Energy in the News: Friday, September 15

Friday, September 15, 2017

A carbon tax would not cause too much grief at the gas pump

University of Michigan News, feat. John DeCicco

A new report from the University of Michigan Energy Survey offers insight into how American consumers would react to a carbon tax.

A tax of $40 per ton of carbon—which adds 36 cents per gallon to the price of gasoline—still leaves more than 90 percent of U.S. consumers inside their comfort zones for fuel prices and travel choices.

But the report, based on asking consumers how much they feel they can afford to pay for fuel, also finds that much greater pressure would be felt by consumers in the lower third of the distribution by household income.

The results come from an analysis of nearly four years of data gathered by the U-M Energy Survey. Launched in fall 2013, when gasoline prices were much higher than they have been recently, the survey polls a nationally representative sample of Americans about their views on the affordability, reliability and environmental impact of energy.

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NSF award: Kaitlin Raimi uses behavioral insights to reduce household energy consumption

Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy News, feat. Kaitlin Raimi and SangHyun Lee

Kaitlin Raimi and colleagues from the College of Engineering (SangHyun Lee) and College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (Philip S. Hart) have received a $330,000 award from the National Science Foundation to explore a new technique designed to encourage consumers to reduce their household electricity use.

“In the past few years, utilities have started using a number of techniques that are based on psychology research,” says Raimi, a social psychologist who explores how social motivations can promote or prevent sustainable behaviors.

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The US West had a snowy winter, so why the fiery summer?

ABC News, feat. Jonathan Overpeck

Acrid yellow smoke clogs the skies of major Western U.S. cities, a human-caused fire in the Columbia River Gorge rains ash on Portland, Oregon, and a century-old backcountry chalet burns to the ground in Montana's Glacier National Park.

Wildfires are chewing across dried-out Western forests and grassland, putting 2017 on track to be among the worst fire seasons in a decade.

A snowy winter across much of the West raised hopes that 2017 wouldn't be a dried-out, fire-prone year, but a hot, dry summer spoiled that.

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U.S. Secretary of Transportation unveils new driverless-car guidance at Mcity

The Michigan Daily, feat. Huei Peng

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, United States Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao unveiled the release of the department’s new guidance for automated driving system safety, titled A Vision for Safety 2.0. As part of an all day event, the press conference also welcomed Lieutenant Governor of Michigan Brian Calley; U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D- Ann Arbor, Debbie Dingell; Mitch Bainwol, CEO and president of Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind; University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel; and Mcity Director Huei Peng.

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Michigan starts state-mandated utility power generation planning process

Crain’s Detroit Business

The Michigan Public Service Commission is beginning a regulatory process to create a method by which utility companies can propose new electricity generation sources that considers an evaluation of the lowest-cost resources to meet expected power needs.

Last Wednesday, the MPSC held the first of three public hearings in Livonia to hear from utilities, public interest groups, clean energy businesses and concerned citizens.

The MPSC wants to hear feedback on how it should develop parameters to require utilities to submit every five years what is called an "integrated resource plan" on how they will meet customer electricity needs.

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Consumers launches renewable energy program

Grand Rapids Business Journal

Big businesses in West Michigan now are able to take part in a program that will allow them to support and benefit from the development of renewable energy.

Late in August, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved a pilot program that Consumers Energy Co. will offer to its large business customers.

The Voluntary Large Customer Renewable Energy Pilot Program will enable large businesses serviced by Consumers Energy to support the development of renewable energy and, in turn, benefit from having a percentage of their power come from a renewable source.

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Fort Custer chosen for Department of Defense energy project

MLive

A Southwest Michigan Army National Guard Base will be the site of a project aimed at reducing costs for reliable energy among military facilities.

Go Electric Inc., an Indiana-based energy solutions company, announced Wednesday, Sept. 13 it will be implementing a demonstration microgrid project at the Fort Custer Training Center near Battle Creek. The project is funded through a $499,506 contract from a U.S. Department of Defense program established in 1995 to promote the transfer of proven innovative technologies into field use.

A microgrid can break off from a power grid and operate independently in times of crisis, like storms or power outages.

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Offshore wind power cheaper than new nuclear

BBC

The cost of subsidies for new offshore wind farms has halved since the last 2015 auction for clean energy projects

Two firms said they were willing to build offshore wind farms for a guaranteed price of £57.50 per megawatt hour for 2022-23.

This compares with the new Hinkley Point C nuclear plant securing subsidies of £92.50 per megawatt hour.

Nuclear firms said the UK still needed a mix of low-carbon energy, especially for when wind power was not available.

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Closing coal plants could save $10B annually — report

E&E ClimateWire

Powering down coal plants that struggle to keep pace with other energy sources could save Americans billions every year, according a London-based think tank.

Analysts at Carbon Tracker, a nonprofit that studies climate change and finance, found that by the mid-2020s, it will be cheaper to build new natural gas plants in the United States than to operate 78 percent of the nation's coal stations.

"Phasing out unprofitable coal could save $10 billion per year and reduce household electricity bills by up to 10 percent by 2021," a draft of the report says. "New coal capacity is not remotely competitive."

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Solar developers hoard panels as U.S. tariff threat looms

Bloomberg

Solar developers are suspending construction as the looming threat of U.S. import tariffs has driven up prices and spurred hoarding, crimping panel supplies.

“We’ve had roughly $500 million worth of work that we’ve had to put on hold,” said Scott Canada, who oversees renewable energy projects for McCarthy Building Cos. of St. Louis. “The supply of panels has just evaporated as everybody is grabbing what they can.”

The disruptions date to about May, after bankrupt panel manufacturer Suniva Inc. filed a trade complaint asking for protection from cheap imports. As the case gained steam, developers rushed to stockpile every available panel. The case is currently before the U.S. International Trade Commission and may eventually reach the Oval Office, where President Donald Trump has the authority to impose tariffs.

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General Motors, Disney, Shell and 1,200 other companies are taking steps to fight climate change, report says

The Washington Post

More than 1,200 global businesses, including U.S. companies such as Disney, Shell and General Motors, are moving to embrace a carbon price — even if President Trump isn’t, according to a new report by a Washington climate think tank.

While the president has suggested that tackling climate change will undermine the economy and hamstring  businesses, and announced his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, chief executives have been busy voluntarily putting a price on their own carbon dioxide emissions.

Pricing carbon, or assigning a dollar value per ton of carbon dioxide emissions, creates a financial incentive for companies to reduce emissions.

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Companies fail to capitalize on enviro efforts — report

E&E ClimateWire

Companies commonly fail to disclose their environmental efforts and products, effectively leaving trillions of dollars' worth of business opportunities "on the table," according to new analysis.

Analysts at CDP, a climate research group, and financial services firm Accenture PLC said 40 percent of firms in the telecommunication and consumer goods industries do not "capture" the economic benefit of "strong environmental performance."

Their conclusions were released in a series of findings today, part of an expanding field in finance to pinpoint the economic risks and benefits climate change poses.

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Utilities see benefits in energy storage, even without mandates

Utility Dive

The fact that California’s three investor-owned utilities were at the top of the Smart Electric Power Alliance’s recent rankings is not surprising, but the presence of utilities in Indiana and Ohio is notable.

California has been a leader in energy storage, with a 2010 law that requires the state’s IOUs to procure 1.3 GW of storage capacity by 2020 and then a 2016 law requiring each IOU to procure another 166 MW of storage.

There has been no similar legislative push in either Indiana or Ohio and yet Indianapolis Power & Light and Duke Energy Ohio were third and fifth, respectively, in SEPA’s rankings of utilities that connected the most energy storage to their systems in 2016. IPL installed 20 MW in 2016, and 16 MW were connected to Duke Energy Ohio last year.

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Energy Department announces achievement of Sunshot goal, new focus for Solar Energy Office

Energy.gov

In conjunction with the annual Solar Power International conference, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released new research today that shows the solar industry has achieved the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the SunShot Initiative. Largely due to rapid cost declines in solar photovoltaic (PV) hardware, the average price of utility-scale solar is now 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Given this success, DOE is looking beyond SunShot’s 2020 goals with an expanded 2030 vision for the Solar Energy Technologies Office. Specifically, while DOE will continue research to drive down costs, new funding programs will focus on a broader scope of Administration priorities, which includes early-stage research to address solar energy’s critical challenges of grid reliability, resilience, and storage.

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China wants to ban gas and diesel cars

CNN Money

China is preparing to put the brakes on gasoline and diesel cars.

The country, home to the world's largest auto market, is working on a plan to ban the production and sale of vehicles powered solely by fossil fuels, officials say.

The Chinese government is following in the footsteps of countries like India, France, Britain and Norway, which have already announced plans to ditch gas and diesel cars in favor of cleaner vehicles in the coming years.

Regulators haven't decided yet when the Chinese ban would take effect, but work has begun on a timetable, according to China's vice minister of industry, Xin Guobin.

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The plastic fantasy that’s propping up the oil market

Bloomberg Gadfly

Kenya's mountains of plastic bags might not seem central to oil's grand narrative, but they are. Last week, the East African country banned almost everything about them: making them, importing them, selling them, using them, with penalties of up to four years in jail or fines up to $38,000.

This type of prohibition carries a warning for an oil business that's depending on petrochemicals -- and the plastics made from them -- to pick up the slack when we all switch from gas guzzlers to electric cars. Saudi Aramco is betting its future on petrochemicals. The International Energy Agency thinks they'll drive crude sales for decades, accounting for 44 percent of oil demand growth between 2015 and 2040.

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This obscure agency is key to solving our energy problems

GatesNotes

ARPA-E might be my favorite obscure government agency. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I felt confident about being part of a $1 billion investment fund last year.

The fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, builds companies that will deliver affordable, reliable clean energy around the world. Ultimately, we want to help people escape poverty, promote energy independence, reduce pollution, and avoid the worst effects of climate change. The idea is to invest the private capital that helps entrepreneurs take promising zero-emissions energy technologies out of the lab and into the market.

From BEV’s earliest days, we knew that delivering on the promise of energy innovation would depend on great laboratory research funded by governments. The crucial connection between private companies and public research is something I know well from my own experience with Microsoft.

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