Regional Grid Operators Weigh in on Resilience

On March 15, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Regional grid operators filed comments on efforts to enhance the resilience of the bulk power system in a proceeding initiated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) after rejecting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants. The comments by the nation’s federally overseen regional transmission organizations and independent system operators (ISOs) came in response to two dozen questions FERC asked about resilience.

The message of operators to FERC: allow them time to develop additional resilience measures and respect their existing efforts aimed at ensuring that grids can cope with man-made and natural disasters that pose a risk of electricity service disruption. None of the operators suggested that resilience requires preservation of uneconomical power plants. All appeared to be open to, in the words of the New York ISO, “additional dialogue regarding concepts for market-based resilience services and practices.”

Nevertheless, the PJM Interconnection filing departed from the other operator filings. In essence, PJM wants FERC to direct operators to update market compensation for power plants to reflect resilience attributes. The request comes amid concerns that PJM’s resilience filing and ongoing price reforms could basically have the same effect as the DOE subsidy proposal rejected by FERC in January—a proposal that would have benefited coal and nuclear generators.

Those concerns were echoed in a “joint statement on power market principles,” released last week by U.S. public power and rural electric co-ops, state utility advocates, wind and solar energy groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Council on Renewable Energy. The group asked FERC to apply technology-neutral and market-based solutions to the resilience docket.

The Perry proposal and the FERC proceeding it inspired are likely to lead to some kind of change. Last week at CERAWeek in Houston, FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre said the lack of compensation to power plants for resilience contributions would be of concern to FERC and a particularly complicated element of the proceeding. He also said that “only hypothetically is nothing an option. I will be very surprised if we go through all that process and take no action.”

At the heart of that action could be how FERC defines resilience. In its filing, the California ISO questioned FERC’s working definition of resilience. It wrote that FERC’s reliance order “does not address any potential overlap between resilience and reliability, clearly articulate the differences between the two, state why a new, wholly separate concept is needed, or indicate what specific requirements a resilient system must meet.”

Two of my colleagues at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions made a similar point last month, noting that whether resilience is “a stand-alone concept or just a component of the well-recognized concept of reliability” is a “foundational question”—one that spells the difference between new market and regulatory responses or tweaks to existing reliability mechanisms. They conclude that “A well-functioning market that clearly defines and values the attributes needed for grid reliability and resilience—in a fuel-neutral, technology-neutral fashion—will comply with the law and support both concepts.”

China Unveils Environmental Restructuring Plan

A draft plan, introduced Tuesday, reorganizes China’s government into a State Council composed of 26 ministries and commissions. Compared with the current setup, the number of ministerial-level entities is reduced by eight and that of vice-ministerial-level entities by seven.

One of the changes is renaming the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The new Ministry of Ecological Environment would take over responsibility for climate change policy and become the only entity in charge of policies related to climate change, water resource management, and pollution.

“China’s decision to create a new environment ministry in China, which includes the country’s climate change agenda, is a big shake up in the country but may well be a positive long-term development,” said Jackson Ewing, senior fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and adjunct associate professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy. “Although the practical impacts of China’s reorganization are not yet apparent, the Ministry for Ecological Environment appears poised to carry a strong mandate to strengthen the country’s air, water, soil and ecological focus.”

Tonny Xie, director of the Secretariat for the Clean Air Alliance of China noted that the change is “ … also a sign that China will continue the unprecedented commitment and investment to improve environmental quality in future, which will generate significant market potential for clean technologies.”

The plan, submitted by the government to parliament is expected to be approved this weekend after deliberations by the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament.

China, the world’s largest polluter, is in the midst of launching a nationwide emissions trading system to set emissions quotas for companies in the power sector. Announced in December, the program could more than double the volume of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions covered by tax or tradable permit policy.

Trump Fires Tillerson, Nominates New Secretary of State

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced the exit of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the nomination of Mike Pompeo, the present director of the CIA, to replace him.

“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things,” Trump said. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK … So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well.”

Tillerson stood as a lonely voice in the Trump administration urging the president not to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a global treaty that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But Trump announced last year that the United States would be the only nation in the world not party to the agreement, though it cannot formally withdraw until 2020.

As a former Congressman, Pompeo described the new 2015 Paris Agreement as a “costly burden” to the United States. He noted then that “Congress must also do all in our power to fight against this damaging climate change proposal and pursue policies that support American energy, create new jobs and power our economy.”

Pompeo will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing in April, but his path to confirmation is uncertain.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

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On Monday, President Donald Trump said “we’re not backing down” on his intent to propose steel and aluminum tariffs that some legislators and analysts worry could have a negative effect on the U.S. energy industry and undercut the president’s goal of “energy dominance.”

Trump shared his desire for the tariffs—25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports—last week. On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that countries may be exempted on a “case-by-case basis” from the tariffs and that the president will make an announcement on the tariff issue by the week’s end.

Energy industry groups say that the plan to put a 25 percent tariff on overseas steel could a have a detrimental impact on the U.S. oil and gas industry and could be a double blow for the solar power industry, which is navigating new solar tariffs that went into effect last month. The groups contend that the steel tariff would raise costs for oil and gas pipelines and for solar power arrays, which would also face increased costs from Trump’s anticipated tariff on aluminum imports.

The 25 percent steel tariff could add as much as 2 cents a watt to the cost of a utility-scale solar project, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Additional price increases on steel and on aluminum, which are used in ground-mount and rooftop solar racking systems, could slow U.S. solar deployments already decreased by the solar tariff.

In the oil and gas industry, the 25 percent steel tariff could have an impact on pipelines. A study commissioned by oil and gas groups and released last year showed that a 25 percent price hike means an additional $76 million in costs for a traditional 280-mile pipeline and more than $300 million for a major project like the Keystone XL or Dakota Access pipelines.

Rules Governing Pollution from Oil and Gas Operations Under Microscope

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced amendments to two provisions of the New Source Performance Standards for the oil and natural gas industry. The 2016 standards aim to reduce the amount of methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas drilling.

One of EPA’s amendments would require that oil and gas operators repair leaking components during unplanned or emergency shutdowns and would impose monitoring requirements for wells on Alaska’s North Slope.

EPA said the changes were necessary because under the current requirements, repairs conducted during unscheduled or emergency shutdowns “could lead to unintended negative consequences both at well sites and compressor stations, including emissions that are higher than emissions that would occur if the leaks were repaired during a scheduled shutdown.”

The changes “provide regulatory certainty to one of the largest sectors of the American economy and avoid unnecessary compliance costs to both covered entities and the states,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum, noting that the amendments are expected to save electric utilities $100 million per year in compliance costs and that they could help oil and gas operators reap $16 million in benefits by 2035.

Environmental advocates, meanwhile, expressed concerns that the changes could lead to dirtier air and water and reduce or remove consequences for large-scale polluters.

As Bloomberg Gets UN Climate Envoy Job, Study Pushes Emissions Trading

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was named U.N. special envoy for climate action on Monday. In his new role, Bloomberg will support a 2019 U.N. Climate Summit and mobilize more ambitious action to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Around the world, bottom-up solutions are leading the fight against climate change,” Bloomberg said in a Twitter post. “As the new @UN Special Envoy for Climate Action, I’ll work with state and non-state actors to help implement policies that reduce emissions & build resilience.”

Three researchers wrote in the journal Science that allowing countries to satisfy their climate commitments by trading credits could bring down implementation costs.

“Linkage is important, in part, because it can reduce the costs of achieving a given emissions-reduction objective,” the authors write. “Lower costs, in turn, may contribute politically to embracing more ambitious objectives. In a world where the marginal cost of abatement (that is, the cost to reduce an additional ton of emissions) varies widely, linkage improves overall cost-effectiveness by allowing jurisdictions to finance reductions in other jurisdictions with relatively lower costs while allowing the former jurisdictions to count the emission reductions toward targets set in their NDCs [nationally determined contributions].”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

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As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress gave a boost to carbon capture—a method for diverting emissions from crude production and coal- and gas-fired power plants—through the so-called 45Q tax credit. For every qualifying project, the boosted 45Q doubles a pre-existing tax credit to $50 per ton of carbon dioxide buried in underground storage and to $35 per ton that is used in a consumer product or to stimulate oil recovery.

“The act also expands the ‘EOR’ [enhanced oil recovery] credit to carbon oxides used for other industrial purposes, changes the definition of the entities to whom the credit applies, and sets capture thresholds for small facilities, electric generating facilities, and direct air capture facilities,” write Frederick R. Eames and David S. Lowman Jr. in Lexology.

Many see the potential for this credit to spur a renewed look at projects with carbon capture and storage and re-enliven policies around it.

“Now, with [the tax credit], the economics are looking very attractive,” said Roger Ballentine, a consultant and board member of 8 Rivers Capital, which is financing NET Power, a carbon capture project near Houston. “People are asking, should I do this. Before, those conversations weren’t even happening. Any major project like this will be a challenge. But the business case gets that much better with [the tax credit]. Once there is a business case, that’s why they happen.”

The nudge from the tax credit could help the technology to be more profitable.

“The reality of any technology development, particularly in the energy space, is it’s very difficult to move technologies into the marketplace without some sort of push,” said Walker Dimmig, spokesperson for NET Power. “The energy marketplace is incredibly competitive.”

Court Orders Enforcement of Methane Leak Rule

Last week, U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to delay an Obama-era Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule that sought to reduce venting, flaring and leakage of methane gas on public and tribal lands. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that BLM did not justify its decision to delay core provisions of its 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention Rule by one year.

“The BLM’s reasoning behind the Suspension Rule is untethered to evidence contradicting the reasons for implementing the Waste Prevention Rule, and so plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits,” Orrick wrote. “They have shown irreparable injury caused by the waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts.”

In the lawsuit brought by environmental groups and two states—California and New Mexico—Orrick also denied a request to move the case to Wyoming where a similar case is pending.

The ruling was only on the BLM’s proposed one-year delay. It does not directly affect the BLM’s proposed repeal of several methane rule provisions announced earlier this month. That proposal removes at least seven elements introduced under Obama’s rule, including creation of waste minimization plans by companies and emissions reduction standards for well completion.

In announcing the changes to that portion of the rule, the BLM said that many of the former requirements were duplicative of state laws or had a higher cost or lower benefit than previously estimated. Once the BLM proposed repeal is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day public comment period will begin.

Reports Indicate Growth in Renewables in Cities

Worldwide, 101 cities are getting at least 70 percent of their total electricity supply from renewable energy—more than double the number since the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement according to the Carbon Disclosure Project, which tracks climate-related commitments by corporations and governments.

The London-based Carbon Disclosure Project attributes the increase to the growing number of cities reporting to it (currently 570) and to a global shift to renewable energy. It reports that cities are investing $2.3 billion in 150 clean energy development projects and $52 billion in low-carbon urban infrastructure projects such as energy efficiency upgrades, electric transport networks and smart city programs.

“Cities are responsible for 70 percent of energy-related CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions and there is immense potential for them to lead on building a sustainable economy,” said Kyra Appleby, director of cities at the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Notably, more than 40 of the cities identified in the report are powered entirely by renewables, including Burlington, Vermont, which gets its electricity from wind, solar, hydro and biomass. Although only a few of the 100-plus U.S. cities that report their energy mix to the project have achieved 70 percent or greater renewables generation, another 58 U.S. cities, including Atlanta and San Diego, are planning to hit the 100 percent renewables target within 20 years.

Meanwhile, two new studies shed light on renewables potential and actual deployment in the United States.

In one, scientists at the University of California at Irvine, the California Institute of Technology, and the Carnegie Institution for Science revealed that the country could reliably meet about 80 percent of its electricity demand with solar and wind power generation “by building either a continental-scale transmission network or facilities that could store 12 hours’ worth of the nation’s electricity demand.” Both options would entail huge—but not inconceivable—investments, they said.

A study by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy revealed that solar deployment is growing in some southern states, including North Carolina, where the solar market, one of the nation’s largest, is driven by favorable implementation of federal laws requiring renewable energy procurement, a state tax credit, and a renewable energy mandate. South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia are also emerging as significant state markets.

Globally, falling costs are playing a role in renewables uptake. According to data released by the World Economic Forum, unsubsidized renewables were the cheapest source of electricity in 30 countries in 2017, and they are expected to be consistently more cost effective than fossil fuels globally by 2020.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump’s $4.4 trillion 2019 budget proposal, released Monday, echoed themes from the previous year’s budget priorities: steep cuts to domestic programs with large increases for defense. It outlines leaner budgets across federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Trump’s proposed budget, which was assembled before the Congress passed a two-year spending bill last week, calls for the EPA to operate with $5.4 billion ($6.15 billion after adjustments) beginning Oct. 1. That budget would be the EPA’s lowest since the early 1990s and about 25 percent below the 2017 mark of $8.1 billion.

The DOE would receive $30.6 billion, which is nearly 2 percent below its 2017 budget.

The proposal would also eliminate virtually all climate change-related programs at the EPA. In outlining the budget, the Trump administration said the EPA is refocusing on “core activities” and eliminating “lower priority programs,” including a program to promote partnerships with the private sector to tackle climate change.

The Trump administration said it wants to eliminate programs that are duplicative of those of other agencies or that it thinks state and local governments should assume—a proposal that appears to dovetail with the EPA’s strategic plan, also released Monday, that outlines a retrenchment around core issues like clean air, clean water, remediation of contaminated sites, and chemical safety. In place of program categories such as “clean air and global climate change,” Trump’s proposed budget allocates $112 million for a new line item called “core mission” and $357 million for “rule of law and process.”

Like climate-related programs at the EPA, DOE’s renewable energy programs are targeted for reductions in the proposal. According to numbers released by DOE, energy and related programs would receive $2.5 billion under the proposed 2019 budget, a drop of $1.9 billion from the 2017 budget. The Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would take a 65 percent cut. By contrast, the Office of Fossil Energy would get a 20 percent funding increase.

Unlike Trump’s budget proposal, the bipartisan two-year budget deal passed last week appears to include government funding for climate-related programs. It gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers money to study weather patterns and to prepare for the consequences of disasters, and it preserves tax incentives for renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and energy efficiency programs.

Under the bipartisan deal, nondefense discretionary spending gets a $63 billion boost in fiscal year 2018 and another $68 billion in fiscal year 2019. Almost all research agencies, including the EPA, fall under this nondefense category. It’s still unclear how any funds will be divided among individual agencies and programs. Details of who gets what in the 2018 budget will come as Congress works on an omnibus appropriations bill, expected in late March.

Methane Emissions Regulation Revised

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will replace most of the requirements of a 2016 Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands. The Monday proposal came after a previous announcement that the BLM would delay implementing the Obama-era rule until January 2019.

The rule forced energy companies to capture methane that’s vented to the atmosphere or burned off (“flared”) at drilling sites because it pollutes the environment. Many companies consider the rule unnecessary and overly intrusive, but many environmental groups warn that methane emissions from oil and gas operations are the second largest industrial contributor to climate change in the United States.

The new BLM proposal removes at least seven elements introduced under Obama’s rule, including creation of waste minimization plans by companies and standards for well completion. In announcing the changes to the rule, the BLM said that many of the former requirements were duplicative of state laws or had a higher cost or lower benefit than previously estimated.

The BLM is expected to publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register, opening it up for 60 days of public comment before issuing a final rule could be issued.

But even as the Trump administration is retreating from regulating methane leaks, new research published in the journal Climate Policy suggests it is still possible to make progress on reducing methane emissions by using a proposed North American Methane Reduction framework to direct research and to enhance monitoring and evaluate mitigation efforts.

This study, penned by my Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions colleague Kate Konschnik, suggests that state and provincial governments, industry, and nongovernmental organizations can use the framework to coordinate regulations, voluntary industry actions, and scientific developments in methane estimation and mitigation, thereby bridging the divide between science and policy and driving new research that in turn can support better policies when governments are ready to act.

California Adopts Emissions Standards for Trucks

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted unanimously to adopt emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks starting with the 2020 model year, departing from federal rules in two sectors. The state not only approved its own version of federal regulations covering truck trailers, but it is also making plans to conduct its own enforcement.

The state has special authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to make its own pollution and greenhouse gas rules for “mobile sources” such as cars and trucks. Some are concerned that the Trump administration may attempt to unravel the state’s authority to set pollution standards that are higher than federal rules.

Comments made by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee leave open that possibility.

“Federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate to the rest of the country,” Pruitt said, noting that “we recognize California’s special status in the statute and we are working with them to find consensus around these issues.”

CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols pointed to a 2013 waiver for California to implement its own, tougher tailpipe standards.

“The EPA would have to take unprecedented legal action to try to revoke that waiver,” she said. “Our best legal judgment is that that can’t be done.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

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In his first State of the Union speech, the words climate and energy barely received a mention from President Donald Trump. What he did say about energy boiled down to only a few sentences.

“We have ended the war on American energy—and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” Trump said. “We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”

It was a statement that New York Times reporters labeled as “misleading” because overall the United States is a net energy importer, although it is projected to be a net energy exporter sometime in the 2020s.

Hints at Trump’s energy priorities were folded into comments about regulatory strategy, with Trump offering that “in our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” The rollbacks include rescission of hydraulic fracturing standards introduced under former President Barack Obama.

The State of the Union speech follows a Sunday interview with British TV personality Piers Morgan in which the president questioned climate science and said the United States could join the Paris Agreement, from which he announced the country’s exit last summer, if it had a “completely different deal” but called the existing agreement a “terrible deal” and a “disaster” for the United States.

State-Level Executive Order, Federal Legislation Focus on Emissions Trading

With an executive order on Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy began the process for New Jersey to re-enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nine-state cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions from electric power plants that former Gov. Chris Christy exited in 2011.

“Leaving RGGI, as it is called by most, made us an outlier in our own neighborhood,” Murphy said. “It signaled a retreat from a comprehensive and collaborative effort to curb the carbon emissions that contributed to climate change.”

The executive order requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) commissioner and the Board of Public Utilities president to immediately begin negotiations with RGGI member states. The DEP also must—within 30 days—create a framework for allocating RGGI funds.

RGGI, the first market-based regulatory program in the United States, is a cooperative effort among states to create a “cap” that sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector—a cap lowered over time to reduce emissions. Power plants that can’t stay under the cap must purchase credits or “emissions allowances” from others that can. Proceeds from the program are used to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects throughout the member states.

In announcing the move to rejoin RGGI, Murphy estimated that New Jersey had lost $279 million in RGGI auction revenue and suggested that re-entry would create jobs by restoring the state as a leader in the green economy.

“Rejoining RGGI is about much more than cutting emissions and strengthening our defense against climate change, he said. “It’s about investing in our future.”

Virginia is presently considering linking with the program that presently partners Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Draft regulations that aim to cap emissions from the state’s electricity sector beginning in 2020 and to reduce them 30 percent by 2030 were announced in November.

Also on Monday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Don Beyer introduced the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act. The cap and dividend bill aims to address climate change by gradually reducing carbon emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels through emissions permit auctions held for sellers of oil, coal, and natural gas into the U.S. market. Dividends would be returned to U.S. taxpayers quarterly.

“This legislation puts a price on carbon pollution and returns the proceeds directly to the American people at the same time it accelerates the growth of good paying jobs in clean technologies,” Van Hollen said in a press release.

Study: Offsetting America’s Carbon Footprint through Agriculture

There is general agreement that the technical potential for sequestration of carbon in soil is significant, and some consensus on the magnitude of that potential. A new study in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that the world’s farmland soils have the technical potential to offset as much carbon as the United States emits, if lands are managed better. That could mean agriculture’s sequestration potential represents a viable pathway to achieving the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Though some models suggest that farms have the capacity to absorb as much as the carbon equivalent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions annually—roughly 36 gigatons—agricultural land currently absorbs about 0.03 gigatons. The Washington Post highlights this so called “carbon farming,” a reference to farmland that’s not a source of carbon but rather a sink, in a feature on the politics of sustainable agriculture and describes efforts to account for agriculture emissions in a scientifically valid way.

By estimating the potential amount of sequestered carbon in different scenarios, the study in Scientific Reports aims to open up discussion of the agricultural sector’s carbon mitigation potential, which received short shrift in the Paris Agreement but is beginning to garner some thought.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Trump Administration Issues Solar Import Tariff

On January 25, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Trump administration announced Monday that it will begin imposing a 30 percent tariff on solar cells and modules imported into the United States. The tariff will decline annually over a four-year period—reaching 15 percent in year four—and the first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells will be exempt from the safeguard tariff in each of those four years.

The U.S. has the world’s fourth-largest solar capacity after China, Japan and Germany. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said the tariff, which is opposed by most of the renewable energy industry, is necessary to prevent unfair practices by overseas manufacturers, mainly in Asia.

“From 2012 to 2016, the volume of solar generation capacity installed annually in the United States more than tripled, spurred on by artificially low-priced solar cells and modules from China,” the USTR said in a fact sheet announcing the Trump administration’s decision. “China’s industrial planning has included a focus on increasing Chinese capacity and production of solar cells and modules, using state incentives, subsidies, and tariffs to dominate the global supply chain.”

The tariff comes in response to petitions from two American manufacturers who complained for years that rising imports were eating into their sales. The International Trade Commission (ITC), in September, voted in favor of imposing a tariff. Monday’s announcement is similar to one recommended by the ITC late last year.

More than 80 percent of U.S. solar installations use imported panels, many of which come from China. However, China is not the only country that could be affected by the decision. Countries like South Korea now account for many of U.S. solar imports, which means they could face job losses and other hardships as a result of the tariffs.

Although imposing tariffs could create as many as 6,400 solar manufacturing positions, overall industry job losses could exceed those gains, an independent analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance performed for Utility Dive found. The Solar Energy Industries Association said 23,000 jobs would be lost in 2018, noting that most solar manufacturing in the U.S. involves making parts for cheaper imported panels.

Homeowner installation costs are expected to go up about 4 percent and utility-scale installation costs could go up about 10 percent, according to ClearView Energy Partners.

Before the tariff announcement, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that total U.S. small-scale solar capacity was 16 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2017 and projected it to grow to 19 GW by the end of 2018. It estimated that U.S. large-scale solar capacity totaled 27 GW at the end of 2017 and projected it to rise to 30 GW by the end of 2018.

Studies Examine Continuing Warming Trend

According to an analysis released last week by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 2017 was the second warmest year in 123 years of record-keeping. Using a different methodology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had earlier put 2017 as the third warmest year. In either case, it was the 21st consecutive year in which the annual average temperature exceeded the 20th century average of 13.9 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit) and the third consecutive year that every state across the contiguous U.S. and Alaska experienced above-average annual temperatures. Notably, it was also the warmest year on record without the warming influence of El Niño, which contributed to the heat of the warmest year, 2016.

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said there’s little doubt about the source of the multi-decadal warming.

“Basically all of the warming in the last 60 years is attributable to human activities, and carbon dioxide emissions are the No. 1 component of that,” Schmidt said.

According to NOAA’s annual global climate report, worldwide, temperatures in 2017 were 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th century average, and ocean temperatures experienced their third-warmest year on record.

In Poll, Mayors Acknowledge Threat of Climate Change

Two-thirds of mayors said that cities should take action on climate change, even if doing so requires financial costs, according to an annual poll by Boston University.

“As the widening wealth gap, rising cost of housing and other economic challenges dominate the discourse in Washington, D.C. and across the country, the 2017 Menino Survey of Mayors provides invaluable insights into some of the most complex issues facing our nation’s mayors,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director of Citi Community Development and Inclusive Finance. “This year’s survey confirms yet again that our nation’s mayors are leading the way—prioritizing issues within and beyond their municipal borders, such as affordable housing and climate change, with innovative approaches that affect positive change for their constituents.”

Those polled cited a range of top climate and sustainability issues, including reducing the number of vehicles on the road (36 percent), upgrading city buildings and vehicles (31 percent), and sourcing greener energy (27 percent). Increasing residential density and updating building codes were also considered integral parts of any serious effort to address climate change, but when it came to the private sector, respondents pushed back on the need to institute new costly regulations.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The five members of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Monday unanimously rejected a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the Department of Energy (DOE) to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in the electricity markets FERC oversees (subscription). Instead it opened a new proceeding in which it calls on regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) to submit information to FERC on certain resilience issues and concerns within 60 days (subscription).

Since Sept. 28, when DOE Secretary Rick Perry proposed mandating that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid, a broad array of power sector stakeholders have raised concerns about the legality and vagueness of the proposed rulemaking and the short timetable to implement it.

In voting against the DOE proposal, FERC found that neither the proposal nor comments on it revealed a problem with existing market rules.

“While some commenters allege grid resilience or reliability issues due to potential retirements of particular resources, we find that these assertions do not demonstrate the unjustness or unreasonableness of the existing RTO/ISO tariffs,” FERC wrote. “In addition, the extensive comments submitted by the RTOs/ISOs do not point to any past or planned generator retirements that may be a threat to grid resilience.”

FERC went on to note that even the DOE’s own grid reliability study, cited to justify the DOE proposal, “concluded that changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid.”

FERC’s Jan. 8 order means electric grid operators must answer questions from the commission about how they define resilience, what they do to ensure it and how they evaluate threats to it.

Although FERC could issue a new order after receiving that information, The Washington Post suggests that the language in the current order would support the trend toward free competitive electricity markets.

One issue not raised in the debate, which centered on market concerns, was changes to the electric system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Researchers at Resources for the Future projected significant emissions increases and negative effects on social welfare had the DOE Notice of Proposed Rulemaking gone forward.

Trump Administration Unveils Plan to Vastly Increase Oil Drilling Off U.S. Shores

The Trump administration revealed a draft plan that would greatly expand oil drilling to areas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans that were previously protected.

“This is a start on looking at American energy dominance,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, adding that the proposal would make the United States “the strongest energy superpower” (subscription).

Previous administrations had largely limited offshore oil and gas production to the Gulf of Mexico, but Zinke’s proposal would make more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf open for leasing. His proposal includes 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024 in 25 of the nation’s 26 offshore planning areas. Among them: 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 9 in the Atlantic, and 7 in the Pacific (some off the coast of California).

“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period,” Zinke said (subscription). “Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which would oversee the leasing process, will hold a 60-day public comment period on the plan.

Although embraced by oil and gas industry groups, the proposed plan is expected to face opposition from governors of many coastal states and many U.S. lawmakers.

On Tuesday, a group of 37 senators called the proposal “the height of irresponsibility” (subscription).

“This draft proposal is an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry,” the senators wrote in a letter to Zinke.

The proposal follows an April 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump requiring that the Interior Department reconsider former President Barack Obama’s five-year offshore drilling plan.

If finalized, the proposal would reverse Obama’s ban on drilling on the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic, but, in addition to Florida waters which Zinke this week closed to drilling, it would keep off-limits the waters near Alaska’s far-western Aleutian Islands, which were protected by former President George W. Bush.

People’s Hearings on Clean Power Plan Begin

Several “people’s hearings” planned by states to discuss the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) repeal of the clean Power Plan took place in New York, Maryland and Delaware this week. Proposed to be repealed in October, the rule aimed to set state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants.

The hearings follow an announcement last month by the EPA that it will hold three more hearings on its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan—in California, Wyoming and Missouri—after criticism for not conducting a transparent review process and previously holding only one public hearing over two days in Charleston, West Virginia.

Transcripts and comments associated with the hearings will be sent to the EPA as part of its rulemaking—EPA is presently taking input on what should replace the rule. In an interview with Reuters, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt listed replacement of the Clean Power Plan as one of his top 2018 priorities—alongside plans to greatly reduce EPA staff and rewrite the Waters of the United States rule.

“A proposed rule will come out this year and then a final rule will come out sometime this year,” Pruitt said of the Clean Power Plan’s replacement.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that more than a quarter of Earth’s land will become significantly drier even if the world manages to limit warming to the Paris Agreement goal of less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Limiting the temperature rise to the agreement’s more ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce the amount of land affected.

“Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20–30 percent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2 degrees C [Celsius],” said Manoj Joshi, study co-author from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. “But two-thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees C.”

According to the study, the regions that would most benefit from keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius are parts of South East Asia, Southern Europe, Southern Africa, Central America and Southern Australia.

The study authors used projections from 27 global climate models to identify the areas of the world where aridity will substantially change when compared to current year-to-year variations. With a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, they found that between 24 percent and 32 percent of the Earth’s total land surface will become drier. At an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, only between eight percent and 10 percent of that surface becomes drier.

Aridification could dramatically increase the threat of widespread drought and wildfires. It is also a threat to agriculture, water quality and biodiversity, noted Chang-Eui Park, the study’s lead author from China’s Southern University for Sustainability and Technology.

Park likened the emergence of aridification to “a shift to continuous moderate drought conditions, on top of which future year-to-year variability can cause more severe drought. For instance, in such a scenario 15 percent of semi-arid regions would actually experience conditions similar to ‘arid’ climates today.”

Trump Administration Repeals Proposed Rules for Hydraulic Fracturing on Government Land

One day after a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to reconsider it’s decision to overrule a lower court’s rejection of a proposed Obama-era rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rescinded the rule. Under the proposed rule, companies would have had to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, whereby pressurized water is pumped underground to break open hydrocarbon deposits to increase well productivity.

The rule had been scheduled to go into effect in 2015, but it was never implemented due to court challenges by energy industry groups and several oil- and natural gas-producing states, which argued the rule was over-reaching and duplicative of state requirements, as well as by environmentalists, who pointed to a need to regulate potential risks to groundwater.

“This final rule is needed to prevent the unnecessarily burdensome and unjustified administrative requirements and compliance costs of the 2015 rule from encumbering oil and gas development on Federal and Indian lands,” BLM wrote in the 26-page final rule.

The move took effect immediately on December 29, skipping the 30-day waiting period often incorporated into rollbacks.

Vogtle Nuclear Project Gets Green Light

Georgia’s Public Service Commission has voted unanimously to allow construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle to continue. Plagued by delays and escalating costs, the Vogtle reactors represent the only large-scale nuclear construction underway in the United States since abandonment of two reactors this summer by South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper. This week, Dominion Power bought SCANA and assumed these failed South Carolina nuclear project costs.

“The decision to complete Vogtle 3 & 4 is important for Georgia’s energy future and the United States,” said Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, in a statement. “The Georgia Public Service Commission has shown leadership in making this complex and difficult decision and recognized that the Vogtle expansion is key to ensuring that our state has affordable and reliable energy today that will support economic growth now and for generations to come.”

Co-owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities, the reactors are presently scheduled to come online in 2021 (unit 3) and 2022 (unit 4).

The commission attached conditions to its approval of the Vogtle completion, including a lower return on equity for Georgia Power; more money returned to ratepayers; and the possibility of re-examining the project if Congress doesn’t extend a production tax credit for nuclear power past a 2021 expiration date.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next Thursday due to the Thanksgiving holiday. It will return November 30.

Although the world’s greenhouse gas emissions leveled out between 2014 and 2016, new studies presented this week at the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, suggest that emissions will rise 2 percent in 2017.

“The temporary hiatus appears to have ended in 2017,” wrote Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who along with colleagues at the Global Carbon Project tracked 2017 emissions to date and projected them forward in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Economic projections suggest further emissions growth in 2018 is likely,” wrote the authors.

The primary driver of the rising emissions increase is a 3.5 percent increase in China’s emissions due to decreased use of hydropower and an uptick in coal use. India is expected to see a 2 percent rise in emissions. Meanwhile, the United States, the world’s second largest emitter behind China, is projected to experience a 0.4 percent decline in emissions.

The studies add urgency to the efforts of those in Bonn to negotiate the terms of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the global treaty that aims to limit global warming. Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the Global Carbon Budget 2017 study and director of the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, said the timeframe for meeting Paris Agreement targets is shortening: “Our expectations had always been that emissions would grow, but perhaps not as steeply as this.

“With global CO2 emissions from human activities estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 degrees C, let alone 1.5C,” Le Quéré added.

COP 23: Coal, Finances, and Subnational Support

As signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) finish the second week of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany, their focus remains on hammering out the details of the Paris Agreement, the global treaty aiming to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

How exactly the needed actions will be financed is yet to be seen.

“We need all financial players—public, private, domestic, international—and including markets and regulators, to work together effectively to mobilize at least $1.5 trillion in climate finance that is needed every year,” said Eric Usher, head of Finance Initiative at the U.N. Environment Programme.

Now that the United States is the only country not supporting the Paris Agreement—President Donald Trump announced in June that it would withdraw from the agreement—the administration’s only appearance at the conference focused on fossil fuels.

George D. Banks, special adviser to President Trump on international energy issues, led a panel with top American energy executives, offering that “without question, fossil fuels will continue to be used, and we would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure when fossil fuels are used that they be as clean and efficient as possible. This panel is controversial only if we choose to bury our heads in the sand.”

Despite the Trump administration’s stance on the agreement, U.S. states and cities are looking to take action on climate change. This week, 20 states and 50 cities signed a pledge to abide by the emissions reduction targets of the Paris agreement.

“It is important for the world to know, the American government may have pulled out of the Paris agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals, and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us,” former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said in Bonn.

The group is vowing to take measures, such as reducing coal-fired power and investing in renewable energy and efficiency, which would substantially reduce its carbon output.

Study: A Warming Planet Makes Harvey-like Storms More Likely

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, some researchers pointed to the increased likelihood of extreme rain events as the planet warms, but a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes further. It supports the idea that the specific risk of such events is already on the upswing because of humans’ contributions to climate change. According to the study author, Massachusetts Institute of Technology hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, since the end of the 20th century, global warming has helped increase the annual likelihood of Harvey-like rainfall in Texas by 6 percent. By century end, that probability could rise to 18 percent.

To better understand how climate change is skewing those odds, Emanuel generated 3,700 computerized storms for each of the three climate models used in the study. He situated Texas storms in the climates of the years from 1980 to 2016. In these climates, he found that an event producing 20 inches of rain was extremely rare. When he performed a similar analysis in the projected climates of the years 2080 to 2100, Harvey’s 33 inches of rain in Houston became a once-in-a-100-year event, rather than a once-in-a-2,000-year event, and for Texas as a whole, the odds increased from once in 100 years to once every 5.5 years.

“The changes in probabilities are because of global warming,” Emanuel said.

In the study, global warming helped slow hurricanes by pushing land and ocean temperatures closer together, leading to the kind of longevity witnessed with Harvey, but the other and greater effect of that warming is the atmosphere’s capacity to hold moisture.

“If [general circulation] slows down, then places near the coast will get more rain,” Emanuel said. “But the main reason our technique shows increasing rainfall is that there’s more water in the air.”

The significance of this study, Emmanuel noted, is to alert city planners to the changing probabilities of large-scale hurricanes in Texas.

“It is important for those people who will rebuild Houston and rethink its infrastructure to understand the magnitude of the risk and how it will change over time,” he said.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

This week, signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) meet in Bonn, Germany, to discuss implementation of the Paris Agreement, a global treaty that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Before the meeting wraps up Nov. 17, signatories hope to lay the groundwork for the conclusion of the Paris agreement terms at COP24 in Poland, including rules on transparency, accounting, markets, and resilience.

“The conference in Bonn is a preparatory meeting for the next COP in Poland, where the fine print of the Paris Agreement will be decided,” said Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary in the German environment ministry. “In a nutshell, it’s about shaping the transparency rules on how states measure and report their progress in climate mitigation. The Paris Agreement is built as a bottom-up structure, where the [parties] themselves decide the contributions they can and want to make. This is why it’s most important to make sure that every party abides by their own targets and honestly reports about their efforts and results. So even though it’s very hard to communicate this to the public, the negotiations in Bonn are actually about the heart of the Paris Agreement.”

Since COP23 kicked off Nov. 6, two holdouts from the 2015 Paris Agreement signing—Syria and Nicaragua—have become signatories. That leaves the United States as the only country in the world not supporting the deal to limit global greenhouse gas emissions. President Donald Trump announced in June that the U.S. would withdraw from the climate agreement, a process that will be complete in 2020.

A significant focus at the COP23 is actions of cities, states, and other subnational actors that are stepping up to address climate change. Later this week, California Gov. Jerry Brown, together with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, will release a new report highlighting the progress of U.S. states, cities, and businesses in addressing climate change.

U.S. states, such as California, are signaling even further climate action. Brown proposed linking his state’s carbon market with the European Union’s and announced plans to cooperate on market design and implementation in Brussels, Tuesday.

“I would hope that we could explore linking California and the European Union,” Brown said. “We are already linked with Quebec. We are about to be joined by Ontario. Other states are also considering joining. That would be a concrete investment kind of move that California and other states and provinces could become a part of.”

Study Finds Strong Link Between Climate Change and Human Activities

A scientific report, released last week, says that it is “extremely likely” the use of fossil fuels and human activities are the main cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization. According to that report, a global average temperature increase of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 115 years has led to record-breaking weather events and temperature extremes.

“It is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” says the Climate Science Special Report, part of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

The assessment, mandated every-four-years by the Global Change Research Act, analyzes human and naturally caused global changes and their effects on everything from agriculture and energy production to human health. Produced by 13 federal agencies and peer-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences, it is the United States’ most definitive statement on climate change science.

The Climate Science Special Report affirms that the United States is already experiencing more extreme heat and rainfall events and larger wildfires in the West, but sea-level rise may be the clearest evidence of climate change. More than 25 coastal U.S. cities are experiencing increased flooding, and seas could rise by from 1 to 4 feet by the year 2100. A rise of more than eight feet is “physically possible” with high emissions of greenhouse gases. Of the rapidly escalating levels of those gases in the atmosphere, the report states, “there is no climate analog for this century at any time in at least the last 50 million years.”

The report cautions that current climate models are likelier to underestimate future warming than to overestimate it. Although those models have accurately predicted the past few decades of warming, they may fail to capture how warm Earth can get. Researchers may not fully understand climate tipping points—difficult-to-predict points of no return.

Trump USDA Nominee Withdraws from Consideration

Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s pick for chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture, withdrew himself from consideration for the post. Clovis, whose nomination hearing was scheduled for this month, blamed the political tone in Washington for his decision in a letter to Trump.

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis wrote.

The professor and conservative radio talk show host from Iowa, who served as national co-chair of Trump’s campaign, had come under fire after foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty to charges related to brokering of a relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Clovis was also scrutinized for his climate change skepticism and lack of an advanced science degree, a 2008 farm bill requirement of appointees to the position.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.