Energy in the News: Friday, December 1

Friday, December 01, 2017

Score one for corn: In battle over biofuel, a rare setback for Big Oil

The New York Times, feat. John DeCicco

America’s cars run partly on fuels derived from corn and soy. That’s because of a decade-old federal mandate beloved by Midwestern farmers but opposed by an unusual coalition of oil refiners and environmentalists.

On Thursday, the Trump administration sided with the farmers and announced that it would stick closely to the current rules and quotas for fuel: Refineries must blend about 20 billion gallons of biofuel — much of it ethanol made from corn — into the nation’s gasoline supply, a level largely unchanged from last year.

The decision is a rare setback for the oil industry under a presidency that has filled its ranks with fossil fuel advocates and embarked on a rollback of rules aimed at reducing the industry’s regulatory obligations.

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Wisconsin, under Scott Walker, no longer leads in conservation

Wisconsin State Farmer, feat. Barry Rabe

When Foxconn Technology Group begins construction of an industrial plant large enough to cover the entire Village of Shorewood, it will be exempted from state environmental requirements that any other company would have to follow.

Foxconn can fill in wetlands that are regulated by the state, change the course of streams, even build in a stream running through the property if it wants to.

In addition, the plant will use potentially polluting chemicals to manufacture an array of super-high-definition display panels. Yet no environmental impact statement will be required by state officials for one of the largest economic development projects in U.S. history

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Advocates say solar poised for growth under latest regulatory changes in Michigan

Midwest Energy News

With the ongoing decline of solar energy costs and now a favorable ruling by Michigan regulators recognizing its ability to produce valuable energy during peak times, advocates say the sector is poised for growth here.

Moreover, solar advocates at the national level have said Michigan could be a model for other states considering changes to “avoided cost” rates that utilities must pay independent power companies for their generation.

On November 21, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) issued a final order in a case setting avoided cost rates for Consumers Energy, one of two major investor-owned utilities in the state. These are rates utilities pay independent power producers under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978, which was passed to encourage domestic renewable energy and keep costs low for ratepayers.

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Line 5 shut down still an option, says Michigan energy director

MLive

Will Michigan try to force Enbridge to shut down its controversial Line 5 oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac?

Find out next year.

Terms of a deal signed between Enbridge and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder bring the two parties back together next August for a "potential further agreement" that state officials characterize as a decision date about the future of Line 5.

If a deal can't be reached "cooperatively, the state would have to take another path," said Valerie Brader, director of the Michigan Agency for Energy. "Shutting the pipeline down is still on the table."

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The 201 trade case could stifle growth of school-installed solar

Greentech Media

The precipitous drop in solar prices has made systems more accessible for U.S. schools than ever before. A full 99 percent of solar installations occurred in the last decade, mirroring the trend line for diminishing costs.

A new report from three solar advocacy groups -- The Solar Foundation, Generation 180, and the Solar Energy Industries Association -- details the solar surge for schools.

One of those organizations, SEIA, is also using the report as an opportunity to warn about the impact of tariffs.

Since 2008, cumulative PV capacity on K-12 school buildings increased by 86 percent. But because the main driver of adoption is now cost, possible tariffs on imported solar equipment from the Section 201 Trade Case could have a major cooling effect.

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Analysis: How developing nations are driving record growth in solar power

Carbon Brief

Emerging markets now account for the majority of growth in solar power, according to new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Led by China and India, these developing economies are behind dramatic recent growth in solar capacity, which expanded by 33% in 2016.

China alone installed 27 gigawatts (GW), around 40% of the world’s new solar last year. Brazil, Chile, Jordan, Mexico and Pakistan all at least doubled their solar capacity in 2016.

In total, solar accounted for 19% of all new generating capacity in the emerging markets tracked by BNEF.

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The obscure ‘poison pill’ Senate tax provision threatening renewables

Greentech Media

With the Senate tax bill speeding toward a vote, renewable energy trade organizations on Wednesday raised the alarm about an obscure and “extremely problematic” provision they say would pull the investment rug out from underneath renewables projects.

“It’s a crazy situation -- one that we should not be in at the moment,” said Greg Wetstone, CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy. “We are in an all-hands-on-deck drill across the sector trying to repair a very broken problem.”

That problem is the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT) provision, which targets “earnings strippings,” where large companies with foreign operations reduce their tax bills through cross-border payments they can then deduct in the U.S. The BEAT provision aims to circumvent that stripping with a minimum tax of 10 percent of taxable income.

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For those who enjoyed a long holiday weekend, we include a few stories from last week that you may have missed.

How India can get autonomous cars—despite crazy drivers, jaywalkers, and cows

Quartz, feat. Alec Gallimore

As global giants like Tesla, Uber, and Google take self-driving cars to the streets, Indian companies are still at the experimental stage.

Earlier this year, local carmaker Tata Motors sought permission to test its driverless vehicle on Bengaluru’s roads. Software behemoth Infosys is training its engineers in self-driving technology. A number of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) are also working on such automobiles tailor-made for the country.

However, there’s been one major hurdle to self-driving technology in India: a legion of lawbreakers, from rash drivers and jaywalkers to cattle. But University of Michigan dean of engineering Alec Gallimore believes this isn’t an insurmountable problem. The technology can work in India as long as “we’re not copy-and-pasting from the West,” he told Quartz in an interview in Mumbai.

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Can Trump nudge Texas to dip into its rainy day fund?

E&E Energywire, feat. Daniel Raimi

The Trump administration is trying to get Gov. Greg Abbott and the rest of Texas' GOP leadership to do something they've tried to avoid: tap into a $10 billion stockpile known as the rainy day fund.

"We feel strongly that they should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last week.

Sanders was defending a $44 billion aid proposal aimed at helping Texas and other areas in the aftermath of 2017 disasters (E&E Daily, Nov. 17). That's less than the $61 billion Texas alone requested for recovery and mitigation in light of Hurricane Harvey, which struck in late August and caused extensive flooding in Houston.

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The world’s largest candy maker is betting a billion dollars on the planet

North Carolina Public Radio, feat. Andrew Hoffman

In the US, and throughout the globe for that matter, the private sector is increasingly being looked to as a source of leadership for combating climate change. And many companies are stepping up, especially with the lack of leadership coming from Washington.

Consider the family-owned company Mars, the world’s largest candy maker — it produces iconic brands like Snickers, Skittles and M&M’s.

“We are worried about climate change and the ability of the world to move fast enough,” says Barry Parkin, Mars’ chief sustainability officer.

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Seven U-M scientists, engineers named 2017 AAAS fellows

U-M University Record, feat. Neil Marsh

Seven University of Michigan faculty members are among 396 newly elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

These scientists and engineers were chosen as AAAS fellows by their peers for their "efforts toward advancing science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished," according to AAAS.

The new fellows are:

• Neil Marsh, professor of chemistry in LSA and professor of biological chemistry at the Medical School, for distinguished contributions to the fields of chemical biology and enzymology, particularly for studies of enzymatic radical reactions and studies of fluorinated proteins.

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Toxic algae: Once a nuisance, now a severe nationwide threat

The New York Times, feat. Executive Committee member Don Scavia

Competing in a bass fishing tournament two years ago, Todd Steele cast his rod from his 21-foot motorboat — unaware that he was being poisoned.

A thick, green scum coated western Lake Erie. And Steele, a semipro angler, was sickened by it.

Driving home to Port Huron, Michigan, he felt lightheaded, nauseous. By the next morning he was too dizzy to stand, his overheated body covered with painful hives. Hospital tests blamed toxic algae, a rising threat to U.S. waters.

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Meijer among first to drive Tesla's highly anticipated electric semi truck

MLive

Meijer will be among the first companies to drive Tesla's first all-electric big truck rigs.

The Midwest retailer has ordered four trucks. The $5,000 down payment per vehicle gives the company the chance to be the first to test drive the trucks.

"We have made a small financial commitment to ensure we are at the front of the line to test this new Tesla truck technology, which has the potential to not only reduce our carbon footprint but also realize cost savings that will allow us to keep prices low for our customers," said Frank Guglielmi, Meijer spokesman.

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In his own words: Behind a one-time skeptic's climate 'flip'

Yale Climate Connections

Over a period spanning about two decades, the mere mention of the name “Jerry Taylor” raised the hair on the necks of climate scientists nationwide.

And that was before they even heard or read Taylor’s words, most often disseminated via conservative news outlets like Fox News and conservative op-ed pages and in news articles of reporters striving for what some academics labeled “false balance.”

Part of the problem, truth be told, was that Taylor – from the early 1990s to 2014 the climate guru with the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. – was very good at what he did. What he actually did, many top climate scientists maintained, was very bad, and sorely deficient from the standpoint of scientific evidence. But very good, nonetheless, in terms of its messaging and its impact on helping to sow doubt.

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Bid to revive US solar factories faces familiar job-killer

Bloomberg

A bankrupt Georgia company is pushing to revive U.S. solar manufacturing with a trade case that’s headed for the president’s desk. The simmering dispute from Suniva Inc. stands a good chance of leading to import tariffs, but don’t expect that to bring the jobs back.

While at least six Asian solar companies say the prospect of trade barriers has them weighing the idea of opening factories in the U.S., they’re likely considering highly automated facilities that won’t need armies of workers.

Advanced manufacturing techniques and surging production, especially in China, have dragged down prices for solar modules and helped spur a global boom in clean power. The same factors are now making it harder for U.S. companies like Suniva to compete, and have transformed the employment landscape.

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