Chuck Bushman’s chicken barn near Castalia, Iowa, has 360 solar panels. (Photo via ELPC)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Amanda Peterka
Chuck Bushman Farm flipped the switch earlier this year on 360 solar panels spread across its chicken barn in Castalia, Iowa.
Each panel is capable of generating 240 watts of power for the supplier of organic milk and chickens. Some days, the solar panels are able to produce more power than what is needed, and the farm banks it for when the demand for electricity exceeds what the panels provide. The farm also has smart meters for the chicken coop and the rest of its buildings to monitor where electricity demand is highest.
The Department of Agriculture provided the funding for the project through its Rural Energy for America Program, whose mission is to help farmers and ranchers install renewable energy technologies and improve energy efficiency. Since its creation in 2002, the program has given rural landowners grants and loans for about 7,000 projects in all 50 states.
Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, seen in this 2011 file photo, has tried for several years to weaken the state’s renewable energy laws. (Associated Press)
An Ohio lawmaker’s latest attempt to weaken the state’s energy laws is a “giveaway” for utilities that flies in the face of consumer and business interests, say critics.
The legislation, Substitute Senate Bill 58, is less ambitious than earlier attempts to repeal energy efficiency and renewable energy benchmarks set five years ago. The bill leaves those targets intact, but would eliminate an in-state requirement for renewable energy purchases and loosen efficiency rules for utilities.
Current law says 25 percent of Ohio’s electricity must come from renewable and alternative energy by 2025. Existing law also calls for a 22 percent cut in retail electricity sales by 2025.
At a hearing last week, sponsor Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati-area Republican, stressed that the bill keeps the mandates, “even though I would have preferred repealing them outright if left to my own choices.”
However, utilities will have to do less under the new bill.
“The meat and potatoes of this thing makes those benchmarks irrelevant,” says Dan Sawmiller of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal program. “That’s on both the energy efficiency side and on the renewable energy side.”
Allison Clements is a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
As the Senate considers confirming Ron Binz as the next chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), rhetoric is heating up and putting the independent regulatory agency in a place it is uncharacteristically but increasingly finding itself these days – the spotlight.
In recent weeks, a few special interests have attempted to paint Binz, and FERC itself, as ploys in furthering the president’s “anti-coal” agenda. But the anti-coal charge doesn’t work when you think through the (still relatively unknown) role that FERC actually plays in energy regulation.
What is it FERC does, exactly?
FERC has several different jobs, none of which allow for favoring particular types of power generation over others. In addition to its authority over gas pipeline permitting and hydroelectric facility licensing, the Commission is charged with ensuring transmission grid reliability, protecting consumers from unreasonable costs, and creating a level playing field for all types of resources that provide transmission or generation services. Richard Caperton at Center for American Progress recently described some of these roles in a great blog post.
The Liberty mural inside the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison. (Photo by JonU235 via Creative Commons)
A group of conservative Tea Party activists in Atlanta turned heads this summer when they announced a partnership with the local Sierra Club chapter to help pressure Georgia’s largest electric utility to boost its investment in solar power.
Six weeks later, solar power picked up another unexpected supporter in Wisconsin, where on Aug. 20 the state’s Libertarian Party endorsed a clean energy group’s proposal to let customers lease solar panels and other small renewable generators.
“Most of us don’t trust the environmental movement because they’ve cried wolf forever and ever. There are all kinds of philosophical disagreements, but at the end of the day this was pretty much a no-brainer,” said Paul Ehlers, state party chair.
(Photo by Green Energy Futures via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Daniel Cusick
More than six months after Congress extended a vital tax break for U.S. wind energy developers, the industry is showing signs of strengthening as electric utilities and high-profile companies such as Wal-Mart, Google, Microsoft and Apple chart their growth strategies around the use of wind and other renewable energy resources.
But in measures of direct U.S. jobs and manufacturing activity, the story has been more mixed, suggesting the fallout from last year’s slowdown in wind energy development left a deep scar on the nascent industry, even as the 2.3-cent-per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit gained new life.
The mixed signals are reflected in recent headlines.
(Photo by Eben Regis via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jean Chemnick and Elana Schor
After three years of playing defense, beating back GOP bids to blunt U.S. EPA’s authority over carbon emissions, environmentalists are ready to up their offensive game in support of the climate action strategy President Obama will lay out today.
Long before the White House’s plans became public this weekend, green groups began quietly reorganizing a project that coordinated political message, strategy and grass-roots lobbying during conservatives’ ongoing attacks on EPA.
The new campaign, called the Climate Action Coalition (CAC), will have no easy task ensuring that greenhouse gas rules for new and existing power plants can survive industry and Republican opposition. But the environmental strategists behind it say they have learned numerous lessons from the collapse of cap-and-trade legislation a few years ago.
A solar powered livestock watering system in Wyoming. Systems such as this one have been eligible for funding under the REAP program. (Photo by eXtension Farm Energy via Creative Commons)
The Senate passed the Farm Bill Monday night by a vote of 66 to 27 with wide bipartisan support.
Now a big question is whether mandatory funding for clean and renewable energy programs will continue at reduced levels or disappear.
The answer depends on what happens later this summer in the House of Representatives and in conference committee.
Running more than 1,100 pages long, the Senate bill amends a comprehensive law covering food stamps, crop insurance, conservation, and more. Almost 80 percent of the Senate bill’s $955 billion is for the federal food stamp program. Programs for clean and renewable energy get less than 1 percent.
The Senate bill that passed on Monday provides $900 million in mandatory funding over five years for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), and related programs.
On an annual basis, that comes to $180 million–31 percent less per year than under the 2008 Farm Bill. The 2008 law expired last year but was extended until September 30 as part of January’s fiscal-cliff compromise.
Ernest Moniz at an appearance in France in 2011. (Photo by jeanbaptisteparis via Creative Commons)
By Justin Elliott
When President Obama nominated Ernest Moniz to be energy secretary earlier this month, he hailed the nuclear physicist as a “brilliant scientist” who, among his many talents, had effectively brought together “prominent thinkers and energy companies” in the continuing effort to figure out a safe and economically sound energy future for the country.
Indeed, Moniz’s collaborative work – best captured in the industry-backed research program he oversaw at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology – is well known. So, too, is his support for Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy – one that embraces fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy sources.
But beyond his job in academia, Moniz has also spent the last decade serving on a range of boards and advisory councils for energy industry heavyweights, including some that do business with the Department of Energy. That includes a six-year paid stint on BP’s Technology Advisory Council as well as similar positions at a uranium enrichment company and a pair of energy investment firms.
Michael Vickerman, program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin.
By Michael Vickerman
Only in Wisconsin will you find lawmakers who treat renewable energy as though it were radioactive.
A legislator from Brown County, Rep. Andre Jacque, has introduced a bill (AB 34) to incorporate nuclear energy within Wisconsin’s 14-year-old renewable electricity standard.
The bill defines the terms under which utilities could apply the output from in-state nuclear power plants toward their existing 10 percent requirement, which would be renamed the Advanced and Renewable Portfolio Standard (ARPS). Right now, Wisconsin has three operating nuclear reactors at two locations five miles apart along Lake Michigan.
Two of the three nuclear power stations–Point Beach units 1 and 2–are located within Rep. Jacque’s district. The adjoining district contains the other nuclear unit , the 560-MW Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant owned by Dominion Resources, a Virginia-based utility holding company. Late in 2012, Dominion announced that it would shut down and decommission Kewaunee this spring, while cutting the plant’s 650-person workforce in half.
A bill in Missouri would allow energy from large hydro facilities, like the Table Rock Dam, to count toward the state’s renewable standard. (Photo by jeff brown via Creative Commons)
Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable standards will be on trial again this year in the state’s legislature.
The Buckeye State is among a few Midwestern battlegrounds where lawmakers associated with a conservative policy group are working to freeze, repeal, or otherwise weaken renewable energy policies.
Others so far include Missouri and Kansas, where fossil-fuel-funded groups have actively attacked the state’s renewable standard at public events and legislative hearings.
The efforts follow a call to action last fall by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for its members to pass legislation repealing renewable standards in their home states.
“[ALEC] is definitely on the march,” says Gabe Elsner, who tracks oil and gas company lobbying for the Checks and Balances Project, a nonprofit watchdog group.