Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (4/10/15)

April 10th, 2015

Here are five recommended reads for today (4/10/15).

  1. InsideClimate News reports, “Since Pennsylvania’s fracking boom began in 2004, there have been increased levels of radon, a radioactive gas and a trigger of lung cancer, recorded in homes, according to a new study.”
  2. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “This should prove to be a watershed year for the ‘de-carbonization’ of the US power sector, with record volumes of coal-fired capacity to be shuttered, renewables capacity to be built, and natural gas to be consumed”
  3. Scientific American reports, “Gas-Happy Texas Goes Solar.”
  4. According to Greentech Media, “The U.S. market for energy storage management systems, which are software suites designed to increase the operating efficiency and overall value of energy storage, will grow tenfold between 2014 and 2019.”
  5. Kate Zerrenner of the Environmental Defense Fund writes at Renewable Energy World that Australia, and possibly Texas, are undoing the “best strategy for water conservation: clean energy.”

Recent Polling Shows Overwhelming Support for Clean Energy

April 9th, 2015

We’ve known for a long time that Americans strongly support clean energy, but every so often it’s good to see brand-new polling that reaffirms this finding. Two recent polls in particular jumped out at us, one produced for Clean Edge and SolarCity, the other by Gallup. Here are a few key findings.

  • According to the Clean Edge/SolarCity polling, Americans by a 61%-24% margin are opposed to electric utilities “being able to charge an additional fee for solar powered homes and businesses.”
  • By an enormous 78%-9% margin, Americans believe it is important for the U.S. “to be a global leader in developing and deploying solar energy systems.” And by a nearly unanimous 87%-7% margin, Americans said that renewable energy is important to America’s future.
  • By a 74%-12% margin, U.S. homeowners “back the continuation of federal tax incentives that support the growth of solar and wind.”
  • The Clean Edge/SolarCity polling finds that support for natural gas declines with age: 43% of those over 70, compared to just 33% of those between 35 and 54, and just 27% of those in the 18-24 age range.
  • Asked which energy sources people think are “most important to America’s energy future,” solar power came out on top (50% of homeowners agreed), with wind power second (42%), and energy efficiency (25) also in the top four.  Near the bottom of the list, in constrast were coal (8%) and oil (17%).
  • Gallup’s polling also found overwhelming support for clean energy, with Americans wanting more emphasis on solar power (79%-9%) and wind power (70%-14%). That support is across the political spectrum, by the way, with Republicans wanting more emphasis on solar power (70%) and wind (63%).

New Report: Implementing EPA Clean Power Plan Can Be Job Creator for Virginia

April 9th, 2015

Eliminating Electricity Imports at Same Time Would Double Job Gains

Mix of new temporary construction and permanent jobs would peak at 5,700 under basic scenario, but reach 12,600 jobs if investments also aim to keep utility spending in the state a number nearly equal to employment in Virginias commercial construction sector.

[Richmond, VA, and Washington, D.C.] – A new report analyzing scenarios for Virginia’s compliance with the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from the electric power sector shows that the Commonwealth could create thousands of permanent and temporary jobs by making investments to diversify its power sources with renewable energy, energy efficiency, and natural gas generating plants – and more than double the new jobs if the state pursued a long-sought goal of eliminating electricity imports from out of state.

The new report, Assessing Virginias Energy Future: Employment Impacts of Clean Power Plan Compliance Scenarios, was prepared by Meister Consultants Group for the Advanced Energy Economy Institute and the Virginia Advanced Energy Industries Coalition. The full report is available for download at http://info.aee.net/virginia-energy-future.

“This analysis shows the job creating value of putting advanced energy technologies to work in Virginia under the Clean Power Plan,” said Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, a national business group, and the AEE Institute, its nonprofit educational affiliate. “Deploying these technologies in Virginia to also reduce imports creates even more jobs while keeping precious energy dollars in state supporting economic growth. This report should be a road map for Virginia’s energy future.”

“We have an opportunity to significantly increase employment in Virginia while achieving a lower risk energy portfolio, greater grid resiliency, and satisfying the significant and growing demand for clean, advanced energy,” said Francis Hodsoll, Board President of Virginia Advanced Energy Industries Coalition, a business group representing a range of energy technologies.“Given these findings, political and business leaders in Virginia should demand that Virginia develop a prudent pro-growthimplementation strategy.”

Under EPA’s draft Clean Power Plan, which is expected to become final this summer, Virginia would be required to reduce its carbon emissions rate from electricity generation from 1,438 pounds per megawatt-hour (lb/MWh) to 810 lb/MWh by 2030. EPA set that target based on the agency’s calculation of the state’s ability to take measures such as increasing the efficiency of existing coal-fired power plants, shifting generation to natural gas-fired plants with unused capacity, developing more renewable energy capacity (along with maintaining nuclear capacity), and increasing the efficiency of energy use.

In Assessing Virginias Energy Future, Meister Consultants Group analyzed two of the many scenarios under which Virginia could meet EPA’s 2030 emissions rate target, and found that both would result in significant employment gains for the state compared with a “business as usual” scenario. As net new jobs created between now and 2030 would be a mix of temporary construction jobs and permanent positions, the report follows the convention used by economists to express employment gains in “job-years,” with one job in existence for one year equal to one job-year.  Thus, a construction job that lasts for two years on a particular project would count as two job-years, while a permanent job created in 2021 and still in place in 2030 would count as nine job-years.

The Diversified Portfolio option, that achieves compliance by implementing changes already planned by utilities, most of the building block measures contemplated by EPA, some renewable energy, and greater energy efficiency, will result in more than 54,000 additional job-years by 2030. Net new jobs would peak in 2029, at 5,715 – a number approaching current employment in beverage and tobacco production in Virginia (6,800).

Job gains would more than double if the state chose to accomplish a frequently stated goal of keeping utility spending in the Virginia economy by eliminating electricity imports at the same time as it complied with the Clean Power Plan. Currently, Virginia gets a little less than 40 percent of its electricity from out of state. The state could reduce electricity imports to zero by 2030, as well as surpass EPA’s emissions target, with more renewable energy, energy efficiency, and natural gas resources.

Under the Import Reduction scenario, employment would get a boost of more than 120,000 job-years by 2030. Net new jobs under this scenario would peak in 2027, at 12,631 – nearly equal to existing jobs in commercial construction (14,000).

Job gains under both scenarios would be in addition to 7,964 job-years expected as a result of changes already planned by the state’s utilities (see Figure 1 attached). These include plans to retire or convert a substantial amount of coal-fired generation, implement some renewable energy and energy efficiency investments, and construct several high-efficiency natural gas combined cycle power plants. These changes reflect the changing economics of the electric power sector, and will also reduce Virginia’s emissions rate, helping the state reach its target under the CPP.

“After considering different compliance strategies, this report found that implementing the Clean Power Plan can lead to substantial direct job creation in Virginia,” said Wilson Rickerson, CEO of Meister Consultants Group, Inc., an independent international research firm. “These employment benefits will be greatly increased if the state adopts a compliance plan that aims to increase the state’s electricity independence.”

“Working with nearly 100 utilities across the nation and around the world, we have helped meet efficiency goals and lower costs to serve, while improving customer satisfaction,” said Richard Caperton, Director of National Policy & Partnerships at Opower, based in Arlington, Va. (NYSE: OPWR). “This report shows that innovative technology can help drive significant energy savings and create thousands of jobs for the state of Virginia.”

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (4/9/15)

April 9th, 2015

Here are five recommended reads for today (4/9/15).

  1. The Guardian reports, “Nobel prize winners in the US and Australia have joined calls for the world’s two largest health charities to sell their stocks in leading fossil fuel companies.”
  2. At NRDC’s Switchboard blog, Pierre Bull argues that “going solar should be no more difficult than getting cable TV.”
  3. BloombergView reports: “A new study in Nature Climate Change, by Bjorn Nykvist and Mans Nilsson of the Stockholm Environment Institute, shows that electric vehicle batteries have been getting cheaper much faster than expected. From 2007 to 2011, average battery costs for battery-powered electric vehicles fell by about 14 percent a year. For the leading electric vehicle makers, Tesla and Nissan, costs fell by 8 percent a year. This astounding decline puts battery costs right around the level that the International Energy Agency predicted they would reach in 2020. We are six years ahead of the curve.”
  4. The Sierra Club announces: “Bloomberg Philanthropies…will invest an additional $30 million in the Sierra Club to secure the replacement of half the nation’s coal fleet by 2017 with clean energy. The new round of funding builds on a previous commitment of $50 million, raising the foundation’s overall investment in the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign to $80 million.”
  5. Greentech Media reports: “New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced up to $160 million togrow large-scale clean energy across the state. As part of New York’s renewable portfolio standard, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will procure energy from facilities that make electricity using wind, solar, fuel cells, biomass, renewable biogas or small hydropower.”

New Study: Clean energy “offers serious benefits for low- and fixed-income households in particular”

April 8th, 2015

We already know that Americans of all political stripes overwelmingly support cutting carbon pollution while increasing emphasis on energy efficiency and clean power solutions like solar and wind. We also know that Americans support doing this for strong reasons: environmental protection, job creation, lower power costs and increased freedom from reliance on monopoly utilities, to name just a few.

Now, NRDC is out with a new report, “Bridging the Clean Energy Divide: Affordable Clean Energy Solutions for Today and Tomorrow,” which adds two more powerful arguments for clean energy to the list: economic fairness and social justice for less-affluent communities. As the report explains:

…we must consider the disproportionate health impacts of dirty, coal fired power generation on low-income communities and people of color. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), people of color and low-income families are more likely to live in close proximity to the coal plants that generate most of our electricity. People of color make up 36 percent of the U.S. population, but 39 percent of those who live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant. Coal plants that are located in urban areas are overwhelmingly sited in communities of color. While 56 percent of white Americans live within 30 miles of a power plant, 68 percent of African Americans do. African Americans frequent the emergency room for asthma attacks three times as often as white Americans do.

In stark contrast, clean energy choices will disproprotionately benefit low-income Americans, people on fixed incomes, etc. A few highlights from the report illustrate why that’s the case.

*Energy efficiency “allows people to lower their energy use (and therefore their energy bills) without sacrificing services like light and heat…making bills lower for all customers, even those who did not install efficiency measures in their own buildings.” Keep in mind that energy costs “make up a significant portion of the annual incomes of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” so again, lower-income Americans will benefit disproportionately from a switch from dirty to clean energy.

*More good news on the energy efficiency front and low-income households: “Energy inefficient housing can be expensive, even if the nominal mortgage payment or rent is low, and energy efficiency can make a big difference in achieving and keeping the dream of home ownership. A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Institute of Market Transformation found that mortgages secured by families in houses meeting Energy Star efficiency standards experienced substantially lower rates of delinquency and default, with 32 percent fewer defaults compared with non-Energy Star homes.”

*How about multifamily housing, which “accounts for 26.1 percent of all housing units in the United States, providing homes to more than 17 million households nationwide—including nearly one half of all very low-income renters?” The NRDC study finds that energy efficiency improvements in those building “could save building owners and residents up to $3.4 billion every year.”

*Finally, with regard to renewable energy, this report highlights what we’ve talked about repeatedly: namely, that “Renewable Energy Is Cost-effective and Increasingly Available.” As I’ve pointed out a gazillion times, “energy efficiency is the lowest-cost resource” — far cheaper than coal, nuclear or natural gas, and that’s not even taking into account the enormous subsidies (both direct and indirect) and negative “externalities” (environmental, health, etc.) of non-renewable energy sources. The next least expensive form of energy, by the way, is not a fossil fuel, but onshore wind, which is very similar to advanced, highly efficient “combined-cycle” natural gas-fired power plants.

*As for solar PV, it’s already in the cost range of coal-fired and nuclear power plants, with one huge advantage: solar power costs have been plummeting, and are expected to continue falling, while solar efficiency rates continue to increase as the technology improves. In stark contrast, as the new NRDC report points out, “A major risk in being overly dependent on fossil fuels is price volatility.”

Bottom line: there are already a wide range of strong reasons to transition rapidly off of dirty fossil fuels and onto clean energy, including the social justice and economic fairness benefits to low-income Americans — not just in the inner cities, but in other poor areas of the country, including (ironically) the coalfields of Appalachia.