Guest Post: Making America inefficient: the budget’s gory details

This post was written by Lowell Ungar, Senior Policy Advisor at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and originally appeared on ACEEE’s website on May 24, 2017. You can view the original post here.  

The Trump administration seeks crippling cuts to programs that accomplish the very goals of the proposed 2018 budget: jobs, economic growth, international competitiveness, and putting taxpayers first.

Federal energy efficiency programs help bring back American manufacturing so it can compete globally, create domestic jobs by fixing market failures such as split incentives and poor information, and transform waste into wealth by putting dollars back into the economy through fuel savings. They help taxpayers pay their bills, and some even directly decrease federal spending while creating jobs. These programs support the largest job creator in the US energy sector – energy efficiency – which accounts for at least 2.2. million jobs.

We appreciate the budgetary goals of creating jobs, generating wealth, and putting the taxpayer first. But cutting energy efficiency programs does the opposite. Read more…

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Trump’s Climate Move Way Out Of Touch

President Trump today announced his long-awaited decision on whether or not to honor the United States’ carbon reducing responsibilities laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement (international climate agreement). In the agreement, the United States pledged to the international community that it would do its part to prevent catastrophic global warming. Today, President Trump reneged on this pledge as he signaled intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. With this act, President Trump has betrayed American interests, failed commitments to key U.S. allies, and abandoned our nation’s moral obligation to take responsibility for our actions.

Yale Climate Paris Agreement ChartAmericans, by and large, support the U.S. staying in the Paris Agreement while very few advocate leaving the agreement. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which has tracked American public opinion on climate change for over a decade, polled Americans just a few months ago and found that Americans favor the U.S. staying in the Paris Agreement by a 5-to-1 margin (and still a 2-to-1 margin among Republicans). Only 13 percent of Americans (and just 26 percent of Republicans) support leaving the Agreement. On the other hand, 69 percent of Americans and 51 percent of Republicans favor staying in the Agreement. Among Trump voters, only 28 percent favor leaving the Agreement, while 47 percent say we should keep participating. Furthermore, Trump voters, by a 3-to-1 margin, support taxing and/or regulating pollution that causes global warming (62 percent) vs. doing neither (21 percent).

Leaving the Agreement is very unpopular with the American business community as well. 630 major businesses sent a letter to Trump on the even of his inauguration, urging support for the Paris Agreement and for the U.S. to continue transitioning to a low-carbon economy, to boost American competitiveness, create jobs, stimulate economic growth, and reduce business risks. More than 1,000 businesses have now signed onto that letter, including economic giants and household names such as Campbell Soup, Kellogg, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Levi Strauss, Nike, Gap, Adidas, Hilton, DuPont, Dow Chemical, HP, REI, IKEA, L’Oreal, eBay, Mars, Staples, Starbucks, and Monsanto. Earlier this month, a handful of the largest companies in the U.S. took out full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal, and New York Times, urging President Trump to stay in the Agreement. Meanwhile 280 investors, who manage more than $17 trillion in assets, wrote a letter this month to urge implementation of the Paris Agreement. Even oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips, urged the president to stay in the Agreement. Read more…

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Beginning of Hurricane Season Reminds Us: Prepare for Climate Disaster

Today is the first day of Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. Last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued their forecast for the 2017 hurricane season, which indicates that this hurricane season will most likely have above-normal or near-normal activity (45% chance for an above-normal season, a 35% chance for a near-normal season, and a 20% chance for a below-normal season). There will likely be:

  • 11-17 named storms, which includes Tropical Storm Arlene in April;
  • of which, 5-9 will become hurricanes;
  • of which 2-4 will become major hurricanes

These storms will not necessarily make landfall, but it is important to remember that all it takes is a near-hit from a storm to spell disaster. For reference, an average season will see 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

In addition to this day serving as a reminder to make sure your household is prepared for a hurricane, it is also a good time to think about how climate change affects hurricanes and what we can do to mitigate the worst impacts. There are several ways that global warming makes the impacts of hurricanes worse: 1) more rainfall, which means more flooding; 2) higher sea level, which means higher storm surge and more coastal flooding; and 3) potentially increased incidence of major hurricanes. Read more…

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What are the connections between solar power and honeybees?

Astors grow in front of SACE's solar array in Knoxville, TN.

 

You might not think that the humble honeybee has much in common with solar power. But actually the two are connected in unique and interesting ways. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has a special connection to honeybees with three residents beekeepers on staff, a hive at our Asheville office, and it goes without saying that we’re pretty big fans of harnessing the sun for clean, renewable energy.

When it comes to honeybees, there is not a more efficient animal on this planet and humans have a lot to learn from these hardworking, social insects. It’s no surprise that smart land use and business practices are being deployed around the globe to foster solar development and support pollinators. Solar farms need land, which can easily coexist as a food-rich “pollinator friendly” habitat. Read more…

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Considering an electric ride? There’s no better time with Nissan’s $10,000 instant rebate

If you live in North Carolina or Georgia (and some other states around the country) and have been considering buying an electric vehicle, there’s a month left to take advantage of an incredible incentive offered by Nissan: a $10,000 rebate for the all-electric Nissan LEAF through June 30, 2017Click here for more details in North Carolina or Georgia, and check with dealerships in your state if you live outside of NC.

I know what you’re thinking: This sounds too good to be true, what’s the catch? Who gives 30 percent off on a new car when there’s already a $7,500 federal tax credit? What’s the matter with these cars?

Believe me, I thought all of these and more back in December when I first heard about this offer. My husband and I had been considering leasing or buying an electric car for a few years as we knew it would be ideal for urban commuting with low operating costs. However, the finances weren’t quite there for us and I just wasn’t ready to put my reliable older car out to pasture quite yet.

Then comes along this flyer promising an instant rebate (no waiting beside your mailbox for a someday refund) as well as the federal tax credit yielding savings up to $17,500. [The up to is an important detail: The federal incentive is only worth $7,500 to someone whose tax bill at the end of the year is $7,500 or more. It pays to do a little homework before you buy.]

According to Nissan and the EV advocacy groups (including Plug-in NC and Clean Cities Georgia) partnering to make this happen, this incentive was launched to encourage greater EV drivership to demonstrate a commitment to environmental sustainability and reducing greenhouse gases. Because the Nissan LEAF is 100 percent electric, each new LEAF represents a reduction of 6 to 9 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually for every gas engine car replaced, or the equivalent of planting 2,500 trees a year.

Ok, I thought, that all sounds good on paper (or in my case on a smart phone), but honestly, there has to be a catch.Because it was the winter holidays and I had a spare day on hand, I headed over to a local dealership to ask a few questions. Within a few hours, I had test driven a brand-new 2016 LEAF; shown the manager the rebate code on the flyer; been offered an invoice sheet clearly demonstrating the $10,00 reduction in price, was presented with favorable financing along with a new-car warranty; and decided this offer was just too good to pass up. Read more…

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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 [UPDATE: send your comment on the water rule rollback to EPA by July 6], 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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