Will energy efficiency be bigger than rooftop solar in the Southeast?

You don't have to move to the Shire to live in an efficient home.

It’s easy to spot a solar home, but efficient homes are well camouflaged. So its no surprise that media and public opinion are focused on solar, particularly rooftop solar.

But for our electric companies – and the many people who pay attention to them – a good question to ask is what will be the biggest technologies driving electric demand? Will rooftop solar reshape electric demand? What about electric vehicles?

It won’t be a shocker to learn that the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that the biggest potential driver in changing the electricity market is energy efficiency.

The new ACEEE report, Electricity Consumption and Peak Demand Scenarios for the Southeastern United Statesreports that even with substantial economic and population growth, new technology could result in electric power remaining roughly flat for the next few decades. It’s no secret that the Southeast hasn’t fully embraced energy efficiency. In fact, the lack of historical effort in eliminating energy waste is one of the reasons that energy efficiency is the technology with the most potential impact.

What was a surprise – at least for me – is that the potential for electric vehicles to reshape the electricity market is minimal, at best. That’s reassuring news! Because EVs are so efficient, we can get to the future without having to build a new electric power supply! Even with electric vehicles representing 1/3 of passenger vehicles, energy efficiency could more than compensate for the new demand represented by high tech EVs.

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Time for Virgin Islands to Transfer Power, to Renewables

Remnant Dutch Windmill St Croix Simon Mahan

Remnant Dutch Windmill St Croix, Simon Mahan

March 31st marks the Virgin Island’s “Transfer Day”. One hundred years ago, the Virgin Islands transferred from Danish power to the United States of America. Now it’s time for another power transition: to renewable energy.

Recently, I visited St. Croix, the largest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands. Amidst the backdrop of pristine beaches, coral reefs and palm trees, the Virgin Islands still relies heavily on expensive fossil fuels to generate electricity. According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, “Like many island nations, the USVI is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for electricity generation, leaving it vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations that directly impact the cost of electricity.” NREL’s assessment is a bit of an understatement. For decades, St. Croix hosted the Hovensa oil refinery on its southern coast. At the time, it was the third largest U.S. oil refinery, and the largest private employer in the territory. In 2012, the refinery abruptly shut down.  The refinery had been providing below-market priced fuel oil for the islands’ electric generation. Electric rates on the islands are exceptionally high, thanks to the high cost of the imported fossil fuels that have replaced the refinery’s fuel.

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New Executive Order Threatens US Progress on Climate Action

Given his appointment of Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - a man with a long history of challenging health-based environmental regulations in court  - President Trump’s Energy Independence Executive Order, released today, is not unexpected.

Cloaked in a patriotic narrative, President Trump’s executive order does more to threaten our nation’s energy independence than support it. Renewable energy has a critical role to play in strengthening our country’s energy independence, yet this executive order is aimed at weakening our ability to incorporate more clean energy resources into our national energy portfolio.

It also doubles down on the false claim that the coal industry can be saved by dialing back public health regulations. In truth, coal is being beaten in the free market by cheaper natural gas and cheap renewable energy.

Today’s executive order – coupled with the President’s recently proposed large budget cuts to the EPA and Department of Energy (DOE) clean energy, smart grid and storage technology research programs - makes it clear that this Administration is not serious about protecting our health, our climate or our national security.

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Clearing the Air: Lamar Alexander, You’re Wrong About Wind Power

Senator Lamar Alexander opposing low-cost wind power, arguing in favor of high-cost nuclear reactors. (CSPAN March 22, 2017)

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line project could inject large quantities of high-value, low-cost wind power directly into the Tennessee Valley region from western Oklahoma. Recently Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) spoke on the senate floor in opposition to the project, and wind energy. We are disappointed that Sen. Alexander continues to use outdated information regarding wind energy. He has a responsibility to support the best interests of his constituents; however, his personal opposition to wind power is clouding the interests of Tennesseans.

Sen. Alexander says that wind power is unreliable. However, Oklahoma’s regional grid operator (the Southwest Power Pool, or SPP) recently reached a record wind power penetration level: at one point, the entire region generated 52% of its electricity from wind power. SPP is eyeing perhaps 75% wind energy penetration levels in the long-term. As shown by Oklahoma’s example, wind power can provide low-cost, reliable energy.

Sen. Alexander says that wind power is expensive. However, his information is outdated. With its considerable wind energy resources, Oklahoma had the lowest electricity prices in the country last year. Tennessee ranked #28.

Sen. Alexander would have Tennessee turn its back on the single energy resource that is arguably doing the most to drive energy prices down all across the country.
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Solar Customer to Central Georgia EMC: No Justification For Discriminating Against Solar Customers

The following is a letter originally drafted to by Robert Fowler of Locust Grove, Georgia to his state legislators. With his permission, SACE is sharing his story about recent changes by his utility company, Central Georgia EMC, to penalize solar owners. 

Bobby & Janie Fowler

Our family became interested in going solar in spring of 2015 to save money and help the environment. We did extensive research, including multiple discussions with our power provider, Central Georgia EMC , and a several solar installers, and finally made the investment once it was clear that it was a prudent thing to do. Fast forward two years, and Central Georgia EMC (CGEMC) has violated our original agreement and enacted unjustified fees against solar households like ours. The EMC cannot give a good explanation as to why they are cheating solar customers. We are waiting for a proper explanation, and as is to be expected from any business, some basic customer service. Here is our story.

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First Government-Owned Plant “Off the Island:” Florida’s Coal Plant Reality Show Heats Up

Who will be voted off the island next? Florida’s dwindling cast of coal plant survivors just lost two stalwart characters, government-owned St. Johns River Power Park Units 1 and 2. While this definitely refutes the new administration’s hopes for a coal revival, we are optimistic that JEA is the first of several Florida government agencies to finally give up on wasteful coal plants.

Sure, ratings for this slow-moving reality drama are in the pits, so you might not have noticed coal plants departing the Florida “island” over the past few years. Most of those plants have been privately owned, responding to market forces. If the latest departure is any indication, the government-owned coal plants will be leaving the Florida scene soon.

St Johns River Power Park is one of several coal plants generating less than 50% of the annual maximum. Coal plants were usually expected to operate at a capacity factor of 70-90% when the owners decided to build them.

Until 2015, it looked like St. Johns River Power Park was one of the survivors. Operating 50-60% of the time from 2011 through 2014, it was typical of many coal plants that aren’t running as much as utilities originally intended, but still enough to justify their existence.

Then, in 2015, the plot changed. For the past two years, the two units at St. Johns River were in a slump. Operation dropped to about 40%. And on Friday, JEA and minority owner Florida Power & Light announced that they are taking the two units out of Florida’s power show.

While it was surprising to see St Johns River get “voted off the island” next, the decision could be a foreshadowing of more government-owned coal plants being shut down. Three of the five subpar performers in the coal plant cast are owned by government, including Deerhaven, C.D. McIntosh 3, and Stanton Unit 1. Along with Gulf Power-owned Crist, they have almost always operated between 25-40% of the time since 2012. Performance at the Tampa Electric Big Bend plant began to falter in 2015, following a path very similar to St. Johns River Power Park.

How is it possible that these struggling plants remain on the stage, when JEA has pulled St. Johns River from the show? Are the utility directors too stubborn to give in to reality?

Read more…

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Looking At The Brackets: New Nuclear Plants Are Odds-On Favorite To Lose In First Round

Dennis Wamsted’s post, “Looking at The Brackets: New Nuclear Plants Are Odds-On Favorite To Lose In First Round,” originally ran in his blog, Wamsted on Energy: News and views for thinking professionals, on March 15, 2017. Find the original post here and more about Mr. Wamsted here. Published below with permission.

I just finished filling out my March Madness brackets (for recreational purposes only, I assure you), so I think we also should start a pool on when the next utility will ask its state regulators for permission to build a new, large-scale nuclear power plant? If we did, should ‘never’ be one of the options?

Anyone willing to put their money on Georgia Power? The company actually had gotten state approval to do some preliminary work at a possible site for two new reactors In Stewart County on the border with Alabama. But earlier this month the utility told regulators it was suspending work on the expansion plans at least until its 2019 integrated resource plan is filed.

How about Florida Power & Light? The company’s planned two-unit expansion at Turkey Point has been on the books since 2008, when FPL was optimistically forecasting the new reactors would be up and running by 2018 and 2020, before subsequently pushing the start-up back first to 2022 and 2023 and now to 2027 and 2028. But last year the company told Florida regulators that while it still intended to secure its NRC license for the facility (which is expected sometime this year), it didn’t intend to do anything else until 2020.

Finally, how about Dominion Resources, which has been pushing for years to add a third unit to its North Anna site in Louisa County, Va. The proposed reactor, a 1,470 MW design developed by GE and Hitachi known as the ESBWR (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor), is a first-of-its-kind unit with an estimated capital cost of almost $15 billion and an all-in cost of about $20 billion. Despite its enthusiasm for the project, even Dominion acknowledged in its 2016 IRP that the reactor was only economic in one scenario—full implementation of the former Obama administration’s soon-to-be defunct Clean Power Plan.

The problems for these companies, and any others considering such a step, go well beyond the well-documented, and still far-from-over cost overruns and delays that have plagued the four new reactors currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina. The real issue is that the technology—one with high capital costs requiring a long time of steady state operation to get into the black—doesn’t mesh with the nation’s rapidly evolving electric power system. Committing to a nuclear plant constrains you for at least 40 years, and perhaps for as long as 80 years; and while you are still committed, everything else is changing. Read more…

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Energy matters. It powers our lives.

This guest post is the first column of the series titled “Energy Matters” published by Miami Community Newspapers. To view the original article, go here.  Susan Glickman is the Florida Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. She has worked on climate and energy issues for nearly two decades. Susan is the Founding Chair of the Florida Commission on the Status of Women and serves as a Volunteer Florida Commissioner.

Energy has transformed our world into the society we enjoy today. It cools our homes in the summer, heats them in the winter and transports us to wherever we are going.

But times change. In the 21st century, we must change how we create and consume energy. The status quo has a price and we must transition before we irreparably damage our planet.

The good news is that we have safe, reliable and clean alternatives and they’re getting better every day. In this column, we’ll explore energy as we know it and shed some light on how and why we should move away from dirty fuels.

Change won’t be easy. There are international and domestic pressures from those that profit off the old way of doing things. We’ve fought wars over oil. In fact, President Donald Trump said recently in a reference to the second Iraq war, “We should’ve kept the oil… maybe you’ll have another chance.”

The landscape looks different when we power our cars with sunlight and batteries.

Closer to home, Florida sends billions of dollars out of state each year to bring fuels – like coal, natural gas and uranium – in from elsewhere. On the other hand, clean energy keeps our dollars working locally creating good paying jobs that can’t be exported. The Solar Foundation just reported that 1 in 50 U.S. jobs are in solar.

And when we harness the power of the sun, the wind and the waves, we eliminate pollution and its steep price. One of the casualties of running big power plants is the massive use of water – affecting both water quality and quantity.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports in 2010, power plants accounted for 45 percent of total water withdrawals. Locally, we see a growing threat to drinking water from FPL’s Turkey Point nuclear reactors and their leaking cooling canals. The cost of this disaster is left to be seen.

Energy matters. It requires us to balance the risks and weigh our alternatives to be smarter about how we power our lives. Read more…

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Avangrid Renewables Wins North Carolina’s First Offshore Wind Lease for $9 Million

This blog post was co-written by SACE Renewable Energy Manager Simon Mahan and Coastal Climate & Energy Manager Chris Carnevale.

North Carolina’s first offshore wind lease sale was held today and Avangrid Renewables was named provisional winner of the lease sale, having offered the high bid of $9,066,650, outbidding three other companies. As the provisional lease holder, Avangrid will have the ability to propose site assessment activities, such as collecting meteorological and wildlife data, in the lease area. The lease area, known as the Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area, consists of 122,405 acres in the Atlantic, east of Currituck Sound, about 24 nautical miles from shore at its closest point to shore.

Avangrid just completed North Carolina’s first onshore wind farm, the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East, in northeastern North Carolina, near Elizabeth City. The 208-megawatt wind farm powers an Amazon Web Services data center in nearby Virginia with the amount of electricity that would be equivalent to about 61,000 homes’ worth of power per year. Read more…

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What to Expect in North Carolina’s Offshore Wind Lease Sale This Week

Tomorrow will mark the first lease sale for offshore wind power off North Carolina’s coast. We thought it may be useful to explain what this means and what the process looks like going forward for offshore wind in North Carolina and the Southeast. Below, we will discuss some of the basics about the lease sale, including what exactly it is, where it will cover, what the winner of the lease will and won’t be able to do with the lease, and what comes next in the process. We hope you find this a helpful guide.

Who offers the lease?

The lease is offered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which is the federal agency, under the Department of Interior, tasked with regulating offshore energy development and marine mineral extraction (primarily sand and gravel) in federal waters (waters farther than 3 miles offshore).

What is an offshore wind lease sale?

An offshore wind lease sale is an auction to lease an area offshore to a company seeking to explore that area to assess the suitability for eventually developing an offshore wind farm there. A company must have a lease to conduct site assessment activities, such as deploying a buoy or building a tower to host meteorological data gathering equipment. Nine companies have expressed interest in bidding on the Kitty Hawk lease (although one has since said they are no longer interested).  Read more…

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