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Energy in the News: Friday, September 28

Americans’ concern about effect of energy use on environment reaches five-year, record high

U-M Energy Survey

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Both are certainly the case when it comes to the University of Michigan Energy Survey’s latest data from summer 2018. We found last November that while consumers were less concerned about energy affordability, they were increasingly concerned about the impact that energy use has on the environment. That concern is now at a five-year record high.

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SAFE Vehicles Proposed Rule: U-M faculty comment for EPA Dearborn hearing

U-M Energy Institute, feat. John DeCicco, Trish Koman, Sam Stolper, Stuart Batterman, and Larry Junck

On September 25, the Trump administration held public hearings in Dearborn, Michigan on their Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Proposed Rule, which would weaken Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards after 2020. What follows are comments prepared for the hearing by five University of Michigan faculty.

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Earth’s climate-change liposuction: Sucking carbon from the air

Axios, feat. The Global CO2 Initiative at U-M

Addressing climate change isn’t just about moving to cleaner forms of energy anymore. It’s about literally taking out some of the heat-trapping gases already in our skies.

Why it matters: There is so much buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, scientists say we’ve reached a point that some needs to be removed to limit Earth’s temperature rise and avoid the worst impacts of a warmer world. Technology exists to do it, but it’s costly, zany-sounding and not well known. That’s starting to change now.

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The Trump administration is rolling back safety regulations for explosive oil trains

Gizmodo, feat. Barry Rabe

On Monday, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration rolled back an Obama-era rule that was meant to improve the brake systems on “High Hazard Flammable Unit Trains” aka “bomb trains” as some environmentalists call them. These oil-carrying trains have the potential to spill their contents into waterways or even burst into flames in worst-case scenarios. More than 250,000 barrels of oil a day move via rail, as of June 2018, per the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

This move doesn’t come as a surprise. The Department of Transportation announced back in December plans to do away with the new regulations mandating Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes for certain trains. These brakes are supposed to be more reliable and faster than the current standard, but a recent governmental analysis found that the costs outweigh the benefits. Implementing this new technology is set to cost industry between $427.3 million and $554.8 million, while it’s expected to produce $257.5 million to $374 million in benefits.

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Are scooters a mobility solution?

Crain’s Detroit Business, feat. Robert Hampshire

Robert Hampshire, associate professor at University of Michigan’s school of public policy and research associate professor at UM’s Transportation Research Institute, said micromobility options like scooters and dockless bikes can serve both effectively, but not without intentional guidance from government officials.

“In coordination with cities and urban planners and the community, there can be a role,” Hampshire said. “But there have to be proactive steps to make that happen because these companies won’t care if they are left to their own devices.”

Bird was unable to make a spokesman available before deadline and Lime did not respond to emails or calls.

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Michigan utility’s long-term energy plan in jeopardy over power contracts

Energy News Network

Three months after unveiling a widely celebrated plan to phase out coal and add solar capacity, Consumers Energy is warning stakeholders that it may need to go back to the drawing board if Michigan regulators won’t let it pay a lower rate to independent power producers.

Consumers Energy filed its long-term integrated resource plan (IRP) with state regulators in June. It calls for a major shift from coal to solar by 2040 but also assumes concessions from renewable developers and others who sell power to the company under the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).

Critics say the utility’s demand is an attempt to subvert an ongoing, two-year-old rate case before the Michigan Public Service Commission that is specifically looking at the company’s avoided cost rate, the amount utilities have to pay independent generators under the federal law. It’s latest dispute between advocates and the utility over PURPA.

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How zinc batteries could change energy storage

The New York Times

Thomas Edison tried to develop batteries made with zinc 100 years ago. But he did not figure out how to make them technologically viable. NantEnergy says its zinc air batteries are the first to become commercially available.

Scientists at NantEnergy said they had achieved two key goals: to make the batteries rechargeable, and to lower their cost for energy storage to $100 per kilowatt-hour. That is a figure that some people in the industry have said is essential to creating a carbon-free electric grid that operates even when the sun is down and the wind abates.

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Bills on taxing residential alternative energy systems await Senate vote

MLive

Michigan Senators are poised to take action on bills that would clarify whether residential alternative energy systems should be taxed.

The House of Representatives passed bills 5143 and 5680 by a wide margin in June. On Wednesday, Sept. 26, the Senate finance committee recommended the bills without amendment to the Senate as a whole.

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These places rode out the boom and bust. Now what?

E&E Energywire

Prolific new drilling of the Bakken formation, spurred by advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, had made North Dakota the second-biggest oil-producing state in the U.S., behind only Texas.

When the price of oil crashed in 2014 and 2015, Williston was famous again. The city cracked down on the temporary “man camps” that used to house oil field workers. As the population ebbed and tax revenue fell, people fretted whether Williston and other towns in the oil patch could pay their debts (Energywire, Nov. 1, 2016).

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Solar industry seeks to slash red tape with new automated permitting initiative

Greentech Media

Cumbersome and inconsistent permitting and inspection processes can add around three months to the build-out of a residential solar installation and around $7,000 in direct and indirect costs, or around $1.00 per watt.

That $1 is significant. Residential solar installation prices in the U.S. currently range between $3.00 and $3.50 per watt (in some locations prices are even lower, while Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory just pegged median residential 2017 costs at $3.70 per watt). Soft costs, including customer acquisition, permitting, financing and installing rooftop solar, make up a disproportionate amount of the total solar price.

For comparison, average residential solar prices in Australia dipped to just $1.24 per watt in August.

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May Mobility puts autonomous shuttles on the streets of Columbus, Ohio

TechCrunch

The six-seater electric shuttles will follow a 3 mile route through downtown Columbus and the vehicles will start picking up passengers on December 1. Rides are free. May Mobility has already performed over 10,000 successful trips in Detroit. In Columbus the shuttles will drive the Scioto Mile loop, a scenic route through the city and by the Ohio River. A large digital display will show system information and there will be a single operator to oversee the trip and take control in case of emergency.

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Electric carmakers turn to Congress as tax credits dry up

The Hill

The future of electric cars is in Congress’s hands, with lawmakers divided over whether to extend a popular tax credit.

Electric car manufacturers are only allowed to offer a federal tax break on their first 200,000 vehicles sold under a 2009 law, and many are now hitting that cap, most notably Tesla.

That’s setting off a fight in Congress, where Democrats are eager to extend the breaks and help the growing electric car industry but Republicans hope to end what they see as an unnecessary subsidy.

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Election 2018: Clean energy’s future could rise or fall with 36 governor’s races

InsideClimate News

Some of the most consequential elections for climate policy this fall could be the 36 governors races, where a blue wave could position clean energy advocates as a significant counterforce against the Trump administration’s fossil fuel agenda.

Republicans currently hold a near-record 33 governorships—a lock on power that has served as a brake on clean energy progress in some areas.

But the tide may be ready to turn. As many as a third of those seats are considered toss-ups or are leaning Democratic in the upcoming election, according to analysts like the Cook Political Report and University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

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Special report: Rethinking energy

Financial Times

In an eight-part special report, the Financial Times reports on “rethinking energy” from different corners of the world. The articles cover topics such as renewable power markets in China and India, California’s plans to mandate that all new homes should have solar power by 2020, smart grids, fuel cells, and stimulating investment into carbon capture and storage.

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