Vogtle, the Law of Holes, and Two Modest Proposals

Ever hear of the law of holes? If you’re in one, stop digging. This blog was originally posted here by Steve Huntoon at RTO Insider on September 11, 2017. An excerpt is below, published with permission. Steve Huntoon is a former president of the Energy Bar Association, with 30 years of experience advising and representing energy companies and institutions. He received a B.A. in economics and a J.D. from the University of Virginia. He is the principal in Energy Counsel, LLP.

Vogtle, the Law of Holes, and Two Modest Proposals

The Vogtle nuclear project in Georgia is looking like an object lesson in the failure of regulation (and a vindication of competition).

What went wrong? Traditional regulatory policy is that new utility investment didn’t get billed to utility customers unless and until it’s actually in service and thus “used and useful” to utility customers.

But nuclear advocates argued that the lead time and risk of nuclear plants were so great that construction costs ought to be guaranteed, and in some cases charged to utility customers, long before the plants are completed.

This fundamentally and completely changed the investment calculus for utilities interested in nuclear plants, with the potential for enormous returns on billions of dollars. The key was to get legislators and/or regulators to go along.

Once they did, nuclear plant development became a no-lose proposition for the utility.

To read Mr. Huntoon’s full column, please click here. (Please note, RTO Insider allows you to view two free articles per month.)

How expensive is solar power? You’re going to be SHOCKED!

The National Renewable Energy Lab recently published their annual solar power cost benchmark study, U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2017.

The results are shocking.

In some southern states, like North Carolina and Florida, NREL reports that utility-scale solar power prices may reach a levelized cost of approximately 5 cents per kilowatt hour. Incorporating the federal investment tax credit (ITC) could drop those prices down into the 3-4 cents per kilowatt hour range ($30-$40/MWh). Those prices will challenge even existing natural gas power plants.

NREL’s report highlights regional levelized cost of energy models. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Southeast contains significant solar power resources, priced below 6 cents per kilowatt hour ($60/MWh) in real dollars when priced excluding the cost savings from the federal ITC. Including the federal ITC, which currently reduces capital costs by 30%, may actually drop those solar power prices to 3-4 cents per kilowatt hour ($30-$40/MWh), given the net present value of reducing a solar power project’s tax burden, early in its lifetime. The federal ITC is slated to decline in value after 2019, until 2022 when the ITC will be valued at 10%.

NREL’s report highlights an interesting phenomenon: even though installing single-tracking solar panel systems (systems that mechanically tilt panels towards the sun on a daily basis) are a bit more expensive in total installation costs, the additional power generated from those systems reduces overall levelized cost. Installed costs for a tracking system appear to be about 6-7% more expensive than fixed-tilt systems; however, tracking systems result in higher power production, reducing overall levelized cost by more than 10%. Here’s the bottom line: for many solar power development companies, and electric utilities, installing slightly more expensive solar power structures is likely well worth it. Given that tracking systems also can generate power for longer periods of time “on peak”, tracking systems seem to have a lot of benefits working for them.

Other big news from the NREL study shows that solar power prices have dropped about 30%, just in the last year. A number of years ago, the United States Department of Energy set solar power pricing goals via the SunShot program. And with the latest pricing data, it appears DOE has met its SunShot goals, nearly three years early.

On Friday, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that solar panels “are being imported into the United States in such increased quantities as to be a substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry producing an article like or directly competitive with the imported article.”  The President of the United States will have authority to impose “relief” which could include tariffs and/or a floor price as requested in the petition.  Those actions would affect future solar power prices.

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#NationalVoterRegistrationDay – Recruiting Clean Energy Voters Across the South

How do we make clean energy a top priority in the South?

We have to start by boosting voter turnout in local and statewide elections among all Southerns that want to build a clean, just energy future. Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia all rank in the top 10 for the lowest voter turnouts in the U.S. But here’s the good news: we have nowhere to go but up, and today is the perfect time to start making changes and educating others on how to register to vote. It’s #NationalVoterRegistrationDay, the largest one-day effort of the year to register voters and ensure that nobody misses the opportunity to vote due to a registration problem.

Here in the South, it’s clear that we don’t have enough elected officials who prioritize clean energy and environmental justice issues. In just the past year, wind energy development in North Carolina is under attack, and offshore drilling and seismic blasting are, once again, a threat to our coasts. Devastating and unprecedented storms like Irma have swept through Florida while many elected officials in the state, including the Governor, still deny that climate change is real.

SACE is disappointed with the lack of leadership from our elected officials to take responsibility for our own climate pollution and seize all the opportunities presented by affordable, renewable energy. It’s time to recruit clean energy voters across the South and we need your help. 

Read more…

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Are you ready to take the NextCar Pledge?

Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicle (collectively referred to here as EVs) sales in the United States are rocking in 2017 and have had a 32% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the past four years.  Despite these gains, only 159,000 of the 17.47 MILLION new vehicles sold in the US in 2016 were EVs. This means there is a huge opportunity for growth of EVs.

Consumer Awareness

One reason for this low market share is that consumers are unaware of what EVs even are. A whopping 60% of Americans say they are unaware of EVs.  The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and the Florida League of Women Voters (LWV) are taking aim to change that statistic. A new initiative, “NextCar Pledge” was born out of the desire to move the needle faster on EV adoption.

Read more…

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Florida Utility Gulf Power & Department of Defense Go Solar with Coronal

Tucked in the far northwest corner of the Florida panhandle, many people forget about the Navy and Air Force bases located there, out of sight, out of mind. These somewhat remote locations were in the headlines just last month though, and for a great reason: Three large solar installations had just been completed. A total of 120 MW, it is the largest combined portfolio of solar facilities on Department of Defense property to date.

This video was produced by Coronal about the Gulf Power solar projects.

The project was accomplished via a deal between the local utility, Gulf Power, solar developer Coronal Energy, and the Department of Defense in what Gulf Power Chairman, President, and CEO called an “innovative public-private partnership”. Here’s how it works: The land the solar panels are on is owned by the military. Gulf Power is currently leasing the land, and then sub leasing to Coronal Energy. Coronal built the built the solar farms in partnership with the Department of Defense, who receives lease payments, and is now selling all the power the solar farms are generating back to Gulf Power.

Read more…

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Longer Range EVs are Here NOW

When we think about electric vehicles (EVs) – range is an overarching theme. How far can they really go? According to the United States Department of Transportation, the average American travels just 36 miles per day. Although many of us have no idea how much we actually travel and aren’t in the habit of researching transportation statistics, the mere thought of only being able to go 100 miles in an electric car makes them unappealing to the masses.

2018 Nissan LEAF Photo Credit: David Massey

“Range anxiety” is the term that describes the fear drivers experience of not knowing if they have enough charge to get through their day. That fear of the unknown is cited as the biggest hesitation when considering the purchase of an EV even though a recent MIT study demonstrated that current, affordable EVs are able to replace 87% of personal transportation needs on a given day.

Automakers are beginning to respond and understand that for the electric revolution (and their business to adapt and grow) they need to offer products that meet consumers’ real and perceived needs. They’ve heard the call and several exciting second generation EVs are rolling off factory floors. Here are a few of the newer EV options offering longer ranges:

2018 Nissan LEAF

The redesigned 2018 model year Nissan LEAF (just released on September 5) and its 40 kilowatt hour battery is projected to get 150 miles of range. The starting price is $31K which gets it to $23.5K once the federal tax credit is applied. It also offers safety features usually associated with luxury cars like one pedal driving, ProPILOT Assist (which will keep you at a preset distance from the car in front of you among other things), and automatic emergency braking. Additionally, Nissan will be offering a 60 kWh battery model option that is expected to have 200 miles or more of range that will be released in 2019.

Read more…

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Now is Exactly the Time to have that Discussion about Climate Change

This column appeared in the September 15th edition of the Tampa Bay Times here.

As a native Floridian, I chose to ride out Hurricane Irma in my hometown of Tampa – just a few miles north of where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play football. Like millions of other Floridians who evacuated low-lying, beach communities for higher ground, I had the obvious safety concerns and worries about whether I would even have a home to return to. But as a public interest advocate who has worked on climate and energy issues every day for almost 2 decades, I also have intense concerns about the growing connections between the climate change – hurricane nexus.

So when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says it’s insensitive to Floridians and Texans to talk about climate change during hurricane emergencies, I say he missed the boat as to what’s truly insensitive.

What’s insensitive is not talking about the links between warmer surface water temperatures and more intense weather events. What’s insensitive is dismantling the Clean Power Plan that was put in place to reduce climate changing carbon pollution. What’s insensitive is unraveling the environmental protections we all rely on so allies in the oil and gas industry can continue to pollute for free and have consumers pick up the tab.

Plain and simple, we are altering the climate of our planet for all living beings just so that a few people can make money selling, trading, producing fuels and products that emit greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not okay and it’s got to stop.

Increased greenhouse gas emissions are fueling more extreme weather events. It’s just that simple. The warmer ocean temperatures in the Atlantic and the Gulf are contributing to more intense hurricanes. Climate change is causing sea level rise that adds to the threat of coastal flooding. Read more…

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Thank You, Senator Alexander, For Key Climate Vote

Senator Lamar AlexanderLast week, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander stood for sound climate and foreign policy as he voted to uphold funding for international climate change dialogue. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 last week for a $10 million budget to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as part of the $51 billion package for the State Department and foreign programs.

This vote is in line with the opinion of the majority of Tennesseans, and the majority of Republican voters, who wish for U.S. participation in international efforts to curb global warming. Continued funding of international dialogue of climate change helps keep the United States at the table as virtually every other nation in the world moves forward on climate action.

SACE applauds Senator Alexander for his vote and bipartisan, commonsense vote.

See SACE’s letter to Senator Alexander here.

 

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Harvey, Irma, Jose and the shocks and hazards of place

This blog was originally posted here by Mary Babic at Oxfam America on September 8, 2017. Oxfam worked with the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute (HVRI) to develop a series of Social Vulnerability maps for the southeastern states in the US. These maps measure and illustrate the convergence of social vulnerability factors (such as economic standing and age, among others) and four environmental hazards: flooding, hurricane force winds, sea-level rise, and drought.

U.S Border Patrol agent Mario Fuentes talks with a family after Hurricane Harvey near Rockport, Texas. Among the factors that make it hard for people to cope with disasters: fragile housing, rural locations, language barriers, poverty. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Vulnerable populations feel the most harm from extreme weather events.

As hurricanes are flooding and battering coastal regions in the Gulf Coast and Atlantic, millions are scrambling to survive—and soon to recover and rebuild. For years, Oxfam has been studying how the “hazards of place” pose heightened dangers to the most vulnerable.

When a population is both socially vulnerable and especially exposed to climate hazards, the result is a wake of rubble and broken dreams. As climate change exacerbates the impact of environmental events, millions of people are stranded in harm’s way, and the most vulnerable are feeling disproportionate risk and damage.

Yes, climate hazards are natural events in weather cycles. We’ve always had hurricanes and droughts, flooding and high winds.

However, we’re currently witnessing a scale of destruction and devastation that is new and terrifying. The blows are more ferocious; and the vulnerable people in harm’s way are feeling the impact most acutely.

The last couple weeks alone have seen a series of devastating climate disasters in various parts of the world. The hurricanes close to home – Harvey, Irma, and possibly Jose – are part of a growing, global trend of more intense and destructive storm cycles. From Houston to Haiti to Mumbai, millions of homes are underwater or blown over, and millions of people are homeless and impoverished. Read more…

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Solar Power International: A Wrap-Up

Co-authored by Bryan Jacob, Simon Mahan and Alissa Jean Schafer

Solar Edge exhibit at SPI

All of the things we mentioned in our blog after the opening session did come up again throughout Solar Power International (#SPIcon).  Maybe we should have been placing bets.  We were in Las Vegas, after all.

We were definitely correct with one of our predictions.  The Suniva trade case did emerge as a dominant theme.  That was true both in the sessions and in the hallway discussions.  One of the General Sessions was about “The ‘Other’ ITC” – to distinguish the Investment Tax Credit from the International Trade Commission.  The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) predicts that 88,000 solar jobs are at risk if Suniva’s petition is granted.  In the Southeast, North Carolina and Florida stand to lose 4700 and 3700 jobs, respectively — and South Carolina could lose 7000 (more than 90%) of their solar jobs.  SEIA also indicated that about 47 GW of solar capacity is at risk over the next 4 years.  Again, downscaling that to the Southeast, we think it could affect as much as 4 GW of our projected growth or to put that in monetary terms, at least $4 billion of investment at risk.

While that ITC cast a shadow over the entire SPI, we did also want to point out some of the other content that was highlighted.

Read more…

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