Energy in the News: Friday, July 20
When corporations take credit for green deeds their lobbying may tell another story
The Conversation, feat. Tom Lyon
Today most large companies like Exxon Mobil, Ford and GM issue slick reports extolling their efforts to conserve resources, use renewable energy or fund clean water supplies in developing countries. This emphasis on efforts to curb environmental harm while benefiting society is called corporate sustainability.
Once uncommon but now mainstream, this show of support for a greener and kinder business model might seem like a clear step forward. But many of these same companies are quietly using their political clout, often through industry trade associations, to block or reverse policies that would make the economy more sustainable. And because public policy raises the bar for entire industries, requiring that all businesses meet minimum standards, lobbying to block sound public policies can outweigh the positive impact from internal company initiatives.
More bad news for monarch butterflies — study shows climate change’s devastating effect
San Francisco Chronicle, feat. Mark Hunter and Leslie Decker
Rising levels of carbon dioxide from car and factory exhaust — which scientists say is the primary cause of global warming — could contribute to the killing off of monarch butterflies by reducing the medicinal qualities of the plants they eat, a new study has found.
The University of Michigan experiment, co-authored by a Stanford University scientist, found that higher carbon dioxide levels reduced a natural toxin in milkweed that feeding caterpillars utilize to fight off parasites.
The 77 percent reduction in parasite tolerance found in the study is the first definitive example of how monarch survival, the plants they live and feed upon and the Earth’s changing climate are intricately linked.
In Michigan, a big divide between utilities on replacing coal
Energy News Network
Despite similar long-term clean energy goals, Michigan’s two major utilities have competing visions for replacing their coal generation over the next decade.
DTE Energy is preparing to build a $1 billion, 1,100 megawatt natural gas plant it says is needed as it retires most of its coal fleet by 2023.
While Consumers Energy went through a round of coal-plant closures in 2016 — and purchased two natural gas plants prior to that — the utility is forecasting another round of capacity need around 2030 when its remaining coal units are retired. When that happens, Consumers is planning a modular network of solar projects to help meet capacity needs.
Advocates call Michigan utility’s net metering replacement ‘outrageous’
Energy News Network
Solar advocates say the first utility proposal to replace net metering in Michigan would unfairly compensate customers for their power while also charging them “punitive” fixed fees.
DTE Energy filed a broad rate request on July 6 with the Michigan Public Service Commission that includes a new distributed generation tariff. Energy laws passed in 2016 now require Michigan utilities to develop programs that replace net metering, effective June 1.
While net metering customers will be grandfathered for 10 years once a plan is approved, the process has already caused uncertainty and concerns about a patchwork of programs among utilities.
Republicans duel on climate measures behind the scenes
Forty-three House Republicans who say they want to address climate change could face a political test this week when they're asked to vote on a carbon tax.
The House Rules Committee will decide tomorrow whether to allow a resolution from House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to the floor. It describes a carbon tax as "detrimental" to the economy. Congress adopted a similar resolution in 2016 with the support of every Republican and six Democrats.
The move by Scalise to undermine the idea of taxing carbon dioxide emissions comes as Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), co-chairman of the Climate Solutions Caucus, prepares to introduce legislation that would support doing just that.
Energy storage gets its day in Congress
Energy storage experts got to ask what their country could do for them Wednesday.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee convened a hearing on “the role of energy storage in the nation’s electricity system,” which gave industry insiders the rare chance to share what they’ve been thinking before a national audience.
The committee members of both parties generally expressed support for energy storage as a nationally valuable asset to allow better control of the supply and demand of electricity, to avoid more expensive traditional grid upgrades and to provide resilience after cataclysmic events.
Blockchain could cut costs of rooftop solar, e-cars, report says
Blockchain can help reduce costs in rooftop solar, electric vehicles, and other energy applications, according to a report to be released July 18.
Blockchain ledgers that manage transactions securely could help some parts of the energy sector reduce risks and costs, according to the report from the nonprofit analysis and research organization Energy Futures Initiative.
Blockchain also may help the sector manage the rapid changes it is facing due to the need to greatly reduce greenhouse gases and keep the electric grid reliable, said the report.
Subsidy reform could wipe out Chinese battery makers
Few of China's electric vehicle battery makers are likely to be successful following a dramatic scale-back of government subsidies, according to a note from Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. LLC.
The country's subsidy reform plans are aimed at requiring larger, higher-density batteries that can power EVs with a longer range.
Of the 25 producers analyzed by the firm, only two — the giants Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL) and BYD Auto Co. Ltd. — are big enough and well-equipped enough with technology, people and products to meet the challenge, according to the firm.
Comprehensive study: carbon taxes won't hamper the economy
Eleven teams participated in a recent Stanford Energy Modeling Forum (EMF) project, examining the economic and environmental impacts of a carbon tax. The studies included “revenue recycling,” in which the funds generated from a carbon tax are returned to taxpayers either through regular household rebate checks (similar to the Citizens’ Climate Lobby [CCL] and Climate Leadership Council [CLC] proposals) or by offsetting income taxes (similar to the approach in British Columbia).
Among the eleven modeling teams the key findings were consistent. First, a carbon tax is effective at reducing carbon pollution, although the structure of the tax (the price and the rate at which it rises) are important.
Why the world is so excited about electric cars
There is a lot of buzz about electric cars. All the big carmakers have either begun to sell electric cars, or are planning to. Some manufacturers, like Tesla, only make electric cars; other players, like Volvo, are repositioning themselves to sell only electrics or hybrids as soon as 2019.
Last year set a new record for electric-car sales, although they still made up only about 1% of all cars sold. Detractors note that many of those sales were motivated by generous government subsidies.
The criticism misses a point, as shown by the International Energy Agency’s 2018 report on world energy investment. Any new technology, by definition, starts from zero. What matters is how fast it grows—and electric-car sales are growing fast. Moreover, consumer spending on electric cars is growing much faster than government spending in the sector.
Next-gen nukes: Scores of nuclear startups are aiming to solve the problems that plague nuclear power.
Back in 2009, Simon Irish, an investment manager in New York, found the kind of opportunity that he thought could transform the world while — in the process — transforming dollars into riches.
Irish saw that countries around the globe needed to build a boggling amount of clean-power projects to replace its fossil fuel infrastructure — while also providing enough energy for rising demand from China, India, and other rapidly growing countries. He realized that it would be very hard for renewables, which depend on the wind blowing and the sun shining, to do everything. And he knew that nuclear power, the only existing form of clean energy that could fill the gaps, was too expensive to compete with oil and gas.
But then, at a conference in 2011, he met an engineer with an innovative design for a nuclear reactor cooled by molten salt. If it worked, Irish figured, it could not only solve the problems with aging nuclear power, but also provide a realistic path to dropping fossil fuels.
US EPA eases Obama-era standards on toxic coal ash
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday it has eased Obama-era standards on the disposal of toxic coal ash, a move expected to be the agency’s first revision of the standards and one that was slammed by environmentalists.
The 2015 rule established minimum national standards for the disposal of coal ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants that contains materials such as arsenic and lead.
The EPA said the revision would give flexibility to utility companies and states, which had fought against the standards calling them unduly burdensome, and save $28 million to $31 million per year in regulatory costs.
No longer a novelty, clean energy technologies boom all across the US
It was 1997, and stakeholders were working hard to help craft the first renewable energy standard in the State of Massachusetts, which ultimately passed as part of an electric utility restructuring act. At that time, the notion that Massachusetts would be one of the top solar states in the country was almost laughable, recalls Rob Sargent, who currently leads the energy program at Environment America.
Today, renewable energy is taking off in virtually every state in the nation.
A new report and interactive map released this week by Environment America takes stock of U.S. clean energy progress to date. It finds that leadership is no longer concentrated in select parts of the country, but that it is distributed across states with varying economic and democratic makeups.
IEA: Renewables investment in India topped fossil fuels for first time in 2017
Investment in renewable power in India topped fossil fuels for the first time in 2017, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
This is one of the most striking insights contained within the IEA’s annual update of global energy investment, which was published today. It gives an overview of the global, regional and sectoral shifts in financing. For example, it shows that global energy investment fell by 2% in 2017, including a “worrying” decline for renewables.