The Twisted Economics of the Dakota Assess Pipeline

Given the bizarre and possibly corrupt decisions being made in the White House these days, I thought this excellent article was worth posting.

As the weather gets colder, the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline is heating up, in rather ugly ways. Just days before Thanksgiving, law enforcement officers tried to blast the protesters away with water cannons in 25-degree weather and employed other “less than lethal,” though still harmful, dispersal methods. One protester may lose her arm as a result of injuries suffered during the violence. And to top it off, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to close one of the camps of “water protectors” next week, which may embolden law enforcement to take a more forceful approach.

High Country News has reported what’s at stake for the Standing Rock Sioux tribal members and their allies trying to stop or re-route the project: Tribal sovereignty, water, environmental justice, holy lands, treaty-rights and antiquities. Add to that the prospect of more carbon spewing into the atmosphere, and one can see why activists are risking so much to stand in the pipeline’s way.

Less clear is what the $3.78 billion, 1,172-mile-long crude oil pipeline offers in return if and when construction is completed and it goes into operation. Energy Transfer Partners, the project’s main proponent, says that the pipeline will offer jobs, economic relief to a struggling region and, by spurring production of North Dakota Crude, it will take the U.S. closer to the lofty ideal of energy independence.

Construction on the pipeline is about 85 percent complete and it has, indeed, put people to work. Yet it is not clear how many new jobs have been created since the jobs are spread out over 1,000 miles. Rural towns along the pipeline’s corridor have reported a boost in hotel and campground occupancy rates as the contractors move through. That, in turn, generates sales and lodging tax revenues for the local governments. The boost, however, won’t last. In a few months, when (and if) construction is complete, the workers and their spending money will depart. The finished pipeline will require just 40 permanent maintenance and operational jobs along its entire stretch.

Once oil is flowing, property tax revenues — an estimated total of $55 million annually — will kick in. While it’s a big chunk of change, the impacts will be diffused, shared by four states. North and South Dakota are expected to receive about $13 million each, divided between several counties, a drop in the budget bucket (Colorado generates nearly $20 million per month from taxes and fees on marijuana). That said, it might be enough to buy the county sheriffs some more military gear from the Pentagon in order to squelch the next pipeline protest. It will not, however, cover the costs of such squelching: The current law enforcement effort has reportedly cost $15 million so far.

The fact is, pipelines, like transmission lines, don’t have a major economic impact except when they’re built. They otherwise go mostly unnoticed until they spill, burst or explode.

Read more by Jonathan Thompson at High Country News

Energy Efficiency Saves Billions in Maryland

Baltimore, MD—Maryland electric customers will save more than $4 billion due to energy efficiency improvements made at homes and businesses through a successful Maryland program, according to a first-of-its-kind study from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The study, co-authored by a former Maryland Public Service Commission energy analyst, highlights how the first phase of EmPOWER Maryland has yielded substantial economic growth and environmental benefits across the state.

EmPOWER Maryland, enacted in 2008, created energy efficiency programs that are offered through the state’s five largest electric utilities. The program helps homeowners and businesses save energy, partly by offering incentives and technical assistance for adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and installing more efficient appliances. It also facilitates efficient commercial lighting and other improvements at industrial facilities.

ACEEE’s study reveals that EmPOWER Maryland has produced significant benefits, including:

  • More than $4 billion in savings in total customer bills over the life of the improvements, which were made between 2008 and 2015;
  • $1.81 in benefits for every dollar spent on energy efficiency measures as a result of lower wholesale prices for energy, savings from reduced need to build new power plants and power lines, reduced air pollution, and reduced need for electricity production;
  • Total lifetime energy savings of more than 51 million megawatt hours, equivalent to the electricity used by 850,000 residential customers over five years;
  • Reduced emissions of nearly 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than 34 million pounds of nitrogen oxides, and nearly 78 million pounds of sulfur dioxide over the lifetime of the programs.

The full study can be viewed at: http://aceee.org/research-report/u1701

“EmPOWER Maryland is an unqualified success story for the state,” said Brendon Baatz, study co-author and utilities policy manager at ACEEE. Yet despite its achievements, Baatz believes the program’s future is not guaranteed: “With Phase One of the program complete, Maryland regulators must now renew their support for EmPOWER Maryland so that consumers and businesses can continue to reap the benefits of lower utility bills and cleaner air.”

“EmPOWER has proven critical for helping us improve the energy efficiency of our affordable multifamily properties, which lowers utility costs and provides healthy homes for our residents” said Trisha Miller, sustainability director for WISHROCK. “At Windsor Valley Apartments, EmPOWER helped fund efficiency improvements that are expected to reduce utility bills by as much as 20% per year. Without EmPOWER, the upfront costs of making these upgrades can be prohibitive in the affordable housing industry.”

The first phase EmPOWER Maryland aimed to reduce per capita electricity usage 10% and peak electricity demand 15% by 2015. The Maryland Public Service Commission, in its annual report to the legislature in 2015, concluded that state utilities achieved 99% of the per capita consumption goal and 100% of the per capita demand reduction goal.

Due in part to the EmPOWER Maryland program, Maryland now ranks as the ninth most energy-efficient state in the nation, according to ACEEE.

How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold…Eek!

Last year will go down in history as the year when the planet’s atmosphere broke a startling record: 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. The last time the planet’s air was so rich in CO2 was millions of years ago, back before early predecessors to humans were likely wielding stone tools; the world was a few degrees hotter back then, and melted ice put sea levels tens of meters higher.

“We’re in a new era,” says Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s CO2 Program in San Diego. “And it’s going fast. We’re going to touch up against 410 pretty soon.”

There’s nothing particularly magic about the number 400. But for environmental scientists and advocates grappling with the invisible, intangible threat of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, this symbolic target has served as a clear red line into a danger zone of climate change.

When scientists (specifically, Ralph Keeling’s father) first started measuring atmospheric CO2 consistently in 1958, at the pristine Mauna Loa mountaintop observatory in Hawaii, the CO2 level stood at 316 parts per million (ppm), just a little higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm. 400 was simply the next big, round number looming in our future.

But as humans kept digging up carbon out of the ground and burning it for fuel, CO2 levels sped faster and faster toward that target. In May 2013, at the time of the usual annual maximum of CO2, the air briefly tipped over the 400 ppm mark for the first time in several million years. In 2014, it stayed above 400 ppm for the whole month of April. By 2015, the annual average was above 400 ppm. And in September 2016, the usual annual low skimmed above 400 ppm for the first time, keeping air concentrations above that symbolic red line all year.

Read more here…

An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump on Clean Energy

Smart Solar EnergyDear President-Elect Trump,

For nearly two decades, we’ve been tracking and chronicling the transition to a clean-energy economy. While we know that we don’t see eye-to-eye with you on all of the issues, we wanted to send you the following “open letter” to update you on the clean-energy business opportunity, and what you might do as president to enable a massive infrastructure build out which supports American jobs and home-grown energy.

First, let us lay out some of the significant facts and figures regarding the transition to clean energy that’s taking place in the U.S. and across the globe:

  • Global investments in clean energy have grown from $62 billion in 2004 to $329 billion last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
  • In the U.S., clean energy, in the form of solar and wind power, now represents the largest share of new additions to electricity capacity. In 2015, wind, solar, and geothermal sources represented nearly 63% of all electricity capacity additions across the country, outpacing natural gas at 34%.
  • Many of the largest, most iconic U.S. corporations, such as General Motors, Google, Nike, and Walmart, are now working to achieve 100% renewable electricity in all of their U.S. and/or global operations. Companies that have reached at least one of these goals include Apple, Kohl’s, and Microsoft.
  • Five states now have mandates and target years to get 50% or more of their electricity from renewable sources. And clean energy deployment crosses the red state/blue state divide. In fact, among the top 10 states last year for percentage of clean-electricity generation, six voted for you in the 2016 presidential election (Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Idaho), and four for your opponent.
  • Americans of all political stripes resoundingly support clean energy. In the latest poll from Pew Research released last month, 89% of Americans favored expanding solar power, and 83% supported expanding wind farms. Backing this up, on Election Day pro-solar policies passed in Nevada, where voters moved forward a constitutional amendment that could break up utility NV Energy’s monopoly, and Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have prevented third-party ownership of solar.

Read more…

What Does the Election Mean for Energy Efficiency

Now that the hard-fought 2016 election is over, I think it is useful to consider its impact on energy efficiency policy. No doubt, a lot of uncertainty remains because of President-elect Donald Trump’s lack of specificity on many issues. Yet given the bi-partisan, good-for-business appeal of energy efficiency, I see potential paths forward and work to be done. Of course, we also need to be ready to defend against legislative or administrative attempts to roll back current energy efficiency policies, programs, and funding, which could wipe out the major energy bill savings, job growth, and health benefits that we have achieved.

President-elect Trump has said very little about energy efficiency, so what happens in a Trump administration is likely to depend on his senior appointments, such as the new secretary of energy and the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump has spoken a bit about climate change, which he called a “hoax” created by the Chinese to suppress the U.S. economy (although he’s tempered these comments more recently).  He’s pledged to end the Clean Power Plan and to withdraw from the Paris climate change treaty. To change either of these could well require a multiyear process but he could also not do much to follow through on either of these and let them be essentially unimplemented. And years ago, he said green buildings have not been perfected yet and that it takes 40 years to get your money back (see here).

Read more…

Preparing Young People for the Future

Running school kidsKids today have so many stresses facing them, not the least of which are plans for the future. It’s hard to think about being a successful adult when you also have grades, portfolios, advanced classes, and high emotions to deal with every day, let alone the fact that humankind is starting to look more and more like an endangered species thanks to how we’ve treated our planet.

For many young people, school has become something to get through before they can move on to the next thing, and whether that includes college or not is a big question these days as tuition and student loans skyrocket.  The good news is that many states are home to leadership schools, which take brilliant young minds and teach them how to be exceptional leaders in a world of growing technology. There is more to building a sustainable planet than getting some people and businesses to “go green” by giving them tax incentives. That’s not a bad thing, but we need young people to not only develop into environmentally-conscious adults, but to take the lead on preserving our environment.

These schools vary greatly in their curriculum, with each focusing on a different method of teaching and learning. The National Outdoor Leadership School offers wilderness education and leadership to kids aged 14 and up, letting them soak up the outdoors in one of several locations from the Rocky Mountains to Australia. These courses include white water rafting, rock climbing, backpacking, sailing, and wilderness medicine and will teach young people survival skills in addition to how to lead a group in an outdoor environment.
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Victory for America’s Youth

Lawsuits on Climate ChangeThe Constitutional Climate Lawsuit against U.S. to Proceed
Eugene, OR – The federal court in Eugene, Oregon decided in favor of 21 youth plaintiffs in their “groundbreaking” constitutional climate lawsuit against President Obama, numerous federal agencies, and the fossil fuel industry. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken completely rejected all arguments to dismiss raised by the federal government and fossil fuel industry, determining that the young plaintiffs’ constitutional and public trust claims could proceed. Now, the 21 plaintiffs, who range in age from 9-20, are preparing for trial in what is believed to be a turning point in United States constitutional history.

In determining the complaint to be valid, Judge Aiken’s ruling contained these passages:
“Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it.”

“Although the United States has made international commitments regarding climate change, granting the relief requested here would be fully consistent with those commitments. There is no contradiction between
promising other nations the United States will reduce C02 emissions and a judicial order directing the United States to go beyond its international commitments to more aggressively reduce C02 emissions.”

“[The defendants and intervenors] are correct that plaintiffs likely could not obtain the relief they seek through citizen suits brought under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, or other environmental laws. But that argument misses the point. This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case. It alleges that defendants’ actions and inactions – whether or not they violate any specific statutory duty – have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty.”

Read More→

Some Utilities Embrace Distributed Energy

Smart Energy in ArizonaThe growth of distributed energy generation — particularly in the form of solar energy — leaves the aging, monopolistic electric utility system a daunting choice: Come out swinging in defense of the status quo or boldly jump into the cockpit, put on the co-pilot’s hat and fly toward the clean energy future.

The second choice is not only the best option, it’s also a vital move toward curbing climate change, serving customers with fair prices and, most important for the folks calling the shots, keeping utility companies in business.

In order to stay competitive, utility companies, grid operators and the people who regulate them need to do what’s right for people and planet — incorporate renewable energy, storage and software to modernize the grid.

The momentum for renewable energy builds as prices fall and emissions regulations tighten. Supporting this trend doesn’t stop at pro-solar policies. Innovating to keep up with the technology is essential for both wider adoption of renewables and a better, more resilient grid.

Breaking the common solar-versus-utility narrative, some utility companies are not only accepting the idea of a clean energy future — they’re ushering it in. For those who aren’t, the consequences will continue to grow. The question for utilities is, will they be leaders or laggards.

Read more…

Buy or Lease Solar

Smart home energyThat 30 percent tax credit on solar panels that was supposed to expire this year? It’s been extended, all the way to 2019. I feel like we just got an extension on a term paper — but if we don’t start writing now, the deadline is going to be here again before we know it.

To get the full Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), we’ve got to get our panels purchased and put up in the next three years. After that, the credit fades out: to 26 percent in 2020, and then to 22 percent in 2021. By 2023, the residential tax credit will be $0. And after that, who knows? We may all be living in egg-shaped, self-reliant, solar-powered tiny homes. The time really is now.

The price of solar panels — even for top-rated panels from SolarWorld and Canadian Solar — is down. It’s fallen by more than 75 percent since 2009, according to prominent environmentalist Bill McKibben. This drop reflects increased efficiency, both in the manufacturing process and in the panels themselves. Still, the initial cost of buying and installing a full system, including panels and supporting parts, can run between $10,000 and $40,000.

But, you don’t need to have a spare $10K to plunk down. Options like leasing and power purchase agreements (PPAs) from well-known solar names like Solar City and Vivint allow you to generate solar energy without up-front costs. Depending on where you live, there might even be a way for you to buy power from a solar farm.

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Does Renewable Energy Increase Electricity Costs?

By Daniel Fleischmann, Renewable Energy World

Since the big push from the U.S. government for investment in renewable energy in 2009, we’ve had the opportunity to see how prices have changed between states that have made large investments in renewable energy, and those that have not.

Critics of renewable energy investment say that renewable energy will never be as cost-effective as fossil fuels and could give customers sticker shock.

But is that the case?

To make the comparison, I took a sampling of 40 states; 20 states that have clearly invested heavily in increasing generation from renewable energy, and 20 states that have clearly been lagging behind on investment. I left out Alaska and Hawaii, where electricity prices are affected by different market forces than in the lower 48 states. I focused on the increased generation from geothermal, solar, and wind energy. Biomass has only grown measurably in New Hampshire and Virginia over the past several years.

I focused on generation rather than consumption, since the practice of actually constructing and operating these facilities within the state is more of an “investment” than buying power from hundreds of miles away. To do this, I compared the average price of power provided by the Energy Information Agency (EIA) for each of these states from 2010 through 2015 with the approximate average price over the last 18 months.*

In selecting the states for each list, I found it pretty clear to differentiate those that had invested heavily in renewable energy and significantly increased generation, with those that had not. This list takes into account EIA estimates on generation from distributed solar.

The obvious states that have invested heavily include California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Vermont. As for the remaining six states, I found Arizona worthy for the list, growing from 0.2 percent of its generation from wind and solar in 2010 to nearly 5.8 percent through the first half of 2016.

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