This Earth Day, we take a moment to recognize that clean energy solutions can not only help save our planet from the devastation of extreme climate change, but also help save families from suffering due to high energy costs. Just this week, Memphis, TN was named one of the top 10 cities with the highest energy burden in the country in a new report, with Memphians spending an average of just over 6% of their income on energy bills. This percentage more than doubles for low-income families in Memphis, with those families paying over 13% of their income on utility bills – the highest in the country! Families with high energy burdens suffer significant negative health impacts and economic hardship. They face greater risks for respiratory diseases and increased stress, and too often have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping their lights on.
Last week, more than 50 state and county governments, representing 28 states, along with global tech leaders like Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, joined the list of groups filing briefs in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
As reported in a previous blog, our nation’s best hope at reigning in dangerous carbon pollution from our energy sector was put on pause when the Supreme Court made a recent, unprecedented ruling. This speed bump, however, has not caused supporters of the Clean Power Plan to abandon ship. Instead, advocate groups, major companies and city and county governments have joined the legal battle to help bolster EPA as it fights industry and coal dependent states in the courts.
Despite the fact that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) actually reduced its incentives for its 2016 distributed solar program, TVA has awarded 16.7 megawatts (MWs) of distributed solar capacity to four lucky local power companies (LPCs). These LPCs, located in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, applied through TVA’s Distributed Solar Solutions pilot program that recently rolled out in January 2016. This Distributed Solar Solutions program is one of the outcomes of a recent TVA stakeholder discussion and study.
Today, at a live event in the Rose Garden, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, currently the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Reminding everyone that “people don’t stop working during their last term,” President Obama urged Senators to act in a bipartisan fashion and move forward with nomination hearings in order to fill the vacant seat left on the Supreme Court after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February.
Although there is sure to be a political battle around the nomination, we look to Judge Garland’s record on environmental issues to shed some light on how the Supreme Court may handle future environmental cases, like the current challenge to the Clean Power Plan pending in the lower court.
If climate change deniers see it as a threat to their efforts to stymie climate action, then you know it’s a powerful tool. Clean Air Act Section 115 is the latest EPA statute targeted by those working to keep America from becoming a true leader in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions and stave off some of the worst impacts of climate change.
In early February 2016, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa) introduced legislation that would repeal Section 115, but provides no basis, at least in the text of the bill, for why the Section is improper. In his accompanying statement, Rep. Perry makes the worn-out argument of EPA overreach as well as the seemingly baseless claim that any action under Section 115 would “threaten the reliability and viability of our nation’s energy sector.”
Section 115, previously enacted by Congress as part of the larger statute, gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to compel states to reduce air emissions that “contribute to health or welfare problems in other countries” as long as those countries are also enacting regulations to limit said air emissions.
America’s first regulation aimed at reigning in carbon pollution from our nation’s power sector may avoid some of the increasing politicization of our legal system in part due to the sudden and unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. A staunch conservative who sided more often with industry plaintiffs than with environmental advocates, Justice Scalia left a lasting legacy in environmental cases by offering strict interpretations for what constitutes “legal standing” and “harm.”
In cities as old and historic as Memphis, TN, there are often many older, inefficient homes where energy seeps out through leaky windows, doors and poorly insulated attics. A city often remembered for its role in the Civil Rights Movement, Memphis is a majority-minority city with African-Americans comprising around 63% of the population. As of 2010, almost 27% of Memphians were living in poverty – and only a little more than half of the city (51%) owned their own homes. The other half of Memphians live in multi-family housing, like apartment buildings, duplexes, and condominiums, where families have less control over the energy efficiency of their residences.
Arlicia Gilliams is one Memphian who used to live in an extremely inefficient apartment that lost energy through poorly sealed doors, windows and a poorly sealed attic. Although gainfully employed and working hard, Ms. Gilliams was struggling to meet unnecessarily high utility bills while also on the search to buy a house. Now, Ms. Gilliams is the proud owner of a new energy efficient home built by Habitat for Humanity.
In today’s world of heightened political theatre, it’s hard to be surprised anymore. Yesterday, however, the Supreme Court surprised many by agreeing to stay implementation of the Clean Power Plan before the review by the federal appeals court on the merits of the case.
The Supreme Court’s decision comes after a January 21st decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to deny the request for a stay by the coal industry and coal-dependent states. What’s most surprising is that the Supreme Court has never before halted implementation and compliance efforts for a regulation that is still awaiting review by a federal appeals court. Ultimately, the movement towards creating a cleaner electric generating sector will continue as utilities respond to market realities and customer demand for cheaper, cleaner energy sources.
As we move into 2016, we continue our look back at where our Southeastern utilities are in their movement away from coal-fired power. This blog will focus on Duke Energy’s coal-plant operations in the Carolinas and Florida. Although Duke Energy operates coal-fired power plants outside of the Southeast, for the purposes of this blog, we will focus on those plants that are located in our region. Duke Energy owns coal plants in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Duke was one of the earliest utilities in our region to begin reducing its reliance on coal-fired power, beginning with the retirements in 2011 of Units 1-4 (210 MW) at its Cliffside Steam Station, all three units at its Weatherspoon plant (171 MW) and the last two coal units at its Cape Fear plant (316 MW).
In the 2015 Southeast Coal Roundup blog series, we are happy to report that the transition away from coal in the Southeast continues – cleaning up our air, water and atmosphere and leaving room for development of more renewable energy generation resources and more robust implementation of energy efficiency measures. Retiring and removing these old, dirty coal units from service will help to improve Southerners’ way of life by improving the overall public health and saving ratepayers from bearing the burden of expensive coal plant retrofit investments. Our first blog in the series covered the Tennessee Valley Authority’s movement away from coal. Now gather around the campfire to learn about Southern Company’s coal fleet.