Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Federal Briefs

Report: Suniva Trade Case Could Cut US Solar Installations

Suniva’s petition before the U.S. International Trade Commission requesting penalties for imported solar equipment could wipe out two-thirds of U.S. solar installations forecasted to come online over the next five years, according to a report by GTM Research.

The report found that between 2018 and 2022, total U.S. solar installations would fall from 72.5 GW cumulatively to 36.4 GW under a 78 cent/W minimum module price scenario. Under a $1.18/W minimum price, cumulative installations would fall to 25 GW.

The utility-scale PV segment is expected to see the largest downturn, with residential PV expected to be the least impacted market segment.

More: Greentech Media

Coal Production Rises in US, China, India for 2017

Coal production for the U.S., China and India is up by at least 121 million tons, a 6% increase, through May this year compared with the same period in 2016, according to data reviewed by The Associated Press.

In the U.S., coal mining rose 19% during that period, according to Department of Energy data. The bulk of the increase occurred in major coal-producing states including Wyoming, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

China’s production rose more than 4% through May, compared with a drop of more than 8% during the same period in 2016. Mining by state-owned companies in India grew 4% in the first five months of this year.

More: The Associated Press

FERC Announces Staff Changes at OEMR

Acting FERC Chair Cheryl LaFleur has announced three staff changes.

Simler | FERC

Jamie Simler, director of the Office of Energy Market Regulation, has retired and is being replaced effective immediately by Deputy Director Anna Cochrane. Jette Gebhart, senior legal advisor in OEMR, has been named acting deputy director of OEMR, also effective immediately.

More: FERC

Report Counts 173 New Microgrid Projects Worldwide

Navigant Research identified 173 new microgrid projects worldwide and 1,842 microgrids operating, under development or proposed, in a report released this week.

The 1,842 microgrids represent 19,279.4 MW of capacity globally, according to “Microgrid Deployment Tracker 2Q17.” That’s an increase from Navigant’s last report in December 2016 in which it counted 1,681 projects with a capacity of 16,552.8 MW.

North America remains No. 1 in terms of microgrids in operation, while the Asian Pacific has the most microgrid capacity under development and proposed.

More: Microgrid Knowledge

Industry Study: Solar, Wind Pose No Threat to Grid Reliability

In an apparent pre-emptive strike against a Trump administration study, two renewable energy lobbying groups released their own report Tuesday showing that market forces, rather than policies supporting renewable energy, are behind coal and nuclear plant retirements.

Advanced Energy Economy and the American Wind Energy Association commissioned the study after Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April ordered a report on whether policies favoring wind and solar are accelerating the retirement of coal and nuclear plants needed to ensure the reliability of the power grid. The deadline for completion of that study is later this month.

The study by the trade groups found no evidence that solar and wind are threatening the grid’s reliability.

More: Reuters; Bloomberg

House Passes Nuclear Energy Tax Credit Bill

The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday lifting a requirement that nuclear facilities be placed into service by the end of 2020 to receive the 1.8-cent/kWh tax credit.

The bipartisan bill, passed on a voice vote, would cost $16 million over 10 years.

Under the legislation, government-owned utilities and nonprofit electric cooperatives could receive the credit and transfer credits to other partners on the facilities.

More: The Hill

EPA ‘Wipes Out’ Scientific Advisory Board

EPA notified dozens of members of its Board of Scientific Counselors whose terms end in August that their roles advising the agency will not be renewed.

Members are appointed to three-year terms which, in the past, were traditionally renewed for another term if they wished to continue serving.

“It effectively wipes out the BOSC and leaves it free for a complete reappointment,” said Deborah Swackhamer, the current chair of the board’s executive committee and an emeritus professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Minnesota.

More: The Washington Post

EPA Plans Buyouts, Early Retirements for 1,200 Workers

By early September, EPA plans to rid itself of more than 1,200 employees — about 8% of its current workforce — through buyouts and early retirements.

The Trump administration has proposed a 31% cut to EPA’s budget, which is the largest percentage reduction of any agency. A hiring freeze presently is in place.

About 20% of the agency’s 15,000-person workforce is currently eligible for retirement, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

More: The Washington Post

Perry: CO2 Not the Main Force Behind Climate Change

Perry | Rick Perry

Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Monday said he does not believe carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are the main driver of climate change.

Speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Perry said ocean waters and “this environment that we live in” are primarily responsible. He went on to say that skepticism about scientific findings is a sign of a “wise, intellectually engaged person.”

More: CNBC

Natural Gas Reaches 34% Mark in 2016

Natural gas provided 34% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2016, beating out coal as the leading generation source, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Over the past 15 years, nearly 228 GW of capacity fueled by natural gas was added, compared with retirements of 54 GW. Coal saw 20 GW of capacity added, compared with more than 53 GW of retirements during the same period.

In the Northeast, electricity generation with natural gas has exceeded coal-fired generation since February 2011, while coal remains dominant in the Midwest. In the South, monthly natural gas generation surpassed that of coal in every month since January 2015, while in the West, it exceeded coal for 11 months during 2016.

More: Energy Information Administration

Holmstead Expected to Be Named EPA No. 2, Sources Say

Holmstead

Jeff Holmstead, a former top EPA official under President George W. Bush, is expected to be appointed as EPA’s deputy administrator, according to two sources familiar with the decision-making process.

Holmstead presently is a partner at law and lobbying firm Bracewell, which lobbies EPA on behalf of oil refineries seeking to change the types of companies that must comply with a federal ethanol mandate. Until recently, he was a registered lobbyist on EPA and Energy Department issues.

Holmstead has said EPA should not review the scientific findings that are the legal basis for the Obama-era carbon regulations that Administrator Scott Pruitt is working to dismantle.

More: Axios

171 House Democrats Condemn Trump’s Exit from Paris

On Friday, 171 House Democrats introduced a nonbinding resolution condemning President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

The resolution cites the public health, national security, economic and other threats of climate change and asks Trump to rejoin the agreement as soon as possible.

Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois led the resolution, with nearly nine out of 10 House Democrats acting as cosponsors.

More: The Hill

BPA Keeps Montana Transmission Fee

The Bonneville Power Administration has refused to drop a $2/MWh transmission fee that opponents say prevents renewable energy generated in Montana from being competitive in the Pacific Northwest.

The fee, which applies to a 90-mile stretch between Townsend and Garrison, results in some power companies paying double to move electricity out of the state. It adds millions of dollars to the cost of electricity from the Colstrip power plant and could affect the prospects for the Clearwater Wind farm for selling its power into Washington state.

Montana’s Republican-controlled House and Washington state’s Democratic-controlled House both support dropping the charge.

More: Billings Gazette

House Panel Passes Bill Lifting Nuclear Tax Credit Deadline

The House Ways and Means Committee passed a bipartisan bill Thursday lifting the requirement that nuclear plants be placed in service by 2020 to receive the power production tax credit.

The bill, which was passed by a voice vote, also allows public and nonprofit entities to transfer credits to other partners on the facilities.

Several lawmakers from both political parties said they want the committee to additionally pass legislation extending tax credits for renewable energy resources.

More: The Hill

Lawmakers Advance Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Bill

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on environment passed a bill Thursday that would speed up permitting for a nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The bill, which would give the federal government authority to issue air permits, bypasses Nevada’s objections to the project.

The bill also authorizes interim and private storage as options until Yucca Mountain is fully licensed and prepared to receive shipments.

More: The Hill; Las Vegas Review-Journal

Court Orders more Analysis of Dakota Access Pipeline

Boasberg

A federal judge last week ordered the Trump administration to conduct additional environmental analysis of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled that in its review of the pipeline, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”

Whether the pipeline must cease operations is a separate issue, subject to further legal briefing, according to the court’s order. Another hearing is scheduled for later this month.

More: Los Angeles Times

Reps. Tell Pruitt Trump Budget Cuts EPA Too Deeply

Lawmakers told EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday they won’t approve the Trump administration’s proposed 30% cut in his agency’s budget.

At a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee overseeing EPA spending, members of both parties expressed opposition to the cuts and pressed Pruitt to defend them. “In many instances, the budget proposes to significantly reduce or terminate programs that are vitally important to each member on this subcommittee,” said Chairman Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), citing the proposed elimination of a local air quality grant program and cuts to the Superfund and a program to reduce diesel emissions.

Pruitt insisted the agency would be able to carry out its “core” functions despite the cuts. “I believe that we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trimmed budget, with proper leadership and management,” he told lawmakers.

More: The Hill

Wind, Solar Hit 10% Mark in March

Wind and solar generators produced 10% of the electricity generated in the U.S. for the first time in March, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The EIA’s monthly power report for March found that wind produced 8% of power for the month with solar generating another 2%. The agency expects that the two sources topped 10% for April as well but predicts their generation will fall below that mark during the summer.

The two sources combined for 7% of electric generation in 2016, according to EIA.

More: Energy Information Administration

Study: Power Plant Emissions Fall for 10 Years While GDP Rises

A report released Wednesday looking at the 100 largest generators in the U.S. found that carbon dioxide emissions fell between 2005 and 2015, while gross domestic product grew steadily over the same period.

Bakal | Ceres

“The decoupling of economic growth from emissions growth is really encouraging,” said Dan Bakal, director of electric power for Boston-based sustainability advocacy group, Ceres, which sponsored the study.

In 2015, the energy sector’s carbon dioxide emissions were 20% below 2005 levels as companies shifted away from coal in favor of renewable sources and natural gas. In the time frame of 2000 to 2015, GDP rose by 33%, according to the report.

More: InsideClimate News

13 States Prepare to Fight EPA on Vehicle Emissions Rules

Officials from 13 states sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt last week stating they would challenge in court any effort by the Trump administration to roll back vehicle emissions rules.

In March, President Trump ordered a review of vehicle fuel-efficiency standards put in place by the Obama administration for 2022-2025, saying they were too tough on automakers. The rules, negotiated with the industry in 2011, sought to double average fleet-wide fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

The White House wants to negotiate a deal with automakers, California and possibly other states to remove uncertainty for automakers who would benefit from uniform rules across the U.S.

More: Reuters

Trump Administration Tries to End Youths’ Climate Lawsuit

The Trump administration filed a rare petition Friday with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to review a federal judge’s November decision refusing to dismiss an environmental lawsuit filed by a group of youths, now ages 9 to 21.

In the 2015 suit, the youths claim the federal government and energy companies are violating their “constitutional rights to life, liberty and property” by failing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and curb fossil fuel use.

The “writ of mandamus” is an attempt by the administration to leapfrog over a lower court in hopes of finding a more favorable ruling in a higher court.  A mandamus is considered a “drastic and extraordinary” remedy reserved for “really extraordinary causes,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a 2004 majority opinion.

More: Mashable

Battery Researchers: US Will Lose Ground Under Trump Budget Cuts

A 75% cut proposed by President Trump to the Energy Department’s battery research funding in 2018 would cause the U.S. to fall behind its rivals in the technology race, battery researchers said at a conference last week.

Trump’s proposed budget slashes funding from $140 million last year to about $36 million. It eliminates funding for two showcase programs: a research hub at Argonne National Laboratory and ARPA-E, an incubator for high-risk, high-reward battery and other energy projects.

Researchers said China, Japan, South Korea and others would woo away U.S. talent and ideas.

More: Axios

Former EERE Heads: Trump Budget Poses Harm to US Energy Future

All the heads of the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under the past four presidents sent a letter to Congress last week warning that President Trump’s proposed budget could seriously harm the nation’s energy future.

The group of seven Republicans and Democrats said the U.S. would be hindered in the global energy market and pointed out that China plans to spend more than $360 billion on renewables through 2020 and to create 13 million jobs.

Trump is calling for a 69% cut in EERE funding from fiscal year 2017 levels, which would drop the level from $2.069 billion in 2017 to $636 billion in 2018.

More: InsideClimate News

Study: Offshore Wind Turbines may not Withstand Category 5 Hurricane

Offshore wind turbines built to today’s standards may not be able to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, according to a recent study.

The study, conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, found that under Category 5 conditions, wind speeds near the storm’s eyewall reached 90 meters per second. The threshold under current standards is 50 meters per second.

Researchers conducted the study using large-eddy simulations on a computer.

More: University of Colorado Boulder

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