Utilities Fight Back in a War on Solar

Inside Climate News: “As more Americans go solar—and save money on their monthly utility bills—electricity providers are doubling down on ways to protect their revenue.”

“One of the utilities’ most widespread strategies is to impose extra charges on customers who are generating their own energy, and they have had varying degrees of success. At least 11 utilities in nine states have attempted this tactic; five have succeeded.

Where Utilities Charge Solar Customers Extra

“Power providers say these new rates are needed to ensure their customers using solar and other forms of so-called ‘distributed generation’ continue to pay for the basic costs associated with maintaining the grid.”

“Clean energy advocates fiercely object, calling these efforts ‘attacks on solar.’ They argue that the utilities don’t adequately account for solar users’ benefits to the grid: less electricity is lost during transportation across power lines; less money spent by utilities on infrastructure for transmission and distribution; credits the utilities can potentially use to reach renewable energy goals or tax credits.”

“Besides rate changes, other hurdles have also been placed in the path of progress for solar … Some states have rolled back solar tax incentives while others forbid customers from leasing solar panels from third-party providers. This ‘kitchen-sink approach’ is occurring in places where there’s already high solar penetration such as Arizona, as well as in places with few solar users such as Iowa.”

The Top 20 ZIP Codes for Campaign Contributions

The Wall Street Journal took “second-quarter contribution data from the Federal Election Commission and ranked the top 20 ZIP Codes by dollar amount for several candidates–looking at campaigns, not the super PACs backing each candidate. What emerged was a revealing picture of each candidate’s fundraising strongholds. Mapping the top-donating ZIP Codes yielded a different way to look at the candidates’ fundraising profiles.”

Most Favor Path to Citizenship for Immigrants

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Gallup: “Two in three U.S. adults favor a plan to allow immigrants who are living illegally in the U.S. to remain in the country and become citizens if they meet certain requirements over time. Far fewer support allowing those immigrants to remain in the U.S. to work for a limited period of time (14%), or to deport all of these immigrants back to their home countries (19%). U.S. adults’ views have been largely stable over the past decade.”

Number of Uninsured Drops By 15 Million

“The number of people without health insurance continues to decline and has dropped by 15.8 million, or one-third, since 2013,” the New York Times reports.

“The decline occurred as major provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect. The law expanded coverage through Medicaid and through subsidies for private insurance, starting in 2014. In the first three months of this year, the National Center for Health Statistics said, 29 million people were uninsured. That was seven million fewer than the average for 2014, after a reduction of 8.8 million from 2013 to 2014.”

“The data may bolster Democrats’ claims that the law is working as they intended, but it is unlikely to prompt Republicans to let up on criticism of the law, which was passed without any Republican votes.”

Clinton Proposes Plan to Pay for College

The New York Times reports Hillary Clinton will unveil a $350 billion student debt reform plan that aims to make college accessible to Americans without loans.

“The Clinton proposals might fare better than those offered by her two main opponents for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, because unlike them, she is not relying mostly on the government to deal with student debt. Colleges would have to hold down costs and show improvements on graduation rates, for instance. Mr. Sanders has proposed spending about $47 billion a year to end public college tuition, with another $23 billion a year coming from states; Mr. O’Malley has proposed his own debt-free plan, though a campaign spokeswoman said there was no cost estimate yet.”

MSNBC: “”By closing undisclosed tax loopholes on the wealthy, Clinton plans to raise $350 million over 10 years to invest in higher education. Of that, more than half would be used for grants to states, public universities, and non-profit colleges that keep costs low for students and meet several other requirements. Another third of the money would go towards debt relief for students. Clinton’s plan would allow every American who owes money to the government to refinance their loans at today’s historically low interest rate. And she’d cut future borrowing costs by preventing the government from making a profit on loans to students.”

Support for Increased Immigration Up to 25%

Trend: U.S. Adults' Preferences on U.S. Immigration Levels

Gallup: “The U.S. public demonstrates no clear preference on what U.S. immigration levels should be. On this contentious issue, 40% say levels should remain where they are, but only slightly fewer (34%) advocate a decrease in the stream of immigrants. One-quarter of the country prefers an increase in immigration levels, the sole response of the three to see a general increase in support over the past 15 years.”

Is Politics at Play in EPA Clean Power Plan?

Michael Grunwald in Politico: “Environmentalists, journalists, administration officials and industry flacks have all hyped the Clean Power Plan as the strongest climate action in history, but the 1560-page text provides plenty of evidence for my case that it’s merely the fourth-strongest climate action of the Obama era. I found a few nuggets that were even weaker than I expected, including a remarkable footnote suggesting that states can do nothing to reduce emissions for nine years and still comply with the rule.”

“Still, I have to admit the overall plan is actually stronger than I expected yesterday, and much stronger than the toothless draft plan I ridiculed in May.”

“What matters are the changes to binding state targets, and those changes are not modest. They also have serious political implications.”

“Check out this excellent chart compiled by my colleague Alex Guillen. North Dakota would have been required to cut emissions just 10.6 percent to comply with the draft rule, the least of any state; it will have to cut emissions 44.9 percent to comply with the final rule, the most of any state except for similarly fossil-fueled Montana and South Dakota. Coal-rich Wyoming, Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana were also among the biggest losers in the revised plan. Meanwhile, the states that are already greening their grid—led by Washington, Oregon and New York—were the biggest winners in the final rule.”

Bloomberg: Coal is Dying of Natural Causes, Not Because of Obama

Michael Bloomberg: “Critics of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Clean Power Plan are describing it in apocalyptic terms. But much of what they believe about the plan — that it will destroy the coal industry, kill jobs and raise costs for consumers — is wrong. And it’s important to understand why.”

“The overblown political rhetoric about the plan tends to obscure the market reality that the coal industry has been in steady decline for a decade, partly as a result of the natural gas boom, but mostly because consumers are demanding cleaner air and action on climate change.”

“The primary reason for the public revolt against coal is simple: It causes death, disease and debilitating respiratory problems … At the same time, jobs in the energy industry have multiplied, led by natural gas and renewable sources such as solar and wind. Today, there are nearly two people working in the solar industry for each person employed by the coal industry.”

“What has this meant for consumers’ pocketbooks? Very little. The transition away from coal has been almost undetectable in electricity bills: Residential rates have been essentially flat since 2006.”

“In short, reducing our nation’s coal consumption has meant a healthier country with more jobs — at no extra cost to consumers. Is there anyone who thinks that’s a bad deal?”

Context is Important When Considering Polling Numbers

Philip Bump cautions that “individual poll numbers are best considered in light of longer term trends.”

For example, the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that came out on Sunday “found that the number of people who thought Hillary Clinton was hurting her party was exceeded only by the number who thought Donald Trump was hurting his. That’s pretty remarkable; Trump’s campaign has reportedly worried Republican leaders who think that he’s damaging their public perception.  Democrats, largely, believe Clinton as their nominee would be a very good thing for downballot candidates.”

“We reached out to NBC for a breakdown of this data by party. As you might expect, that makes a big difference: We see that nearly half of Republicans think Trump is hurting the party’s image, while only 19 percent of Democrats think Hillary Clinton is harming hers.”

How Much Does the Government Really Cost You?

Bloomberg: “Shrinking the federal government will be top of mind when Republican candidates meet in Cleveland tonight for the first presidential debate of the 2016 primary. Some have already suggested saving money by closing the Supreme Court, the Department of Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency. But how much do these and other government programs really cost you, and would eliminating them make a dent in the $3.8-trillion budget? We divided the cost of federal departments and programs by the number of U.S. residents—currently 321.4 million—to get an admittedly rough-ready idea of the per-person tab.”