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Regulatory overhaul could give boost to independent generation in Michigan

Midwest Energy News | Posted on June 23, 2017

Advocates say recent regulatory changes in Michigan could spur more solar energy development from independent producers and ensure existing renewable energy generators are paid fair prices from utilities for their power. On May 31, the Michigan Public Service Commission approved changes to the way avoided costs are determined under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978. Avoided costs are those that utilities pay independent power producers for their electricity that the utility would have otherwise had to pay itself. In Michigan, there are 45 facilities under contract with utilities, mostly landfill gas and hydro.The long-awaited changes to determining avoided costs, which are the first in roughly 25 years in Michigan, could provide protection to independent power producers who say they are at risk of shutting down. In a rate caseinvolving Consumers Energy, producers feared their avoided costs would have been cut in half, making their plants not economically viable.

This EPA research program just got a rave scientific review. Trump wants to eliminate it.

The Washington Post | Posted on June 23, 2017

A report released Thursday by the National Academy of Sciences — and prepared at the request of the EPA — argues that the agency’s Science to Achieve Results, or STAR, program, which provides millions of dollars in funding for scientific research each year, has contributed to important benefits for the environment and the public health. And it recommends that the agency continue to use it.“This report shows that through STAR, EPA has created a vehicle that fosters collaboration and knowledge-sharing, which have produced research that has supported interventions that may reduce the cost of regulations, protect public health, and save lives,” the document states.STAR is just one of dozens of EPA programs that would be defunded under the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget, which has sparked outrage among scientists and environmentalists alike. Total cuts would amount to about $2.4 billion annually, or nearly a third of the agency’s budget. On Thursday, testifying before a House appropriations subcommittee, Pruitt spoke in favor of the proposed cuts, highlighting his support for the elimination of “redundancies and inefficiencies.” In justifying the proposed STAR program cut, the EPA’s proposed 2018 budget document explains that the program “funds research grants and graduate fellowships in environmental science and engineering disciplines through a competitive solicitation process and independent peer review. EPA will prioritize activities that support decision-making related to core environmental statutory requirements, as opposed to extramural activities.”But according to the National Academy of Sciences review, the STAR program is no redundancy. Defunding it could harm the future of environmental and health-related research in the United States, said Harold Mooney, an environmental biologist at Stanford University and one of the National Academy of Sciences committee members who helped prepare the report. The program fills “a very important niche, and that is doing solution-based research in environmental biology and public health,” he told The Washington Post

For First Time in History, Solar Jobs Outnumber Coal Jobs in Virginia

WVTF | Posted on June 23, 2017

Virginia has long been coal country, but the solar power industry has been increasing its foothold in the Commonwealth over the last few years. Virginia now has more jobs in the solar industry than the coal industry. Numbers from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy show a 40% drop in the number of people working in the coal industry over the last five years. Henry Childress with the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance says coal produces more energy with fewer employees.For now, though, the solar industry has more employees in Virginia than the coal industry. That’s a dramatic shift for a state that has a long history with coal. Alexander Winn at the Solar Foundation says he’s hopeful some of those jobs might move from coal to solar.“There are efforts to retrain some coal workers, and hopefully those will continue to grow as solar becomes an increasingly large employment sector in the Virginia energy industry.”Most solar energy jobs are in installation, construction and manufacturing. Numbers from the Solar Foundation show that the industry grew by about 65% over the last year alone.

A Century-Old Tech Is Making a Comeback Thanks to Renewables

Futurism | Posted on June 23, 2017

DC power lines are being used again thanks to their ability to outperform AC lines over long distances and directly connect with renewable power sources. This makes bringing green energy from distant rural locations to urban centers possible. In the near future, the few DC transmission lines which are now scattered all over the country may be connected by nine or more new long-distance lines. These high-voltage DC (HVDC) lines are a reflection of the geography of renewable power trends. Rural areas such as the Midwest now produce a large quantity of renewable energy that urban centers need — and power companies need to get it there.“You have remote resources, and there’s just not enough infrastructure to move that energy to the market,” Clean Line Energy Partners executive vice president of engineering Wayne Galli told Scientific American. His organization plans to build four HVDC lines.Building these lines will also help the renewable energy industry grow; this is why entities like Clean Line Energy Partners are investing in them. “Using DC lines is a much better solution for moving power from big, remote wind or solar farms,” University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Energy and the Energy GRID Institute director Gregory Reed told Scientific American. “It’s a rapid change in where we’re getting our resources from.”

Think Wind Turbines and Solar Panels Are Fads? Think Again

Motley Fool | Posted on June 23, 2017

Renewable energy often gets dismissed as a relatively insignificant part of the power picture because it doesn't generate as much of America's electricity as coal, natural gas, or nuclear plants. The president of the United States has even said he doesn't think wind "works," and he's certainly no fan of solar energy.  But the opinions that wind and solar are fads, or are too minor to care about, or "don't work" are simply wrong. In fact, wind and solar will soon overtake nuclear for the percentage of U.S. power they generate, and coal could be next. New data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that wind and solar combined to provide 10% of U.S. net electricity generation in March 2017, up from about 1% a decade ago. Wind accounted for 8% during the month and solar accounted for 2%. 

Researchers see stronger electric grid in regions with large amounts of renewables

Think Progress | Posted on June 22, 2017

But a new report prepared by consulting firm Analysis Group concludes that the evidence does not support these claims. The addition of new natural gas-fired units and renewable energy capacity are increasing the nation’s electric reliability, not jeopardizing it, the report says. The report, titled “Electricity Markets, Reliability and the Evolving U.S. Power System,” was released only days before Department of Energy staff members are scheduled to deliver a report on the impact of renewables on the nation’s power grid. In April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry directed his staff to put together the report, which environmentalists and renewable energy advocates have worried will be tilted in favor of the coal industry. Perry ordered the grid study to be completed in 60 days.The Analysis Group report concludes many advanced energy technologies such as efficient natural gas-fired generation and renewables provide reliability benefits by increasing the diversity of the electric system. As wind and solar energy become more prominent in certain regions, the trend in reliability performance in these areas is increasing rather than decreasing, the report says.

Report challenges economics of 1950s coal plants as Ohio lawmakers seek subsidies

Midwest Energy News | Posted on June 20, 2017

As Ohio lawmakers move to advance a bill to subsidize two 62-year-old coal plants, a report released confirms older coal power plants’ ongoing difficulty competing against those fueled by natural gas. The Ohio House Public Utilities Committee’s agenda shows a version of House Bill 239 could get voted out of committee today, setting the stage for possible passage by the House of Representatives. The bill would require all utility customers to subsidize costs of two coal-fired power plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Cooperative (OVEC). Those plants are the Kyger Creek plant near Cheshire, Ohio, and the Clifty Creek plant in Madison, Indiana.Meanwhile, a June 20 report from the Analysis Group concludes that market forces — especially lower prices from shale gas development — are behind the general decline of coal-fired power plants’ competitiveness. The American Wind Energy Association and the Advanced Energy Economy Institute funded the report.

Texas regulators to put information of oil company penalties, complaints online

Houston Chronicle | Posted on June 20, 2017

The Railroad Commission of Texas oversees one of the most prolific oil and gas regions in the world, the agency's hordes of data and documents remain snared in a filing system that has yet to make it to the 21st century. The commission has been unable to make available online all of the information it collects, as it is hobbled by some troubled oil and gas companies whose fees account for most of the commission's budget, and limited funding from the state. The Legislature has ordered that some of it, at least, be put online, with the help of more than $4 million over the next two years, according to state budget documents. With the funds, the commission will put online records of fines and other penalties given to companies for violating state rules. The commission also will make available complaints, and information about inspections.  The commission also will be using some of its state-allocated funds to fill nearly 150 empty positions at the agency, including much-needed oil and gas well and pipeline inspectors.

Nevada’s New Solar Law Is About Much More Than Net Metering

Green Tech Media | Posted on June 20, 2017

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 405into law to the cheers of solar companies and advocates. AB 405 reinstates net metering for rooftop solar customers in Nevada, after utility regulators eliminated the policy in December 2015, throwing the Silver State’s solar market into disarray. Because the policy change was applied retroactively, it triggered enormous public outcry, and the steep new fees effectively put a freeze on new rooftop solar installations. Nevada saw a 32 percent decline in solar jobs last year after large residential installers chose to pull out of the state. But with the new law now in place, Tesla, Sunrun and Vivint Solar said they plan to resume sales immediately. Under the new law, new solar customers will immediately begin to be reimbursed for the excess energy they generate at 95 percent of the retail electricity rate. The credit is scheduled to decline in 7 percent increments for every 80 megawatts of rooftop solar deployed, to a floor of 75 percent of the retail rate. The discounted compensation rates are designed to ensure that solar customers pay their fair share to use the power grid as solar penetration increases, but still leave a lot of room for growth. The 80-megawatt threshold for each credit tier is significant. In Nevada's biggest year, before the net metering policy changed, the state deployed around 100 megawatts of residential solar. Assuming the market booms again, it will likely still take around four years to get to 75 percent of the retail rate. And even at 75 percent, net metering compensation still looks economically appealing. The passage of AB 405 marks the first time in U.S. history that consumers have been statutorily guaranteed the right to self-generate electricity, said Wellinghoff, who helped craft portions of the bill in his new role as an independent policy consultant. Under Section 24 of the bill, consumers are granted the right to generate their own electricity and offset their own internal usage one-for-one at the full retail rate, in the same way they can install energy efficient light bulbs or appliances and save energy at the retail rate. Whatever energy you no longer take from the grid, you don’t have to pay for.

What does ‘clean coal’ mean and can it save the planet

PBS | Posted on June 19, 2017

In the developed world, we have been working on ever cleaner ways to burn coal since the first coal-fired generator began running in England back in the late 1800s. First, we moved away from burning coal inside our homes, concentrating the production of soot into a few large power plants and moving the soot plumes outside of cities. Then we began to make our smokestacks taller, so that pollution plumes would be lofted higher and distributed more broadly downwind of power plants. This reduced the immediate problem of inhaling soot, but generated the new problem of acid rain over large areas of the industrialized world.To deal with this new problem, we began outfitting our power plants with filters to retain particulates and scrubbers to trap the sulfur gases that were generating acid rain. The newest technological innovations go further, with one U.S. coal plant now able to capture CO2 and prevent its release into the atmosphere.Achieving cleaner emissions from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants requires trapping ever larger quantities of coal combustion residues. These byproducts of coal combustion are one of the dirty truths about clean coal. The trace metals, sulfur, and carbon dioxide that are not being emitted to the atmosphere have to be disposed of. We have reduced regional acid rain problems through the concentration of coal waste into metal and trace element enriched fly ash and gypsum.