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Weekly REsource February 9, 2018

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A few short months ago, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projected the share of the world power market held by renewables will grow from 24 percent in 2016 to 30 percent by 2022. IRENA says that the three nations accounting for two-thirds of the expansion leading that shift will be India, China and the United States. That the United States is among those countries ultimately moving the world towards the inevitable transition to a future of low- and no-carbon energy sources – despite current policy uncertainty at the federal level – is not surprising given the uplift to clean power sources by states and businesses. In those contexts, it is not surprising that our nation's electric cooperatives – the principle source of power for most of rural America – are among those in the electrical sector leading a trend away from coal as their major power source and, in the process, boosting their use of renewable resources like wind, solar and biomass.

News of Note

Limited Tax Extenders Included in Budget Resolution Passed by Congress

 

Language that extends multiple renewable energy tax credits that expired at the end of 2016 has been included in a Continuing Resolution (CR) adopted by Congress and signed by President Trump early this morning that will fund the government until March 23.

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley _R-IA_

While clean energy advocates were grateful that the so-called "extenders package" was finally moved after a number of false starts over the past two years, some were concerned the tax credits that they have long sought were only extended for one year.

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was particularly irate over a biodiesel blenders tax credit of $1 per gallon, which expired at the end of 2016, the fifth time over 13 years, was only extended retroactively through 2017 and did not carry a two-year extension taking the credit through this year. Grassley said he had been promised a two-year extension by congressional leadership.

 

He directed much of his displeasure against House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) when he told reporters early this morning that the one-year extension for the biodiesel tax credit "is contrary to the promise I got from both the leadership of the Senate and the House, including a Nov. 9 telephone conversation I had with" Ryan.

 

Iowa, Grassley's state, is the nation's leader in the production of biodiesel.

 

Kurt Kovarik, vice president of federal affairs at the National Biodiesel Board, issued a statement, saying his group was "disappointed that some of the negotiators prevented the extension from covering 2018."

 

Elsewhere, Randy Howard, the CEO of Renewable Energy Group, the largest provider of advanced biofuels, including biodiesel, on the continent, said his firm was "pleased that Congress recognized the importance of biomass-based diesel and its place in the value chain and passed a retroactive extension of the biodiesel mixture excise tax credit for 2017. This credit will allow needed infrastructure investments to grow the production and distribution of these valuable renewable products.

 

"However," Howard continued, "we are disappointed that despite strong bi-partisan support, Congress did not complete the job and continue the biodiesel tax credit into the future."

 

The credit originated in 2005 and has lapsed five times, prompting a lack of certainty within the industry and among its investors. Some biodiesel producers say the credit is needed to maintain profitability. Otherwise, producers say they will be forced to turn to the Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) market to sustain margins.

 

Reuters is reporting this morning that the price of biodiesel RINs has been trending up since word came out that the tax credit would only be extended through last year. RINs are reported to be trading at 84 cents each, compared to 72 cents Wednesday. RINs, which are generated by each gallon of biodiesel produced or each gallon imported into the United States, serve to certify compliance with biofuel-blending targets set by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard. Producers say they may have to produce more biodiesel to generate additional RINs to compensate for the loss of the tax credit this year.

 

The biodiesel industry was reportedly not the only renewable energy sector that felt shortchanged by the limited extension provided for some credits.

 

Sen. Orrin Hatch _R-UT_

Right before Congress went on its Christmas break, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced the Tax Extenders Act of 2017 (S. 2256), a measure that would restore the tax credits for biodiesel and for lesser-known but vital clean energy technologies.

 

While the inclusion of much of Hatch's bill in the CR "is seemingly good news," American Biogas Council's (ABC) Director of Federal Policy Maureen Walsh said in an email to ABC members and stakeholders Thursday morning that ABC had confirmed that the agreement on extenders carried in the CR "differs significantly" from Hatch's December proposal.

 

The measure introduced by Hatch in December would have retroactively extended the so-called "Section 45" Production Tax Credit (PTC) for renewable energy technologies, including biogas to energy, to include 2017, and also extend it forward for one additional year to include 2018.

 

But the package contained in the CR offers only a one-year extension of the PTC for biomass, just retroactively carrying it through 2017.

 

Walsh also noted the package included in the CR extends the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar, geothermal, fuel cells, microturbines, combined heat and power, and thermal energy facilities through 2022, compared to just the once year for the PTC technologies, such as anaerobic digestion and biogas.

 

"This legislation, therefore, would further exacerbate the disparities between renewable energy technologies that have secured long term tax credits…and those baseload powers that have not secured a long-term extension," she said.

 

Walsh said that before the legislation was released Thursday, the ABC had spent the previous two days reaching out to members of the Senate Finance Committee "to express our dismay at the one-year proposal. It's bad tax policy and would serve to further the disparity between biogas and other renewable technologies."

 

Yesterday, Walsh urged members to contact House and Senate leadership, as well as every Finance Committee member, to express the industry's need for a two-year extension of the PTC at a minimum.

 

In a letter that ABC called on members to send to congressional leaders, the council noted that it has advocated for a longer extension with a gradual phase down, to provide the same treatment solar project developers have received. They saw Hatch's two-year proposal, which would allow biogas-to-energy projects that start construction this year (in 2018) to qualify for the tax credits, as "a reasonable compromise, since tax relief will kick in in 2019."

 

However, the ABC letter says the one-year extension "would effectively kill development of future biogas projects, as well as put many projects currently in development at stake" by increasing "the uncertainty for project developers and sends a very negative economic market signal to the investment community."

 

Some lawmakers say the truncated extenders would be addressed in the weeks ahead as Congress puts together its omnibus spending bill to finish out this fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

 

"It really needed to be two years," Sen. John Thune (R-SD) told E&E News Thursday. "We're going to have to figure out how to provide some certainty and this really doesn't do that for the expired ones."

 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) reneged on assurances the extenders would be taken care with tax reform.

 

But Brady said that with the tax reform measure just past by Congress, a new look had to be taken at the industries seeking them to see if they are justified. He said Ways and Means would conduct a series of hearings on the tax credit proposals.

 

Meanwhile, other interests registered concerns about the short, retroactive extensions.

 

E&E News quoted Renewable Fuels Association general counsel Ed Hubbard as saying "the deal to only retroactively extend the provisions would be disastrous for the biofuel industry."

 

"These incentives are designed to help drive investment and innovation in the biofuel industry," Hubbard said, "but by definition only extending them for 2017 does not allow them to have any prospective benefit for the industry."

 

"Tax credits for a year that has already ended do nothing to encourage investment in our technology," Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves said in a statement. "Biomass is again expired while wind and solar continue to enjoy below market rates – creating additional inequity by causing our existing facilities to face unfair competition in the power market."

 

National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci issued a statement arguing the shortened extension seems to run contrary to efforts to strengthen grid reliability and resiliency.

 

"Why would Congress seek to disadvantage a premier flexible renewable baseload technology like hydropower?," she said. "This isn't just playing renewable energy favorites, it's fundamentally missing hydropower's role, and the benefits it brings, to our nation's electricity grid."

 

Trump Withdraws Hartnett White Nomination for CEQ Chair

 

The White House last weekend withdrew from the Senate the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to chair the Council on Environmental Equality (CEQ), conceding the nod faced strong, bipartisan opposition.

 

Kathleen Hartnett White

In November, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee narrowly approved her nomination, 11-10, along party lines, but the full Senate declined to consider her nomination to the top White House environmental job over the days remaining in last year's congressional session and returned it to President Trump.

 

Nominations that the Senate does not take up are often withdrawn by the administration. But Trump last month chose to resubmit White's name for the CEQ leadership position and a top role in advising Trump on energy and environmental policy issues, and overseeing the implementation the president's executive orders carrying out those policies.

 

Controversy over the nomination only intensified this year, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raising questions about her fitness for the role.

 

She has served as a member and chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Prior to 2001, she served as then-Gov. George W. Bush's appointee to the Texas Water Development Board, where she sat until appointed to TCEQ. Most recently, White has served since 2008 as the distinguished senior fellow-in-residence and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think tank.

 

Positions she has taken in recent years on energy and environmental issues raised serious concerns from renewable energy stakeholders, agricultural producers and rural America advocates. Many see Hartnett-White's views as a failure to recognize the many economic and environmental contributions cleaner energy alternatives are making to farming operations and rural communities.

 

Just as recently as 2014, she called for the repeal of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which sets biofuel-blending requirements for our nation's transportation fuel supply. The RFS has been a major economic driver for corn and soybean producers who gain additional value when growing and selling ethanol and biomass-based diesel feedstocks to renewable fuel producers.

 

Also while at the TPPF, Hartnett-White, a strong gas and oil supporter, consistently condemned the RFS, one time calling it "counterproductive and ethically dubious."

 

She stepped back from that criticism during her confirmation hearing before the Senate committee in November. But many members of the committee, as well as biofuel advocates, questioned the sincerity of the nominee's turnaround on the issue, suggesting her sudden embrace of the standard during the hearing was a ploy aimed at tamping down opposition to her nomination.

 

At other points during the hearing, committee members also raised concerns about her past characterizations of the ongoing shift of electricity generation to clean energy power resources, including wind and solar, which she called "green folly" and "a false hope."

 

Amidst the criticism, Democrats stalled her confirmation last year, so Senate leaders returned her nomination rather than table it until this year.

 

With Trump renewing the nomination, the confirmation process was set to begin anew. But the White House recognized the wide, ongoing opposition to Hartnett White's nomination and chose to withdraw it. A search for a new candidate for the CEQ post is reportedly underway.

 

New Renewable Capacity Tops Natural Gas…Again…in 2017

 

More new electricity capacity from renewable energy sources was added to the U.S. grid in 2017 than that built for natural-gas fueled power, according to an analysis done by the Sun Day Campaign of recent figures from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

 

Last year marks the fourth in a row that renewable power capacity has exceeded gas.

 

According to SUN DAY Executive Director Ken Bossong, renewable power facilities now make up more than 20 percent of all U.S. power capacity, a 33-percent increase over the 15 percent recorded in 2012.

 

New electricity capacity from renewable energy sources – including biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind – accounted for 12,270 megawatts (MW) of the total 24,614 MW installed last year. New natural gas capacity accounted for 48.67 percent, with the remaining new capacity being built for waste heat (0.89 percent), nuclear (0.41 percent), and oil ( 0.16 percent).

 

No new coal capacity was added last year, according to Bossong's analysis of latest issue of FERC's its Energy Infrastructure Update , which includes data through the end of 2017.

 

Despite its place at the top of new capacity, renewable power actually fell well below the 16,124 MW installed in 2016, a drop most analysts, including Bossong, attribute to policy uncertainty in Washington.

 

"Notwithstanding a year-long effort by the Trump administration and its congressional allies to prop up coal, nuclear, and natural gas at the expense of renewable energy sources, clean energy technologies have proven themselves to be amazingly resilient," Bossong said. "The unmistakable lesson to be drawn from the past five or more years of FERC data is that solar, wind, and the other renewable energy sources are carving out a large and rapidly-expanding share of the nation's electrical generation."

 

The analysis showed impressive technology-specific statistics, with utility-scale solar reaching 30.3 gigawatts (GW) by the end of last year – about eight times greater than what FERC had reported five years ago. Solar now makes up 2.55 percent of the total U.S. utility-scale generating capacity. The FERC report does not take into account distributed solar.

 

In addition to solar's 7.77 percent increase, wind energy grew by nearly 54 percent, biomass by 11.2 percent, geothermal by 3.51 percent, and hydropower by 2.79 percent.

 

The generating capacity of all non-hydro renewable energy sources is 73.89 percent greater than it was five years ago. Wind energy leads that category, accounting for 7.45 percent of total U.S. generating capacity.

 

Coal has seen its share of total generating capacity decline by 17.83 percent over the past five years. Natural gas has only increased by 5.14 percent and oil by only 5.35 percent.

 

Co-op Fuel Mix Trends Away from Coal

 

Research from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association shows the national co-op retail fuel mix is trending toward more natural gas and less coal-based generation. (Photo By: Sunflower Electric Power Corp.)

 

Electric cooperatives' retail fuel mix nationwide is trending toward natural gas and renewable energy resources and away from coal-based generation as costs and regulations boost lower-emission energy sources, NRECA data shows.

 

The share of co-op electricity coming from coal was at 41 percent in 2016 compared with 54 percent in 2014, according to recently released research from Lauren Khair, NRECA regional economic analyst, and Michael Leitman, NRECA strategic analyst.

 

"We attribute that reduction in coal as a fuel to the changes in the electric industry, specifically changes in market fundamentals, including low natural gas prices, lower renewable technology costs, and coal power plant retirements," Khair said.

 

As coal use decreased, natural gas rose from 18 percent in 2014 to 26 percent in 2016. The share of renewable energy resources (non-hydro) doubled from 4 percent to 8 percent for the same period. Hydro and nuclear power remained about the same at 9 percent and 15 percent, respectively, according to Khair and Leitman's research.

 

Back in 2009, coal accounted for 58 percent of the national retail electric fuel mix for co-ops while natural gas had a 12 percent slice and renewables only 3 percent, their research showed.

 

Looking at the 2016 breakdown of the national cooperative retail electric fuel mix (see chart below), renewable numbers include owned and directly purchased generation, plus those in the mix from market or bilateral purchases and do not reflect renewable credits.

 

 

 

 

Khair and Leitman found the drop-in coal use between 2009 and 2016 tracked low gas prices, growth in renewable energy and coal-based power plant retirements due to changing economics and environmental regulations, such as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that the Environmental Protection Agency issued in April 2016.

 

Electric co-ops own 26.6 gigawatts of coal capacity. Additionally, the Tennessee Valley Authority, an associate member of NRECA, owns 13.4 GW of coal-based generation and its co-op customers account for 10 percent of all co-op retail electricity sales nationwide.

 

"Renewable energy mandates in 29 states and federal subsidies have driven the growth of renewable resources nationwide and at cooperatives," said Leitman. "Yet, sustained cheap gas, perhaps, is the biggest influence of the fuel mix."

 

Khair and Leitman said natural gas prices are expected to remain steady through 2019 and cooperatives are in the process of adding new combined cycle capacity to their fleets. "So, in the near-term, natural gas's share is likely to remain steady or increase," Khair said.

 

Co-op-owned power plants generated 220 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2016, the latest year G&T data was available for the study by Khair and Leitman.

 

Grassley Staff Memo: RFS Has Minimal Impact on Success of Refineries

 

An internal memo written by Sen. Chuck Grassley's (R-IA) energy staff says that the biofuels-blending requirement under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the cost of Renewable Identification Number credits (RINs), a compliance mechanism under the RFS, have little to do with the success of refineries.

 

The memo specifically says RIN prices had little to do with the high-profile claims of Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), the largest oil refiner on the East Coast, that RFS compliance drove it to file for bankruptcy last month.

 

Critics of the RFS, particularly lawmakers from oil-industry dominated states, are using the PES claims to call on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to amend the RFS program. Pruitt's acknowledgement of the possibility of RFS reform during a Fox News interview last week drew sharp responses from the ethanol industry, which said the EPA head was dishonoring a vow he and President Trump made just weeks ago to support the RFS.

 

Grassley's staff memo, released Tuesday, analyzed recent claims made by RFS opponents, including PES, which attributed its recent bankruptcy filing in part to the RFS.

 

The Grassley analysis reached similar conclusions as those of multiple recent studies, including several examinations done by the University of Pennsylvania's Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.

 

"I'm concerned any time an American's job could be lost," Grassley said. "After I heard that the Renewable Fuel Standard was being blamed for the financial troubles of some refineries, I wanted to know more."

 

He says he called on his staff to examine the issue and "after reviewing the facts, I'm confident that the Renewable Fuel Standard isn't harming refineries, that other factors are at work, and that the RFS law is working as Congress intended.

 

"Once these facts are known, there ought to be an end to the misleading rhetoric blaming the RFS," Grassley said. "I've always said that I'm for an all-of-the-above national energy strategy. Biofuels are responsible for thousands of jobs across the country. There's no reason biofuels and other renewables can't exist alongside conventional fuels."

 

Grassley reminded the Trump administration of its promises, noting that he was "thankful President Trump continues to support biofuels and rural America. The president should be applauded for his ongoing commitment to the RFS, which makes our air cleaner, energy cheaper and country stronger with more domestic energy production."

 

The Grassley staff analysis found that the "publicly available evidence points to the fact that PES finds itself in financial difficulty due primarily to changes in its available feedstocks and other management decisions. It does face a problem of having to acquire RINs to meet the looming RFS compliance deadline, but that is due in large measure to its reported decision last fall to sell off the RINs it had acquired, presumably in hopes of being able to buy them back at lower cost before the compliance deadline.

 

"Moreover," the report continues, "if PES had taken the sensible approach of other merchant refiners and invested in ethanol blending infrastructure or partnered with a blender, it appears it would have no need to purchase RINs at all."

 

Grassley conceded that it's worth exploring ways to lower RIN prices without undermining the integrity of the RFS. Grassley has suggested making E15 available year-round and that EPA could do more to provide transparency to the RIN market.

 

Study Says RVP Parity for E15 is Quickest Route to Lower RIN Prices

 

With the Renewable Fuels Association's (RFA) National Ethanol Conference set for San Antonio next week, the biofuel trade group unveiled a study and a separate analysis of data boosting the case for wider distribution of a 15-percent blend of ethanol (E15) in each gallon of U.S. gasoline.

 

Citing what the trade group calls "misguided reforms" being proposed by oil refiners and their allies in Congress intent on reducing the price of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) under the national Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the RFA cited this week a recent paper from Harvard University Professor James Stock argues that perhaps the most direct way of lowering RIN prices is for EPA or Congress to provide parity in the regulation of gasoline volatility (RVP) for E10 and E15.

 

RINs are attached to each gallon of biofuel produced and used to certify a refiner's compliance with RFS blending requirement. Those refiners who have met their RFS obligation can sell any RINs leftovers to those who need them to meet their own obligations.

 

Several refiners, particularly in the northeastern United States, have charged costs for RINs have become exceedingly high. One refiner, Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), claim the high RIN prices forced the company to file for bankruptcy.

 

Ethanol sector leaders say PES' financial problems stem from poor business decisions and do not stem from their RIN obligations (see previous story).

 

The dispute reached a peak late last week when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the administration will consider amending the RFS program – an offer criticized harshly by the ethanol industry, which claimed Pruitt was violating an agreement made just weeks ago to move ahead with the RFS.

 

Emily Skor, CEO of ethanol industry group Growth Energy, told Reuters that Pruitt's comments were "in direct contradiction to President Trump's repeated and consistent promises to support the RFS, American farmers and American energy security."

 

"Providing RVP parity for E15 would facilitate increased ethanol blending, which in turn would drive increased generation and availability of RIN credits," the RFA said of Stock's study in a press statement. "Ultimately, greater availability of RIN credits means lower RIN prices."

 

"Extending the RVP waiver to E15 (and higher blends) would facilitate additional corn kernel ethanol being blended into the fuel supply, as some E10 sales are converted to E15 sales," Stock wrote, noting that current EPA regulations effectively prevent E15 from being sold year-round in most of the country.

 

"This additionally blended ethanol would make it easier to comply with the RFS obligation for blending conventional fuels, because more D6 RINS [from conventional ethanol] would become available for compliance," he writes. "[T]hese additional RINs would exert downward pressure on RIN prices. Additional sales of E15, along with the continued expansion of total gasoline demand, would tend to stabilize RIN prices at a lower value, all else equal…Said differently, because of (more) E15 sales, more RINs are available, driving down the price of RINs."

 

He said if RVP parity for E15 induced even 200 million gallons of additional ethanol consumption, it "could exert substantial downward pressure on RIN prices."

 

Stock will be participating in a panel on the RIN market at next week's national conference.

 

Meanwhile, the RFA cites data released last week by DOE that shows gasoline consumed in 30 states and the District of Columbia contained more than 10 percent ethanol on average in 2016, "proving once again that the so-called 'E10 Blend Wall' continues to crumble."

 

The national average ethanol blend rate was 10.02 percent, according to the DOE data.

 

The RFA says in a press statement that the data "completely undermine assertions by some in the oil industry that the U.S. gasoline market cannot withstand more than 9.7 percent ethanol content. In fact, the data show only 15 states had an average ethanol blend rate lower than 9.7 percent in 2016.

 

RFA last week released a fact sheet with more details on state-level ethanol blend rates.

 

RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen said the DOE data underscore that the RFS is working as intended to drive increased use of ethanol and other biofuels.

 

"Increased consumption of E15, mid-level blends like E20-E30, and ethanol flex fuels like E85 has reduced the so-called blend wall to a pile of rubble," Dinneen said. "Today, more than 4,000 stations nationwide sell flex fuels and approximately 1,300 stations sell E15."

 

He said if refiners truly want lower RIN prices, "the answer is really quite simple: blend more ethanol. The very purpose of the RFS is to drive expanded consumption of renewable fuels and the RIN provides a powerful incentive to do just that.

 

Dinneen said once the D6 (conventional ethanol) RIN has done its job to expand consumption to the 15-billion-gallon blending requirement set by the RFS, its value will naturally recede.

 

"Some of the other foolhardy approaches being discussed – such as Sen. (Ted) Cruz' (R-TX) proposal to cap RIN prices or allowing RINs from exported volumes to count toward compliance – might indeed lower RIN prices, but they would eviscerate the RFS and undermine its statutory purpose in the process."

 

RFA Report Confirms Record Ethanol Exports of 1.37 Billion Gallons in 2017

 

Despite tariffs on U.S. U.S. ethanol shipments to China imposed last year, the Renewable Fuels Association says government data released this week confirms that U.S.  exports set a new record in 2017, reaching an "astonishing" 1.37 billion gallons shipped to more than 60 countries around the world.

 

The 2017 export total was up 17 percent from 2016 and beat the previous record set in 2011 by some 174 million gallons (mg). One out of every 11 gallons of ethanol produced in the United States ended up being exported to more than 60 countries

 

In conjunction with the data release, the RFA released a detailed summary of 2017 U.S. ethanol export and import statistics.

 

Brazil was the leading destination for U.S. ethanol exports last year, receiving 446 mg, or 33 percent of total shipments. Canada imported 328 mg from the United States, while India took in 173 mg. The Philippines and South Korea rounded out the top five destinations in 2017.

 

Export volumes to nine of the top 10 destinations saw increases over 2016 volumes, with Brazil, India, the Netherlands, Singapore, and United Arab Emirates showing the largest gains.

 

Meanwhile, after serving as the third-leading ethanol export market in 2016, China finished just out of the top 10 in 2017, as exports to that nation plunged nearly 90 percent in the wake of new tariffs being implemented.

 

The value of U.S. ethanol exports was $2.4 billion in 2017, up 16 percent from 2016's value and the second-highest on record. Undenatured fuel ethanol accounted for 60 percent of total exports, while denatured fuel ethanol was 36 percent. Denatured and undenatured ethanol for non-fuel industrial uses made up the remaining 4 percent of exports.

 

U.S. ethanol imports remained scarce in 2017, with just 77 mg entering the country. Nearly all of the imported product entered through California ports and was used to meet the state's Low Carbon Fuel Standard requirements.

 

Reflecting on the record year, RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen said that even when facing "massive trade policy headwinds in 2017, the U.S. ethanol industry rose to the challenge by delivering record volumes of low-cost, high-octane fuel to the world market."

 

He said his group "will continue to work with its partners to break down artificial trade barriers, expand export opportunities for U.S. producers, and educate the world's consumers on the benefits of low-carbon renewable fuels."

 

Solar Jobs Decline 4 Percent Nationwide; But 29 States See Jobs Growth

 

U.S. solar industry employment declined in 2017, while jobs increased in numerous states with emerging solar markets, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the eighth annual report on solar employment released today by The Solar Foundation.

 

The Solar Jobs Census found that 250,271 Americans work in solar as of 2017, representing a 3.8 percent decline, or about 9,800 fewer jobs, since 2016. This is the first year that jobs have decreased since the Solar Jobs Census was first released in 2010.

 

However, the long-term trend continues to show significant jobs growth. The solar workforce increased by 168 percent in the past seven years, from about 93,000 jobs in 2010 to more than 250,000 jobs in 2017.

 

Additionally, solar jobs increased in 29 states and the District of Columbia in 2017, including in many states with emerging solar markets. States with significant job gains include Utah, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Tennessee.

 

California remains the state with the largest number of solar jobs nationwide, but jobs in California decreased 14 percent in 2017. In Massachusetts, the state with the second largest solar workforce, employment decreased by 21 percent. A complete table of solar jobs by state, along with the full report and other background information, is available at SolarJobsCensus.org.

 

"After six years of rapid and steady growth, the solar industry faced headwinds that led to a dip in employment in 2017, including a slowdown in the pace of new solar installations," said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation. "Uncertainty over the outcome of the (Suniva/SolarWorld) trade case also had a likely impact on solar jobs growth."

 

President Trump ultimately decided last month to impose tariffs on solar cell and panel imports. The levies went into effect this week.

 

"At the same time," Luecke said, "the fact that jobs went up in 29 states is an encouraging sign that solar is taking hold across the country as a low-cost, sustainable, and reliable energy source."

 

The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit educational and research organization, issues the National Solar Jobs Census each year to provide comprehensive and reliable data on the U.S. solar workforce. This year's Census is based on a rigorous survey of solar establishments conducted between October and November 2017. The Census defines a solar employee as someone who spends at least 50 percent of his or her time on solar-related work.

 

Other key findings from the National Solar Jobs Census 2017 include:

  • Demand-side sectors (installation, sales & distribution, and project development) make up almost 78 percent of overall solar industry employment, while manufacturing makes up 15 percent. Demand-side sectors lost approximately 7,500 jobs in 2017, while manufacturing lost about 1,200 jobs.
  • The solar industry is more diverse than comparable industries, but more needs to be done to ensure it is representative of the greater U.S. population. Women made up 27 percent of the solar workforce in 2017, down 1 percent from 2016. Veterans made up 9 percent of solar workers, which is 2 percent more than the overall U.S. workforce.
  • Solar employs twice as many workers as the coal industry, almost five times as many as nuclear power, and nearly as many workers as the natural gas industry. (These comparisons with other industries are based on 2016 jobs numbers, the most recent data available for an apples-to-apples comparison.)

 

"Over the past year, the U.S. solar industry provided high-quality jobs to more than 250,000 Americans – jobs that are available to a wide cross-section of talents and educational backgrounds," said George Hershman, president of Swinerton Renewable Energy. "While the industry faces challenges ahead, including higher costs as a result of the new tariffs, the demand for low-cost, reliable, and sustainable energy shows no sign of slowing down. In the years ahead, we are confident that solar will continue to create jobs and grow local economies across the United States."

 

"The U.S. solar industry is dynamic, resilient and will continue to meet the country's increasing demand for clean energy, despite the near-term challenges facing the sector," said Laura Stern, president of Nautilus Solar Energy. "Nautilus Solar is committed to expanding its installed capacity and workforce in both existing and new solar markets across the U.S."

 

"Although uncertainty over the tariff restrained the industry in recent months, the fact remains that solar energy is the lowest-cost, cleanest, most abundant and accessible energy source in the world," said Lynn Jurich, Sunrun co-founder and CEO. "Sunrun expanded into seven new markets last year and we will continue to create valuable local jobs, and bring new solar products and services to Americans."

 

This year's census survey included approximately 59,300 phone calls and more than 35,000 emails. Information was gathered from 2,389 establishments, of which 1,842 completed or substantially completed the survey. The level of sampling rigor provides a margin of error of +/- 1.25 percent for the national employment numbers.

 

NRECA Applauds Selection of Electric Co-op CEO as RUS Administrator

 

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) this week applauded President Trump's appointment of Ken Johnson, general manager of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, an NRECA member, as USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) administrator.

 

Ken Johnson

The RUS administers programs that provide much-needed infrastructure or infrastructure improvements to rural communities, including electric power services. The agency offers programs that fund sustainable renewable energy development and conservation. RUS also promotes improved water and waste treatment and telecommunications services, including broadband internet.

 

"We are excited and thrilled that Ken has been selected to lead the RUS program," said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. "Electric cooperatives have a storied history of working with RUS to power the rural American economy. The ongoing collaboration between RUS and electric co-ops remains essential to the success of rural communities across the nation as co-ops invest in infrastructure upgrades to modernize the grid and meet consumer expectations.

 

"Ken is exceptionally qualified to serve in this role and we look forward to working with him in his new capacity," Matheson added.

 

"Ken Johnson is one of the top co-op managers I have ever worked with in my 40 year career," said Barry Hart, executive vice president and CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. "He has never forgotten that he works for the co-op members at the end of the line."

 

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation's more than 900 not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also applauded the appointment of Johnson.

 

"As President Trump pursues his comprehensive agenda of infrastructure improvements…adding Ken Johnson to the USDA team is exciting," Perdue said. "Ken's experience with rural utilities…will serve us well as we strive to increase prosperity across rural America."

 

In addition to his current position, Johnson is a director for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and served on that group's Executive and Legislative committees. He was general manager for Twin Valleys PPD in Nebraska after beginning his career with the Nebraska Public Power District.

 

Perdue also took the opportunity to call on the Senate to move on other USDA appointments, some of which are tied up in political disputes.

 

Among those nods on hold is Bill Northey, the Iowa agriculture commission whose nomination to a USDA undersecretary post has been frozen under Senate technical rules by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) over the Texas lawmaker's demand for changes to the Renewable Fuels Standard. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MI) all went to the Senate floor this week calling on Cruz to release the three-month-old hold, but to no avail.

 

Cruz is continuing to demand a major White House summit with oil industry and biofuel sector leaders. Some meetings have been held, but Cruz remains unsatisfied with anything less than changes to the RFS.

 

The hold puts pressure on the timing of Northey's likely confirmation by the full Senate should Cruz release the hold. The position at USDA is important during USDA discussions with Congress on the farm bill being drafted this year to set agricultural policy over the next five years. Also, if he is not going to work at USDA, Northey would likely return to his job as Iowa agriculture commissioner. However, it is an elected position and for him to run again, he must qualify by March 16. Potential candidates for the job in Iowa have put off any official decision to run pending the outcome of Northey's nomination at USDA.

 

USDA Kills Role in Farm-to-Fleet Program

 

USDA has ended its support of the Farm-to-Fleet program, a production incentive aimed at generating biofuels for Navy ships and planes.

 

Photo_ U.S. Navy

The department withdrew from the BPI initiative with a notice in the Federal Register Feb. 1.

 

Farm-to-Fleet was a high-profile initiative launched under the Obama administration by then-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus

 

Created in 2013, the Farm to Fleet program enabled the Navy, starting in 2015, to add biofuels into its regular domestic purchases of approximately 77 million gallons of jet fuel (JP-5) and marine diesel (F-76) each year. The fuels contained biofuels blends of between 10 and 50 percent.

 

The incentive was paid from Commodity Credit Corporation funds administered by the Farm Services Agency.

 

Vilsack noted then that the Navy's intensification of efforts to use advanced, homegrown fuels to power the military benefits both America's national security and our rural communities.

 

"Not only will production of these fuels create jobs in rural America, they're cost effective for our military, which is the biggest consumer of petroleum in the nation," he said.

 

Mabus also said a secure, domestically-produced energy source was important to national security.

 

"Energy is how our naval forces are able to provide presence around the world," Mabus said. "Energy is what gets them there and keeps them there. The Farm-to-Fleet initiative…is important to advancing a commercial market for advanced biofuel, which will give us an alternative fuel source and help lessen our dependence on foreign oil."

 

Mabus also noted at the time that when world crises cause spikes in fossil fuel prices, the Nave has to cut back on operational costs to pay higher costs for fuels.

 

"When prices spike, we steam less, and train less and neither is a good option," he said. "We have to have a stable, domestic source of energy for the Navy."

 

But in its notice published last week, USDA said it has "reassessed how to best use limited available funds and has determined that the BPI is no longer a priority for CCC funding. The impact of this withdrawal is that suppliers of fuel containing a biofuel blend to the U.S. Navy are no longer eligible to receive a CCC incentive payment, through the Farm-to-Fleet BPI Program."

 

Up to $50 million of CCC funds was announced as being available through fiscal 2018, but the notice withdraws the availability of BPI payments for deliveries not yet solicited or procured by the Navy and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Energy office.

 

The department said it will continue to make the BPI payments required under existing commitments.

 

State Roundup: Switch Announces Largest Solar Project in the United States

 

In Nevada, Switch, a Las Vegas-based, technology infrastructure corporation, together with Capital Dynamics, this week announced the construction of the single largest solar project portfolio in the United States.

 

The "Gigawatt 1" solar project will be built in Northern and Southern Nevada and produce among the lowest priced solar power in the world, generating enough clean energy to power nearly one million homes, said Switch CEO and founder Rob Roy.

 

The Gigawatt 1 concept comes from the Gigawatt Nevada" initiative first proposed by Roy three years ago.

 

"The foundation of Gigawatt Nevada is that Nevada should harness the sun the same way Alaska harnesses its oil to significantly benefit all Nevadans," Roy said. "Nevada enjoys the best solar window in the nation and so we Nevadans should not only be using solar for ourselves, but exporting it throughout the Western U.S. to create new jobs, tax revenue, economic diversification, and raise energy independence."

 

The assets will be owned and developed by Capital Dynamics, the second largest owner of solar projects in the country. Gigawatt 1 anchor tenants will include Switch, and several of the Switch "CORE" clients that currently partner with Switch for data center and telecommunication services.

 

In addition, multiple private- and public-sector access customers within Nevada and outside the state are already in negotiations to join the project.

 

Switch claims customers will receive renewable energy from Gigawatt 1 for substantially less than the cost of receiving renewable energy from NV Energy (Nevada Power) under its green offering called the Green Rider Tariff:

 

"This is the kind of opportunity that only very rarely presents itself," said Benoit Allehaut, director at Capital Dynamics. "After hearing Rob Roy's vision to build gigawatts of solar in Nevada, this was an opportunity we couldn't pass. We see a natural partnership to transform not just Nevada, but the entire Western electric grid."

 

The project will be built with American-made solar panels, utilizing Capital Dynamics' partnerships, and will utilize local Nevada labor.

 

Switch and Capital Dynamics will negotiate with their contractors and labor unions on contract terms to build the project, which is projected to create 1,250 construction jobs.

 

In Oregon, USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) loans amounting to $48.2 million will help bring solar energy production to rural towns in Klamath, Lake, Deschutes and Clackamas counties, where solar facilities will produce enough electricity to power nearly 11,300 homes and businesses, U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden said this week.

 

REAP Loans and Grants provides loan financing or grant funding for energy improvement projects in rural areas. The electricity generated by the six projects will be sold to a local utility provider to supply residences and businesses with renewable energy.

 

"With this investment, clean, renewable, affordable energy will power rural communities across our state," Merkley said. "I am thrilled to help improve the futures of rural Oregon and our entire country with this major investment in solar energy. I will continue to use my seat on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to fight for support of clean and renewable energy – especially in these rural areas, with the power of the sun just waiting to be converted into affordable electricity. The more we make these investments, the better our chances in the fight against climate disruption."

 

"The benefits of providing clean energy options for families and businesses in rural Oregon are as clear as a sunny day," Wyden said. "These investments in solar energy production help to keep down electricity costs for our state's rural residents, help the bottom line for small business and mark a vital step forward to combat climate change."

 

The USDA guarantees are mostly for 25-year loans of $7-$10 million loans for solar projects with capacity of 10 to 14 megawatts, and a smaller, 14-year loan for a project that is expected to produce about 840,000 kilowatt hours of renewable electricity annually.

 

In New Hampshire, Eversource Energy lashed out at the state's Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) for its denial last week of the route of the Northern Pass transmission line, which was planned to bring renewable energy from Canada through upper New England to Massachusetts.

 

Only two weeks ago, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced the selection of the Northern Pass Hydro bid was to move forward to contract negotiations with the state's electric distribution Companies as a part of the clean energy procurement authorized by 2016 legislation signed by Baker. "An Act Relative to Energy Diversity" aims to lead to clean energy pricing competitive with carbon-emitting fossil fuels. Selecting the Northern Pass bid, the governor said, represents the largest procurement of clean energy in the Massachusetts's history, increasing the state's electricity supply to nearly 50 percent coming from clean energy resources.

 

The line was expected to deliver 9,450,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of clean energy per year.

 

Eversource, one of the transmission line's developers, said it was "shocked and outraged" by the SEC outcome and promised to pursue development of the line.

 

"The (SEC) process failed to comply with New Hampshire law and did not reflect the substantial evidence on the record," Eversource said in a statement. "As a result, the most viable near-term solution to the region's energy challenges, as well as $3 billion of NH jobs, tax and other benefits, are now in jeopardy. Clearly, the SEC process is broken and this decision sends a chilling message to any energy project contemplating development in the Granite State."

 

Eversource said it will be seeking reconsideration of SEC decision, "as well as reviewing all options for moving this critical clean energy project forward."

 

However, despite Baker's endorsement of the project, it remains unclear if Massachusetts will wait out the appeal process, or move to another project to meet its clean energy goals.

 

 

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Editor's Note: We here at 25x'25 welcome companies and organizations with a major stake in the continued growth and development of renewable energy across America. We invite those interests to increase visibility and demonstrate a commitment to a clean and economically vibrant energy future by taking advantage of opportunities to sponsor The 25x'25 Weekly REsource, a highly acclaimed newsletter distributed to key state and federal policy makers, their staff and a wide range of stakeholder organizations. For sponsorship information, click HERE.

 

 


Headlines of Note

News of interest to our 25x'25 Partners and advocates for a clean energy future: 

 

AT&T Buying Huge Amount of Wind Power from Farms in Texas, Oklahoma 

 

China Wants Compensation for U.S. Solar Panel Tariffs As Industry Braces For Job Losses 

 

Democratic Senators Demand Pruitt Recuse Himself from Rewriting Clean Power Plan 

 

From Oil to Solar: Saudi Arabia Plots a Shift to Renewables 

 

How Leading Utilities Are Planning for Distributed Energy Resources 

 

Net Farm Income Seen Falling to Lowest Level Since 2006 

 

New York Could Be Headed for the Country's Most Ambitious Energy Storage Goal 

 

Transmission Planners: Account for U.S. Corporate's Growing Demand for Renewables (op-ed)

 

U.S. House Republicans to Scrutinize Narrow, 'Extender' Tax Breaks 

 

Upcoming Events

 

Energy Independence Summit 2018 Set to Begin Sunday

 

Energy Independence Summit 2018, the nation's premier clean transportation policy summit, is set to take place Sunday through Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

 

The event will be staged by Transportation Energy Partners (TEP) is a national non-profit organization that brings Clean Cities coalition leaders together with the clean transportation industry to advance policies that will reduce American dependence on petroleum-based fuels.

 

 

 

 

TEP officials say the summit provides a unique opportunity for Clean Cities Coalitions and leaders in the clean transportation industry to network and build partnerships with each other, and with key congressional and Trump administration policymakers in Washington.

 

Attendees will have the opportunity to:

  • Meet with leaders of the new administration and key congressional leaders.
  • Learn the latest on how you can benefit from investments from the Volkswagen settlement.
  • Network with the nation's Clean Cities Coalitions and top industry leaders.
  • Participate in roundtable discussions with DOE, EPA, USDA, Department of Transportation and Department of Defense.
  • Learn about new technologies and market developments that are driving the alternative fuels industry forward.
  • Participate in Capitol Hill Day meetings and educate members of Congress about successful projects achieved in partnership with government and industry.
  • Attend the Capitol Hill Day reception hosted by UPS.
  • Attend the Salute to Clean Cities reception.

 

The summit will take place at the Renaissance Dupont Circle Hotel in downtown Washington.

 

For more information and registration, click HERE.

 

ACORE Sets Renewable Energy Forum for March 14

 

The American Council on Renewable Energy is staging a forum on the many federal policy challenges the renewable sector has faced in the last year and how best to respond to them in the year ahead.

 

The forum is set for March 14 at the Washington Marriott at Metro Center.

 

ACORE says there is no better venue to convene public sector, private sector and power sector meet to advance renewables than the forum, where participants will look ahead to further defend and promote a range of policies that will expand the renewable energy marketplace.

 

A featured session will be "American Renewable Energy Competitiveness: The Impact of Solar Tariffs. High levels of U.S. investment in the renewables sector is important to maintaining our leadership role in a booming industry sector that was pioneered by American scientists and engineers. This session will evaluate the scope of the global business opportunity for renewable energy and the positioning of U.S. companies to compete.

 

As the Trump administration responds to international trade concerns with new tariffs, panelists will discuss strategies to stimulate the continued growth of the American renewable energy sector. Topics will include:

  • Solar tariffs and international trade
  • Stimulating development and investment in the U.S.
  • Size of the global market; opportunities for export
  • Supporting advanced technologies that grow our footprint

 

Other agenda highlights include Andy Ott, CEO of PJM as keynote speaker, and sessions on:

  • Renewable Energy Finance in the New Tax Law
  • Boosting America's Renewable Energy Dominance
  • A Resilient, Reliable and Renewable Grid
  • The New Renewables Alliance: Cities, States and Businesses

 

To view the forum agenda, click HERE.

 

To register, click HERE.

 

Interested in Sponsoring?

 

Showcase your business to investors, developers, manufacturers, utilities, policymakers, and other influencers. For information on sponsorship opportunities, please contact Cindi Eck at [email protected].

 

Save the Date

 

On the eve of the forum, ACORE is hosting the American Renewable Energy Gala, an annual networking dinner and award ceremony. The 2018 American Renewable Energy Gala will be held on Tuesday, March 13, at the Reagan Building and International Trade Center, where more than 400 financial, corporate, industry leaders and policymakers will gather to reflect on the achievements, challenges and growth opportunities for the renewables sector.

 

Table sponsorships for the event are now available. Please contact Cindi Eck at [email protected] 

 

Registration Available for ACE's 10th Annual D.C. Fly-In

 

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) formally announces the organization's 10th annual Washington, D.C. fly-in will take place March 21-22. Registration for this event and ACE's 2018 advertising and sponsorship guide for this opportunity and others are available at ethanol.org/events/fly-in.

 

"The purpose of our fly-ins is to put a human face on the ethanol industry and to communicate our policy priorities to Members of Congress and Executive Branch decision makers," said Brian Jennings, ACE CEO. "The most effective lobbyists aren't lobbyists at all, but rather farmers, ethanol producers, Main Street business leaders, retailers selling higher ethanol blends, and other grassroots individuals whose daily lives benefit from ethanol."

 

This past spring, 75 ethanol advocates met with more than 120 Members of Congress from 35 states. Participants included ethanol company investors and management, corn farmers, scientists, fuel marketers and gas station owners, with representation from Jetz, Cresco Fast Stop, Midway Service, Good & Quick, Sheetz, and Propel Fuels.

 

"In ACE's 10 years of hosting D.C. fly-ins, we've found that the most successful ones strike a balance between Hill visits with our champions and those with Members of Congress who may be new, opponents of our policy priorities, or live outside the Corn Belt," said Shannon Gustafson, ACE senior director of Operations and Programming. "We encourage participants to share personal stories – Members of Congress and their staff hear from lobbyists and association staff regularly, but a deeply personal perspective of how the ethanol industry has directly benefitted a participant may help them view a topic with fresh eyes."

 

During Capitol Hill meetings, ACE and its fly-in attendees have emphasized the need to maintain support for the Renewable Fuel Standard, urged Members of Congress to cosponsor legislation to extend Reid vapor pressure (RVP) relief to E15 (S. 517 and H.R. 1311), and discussed the importance of the biofuels sector to a robust rural economy.

 

"While we are pleased the statutory 15-billion-gallon volume for conventional biofuel will be maintained in 2018 and EPA rejected pleas to change the point of obligation, more can and should be done to overcome regulatory hurdles which prevent market access to higher ethanol blends," Jennings said. "We encourage people from all walks of life who support ethanol to register for this important opportunity to tell this industry's success story."

 

The meetings will take place at the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel and on Capitol Hill. To register and find out more information about the event, please contact Shannon Gustafson at [email protected].

 

ACE's Ethanol Today magazine released its lineup of themes and sponsorship opportunities for 2018. The editorial calendar and media kit are available at ethanoltoday.com. The newly released sponsorship and advertising guide offers bundled Ethanol Today advertising opportunities with ACE event sponsorships. Contact Chuck Beck at [email protected] to find out how you can maximize your reach while minimizing the expense.

 

Other events of interest to 25x'25 partners and other renewable energy stakeholders can be found by clicking here.