Posts Tagged ‘Renewable Energy’

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.

Your comments needed to chart Virginia’s energy future

Friday, June 13th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Help ensure Virginia's upcoming Energy Plan makes clean energy like solar power a priority.

Help ensure Virginia’s upcoming Energy Plan makes clean energy like solar power a priority.

This month Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order to create an energy council tasked with assisting in the development of a comprehensive energy strategy for Virginia. In his announcement, the governor stressed the need for an aggressive analysis that puts Virginia in the position of being a leader in “new energy technologies.”

The results of this analysis will be compiled in the Virginia Energy Plan, a document that state law mandates be rewritten every four years and is due October 1. For those of us who would like to see robust investment in efficiency, wind and solar power as part of those new energy technologies, the task before us clear: make sure the Energy Council hears from us at every opportunity.

Gov. McAuliffe ran on a clean energy jobs platform, and now is the time to make sure that those same ideas are reflected in the plan as it will set the tone on energy policy for the rest of his term. Now is a critical moment to seize that opportunity.

The Energy Council is hosting listening sessions across the state to collect input from citizens on the Energy Plan. The format of these sessions will begin with a 15-minute informational presentation by an expert on a particular topic related to the plan. Citizens will then have time to comment, taking up to three minutes each. Arrive early to sign up to reserve your place on the speakers list.

The schedule for the sessions is:

Public involvement will be critical in making sure that the upcoming Energy Plan guides Virginia away from a dependence on fossil fuel and toward a cleaner energy economy.

Can’t make it to any of these session in person? Send in your comment on Virginia’s energy direction here!

The River City is set to soak up the sun

Friday, April 25th, 2014 - posted by hannah
City-scale solar initiatives are being adopted in Virginia.

City-scale solar initiatives are being adopted in Virginia.

Solar is no longer a thing of the future — it makes sense right here, right now. That’s the spirit of Virginia’s newest residential-scale renewable energy initiative, SolarizeRVA, which was launched on Tuesday in celebration of Earth Day.

If you read last month’s post about Solarize Blacksburg, the idea in Richmond is the same: a bulk purchasing program that streamlines the process for homeowners who want to go solar and get a group discount (for a limited time only, now through July 15.)

By vetting local contractors AltEnergy and Integrated Power Sources of Virginia, arranging the best price for installation, and educating people on available tax credits and financing, the program removes the usual legwork and guessing that come with going solar. It makes a fair amount of cost savings possible too, 10 to 15 percent off market rates, plus the 30 percent federal tax credit currently available. Long-term financing is also offered, making solar practical and accessible for almost anyone.

A program like SolarizeRVA is the kind of kick Virginia needs to accelerate our state up to the capacity of installed solar that states like North Carolina already boast about. In the first week alone, 60 households have contacted SolarizeRVA about getting their homes assessed! Here’s to the Richmond Region Energy Alliance’s efforts for a solar explosion in our State Capitol, and let’s help spread the word!

Rural Electric Co-ops Can Renew Community Spirit

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note }We occasionally invite a guest to “pull up a chair” and share their views on issues important to you. Today’s post is from Brian Depew, the executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, a group that works to establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship. This post, about how rural electric co-ops can renew community spirit, originally appeared on the Center for Rural Affairs’ clean energy blog.

I tore a page out of my rural electric co-op newsletter last fall. It is pinned it to my wall. I read it every day. It says, “Electric co-ops were constructed with lines, poles, and the foolhardy notion that we all prosper by helping each other.”

Brian Depew

Brian Depew

It’s so true. The cooperative spirit that brought electric service to rural America represents the community-driven values of small towns – values the Center works to uphold today.

More than 900 rural electric coops serve 42 million people in 47 states. Co-ops remain democratically controlled, run by elected customer-members. But the co-ops have drifted from their community-oriented mission.

Increasingly, they rely disproportionately on coal for generation. Seventy percent of the power co-ops deliver comes from burning coal. The number has fallen to 37 percent nationwide. The ironies are three-fold.

Cost: Electric co-ops serve 327, or 93 percent, of the nation’s 353 counties suffering the deepest and most persistent poverty.

These counties would benefit from affordable electric rates and the economic development potential of developing renewable resources. As the cost of coal has risen and the cost of renewables has fallen, co-ops have failed to respond.

As a result, co-op electric rates are now 9 percent higher than neighboring utilities. Nationwide 350 co-ops charge 15 percent more, and 175 co-ops charge 30 percent more.

Opportunity: Rural electric coops are in a tremendous position to create economic opportunity by investing in local energy. Co-ops serve 75 percent of the nation’s land area, including a vast majority of the best wind and solar resources in the country.

Developing these resources would represent a direct investment in their communities. Take one small example. Research shows that every two megawatts of wind energy installed creates one job and increases county-level personal income by $22,000.

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Money spent in the community stays in the community. Creating a resilient energy industry that will last decades into the future is one of the easiest and smartest steps a community can take to tackle long-term economic challenges.

Democratic Control: The democratically elected board members of these co-ops are in an enviable position to jump start economic growth.

As we travel the country, we hear a consistent theme. Many of you want to invest in renewable resources. You want your co-ops to invest in community-based wind, and you want your co-ops to work with you (not against you) to invest in farm and home-based energy systems.

Repeated public polling bears out the anecdotes. Rural people support greater development of renewable energy sources. They are even willing to pay more for the initial investment.

Yet, there is a disconnect between what you want and what your democratically controlled co-op delivers.

Renewing Spirit: This is why it is time to renew the community spirit that built co-ops. I believe in the foolhardy notion that we all prosper by helping each other. I know you do to.

Eighty years ago that meant coming together to sink poles in the ground and string lines between them. Today it means reinvigorating the democratic control of our local co-ops and harnessing the power of local energy development.

It starts in my community and in your community. You can run for your local co-op board. If you are already on your co-op board, get in touch. We are networking like-minded board members from across the country.

If you are a customer-member of a co-op, pick up the phone and tell your elected board you envision a future where co-ops invest closer to home, creating local opportunity.

Together, we’ll put the public back in the driver’s seat of rural electric co-ops. Call us foolhardy, if you wish. But we are not the only ones.

Virginia Power Shifters intend to organize and win on climate

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by hannah

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Building up communities, empowering people to overcome oppression and standing up to polluters with grassroots strength: these were among the central themes of Virginia Power Shift, which took place at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond last weekend. Students worked tirelessly to involve campuses from all over the state, and delegations traveled from every corner of Virginia to join in the hard work (and, yes, also the play) that constitute this amazing young leaders’ summit.

An eye-opening and inspiring convergence of developing leaders and newly-born activists and loads of young reformers in between, the event showcased a movement on the rise, bringing social justice, climate and energy, pro-democracy and equality campaigns into one space to share skills and generate new approaches to problems.

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Words don’t seem to capture the Power Shift ethic and attitude of heightened awareness and an open-minded way of caring for all people struggling for fairness and equity, but the picture above captures some of the substance and spirit of the weekend of learning and action.

Workshops given on the issues of the moment ranged from student debt to mountaintop removal mining, renewable energy to voter suppression, privilege and discrimination to corporate campaigning against greenwashing and unethical practices. Remarks by climate movement and environmental justice leaders like Energy Action Coalition’s Lillian Molina, Virginia New Majority’s Tram Nguyen, and the Hip Hop Caucus’ Reverend Lennox Yearwood capped off the conference on a high note.

The weekend of action and leadership is just the beginning of a redoubled effort to expand participation of students on campuses in the many organizing opportunities highlighted in Richmond, and in many other fights that this generation takes seriously.

Are you a student ready to engage in this powerful movement? Get with the active organizations on your campus, or check out the top-notch student coalition behind Power Shift 2014!

McAuliffe can pave the way for a cleaner future for Virginia

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by cat

{ Editor’s Note }This post ran as an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Tuesday, April 8 — the first day of the annual Environment Virginia Symposium, an environmental conference that brings together regulators, business people and entrepreneurs, elected officials, and citizen groups like Appalachian Voices.

In his keynote speech at the symposium, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to diversify Virginia’s economy by boosting the clean energy sector, which would not only create jobs but also address climate change: “I believe humans contribute to climate change. I think it’s pretty much settled. I think the impacts are felt today.”

In his keynote address at the Environment Virginia Symposium, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to diversify Virginia’s economy by boosting the clean energy sector.

In his keynote address at the Environment Virginia Symposium, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to diversify Virginia’s economy by boosting the clean energy sector.

In almost every campaign speech, Terry McAuliffe told the story of how he started a driveway-paving business in his neighborhood when he was 14 to earn money to help pay for his college education. Now Virginia’s 47th governor, McAuliffe is clearly proud of the moral: Work hard, invest in your future and you’ll go far.

As Gov. McAuliffe begins to apply these values to his gubernatorial agenda, there’s no better place to start than by paving the way for a stronger, more equitable economy for all Virginians by investing in a 21st-century clean-energy sector for the commonwealth.

Wind and solar power and energy efficiency have not only proven to be cost-effective, they can provide long-term jobs throughout the state, stabilize energy costs for families and businesses and strengthen Virginia’s economy. As a first step, McAuliffe should require that all state-owned buildings in Virginia derive at least 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources, and direct his agencies to become 20 percent more energy efficient.

McAuliffe has numerous other options at his disposal to put forth a clear vision for clean energy and take concrete steps to fortify the clean-energy business sector here in Virginia.

Energy efficiency:

Increasing investments in energy efficiency programs could create nearly 10,000 jobs and save Virginians over $2.2 billion annually on their electric bills by 2025.* But Virginia is far from realizing this opportunity; in fact, we rank 36th nationally for energy efficiency.

Seven years ago, the General Assembly set a voluntary goal to cut energy use by a modest 10 percent by 2022 (from 2006 levels). The state’s two largest electric utilities, Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power, are on track to meet just one-half and one-quarter of that goal, respectively. McAuliffe should press the utilities to invest in more ambitious energy-efficiency programs to benefit the economy, the public and the environment. He should also adopt improved statewide building code standards that could increase efficiency of new home construction by as much as 27 percent.

Solar power:

The solar industry is booming across the country — except in Virginia. Last year, the industry added 14,000 new jobs, while fossil fuel companies cut nearly 4,000 workers. North Carolina has installed enough solar to power more than 25,000 homes and is ranked third for solar installed in 2013 — much of which powers data centers. Virginia trails far behind, with not even enough solar to power 1,000 homes.

Virginia could catch up, or even surpass our neighbors. McAuliffe can jumpstart solar projects by discouraging penalties imposed by utilities on homeowners and businesses who install solar panels, and by supporting policies that allow all Virginians to easily finance solar installations on their homes and businesses.

Wind power:

Virginia has some of the strongest potential for offshore wind energy in the country and holds the first federal license in the mid-Atlantic region, with the potential to produce enough electricity to power 700,000 homes. Dominion holds the lease, but is currently planning to develop just a fraction of that potential, enough to power roughly 4,200 homes, by 2028. McAuliffe should urge Dominion to fully develop this resource, which could create 10,000 additional new jobs over the next 20 years.

Diversifying Southwest Virginia’s economy:

McAuliffe should take immediate and significant action to expand and diversify economic opportunities in Southwest Virginia, especially in communities where coal is mined. Investments in clean energy, tourism, education and manufacturing will help secure a stronger economic future for families that have unfairly suffered poisoned drinking water and streams, soot and dust in the air, severe health problems and other impacts of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

McAuliffe can lead Virginia toward a stronger, healthier, economically just future by championing positive clean-energy policies like these. Our organizations stand ready to work with the governor, his staff and administration to help make that happen.
As a boy, Terry McAuliffe aimed high when he started his first business to invest in his future. He should do the same now for Virginia.

Cat McCue, communications director with Appalachian Voices, on behalf of Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club of Virginia, Southern Environmental Law Center and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Contact her at cat@appvoices.org.

* Information for this article was drawn largely from an August 2013 report, “Changing Course: A Clean Energy Investment Plan for Dominion Virginia Power, by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Optimal Energy.

Energy Industry Overstated Predictions of Price Spikes

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Brian Sewell

The energy industry’s record of overestimating electricity price spikes as a result of pollution controls dates back 40 years, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. As a result of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, the Edison Electric Institute, an association of investor-owned utilities, estimated double-digit rate increases for most states between 1990 and 2009 with the largest spikes occurring in coal-dependent states. Nationally, predictions by the group were off by an average of 16 percent. In the 10 states most dependent on coal-fired electricity, the group overestimated by an average of 24 percent.

As industry groups attempt to deter carbon regulations with forecasts of soaring energy prices, the report’s authors, Daniel J. Weiss and Miranda Peterson, write that it is imperative that public officials and the media question those claims “even if they have an ‘expert study’ that purports to ‘prove’ them.”

Methane Leaks Complicate Natural Gas Reputation

Methane leaked during natural gas production could undermine the resource’s reputation as a “bridge” from fossil fuels to cleaner energy, according to a study published in Science. The study concludes that leaked methane — a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide — negates the benefits of switching from diesel to natural gas in the transportation sector, despite the fact gas produces 30 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than diesel. Even factoring in emissions from leaked methane, however, switching from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution, to natural gas-fired power plants will lower climate-changing emissions overall.

Supreme Court Rejects Spruce Mine Case

The U.S. Supreme Court says it won’t consider a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to veto mountaintop removal permits. Arch Coal, which owns Spruce Mine, petitioned the high court to hear the case after an appeals court sided with the EPA last year. In 2007, Arch subsidiary Mingo Logan was granted permits by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discharge mining waste into streams surrounding its Spruce Mine in West Virginia, but the EPA vetoed those permits in 2011 after determining the discharges would cause unacceptable harm to water quality and wildlife. Arch Coal claims the EPA overstepped its authority by retroactively vetoing permits.

Duke Energy Plans to Devalue N.C. Renewable Energy

Duke Energy says it wants to reduce the amount it pays North Carolina households with rooftop solar for feeding excess electricity into the grid. Under an existing policy, ratepayers that produce solar energy are paid the full retail price for electricity they send out to the grid — about 11 cents per kilowatt hour in North Carolina. But federal law only requires electric utilities to pay residential solar producers the amount it costs to generate their own power, which in Duke’s case is less than 7 cents a kilowatt hour.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association and local solar companies argue that Duke — the largest electric utility in the country — is using its market dominance to diminish the demand for solar in North Carolina.

Kentucky-India Coal Export Deal Stalls

In 2012, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear boasted about a $7 billion deal that would send 9 million tons of Appalachian coal to India each year for 25 years, calling the partnership “a great example of a new market for Kentucky resources.” But a year and a half later, the agreement appears to have stalled.

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, those involved with the deal aren’t sure when shipments will start or where the deal even stands, citing global shifts in the market for coal. The state reported in early February that eastern Kentucky lost 2,232 coal-related jobs in 2013.

Advancing Community-owned Energy in Blacksburg

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam announces Solarize Blacksburg to a crowd at a local farmers market.

Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam announces Solarize Blacksburg to a crowd at a local farmers market.

If you’ve ever wished that purchasing a solar array for your home could be more like shopping for food in bulk at a big box store, then the new program Solarize Blacksburg is right up your alley.

For the next three months, Blacksburg, Va., is using financial tools and focusing the public’s interest in clean energy to encourage scores of potential rooftop solar customers attracted by discounts to sign up all at once. The more people sign up, the bigger everyones’ savings will be.

It began with a plan: the Blacksburg Climate Action Plan outlined goals to reduce the town’s carbon dioxide emissions, and generating electricity with solar means burning less coal. This Blacksburg program is based on a concept that was implemented recently in Oregon to fantastic success.

It’s understood that when undertaking a big investment such as whether to adopt solar, loads of questions go through the consumer’s mind. How long until my investment pays for itself? Am I better off pulling the trigger now or waiting another year for the price to come down?

In this case, between federal tax credits currently in play and the price cut available through the Solarize Blacksburg program, the cost to the consumer comes down by as much as 45 percent. This reduces the payback period to an unprecedented 10 years, after which solar panels will supply essentially free energy to the customer.

Part of the value of owning a solar system is that when customers generate more energy than they need, the extra power feeds on to the grid and customers are metered so as to receive a credit on their next energy bill for the energy they gave back to the utility. There is even financing available to pay the cost of the system in installments, making solar more accessible for everyone. And, the jobs involved in site assessment and installations are local to the community: Baseline Solar and Solar Connexion are the two companies involved and are both centered nearby.

So, if you’re a Blacksburg resident with south-facing rooftop space and you’re wondering about going solar, the site assessment is free when you sign up now through the end of May 2014 at http://www.solarizeblacksburg.org/getstarted/ and spread the word to neighbors and friends that there has never been a better time in Blacksburg to take advantage of the sun for your home.

Virginia Legislature Ends with Modest Progress on Solar

Monday, March 10th, 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.

According to guest contributor Ivy Main, the past few years have produced glimmers of hope that suggest a shifting mindset among legislators.

According to guest contributor Ivy Main, the past few years have produced glimmers of hope that suggest a shifting mindset among legislators.

Advocates of enlightened energy policy march into session every January bright-eyed and optimistic, only to become mired in the slough of despond. We watch the best bills die, while bills we thought too backward to survive the light of day flourish like an invasive species. Yet even in Virginia, the past few years have produced glimmers of hope that suggest a slowly shifting mindset among legislators.

There is, for example, a growing movement in favor of solar energy that is as strong on the Republican right as it is on the Democratic left. They haven’t quite formed a Solar Caucus yet, but you might say we are beginning to see a Solar Consensus.

Last year, after a long battle, this consensus produced a law specifically allowing some third-party-owned solar and wind projects, a critical step for nonprofits to install solar economically. This year, the legislature removed the second major hurdle to these projects, local “machinery and tools” taxes on solar equipment that would have made third-party-owned projects impossible in most Virginia jurisdictions. Assuming the governor signs, SB 418 and HB 1239 take effect January 1, 2015.

In a near rerun of two years ago, Senator Chap Petersen’s SB 222, nullifying homeowner bans on solar, passed the House and Senate. Back then Governor McDonnell surprised us all by vetoing similar legislation, an action not expected from Governor McAuliffe.

This year, too, the legislature voted to establish a grant program to help fund renewable energy projects. Originally conceived as an ambitious, $100 million tax credit, the legislation was quickly scaled back to $10 million and turned into a grant, causing it to run into trouble when money couldn’t be found in the budget to fund it. (Sorry, we spent it all on coal.) So SB 653 won’t take effect until fiscal year 2015-2016, and even for that to happen the bill must be reenacted in 2015. Too many contingencies, you say? Well, yes. But passing the bill at all is a remarkable milestone for this legislature. Let’s appreciate this moment.

Solar advocates also tried for a second year to pass a bill that would require the State Corporation Commission to set up a registration system for Virginia renewable energy certificates. While the bill did not pass, the SCC has agreed to examine whether it can do the job administratively, and if legislation is required, to suggest the necessary language for the 2015 session. Again, it’s a small victory, but it reflects an increasing acceptance of solar energy as an inevitable part of our energy mix.

Okay, sure, the defeats were far more numerous. Reforms to our farcical Renewable Portfolio Standard were whittled down to why-bother status before passage (SB 498 and HB 822). Efforts to ensure that both utilities and regulators take account of the long-term costs of fossil fuels (HB 808) and their climate change impacts (HB 363) never made it out of the House subcommittee. Every effort to expand residents’ access to solar energy by opening up net-metering failed (SB 350, HB 879, HB 906 and SB 350).

One of the net-metering champions, Senator John Edwards, put in a resolution in the final days of the session to organize a study of the value that distributed solar generation provides to utilities and the grid. The bill was introduced on March 3 and scuttled three days later (surely some kind of record), but advocates expect the study to go forward administratively. The study will make use of the Small Solar Working Group that formed last year, facilitated by the Department of Environmental Quality and consisting of solar advocates, utilities, local governments and others.

This value-of-solar issue is at the heart of the national battle over the expansion of distributed solar and the effort by utilities to nip it in the bud to preserve their monopolies. We expect Virginia utilities to continue their push for a very low valuation, one that would justify the barriers currently in place and add new ones like standby charges.

There were other disappointments, too, like the failure of HB 766, a bill that would have allowed localities to form service districts for energy projects, just as they do for things like trash collection, and HB 1001, which would have required electric utilities to offer on-bill financing of energy efficiency improvements.

But as I wrote in my last post, the worst news for consumers this year was the passage of SB 459, a bill allowing Dominion to write off hundreds of millions of dollars it has spent developing plans for a third nuclear reactor at Lake Anna. Last week we spoke with lawyers at the Attorney General’s office about this boondoggle, which they also oppose, and received confirmation that our reading of the bill is correct. In spite of the propaganda coming from Dominion about “no ratepayer impact,” customers of the utility will indeed pay these costs.

Worse, while we know Dominion has spent $570 million so far, the company has not disclosed how much more it intends to spend — and charge us — in the future. The AG’s office told us Dominion has this estimate but won’t disclose it publicly, insisting the figure is confidential. Apparently it is not for the likes of us customers to know such things.

Legislators not only signed us up for this open-ended boondoggle, they specifically rejected an amendment offered by Delegate Ware that would have ensured we got our money back if Dominion doesn’t build the nuclear plant.

Given the lopsided vote tally, the governor is not likely to veto the bill. Knowing this, the AG’s office is recommending amendments that would allow the State Corporation Commission to review the money spent (the bill as written jettisons even that minor consumer protection), but isn’t suggesting a wholesale rewrite.

Looking for a silver lining? There are two. First, Dominion may have pursued this legislation not because it wants to build North Anna 3, but because it intends to abandon the project and figures it might as well get ratepayers to cover the sunk costs while it’s still possible to pretend everything is full speed ahead. That would actually come as a relief; not building a financially uncompetitive nuclear plant on an earthquake fault line is way better than building it.

Second, the bitter pill of this legislation comes with a little chaser of sugar in the form of a second bill, SB 643, that provides the same treatment for the costs of developing an offshore wind farm. So far these costs have been tiny in comparison to what’s been spent on North Anna 3, but putting them into the rate base will lower the cost of building turbines offshore.

Some people have suggested it’s inconsistent to like the wind bill while hating the nuclear bill, but surely it’s only reasonable to fish a pearl out of a dung heap. There are good reasons to distinguish the bills, beyond the dangers of nuclear and the planet-friendly qualities of wind power. Most obvious is that there is real doubt whether the federal government will approve a nuclear plant with the serious siting issues confronting Lake Anna, while it has already approved the site of the offshore wind farm and given Dominion a lease.

Since my last update, a few other bills have seen action. Senator Stuart’s bill to control fracking in the Tidewater area, SB 48, died in the killing fields of House Commerce and Labor. SJ3 and HJ16, Virginia’s first bills to deal with the effects of climate change, had to go to conference on the question of who would be part of the subcommittee studying “recurrent flooding” and how much power they would have. The compromise calls for three senators and five delegates to be part of the 11-member subcommittee. Absurdly, it gives the majority of either the senators or the delegates veto power over any recommendation. Senators Locke, McWaters and Watkins, and Delegates Stolle, Knight and Hester have already been appointed.

Patriot Coal CEO: Ending Mountaintop Removal Mining a “Win-Win”

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by meredith

After emerging from bankruptcy, Patriot Coal CEO Bennett Hatfield said in an interview with SNL Energy that the 2012 settlement over selenium pollution that forced the company to begin phasing out mountaintop removal proved to be a “win-win.” Even before the settlement, Hatfield said, Patriot was finding it “increasingly undesirable to deploy mountaintop removal operations anyway” because of regulatory resistance and the likelihood that new permits would be met with litigation from environmental groups.

Solar Power Can Strengthen Economies, Researchers Say

A new report says that while the solar industries in neighboring states have generated thousands of jobs, West Virginia’s policies are holding the state back. Released by the West Virginia-based Downstream Strategies and The Mountain Institute’s Appalachia program, the report found that in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland there are approximately 9,000 jobs associated with solar. West Virginia, however, ranks 51st in solar jobs per capita, at just under 100 jobs. The report focuses on five specific recommendations — including third-party financing, tax credits and other incentives for residential and commercial solar power — to address barriers preventing West Virginia from establishing an economically viable solar industry.

Absentee Corporations Still WV’s Largest Landowners

Land ownership patterns in West Virginia, a state with a reputation for being influenced by large absentee corporations, have remained largely unchanged for the past century, according to a report by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the American Friends Service Committee.

The report, titled “Who Owns West Virginia?” finds that not one of the state’s 10 largest private landowners is headquartered in West Virginia, and that large energy and land-holding corporations continue to control much of the resource-rich acres in the state. In five counties in the state’s southern coalfields – Wyoming, McDowell, Logan, Mingo and Boone – the top 10 landowners own at least 50 percent of private land. Researchers noted that during the last few decades, the number of major timber management operations on the list of the largest landowners has increased.

Hoping to raise awareness of the role that absentee and local land ownership has played in West Virginia’s economic development over time, researchers recommend policymakers devote resources to counties with the highest concentrations of land ownership and ensure that large landowners are adequately taxed.

To help accomplish this, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy has led a movement to establish the “Future Fund,” a permanent mineral trust fund to help asset-poor communities grow using revenue from coal and natural gas severance taxes.