Posts Tagged ‘Electric Utilities’

Is Obama’s Climate Action Plan on Track?

Friday, July 25th, 2014 - posted by Jeff Feng

“While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, we have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.” – President Obama, June 2013

President Obama lays out his administration's Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University in June 2013. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama lays out his administration’s Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University in June 2013. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is pretty clear in establishing that if we don’t act now, our kids will be living on a different planet.

But since the release of his administration’s plan in June 2013, has Obama made strides in developing a clean energy economy and protecting the environment by fighting climate change?

Let’s take a look at his five-pronged approach to acting on climate: deploying clean energy; building a 21st-century transportation sector; cutting energy waste in homes, businesses, and factories; reducing other greenhouse gas emissions; and leading at the federal level.

First up is deploying clean energy. A major part of accomplishing this goal is first looking at power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution in the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first announced proposed carbon standards for new power plants in September 2013. Future power plants will have to adhere to these national carbon pollution limits. And just last month, the EPA made history by announcing the first-ever limits on carbon pollution for existing power plants.

Under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, states are given flexibility to meet individual emissions targets with an overall goal of cutting carbon pollution nationally by 30 percent below 2005 levels. Electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind and solar doubled during Obama’s first term, but the Clean Power Plan needs to continue the momentum. With that in mind, Obama hopes to redouble electricity generated through wind and solar by 2020. Utility-scale renewable energy is becoming more of a reality even with the reasonable, perhaps conservative guidelines of the Clean Energy Plan.

Seeing as it is 2014, Obama also wants to build a 21st-century transportation sector. The EPA and DOT are working to update heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards by March 2016. Implementing standards for heavy duty vehicles would build on the benefits of the fuel economy standards set in 2011, cutting emissions by 270 million metric tons and saving 530 million barrels of oil. Commercial trucks, vans, and buses are the second biggest polluters in the transportation sector, presumably behind passenger vehicles. Speaking of passenger vehicles, fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles now require an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

It seems like carbon dioxide has stolen the show, but what about other greenhouse gas emissions? What’s being done to stop hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from doubling by 2020 and tripling by 2030? Who’s working to make sure methane levels that don’t increase to the equivalent of 620 million tons of carbon pollution by 2030 (despite the fact that, since 1990, U.S. methane emissions have dropped by 11 percent)?

HFCs were used to phase out ozone destructive chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and are found in refrigerators and air conditioners. While HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, they have a high global-warming potential and are sometimes referred to as “super greenhouse gases.” Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is working to ban the most detrimental HFCs and develop suitable replacements.

The federal government’s plan to reduce methane emissions also takes a multifaceted approach. Just last month, the EPA announced its plans to strengthen air pollution standards for new municipal solid waste facilities, the third largest source of methane emissions, by requiring them to capture 13 percent more landfill gas than previously dictated. Under the EPA’s plan, landfills would need to capture two-thirds of methane and air toxin emissions by 2023. To cut methane emissions from agricultural operations, the second largest source of the potent greenhouse gase, the USDA, EPA, and DOE released their “Biogas Roadmap” of voluntary suggestions to implement methane digesters. Apparently using a bottom-up approach in going from lower to higher emitters, the EPA has yet to build on voluntary programs in the oil and gas industry, which is the largest source of methane emissions. Methane regulations may be considered later this year, but would not be finalized until the end of 2016.

On to cutting energy waste in homes, businesses and factories. Ideally, we’d all want energy that’s both reliable and affordable. Groups like Appalachian Voices have demonstrated that energy efficiency is both the cleanest and most cost-effective method to reduce pollution, grow our economy by creating thousands of jobs, and save money for families and businesses.

The Climate Action Plan and the Better Buildings Initiative imagine that commercial and industrial buildings will be 20 percent more efficient by 2020. In Obama’s first term, DOE and HUD helped more than two million homes become energy efficient. The DOE is also finalizing conservation standards for appliances and equipment that would help customers save more. Finally, the USDA recently announced it would allocate approximately $250 million to developing energy efficiency and renewable energy for commercial and residential customers in rural areas.

By virtue of all the stakeholders mentioned above, President Obama believes the federal government must lead the charge towards a cleaner future. Last year, he signed a Presidential Memorandum dictating renewable sources make up 20 percent of the federal government’s electricity by 2020. By working with the U.S. military and other federal agencies, he hopes to lead by example and prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change. The U.S. Geological Survey plans to spend $13.1 million to develop three-dimensional mapping data to respond to weather disasters. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs is allocating $10 million to teach tribes ways to adapt to climate change.

Even with these initiatives, the road to energy efficiency and clean energy won’t be easy. Considering that Obama’s Climate Action Plan was announced just last year, historic work is starting to move the United States to a sustainable and stable environment. It’s a start, but we certainly have miles to go.

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 5)

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note } This is the final installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia. In this post, we describe the efforts of Appalachian Voices and our allies in helping Appalachia realize its energy efficiency potential, and highlight some of the successes that have already been achieved.

Energy efficiency might not be the cool kid in the room to most people. That would be solar energy, smug ole solar). Energy efficiency is the smart kid sitting in the back of the room, the one that quietly goes about its work, that gets more done with less effort. It even helps solar succeed, because without energy efficiency, a whole lotta solar energy gets wasted, rendering it less economical compared to the fossil fuel bullies in the room.

But the fact that energy efficiency helps solar with its homework isn’t why it is exciting and important. Energy efficiency provides so many benefits beyond just serving as the cheapest way to meeting our energy demands (approximately 80 percent cheaper than solar). Energy efficiency helps alleviate poverty, creates and sustains local jobs, and promotes local economic development. It makes homes more comfortable and healthy, and reduces the environmental impact associated with our energy use. It also may be the most vital solution to Appalachia’s energy and economic future, as we’ve described in this blog series.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Yeah, solar does almost all of these things (and don’t get me wrong, solar energy is still awesome), but energy efficiency costs a lot less to achieve the same benefits, meaning it can have a much greater impact per dollar. In Appalachia, as in other regions of the U.S. where public and private investment in clean energy is relatively scarce, this is an important consideration, and it’s one of the main reasons why Appalachian Voices initiated our Energy Savings for Appalachia program last year.

Through this campaign, we are actively promoting cost-effective solutions that will help Appalachia realize its energy efficiency potential while maximizing the economic and environmental benefits along the way. And the potential is mind-blowing. A 2009 study on Appalachia’s energy efficiency potential found that an investment of $7 billion in residential efficiency improvements would save Appalachian families nearly $14 billion in energy costs by 2030, reducing the average home’s energy use by more than 15 percent and (based on the employment impact multiplier used in this study) creating more than 100,000 jobs in the process. This illustrates how, for a region made up of largely impoverished communities and families, energy efficiency could provide a significant economic boost and help reverse a long-standing struggle to develop and strengthen local economies in the region.

This is why Appalachian Voices and many of our allies have dedicated ourselves to promoting strong investment in cost-effective energy efficiency programs in Appalachia. We are working with rural electric cooperatives to develop home energy efficiency finance programs like those we’ve described in this series. We are inspired and joined in this work by our regional partners and allies, which include the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) (Kentucky), the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (North Carolina and Tennessee), Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowement (Tennessee), Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) (regional), Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (Kentucky) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) (North Carolina). Recognizing the need and potential for improving energy efficiency in rural areas, each of these organizations are focused in part on working with the rural electric cooperatives that provide electricity to those communities.

As a result of the efforts of many of these organizations, there have been some key successes, and there is now a growing movement in Appalachia toward the development of financing programs for residential and commercial energy efficiency. Leading the way was MACED, which spearheaded the development of the successful and still-growing How$mart Kentucky program. In North Carolina, EDF helped with the development and launch of a pilot on-bill finance program through Roanoke Electric Cooperative. And just recently, SEEA launched the Southeast Energy Efficiency Finance Network, which aims to facilitate the expansion of public and private investment in energy efficiency throughout the Southeast.

Appalachian Voices' Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil and Tennessee Campaign Coordinator Ann League meet with representatives from Appalachian Electric Cooperative, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, the USDA and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to discuss the creation of a statewide on-bill financing program for residential energy efficiency. Photo credit: David Callis, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

Appalachian Voices’ Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil and Tennessee Campaign Coordinator Ann League meet with representatives from Appalachian Electric Cooperative, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, the USDA and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to discuss the creation of a statewide on-bill financing program for residential energy efficiency. Photo credit: David Callis, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

For our part, Appalachian Voices has achieved a high level of success in the 15 months since we launched our Energy Savings for Appalachia campaign. As a result of our efforts, the statewide Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, in partnership with five member cooperatives, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the National Governor’s Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Appalachian Voices, is in the process of designing a small-scale on-bill financing program for residential energy efficiency. This is a significant step toward realizing Tennessee’s energy efficiency potential, and we are proud to be partnered with each of these caring and forward-thinking groups that are leading the way.

I could write forever about energy efficiency, Appalachia and the many great things that our partners and allies are doing to advance energy efficiency in the region. But once you get into the realm of naming a series a “pentalogy” (I had to look that up), it’s time to bring it to a close.

So I’ll end this series with one last pitch to you. YOU are the most important piece of this energy efficiency work. While a good number of electric cooperatives and other utilities are doing a lot to help their members and customers lower their energy bills, many are not. So much more could be done, and it likely won’t be unless you get involved. One way to start is by learning more about energy efficiency and programs that your utility could provide by visiting our Energy Savings Action Center. While you’re there, send your utility a letter requesting stronger home energy efficiency programs. But most importantly, get out in your community, talk to your neighbors about how energy efficiency could benefit them, and let your voice be heard! Without you, Appalachia will never achieve it’s energy efficiency potential.

Thanks for reading!

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 4)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note } This is the fourth installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia.

Part 4: Closing Arguments — Why Rural Electric Cooperatives Should Provide Financial Support for Home Energy Efficiency Improvements

I love my electric utility. In fact, as I write, I am wearing a hat they gave me.

Mountain Electric is a small electric co-op serving just over 30,000 members in the rural mountains of East Tennessee. They have a small staff, but are always willing to help out if I have a question or problem. They also seem to sincerely care about the people they serve, and work hard to address member concerns. One way they do this is by helping to reduce members’ electricity bills through energy efficiency incentives and limited financing programs.

I also love Mountain Electric because they are part of a team of co-ops exploring the development of a small-scale on-bill financing program for home energy efficiency in Tennessee. Even more, I admire the co-op model and their potential for doing good in the communities they serve, and I have developed a good relationship with my co-op, as all members should. That’s why I wear the hat.

The Rural Electric Cooperative: History and Mission

I didn’t always know much about electric co-ops, and most people who aren’t a member of one — and even many who are — don’t know much about them either.

According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, as late as the mid-1930s approximately 90 percent of all rural homes in America were without electricity. This was due to the fact that the large power companies did not think it was cost-effective to run thousands of miles of transmission lines to areas with low population density.

With the signing of an Executive Order by President Franklin Roosevelt establishing the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935, and the subsequent passage of the Rural Electrification Act the following year, a lending program was put in place that supported the creation of rural electric co-ops, and everything began to change. By 1953, more than 90 percent of farms across the nation had electricity, and today, more than 900 co-ops provide electricity to more than 42 million people.

[Notes: For those interested, NRECA has put together a neat map showing the growth in the number of co-ops over time. Also, REA is now the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

[Notes: For those interested, NRECA has put together a neat map showing the growth in the number of co-ops over time. Also, REA is now the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

What distinguishes co-ops from investor-owned utilities is that they are non-profit entities owned by the utility’s electricity customers. Every “member” owns a share of the co-op, and, at least in theory, has a direct voice in decisions made by the co-op. In addition, unlike large profit-driven utilities, co-ops operate according to the Seven Cooperative Principles, which include a voluntary and open membership, democratic governance by members, economic participation, autonomy and independence, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.

Why Co-ops Should Provide Home Energy Efficiency Loans

The seventh principle, that of concern for community, is described by NRECA as “working for the sustainable development of communities through policies accepted by [the] members.” This principle speaks directly to the mission of Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia program, which is to work with electric co-ops in Appalachia to alleviate poverty and generate new jobs through the creation of comprehensive home energy efficiency loan programs known as “on-bill finance.” With on-bill finance, the electric utility provides a “loan” to a customer to make a variety of home energy efficiency improvements such as weatherization, insulation and new energy efficient heating and cooling systems. After the improvements have been made, the customer repays the loan through an extra charge on their electric bill. The intent of these finance programs is for the annual savings to exceed the loan payments, thereby resulting in a net reduction in their electric bills.

On-bill financing supports the concept of sustainable development by reducing energy costs for community residents (thereby alleviating poverty), and supporting the development of a local energy services industry, potentially creating hundreds of long-lasting jobs (e.g. energy auditors, home appliance contractors, retailers, etc) while helping to diversify and strengthen local economies. In addition, the widespread adoption of such programs would result in cleaner air and water and therefore healthier communities.

Many co-ops across the Southeast already provide some sort of financial support or incentives, such as rebates and credits on electric bills, for their members to invest in energy efficiency (does yours?). However, most of the cost of the improvements still have to be paid upfront by the member. Currently only five co-ops in Appalachia–all located in Kentucky–provide financing for their members to make multiple efficiency improvements all at once.

 

Barriers to Implementation, and Resources Available to Co-ops

One thing to recognize is that many co-ops face significant barriers to developing and implementing energy efficiency programs of any kind, much less full on-bill finance programs. First of all, like my co-op, a lot of co-ops have limited staff, and it takes a significant amount of staff time to put these programs together and have them be effective.

Secondly, it takes money, something which most co-ops also do not have because their cost of generating or obtaining electricity and distributing it to their members is on the rise. Further, co-ops have to pay for constructing and maintaining the distribution system (transmission lines, transformers, etc). In addition, most co-ops are still paying off debts associated with loans received to cover past expenses.

Finally, in a lot of areas, the lack of an energy services industry (energy auditors, retrofitters, retailers) means that contractors would have to be identified and certified before an on-bill finance program can be implemented. Each of these factors may pose a significant challenge for a co-op interested in developing a financing program. However, there are a growing number of resources available that can help.

For starters, the USDA now has two (and potentially three) funding programs that co-ops can access in order to fund an on-bill finance program. The two existing programs are the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, and the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program. While the requirements and details associated with these two programs are much different, they both provide a significant amount of funding that co-ops can use to fund the program. Another similar initiative known as the Rural Energy Savings Program may become available by as early as 2015, and would provide zero interest loans to co-ops specifically for the purpose of developing an on-bill financing program.

In addition, there are many different models that exist all across the country that co-ops can reference in designing their own program (we wrote about two of them in our last post), and the USDA and others are in the process of developing toolkits and model program designs to help co-ops put a workable and effective program together. Growing interest is also leading many government and nonprofit entities to offer funding and other support for these programs. One such leader is the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, which offers a variety of financial assistance for energy efficiency programs. Appalachian Voices has also been supporting and partnering with co-ops in our region who are taking steps toward developing an on-bill finance program.

What YOU can do to promote more energy efficiency support through your electric co-op

While there is wealth of resources available to help co-ops navigate the process of designing, developing and implementing an on-bill financing program, the availability of these resources will itself not move a co-op to develop a program. If you are a co-op member, that responsibility lies with you.

Find out whether your co-op offers an on-bill finance program by visiting our Energy Savings Action Center, and if they don’t, then send a letter requesting that they develop one. Also, get out in your community and talk with your neighbors about how stronger energy efficiency investments can help strengthen your local economy and provide financial relief and greater comfort for those who need it.

Finally, get to know the people that manage your co-op. Call them up, stop in their office, invite them to a barbeque. You will find that they are good folks that care about you and your neighbors, and are willing to explore ways that they can do more to help all of their members. That is concern for community, and it’s the foundation of creating healthy, sustainable economies in Appalachia and elsewhere.

Tennessee sprouting up as a leader in home energy efficiency

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 - posted by ann

Summer has arrived in Tennessee. Gardens are starting to produce a bounty of flowers and veggies. The longing for home grown tomatoes will soon be satisfied, and energy efficiency prospects are springing up all across the volunteer state.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association have recently announced that the Volunteer state was selected as one of six states to participate in the National Governors Association retreat on energy efficiency. According to TECA’s website, the special retreat will help Tennessee focus on policy development and implementation strategies for “reducing energy consumption, stimulating economic demand for local energy-related jobs and services, and lowering emissions associated with the electricity generation”.

Appalachian Voices has been working with TECA and rural electric co-ops in Tennessee to explore the possibilities for the development of an on-bill financing program for home energy efficiency.

Very few co-ops in the region (only five in Appalachia, all located in Kentucky) provide financing for their members to make multiple energy efficiency improvements all at once — improvements that include weatherization, insulation, and upgrading heating and cooling systems. In truth, the majority of co-ops in Appalachia could be doing a lot more to help reduce energy costs for their members and move the communities they serve closer to achieving real sustainable development.

The fact that TDEC and TECA applied for and received this grant shows that they care about the people they serve, and are willing to work hard to help reduce electricity bills by providing energy efficiency incentives and financing programs. The Tennessee workshop will address specific challenges the state faces in advancing energy efficiency programs in rural areas served by co-ops, and will help the state develop tools and strategies for designing and deploying successful financing programs for co-op members.

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The Tennessee Team will consist of representatives from the Office of Governor Haslam, TDEC, TECA, other state agencies, the USDA Rural Utilities Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, Appalachian Voices and Pathway Lending, a community development financial institution.

It’s exciting to see Tennessee sowing the seeds of a sustainable energy efficiency program, and we couldn’t be prouder to be part of this effort. Visit our Energy Savings Action Center to learn more about your local energy provider.

A “strict proposal” that should be stronger

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 - posted by brian

The North Carolina Senate’s coal ash bill includes cleanup plans that Duke Energy has already committed to, but it leaves too much up to DENR and a coal ash commission that has yet to be created.

Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance

This week, Republican leaders of the North Carolina Senate introduced the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 (SB 729), a bill that they hope will bring closure to the statewide issue of coal ash pollution, eventually.

Introduced on Monday by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson), the coal ash bill would require Duke Energy to close the 33 coal ash ponds across the state within 15 years – twice as fast as Duke claims is feasible. It also calls for a commission to oversee closure plans and encourages research into other uses of coal ash.

The bill’s sponsors say it would be the most comprehensive and strict regulation of coal ash in the country — just what North Carolina needs.

Demand a coal ash plan that protects all of North Carolina’s communities


Four months ago, a massive coal ash spill at Duke’s retired Dan River plant raised the profile of coal ash pollution plaguing communities near North Carolina’s 14 coal plants. But it also spurred a regulatory and legislative response at the state level, and placed North Carolina in the center of a national debate over how to regulate the toxic waste.

Both of the bill’s primary backers have coal ash ponds in their districts and were outspoken about the need for stronger protections in the lead-up to the current legislative session. Duke Energy’s Asheville plant is in Sen. Apodaca’s district. Sen. Berger’s district includes Rockingham County, where the Dan River spill occurred.

The bill goes further than Governor Pat McCrory’s initial proposal, which fell short of the reforms needed to protect clean water and public health. But it still gives too much sway to Duke Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on how to go about closing most of the coal ash ponds in the state.

Under the bill, coal ash sites considered “high-risk” because of their proximity to major waterways, including ponds at the Dan River, Asheville, Riverbend and Sutton power plants, would have to be excavated and closed no later than 2019. Coal ash stored in ponds classified as either high- or intermediate-risk could be moved to lined landfills or recycled. Sites deemed as low-risk sites could be drained and covered, a practice known as cap-in-place, if DENR and the coal ash commission created by the bill agree it would be safe.

The bill requires DENR and the coal ash commission to develop risk classifications by August 1, 2015. But according to an analysis of the bill by N.C. Conservation Network, the bill provides no specifics guidelines on how levels of risk should be determined.

Once the level of risk is determined for the sites not included in the bill, the coal ash commission must hold a public meeting in the county where the site is located and accept comments. So residents in communities such as Belews Creek and Dukeville that live near massive coal ash ponds that both Duke Energy and state regulators know to be polluting groundwater will have to wait.

“The truth is, no coal ash pond in the state of North Carolina is a low-risk site,” attorney D.J. Gerken of the Southern Environmental Law Center told the Hendersonville, N.C., newspaper Blue Ridge Now. “It is a disaster to leave DENR the discretion to stick with the plan it has embraced for years, which is covering them over with dirt and walking away.”

When it comes to questions of accountability — an especially relevant issue considering the ongoing federal investigation into the close ties between DENR and Duke Energy in the wake of the Dan River spill — Apodaca says that’s where a proposed Coal Ash Management Commission would come in, and that the “true beauty of this bill is it won’t just be DENR making these decisions.”

Tell legislators that N.C. can’t wait for clean water. The coal ash bill should be stronger.

“That’s why we have a coal ash commission, which is made up of nine experts from different backgrounds: health, power, conservation, waste management,” Apodaca is quoted as saying in Blue Ridge Now. “We’re going to have a full mixture of folks and that’s who will be making these decisions.”

The nine members on the coal ash commission would be appointed by legislature and the governor, a prospect that should be met with skepticism based on the the industry interests represented on the state Environmental Management Commission and the Mining and Energy Commission, for example.

The commission would be tasked with approving risk classifications for coal ash ponds and their closure plans, and make recommendations on laws or regulations related to coal ash management. Under the bill, Duke Energy would be required to fund four seats on the commission as well as 25 positions at DENR.

Other seemingly positive changes to the governor’s meager proposal turned out to be arbitrary — more shiny objects than substantial improvements. For example, lawmakers say a moratorium on electricity rate increases until January 2015 would protect ratepayers from incurring costs incurred related to cleaning up coal ash. But a rate case could not realistically begin that quickly.

In short, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Senate bill puts into law what Duke Energy has already committed to: cleaning up the ash at the most high-profile and dangerous sites in the state. But in its current form, the proposal leaves too much up to DENR and a coal ash commission that has yet to be created.

Take action and learn more about Appalachian Voices’ work to clean up coal ash.

Acting on Climate: EPA unveils carbon rule for existing power plants

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 - posted by brian
The EPA's plan to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate. Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

The EPA’s plan to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate. Photo licensed under Creative Commons

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced a plan today to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.

The highly anticipated plan is “part of the ongoing story of energy progress in America,” McCarthy said in a rousing speech that covered the host of risks, and opportunities, that come with a changing climate. Not neglecting the significant role coal and natural gas will continue to play in America’s power sector, McCarthy said the plan “paves a more certain path forward for conventional fuels in a carbon constrained world.”

The rule provides states flexibility to meet required reductions — a framework the McCarthy says makes the plan “ambitious but also achievable.” It will likely lead to an increased reliance on less carbon-intensive fuels than coal, including natural gas and nuclear energy, which McCarthy mentioned several times during the announcement. But it should also be a precursor to unprecedented investments in clean energy, deployment of renewable energy sources and the adoption of programs to significantly improve energy efficiency nationwide.

Every American city, town and community stands to benefit from cutting carbon pollution, and Appalachia and the Southeast have abundant opportunities to move beyond both a historical over-reliance on coal, and the destructive methods used to extract it.

Act now to support a strong carbon rule that incentivizes renewable energy development and clean energy jobs for Appalachia.

“Appalachia has traditionally borne the brunt of the damage from the nation’s coal-dependent economy and is suffering the health impacts and environmental and economic devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining and related industrial practices,” said Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons.

“Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest and most equitable way to meet our energy needs while reducing carbon, and it’s a tremendous unexploited opportunity in the Southeast,” Cormons said. “Strong efficiency programs will also boost economic prosperity, creating thousands of jobs. This is especially important in many parts of Appalachia where good jobs are scarce, and lower household incomes preclude too many from the benefits an energy-efficient home.”

Charting the decline in carbon emissions from energy consumption. Graphic by  New York Times using Energy Information Administration data.

Charting the decline in carbon emissions from energy consumption. Graphic by New York Times using Energy Information Administration data

Opposition to the plan will be fierce. You’ve probably noticed that some of coal’s staunchest supporters, the National Mining Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, are already attempting to take the EPA to task for what they say will harm the economy and make little more than a dent in carbon emissions on a global scale.

The EPA is sure to be challenged in court. Luckily, the rule’s legality, in a broad sense, is almost as unambiguous as the science that compelled the Obama administration to take action in the first place.

Tell the EPA you support a strong rule to boost clean energy and cut carbon pollution.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to treat greenhouse gases as dangerous pollutants, enabling it to use the Clean Air Act to place limits on them. Then, in 2011, the high court issued a ruling in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that essentially requires the EPA to regulate carbon pollution from power plants.

Even Congress, albeit a past session, deserves a bit of credit. It was the enactment of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that gave the federal government the authority, and the responsibility, to regulate pollutants that it has determined endanger public health and welfare. So

Overall, carbon emissions in the U.S. have declined since peaking in 2007 due to many factors including an economic slump, greater energy efficiency and a growing share of electricity generation coming from natural gas, falling about 12 percent between 2005 and 2012, before climbing 2 percent last year.

But we’re still dumping billions of tons of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. And until a rule for existing plants is implemented, the nation’s fleet of more than 600 coal-fired facilities will face no cap on carbon pollution. Today’s announcement sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate.

Stay tuned for more of our coverage of the rule. In the meantime, read “Confronting Carbon Pollution” in The Appalachian Voice and visit Appalachian Voices’ carbon & climate pages.

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 3)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note }This is the third installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia.

Part 3: How Energy Efficiency Can Help Diversify Local Economies in Appalachia

Let’s consider our energy use for a moment, and how it might relate to our local economy.

I think of my refrigerator and other appliances, but most of all, of the energy I use heating my home. The house I live in doesn’t have air conditioning, so in the summer I keep the doors open and the ceiling fans running. However, despite having a well-insulated home with double-pane windows, I rely on old, energy-wasting electric baseboard heat to keep me warm in the winter.

Even though baseboard heat runs up my electric bill in the winter, my house is more energy efficient than the homes that many Appalachian families live in. A large number of those homes also rely on baseboard heaters, but also have drafty windows, lack proper insulation in their floors, walls and ceilings, and have inefficient water heaters and appliances. The people who live in these homes are typically poor and cannot afford to pay their electric bills during extreme winter and summer months, much less pay the upfront cost of improving their home’s energy efficiency.

But what if they could? What if they had access to low-cost loans that would cover the cost of making home energy efficiency improvements? Imagine what that could do for residents struggling to pay their electric bills. Imagine what that could do for the local economy.

A home energy efficiency loan could help a single family save hundreds of dollars each year that they might then spend in their community, or use to pay for other basic needs such as education and healthcare. Imagine what the impact would be if 100 homes received such a loan, or 1,000, especially in rural Appalachia, where many small towns are struggling to stay afloat.

Chart by Opower.

Economic output per millions of dollars invested in energy efficiency programs. Chart by Opower. Click to enlarge.

In addition, each home retrofit would require many different services such as home energy audits or the installation of new heating and air systems or insulation, for example, that more likely than not would be carried out by local businesses. Because most of the services associated with home energy efficiency can be locally sourced, a strong loan program could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new investment being added to the local economy. For many Appalachian communities, that would be a significant economic boost, and could result in the development of new local or regional industries and businesses, thereby creating jobs and helping to diversify the local economy.

Energy efficiency loan programs are not new. They have been popping up all over the place, in fact. We’ve written about South Carolina’s Help My House pilot program, which financed energy efficiency improvements for 125 homes, saving each an average of nearly $1,200 a year on their energy costs (almost $300 of which they were able to put in their pockets). In Kentucky, a program called How$mart Kentucky was developed that is saving residential participants an average of more than 20 percent on their electric bills. These two programs are good models for how home energy efficiency loan programs can save residents a significant amount of money. And each program was developed by member-owned rural electric cooperatives (co-ops), like my own co-op, Mountain Electric (who is yours?).

Chart by Opower

Jobs created by region per one million dollars invested in energy efficiency programs. Chart by Opower. Click to enlarge.

The greatest impact of these programs is the amount of local investment and the jobs created as a result of the home energy loans. For South Carolina’s program, the 125 loans generated $940,000 in new investment in the communities where the loans were provided. In Kentucky, the loan program generated more than $500,000 in new investment during the program’s 1-2 year pilot phase, and more electric co-ops are beginning to join the program. These two programs — and there are more than 30 more similar programs being offered throughout the U.S. — have resulted in approximately $1.5 million of investment in the communities where they have been implemented.

According to the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, $1 million invested in energy efficiency in the Southeast generates between $1.5 million and $5 million in new economic output and creates between 5 and 20 new jobs. Energy efficiency investments generate a greater economic impact and create more jobs than the same amount invested in other industries, and those impacts are just the result of direct investment. The benefits increase as a result of the money that is saved. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, for every $1 million in investment, the home energy savings from efficiency programs have been estimated to create another 17 local jobs.

Looking at the potential savings for co-op customers in South Carolina, an economic analysis by Coastal Carolina University estimated that, if co-ops in the state committed to an full-scale energy efficiency loan program for 20 years, it would create more than 7,000 jobs and save co-op members $355.5 million annually.

Strong investments in energy efficiency can have profound economic impacts for local economies in Appalachia. Energy efficiency is merely one strategy that local governments, economic development agencies working with the rural electric co-op or municipal utilities might employ with the goal of diversifying the local economy. But the proven benefits of energy efficiency investments suggest it should be a key focus in any plan for local economic diversification. As we described in the previous post of this series, most communities across the Central and Southern Appalachia are in dire need of a comprehensive strategy for diversifying their local economies.

If my own rural electric co-op, Mountain Electric, were to develop a program that allowed me to save money on my electric bills while also supporting my local economy, I would take advantage of the opportunity. Wouldn’t you?

Appalachian Power wants higher bills for homeowners who go solar

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Ivy Main is a writer, lawyer, and environmental advocate based in Virginia. In addition to lobbying in the Virginia General Assembly for stronger clean energy policies, she writes the energy policy blog Power for the People VA, where this post was originally published.

Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Appalachian Power Company (ApCo) is seeking permission from utility regulators to impose new “standby” charges on residential customers who install solar systems over 10 kilowatts (kW). The fee is included in the company’s latest rate proposal, now before the State Corporation Commission.

According to the filing, the transmission and distribution charges would add $3.77 per kW to the monthly bill of a customer who goes solar with a large residential system. That means homeowners with 10 kW systems would pay an added $37.70 per month. Charges would escalate to $75.40 per month for homes with 20 kW systems, the largest size allowed under net-metering rules.

So the potential is there for a solar homeowner to owe over $900 per year in new charges on his electric bill. But according to APCo, only three customers in all of its Virginia territory have systems large enough to qualify for a standby charge, with no additional big systems in the queue.

That’s right: APCo is spending many, many thousands of dollars on lawyers and consultants so it can change rules that affect three people.

Ahem. Lest anyone think APCo is worried about cost. APCo’s decision to move now proves this is not about freeloaders on the grid. This is about protecting the corporate monopoly on electric power by shutting down the independent solar industry while it is still small.

In this, APCo is following the lead of Dominion Power, which got the SCC to approve similarly onerous standby charges on its own large residential solar customers in 2011. The utility’s ability to do so was authorized that year by a bill amending section 56-594 of the Virginia Code. The statute leaves it up to utilities and the SCC to determine the amount.

The Virginia solar industry acquiesced to the standby charge language as part of a deal that raised the residential net metering limit from 10 kW to 20 kW. Industry members assumed any charges the SCC approved under the law would be modest, given the many benefits solar brings to the grid.

Their assumption proved spectacularly wrong. The SCC bought Dominion’s arguments about solar homeowners not paying their “fair share,” dismissing expert testimony and findings from other states that solar enhances grid security and offsets peak demand.

The result has been a clear setback for the solar industry’s ability to sell larger home systems. Dominion’s steep standby charges “are forcing the solar industry to take a step backward when we’ve worked so hard to make positive steps forward,” says Andrew Skinner, Project Manager with Prospect Solar in Sterling, Virginia. “Working with several small farms and residences in rural VA, we have had to design right up to the threshold of the standby charge to make the economic case most compelling.”

Dominion and APCo are following the playbook of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive corporate lobbying organization that seeks to roll back pro-renewable energy laws across the country. The parent companies of both Dominion and APCo are members of ALEC, and Dominion’s president, Bob Blue, served on ALEC’s energy and environment task force with representatives from the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the science-obfuscation shop Heartland Institute, and other champions of all things fossil. (Greenpeace recently announced that six utilities have resigned from ALEC; unfortunately our guys were not among them.)

Given that APCo’s proposed standby charges are so similar to Dominion’s, APCo probably figures its request is a slam-dunk at the SCC. And given how few people are affected, it may be tempting to ignore it. But just last summer Dominion signaled its intent to try to extend its own standby charges to more solar customers, which makes the issue relevant to everyone who owns a solar system, wants one, or supports the rights of others to buy them.

Whether utilities should be loading up their solar customers with added fees is also at the heart of two studies getting underway in Virginia this year examining the costs and benefits of solar, one of them under the auspices of the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Department of Environmental Quality, and the other by the SCC itself. With a consumer backlash growing nationwide against utility efforts to “tax the sun,” APCo’s move looks like a way to lock in a rate increase on solar owners before the data is in—and before its customers catch on.

It’s especially unfortunate that the utilities’ push against net metered solar comes at a time when we are beginning to see a flourishing of the solar market. Total installed solar in Virginia has leapt from under 5 megawatts just a couple of years ago to perhaps 18 megawatts today. Okay, that’s a paltry figure compared to, say, North Carolina’s 557 megawatts or New Jersey’s more than 1200 megawatts, but starting from next to nothing gives us a really fantastic growth curve.

The rapid drop in solar prices has been a major factor driving Virginia sales. Says Skinner, “With the advancements in the solar market over the past couple years, even here in Virginia, we have been inching closer to the 10 year or less payback period. We talk to people every day that tell us they’ll go solar here when the payback is less than 10 years. A standby charge reverses that trend based on an argument with flawed economics. While other states are making progress on the true value of solar, we’re here with our head held under water.”

He concludes, “Even while holding our breath we are still creating jobs and installing solar arrays all over our beautiful state. I was born and raised here, and I’m proud to work for a VA based company; we just need to get rid of these backward policies so we can keep moving forward.”

APCo’s rate case is PUE-2014-00026, which can be found on the SCC website. For a discussion of the standby charge proposal, look for the exhibit containing the testimony of Jennifer Sebastian. The deadline for submitting comments on APCo’s application is September 9, 2014, and a public hearing will be held on September 16 at the SCC offices in Richmond.

Debunking Duke: Why Captain Abandon is a failed superhero

Thursday, May 15th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg

responsiblemgmt

Since the Dan River spill in February, Duke Energy has been under immense public pressure to clean up its toxic coal ash legacy without passing the cost on to their ratepayers.

Rather than actually cleaning up its coal ash, however, the company is spending millions to clean up its image by launching a new greenwashing campaign that claims, “We’ll do the right thing with our coal ash.”

Defining what the “right thing” is remains contentious. While a recent poll showed that 88 percent of North Carolinians feel coal ash should be stored away from water in specially lined landfills, Duke Energy continues to tout “cap-in-place” as an acceptable remedy and has only promised to move its coal ash at a few high-profile locations.

Cap-in-place involves draining the water from coal ash ponds and covering them with dirt and plastic. Duke claims that it is the most cost-effective option, but cap-in-place will not prevent groundwater contamination, coal ash from leaking into waterways, dam failure, or other potential hazards, like the stormwater pipe that collapsed at the retired Dan River plant.

Capping coal ash ponds does not stop the ash from interacting with groundwater, since water seeps through the unlined bottom and sides of the earthen pits, not the top. Additionally, most coal ash ponds in North Carolina were built on top of streams and creeks that drain into larger waterways, as shown by these maps produced by the Southern Environmental Law Center. A bottom liner is the only way to prevent coal ash contaminants from seeping into these buried waterways.

Promoting cap-in-place as a safe and effective coal ash remedy is essentially another public relations stunt aimed at making North Carolinians feel as though Duke is doing “the right thing” when in fact, the company is proposing to literally and figuratively cover up the problem, abandon their ash pits, and allow pollution from coal ash ponds to continue.

While a bottom liner is necessary to protect groundwater from coal ash, moving the ash ponds away from North Carolina’s waterways is the safest way to prevent another catastrophic spill from occurring. There are twenty municipal water intakes located downriver from Duke’s coal ash pits in North Carolina, and more than 1.5 million residents rely on water that is currently threatened by Duke’s aging coal ash dams, most of which are in poor condition.

Duke has only proposed moving ash at its Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton, and Asheville plants, leaving communities near its 10 other coal plants to continue suffering from coal ash pollution. The company argues that the $10 billion dollars and 30 years it would take to move all its coal ash is prohibitive. This begs the question, what is clean drinking water, healthy ecosystems and human life worth to a company that made $2.5 billion in profits last year alone?

Although Duke Energy spokespeople have assured the public for months that the company would be able to clean up the ash that spilled into the Dan river, Duke officials admitted this week that they will never be able to recover all the ash. In fact, they will only be able to remove a small fraction of what was released. So far, the company says that it will remove about 2,500 tons of coal ash deposits — about 6 percent of the 39,000 tons spilled in February.

Look out Cleveland: Shareholders, activists converge on Dominion annual shareholder meeting

Thursday, May 8th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Activists and shareholders concerned with Dominion's negligence on climate change converged on the utility's annual meeting yesterday. Photo by Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Activists and shareholders concerned with Dominion’s negligence on climate change converged on the utility’s annual meeting yesterday. Photo by Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Activists in Ohio and shareholders from throughout Dominion Virginia Power’s service area including Virginia converged on Cleveland on Wednesday, to greet the company’s CEO, Thomas Farrell, board and shareholders as they gathered for Dominion Resources’ annual meeting.

A demonstration was organized outside the meeting by the Ohio Sierra Club, Ohio Student Environmental Coalition and the Energy Action Coalition. “Energy independence and curbing climate change starts and ends with clean energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal — and that’s what we’re calling for today,” said Brian Kunkemoeller, conservation manager at the Ohio Sierra Club.

In April, Dominion Virginia Power went before the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) for review of the company’s 15-year integrated resource plan. While the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) urges that the next 15 years is a critical window to act to cut carbon pollution, Dominion still generates no utility-scale wind or solar power in Virginia. Instead of developing these renewable resources, Dominion is proposing seven new highly polluting power plants in the state over the next 15 years.

Shareholders hammered on this inconsistency at the general meeting. Speakers at the SCC hearing included State Senator Adam Ebbin who delivered a letter signed by 12 Virginia elected officials urging renewable energy and efficiency investment, and a class of middle school students speaking in favor of increased use of cleaner sources to benefit the climate and create good jobs.

Inside Wednesday’s meeting, Dominion faced unprecedented levels of shareholder concern over the financial and environmental risks of expanding its dirty energy portfolio. Of six shareholder resolutions presented, four were brought by Virginians concerned about the company’s failure to address and act upon the risks of climate change. Each of these four resolutions garnered more than 20 percent of the shareholder vote, compared to previous years in which only one sustainability resolution, focused on the financial risks of climate change, had garnered around 10 percent of votes in support. (In 2013, that resolution received a then-unprecedented 22.6 percent of shareholder votes.)

“I have been involved in shareholder advocacy with Dominion since 2008, and I am saddened and frightened by their continued negligence on climate change,” said Ruth McElroy Amundsen, a shareholder from Norfolk, Va. “Dominion is the largest carbon emitter in a state where coastal cities like mine already see regular and costly flooding due to sea level rise. The resolution I presented this year asks Dominion to set a clear goal for reducing its greenhouse gas pollution, as opposed to the nearly 60 percent increase they are projecting over the next two decades.”

Specifically, the resolutions presented by Virginia shareholders call on Farrell and Dominion’s board to:

1. Report on the financial risks posed to Dominion by climate change (24 percent of shareholders voting yes, representing $7.68 billion in shares);
2. Report on how Dominion is measuring and reducing methane emissions, a powerful cause of global warming (21 percent voting yes);
3. Report on the climate change impacts of the company’s reliance on biomass, or wood-burning, for energy (21 percent voting yes); and
4. Adopt quantitative goals for reducing Dominion’s overall emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (20 percent voting yes).

“Climate change is already impacting Dominion’s bottom line. In fact, the company recently moved to raise electric rates for Virginia customers by over 4 percent due to rising gas prices linked to this winter’s extreme weather,” said Emily Heffling, Virginia Field Organizer at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who presented the financial risk resolution. “If Dominion refuses to be part of the solution, the least the company should do is come clean on the costs to shareholders. Many other large U.S. companies are conducting assessments of business risks posed by climate change, and our resolution simply asks Dominion to provide the same transparency.”

Activists were also protesting Dominion’s plans to build a liquefied natural gas export facility at Cove Point, Md. For more on the worrying ironies in play where that proposal is concerned, read this Plain Dealer op-ed, “Dominion shareholders should slow rush to export liquefied natural gas,” by Mike Tidwell and Robert Shields.