Two U.S. senators from Western states joined the legislative fight Thursday to repeal President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported solar panels, saying the higher taxes on foreign producers are jeopardizing jobs in the U.S.Republican Dean Heller of Nevada and Democrat Martin Heinrich of New Mexico introduced a measure that calls for duties and tariffs for solar cells to revert to previous rates and to allow for companies affected by the tariffs hike to seek reimbursements.The senators contend that the higher tariffs are stifling investment in the domestic solar market.
Ocean litter, recycling and more environmentally sustainable uses of plastics in general get significant attention in the Ocean Plastics Charter adopted June 9 by five of the G7 member nations. The non-binding charter, signed by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Union, suggests those governments want to see significant improvements in how plastic is used and how plastic waste is managed.It includes a commitment to recycle and reuse at least 55 percent of plastics packaging by 2030, and recover all plastics by 2040, and as expected, calls for “significantly reducing” unnecessary uses of single-use plastics.The document includes 23 specific points in five broad categories, and also suggests stronger government roles in supporting markets for recycled plastics, including increasing recycled content by at least 50 percent in plastic products by 2030.
A farmland conservation group is appealing a 73-acre solar project in Oregon’s Clackamas County which won land use approval because beehives will be raised on the property. 1,000 Friends of Oregon, a nonprofit, is challenging the county’s conditional use permit for the project near Estacada before the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals. The project developer proposes keeping about 100 honeybee colonies at the site while cultivating “bee-friendly forage” around the solar panels and “shade resistant native plants” beneath them.Under Oregon’s land use law, solar power facilities can be no larger than 12 acres without an exception to the statewide goal of preserving farmland.However, a hearings officer with Clackamas County has ruled the project will take up less than 12 acres, since the area under the panels will be used for forage.“There does not seem to be any dispute that an apiary is a farm use,” said Fred Wilson, the county’s hearings officer.The project developer estimated the apiary will generate $75,000 per year but opponents claimed the actual revenue would be about 80 percent lower.
All three bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly and now await the Governor’s signature. Each bill, in its own unique way, is important to successful solar energy development in Illinois. SB 3214 (Solar Pollinators) – ELPC drafted this legislation after reviewing similar efforts in Minnesota and Maryland. SB 3214 will lead to increased pollinator-friendly habitat on solar energy project sites in Illinois. ELPC worked closely with the solar industry and conservation advocates to get buy-in; we also negotiated with the Illinois Farm Bureau to avoid confusion or opposition. This legislation provides that if a solar company intends to present its project as “pollinator friendly,” then the solar company must meet a pollinator standard. The University of Illinois Department of Entomology will prepare a scorecard to define a pollinator-friendly project. SB 486 (Solar Project Uniform Assessments) – Illinois does not have a statewide uniform standard for assessing the value of solar energy projects. Currently, 102 county assessors determine solar project values, and each can reach a different result, creating uncertainty within the solar industry. Solar developers, like other businesses, desire stability and certainty. ELPC supported the solar industry’s efforts to negotiate a uniform standard to be used by the state’s county assessors. This is similar to the legislative work ten years ago to establish a uniform statewide standard for assessing wind power projects. SB 2591 (Solar Agricultural Impact Mitigation Act) – The solar industry negotiated with the Illinois Farm Bureau to develop mitigation legislation to protect agricultural interests. A comparable “AIM Act” is in place for wind power projects, and the Farm Bureau sought similar requirements for solar energy projects. The initial draft legislation was problematic, but it was amended and is acceptable to the solar industry and to ELPC. This bill is a good compromise that sets reasonable standards for solar energy projects.
A new oil rig will rise behind a middle school in this sprawling county in the coming months, its slender tower bearing an announcement: fracking is back. After a downturn that began in 2015, oil and gas production is booming again, and new projects are sprouting along American freeways and padding government budgets, cheered by state legislatures, the fossil fuel industry and the Trump administration. But this growth is also spurring a return of the turmoil that accompanied the last boom, pitting neighbor against neighbor and communities against companies in a fight over which projects should be allowed to pierce the land. In few places is that tension more evident than along Colorado’s Front Range, where a fracking boom is colliding with a population explosion. Drilling applications in the state have risen 70 percent in just a year, while the area north of Denver is expected to double in population by 2050.
The Oregon Court of Appeals has provided a new legal rationale for why an 80-acre solar power project on farmland in Jackson County was improperly approved. Last year, the county government granted Origis Energy, the project’s developer, an exception to Oregon’s land use goal of preserving farmland, but the decision was reversed by the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals. According to LUBA, the solar project didn’t qualify for the exception because it’s not dependent on a “unique resource” that would require converting farmland for industrial development. It’s not unusual for farmland to be “flat, 80 acres in size and exposed to the sun” and the project’s proximity to an electrical substation in Medford also doesn’t justify the exception, LUBA’s ruling said. Approving the project on this basis would undermine the purpose of “urban growth boundaries” by allowing development on farmland near cities, the ruling said. The Oregon Court of Appeals has now disagreed with this interpretation of the state’s land use law but has still reversed the county’s approval of the project.
The head of the Renewable Fuels Association says a potential “compromise” between big oil and renewable fuels on the renewable fuels program will NOT be good for the U.S. biofuels industry. Bob Dinneen tells Brownfield Ag News, “The so-called compromise that we hear is coming from the White House shortly, perhaps today, maybe later this week, is anything but a compromise. In fact, I would maintain it’s the worst of all possible worlds.” The expected deal would allow exported gallons of biofuels to qualify for the domestic fuel requirement, the RFS. Dinneen says that would undermine the domestic industry AND the foreign renewable fuels market. In related news, Dinneen says ethanol and biofuels groups have no other option but the courts to try and stop the EPA from granting hardship waivers to large refiners that don’t need them and for making up lost volumes because of them, “We want to make sure that gallons lost as a consequence of these waivers are reallocated in some fashion. And, unfortunately, we don’t believe we have any recourse BUT to go to the courts.” Today, the RFA and several groups filed a petition in court to force criteria for making up those volumes. Last week, the groups filed suit in federal court challenging RFS waivers granted to three refiners but have petitioned for a stay of those proceedings for the time being.
The conflict over the Renewable Fuel Standard between the EPA, Congress and special interest groups have left hardworking people throughout rural America with a growing sense of uncertainty about their futures. An honest discussion about this program is long overdue. In order to do that, it’s necessary to understand where the RFS began, how it evolved and the role it plays in ensuring American prosperity and security. For decades, refiners have used octane enhancers. Lead was the most common but was replaced in the late 1970s by an organic compound called Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). Twenty years later, Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which required the use of oxygenated gasoline in areas with high levels of air pollution. The law increased MTBE’s popularity because it helped reduced tailpipe emissions. However, when MTBE was exposed as a public health risk, its use sharply declined, leaving refiners searching for an alternative. That alternative was ethanol. In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which removed the oxygenate requirement for reformulated gasoline. It also instituted the RFS. Refiners eliminated MTBE from blending operations and switched entirely to ethanol. In 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act passed, expanding the RFS by extending yearly volume requirements and increasing long-term blending goals. The tax credit, what many called the “ethanol subsidy,” given to oil companies to incentivize blending, was then allowed to expire.
Canada’s federal government said Tuesday it is buying a controversial pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast to ensure it gets built. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government plans to spend $3.4 billion to purchase Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. The pipeline expansion would triple the capacity of an existing line to ship oil extracted from the oil sands in Alberta across the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. It would end at a terminal outside Vancouver, resulting in a seven-fold increase in the number of tankers in the shared waters between Canada and Washington state. Facing stiff environmental opposition from British Columbia’s provincial government and activists, Houston-based Kinder Morgan earlier halted essential spending on the project and said it would cancel it altogether if the national and provincial governments could not guarantee it.“It must be built and it will be built,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said.
By the end of 2018, natural gas could surpass coal to become the most prevalent technology for generating electricity in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration . The agency said fossil fuel consumption in the electric power sector declined in 2017 to its the lowest level since 1994. “The declining trend in fossil fuel consumption by the power sector has been driven by a decrease in the use of coal and petroleum, with a slightly offsetting increase in the use of natural gas,” the EIA said. In 2017, coal consumption by the electric power sector reached its lowest level since 1982, and petroleum consumption was the lowest on record, based on data since 1949, the EIA said. Recent natural gas consumption in the power sector has generally been increasing.