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What does repeal of the Clean Power Plan mean for the environment?
President Trump recently signed an executive order rescinding the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) (see our June 9, 2014 blog post), a move that eliminates the nation’s first mandate for power plants to reduce carbon emissions. Without that mandate, “America’s electrical power industry could continue to emit high levels of CO2,” according to Ken Kimmell, president of science advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, in a recent CBSnews.com article. The CPP would have helped the nation move toward “cleaner sources, like [natural] gas, and even really clean sources, like renewable energy, such as wind and solar,” which would provide “significant health benefits,” Kimmell said in the article. Cleveland.com reports that White House spokesman Sean Spicer said dismantling the CPP will “strengthen the nation’s energy security by ‘reducing unnecessary regulatory obstacles that restrict the responsible use of domestic energy resources.’” For more, read the full CBSnews.com and Cleveland.com articles.
Clean Power Plan back in court; renewable energy supporters confident it will be upheld
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently “heard oral arguments for and against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP),” but supporters of the plan expressed confidence that it will be upheld, nawindpower.com reports. The CPP was finalized in August 2015, but “a coalition of states, led by West Virginia and Texas, filed a lawsuit that claimed the CPP could have ‘devastating impacts upon the states and their citizens.” The federal court rejected those states’ request for a stay, but the Supreme Court later granted the stay (see our February 29, 2016 blog post). Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club, said the Sierra Club will “remain confident that the Clean Power Plan will be implemented to protect the health of American families,” according to the article. Similarly, Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), noted that “[t]he clean energy train has already left the station in the form of affordable renewable energy already making major carbon-pollution reductions today” and that AWEA expects the CPP will “ultimately be upheld by the courts.” For more, read the full article.
Proposal would reinstate clean energy standards, but make compliance optional
As the two-year freeze of Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards nears expiration, state Republican legislators “have a new proposal that would technically put those standards back in place from 2017 through 2019 — but would make compliance optional,” The Columbus Dispatch reports. Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) is the “chief sponsor of the new plan” which will be “introduced as an amendment to Senate Bill 320,” according to the article. Clean-energy rules that went into effect in 2008 require electric utilities to meet yearly benchmarks for renewable energy; those rules were “frozen” in 2014 by the passage of Senate Bill 310 (see our June 13, 2014 blog post). In the current proposal, Sen. Seitz has “made a subtle change to the main part of the bill,” which previously “would have extended the freeze until 2020, and then resumed the annual benchmarks.” The new version would require standards to be met only every three years, which Seitz said “will give utilities more flexibility” and also “allow for time to see whether the federal Clean Power Plant [sic] survives court challenges (see our January 21, 2016 blog post).” For more, read the full article.
Energy efficiency is third largest power resource in U.S., ACEEE report says
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently released a report that finds “energy efficiency is currently the third largest electric power resource in the United States, and could grow to be the most significant by 2030,” Utility Dive reports. Energy efficiency not only “is a greater contributor to the U.S. energy mix than nuclear power,” but has also “averted the need to build the equivalent of 313 power plants since 1990,” according to ACEEE. Additionally, the group estimates that energy efficiency had a significant impact on carbon dioxide emissions, reducing annual emissions by “490 million tons in 2015.” Most states could meet 25% of their Clean Power Plan emissions reduction targets “through efficiency policies and the resulting investments,” while some could meet 100%. In a blog post, ACEEE said, “[w]e can see further evidence of efficiency’s impact in the fact that electricity consumption has flattened in recent years even as the economy has grown. What’s more, energy efficiency has saved consumers $90 billion annually on electric bills.” For more, read the full Utility Dive article, the ACEEE blog post, and the ACEEE report.
Despite court stay, EPA moves ahead with incentive program for Clean Power Plan
Despite the Supreme Court’s February 2016 order staying the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), the “Obama administration is moving ahead” with incentives for the program, reports thehill.com. The Clean Energy Incentive Program would “give states compliance credits for renewable energy and efficiency projects that are undertaken earlier than the Clean Power Plan would require them,” according to the article. Janet McCabe, head of the EPA’s air pollution office, said, “[t]aking these steps will help cut carbon pollution by encouraging investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, which will help give our kids and grandkids a healthier and safer future.” The EPA believes “actions like the incentive program and helping states voluntarily comply with the regulation are permissible under the court stay.” For more, read the full article.
U.S. Supreme Court presses pause button on Clean Power Plan pending outcome of legal challenges
In a surprise decision, the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 to temporarily freeze President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) “until after legal challenges are resolved,” Cleveland.com reports. While the high court’s four liberal justices said “they would have denied the request,” the five justices in favor of the decision “signaled that opponents made strong arguments against the rules.” Joanne Spaulding, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club, said, “[t]he Supreme Court has already upheld the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act (see our May 2, 2014 blog post),” and said the organization expects the CPP will ultimately be upheld by the courts. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has worked closely with West Virginia Attorney General in the legal challenge to the CPP, while both states also work to develop plans to comply with the policy (see our January 21, 2016 blog post). Implementation of the CPP “is considered essential to the United States meeting emissions-reduction targets in a global climate agreement” signed in Paris in January 2016. For more, read the full article.
Ohio and West Virginia creating plans to comply with Clean Power Plan despite lawsuit
While state attorneys general from Ohio and West Virginia continue their legal challenge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), “officials in both states are making moves to comply with the mandate of reducing their CO2 emissions from power plants by 37 percent,” the Herald-Star reports. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the plan “hits Ohio hard” and will “dramatically increase Ohioans’ electric rates while at the same time offering less reliable service and few tangible environmental benefits,” according to the article. However, a study by the West Virginia University College of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development determined the CPP will have “minimal impact on coal mining activity within the state.” The EPA says the CPP’s reduction in carbon dioxide pollution will “prevent at least 3,600 premature deaths, prevent 90,000 asthma attacks per year and create up to $45 billion worth of climate and health benefits per year.” For more, read the full article.
Congress passes multi-year extensions for renewable energy tax credits
Before adjourning for the holidays, the U.S. House and Senate passed legislation that includes multi-year extensions for solar and wind energy tax credits, greentechmedia.com reports. The legislation extends the 30-percent solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) another three years, after which it “will ramp down incrementally through 2021, and remain at 10 percent permanently beginning in 2022,” according to the article. The 2.3-cent per kilowatt hour Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy will now be extended through next year; projects “that begin construction in 2017 will see a 20 percent reduction in the incentive,” which will then “drop 20 percent each year through 2020.” These extensions will “support tens of billions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of thousands of new jobs throughout the U.S.,” business groups and analysts say. GTM Research’s director of solar research, MJ Shiao, said, “There’s no way to overstate this — the extension of the solar ITC is the most important policy development for U.S. solar in almost a decade.” For more, read the full article.
EPA accepting public comments on Clean Power Plan
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently held a series of two-day public hearings as part of an effort to create opportunity “for interested parties to comment on the proposed actions,” nawindpower.com reports. The hearings were held throughout November in Pittsburgh, Denver, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.; additionally, the agency is “accepting written comments on the proposal” through January 21, 2016. The country “appears divided” over the Clean Power Plan, which is designed to reduce carbon pollution from U.S. power plants. While the plan has received strong support from the renewable energy industry, opposition to the plan has been fervent as well, as “a coalition of 24 states launched a lawsuit in October against the EPA in an effort to block the emissions-reduction initiative.” Another coalition of “25 states, cities and counties filed a motion to defend the Clean Power Plan against legal challenge.” For more, read the full article.
Economic forces prompt utilities to skip fight against Clean Power Plan
While U.S. coal companies and more than a dozen state governments are mounting challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s higher restrictions on carbon emissions from power plants, the wind is blowing another way for most electric utility companies, The Wall Street Journal reports. Electricity producers including Ohio’s FirstEnergy Corp, Dynegy Inc. in Houston, and Dominion Resources in Virginia “say they plan to comply rather than contest the regulation,” according to the article. The reasoning is simple: price. “Price is a larger force in electricity markets today than what Washington is doing with regulations,” said Todd Carter, president of private-equity investor and generating plant developer Panda Power Funds. The shale boom has made natural gas abundant and cheap, and converting from coal to natural-gas generation can “cut carbon-dioxide emissions by between 50% and 60% for each megawatt hour of electricity produced, according to the [EPA],” the Journal reports. Renewable energy is also “more financially attractive” to utilities; a recent Energy Department survey “found that utilities paid 66% less for wind power purchased under long-term contracts in 2014 than 2009, making it extremely competitive with electricity from the latest gas-fired plants.” For more, read the full article.