Energy in the News: Friday, April 20

Friday, April 20, 2018

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How the energy industry’s wish list became the Interior Department’s to-do list

Huffington Post, feat. John DeCicco

An Interior Department advisory group relied on a top energy industry lobbyist to help draft a list of potential regulatory rollbacks, documents obtained by HuffPost show.

At least one suggestion ― reducing the role that local environmental concerns play in leasing federal lands for oil and gas development ― quickly became a reality.

The Onshore Work Group, charged with recommending how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ought to regulate federal lands available for fossil fuel development, already has deep ties to the energy industry. Its chair is Kathleen Sgamma, the president of the oil and gas industry group Western Energy Alliance and a vocal proponent of tearing down many Obama-era environmental protections.

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Experts divided on how new EPA fuel-efficiency rules will affect Michigan economy

Michigan Watchdog, feat. Barry Rabe

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to revise fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks drew applause from some Michigan automakers, but not everyone expects to see large economic benefits for the state’s economy as a result.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced earlier this month that fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards advanced during the Obama administration for the vehicle model years 2022 through 2025 were set too high and were out of sync with real-world situations.

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How science made a self-cleaning coating that repels all liquid

The Verge, feat. Anish Tuteja

What’s the best way to keep our screens clean? The first, and obvious answer, is to keep our hands themselves free of grime. But there may be another option: self-cleaning coatings created by materials scientists.

Recently, Anish Tuteja, a materials researcher at the University of Michigan, developed a clear, smooth coating that repels all liquids and can be applied to any surface. (The research was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.) There are other repellent coatings, of course, but their abilities are limited. Take, for instance, a Teflon pan. “If you put a drop of water on it, it beads up, but if you put cooking oil, it’ll spread,” says Tuteja. “That’s what happens on most surfaces.”

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Is carbon pricing politically feasible?

University of Michigan News, feat. Barry Rabe

When China formally announced plans to establish a national carbon market this past December, it was double the European Union's carbon market and 10 times the size of California's cap-and-trade system.

With the launch, China became the latest country to attempt to create a market for carbon pricing, a field that has been littered with stories of many failures but also some successes over the last two decades.

This uncertainty about adopting and sustaining pricing carbon to contain emissions and the challenges to its implementation is the subject of research and a new book of a University of Michigan researcher who has tracked real-world attempts to price carbon over the last two decades in North America, Europe and Asia.

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Michigan to replace net metering program with avoided-cost tariff

Midwest Energy News

Michigan utility customers who put surplus electricity they generate back onto the power grid will be paid a lower, avoided-cost rate after June 1.

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) issued an order Wednesday replacing the state’s net metering policy with an avoided-cost tariff based on how much utilities would pay to build the same amount of generation themselves.

Liesl Eichler Clark, president of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, said the decision will create uncertainty for customers and installers.

“I see this as complicated, unfair and costly to the industry,” Eichler Clark said, noting that the new rate will vary depending on the local utility.

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Cities can raise your property taxes for adding solar panels, Tax Tribunal rules

MLive

Residential solar panels are not common enough to be exempt from taxation.

That was the central point in Michigan Tax Tribunal Judge Steven Lasher's final opinion filed March 12 in a case involving Ann Arbor residents Mark Clevey and Nancy Fenton, who do not think the city should raise their property taxes as a result of the solar energy system they installed at their house in May 2016.

Lasher's opinion confirmed the city's ability to increase the taxable value of a property based on the installation of a solar energy system.

Clevey's attorney, Samuel Field, filed a motion asking the Tax Tribunal to reconsider its opinion, and that motion was denied Friday, April 13. Clevey said he plans to appeal the decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

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Solar installations put Ypsilanti, Michigan on the clean energy map

Midwest Energy News

Dave Strenski calls himself a leading edge geek.

His day job is as an applications analyst for Cray, the legendary maker of supercomputers. Cray built what was then the fastest computer in the world in 2009, housed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Lab.

Strenski got into solar power early, just like he got into computers.

“I bought my first computer in 1990 for $2,000,” he said in a TedX talk in 2013. “Now compare that to my Galaxy smart phone for $200 that fits in my pocket, dual core; everything is better. Computers have gotten 10 times cheaper and 50 times better.”

He sees the same trend with solar.

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DTE permits for Dearborn turbines for Ford site OK’d

The Detroit News

Environmental activists in southeast Michigan have lost their battle to stop the state from approving a request from DTE Energy Co. to build two natural-gas-fired turbines in a southern area of Dearborn.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on Friday approved a permit for DTE to construct the turbines despite calls from activists and residents to delay the process and conduct health studies.

Critics argued Dearborn already is overburdened by pollution from other plants and that people at nearby schools, homes and health care facilities could be exposed to more toxic emissions. They had asked the state to delay approving the permit until further health studies on air quality were done.

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Timing could be everything in Michigan fight over DTE natural gas plant

Bridge MI

Michigan utility regulators are nearing a deadline to decide DTE Energy’s proposal to replace an old coal plant with a $1 billion natural gas one in St. Clair County, plans that have drawn fierce pushback from environmentalists.

Many of the arguments before the three-member Public Service Commission are complicated, including how best to deliver reliable electricity at low prices to DTE Electric’s 2.2 million customers.

In the case’s final stretch, both sides have increasingly focused on a simpler question: Must DTE comply with new state guidelines for proving power plants meet the public’s interest? The deadline is April 27.

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Your battery has a human cost. Can blockchain fix that?

Greentech Media

The majority of exported cobalt, a key component of lithium-ion batteries, originates in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Much of the production comes from small and artisanal mines, where cobalt is plucked by hand. In 2014, UNICEF estimated that about 40,000 children worked in DRC’s mines.  

Those conditions have led to pressure from non-governmental organizations, commitments from companies to source conflict-free products, and even a promise in September from the DRC government to eliminate child mining by 2025.

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Environmentalists and nuclear power? It’s complicated.

The New York Times

Historically, environmental groups in the United States haven’t been big fans of nuclear power. But in recent years, the threat of climate change and a shifting energy landscape has made the nuclear question — well, a lot more complicated.

You could see that tension last week in New Jersey, where the legislature passed a sweeping set of bills that would ramp up targets for wind and solar power but would also subsidize three of the state’s nuclear reactors to the tune of $300 million per year. Before the vote, the Natural Resources Defense Council told me they wouldn’t endorse the nuclear provision but wouldn’t actively oppose it, either.

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The electric vehicle boom is coming. What can we learn from early adopters?

Ensia

Two years ago, Michigan’s largest utility, Consumers Energy, sought state approval to build a US$15 million electric vehicle charging network paid for by ratepayers. It was the first plan of its kind in Michigan, and sought to position the state as a “leader in renewable transportation.”

However, the plan raised a series of policy questions. Should people who don’t drive EVs be required to subsidize EV infrastructure? Where will the stations be located? And what about the implications for private charging companies?

Ten months later, Consumers formally withdrew the plan based on widespread opposition. But it wasn’t a total loss. The proposal sparked a deeply involved stakeholder process by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to address the policy questions around EVs and how Michigan — the automotive capital of the world — can be a leader.

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FERC chair takes up coal lobby line on plant retirements

Utility Dive

McIntyre’s adoption of the category retirement narrative at Tuesday’s House hearing could indicate he is receptive to the arguments of coal and nuclear plant operators, who have long argued low wholesale power prices could lead to their elimination in restructured markets.

Multiple times during the hearing, McIntyre voiced concern about the permanent loss of coal or nuclear plants, saying the issue is “very much in the scope” of the commission’s grid resilience docket, set up early this year when regulators rejected a coal and nuke bailout request from the Department of Energy.

“Every public servant in America says all-of-the-above,” McIntyre told Utility Dive after the hearing. “If we mean it, should we be troubled of the prospect of any category of generating resources going the way of the dodo bird? If the answer to that question is yes, we have a legitimate basis to be concerned about that.”

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Tech giants vow to fight state‑sponsored hacking

E&E Energywire

A consortium of 34 technology companies has agreed to a "Digital Geneva Convention" aimed at thwarting all kinds of hackers, even those backed by the United States.

"We will not help governments launch cyberattacks against innocent citizens and enterprises from anywhere," the companies said in a four-point "Tech Accord" first proposed by Microsoft Corp. last year.

The signatories include technology giants like HP Inc., Facebook Inc. and Oracle Corp., as well as global cybersecurity firms such as FireEye Inc., Symantec Corp., the Finnish company F-Secure Corp. and Japan-based Trend Micro Inc.

"The real-world consequences of cyberthreats have been repeatedly proven," said Kevin Simzer, chief operating officer at Trend Micro. "As an industry, we must band together to fight cyber criminals and stop future attacks from causing even more damage."

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