludge.

We’ve waited 35 years for updated pollution control standards for coal plant water pollution, while coal companies have enjoyed the freedom to cut costs and increase pollution discharges into our rivers, streams and drinking water. The new ELG standards were created with input from the public and the coal industry, even including a long compliance timeline that wouldn’t have required compliance until 2023 – 41 years after the 1982 ELG standards.

Coal plant operators were already moving ahead with compliance, with at least one southeastern plant obtaining a final operating permit that reflects the 2015 standard. Others are either in the process of draft permit review, or have yet to receive an updated permit due to state regulators’ delays in addressing a permit backlog. All of these plants are now on an unclear path, thanks to Administrator Pruitt’s rush to stay implementation of the new ELG standards.

Read more…

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