Posts Tagged ‘Renewable Portfolio Standards’

Raising the Standard

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 - posted by molly

How State Laws Affect Our Clean Energy Future

By Molly Moore

It’s no wonder that fossil fuels are entrenched in modern society. Utilities, and the policies that govern the electricity market evolved in an era dominated by fossil fuels. So did government support. Generous subsidies and loan guarantees allowed the coal, oil and gas industries to rise to prominence.

Today, that prominence and much of that government assistance continues. The Sanders-Ellison “End Polluter Welfare Act,” introduced in the U.S. Senate in 2012 to cut fossil fuel subsidies, estimated U.S. tax breaks and incentives to the big three at $11.3 billion annually.

It’s a national and global trend that rings particularly true in Appalachian states. Downstream Strategies, an environmental consulting group, studied the Virginia coal industry’s impact on the state during 2009 and concluded that the industry cost the commonwealth $22 million more than it received in taxes, fees and other revenue in return. Two tax breaks alone accounted for roughly $37 million in annual subsidies, and the study did not factor in the “legacy costs” associated with environmental and health damages.

The coal industry might be a net drain on the state’s taxpayers, but Virginia’s largest utilities and coal companies are significant political donors, contributing a combined $17 million to state legislators between 2004 and 2011. That financial support coincides with a state energy policy that bolsters fossil fuels and creates legal hurdles for renewables, according to an October 2012 report by Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, the organization that publishes The Appalachian Voice.

One such example is the 2007 law that set new regulations for big power companies, making it far more profitable for utilities to construct new plants that burn fossil fuels than to invest in energy efficiency or renewables.

The law also established a renewable energy standard, a policy tool used in 29 states to mandate that utilities generate a certain amount of power from renewable sources. Unlike neighboring Maryland, however, which will require 20 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2022, Virginia’s voluntary goal for 15 percent renewable energy by 2025 relies on a looser definition of what sorts of energy qualify.

Under the renewables standard, it was once extremely profitable for Virginia utilities to purchase clean energy. Those financial incentives were eliminated in 2013, after Dominion Virginia Power spent an estimated $2 million on out-of-state renewables and gained $76 million in incentive payments.

Making New Models

“Virginia is a very difficult state to work in, but it’s not for lack of sunshine or public interest, but because of policy roadblocks and fairly ingrained ways of doing things that are generally slow to change,” says Tony Smith, CEO of Secure Futures, LLC, a commercial-scale solar enterprise in Staunton, Va. “You could call Virginia either the dark state or the birthplace for new ideas on solar.”

For Smith, it’s the latter. In 2010, Secure Futures completed a solar power system at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. It was the state’s first commercial solar project, and was financed through a power purchase agreement, where an outside party — in this case, Secure Futures — owns, operates and maintains an energy system such as photovoltaic panels and sells the electricity to a customer who hosts the system on their property.

When the company set up a similar system at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., however, they faced a lawsuit from the state’s largest utility, Dominion Virginia Power, who said the agreement between the university and company infringed on its territory. Secure Futures avoided confrontation by changing the terms of the agreement, but the ordeal spurred them to push for legislative change. After two years, a bill passed this spring that establishes several two-year pilot programs that will let third parties like Secure Futures set up similar renewable energy agreements in Dominion’s territory.

“It’s kind of like an awkward first date,” Smith says of Dominion’s new programs. Smith is concerned that the pilot program, with its ample restrictions and relatively weak incentives for homeowners and businesses, is designed to abolish other, more consumer-friendly models. Still, he says, the programs are a sign of progress in a state where tight relationships between utilities, legislators and government regulators create a policy environment resistant to change.

Progress Despite Policy

Virginia’s renewable portfolio standard might be voluntary, but it’s a stronger legislative commitment than in Tennessee or Kentucky, neither of which have set a renewable energy goal.

In Kentucky, Carrie Ray of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development and Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance sees the proposed Clean Energy Opportunity Act as a gold standard: the bill would require utilities to obtain 12.5 percent of their energy from renewable sources in 20 years while reducing electricity usage by ten percent through efficiency.

Other bills approach energy reform in more piecemeal fashion. One measure would raise the amount of electricity consumers can sell back to the grid from 30 kilowatts to two megawatts, giving larger businesses an incentive to generate their own power.

Outside of the legislature, however, power providers and supporters of clean energy are working together. As part of a settlement resulting from a dispute between public interest groups and the Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative about a proposed coal-fired power plant, the groups are collaborating on ways for EKPC to expand their renewable energy offerings, currently limited to landfill gas, to include wind, solar, and low-impact hydroelectricity. The partners also recommend strengthening energy efficiency options and building a pilot project solar farm.

Like Kentucky, Tennessee lacks a renewable portfolio standard, but it hosts more jobs in the solar industry than its Appalachian neighbors.

Warren Nevad, president of the Tennessee Renewable Energy & Economic Development Council, attributes this to simple economic sense. TREEDC is a network of 92 mayors, more than 30 colleges and universities, and several state agencies aimed at boosting the state’s economy through renewable energy. Instead of outright advocacy for policy change, Nevad says, the organization facilitates conversations between stakeholders that expedite new projects.

He cites the City of Franklin, which developed a 200-kilowatt solar facility at its wastewater treatment plant. Since the city shared its experience at the TREEDC forum, several cities that attended have started similar projects. “What we’ve observed in renewable energy is that a lot of times folks don’t want to be the first to jump in the pool,” Nevad says. “We try to get one to jump in pool so that others will jump in.”

The Standard Survives

As the Southeast’s only state with a binding renewable energy portfolio standard, North Carolina jumped into the pool with a 2007 law requiring that utilities obtain 12.5 percent of their electricity from solar-electric and solar-thermal, wind, biomass and other renewable sources. Between 2007 and 2012, the Tarheel State generated or saved more than 8.2 million megawatt-hours of energy through a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and spurred $1.4 billion in renewable energy investments, according to a report prepared for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.

This year, however, several legislators attempted to repeal the state’s renewable energy standard and failed. The push was part of nationwide effort by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an alliance of conservative businesses and legislators, to repeal similar laws around the country.

Lowell Sachs of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association attributes the law’s endurance to the success stories legislators heard from residents, businesses and investors who have benefited from the clean energy policy. This summer a report from Environmental Entrepreneurs, a group of green-minded business leaders, found that during the first quarter of 2013 North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation in the creation of new clean energy and transportation projects.

Overall, clean energy fared relatively well during North Carolina’s tumultuous legislative session, Sachs says, but simply being caught up in the debate is harmful for the renewable energy industry. He wants to see a stable business environment and says it’s probably too soon to declare victory.

“Those bad ideas and uncertain motivations are still out there,” he says. “We need to continue the task of educating the public and the legislators so they have a better idea of what clean energy brings to the state and the state’s economy. More information is always good for clean energy.”

Of Monsters and Zombies: NC Legislature Turning into Bad Horror Flick

Monday, May 6th, 2013 - posted by interns

By Davis Wax
Editorial assistant, Spring/Summer 2013

NC Legislative Building.

Scary things are going on in the NC Legislative Building in Raleigh. Photo by Yassie

Among the scary legislation developing in the North Carolina assembly, there are two bills — one a monster of bad environmental reform and the other back from the dead in order to snuff out the state’s renewable energy — which stand out from the creepy pack. These bills are not exactly the slow and shambling kind of creatures from old 50s horror movies, though, and are moving quickly through the state legislature.

The first, the newly-drafted Senate Bill 612, or Regulatory Reform Act, could have many wide-sweeping and detrimental consequences for environmental regulations in North Carolina. The legislation, which passed through the state Senate last Thursday, would limit how local governments can produce and control regulations to protect the environment. Among other measures to weaken environmental protections, the bill would:

  • Loosen requirements for cleaning up groundwater pollution
  • Loosen requirements for burying demolition debris
  • Force state environmental rules to be equal to or less strong than federal standards
  • Loosen regulations in place to help wetlands
  • Create a fast-track system for erosion-control permits

The first point, fewer requirements for cleaning up pollution in groundwater, is hugely concerning. This provision would increase compliance boundaries to a facility’s property line, allowing coal-fired power plants and other industrial facilities to pollute groundwater farther away from their sites.

Second on the list, demolition debris can contain anything from lead paint to asbestos to PCBs, all of which are more likely to pollute water sources if not adequately buried. The provision does not clarify how coal ash waste applies to “demolition debris” and thus the bill could help power plants avoid certain aspects of the permitting process for coal ash ponds.

Another worrisome aspect of the bill is that it would require state environmental agencies and commissions to identify and repeal any existing rules that are stricter than similar federal rules and likewise would not allow local governments to produce rules stronger than state or federal rules. (more…)

Renewable Energy Standard Targeted by N.C. Legislature

Friday, April 19th, 2013 - posted by interns

By Davis Wax
Editorial assistant, Spring/Summer 2013

North Carolina number five in solar.

North Carolina is number five in solar, but that huge success is under attack in Raleigh. Photo by SEIA.

Despite job creation directly linked to North Carolina’s burgeoning clean energy industry, the state’s modest renewable energy standard continues to be targeted by lawmakers.

The “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act,” which narrowly passed the House Commerce Committee, would warp the state renewable energy portfolio standard into a shadow of the law created with bipartisan support and the backing of the state’s largest electric utilities in 2007.

According to a study by RTI International and La Capra Associates, the state’s renewable standard has led to a net gain of over 20,000 clean energy jobs even while more than 100,000 jobs were lost in the N.C. economy during the same five years. The state’s clean energy investment has created a net revenue of $113 million since 2007, while the total economic benefit of clean energy over the past five years was $1.7 billion.

Investors are listening up and jumping on board, too, as clean energy investment has grown 13-fold over the past five years in North Carolina, resulting in an estimated 8.2 million megawatt-hours being saved through renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Additionally, it is estimated that state government energy efficiency programs have saved $427 million in taxpayer money.

Solar energy has soared in North Carolina due to the REPS. The state is fifth in the nation in solar installed and is projected to reach number four by this year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Out of the 30 utility-scale solar projects in the Southeast in 2012, 21 were in North Carolina.

Those benefits could be cut short if the tunnel vision that has taken over North Carolina politics prevails.

Organizational Roundup

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 - posted by interns

Teaming Up For Virginia

Appalachian Voices’ Virginia campaign team partnered with Downstream Strategies to help in their research for a report that details how the coal industry is reaping huge benefits from the Commonwealth of Virginia each year. Released in mid-December, “The Impact of Coal on the Virginia State Budget” reveals that Virginia taxpayers have been boosting profits for the coal industry with tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies every year — and costing the state $22 million in 2009 alone. The study also included several recommendations for shifting the state’s funding priorities to diversify the economy of coal-dependant southwest Virginia, projecting that $320 million funneled from the current coal subsidies over the next two decades could instead go to much-needed community economic development projects. To see the full report, visit

Young Advocates Raise Their Voices for the Mountains

Eight young advocates from Appalachia teamed up with Appalachian Voices and iLoveMountains in December to produce a special video about mountaintop removal coal mining. In impassioned pleas, the youngsters spoke of how kids and adults living near mountaintop removal have a lower life expectancy, a higher risk of birth defects and a greater chance of contracting life-threatening illnesses than residents of other areas in the country. Watch this important video and take action to ask President Obama to end mountaintop removal mining NOW. Visit

Finding the Coal Ash Ponds Near You

In a project critical for the health of all Americans, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Appalachian Voices, Southern Environmental Law Center and NC Conservation Network have launched a comprehensive new web-based tool that allows residents to find specific information about coal ash impoundments near their communities. The site includes information on the health threats, safety ratings of individual impoundments and how residents can advocate for strong federal safeguards. Visit:

App Voices Supports State Solutions

In Tennessee and Virginia, Appalachian Voices is supporting legislative efforts to end mountaintop removal and expand renewable energy. The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act was recently reintroduced by Rep. Gloria Johnson, a member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. With broad bipartisan support, the bill could lead the Tennessee state legislature and Gov. Bill Haslam to be the first state to ban mountaintop removal. In Virginia, Appalachian Voices supports changing the state’s voluntary Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to require to wind and solar energy be constructed in Virginia. The state’s 2007 voluntary standard has benefited utilities more than ratepayers by awarding them bonuses without expanding renewables in the commonwealth.

Vested Power: State-Level Legislative Agendas in 2013

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 - posted by interns

By Brian Sewell, J.W. Randolph and Nathan Jenkins

At the state level, the public often has greater access and input on decisions and the processes of their governments. But so do special interests — especially campaign funders and industries that play a significant role in state and large-scale economies.

State governments in Appalachia create their own environmental policy and decide how much to fund the agencies that enforce it. Some pass modest laws to incentivize renewable energy, but all put their weight behind fossil fuels.

Federal policies influence state leadership, too. In the three years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, many states including North Carolina and Tennessee have repealed or rewritten campaign finance laws, altering the way races are run.

Like all state legislatures, this year elected leaders in Appalachian states will grapple with transportation and infrastructure projects, budget shortfalls and unemployment. But states in the region must also meet the challenge of regulating industries that simultaneously present economic benefits and major environmental risks.

North Carolina:

A new era in North Carolina politics began on Jan. 5, as state leadership and the legislative agenda shifted completely under GOP control for the first time since 1870. Pat McCrory, a former mayor and executive at Duke Energy, was sworn in as the state’s first Republican governor in more than 20 years. Gov. McCrory has been outspoken about making North Carolina a player in energy production by tapping into the nation’s shale gas boom and the potential for offshore wind development.

This year, the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, which was formed after fracking was legalized in the state last year, will continue developing regulations of future drilling in the Piedmont region, including controversial issues related to land ownership rights. Legislation passed last year requires the N.C. Division of Air Quality to revise the state’s air toxics program. So far, proposed rule changes ease restrictions on industry by exempting pollution sources from state oversight if they are covered by federal rules and do not pose an “unacceptable risk” to human health.


Residents of the commonwealth are familiar with bitter battles and partisan politics. Republicans retained control of the state Senate in the most recent election, while the Democratic party controls the House of Representatives and governor’s seat — Gov. Steve Beshear was re-elected to a second four-year term in 2011.

This year, declining coal severance taxes and a debate over which state projects will be funded by the tax are at the top of the legislative agenda. Democratic Rep. Fitz Steele introduced a bill to require all severance taxes to be returned to coal counties. In response to declining revenues from the coal industry, the state legislature is expected to review environmental and mining regulations. House Majority leader Greg Stumbo, a supporter of mountaintop removal coal mining and development on post-mining land, recently announced that lawmakers would redraw district maps early this year. On the federal level, speculation has begun over who will challenge longtime senator Mitch McConnell in 2014.

West Virginia:

In the 2012 election, incumbent Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the Democratic party maintained control of the state legislature. In his inaugural speech, Gov. Tomblin promised to continue representing the interests of the coal industry, saying that he would fight the “federal government to get off our backs and out of our way.” Meanwhile, up to three-quarters of streams in the state are too polluted to support their designated uses such as recreation, providing drinking water or simply supporting aquatic life. Last year, the state passed SB 562, a bill that allows the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection to raise the threshold for considering a waterway biologically impaired. Recently, the agency has been plagued with the threat of lawsuits, and because of a lack of funding and shortage of staff is struggling to meet required inspections.


Virginia residents may face a year of political posturing as Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has sought to make Virginia “the energy capital of the East Coast,” forms his legacy and candidates looking to replace him develop policy positions. On the legislative side, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Senate are currently debating proposed legislation to change the state’s renewable portfolio standard. Originally established in 2007, the law is meant to encourage power companies to invest in renewable energy, but utilities have received credits for meeting goals without constructing any new wind or solar generation.

Some lawmakers have suggested eliminating bonuses for clean energy altogether, while other proposals would require the development of renewable energy projects in the state. Although a bill to life the ban was recently withdrawn, state lawmakers have proposed lifting a 30-year ban on uranium mining — an issue that doesn’t fall cleanly along partisan lines.


Tennessee turned deep red at the state level in the 2012 elections, as Republicans achieved a supermajority in both the House and Senate. Just four years ago, Democrats held majorities in the legislature as well as the governor’s seat, which also now belongs to a Republican. The state stands closer than ever to becoming the first to pass a ban on mountaintop removal mining — a platform current Gov. Bill Haslam ran on during his 2010 election race.

In 2012, the Scenic Vistas Protection Act reached the floor of the state Senate, making it the first mountaintop removal ban to ever make it to the floor of any legislative body in the country. On the federal level, Senator Lamar Alexander has introduced legislation to curb mountaintop removal in the U.S. Senate, and also championed the Tennessee Wilderness Act to protect a large swath of Cherokee National Forest, which has gained support from other Tennessee Senator Bob Corker as well as three Republican House members from East Tennessee. The coal industry in Tennessee employs approximately 500 miners, while the state’s mountain-based tourism industry employs more than 175,000.

Duke CEO Could Be New Energy Guru || N.C. Round-Up

Friday, February 8th, 2013 - posted by interns

By Davis Wax
Editorial assistant, Spring/Summer 2013

Over the past few weeks there has been a spurt of environmental and energy news in North Carolina and its capital, Raleigh. The developing issues include departing Charlotte-based Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers being considered for the President’s cabinet, a new bill looking to end state environmental and health rules, and the governor’s endorsement of offshore wind power.

Jim Rogers in Energy Spotlight, Mixed Record and All

With Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu officially resigned, who will become the DOE’s new chief? The business world has speculated that Jim Rogers, the outgoing CEO of Duke Energy, is a likely candidate.

Duke Energy, the company Rogers is leaving, opened three new N.C. plants in December.

GreenTech Media cited his experience with coal, gas and nuclear industries and Bloomberg Businessweek highlighted his solar and wind experience as well as his potential to bring an energy policy that “sharply reduces carbon emissions”. Rogers’ role in bringing the Democratic National Convention to Charlotte last year may also improve his chances of becoming President Obama’s head adviser on energy.

While Rogers has repeatedly stated his disinterest in joining the president’s cabinet, John Downey at the Charlotte Business Journal has pointed to Rogers’ recent Bloomberg Television interview as a sign that the out-the-door CEO has considered what he would do in such a position. When asked what he would bring to the DOE job, writes Downey, Rogers cited his years of experience in the energy sector and being able to get “the balance right between cheap, affordable energy and meeting our environmental goals.”

Under Rogers, however, Duke Energy has had a mixed reputation in supporting renewable energy in North Carolina. The company is still a paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which creates model state laws that frequently roll back health and environmental protections in favor of promoting industry.


Political winds shifting for renewable energy in Virginia?

Friday, December 7th, 2012 - posted by nathan

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Interior announced plans to sell leases for the development of wind energy 27 miles off of Virginia’s shores and another lease block off of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. If constructed, these would be the first offshore wind generation facilities in the United States.

English offshore wind farm

September 2010: Vattenfall opened the world’s largest offshore wind farm, Thanet Offshore Wind Farm, off England’s southeast coast. Photo by Nuon

While Virginia is far from a frontrunner in the wind energy industry, or renewables in general, we have an undeniably perfect location for offshore wind. We have a unique combination of strong steady winds and shallow waters far beyond the visual horizon. Along with these physical attributes, the historically coal-focused political climate is also beginning to warm to the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy.

In fact, both likely gubernatorial candidates – Ken Cuccinelli on the Republican side and Terry McAuliffe for the Democrats — have expressed an interest in making changes to the law that has failed to spur development of the renewable energy industry in Virginia over the past five years.


It’s Sad to Say, Fracking’s Here to Stay

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 - posted by brian

A new series of proposed natural gas pipelines will give many states better access to natural gas reserves of the Marcellus Shale, a formation of sedimentary rock that covers much of the Appalachian Basin. The pipelines will connect to larger interstate lines to reach more customers in the northeastern United States and possibly Canada. The price tag for the proposed system is around $2 billion.

Since 2008, major drilling companies have exploited the large natural gas reserves of southwestern Pennsylvania. The epicenter of the fracking movement, 3,000 wells have been drilled there in the past three years, with thousands more planned for the future.

Hydraulic fracturing has quickly risen to the forefront of environmental agenda. The horizontal drilling method’s destructive effects on forests, wetlands, streams and habitat are widely publicized.

In other fracking news, the U.S. Geological Survey recently slashed the estimates of recoverable gas in the Marcellus Shale from 410 to about 84 trillion cubic feet. The previous guess by the oil and gas industry-friendly federal Energy Information Administration was only off by 80 percent.

Soaring Back to Protection

A federal judge restored endangered status for the Virginia northern flying squirrel, stating that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by removing the animal’s protected status. The ruling concluded that the service violated their own recovery plan by removing the species, and implies that recovery plans for other endangered and threatened species cannot be ignored or revised without public input, according to a statement by the Center for Biological Diversity. The center, along with Friends of Blackwater, the Wilderness Society, Heartwood, the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition and WildSouth, filed suit in 2009 over the squirrel’s delisting.

This flying squirrel appeared on the planet 30 million years ago and is native to the high-elevation hardwood forests of West Virginia and parts of Virginia. Mostly, these squirrels are known for their aerial acrobatics propelled by underarm skin flaps.

Duke Energy Proposes Rate Hikes

Duke Energy is planning a rate increase that will impact electricity bills and the cost of consumer goods. In these difficult economic times, many North Carolina residents are concerned about a 17.4 percent increase in residential power bills.

The N.C. Utilities Commission will hold a public hearing in Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at 7 p.m. in Room 267 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, located at 600 East Fourth St.

EPA Cleans Mining Waste in N.C.

The Ore Knob Mine Site in Ore Knob, N.C. has its share of pollution problems, including a failed dam at the end of a tailings impoundment and acid mine drainage into the Ore Knob Branch, part of the New River watershed. But the Environmental Protection Agency has restored the dam and rerouted the stream by a half mile to give it a cleaner run into the Little Peak Creek.

With the cooperation of the National Committee for the New River and donations from Foggy Mountain Nurseries, the EPA planted test plots of different native trees and shrubs to determine which plants most effectively minimize sediment runoff.

Smokey Can’t Prevent This Forest Fire

In a move that stunned some in North Carolina’s renewable energy and environmental community, the N.C. Court of appeals ruled that “whole” trees, timbered solely for burning in electrical power plants, can be considered a renewable energy resource. The contentiousness of the decision centers around the concern that allowing newly fallen timber, instead of waste wood product, as fuel in combustion power plants will lead to clearcutting and increased pressure on Appalachian and Southeastern woodlands. Detractors of the move believe the court’s ruling violates the spirit and intent of N.C.’s renewable energy portfolio standard.

ARC Grant Supports Environmental Education

Bluegrass PRIDE (Personal Responsibility In a Desirable Environment), a central Kentucky environmental education nonprofit, and Congressman Ben Chandler announced $40,000 in grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission to support environmental education in central Kentucky.

Amy Sohner, executive director of Bluegrass PRIDE, says environmental education “makes students understand they have a choice and a voice about the state their environment is in.”
She says schools appreciate their curriculum because it uses real-world situations to teach core skills. “We’ve proven that environmental education can improve test scores for the subjects we teach,” she says.