Archive for Energy

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.

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…

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.

Read more…

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.

Read more…

Businesses Support Clean Power Plan

This is an interesting article for us here in Arizona where our Senators have sued to stop the Clean Power Plan. The leading businesses understand the value of the Clean Power Plan to the economy, communities and jobs. Our Senators seem to place more value on the benefits to dirty power and the contributions they make to their political campaigns.

Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.

In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.

With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.

Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.  

Read more here.

Water & Coal for Power

Most of us know that producing electricity requires water. Our most common means of generating electricity is to boil water and use the pressure of the steam to turn turbines. An average coal-fired plant uses as much water as a medium-size city every year. When you add up all the water used by the coal plants in the world, it totals billions of gallons of water that could be used for essential purposes, such as drinking and growing food. Attached is a study by Greenpeace showing water use plant-by-plant. Given that we have plenty of other ways to generate electricity that do not waste our precious water supplies, this is a study in man’s stupidity…or the greed of a few.

Coal Water AW D26LORES

Value of Energy Efficiency

Steven Nadel, Executive Director of American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy

Multiple studies looking at spending and savings across programs, over time and in multiple states, all show the same thing: energy efficiency is highly cost effective. Put another way, it keeps electricity affordable by meeting demand and environmental regulations at a lower cost than if we generated new power, including from clean energy resources. To help break down this discussion to key points, we released two new fact sheets today, one showing that energy efficiency is consistently the lowest-cost option for meeting electric demand and the other showing that including energy efficiency can lower the cost of Clean Power Plan compliance.

How Much Does Energy Efficiency Cost?” includes results from studies by Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryACEEE, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The fact sheet shows how these studies provide further evidence that energy efficiency costs less than other sources of energy, and also that the costs of energy efficiency have been level in recent years. “Energy Efficiency Lowers the Cost of Clean Power Plan Compliance” looks at the results of three studies, all finding that including energy efficiency as part of state compliance plans will lower costs to utility customers. For example, a study by Synapse Resource Economics provides state-by-state information on most of the states…

To continue reading this blog post, visit: http://aceee.org/blog/2016/03/new-studies-are-showing-what-we 

To read “How Much Does Energy Efficiency Cost?” visit http://aceee.org/fact-sheet/cost-of-ee 

To read “Energy Efficiency Lowers the Cost of Clean Power Plan Compliance” visit http://aceee.org/fact-sheet/ee-lowers-cost-cpp