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Energy in the News: Friday, March 30

Q&A: Researcher explores the benefits and risks of fracking in new book

Midwest Energy News, feat. Daniel Raimi

Nuance is rare in the debate over oil and gas development. While hydraulic fracturing is a specific practice of blowing apart shale or rock to unleash oil and gas deposits, the term “fracking” has become a catch-all for the multi-faceted extraction and transportation process.

Author Daniel Raimi argues this has led to widespread perceptions about the practice, for better or for worse, that may not be entirely accurate.

In his latest book, “The Fracking Debate: The Risks, Benefits, and Uncertainties of the Shale Revolution,” Raimi aims to foster a more informed public debate, while also telling the stories of people who live among the industry.

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AP Fact Check: Science contradicts EPA warming memo

The New York Times, feat. Jonathan Overpeck

Climate scientists say an internal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency memo on how officials should talk to the public about global warming doesn’t reflect reality.

EPA’s public affairs office put out “a set of talking points about climate change” to help the agency have a consistent message, the Huffington Post reported this week.

The Associated Press, which also obtained the memo, contacted 15 climate scientists. They all said EPA wasn’t accurately portraying the degree of knowledge that researchers know about climate change and humanity’s role.

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1,200-plus DTE customers agree to pay higher rates for renewable energy

MLive

As Ann Arbor officials consider how to meet the city’s goal of powering 100 percent of its municipal government operations with renewable energy, one of the options being considered is DTE Energy’s new MIGreenPower program.

Launched last April, it allows DTE Energy customers in southeast Michigan to voluntarily pay higher electric rates to support wind and solar projects to offset up to 100 percent of their energy use.

With the rates fixed, as energy costs rise in the future, being in the MIGreenPower program offers potential long-term energy cost savings for customers who stay in the program for many years.

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Looming decision to shape Mich. rooftop market

E&E Energywire

After a year of debate, Michigan is poised to abandon net metering and change how solar owners are credited for excess energy they push onto the grid.

The Public Service Commission is expected to rule within weeks on a proposal to adopt an “inflow-outflow” billing method. Solar advocates are urging regulators to leave existing policy intact, at least while there’s an ongoing case to decide the appropriate value for customer-generated energy.

While the net-metering debate in each state is unique, the core issues — whether solar owners are being subsidized by their neighbors and the right value of customer-generated energy put on the utility’s grid — are constants. Michigan is no different.

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Are utilities co-opting community solar? Critics question term’s use

Midwest Energy News

Last month, Omaha’s public utility unveiled details for a program that will help customers buy solar power without having to install their own panels.

Omaha Public Power District’s community solar program follows a year of stakeholder meetings, but some critics say it’s a stretch to call it “community solar” because participants won’t share enough of the financial benefits.

“It’s not really community solar,” said Don Preister, a customer who recently put solar panels on his home. A true community solar program, in his view, would mean, “I own shares in the system, I get the offset, I get the tax advantages… I don’t just subscribe to a system by a utility. I’m an investor, an owner, and have a say in the process and get the direct benefits as they occur.”

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Congress says biomass is carbon-neutral, but scientists disagree

E&E News

Lawmakers are once again pushing U.S. EPA and other federal agencies to recognize the burning of biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source. But scientists say that could be a bad move for the climate.

A massive fiscal 2018 federal spending bill unveiled by congressional leaders Wednesday night includes a provision urging the heads of EPA, the Energy Department and the Agriculture Department to adopt policies that “reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source.”

The language has appeared in similar forms in previous spending bills the last few years, due to pressure from lawmakers in forest-heavy states. This latest version follows recent comments by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declaring biomass a carbon-neutral energy source. He has billed the change as part of the administration’s broader efforts at “energy dominance.”

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Aging wind farms are repowering with longer blades, more efficient turbines

InsideClimate News

Old wind farms that have towered over the same fields for more than a decade may be generating more power now than ever before.

As America’s biggest wind farms age, their owners are starting to “repower” them with more efficient turbines, new electronics and longer, lighter blades that can sweep more wind with each rotation. The result is a thriving new industry, new jobs and more renewable energy.

New blades and technology updates have completely “revitalized” two Leeward Energy wind farms near Sweetwater, Texas, saving the company money and allowing the farm to generate more energy, said Leeward CEO Greg Wolf.

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Trump’s crude bailout of dirty power plants failed, but a subtler bailout is underway

Vox

Last year, the Trump administration attempted a ham-handed bailout of the US coal industry. In a nutshell, Rick Perry’s Department of Energy told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to guarantee the profits of coal plants.

FERC, to its eternal credit, responded: No. No, thank you. That is a very dumb idea, and we shan’t be doing that.

It was a rare bright spot in this bleak last year, a blow struck for reasoned, empirically informed policy.

But there are no periods in politics, only commas, and there are still powerful forces pushing to keep dirty old fossil fuel power plants open as long as possible. If they succeed, if FERC accepts their arguments, it could mean higher costs to consumers, more pollution, and uneconomic power plants delaying the market entry of cleaner alternatives.

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Smart transmission: How FERC can spur modernization of the bulk power system

Utility Dive

The world’s largest machine needs an upgrade — and it’s costing consumers big money.

America’s 7 million miles of transmission and distribution system wires, often called the planet’s biggest networked machine, have an estimated value as high as $2 trillion. Built up over a century, the network supports the world’s largest economy, but there are mounting worries it is not keeping up with the times.

Pushed by public policy and favorable economics, U.S. utilities are adding more renewable energy and distributed resources to their systems, increasing the complexity of a system once run by fewer centralized generators.

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How smartphones are heating up the planet

The Conversation

When we think about climate change, the main sources of carbon emissions that come to mind for most of us are heavy industries like petroleum, mining and transportation.

Rarely do we point the finger at computer technologies.

In fact, many experts view the cyber-world of information and computer technologies (ICT) as our potential saviour, replacing many of our physical activities with a lower-carbon virtual alternative.

That is not what our study, recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, suggests.

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Aluminum wrestles with steel over electric vehicle market

Reuters

When electric carmaker Tesla Inc. launched its first mass market model last summer, it sent a shockwave through the aluminum industry by largely shifting to steel and away from the lighter weight metal it had used in its first two luxury models.

The switch by Elon Musk’s Tesla to the heavier-but-cheaper metal highlights how steel is fighting back against aluminum, which had widely been expected to be the bigger beneficiary of the electric vehicle revolution.

Aluminum had been seen as the key to offsetting the weight of batteries in order to extend the range of electric vehicles, crucial to increased consumer acceptance.

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It’s not just elections: Russia hacked the US electric grid

Vox

A huge story about Russian hacking got lost amid all the Trump administration staffing drama and Stormy Daniels news over the past week: On March 15, the US government released a report describing a massive Russian hacking campaign to infiltrate America’s “critical infrastructure” — things like power plants, nuclear generators, and water facilities.

The joint report from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security claims that Russian hackers gained access to computers across the targeted industries and collected sensitive data including passwords, logins, and information about energy generation. While the report doesn’t specify any identifiable sabotage, the intrusion could set up future attacks that do more than just record observations.

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This Brooklyn architect wants to rewire Puerto Rico with solar

Wired

The six-month anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s grinding-up of Puerto Rico brought what might feel like good news. According to AEE, the Electrical Energy Authority, almost 93 percent of Puerto Ricans—1,365,065 people—now have power. The process has been agonizing—a misguided early repair contract to the unlikely Whitefish Energy for $300 million got cancelled, and it took months for crews from better-suited firms to get started. Financial problems, logistical difficulties, and a weird reluctance on the part of the federal government to make Puerto Rico a priority all extended the timeline.

The work is far from over. Thousands of people are still without water and power, and suffering—especially in rural areas—goes on. But in the midst of that tumult and travail, some technologists see opportunities for innovation. Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure was falling apart even before the hurricane. So lots of folks are advocating solar power systems as a jump into the future.

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