The rules, implemented under Act 174, allow towns to have a say in how renewable energy projects are sited, but does not give municipalities the ability to reject solar and wind developments altogether. The regulations require municipalities to participate in a local and regional planning process. While the Public Service Board will consider municipal plans, the board has the ultimate say regarding where renewable energy projects are sited. Critics have objected to Act 174 because it doesn’t give towns veto power. Jon Copans, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Service, says the state’s 11 regional planning commissions are currently collecting and organizing the maps and information for municipalities. “This message isn’t just for the municipalities, but also for Vermonters — they should know that advance planning is happening in all regions of the state,” Copans said. Now is a good time, Copans said, for Vermonters to get involved in the process, to review maps and data the commissions are putting together, and to learn more about how Act 174 will affect siting.
Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil trapped in shale formations, commonly referred to as “fracking,” impacts agriculture in many ways. Farms in shale regions, for example, face competition from energy companies for labor, water, and transportation infrastructure—as well as an increased risk of drilling-related soil or water contamination. But farmers may also earn payments from energy companies. Whether fracking’s net effect on a farm is positive or negative depends largely on who owns the farm’s mineral rights. Shale formations often overlap with conventional oil and natural gas fields, and in these regions with historical drilling activity, landowners are likely to have sold their mineral rights in the past and are thus not compensated for energy development on their land. In contrast, farmers who own their mineral rights may receive a bonus payment for signing a lease agreement with an energy company and royalty payments when energy production begins. Income from royalties or leases associated with energy production is not uncommon—particularly in States like Oklahoma, Utah, and Kansas, where about 20 percent of farm businesses received such income in 2014. In States with active development of shale oil or gas, about 12 percent of farm businesses received, on average, $65,781 in income from energy production, compared with 6 percent and $56,162 across all States. Average lease and royalty payments in 2014 were highest in North Dakota ($157,000) and Pennsylvania ($154,000), mainly due to oil and gas drilling in the Bakken and Marcellus shales, respectively.
The Obama administration is moving forward with an optional cap-and-trade system that states could use to comply with its climate change rule for power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final model trading rule went to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review, the office said Friday, despite the fact that the underlying Clean Power Plan is on hold by order of the Supreme Court. “Many states have asked EPA to move forward with our outreach and to continue providing support and developing tools related to the Clean Power Plan,” the EPA said in a statement. “We are developing these tools in a way that is consistent with the Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan,” it said. Congressional Republicans and others opposed to the Clean Power Plan have repeatedly hounded the EPA for moving forward on initiatives related to the rule despite the Supreme Court’s order, issued in February. That includes the Clean Energy Incentive Program, which the EPA has proposed to give states credit for early compliance with the rule.
The U.S. government released $28 million in federal grants to 13 coal-producing states on Wednesday to help them cope with the decline of the coal industry, driven by the move toward cleaner energy. With the Obama administration's announcement, over $66 million has been awarded this year to 71 projects that aim to aid workers displaced from coal company bankruptcies and create new industries in these areas. The competitive grants are part of President Barack Obama's POWER Initiative that provides federal resources to fund locally-created initiatives that help communities affected by coal job losses to prepare them for new economic activity.
Florida's largest utilities decided last week that $22 million wasn't enough to spend on Amendment 1, so they pumped in another $3.5 million into the effort, according new campaign finance reports. Amendment 1, which has been dubbed a "pro solar" amendment by the political committee financed by the utility giants, would inject language into the state Constitution that could be used to keep solar competition out of Florida, making it easier for the utilities to control the solar market and preserve their utility monopolies.
Nearly 20 megawatts of solar energy due to come online in Utah in early 2017 has been sold to residential and business consumers who want to cut their monthly utility bills or become more reliant on clean energy. Rocky Mountain Power's Subscriber Solar program is 95 percent sold out, and officials anticipate the last few blocks of power will be sold by this week or next.
A judge in Columbus is preparing to hear arguments in a dispute over Ohio’s authority to regulate oil-and-gas operations, including wells disposing of fracking wastewater. Attorneys for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the operator of a Youngstown-area wastewater injection well address Judge Kimberly Cocroft. At issue is the department’s power to take action against the well, which disposes of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing and sits nearby at least 20 small seismic events that occurred in 2014.
Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are turning wood pulp, a common waste material, into a flooring that generates electricity. The researchers chemically treated the wood pulp nanofibers that the flooring is made out of with two differently charged materials, so that when someone walks across the floor, these fibers then interact with one another, similar to static electricity. The electrons released by this vibration are then captured by a capacitor that is attached to the flooring and the energy is stored for later use. Plug a battery or other device into the capacitor, and the energy can be used.
Don't call it a solar "farm" — at least not to a Maryland farmer. The Maryland Farm Bureau's membership voted in 2014 to oppose appending the word "farm" to the label of any alternative energy-generation plant, including a solar farm facility. Photovoltaic cells are springing up across the Eastern Shore at an unprecedented clip. Fueled by hefty government subsidies and relatively cheap prices for acreage, utility-scale solar facilities are supplanting one farm after another. Cue the backlash: Farmers say the loss of valuable cropland threatens the very existence of their industry in the Free State. When the Farm Bureau convenes its annual gathering in Ocean City in December, the powerful lobby plans to debate and vote on a more full-throated policy toward solar energy development.
A project that would turn gases released at landfill in southern Idaho into energy is moving forward. Commissioners from seven counties that own Southern Idaho Solid Waste voted Wednesday for the project at Milner Butte Landfill in Burley to proceed. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that the project involves taking methane gases produced by decomposing garbage and burning it for energy. The landfill already captures methane gas and burns it, but doesn't yet generate energy through the process. Commissioners from Blaine, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln and Twin Falls counties voted in favor of the move, while Minidoka's commissioner abstained. The waste district will finalize a lease agreement and pursue an agreement for Idaho Power Co. to buy the energy that's produced.