Posts Tagged ‘Renewable Energy’

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing and other shorts

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing

A June ruling from the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission affirmed the right of rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to buy cost-competitive power from independent generators instead of conventional utilities. This bolsters the prospects of decentralized energy production — often solar power— in rural areas, says Utility Dive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made available a new low-cost energy efficiency financing program. The Rural Energy Savings Program provides funding to rural electric cooperatives to back loans to electric co-op members for weatherization upgrades.

— Eliza Laubach

Mine Drainage Emits Higher Level of Carbon Dioxide

More carbon dioxide is being released from coal mine drainage than expected.

In June, a West Virginia University study found that 140 coal mines across Pennsylvania are collectively releasing carbon dioxide equal to that of a small power plant. The greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere when mine waters reach the land’s surface, a WVU press release explains.

Using a meter designed for measuring carbon dioxide in beverages, the research team discovered there is more carbon dioxide in the water than was measured using previous testing methods.

Coal mine drainage contaminates drinking water, disrupts ecosystems and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the university.

— Otto Solberg

New Pollution Controls for Virginia Natural Gas Plant

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality imposed precedent-setting protections against air pollutants by requiring that Dominion Power employ the best available control technology in its proposed gas-fired power plant in Greensville County, Va. The move comes in response to extensive comments from citizens and organizations such as Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Appalachian Voices and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. The department also decreased allowable carbon dioxide emission limits by more than 10 percent compared to the original proposal, according to a press release from the organizations.

— Hannah Petersen

$30 Million for Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Projects

In July, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf awarded $30 million for 14 projects to reclaim abandoned mine lands that were selected based on their potential to create long-term economic benefits. Funding for the projects comes from a federal pilot program passed by Congress in December. The program is structured similar to the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation that, if passed, would distribute $1 billion over five years to support land restoration and economic development in communities across the country impacted by the coal industry’s decline.

— Brian Sewell

Pipeline Would Cross Hazardous Landscape

If constructed as proposed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would encounter many geologic hazards as it carries natural gas from wellheads in West Virginia to Virginia, according to a recent study commissioned by Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (The POWHR Coalition). Because of its weak soil structure, the possibility of surface collapse and potential for seismic activity, the karst landscape along the West Virginia-Virginia state line makes this area a “‘no-build’ zone for the project,” according to Dr. Ernst H. Kastning, the study’s author.

Karst topography is formed when soluble rock layers such as limestone are dissolved, leaving behind underground caves and sinkholes.

— Elizabeth E. Payne

Renewable Energy Growing

Renewable energy sources supplied an estimated 23.7 percent of the world’s electricity in 2015, and that number is expected to rise as better funding enters the competitive market, according to a report from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

The world added more renewable power capacity than fossil fuel capacity in 2015. Hydroelectric power added a trillion watts, wind added 63 billion watts and solar added 50 billion watts.

— Otto Solberg

Coal Production Drops

The first quarter of 2016 saw the lowest level of coal produced since 1981 and the largest quarter-over-quarter decline in coal production since 1984, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA report shows that weaker demand due to above-normal winter temperatures, alongside complying with environmental regulations and competing with renewables and natural gas, have caused production to decline.

— Hannah Petersen

The Path of Most Resistance

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Renewable energy is here to stay. But utility pushback and state policy battles could determine who has access to cleaner power.

By Brian Sewell

Last December, Congress supercharged America’s already-booming solar industry when it extended federal tax credits for commercial and residential projects. The boost is expected to nearly double the total amount of solar installed — and the number of solar jobs — in the United States by 2021.

Citizens are calling on their power companies to increase access to renewable energy in creative ways.  Appalachian Power Company customers attend a grassroots meeting to oppose extra charges and size limits on solar in Virginia. Photo by Hannah Wiegard.

Citizens are calling on their power companies to increase access to renewable energy in creative ways. Appalachian Power Company customers attend a grassroots meeting to oppose extra charges and size limits on solar in Virginia. Photo by Hannah Wiegard

With federal incentives locked-in for the next five years, battles for the future of clean energy are heating up in dozens of states. Across the country, electric utilities are fighting to maintain monopoly control in the face of increasing power generation from distributed resources like rooftop solar or small wind projects that produce electricity near the point of consumption.

In many states, though, clean energy has built a constituency. Where the solar industry is well-established, it supports thousands of jobs and has the backing of a committed customer base that is calling for access to renewable power — for all.

Distributed Disputes

Pick any state on the map and there’s likely a battle related to residential solar already underway. Take West Virginia, where lawmakers approved changes last year to net metering, a policy that allows utility customers with their own solar installations to offset the cost of power they draw from the grid with power they produce.

In March 2015, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill directing the state Public Service Commission to investigate utilities’ most common argument against net metering: that, as more homeowners go solar and save money, eventually customers without solar will be forced to pay more.

  A solar project designed to test North Carolina’s ban on third-party electricity sales catches some rays on the roof of a Greensboro church. Photo courtesy of NC WARN.

A solar project designed to test North Carolina’s ban on third-party electricity sales catches some rays on the roof of a Greensboro church. Photo courtesy of NC WARN

But groups including The Alliance for Solar Choice and WV SUN claimed the bill’s vague language could lead to fees and even punitive charges on West Virginians that already have solar. Two weeks after vetoing the original bill, Gov. Tomblin signed a revised version into law that also instructs the commission to consider the potential upsides of net metering.

Several state commissions are way ahead of West Virginia’s and have already concluded that the benefits of net metering are both vast and shared. In 2014, the Mississippi Public Services Commission found that net metering promotes energy security and takes pressure off the state’s power plants during periods of high energy demand.

A similar study conducted for the Maine Public Utilities Commission in 2015 valued electricity generated by distributed solar at 33 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 13 cents per kilowatt hour, the average retail price of electricity in the state. The higher value accounts for benefits to customers with or without solar such as reductions in air and climate pollution.

Overall, a recent analysis by North Carolina State University’s Clean Energy Technology Center found that changes to net metering policies or the valuation of distributed solar were considered or enacted in 46 states last year alone. Many of those stemmed from utility-led efforts to thwart solar that are unlikely to let up.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of industry groups and state lawmakers that drafts model legislation, has resolved to change state net metering policies. In its 2016 corporate goals, the Edison Electric Institute, an association of investor-owned electric utilities that funds ALEC and helped draft the resolution, calls on power companies to continue pushing back against distributed generation.

Some utilities that have lobbied to impede distributed solar are also pushing to keep uneconomical power plants online. In March, FirstEnergy and American Electric Power, which have pushed for changes to net metering in West Virginia and other states, won approval from Ohio regulators to raise rates to keep seven aging coal plants and one nuclear plant operating until 2024, despite being uncompetitive in interstate electricity markets. Research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis indicates the plan could cost ratepayers more than $4 billion.

Tug-of-War Tests Laws

More than any other state in the Southeast, North Carolina has emerged as a national solar leader, especially when it comes to utility-scale solar farms. Between 2007 and 2015, nearly $6 billion was invested in clean energy development in the state. Last year, North Carolina added 1,134 megawatts of solar capacity, second only to California.

State tax credits for solar projects and a standard requiring utilities to meet a portion of electricity demand with renewables have made the state a model of solar success. But some North Carolina policymakers want to take a different path. Lawmakers let the state’s solar tax credit expire at the end of 2015.

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the United States. But due to a patchwork of regulations, the total amount of solar capacity installed varies widely by state and sector. Illustration courtesy of the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the United States. But due to a patchwork of regulations, the total amount of solar capacity installed varies widely by state and sector. Illustration courtesy of the Smart Electric Power Alliance

After an attempt in the state legislature last year to weaken the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, solar advocates are doubling down to communicate the benefits clean energy provides to residents.

“We learned that there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the solar industry and the clean energy industry as a whole,” says Maggie Clark, Interim Director of Government Affairs of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. “It is falsely assumed that the [renewable energy standard] is a cost to ratepayers.”

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the United States. But due to a patchwork of regulations, the total amount of solar capacity installed varies widely by state and sector. Illustration courtesy of the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the United States. But due to a patchwork of regulations, the total amount of solar capacity installed varies widely by state and sector. Illustration courtesy of the Smart Electric Power Alliance

According to the North Carolina-based research institute RTI International, energy costs are lower today than they would have been if the state continued to rely entirely on conventional power sources. Researchers estimate investments in renewables and energy efficiency to comply with the renewable standard will generate $651 million in savings for ratepayers between 2008 and 2029.

Even Jim Rogers, who was CEO of Duke Energy in 2007 when the company helped craft the standard, called out the policymakers pushing to weaken it.

“They are not focused on the future,” Rogers said last year during a speech at the Charlotte Business Journal’s Energy Inc. Summit. “They are focused on the past.”

Companies including New Belgium Brewing and Mars, Inc., sent a letter to lawmakers opposing the effort because the renewable standard gave “companies like ours the business case to build and operate in North Carolina.” Apple, Google and Facebook, which have data centers in the state, warned legislators in another letter that freezing the standard would “risk undermining the state’s almost decade-long commitment to renewable power and energy efficiency.”

The renewable standard survived due to a groundswell of public attention and support from a broad range of stakeholders. But now a different fight is pitting companies and communities that want easier access to affordable solar against Duke Energy.

In April, the North Carolina Utilities Commission shot down an experimental solar project set up on a Greensboro church to test the legality of third-party electricity sales. North Carolina is one of only four states in the country with a ban on third-party sales, which allow energy producers other than utilities to compete in the clean energy marketplace. Duke Energy operates in three of those states.

NC WARN, the Durham-based advocacy group behind the test project, appealed the commission’s ruling in May and disputed the idea that North Carolina is a leader on solar when it lacks policies to promote commercial and residential installations.

Standby for Solar

Unlike North Carolina, the solar market in Virginia has sat idle for years. The commonwealth has about the same potential for solar as its southern neighbor, but lacks a mandatory renewable portfolio standard and never enacted state tax credits to bolster clean energy investments.

An April report by the Center for Biological Diversity gave Virginia — among other southeastern states including Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee — an “F” on policies to help residents access solar. That’s harsh but not far off, according to Ivy Main, an environmental lawyer who writes about Virginia energy policy on her blog Power for the People VA.

“We’ve reached an economic tipping point where some residents and businesses find it worth doing,” says Main. ”But we also have standby charges that apply to larger residential systems.”

Another emerging trend is actions by utilities to impose fees on customers with solar that still need the grid as backup. Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power Company have both instituted “standby charges” in Virginia that will cost customers with solar systems larger than 10 kilowatts hundreds of dollars each year.

Since currently only a handful of the utilities’ customers have systems that size, Main argues the extra fees are intended to discourage the residential solar market rather than protect ratepayers. And, like utility arguments against net metering, the charges ignore the benefits of distributed resources.

“[Distributed generation] is being done with private investment, but it is a tremendous public service,” Main says.

As Duke Energy and Dominion restrict access to solar, they’re making the case to utility regulators — and ratepayers — that building the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline to transport natural gas is a must to maintain reliability and meet growing electricity demand. The two utilities will own a majority stake in the project, but if anticipated demand for natural gas does not materialize, their customers will still be on the hook to pay for the pipeline.

“We’re seeing a clash of visions,” says Main. “It’s going to take a lot of public pressure to expand access to clean energy and make sure we’re not locked into fossil fuels for the next 30 years.”

A power play for Virginia’s power plan

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by hannah
Citizens signal their support for clean energy at a recent meeting of the Dept. of Environmental Quality's Clean Power Plan stakeholders group,

Citizens signal their support for clean energy at a recent meeting of the Dept. of Environmental Quality’s Clean Power Plan stakeholders group.

The shift to a clean energy economy in Virginia faces many obstacles – extreme mining, extreme drilling, and apparently extreme legislating. Weeks after the 2016 General Assembly’s regular session adjourned, opponents of clean energy progress attacked state climate policy in an unorthodox way: through the budget of the agency tasked with preparing a state plan to cut carbon pollution.

Those budget provisions will take effect July 1, and that’s unfortunate, but it’s not stopping Appalachian Voices and other organizations and clean energy advocates from continuing to push for a transition to wind, solar and energy efficiency.

Let’s take a step back and see how we got here. But first, a quick primer. In August 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed the historic Clean Power Plan, the first federal rule to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants. Based on years of research and public feedback, the rule establishes a series of deadlines, as well as individualized reduction goals for each state, and provides a framework for states to devise their own plan for how to get there on time. The rule was immediately challenged by the fossil fuel industry and their political allies, and earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed the rule pending further review.

State government: Checks, balances and the occasional blatant overreach

At stake in this past Virginia legislative session, as it was in the 2015 session, was control over the state plan to implement the federal Clean Power Plan., and whether the General Assembly would wrest that authority away from the governor.

Bills mandating that the legislature approve a state plan prepared by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) were introduced and approved, with highly charged rhetoric and dire claims of skyrocketing utility bills used to justify the power grab. Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed these bills, for the time being preserving his administration’s opportunity to produce a strong carbon reduction plan on time.

Meanwhile, an official stakeholders group convened by DEQ began working through many fiendishly technical areas, from the pros and cons of basing standards on emissions rates versus using an overall statewide cap, or mass-based plan, to the thorny socially oriented questions like how the state plan can yield the most benefit for low-income Virginians and what approaches would yield jobs where they are needed most.

But as it turned out, the struggle to uphold administrative authority over the process was not over, and it continued into the spring when a budget amendment (369#1c) was introduced that would ensure that funds for DEQ to plan state compliance with the Clean Power Plan be withheld. The budgetary tactic was unusual, sidestepping the responsibilities that normally rest with each branch of government. The legislature was becoming involved in a matter delegated to the executive, not ordinarily within its purview, by going after the “purse strings.” This break with tradition may be viewed as a symptomatic part of a larger, multi-issue partisan divide.

Amid murky intricacies of the Constitution of Virginia, Governor McAuliffe did not exercise a full veto of the budget amendment, but rather made a line item edit, striking a reference to using funds “for planning” state implementation of the new standards. The prospect of upholding this fix was slim, requiring 51 votes out of 100 members of the House of Delegates, spelling real trouble for the state’s formal planning process, which was on track to produce a draft outline by early summer 2016. As expected, the amendment language prevailed, revoking DEQ funding as of July 1, 2016, for state planning.

While aiding polluters, CPP stop-work order shortchanges Virginia workers and communities

As energy markets continue to shift, our sources for generating electricity need to diversify, and the change is underway. From the proliferation of solar arrays on Virginia homes and small businesses to mid-size and large projects at data centers and universities, examples bear out the proven economics of renewable energy. According to the Energy Foundation, Virginia has seen an increase in jobs in the solar energy business of 157% since 2012, and this is a field that is immune from outsourcing, like home energy efficiency assessment and retrofitting.

The state DEQ is first charged with ensuring adherence to pollution limits in Virginia. However, the scope of its work has extended to consider the policy impacts of how air and water pollution are reduced, from the cost savings or increases to energy customers to the reliability of the electric grid over time. Perhaps no aspect of the issues that DEQ deals with is more deserving of its attention than the environmental justice implications of these rules.

Areas of Virginia that have been burdened by job loss, disproportionately high energy bills relative to household income, and extractive activities that carry environmental risks deserve immediate attention. While these communities should be directly involved in designing a just and beneficial state carbon-reduction plan, political grandstanding may shut down the planning effort altogether. Leaders that operate by rigid, lock-step dedication to polluting industries are clearly missing opportunities to act in the interest of the people they represent.

DEQ may yet be able to carry out work with similar aims to the Clean Power Plan in the absence of the planning funding. The agency intends to meet new rules for the energy sector, as Director Paylor made clear in remarks made during public stakeholder meetings, and Governor McAuliffe has stated support for this approach and will still have a chance to leave a robust legacy in that regard. But there is uncertainty over Virginia’s ability to have a plan by the EPA deadline. If we fail, a federal plan will be imposed, without the same level of public input in Virginia. In that situation, there will be a greater need than ever for citizens to engage with the administration and with our legislators to pursue a clean energy future in the commonwealth.

Where the Clean Power Plan court case stands

Just as a strong majority of Virginians expects government officials to take meaningful action to address carbon pollution, national polls reflect that the Clean Power Plan is popular – even in states that are suing over the plan. And just as there are opponents in Virginia, including elected officials who put politics over people and use red-herring arguments to justify calling off the planning process, there are opponents who have sued over the EPA’s rule.

The legal challenges were filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which would normally hear it before a panel of only three judges.But the process has been changed for this case, likely due to the significance of the issues involved, and it will now be an en banc hearing with at least nine judges presiding. The court will meet September 27, which sounds like a delay from the previous hearing date of June 2, but since the full court might have asked to review the decision, and prolonged the process anyway, this change may actually streamline the case.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, as the planning funding restrictions draw closer, watch for news in Virginia as to how the McAuliffe administration plans to move forward with Clean Power Plan planning.

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Regional Solar Updates

Friday, April 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

N.C. ranks second in solar growth in 2015, with big plans for 2016

In 2015, North Carolina ranked second in new solar installments with 1,134 megawatts of new installed capacity, driven by utility-scale projects, according to a report by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industry Association.

This is the second consecutive year the state was ranked second. North Carolina started the new year off strong, with the most solar capacity in advanced development in the nation as of mid-February, a report by SNL Financial shows. According to the report, this advancement was encouraged by the extension of a 35 percent state tax credit to 2017. — Eliza Laubach

Partnership salvages VA solar project

A solar project denied by Virginia regulators last fall is moving forward due to an agreement between the state, Dominion Virginia Power and Microsoft. Through the public-private partnership, Dominion agreed to sell power generated by a 20-megawatt solar project in Remington, Va., to the state, which will then provide Microsoft with renewable energy credits to help the company meet its renewable energy goals. The project is still subject to regulatory approval, but could begin service in late 2017. — Brian Sewell

Virginians Call on McAuliffe for a Bold Clean Power Plan

Friday, April 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

roanoke_inavVirginia residents gathered for a Day of Action on April 2 to remind Governor McAuliffe of his commitment to cut carbon and focus on renewable energy job creation for the Commonwealth. At events across the state, which took place in Bristol, Charlottesville, Richmond, Roanoke and other cities, residents spoke of the 157 percent increase of solar power jobs in Virginia since 2012, and how jobs in the field can help the economy of Southwest Virginia. Some citizens also attended to stand up against fossil fuel projects like the two proposed natural gas pipelines that threaten the state (see more on here).

This spring, Governor McAuliffe has the opportunity to create a strong Clean Power Plan that would drive investments in proven clean energy sources, or he could allow Virginia to become more deeply dependent on fossil fuel fuel for power. If you’re from the state, ask your governor to do the right thing for all Virginians. Visit:

Solar Jobs Overtake Oil and Gas, Coal Mining in China, Methane Leak in California

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

Coal Use Falls in China, Rises in India

China announced it will close 1,000 coal mines this year and initiate a moratorium on new mines for three years. Meanwhile, India announced it will double coal production to aid the country’s economic development.

Ongoing Methane Leak in California

An unprecedented natural gas well leak in Southern California has released at least 90,000 metric tons of methane, along with benzene and other chemicals, into the atmosphere since October. The disaster increased California’s methane emissions by 25 percent within the first few weeks.

Premature Births Linked to Fracking

Pregnant women living near natural gas wells in Pennsylvania have a higher risk of pregnancy complications, a Johns Hopkins study reports. Women living near the most active fracking wells in the state have a 40 percent higher chance of prematurely giving birth and a 30 percent increased chance of a high-risk pregnancy, among other concerns.

A Freeze on Federal Coal Leases

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced it will review the program that allows coal companies to operate on publicly-owned lands in several western states. The agency halted new leases during the review process to ensure the program delivers a fair return to the federal government and accounts for impacts to the environment and the climate.

Renewable Energy Tax Credits Extended

The 2016 budget bill signed by President Obama in December keeps in place critical federal incentives for for solar and wind projects. Extended for three years, the Investment Tax Credit will spur up to 20 gigawatts of solar power, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance — more than the total amount of solar installed in the nation prior to 2015.

Solar Jobs Overtake Oil and Gas

Solar companies created more jobs last year than the oil and gas industry, according to The Solar Foundation. Overall solar jobs in the United States grew by 20 percent in 2015.

Va. leaders urge Gov. McAuliffe to reject Dominion’s climate-polluting plan

Thursday, January 28th, 2016 - posted by brian
This week, a wide array of Virginia leaders released a letter asking Gov. McAuliffe to reject efforts by Dominion Power that would increase carbon pollution in the Commonwealth. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This week, a wide array of Virginia leaders released a letter asking Gov. McAuliffe to reject efforts by Dominion Power that would increase carbon pollution in the Commonwealth. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s the latest news from Appalachian Voices’ Press Room:

Earlier this week, a wide array of Virginia civic, health, faith, and environmental leaders released a letter asking Governor Terry McAuliffe to reject all efforts by Dominion Virginia Power to push for implementation of historic federal clean power rules in a way that would increase carbon pollution in the Commonwealth.

Leaders representing 50 organizations, including Appalachian Voices, reminded McAuliffe that only he, as governor, is authorized to make the final decision on how to implement the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” in Virginia. It is therefore his explicit responsibility to reduce carbon emissions while strengthening Virginia’s economy and helping improve public health. Anything less will support more pollution, which is “fundamentally contrary” to existing U.S. policy and the interests of Virginia residents, the groups write.

Tell Governor McAuliffe: Create a Bold Clean Power Plan for Virginia

“I cannot remember such a diverse range of groups weighing in on a pollution issue in Virginia before,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the group New Virginia Majority. “This letter calls for action on what we hope will be the governor’s greatest legacy. The governor can adopt a plan that will strengthen our economy while protecting people’s health now and for generations to come.”

The letter states that Virginia should reduce its total carbon pollution from power plants at least 30 percent by 2030, by applying the same standards to both existing and new power plants, and increasing our use of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

But Virginia utilities, led by Dominion CEO Tom Farrell, want a plan that would apply the federal rule only to old, existing power plants – not new fossil fuel power plants. This would allow Dominion to increase carbon pollution for decades more.

Read our full press release here.

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North Carolina’s reckless approach to the Clean Power Plan: Part 1

Monday, January 11th, 2016 - posted by rory

Editors’ Note: This is the first of three posts in a series that we’ll share this week about North Carolina and the Clean Power Plan. Friday is the final day for North Carolinians to demand the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality abandon its efforts to block the Clean Power Plan. Add your voice here | Read part 2.

Concept graphic from iStock images by Appalachian Voices staff

Concept graphic from iStock images by Appalachian Voices staff.

North Carolina’s elected leaders and agency officials, with little say from the citizens they represent, have placed us on a reckless course in regard to our future energy mix and our ability as a state to determine that future.

But together we can change that.

Appalachian Voices, as part of a wide network of organizations and citizens from across the state, is working hard to convince North Carolina’s decision makers to change course and chart a path that meets or exceeds the federal government’s requirements for our state under the Clean Power Plan.

Back in October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the final rule for the Clean Power Plan — a new regulation that requires states to achieve specific targets for reducing carbon emissions from electric generating power plants by 2030. States may choose either to improve the average emissions per-unit of electricity generated, a “rate-based” approach, or to develop a plan for reducing overall emissions, a “mass-based” approach.


The Clean Power Plan provides states with flexibility in determining how they will achieve their specific targets, and even incentivizes the early development of programs that will result in renewable energy generation or energy efficiency gains for low-income communities. For North Carolina, the rate-based approach would require a 32 percent improvement in emissions rate by 2030 for an overall 12.5 percent reduction in annual carbon emissions.

While many states are legally challenging the EPA’s authority to enact the Clean Power Plan, most of those states are still moving ahead and developing plans that meet EPA’s requirements. North Carolina, on the other hand, has wasted taxpayer dollars by developing a plan that the government admits is designed to fail.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s “plan to fail” focuses only on four coal-fired power plants while requiring nothing of the state’s natural gas plants. The “plan to fail” also fails to even mention renewable energy or energy efficiency. Despite the EPA’s requirements, the “plan” was developed without any stakeholder input; the state only involved stakeholders during a series of three public hearings that came after the plan had already been developed.

DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart falsely justifies the agency’s plan by stating that the EPA does not have the legal authority to require anything other than what the state plan addresses, which is emissions reductions for coal-fired power plants. This is problematic because if the state ends up being wrong, as numerous legal analyses show it is, then the EPA will impose its federal plan on North Carolina.

Given the current attitude of our state’s leaders toward clean energy and environmental protection, this may prove to be a blessing. It would be a far more preferable approach, however, if state officials were to develop a plan that reflects the desires of North Carolinians, and that builds upon the substantial growth in the clean energy economy that the state has experienced over the past seven years.

For now, the state’s “plan” achieves less than 3 percent of the total reduction in annual carbon emissions required by EPA and does nothing to advance the state’s clean energy economy. It also leaves the citizens and businesses of our great state vulnerable to the inevitable increase in energy costs resulting from a continued reliance on fossil fuels and a federally imposed compliance plan.

North Carolina can do better. It should do better. And millions of North Carolina residents need their leaders to lead and chart a path toward a clean energy future, instead of setting us on a crash course that will have severe economic and environmental consequences.

A state compliance plan that focuses more on renewable energy and energy efficiency can create tens of thousands of jobs and help alleviate poverty while improving air and water quality for us all. Failing short of that will halt seven years of progress in clean energy development, leave us vulnerable to future contamination of our air and waterways from fossil fuel generation and coal ash disposal, and likely result in higher energy bills that negatively affect everyone — especially those already struggling to afford their energy bills.

Appalachian Voices is calling on North Carolinians to let the DEQ know that we won’t stand for its recklessness. Take a moment to comment on the state’s “plan to fail” and let the administration know that we need a clean energy future. The deadline to comment is this Friday, Jan. 15.

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NC DEQ’s blatant bid for control

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 - posted by Ridge Graham

State agency clashes with the EPA and Coal Ash Management Commission

Donald van der Vaart, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

Donald van der Vaart, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

Over the past few months, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has seemed determined to have complete environmental regulatory control of the state, showing little regard for federal or public input.

In this endeavor, DEQ has taken every chance it can to highlight how external forces, including citizens groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are simply getting in its way. Upholding the best interests of North Carolina’s citizens and the environment only becomes a priority when the agency is threatened with losing power.

Rejecting the Clean Power Plan

DEQ joined a lawsuit with more than two dozen of the nation’s largest carbon-emitting states against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. In October, DEQ submitted a proposal that would only address coal-based emissions because it believes the first component of the Clean Power Plan — improving coal fired power plant efficiency — is the only aspect the EPA has the legal authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act.

TAKE ACTION: Demand a REAL Clean Power Plan for North Carolina.

But if the Clean Power Plan survives in court, and the EPA rejects North Carolina’s plan, federal regulators can intervene in North Carolina’s emission reductions process. So, in case their strategy fails, state officials plan to submit an alternate plan that aligns with the EPA’s proposal.

EPA threatens to take away DEQ’s permitting authority

This year, DEQ permitted a cement plant in Wilmington that would emit more than 5,000 tons of particulates, mercury and other air pollution annually. The agency also OKed a quarry in Blounts Creek that would discharge up to 12 million gallons of waste a day into the Pamlico River. Residents of these areas, along with coastal environmental advocacy and conservation groups, challenged these permits. The state dismissed those challenges on the grounds that the groups did not have standing.

The EPA sent a letter to DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart stating that the inability of citizens to appeal permits was troubling. The letter warned that if DEQ continued to skirt federal regulations, the EPA would revoke its authority to issue pollution permits under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

DEQ responded by shifting the blame to a court decision and presented a list of regulations required by the EPA but not by state law — insinuating that the public process for challenging permits is less burdensome on the state level. State officials said they have no intention of losing permitting authority.

DEQ takes on the Coal Ash Management Commission’s responsibilities

UPDATE: A draft summary by DEQ classified 27 of Duke Energy’s 32 coal ash ponds in North Carolina as posing a “high” or “immediate” risk. If the ratings stand when they are finalized on Dec. 31, Duke would have to excavate the coal ash from those sites.

In another isolationist move, DEQ wants to move forward on the priority classification of coal ash containment sites without the Coal Ash Management Commission. But the commission was created by the Coal Ash Management Act to be housed under the N.C. Department of Public Safety because the General Assembly determined that DEQ was ineffectual and untrustworthy in regulating coal ash.

These site classifications will determine timelines for the cleanup of coal ash at each site, with up to a decade of difference in cleanup response. Sites deemed low priority could be closed using “cap-in-place,” a method that would leave nearby waterways and communities at risk. The commission has 60 days to review the classifications before they go into effect.

However, the state Supreme Court has not yet ruled on Governor Pat McCrory’s lawsuit challenging appointments to the commission, so the group is unable to reach a quorum. When Commission Chairman Michael Jacobs wrote a letter to McCrory and legislative leaders to point this out, van der Vaart responded to say DEQ has it under control.

“Fortunately, legislators had the foresight to include provisions in the coal ash law that prevent delays to the cleanup process including a provision that ensures the prioritization and public participation processes can proceed in the absence of the Coal Ash Management Commission,” van der Vaart wrote.

He did not mention why the commission was not housed under DEQ in the first place.

DEQ blames EPA for delay in coal ash cleanup

DEQ is currently making a public fuss about the EPA taking time to review a state-issued permit to dewater the coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly, N.C. DEQ claims that this is the fifth permitting delay this year from the EPA, and that North Carolina is receiving different treatment than other states with regard to its coal ash cleanup projects.

Duke Energy's retired Riverbend Steam Station, Photo from Flickr.

Duke Energy’s retired Riverbend Steam Station, Photo by Duke Energy, licensed under Creative Commons.

Duke’s plants are permitted a discharge rate of coal ash pond water as part of a multi-step treatment process. The nearby bodies of water, many of which supply drinking water to nearby cities and towns, are monitored to determine how much impact the discharge has on the surrounding environment and watershed. DEQ is rushing to dump the entirety of the coal ash pond water into Mountain Island Lake, which is already polluted from the coal ash ponds at the Riverbend plant.

Water samples taken from Mountain Island Lake in 2013 indicated there were levels of constituents in the surface water that exceeded public health standards. Tissues samples taken from fish caught in the lake were found to have high levels of heavy metals, which led to a state-issued fish consumption advisory. Mountain Island Lake is the drinking water source more than 750,000 people.

With these considerations, is it not reasonable to take more than 15 days to analyze such a permit? Or does DEQ just want to have its way regardless of what happens to the people downstream.

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Organizing Around the Clean Power Plan

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 - posted by interns

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized the first limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants earlier this year. Known as the Clean Power Plan, the rules give states a wide degree of flexibility to determine how to reduce their carbon emissions.

Our teams are hard at work in the Appalachian states to ensure that energy efficiency and renewable energy are priorities and our dependence on fossil fuels is replaced with sustainable energy choices.

In North Carolina, the Clean Power Plan has met resistance from government environmental officials. Our team’s focus is on generating citizen input at the state’s December public hearings to demand a true clean energy plan. In preparation for the hearings, we are drafting public and technical comments and partnering with environmental justice groups, faith organizations and health groups.

In Tennessee, we are launching an on-the-ground campaign to educate Volunteer State residents about the plan and encourage state officials to include clean energy in their power mix.

And in Virginia, we are calling for a state plan that will meet and exceed the 38% pollution reduction target, supporting a citizen movement to press decision-makers to address carbon pollution in a significant, long-term way through emissions trading with other states.

Learn more about our work regarding carbon pollution and climate change.