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Weekly REsource December 15, 2017

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Early on, the Trump administration announced with some fanfare its "America First" energy initiative, promising to take advantage of the nation's untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands. The White House also expressed a very strong commitment to bolstering clean coal technology. During those grand pronouncements this past spring, touting our nation's energy prowess, little mention was made of clean and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, hydropower and others – despite the persistent growth in the sector over the past decade. As a result, the reality is that the United States has ceded its position of global leadership in the clean energy sector; largely handing the mantel to China, which is working vigorously to move away from its dependency on coal. But forward-thinking policy makers at the state and local levels, as well as businesses and renewable energy advocates, are refusing to relinquish the clean energy role the United States has long played on the global stage. Read more… 

 

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News of Note 

Meetings Held to Resolve RFS Standoff

 

Staffers with congressional lawmakers both in support of and opposed to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) met with White House staff this week in an effort to resolve a standoff that has left a USDA nomination in limbo.

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley

Representatives of RFS critics Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Cornyn (R-TX), Pat Toomey (R-PA) and James Inhofe (R-OK), and staffers of biofuel supporters Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) met with White House staff to follow up on President Trump's call last week for the two sides to work it out after Cruz and others came to the White House with their concerns over the impact of RFS on oil refiners.

 

Grassley said after the meeting Wednesday that he and other ethanol state lawmakers were willing to help Cruz address problems oil refiners are having with meeting the RFS, but also said he would do nothing to take away from the biofuel-blending program. The offices of both Grassley and Ernst say RFS supporters agreed to see proposals from Cruz before talking again.

 

Meanwhile, Cruz is maintaining a procedural hold on the nomination of Bill Northey as an under secretary at USDA, but has been unclear about what was needed for him to lift the hold. Originally, Cruz said a meeting at the White House with Grassley and others would suffice. But following last week's meeting, he has not made his conditions clear.

 

Cruz is targeting Grassley with the hold. Northey is the agriculture commissioner in Grassley's state of Iowa. Grassley was successful in getting some concessions from EPA and Trump in restoring increased blending targets under the RFS, a win achieved in part by the Iowa senator's threat of a hold on an EPA assistant administrator nomination.

 

Cruz, who has long sought to repeal the RFS, has focused his criticism on Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), credits assigned to biofuels produced and then used by refiners to certify their compliance with the biofuel blending mandate. Those who don't have sufficient biofuels can purchase credits from refiners who have met their obligations and have extra credits available.

 

RINs have been the subject of numerous price manipulation allegations after they went up to more than $1.40 at some points over the past two years. However, they reached their lowest price in months, falling from 90 cents each in late November to around 70 cents shortly before Cruz and other RFS critics met with Trump last week.

 

Nonetheless, one proposal that has been mentioned is to put a price cap in RINs.

 

But Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), issued a statement saying the capping RIN ultimately made no difference, contending refiners had their own remedies.

 

"Numerous analyses, including those recently conducted by Wells Fargo, Harvard University, MIT, the University of Michigan, Iowa State University, and other institutions, show that merchant refiners recoup their RIN costs through higher refining margins, while retail gasoline prices are unaffected by RINs," Dinneen said.

 

EPA's final RFS rule issued last month came to a similar conclusion. The agency noted that after investing "significant resources evaluating the impact of high RIN prices on refiners," it reviewed the available data and concluded "that refiners are generally able to recover the cost of RINs in the prices they receive for their refined products, and therefore high RIN prices do not cause significant harm to refiners.

 

"In light of these findings, EPA does not have the statutory authority to reduce the required renewable fuel volumes for 2018 in an effort to achieve lower RIN prices," the rule states.

 

RFA Vice President Geoff Cooper told E&E News this week that capping the price on credits undermines the intent of the RFS.

 

"RINs are the engine that drives the RFS, and they serve as a critical economic incentive to expand the production and use of renewable fuels," he said. "RIN prices reflect the marketplace's understanding of the relative ease or difficulty in meeting annual RFS standards, "Capping RIN prices would destroy the market-based design of the RFS and discourage increased ethanol blending."

 

In a statement, Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol manufacturers trade group, said a solution to the issue already exists: allowing the year-round sale of E15 (15-percent ethanol blend). The sale of E15 is currently barred in most of the country during summer months, a restriction set under air quality provisions of the Clean Air Act. A number of studies, however, have shown E15 burns as clean as E10 and that the restriction is unnecessary.

 

Legislation that would lift the E15 ban was stalled in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), an RFS critic.

 

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said his agency would lift the ban if there is legislative authority to do it.

 

"Blending more ethanol is what lowers RIN prices," Skor said. "If Mr. Cruz and his coalition are unwilling to consider this obvious solution, these meetings are nothing more than a charade to get his name in headlines."

 

FERC Gets Additional 30 Days to Consider 'Cost-Recovery' Proposal

 

Energy Secretary Rick Perry granted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) 30 more days to act on his proposal that would enable even failing coal and nuclear power plans to recover their costs from ratepayers.

 

Perry says the cost-recovery mechanism is needed to insure grid resilience, a contention disputed by a wide range of interests, including natural gas, wind and solar industry leaders.

 

The cost-recovery plan drew more than 1,500 responses over the 60-days public comment period DOE established for the proposal, including contentions that efforts to virtually subsidize coal and nuclear plants by ratepayers could disrupt the power market. Opponents say the measure just aims to financially protect power plants that are losing market share to natural gas and renewables like wind and solar.

 

The energy secretary did not grant the extension willingly, contending in his letter of response to the FERC request that delays could put the nation's electric system a continued risk.

 

FERC members had noted that the addition of two new members in recent weeks – bringing the panel to its full five commissioners – did not give the commission sufficient time to fully consider Perry's proposal.

 

In his letter, Perry told commissioners that meeting the Dec. 11 deadline he originally set for the proposal was a "better course of action," stating that he had made clear the pressing threats to the nation's electrical grid. He said it was FERC's "immediate responsibility" to alter markets to ensure plants targeted – the proposal aims those with 90-day onsite fuel supplies – are "fully valued."

 

Ratcheting up his pressure on FERC, he said "a failure to act expeditiously would be unjust, unreasonable, and contrary to the public interest."

 

But Perry, asserting that he alone had the authority to extend the deadline, gave FERC until Jan. 10 to act. Meanwhile, he said his department will use the next several weeks "to examine all options within my authority…to take remedial action to ensure the security of the nation's electric grid."

 

Perry's grid resilience plan, filed Sept. 28, proposed full cost recovery for merchant power plants that keep 90 days of fuel onsite. Those plants, he argued, strengthen the resilience of the nation's power grid by enhancing its ability to bounce back from natural disasters or attacks.

 

The cost-recovery plan has drawn a wide range of energy stakeholders and policy groups together to oppose it,

 

Michael Steel, spokesman for the Affordable Energy Coalition, an ad hoc group of opponents like American Wind Energy Association, BP and Industrial Energy Consumers of America, told capitol newspaper The Hill that the proposal would be expensive, unfair to consumers and ineffective.

 

"The bottom line is that this proposed rule would raise costs to consumers by as much as $10 billion, while not providing any meaningful increase in resiliency," Steel told the publication.

 

Others submitting comments in opposition to the proposal include the Solar Energy Industries Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and the Electric Power Supply Association.

 

Todd Foley, senior vice president of Policy and Government Affairs at ACORE, said shortly after Perry submitted his plan that his group was "concerned this proposed rulemaking uses grid resilience as an excuse to prop up plants that have not been shown to be needed, preventing consumers from buying the power they want to buy.

 

"On-site fuel power sources," Foley continued, "have not helped with severe weather events such as the Polar Vortex where coal piles froze, Hurricane Harvey where coal piles flooded, and the Fukushima event where the nuclear plant ceased to operate."

 

In October, the Sierra Club released a report showing that if applied to 2016 costs, $14 billion would be "passed onto working Americans to benefit hedge funds and other large investors" that have money in coal and nuclear plants.

 

Additional Sierra Club findings show that around 100 coal and nuclear plants could be subsidized by the proposal, primarily in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, yet grid reliability has "never been an actual real-world problem."

 

Citing data compiled by the Rhodium Group, the report says disruptions of power supply due to "fuel supply emergencies" were 0.00007 percent of the power outages reported from 2012-2016, and nearly all of the fuel-related outages came at a coal plant in Northern Minnesota.

 

Utilities, Groups Offer $17.9-Billion Plan to Restore PR Grid with Renewables

 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló have announced a plan to rebuild and transform Puerto Rico's electric power system, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria in September.

 

The authors of the plan say the new system will have increased renewable generation, such as wind and solar; incorporate new distributed energy resource technologies, such as energy storage and microgrids; reduce dependency on fossil fuels; and enable energy to become abundant, affordable and sustainable for the people of Puerto Rico.

 

They also say the envisioned system will be more resilient, efficient, advanced and less dependent on fossil fuel imports that cost Puerto Ricans more than $2 billion annually.

 

"In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in New York, a plan was immediately put into place to harden and enhance the power grid to ensure storms would not damage our communities in the future – and now is the time to implement a similar plan to ensure these upgrades are also completed in Puerto Rico," Cuomo said. "We need to act now to transform the island's power grid and provide the people of Puerto Rico with a modern and reliable electric system."

 

"As we continue to address the challenges of rebuilding Puerto Rico and restoring power to residents across the island, Gov. Cuomo and the people of New York are stepping up yet again to provide unwavering support throughout this difficult recovery process," said Rosselló. "I applaud the actions of the Puerto Rico Energy Resiliency Working Group for developing this plan and creating a critical foundation to rebuild and reimagine Puerto Rico's electric power system."

 

The working group, which was established by Cuomo to aid the island in its damage assessment and power grid rebuild planning, calls for the island's new electric power system to be designed with the resiliency to withstand future storms and to be built with modern grid technologies and control systems.

 

The working group's rebuild recommendations are based on experience implementing power system recovery, rebuilding and hardening in the aftermath of hurricanes encountered on the U.S. mainland over the last decade.

 

The recommendations include the use of modern technology and incorporate lessons learned from the successful rebuild efforts in other regions after natural disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy in New York. Additionally, the plan's recommendations align with DOE's recommendations for power system hardening and resiliency.

 

Consistent with the observed wind speeds from Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority's (PREPA) new system needs to withstand a Category 4 storm, which produces wind speeds of 155 miles/hour and heavy floods. The plan also calls to modernize the Puerto Rico electric grid, leveraging proven power system technologies to better contain outages, reduce recovery times, lower operations costs and enable more sustainable energy resources.

 

The development of the plan was undertaken in parallel with New York State's post-hurricane assessment and restoration support to Puerto Rico that began in September. Currently, more than 450 New York State utilities workers are on the ground in Puerto Rico, working to repair the island's power grid.

 

New York resources and personnel currently in Puerto Rico arrived in November following two previous deployments of New York Power Authority technical experts to Puerto Rico announced by Cuomo in September. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, those NYPA electric utility crews embedded themselves within PREPA to assist in the triage of the power grid that included the assessment of virtually all of the island's 360 substations.

 

The Puerto Rico Energy Resiliency Working Group, which authored the plan with the assistance of Navigant Consulting Inc., is comprised of power utilities and leading entities in the energy sector, including:

  • New York Power Authority (NYPA)
  • Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)
  • Puerto Rico Energy Commission
  • Consolidated Edison (Con Edison)
  • S. Department of Energy (DOE)
  • Edison International
  • Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
  • Long Island Power Authority (LIPA)
  • Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA)
  • Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL)
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
  • Grid Modernization Lab Consortium (GMLC)
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)

 

70 U.S. Mayors Embrace Solar, Call for Strong Policies

 

Seventy U.S. mayors, representing cities across the nation, are calling for solar energy to power their communities. A statement released this week by the advocacy group Environment America includes mayors from cities ranging from South Miami, Fla., to Traverse City, Mich., who agree on the need to tap into clean energy from the sun.

 

"There is no downside to solar energy," said Naples, Fla., Mayor Bill Barnett. "It's a win-win for all involved."

 

Solar energy continues to grow rapidly. Latest figures from the Solar Energy Industries Association show that the United States now has enough installed solar capacity to power the equivalent of more than 9 million homes.

 

Environment America says cities that prioritize solar power have helped to drive this growth. In 2016, just 20 cities accounted for as much solar power capacity as the entire country had installed in 2010.

 

"Cities are natural leaders when it comes to solar energy," said Emma Searson with Environment America. "They have high energy demand and lots of rooftop space suitable for solar panels. By pursuing local policies that prioritize solar, cities can maximize their solar potential, reduce pollution and improve public health."

 

Environment America's "Mayors for Solar Energy" statement has 70 signatories and continues to grow. It comes as state and local officials grapple with ways to promote renewable energy and work to address climate change, amid actions by the Trump administration to withdraw from the Paris climate accords and consider massive bailouts for outdated coal and nuclear power plants.

 

"Regardless of what's happening around us, Austin will not stop fighting climate change," said Austin, TX, Mayor Steve Adler. "Worldwide, cities will lead in achieving climate treaty goals because so much of what's required happens at the local level."

 

Many cities are using solar to meet ambitious renewable energy targets. Traverse City, MI, will build a solar project to meet its goal to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.

 

"Just last month we signed a contract in conjunction with Heritage Solar in conjunction with Traverse City Light and Power, our municipally owned power company, for a 1.2-megawatt local solar project," said Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers. "We are currently working with other area providers to add to our renewable portfolio to meet our aggressive goal."

 

Cities like Santa Monica, CA, are going beyond municipal solar installations, creating local policies and utility arrangements that support solar energy.

 

"We support solar by installing it at public facilities, creating incentives for residents and businesses to do likewise, adopting policies like our Reach Code and our most recent action to join a public power agency to procure electricity for our residents and businesses with a much greater proportion of renewables than provided by our local utility," said Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer.

 

Cities like Philadelphia are receiving recognition for their progress. Mayor Jim Kenney said the city "is proud to have been designated a SolSmart Gold City by the U.S. Department of Energy for our efforts to remove barriers to solar energy growth, and we are committed to supporting the growth of additional clean, renewable solar energy as a way to reduce costs and pollution."

 

In the wake of devastating hurricanes this year, solar energy offered critical community resilience to some in Florida.

 

"Following Hurricane Irma," said South Miami, FL, Mayor Philip Stoddard, "we plugged our fridge into the inverter on our roof-top solar system. It kept the beer cold and the Klondike Bars frozen until the utility power came back up a week later."

 

Mayors of towns large and small signed on to the letter, including Nederland, CO, population 1,445.

 

"Solar is the obvious path forward for small towns like Nederland to reduce their emissions and impact on the planet," said Nederland Mayor Kristopher Larsen.

 

The letter notes many positive aspects of local solar development that many cities are already achieving with commitments to clean energy.

 

"The transition to a clean energy future is one of the greatest opportunities of the 21st century for cities to improve community health, quality of life, environmental sustainability, and a vibrant and robust economy," said Orlando, FL, director of Sustainability Chris Castro. "More than 50 percent of the world's population now lives in cities, we have to be the ones that are leading on the important issues such as climate change, resilience and urban sustainability."

 

Solar Market Grows in Q3, But Uncertainty Holds Back Installations

 

The United States installed more than 2 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the third quarter of 2017, despite experiencing higher prices across all market segments and major policy uncertainty.

 

In their latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said prices rose due to a tight global supply of modules and uncertainty around the Section 201 trade case now being weighed at the White House.

 

 

 

 

In all, 2,031 megawatts (MW) of PV were installed in the U.S. in the third quarter of the year, the eighth consecutive quarter that the solar industry added more than 2 GW. The capacity additions represent a 51 percent drop year over year. The cumulative YTD comparison puts the industry down 22 percent compared to this point last year- which is in line with the expected 21 percent decline for all of 2016 vs all of 2017.

 

GTM Research forecasts that 11.8 GWdc of new PV installations will come on-line in 2017, down 22 percent from a record-breaking 2016. The forecast has been adjusted downward from 12.4 GW last quarter to reflect continued challenges in the residential market and a push back in utility-scale completion timelines due to uncertainties surrounding the trade case.

 

"The solar industry is a resilient bunch, but this quarter shows us what happens when policy uncertainty becomes a disruptive factor: prices rise, supplies shift and the market reacts accordingly," said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA's president and CEO. "We urge President Trump to reject tariffs and allow solar to continue its amazing growth for the U.S. economy, national security and American families in all 50 states."

 

Utility-scale projects accounted for 51 percent of the quarter's installed capacity, but it was the non-residential market that was the standout.

 

The non-residential segment grew 22 percent year-over-year, installing 481 MW in Q3. Non-residential consists of commercial and industrial businesses that install solar, nonprofits, and community solar programs.

 

California, Massachusetts and New York all posted strong quarters while Minnesota had its largest quarter ever due to its robust community solar program. Nationwide, community solar capacity is on track to grow by more than 50 percent year-over-year.

 

The utility-scale segment was led by Nevada, North Carolina and Texas. In fact, Texas installed more solar in the third quarter of this year than the state installed in the entirety of 2015. Meanwhile, emerging markets in the Southeast, including Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina all had strong quarters and are forecast to install more solar in 2017 than any year previously.

 

The report says 4 GW of utility-scale PV projects are currently under construction across the nation and GTM Research forecasts an additional 3.9 GW will come on-line by the end of the year. This would make 2017 the second largest year ever for solar installations behind only the record-shattering 2016.

 

Despite more than half of U.S states now being at grid parity – meaning the levelized cost of energy is below electricity bill savings in year 1 of system life – the U.S. residential segment posted its lowest solar installation total since the first quarter of 2015.

 

The report attributes the slowdown to two key factors: persistent nationwide customer acquisition challenges and a pivot by major solar installers that are pursuing profitable sales channels over growth. This has been particularly acute in mature markets that account for the majority of installation volumes.

 

Several markets, however, experienced record quarters for the residential solar segment. These include New Mexico, Washington D.C., Virginia and Idaho. Meanwhile, emerging markets, such as Florida and Pennsylvania, are expected to surpass 50 MW of residential capacity for the first time ever this year.

 

"The year 2017 has been unconventional for solar in the sense that utility and residential PV, which have historically been the market's major growth segments, are actually expected to decline in 2017," said GTM Research Solar Analyst Austin Perea. "For utility PV this is largely a function of comparing the record-breaking [Investment Tax Credit] demand-pull in effect of 2016 to more modest build-out in 2017, while significant customer acquisition issues remain a challenge for residential solar. Conversely, non-residential solar, the smallest and most historically beleaguered sector, is expected to grow in 2017 in large part due to robust community solar build-out and regulatory demand pull-in across major state markets."

 

Looking forward to 2018 and beyond, both Section 201 remedies and corporate tax reform present considerable downside risk to the industry's base-case forecasts. However, at present, neither issue will be incorporated into GTM Research's existing outlook until President Trump issues a formal decision on Section 201 trade remedies and Congress votes on corporate tax reform legislation.

 

Key findings from the report include:

  • In Q3 2017, the U.S. market installed 2,031 MWdc of solar PV, a 51 percent decrease year-over-year from Q3 2016. Through the end of Q3, installations are tracking 22 percent behind the pace set through the same period during a record-breaking 2016.
  • Through the first three quarters of 2017, 25 percent of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the U.S. has come from solar, ranking second over that period only to natural gas.
  • In the Section 201 safeguard case, the ITC failed to achieve a formal recommendation of trade relief on foreign-manufactured crystalline silicon cells and modules. Rather, individual commissioners suggested to the Trump administration three sets of remedies at levels below the petitioners' requests. President Trump has until Jan. 26 to decide the outcome of the case.
  • Q3 2017 saw price increases across all market segments for the first time since this report series' inception, stemming from increases in module costs due to a global shortage of Tier 1 module supply and the Section 201 petition.
  • The residential PV sector fell 10 percent quarter-over-quarter. Declining growth is driven by weakness in California and major Northeast markets, which continue to feel the impact of pull-back from national providers.
  • In contrast to residential PV, the non-residential sector grew 22 percent year-over-year, primarily driven by regulatory demand pull-in from looming policy deadlines in California and the Northeast in addition to the continued build-out of a robust community solar pipeline in Minnesota.
  • Voluntary procurement continues to be the primary driver of new utility PV procurement, in 2017 accounting for 57 percent of new procurement through Q3.
  • GTM Research forecasts that 11.8 GWdc of new PV installations will come on-line in 2017, down 22 percent from a record-breaking 2016. Our forecast has been adjusted downward from 12.4 GWdc last quarter to reflect continued challenges in the residential market and a push back in utility-scale completion timelines due to uncertainties surrounding the trade case.
  • Total installed U.S. PV capacity is expected to more than double over the next five years and by 2022, nearly 15 GW of PV capacity will be installed annually.

 

Global Solar PV Installations to Exceed 100 GW in 2018, IHS Markit Says

 

Largely driven by an improvement in the outlook in China, global photovoltaic (PV) demand is forecast to reach 108 gigawatts (GW) in 2018.

 

According to business information provider IHS Markit, strong demand from the Chinese market is expected to continue on the back of strong policy support, a successful transition to a more diverse market and strong momentum in the distributed-PV (DPV) sector.

 

"Exceeding 108 gigawatts of PV installations is close to the top-end of what can be achieved, based on the global polysilicon manufacturing capacity," said Edurne Zoco, research and analysis director for IHS Markit. "Supply will therefore be tight throughout the first half of the year at least, resulting in stable to higher prices across the supply chain."

 

According to the latest edition of its PV Demand Market Tracker, global installations will likely be shaped by PV module supply and pricing. (The tracker provides forecasts and analysis for installed PV capacity in nearly 50 countries and is updated quarterly, reflecting the latest policy changes and market developments.)

 

"Short supply and higher-than-anticipated module prices in the first half of 2018 will impede many markets outside China, due to worsening project economics," Zoco said. "Projects in some regions might be delayed or even canceled, because market prices are higher than were estimated during the planning phase."

 

In a marked change from the past, Chinese PV module suppliers are now prioritizing their domestic market. At one time, China represented one of the lowest-priced PV markets, but after prices increased in 2017, China became an attractive market for local manufacturers. As a result, supply to other regions is restricted when demand in China is strong.

 

In addition to the expected shortfall in PV modules, other factors influencing the PV outlook outside of China next year include:

  • The United States, which is still forecast to be the second-largest PV market in 2018, is facing significant policy uncertainty. President Trump's final ruling on Suniva's 201 petition case could significantly affect global PV economics in this market. Planned corporate tax reforms could also significantly weaken investor interest in the sector. The relationship between supply and demand has already become distorted, due to the stockpiling of modules ahead of the 201 decision.
  • India, the third-largest market in 2018, is mulling the introduction of anti-dumping duties for modules manufactured in China in the second half of 2018. The country has also announced tenders for projects with local content. Such measures may limit the number of modules available to supply India's PV demand over the next few years, unless local manufacturers ramp up production quickly.

 

State Roundup: SC Utility Hits Solar Goal 3 Years Early

 

In South Carolina, a major utility has met three years ahead of time the utility-scale solar goal set out by the state's Distributed Resource Program Act of 2014 by producing 42 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale solar power by 2020.

 

The achievement was celebrated with the dedication of the Otarre Solar Park, which brings an additional 1.62 MW of utility-scale solar power to SCE&G's grid. The facility consists of 6,156 panels and provides enough electricity to power approximately 320 homes.

 

Otarre Solar Park developer TIG Sun Energy and project builder Hannah Solar Government Services participated in the dedication ceremony.

 

"We are pleased to have reached this goal for utility-scale solar power ahead of the 2020 deadline," said Keller Kissam, incoming president and COO of SCE&G. "When we started working to achieve the goals, we also set out to demonstrate that solar isn't just a program, but it's an integral part of our generation portfolio. It's a part of our future and the future of South Carolina."

 

TIG Sun Energy, a division of The InterTech Group, financed, owns and operates the facility, while Hannah Solar Government Services engineered, designed and built the park. TIG Sun Energy also developed the Jerry Zucker Solar Park in Charleston, SCE&G's first utility-scale solar facility and the first developed under the Distributed Resource Act.

 

"We are thrilled to play a role in further establishing solar energy in South Carolina's future energy portfolio," said Grant Reeves, senior vice president of The InterTech Group. "Our work on the Otarre Solar Park is yet another way we're advancing sustainable energy technology in our state and around the world."

 

The Distributed Resources Act is the result of a joint effort involving utilities like SCE&G and conservation groups. The measure established net energy metering rules, introduced distributed energy programs and allowed customer access to solar leasing options.

 

There are nearly 6,000 solar customers who are interconnected to SCE&G's electric system by owning and operating renewable energy generation facilities, such as solar energy systems.

 

In Nevada, officials this week dedicated two industrial-sized solar power plants that will serve the Switch commercial data company's service centers in Las Vegas and Reno.

 

The plants, located in a North Las Vegas industrial park, have an output capacity of 179 megawatts, enough to otherwise power 46,000 Nevada homes.

 

Switch Vice President Adam Kramer said the project reflects the company's goal of using renewable energy so that "the data that runs our planet does not ruin our planet."

 

NV Energy, the state's biggest utility, says the two plant brings to 16 the number of solar power plants in Nevada. They are located 40 miles from a coal-fired power plant that NV Energy and other power firms operated until it was shut down in March.

 

Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said the Switch Station plants are part of a plan to make Nevada a leader in renewable energy development.

 

"A technology giant like Switch committing to using 100 percent renewable energy is truly visionary and grows our clean energy economy by creating hundreds of good-paying labor construction jobs here," he said.

 

The plants are said to be the first utility-scale solar power plants to be built in a U.S. Bureau of Land Management "Solar Energy Zone," sites on federally owned lands designated specifically for locating solar projects.

 

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced the award $20 million in grants to 26 projects that officials say will develop the state's energy storage market and deliver benefits to ratepayers and the electrical grid.

 

Recognizing the potential benefits energy storage holds for the Commonwealth, paired with the strength of submitted projects, the administration doubled the available funding from an initial commitment of $10 million.

 

The awarded projects will benefit 25 communities and draw in $32 million in matching funds, helping to grow the state's energy storage economy. 

 

The grants were awarded as part of the administration's Energy Storage Initiative (ESI) Advancing Commonwealth Energy Storage (ACES) program, funded by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) through Alternative Compliance Payments (ACP) and administered by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC).

 

The announcement was made by Baker during an event at UMass Memorial-Marlborough Hospital. The critical care facility will use funding received under the grant program to integrate a 400-kilowatt solar canopy and energy storage system to reduce energy use and costs, shave its peak demand and increase its overall resilience.

 

"The development and deployment of energy storage projects will be vital to the Commonwealth's ability to continue leading the nation in energy efficiency," Baker said. "Funding these storage projects is an investment in our energy portfolio that will reduce costs for ratepayers and help create a clean and resilient energy future."

 

Launched by the administration in 2015, the ESI aims to make Massachusetts a national leader in energy storage by analyzing opportunities to support energy storage companies, accelerating the development of early commercial storage technologies and developing policy options to encourage energy storage deployment.

 

In Indiana, state and local leaders and landowners joined executives from NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, and American Electric Power (AEP) to celebrate the commissioning of the Bluff Point Wind Energy Center, which officials say has created hundreds of construction jobs as well as millions of dollars in economic benefits for the region.

 

"On behalf of Governor Holcomb, I am very pleased to help commission this exciting project that represents a $200 million investment in our state," said Indiana Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch. "It has created good jobs for Hoosiers and an economic uplift for the region, as well as low-cost, clean energy, which is a product we can all be proud of."

 

The Bluff Point Wind Energy Center features 57 GE wind turbines designed to pivot to capture the prevailing wind and convert it to clean, renewable electricity. Together, they have a generating capacity of nearly 120 megawatts. Affiliates of NextEra Energy Resources, the world's largest generator of renewable energy, built and will own and operate the project. The energy serves customers of Appalachian Power, an affiliate of AEP.

 

"AEP and Appalachian Power are pleased to partner with NextEra Energy Resources on this beneficial project that helps modernize and diversify the power generation fleet and provides low-cost, clean energy to customers," said Marc Lewis, vice president of regulatory and external affairs for Indiana Michigan Power,an AEP company.

 

Appalachian Power serves 1 million customers in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee. The company has been moving toward a more diversified energy portfolio that will include more wind-generated power, new solar, demand-side management and energy efficiency as well as existing hydropower, coal and natural gas plants.

 

Continued Emissions May Cause Global North-to-South Shift in Wind Power

 

In the next century, wind resources may decrease in many regions of the Northern Hemisphere and could sharply increase in some hotspot regions down south, according to a study by University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) researchers.

 

The first-of-its-kind study predicting how global wind power may shift with climate change appeared this week in Nature Geoscience.

 

Potential global wind power in coming years. Top images represent next 40 years. Bottom images represent next 80 years. Left images represent lower emissions. Right images represent higher emissions scenario. Red areas are wind power hotspots. Blue areas are reductions. White areas are uncertain. Image_ Kris Karnauskas_CIRES

 

"There's been a lot of research looking at the potential climate impact of energy production transformations – like shifting away from fossil fuels toward renewables," said lead author Kris Karnauskas, assistant professor in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC) at CU Boulder "But not as much focuses on the impact of climate change on energy production by weather-dependent renewables, like wind energy."

 

Wind powers only about 3.7 percent of worldwide energy consumption today, but global wind power capacity is increasing rapidly – about 20 percent a year. Karnauskas and colleagues Julie Lundquist and Lei Zhang, also in ATOC, wanted to better understand likely shifts in production, so they turned to an international set of climate model outputs to assess changes in wind energy resources across the globe. The team then used a "power curve" from the wind energy industry to convert predictions of global winds, density and temperature into an estimate of wind energy production potential.

 

While not all of the climate models agreed on what the future will bring, substantial changes may be in store, especially a prominent asymmetry in wind power potential across the globe. If carbon dioxide emissions continue at high levels, wind power resources may decrease in the Northern Hemisphere's mid-latitudes, and increase in the Southern Hemisphere and tropics by 2100.

 

Strangely, the team also found that if emission levels are mitigated, dropping lower in coming decades, they see only a reduction of wind power in the north-it may not be countered with an increase of power in the south.

 

Renewable energy decision makers typically plan and install wind farms in areas with consistently strong winds today. For example, the prairies of the American Midwest-persistently windy today and in recent decades-are dotted with tens of thousands of turbines. While the new assessment finds wind power production in these regions over the next twenty years will be similar to that of today, it could drop by the end of the century.

 

By contrast, potential wind energy production in northeastern Australia could see dramatic increases.

 

There were different reasons for the Northern decline and the Southern increase in wind power potential in the high-emissions scenario, Karnauskas, a fellow with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a partnership between the university and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). and his co-authors found in their analysis of modeling results.

 

In the Northern Hemisphere, warmer temperatures at the North Pole weaken the temperature difference between this cold region and the warm equator. A smaller temperature gradient means slower winds in the northern mid-latitudes.

 

"These decreases in North America occur primarily during the winter season, when those temperature gradients should be strong and drive strong winds," said Associate Professor Lundquist, who is also a fellow with the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, a joint effort between the university and DOE' National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

 

In addition to North America, the team identified possible wind power reductions in Japan, Mongolia and the Mediterranean by the end of the century. This may be bad news for the Japanese, who are rapidly accelerating their wind power development.

 

In the Southern Hemisphere, where there is more ocean than land, a different kind of gradient increases: land warms faster than the surrounding, much-larger oceans. That intensified gradient increases the winds. Hotspots for likely wind power increases include: Brazil, West Africa, South Africa and Australia.

 

"Europe is a big question mark," added Karnauskas. "We have no idea what we'll see there. That's almost scary, given that Europe is producing a lot of wind energy already."

 

The trend in the region (and in others, like the southeastern United States), he adds, is just too uncertain: some models forecast wind power increase, and others, a decrease.

 

In a warming world, harnessing more wind power in coming decades could be critical for countries trying to meet emission reduction standards set by the Paris Climate Agreement. The team's results may help inform decision-makers across the globe determining where to deploy this technology.

 

"The climate models are too uncertain about what will happen in highly productive wind energy regions, like Europe, the Central United States and Inner Mongolia," said Lundquist. "We need to use different tools to try to forecast the future – this global study gives us a roadmap for where we should focus next with higher-resolution tools."

 

Research Shows Hydraulic Fracturing Negatively Impacts Infant Health

 

From North Dakota to Ohio to Pennsylvania, hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has transformed small towns into energy powerhouses. While some see the new energy boom as benefiting the local economy and decreasing U.S. reliance on foreign oil, others fear the potential health and environmental consequences that come along with fracking.

 

 

A study published this week in Science Advances shows health risks increase for infants born to mothers living within 2 miles of a hydraulic fracturing site. 

 

Image by Egan Jimenez – Woodrow Wilson School of Public and Intl. Affairs

 

The research team found that infants born within a half a mile from a fracking site were 25 percent more likely to be born at low birth weights, leaving them at greater risk of infant mortality, ADHD, asthma, lower test scores, lower schooling attainment and lower lifetime earnings.

 

"Given the growing evidence that pollution affects babies in utero, it should not be surprising that fracking, which is a heavy industrial activity, has negative effects on infants," said co-author Janet Currie, the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University.

 

"As local and state policymakers decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in their communities, it is crucial that they carefully examine the costs and benefits, including the potential impacts from pollution," said study co-author Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. "This study provides the strongest large-scale evidence of a link between the pollution that stems from hydraulic fracturing activities and our health, specifically the health of babies."

 

Using records from more than 1.1 million births across Pennsylvania from 2004 to 2013, the researchers compared infants born to mothers living near a drilling site to those living farther away from a site, before and after fracking began at that site.

 

The study, "Hydraulic Fracturing and Infant Health: New Evidence from Pennsylvania," showed the most significant impacts were seen among babies born within six-tenths of mile from a site, as those babies were 25 percent more likely to be low birth weight, that is born under 5.5 pounds.

 

Infants born to mothers living between half a mile and 2 miles saw their risk of low birth weight decrease by about a half to a third. Infants born to mothers living beyond 2 miles experienced little to no impact to their health.

 

"The results suggest that hydraulic fracturing does have an impact on our health, though the good news is that this is only at a highly localized level," said Currie, who directs the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "Out of the nearly 4 million babies born in the United States each year, about 29,000 of them are born within about a half mile of a fracking site."

 

"While we know pollution from hydraulic fracturing impacts our health, we do not yet know where that pollution is coming from – from the air or water, from chemicals onsite, or an increase in traffic," said co-author Katherine Meckel, assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Until we can determine the source of this pollution and contain it, local lawmakers will be forced to continue to make the difficult decision of whether to allow fracking in order to boost their local economies – despite the health implications – or ban it altogether, missing out on the jobs and revenue it would bring."

 

This study follows previous work by Currie, Greenstone and others on the local economic benefits, which found the average household living near a hydraulic fracturing site benefits by as much as $1,900 per year. This was because of a 7-percent increase in average income, driven by rises in wages and royalty payments, a 10-percent increase in employment, and a 6-percent increase in housing prices. However, the authors cautioned that the housing prices could change if further information about the environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing were revealed.

 

"Housing prices are not fixed; they are based on many factors including how well the job market is and how safe the area is to live in," Currie said. "As these results and others on the health impacts from hydraulic fracturing become mainstreamed into the consciousness of homeowners and home buyers, the local economic benefits could decrease."

 

The study, "Hydraulic Fracturing and Infant Health: New Evidence from Pennsylvania," first appeared online Dec. 13.

 

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