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Wind Energy Is One of the Cheapest Sources of Electricity, and It's Getting Cheaper

Scientific American | Posted on August 31, 2017

A comprehensive survey of the wind industry shows wind energy is routinely purchased in bulk for just 2 cents per kilowatt-hour — and turbines are only getting cheaper, bigger, and better

Farmers, experts: solar and agriculture ‘complementary, not competing’ in North Carolina

Southeast Energy News | Posted on August 31, 2017

On a 120-acre farm in Biscoe, North Carolina, near the edge of the Uwharrie National Forest, a flock of hair sheep takes shelter from the summer sun beneath a row of solar panels.  They provide a valuable service to O2 emc – the Cornelius-based company that owns this solar installation – by preventing weeds that could block sunlight and decrease the panels’ efficiency.“What we’re trying to do is put agriculture and solar right next to each other,” says Brock Phillips of Sun-Raised Farms, who owns and manages the sheep. “It can be quite symbiotic if implemented correctly.” Building on an April analysis from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association and the state’s agricultural agency, the latest study finds that less than a third of 1 percent of North Carolina’s 4.75 million acres of cropland now houses solar panels – belying criticisms that large-scale solar arrays are threatening the state’s traditional farms. With a new law adopted this summer expected to more than double the state’s solar capacity – mostly in the form of utility-scale installations – the numbers will undoubtedly increase.

10 Advanced Bioeconomy Places to Watch in Iowa

Biofuels Digest | Posted on August 30, 2017

Eddyville, Fort Dodge, Clinton, Newton, Cedar Rapids. Communities like these have been mainstays of the Iowa bioeconomy for years, even decades — home to corn and soy processing on the largest world scale, and much much more — integrated complexes of advanced refining where companies share infrastructure and often where the residues of the one process become feedstocks for another. They’ve been to farm products what fossil fuel hot spots like the Baytown, Texas mega-complex have meant to oil refining. Now, they have company. A new generation of technologies are coming forward, and a new generation of technologists. Research centers have become the focal point for Iowa’s future, and a slew of new bioindustrial towns — some famed for many years for their role in the bioeconomy, some emerging out of relative obscurity. They’re clean, they’re green, they’re growing, they’re an engine for the economies around them — and unusually and deeply interconnected not only to their R&D roots but to the existing bioeconomy infrastructure. They are linking the city and countryside in an unforgettable manner.

In solar scuffle, big utilities meet their match

High Country News | Posted on August 30, 2017

The Nevada regulators’ order was the most extreme example of a nationwide effort by corporate utilities — panicked about losing market share and profits — to roll back net-metering policies. It’s backed by the deep pockets of fossil fuel industrialists like the Koch brothers, conservative lobbying groups like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the electricity industry’s own trade group, the Edison Electric Institute. But the Nevada regulators unexpectedly sparked a fierce resistance movement, comprised not only of environmentalists and clean-energy advocates, but also libertarians, small-business owners like Helton, and ordinary citizens who have installed rooftop panels or thought about doing so. It’s not just a battle between dirty and clean energy; it involves corporate profits, individual freedom and the appropriate role of government in incentivizing market shifts. And if the ultimate outcome in Nevada is any indication, the utilities have a tough fight ahead of them. Public support for rooftop solar is broadening, even among people who don’t plan to use it themselves. “People like solar. It appeals to everyone from libertarians to the far left. The beauty of solar, particularly rooftop solar, is it doesn’t have a single narrative that’s driving it,” says Shelly Welton, an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina, who tracks renewable energy policies around the country. Some people like it because it saves money, others because it helps fight climate change. Many simply enjoy being self-sufficient.

Pruitt, EPA Should Heed Court Ruling, Boost RFS Biofuel Blending Levels

25 X 25 | Posted on August 30, 2017

In a radio interview in Iowa late last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made pretty clear the rational that went into his agency proposing lower levels of cellulosic biofuels, advanced biofuels, and total renewable fuels that would be required for blending under the next Renewable Fuel Standard rule: “Production levels and demand matter.” Pruitt goes on to express his concern that his agency is being “used in setting those [RFS blending targets] in a way to encourage ‘blue-sky’ thinking.” He is referring to the concept that the standard’s annual blending targets (Renewable Volume Obligations, or RVOs) were set by the 2007 law that reauthorized and strengthened the RFS to encourage oil refiners to build the infrastructure required to meet the blending levels prescribed.Pruitt’s characterization of EPA and its role in setting the RFS RVOs does not set well with renewable fuel advocates because it seems to run contrary to a federal appellate court ruling earlier this month that found that the EPA was wrong in previous years when it set lower biofuel levels.The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that EPA exceeded its authority in previous years when the agency interpreted the law establishing the RFS as giving it the authority to reduce biofuel mandates if it determined there was insufficient infrastructure to deliver it.

How rural co-ops are shifting to a cleaner power mix

Utility Dive | Posted on August 30, 2017

Driven by wind credits, low gas prices and consumer demand, rural co-ops are finding new ways to grow renewables. “Wind is set to remain the largest non-hydro renewable resource deployed by cooperatives, with more than 850 MW of new wind PPAs planned over the next two years, accounting for nearly two-thirds of planned additions,” according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s 2016 outlook.Generation and transmission co-ops made up the top 10 wind builders in 2016. But some are looking beyond wind energy to electric vehicles and water heaters to better integrate renewable energy. And in some areas, natural gas prices are still low enough to threaten wind energy development. 

9 Northeast States Agree to Further Power Plant Carbon Cuts

US News and World Report | Posted on August 29, 2017

Nine Mid-Atlantic and New England states have agreed to cut power plant greenhouse gas emissions across the region by 65 percent by 2030 through the nation's first cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon contributing to global climate change.New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have agreed to reduce the cap on power plant carbon emissions an additional 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030. The Democrat said the new cap will be 65 percent below the program's 2009 starting level.The initiative caps carbon dioxide emissions and trades the excess in auctions, which have generated $2.7 billion in proceeds used by the states for clean energy programs."The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has been an incredible success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change in New York and the Northeast, while supporting thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investments in sustainable development projects," said Basil Seggos, New York's environmental commissioner.

Editorial: Energy Department surprises Rick Perry with a reassuring study of power grid. Oops

St Louis Post Dispatch | Posted on August 29, 2017

Back in April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered up a study of the reliability of the nation’s electrical power grid. The coal and nuclear power industries had been arguing that the system faced challenges that required special breaks for their energy sectors. President Donald Trump keeps looking for reasons to pump taxpayer resources into reviving the coal industry. This study undermines his case. The study was released Thursday, and it found the energy grid is in pretty good shape. There’s room for modest investment in coal-fired plants, but little need for an all-out effort. Wind and solar power are playing an important role on the grid. Cheap natural gas, not government regulation, is primarily responsible for the closing of coal-fired plants. A few breaks on coal and nuclear regulations might be in order, but nothing dramatic. The study addressed the so-called baseload power supply, electricity produced 24 hours a day by nuclear stations and gas- and coal-fired generators. Bulk power reliability “is adequate today despite the retirement of 11 percent of the generating capacity available in 2002,” the study found. It added that “overall, at the end of 2016, the system had more dispatchable capacity capable of operating at high utilization rates than it did in 2002.”

DOE report blames natural gas for closures

Energy Wire | Posted on August 24, 2017

A long-awaited Energy Department staff report on electricity markets and reliability singles out natural gas — not renewables or environmental regulations — as the leading driver of coal plant closures in this decade, challenging the Trump administration's case for saving coal. "The biggest contributor to coal and nuclear plant retirements has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation" fueled by the shale revolution, the report says.The 187-page report, which DOE released tonight, was ordered by Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April to review the closure of "baseload" coal and nuclear plants and "market-distorting effects of federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others."But the staff report assembled a more comprehensive review of challenges facing the U.S. power grid, from cheap natural gas to fast-moving new generating technologies. While electricity networks are performing reliably now, future resilience cannot be taken for granted, DOE said.

Trump administration dismisses climate change advisory panel

CNN | Posted on August 24, 2017

The Trump administration has fired another shot at the scientific community, this time dismantling a federal advisory committee on climate change.Members on the 15-person committee tell CNN they learned the news by email Friday. CNN has obtained a copy of the email sent from acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Benjamin Friedman."On behalf of the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), I am writing to inform you that per the terms of the charter the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment (Committee) will expire on August 20, 2017," the email read. "The Department of Commerce and NOAA appreciate the efforts of the Committee and offer sincere thanks to each of the Committee members for their service."The advisory committee's big work was coming once a congressionally mandated climate report was released; the federal report, required every four years, provides a comprehensive statement from the scientific community on where the nation stands in relation to climate change. The advisory committee would then make recommendations to government agencies based on those findings.The Trump administration's dismissal of the advisory committee on climate change, first reported by The Washington Post, will not affect the completion of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, according to NOAA, which says the report remains a key priority.The White House did not explain the decision to do away with the panel, but told CNN in an email that "the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment was chartered in 2015 to provide advice on sustained assessment activities and products. Per the terms of the charter, the committee expired on August 20, 2017. The National Climate Assessment 4, which is coming out next year, is not affected by this change."The experts who sat on the now-defunct committee warn that without their advice and guidance, the release of the federal climate report could be the equivalent of a large scientific data dump absent of useful context for a public that lacks scientific expertise."The job of this advisory committee was to help federal agencies, state and local governments and the private sector understand all the science and data behind climate change," said Riley Dunlap, a sociology professor at Oklahoma State University who was one of the experts on the committee.