Michigan’s 2008 law requiring utility spending on energy efficiency programs continued to exceed targets in 2015, surpassing goals for cutting electric and natural gas use by roughly 20 percent and proving to be a good investment for ratepayers. According to a state report, ratepayers will ultimately see $5.2 billion in savings since the program started. In 2015, utilities spent $262 million on various energy efficiency programs that will generate $1.08 billion in lifecycle savings for ratepayers. Or, for every dollar spent in 2015, customers are expected to see $4.35 in benefits.
Sand mining in Minnesota and Wisconsin boomed and waned along with the oil and gas production practice known as hydrofracking. The particular kind of sand found in parts of southeast Minnesota was in huge demand by exploration companies, which use it to prop open cracks in the underground shale formations that produce oil and natural gas. Mining supporters in Winona County have said they’re trying to protect private property rights, provide jobs and preserve the region’s chance to cash in on changes in the nation’s oil industry. Commissioner Steve E. Jacob, who voted against the ban, said he wanted to find “common ground and compromise” by regulating the number of sand mines in the county, but despite approval by the planning commission, it was voted down by the majority County Board.“It was a rural versus city issue, and I voted in favor of my district,” Jacob said. “We’ve been fighting this issue for five years now.”Opponents fear destruction of scenic bluffs along the Mississippi River, health problems from blowing silica sand dust, contamination of groundwater, and damage to roads and more accidents from the trucks that cart sand to and from transportation hubs.
The future of the RFS remains in question. Though President-elect Donald Trump pledged support for the RFS during the primary campaign, the direction of his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency remains an open question. Oil industry interests and others have called for RFS reform or repeal. According to the GAO, however, experts say there are ways to make the RFS work more effectively."For example, some experts told GAO that maintaining a consistent tax credit for biofuels, rather than allowing it to periodically lapse and be reinstated, could reduce uncertainty and encourage investment in advanced biofuels," the GAO said.In particular, the second-generation biofuel producer tax credit has been allowed to expire about every two years."These experts told us that investment in cellulosic biofuels could be encouraged, in part, by maintaining the second generation biofuel producer tax credit consistently, rather than allowing it to periodically lapse and be reinstated," GAO said.One expert, the GAO said, suggested three changes to the credit. One would be to make the credit more long-term up to 10 years. A second idea is to make the credit refundable to make sure biofuel producers receive the subsidy in early years when they are sustaining financial losses. Third would be to couple the producer tax credit with an investment tax credit to decrease capital costs and improve the financial incentives for building cellulosic biofuel plants.
The federal Renewable Fuel Standard will fall far short of the goals laid out by Congress, government watchdogs said Monday, dealing another blow to the embattled program and giving more ammunition to critics who say it must be ended immediately. Government Accountability Office reports say the Renewable Fuel Standard, enacted by lawmakers in 2007, has been crippled by higher-than-expected costs of producing ethanol and other biofuels and by the boom in U.S. oil and gas production, which has made fossil fuels far more competitive in the marketplace. The program, which requires increasing amounts of ethanol and other biofuels to be blended into the nation’s gas supply each year, also will fail to deliver the kinds of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions envisioned a decade ago, the GAO said. Taken together, the two conclusions raise doubts about the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard and support critics’ contention that the program is forcing the use of fuels that are too expensive and incompatible with many of today’s vehicles and infrastructure.
Preserving Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear plants will save businesses and consumers in Illinois more than $3 billion in power costs in the next 10 years, a study conducted by global consulting firm The Brattle Group showed on Monday. Exelon Corp, which owns the plants and plans to close them, has been trying to get the Illinois Legislature to adopt legislation, known as the Next Generation Energy Plan, that would provide a subsidy for nuclear reactors for their production and environmental and economic benefits.In June, Exelon said it would close the Clinton plant on June 1, 2017, and Quad Cities, on June 1, 2018. The reactors have lost a combined $800 million in the past seven years, according to the company.
The Georgia Court of Appeals has revived a long-running ratepayer lawsuit against Georgia Power over costs the utility wants to include in its rates to help pay for two nuclear reactors and power plant upgrades. If successful, the lawsuit could become class-action and refund ratepayers in excess of $150 million. A three-judge panel of the court found that municipal franchise fees Georgia Power pays to local jurisdictions may not be costs recoverable from ratepayers under Georgia regulations.A lower court affirmed the utility’s argument that some fees are recoverable, but left open the possibility of a challenge on the franchise fees. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Constance Russell ruled the plaintiffs in this case – Amy N. Cazier et al. v. Georgia Power Company – had not exhausted all the remedies, setting the stage for the Court of Appeals’ ruling Nov. 16. The three judges said the legality of charging the franchise fee to ratepayers is a matter for the courts, not the Public Service Commission (PSC) to decide.
Researchers in Louisiana have discovered traces of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the feathers of birds eaten by land animals. A team examined the feathers and digestive tract contents of seaside sparrows - measuring signature carbon from spilled oil. They say it "is the first demonstration that oil from the spill made it into the" food chain of land animals. The findings are published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study focused on seaside sparrows and the soil sediments of the Louisiana marshes.
An initiative to support the development of sustainable biofuels is being backed by 23 governments – major powers which account for 80% of the world’s investment in clean energy.The Sustainable Biofuels Innovation Challenge was announced by Mission Innovation – an influential group of countries who committed to working together to accelerate the pace of clean energy innovation – at COP 22.Governments are being called upon to pool resources and expertise to advance research and development, ‘with the goal of achieving performance breakthroughs and cost reductions for large scale production of advanced biofuels’.
To understand what makes Burlington unlike almost any other city in America when it comes to the power it consumes, it helps to look inside the train that rolls into town every day. The 24 freight cars that pull up to the city’s power plant aren’t packed with Appalachian coal or Canadian fuel oil but wood. Each day 1,800 tons of pine and timber slash, sustainably harvested within a 60-mile radius and ground into wood chips, is fed into the roaring furnaces of the McNeil Generating Station, pumping out nearly half of the city’s electricity needs. Much of the rest of what Burlington’s 42,000 citizens need to keep the lights on comes from a combination of hydroelectric power drawn from a plant it built a half mile up the Winooski River, four wind turbines on nearby Georgia Mountain and a massive array of solar panels at the airport. Together these sources helped secure Burlington the distinction of being the country’s first city that draws 100 percent of its power from renewable sources. The net energy costs are cheap enough that the city has not had to raise electric rates for its customers in eight years. And Burlington is not done in its quest for energy conservation. Add in the city’s plan for an expansive bike path, a growing network of electric vehicle charging stations and an ambitious plan to pipe the McNeil station’s waste heat to warm downtown buildings and City Hall’s goal to be a net zero consumer of energy within 10 years starts looking achievable.
Michigan and Minnesota are exemplar Midwest states when it comes to state-level policy pushing for clean energy development, according to a recent report from the Georgetown Climate Center. Michigan is credited largely for its commitment to energy efficiency, which has been emphasized by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration as state lawmakers craft sweeping energy policy reform. The administration has also been proactive in modeling the state’s electric-generation future in the context of the Clean Power Plan as well as the state’s largest utilities’ closing several coal plants. Meanwhile, the report credits Minnesota for reducing in-state carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 28 percent between 2005 and 2013 due to strong renewable energy and efficiency standards. The state’s Climate Solutions and Economic Opportunities project also identifies chances for more clean energy advancement, such as a 50 percent renewable energy standard and more investment in energy efficiency.