Energy & Environment

Lawmakers Retreat on Climate Change Action

Last week, lawmakers voted to repeal a key reform to the National Flood Insurance Program. Kate Sheppard believes that this decision is flawed.

In 2012, Congress “scaled back government subsidies for flood insurance on second homes and on properties damaged repeatedly in floods … The changes, advocates said, would help discourage risky development and make would make rates reflect the real likelihood of loss due to flooding.”

“The change Congress approved last week repeals those changes … Critics say Congress is turning a blind eye to the National Flood Insurance Program’s insolvency and the growing risks climate change poses to its viability.”

Rachel Cleetus, a senior climate economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Congress had a real opportunity here with Biggert-Waters to start to address some of the necessary reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program, both to deal with growing risk from sea level rise as well as development along our coasts … But instead they’ve done what they seem to have perfected — burying their heads in the sand. They’re not dealing with the tough issues here.”

Is the Nation’s Electricity Grid Vulnerable to Attack?

Brian Wingfield examines potential threats to the nation’s electricity grid. And it’s not just from snipers and terrorists.

“As the electricity network has become increasingly dependent on software and the Internet, the utility industry has focused on combating potential cyber attacks.”

“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week ordered the power industry to identify critical facilities and come up with a plan to protect them from attack.”

“Regulators are now trying to find the best way to guard against all threats to the generators, transformers and thousands of miles of high-voltage power lines that make up the U.S. electric grid.”

FERC Commissioner John Norris argues that “the U.S. should focus on technologies, like the development of microgrids, that can quickly isolate damaged components from the rest of the network in the event of an attack.”

“Ultimately, the steps industry and regulators take to guard against physical attacks will be a balancing act between securing the grid and shielding consumers from high costs. The FERC must approve rate changes resulting from investments to the generators and high-voltage power lines that make up the bulk-electric network.”

Speaking of large energy, My small business owner friend was recently doing some research on how he could save some money. He thought to compare business electricity through a website like Usave and was so happy with the results! They saved him a sizable amount of cash on his electricity bills.

Most Consider Global Warming Accounts are Exaggerated

Gallup: “Even as most Americans report experiencing abnormal weather conditions lately, more than four in 10 say the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated in the news. These sentiments are lower than the record 48% who believed this four years ago, but higher than any year before Barack Obama became president.”

“Public opinion has changed notably since Gallup first asked the question in 1997. Fewer Americans now say the seriousness of global warming is generally correct; at the same time, the percentage finding the threat generally exaggerated has increased, and since 2009 has consistently been at or above 40%, a mark it never reached in the years before.”

Trend: Is the seriousness of global warming generally exaggerated, generally correct, or generally underestimated in the news?

NY Attorney General Tells Feds to Hold Off on Keystone Pipeline Decision

Times Union: “Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants the U.S. State Department to hold off on a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project until there is a full analysis on potential pollution and climate change consequences.”

“Schneiderman believes the State Department’s final environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL — issued Jan. 31 — failed to acknowledge the amount of climate change pollution that would be emitted. The AG’s office called that EIS ‘arbitrary and capricious’ in comments it submitted for the review.”

“The AG’s office, like those in many states downwind of midwestern air pollution, has taken an active and frequently litigious role in emission issues.”

Exporting Carbon Emissions

Although domestic coal consumption continues to shrink, EconNews reports that coal exports “have nearly tripled since 2005, according to new data from the U.S. Energy and Information Administration.”

“A combination of low natural gas prices, tightening environmental regulations and the falling price of renewable energy generation are pushing utilities away from conventional coal plants.”

“As a result, coal producers in the U.S. are looking abroad to find willing buyers.”

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Will the EPA Ever Take Action on Greenhouse Gas Regulations?

Ben Geman asks whether the EPA will ever implement its plans to institute carbon-emission standards for large industrial pollution sources.

“With the clock winding down on the Obama administration, experts say it’s unclear whether EPA will craft carbon-emissions standards for any big stationary pollution sources beyond power plants—or even if it has enough time or resources left to do so.”

According to its fiscal year 2015 plan, the EPA has yet to “plan to make determinations” on whether to regulate heavy polluters.

“Once the agency has determined it will craft a rule, the process of writing and proposing it, taking comment, and completing it can take years. And for major rules, court challenges almost inevitably follow.”

“EPA, to be sure, is doing more on climate in Obama’s second term than the power-plant rule. For instance, the agency is crafting the next round of emissions standards for big trucks.”

“But when it comes to carbon emissions standards for big stationary industrial polluters, power plants are the big show—and maybe the only one.”

Is Solar Energy Really a ‘Boutique Fantasy’?

Nancy Folbre debunks a common misconception that solar is a niche industry that is not economically viable.

“Solar-generated electricity is turning into a powerful environmental and economic success story. It’s also threatening the balance sheets of electric utility companies that continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.”

“The average price of a solar panel has declined an estimated 60 percent since the beginning of 2011, and this year the total photovoltaic capacity in the United States is projected to reach 10 gigawatts, the energy equivalent of several nuclear power plants.”

Roof-top solar projects for residential homes are also gaining in popularity. “With a relatively short payback period, these home-improvement investments are now within the reach of many middle-class families.”

“Solar installations are relatively labor-intensive, helping revive demand in the building trades. The Solar Foundation’s Solar Job Census estimated that there were almost 143,000 solar workers in the United States in 2013, a nearly 20 percent increase over employment totals in 2012.”

Record Year for U.S. Solar

Greentechmedia: “Photovoltaic installations continued to proliferate, increasing 41 percent over 2012 to reach 4,751 megawatts. In addition, 410 megawatts of concentrating solar power came on-line.”

“Solar was the second-largest source of new electricity generating capacity in the U.S., exceeded only by natural gas. Additionally, the cost to install solar fell throughout the year, ending the year 15 percent below the mark set at the end of 2012.”

 

“California continues to lead the U.S. market, accounting for more than half of all U.S. solar installed in 2013.”

 

U.S. Utilities Need Upgrading: Consumers not Shareholders Will Pay the Bill

Gas and electric utilities are in dire need of a massive renovation, but who will pay the bill? It’s all well paying the bill with the first energy provider that you find, but did you realise that you can also use a companies like Simple Switch to help you get cheaper utility bills. This is only one way that you can get cheaper bills to help save your money. According to a National Journal report, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners estimates the cost for upgrading the system could reach $4 trillion and counting. “All of which will be borne by consumers as a likely permanent line item on their utility bills.”

“But here’s the problem. Most of the people who truly understand how those costs are being divvied up are inside the black box of utility regulators or industry insiders. The few translations that are offered to the paying public are presented as fait accompli. Customers huff, but they eventually accept the higher charges. They’re led to believe they have no choice.”

“Consumer advocates pose a provocative question when it comes to utilities and their fees: Why are the shareholders protected over the monthly rate payers?”

“The answers are convoluted and unsatisfying. It comes down to this: Upsetting the shareholders is more disruptive to the financial structure of a utility than upsetting the customer. Shareholders’ steady dividends are important for a utility to maintain a strong front on Wall Street, which then gives it an easier path toward borrowing any advance money it needs for operations, maintenance, or upgrades. Cheaper borrowing means lower costs overall, so the customer eventually benefits. Or so the reasoning goes.”

Strong Majority Support Construction of Keystone Pipeline

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that a strong majority — 65% — favor the idea of constructing the Keystone Pipeline between the U.S. and Canada.

Washington Post: “The findings also show that the public thinks the massive project … will produce significant economic benefits. Eighty-five percent say the pipeline would create a significant number of jobs, with 62% saying they “strongly” believed that to be the case.”

“At the same time, nearly half of those interviewed — 47 percent — say they think Keystone will pose a significant risk to the environment.”

“Perceptions about the pipeline’s economic upside and environmental risk are closely tied to support for its construction. More than seven in 10 of those who perceive a jobs benefit approve of the pipeline, while those who sense environmental risk are divided: 45% say the pipeline should be approved, while 43% say it should not.”

House Votes on Bill to Block EPA Carbon Emissions Rule

In a vote divided along partisan lines, the House voted to override the proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting carbon emissions from future coal-fired electricity plants.

The Hill: “The bill is a response to a proposed EPA rule Republicans say would require new coal-fired plants to achieve an emission standard that is virtually impossible using today’s widely available technology. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the bill’s sponsor, says that means the rule will effectively ban new power plants.”

“Democrats attacked the bill as an attempt to undermine efforts to control carbon emissions from electricity plants.”

The White House threatens to veto the bill.

Serious Flaws in State Department’s Keystone Analysis

A new report by the British environmental group, Carbon Tracker Initiative, concludes that the State Department’s analysis of the Keystone Pipeline project’s environmental impact is seriously flawed.

Yahoo News: The report “directly challenges the State Department’s assertion that construction of the pipeline would not “significantly increase” demand for the extraction of Canadian oil sands.”

The analysis shows that “because the pipeline would lower the cost of transporting oil extracted from the tar sands (compared with current costs of rail transport), energy companies would be able to afford to take on additional projects—and extract more.”

The report “concludes the pipeline would double the U.S.’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by stimulating the production of up to 5.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.”

Takeaways from the report:

The State Department analysis “did not consider the IEA’s global 450ppm low emissions scenario, which is in line with global efforts to limit carbon emissions. The capacity of KXL is equivalent to the net oil production growth for the entire OECD Americas region under the IEA 450ppm scenario. This makes it significant in the context of future production plans for the US and Canada.”

“The question of whether increased production and GHG emissions enabled by KXL are ‘significant’ is highly subjective.”

Contractor Defends Role in Keystone Pipeline Review

National Journal: “The consulting firm that crafted the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline is defending the company’s independence amid green-group allegations that its work was hobbled by conflicts of interest.”

Freddie Hospedales, global head of marketing at Environmental Resources Management, responded to criticisms of ERM’s role: “It is a bit like being an auditor of banks, of things like that. You need to understand how the banking system works … The same principle applies in this. We are an independent assessor.”