The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Monday that it sent a proposed rule to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review, a standard step before a proposal’s public release and comment.

The proposed rule would replace the Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in 2015 to regulate emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants by setting state-by-state reduction targets. Although not yet publicly released, early reports indicate the new rule will adopt a narrower assessment of the means available to reduce greenhouse gases and therefore will implement less aggressive emissions reduction targets.

In October 2017, the Trump administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that called for the Clean Power Plan to be repealed. In December 2017, EPA put out a notice asking the public to submit ideas for a replacement to the rule, which most agree the agency is obligated to produce. The Clean Air Act instructs the EPA to set “standards of performance for any existing source for any air pollutant,” and requires these standards to reflect “the degree of emission limitation achievable through the application of the best system of emission reduction.”

Since April 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has extended a temporary stay of the Clean Power Plan five times as the Trump administration contemplates a replacement.

The Monday nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy could influence how litigation over this rule plays out. Kennedy was often the deciding vote in environmental cases brought before the court, including the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA climate change lawsuit in 2007 that laid the legal groundwork for federal action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Kavanaugh voiced some skepticism that the EPA has the authority to limit greenhouse gases when his court heard oral arguments on the Clean Power Plan in 2016.

“Global warming isn’t a blank check” for the president to regulate carbon emissions,” he said during oral arguments. “I understand the frustration with Congress,” Kavanaugh added. But he said the rule, rather than Congress, was “fundamentally transforming an industry.”

Pruitt Resigns from the EPA

Scott Pruitt has resigned as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Andrew Wheeler, who was confirmed by the Senate as the deputy administrator of the EPA in April, will now serve as the agency’s acting administrator. Wheeler, largely identified by the press as a coal industry lobbyist, began his career as an EPA employee and then oversaw the agency for years as chief of staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for Chairman James Inhofe.

Pruitt left the EPA facing more than a dozen inquiries into his spending and self-dealing practices and amid debate over his revisitation of six pollution policies during his 17 months. He cited in his resignation letter that these “unrelenting attacks” had taken a toll.

“It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring,” Pruitt wrote.

What’s next is uncertain, but Wheeler has suggested that the EPA likely won’t change its priorities after Pruitt.

“If the environmentalists think [Trump is] going to make promises and we’re going to do the opposite, then there’s not a lot of common ground to work on,” said Wheeler. “I’m going to continue to move forward with those” priorities Pruitt laid out on behalf of Trump.

The Washington Post reported that although policy priorities are expected to remain the same, what may change is the way the EPA talks about deregulatory work.

Culturally, Wheeler also may bring change. In his opening speech with EPA employees, Wheeler reassured agency staff, saying “[t]o the employees, I want you to know that I will start with the presumption that you are performing our work as well as it can be done. My instinct will be to defend your work, and I will seek the facts from you before drawing conclusions.”

Study Finds Coal Bailout Proposal Could Increase Premature Deaths, Carbon Dioxide Emissions

A working paper released by the independent think tank Resources for the Future finds that if  President Donald Trump’s proposed bailout of coal-fired power plants goes into effect in 2019 and 2020 it could lead to the pollution-related deaths of 353 to 815 Americans. The paper indicates that each year the policy could cause 1 death for each 2 to 4.5 of the estimated total 790 coal-mine jobs estimated to be supported by the bailout.

According to the authors, delayed retirement of coal that have announced they will close by the end of 2020 could cause these deaths due to their additional sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. The paper’s modeling simulations show that over the two-year period the policy would increase carbon dioxide emissions by 22 million tons, or about the amount emitted by 4.3 million cars in a year. Applying the policy to nuclear generators would prevent only 24 to 53 premature deaths and 9 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the period.

The authors call these mortality estimates “conservative” in part because the number of plants prevented from retiring could be larger than the number modeled.

The assessment, which assumes that the Trump administration’s possible action would delay closure of some 3 percent of U.S. coal-fired generation capacity and 1 percent of U.S. nuclear capacity, is one of the first examinations of the evolving plan to prop up coal and nuclear power plants that are struggling to compete with power plants using cheap natural gas and renewable electricity.

That proposed bailout, outlined in a memo in May, would use a Cold War-era law to keep aging coal and nuclear plants from shuttering. On June 1, Trump ordered U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take immediate action to keep those plants open.

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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The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump revoked much of the National Ocean Policy put in place in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The president cited a need to improve energy security.

“Ocean industries employ millions of Americans and support a strong national economy,” Trump wrote in the new executive order. “Domestic energy production from Federal waters strengthens the Nation’s security and reduces reliance on imported energy … This order maintains and enhances these and other benefits to the Nation through improved public access to marine data and information, efficient interagency coordination on ocean-related matters, and engagement with marine industries, the science and technology community, and other ocean stakeholders.”

The order supports drilling and other industrial uses of the oceans and Great Lakes, in contrast to the 2010 National Ocean Policy, which focused largely on conservation and climate change.

Trump’s list of seven ocean policy priorities includes calling for federal agencies to coordinate on providing “economic, security, and environmental benefits for present and future generations of Americans.” Other listed priorities mention the need to “facilitate the economic growth of coastal communities and promote ocean industries,” “advance ocean science and technology,” and “enhance America’s energy security.”

Antarctic Ice Melting Speeds Up

The most comprehensive study to date of Antarctica’s ice sheets has found sharply accelerating ice loss. The assessment published in the journal Nature, funded by NASA and the European Space Agency and performed by a consortium of academic institutes and government agencies around the world, indicates that the rate of loss of Antarctic ice has tripled in the last five years compared to the last two decades.

Whereas Antarctica was losing ice at a rate of 73 billion metric tons per year a decade ago, it is now losing 219 billion metric tons per year, a rate scientists say could contribute six inches of sea-level rise by 2100.

The scientists involved in the study arrived at their finding by combining data from 24 satellite surveys, which resulted in the creation of a new dataset that could improve future projections of sea-level rise by allowing the ice sheet modeling community to test whether their models can reproduce present-day change.

“Thanks to the satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track [polar ice sheet] ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence,” said Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, who co-led the study.

The rapid, recent changes were driven almost exclusively by warm ocean waters that are destabilizing the West Antarctic ice sheet’s largest glaciers from below.

Notably, the researchers concluded that increases in the mass of the East Antarctic ice sheet were not nearly sufficient to make up for the rapid decreases in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Another study published last week in the journal Nature, this one by a team of scientists funded by the National Science Foundation, found that large parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet did not significantly melt millions of years ago, when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were similar to today’s levels. However, the authors cautioned that could change as these concentrations continue to rise above 400 parts per million. They averaged 410 parts per million in April—the highest recorded monthly average.

Draft Report Says World Off Track to Meet 1.5 C Goal

A leaked draft report suggests that human-induced warming would exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius by about 2040 if emissions continue at their present rate, but that countries could keep warming below that level if they made “rapid and far-reaching” changes.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, set a goal of limiting warming to “well below” a rise of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times while pursuing efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The final government draft of Global Warming of 1.5ºC, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report, obtained by Reuters and dated June 4, indicates that government pledges are too weak to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.

The draft report is set for publication in October, after revisions and approval by governments. In a statement, the IPCC said it will not comment on the contents of draft reports, because the work is ongoing.

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

Study Examines EVs’ Electricity Grid Role

On May 31, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

If California uses electric vehicles (EVs) as mobile power storage, it could eliminate the need to build costly stationary grid storage for energy from renewable sources, according to a new study by the researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The researchers suggest that the California Energy Storage Mandate (AB 2514)—which requires procurement of 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2020—can be accomplished through the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program as long as controlled charging (one-way power flow) is also widely deployed.

“The capital investment for stationary storage can instead be redirected to further accelerate the deployment of clean vehicles and vehicle-grid integration, and could even be used to pay EV owners when their vehicles are grid-connected with controlled charging,” write the authors. “In this manner, not only are clean vehicles an enabler for a clean electricity grid at substantially lower capital investment, but the avoided costs of supporting renewables with stationary storage can be used to further accelerate the deployment of clean vehicles.”

The research shows that electric vehicles could help California grid operators adapt to the state’s rapid adoption of solar power, which is contributing to a problem known as the “duck curve”—a deep decrease in demand during midday hours, followed by a steep increase just as solar power fades away. The idea is that electric vehicles could help mitigate daytime overproduction and evening energy surges by charging into the grid at predetermined times and destinations throughout the day, when and where demand is low.

The researchers also looked at scenarios in which electric vehicles not only have controlled charging but also send back some of their energy into the grid through “vehicle-to-grid.” They estimated an offset of as much as $15.4 billion in stationary storage investment if just 30 percent of workplace chargers and 60 percent of home chargers allowed EVs to provide power to the grid.

Trump Repeals Rule to Cut Down on Transportation Emissions

The Federal Highway Administration on Wednesday published a notice in the Federal Register repealing a rule promulgated by the Obama administration that would have required states receiving federal dollars to account for and report greenhouse gas emissions created by cars traveling on their roads.

The rule, which temporarily went into effect last fall, required that state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations calculate how much and how many cars traveled their roads in order to establish greenhouse gas emissions targets, calculate their progress toward them, and report that progress to the Federal Highway Administration.

“While the GHG [greenhouse gas emissions] measure did not require States to reduce CO2 emissions, a State could feel pressured to change its mix of projects to reduce CO2 emissions,” the Federal Highway Administration wrote.

Study Examines Economic Benefits of Limiting Warming

Limiting global temperature rise to the Paris Agreement’s 2 degrees Celsius warming goal could save the world economy trillions of dollars, according to a new study in the journal Nature. The study, the first to examine how global economic output would be affected under different amounts of warming, concludes that meeting the 1.5 Celsius Paris Agreement goal—the more ambitious of the agreement’s two warming goals—would avoid $30 trillion in damages from heat waves, droughts and floods—a figure far greater than the cost of cutting emissions.

The study suggests that the global economy could generate an additional $20 trillion in gross domestic product compared to one in which temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius.

“By the end of the century the world would be about three percent wealthier,” said lead author Marshall Burke of Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, referencing the 1.5 degrees Celsius target relative to 2 degrees Celsius.

The study analyzed how gross domestic product over the last 50 years correlated with temperature changes and combined those findings with climate model projections of future temperatures to calculate how overall economic output may change under different warming scenarios.

“It is clear from our analysis that achieving the more ambitious Paris goal is highly likely to benefit most countries—and the global economy overall—by avoiding more severe economic damages,” said Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University.

Those countries benefiting from a warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius represent 90 percent of global population and include almost all the world’s poorest countries as well as the three biggest economies: the United States, China and Japan.

A study published in Nature Climate Change in March put the cost of meeting the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal at three times that of holding temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. The costs of the more stringent goal hit heavily in the near term, when deep cuts in transportation and buildings sector emissions would be required. The study did not, however, weigh those upfront costs against the greater economic costs associated with a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

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 replaced a 2015 executive order that directed federal agencies to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, instead asking agencies to set their own goals for efficiency.

The original executive order, signed by former President Barack Obama in 2015, aimed to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent in a decade. To do so, it asked agencies to reduce buildings’ energy use by 2.5 percent per year, shrink water use and use clean energy for 25 percent of their energy needs.

The new Trump executive order directs federal agencies to follow the laws related to energy use enacted by Congress “in a manner that increases efficiency, optimizes performance, eliminates unnecessary use of resources, and protects the environment. In implementing this policy, each agency shall prioritize actions that reduce waste, cut costs, enhance the resilience of Federal infrastructure and operations, and enable more effective accomplishment of its mission.”

Although the new order requires agencies to track their efforts in lowering energy use, it does not require them to set goals to limit greenhouse gases.

Report Paints Picture of Sea-Level Rise Risks to National Park Service Sites

A new report from the National Park Service (NPS) projects the risk of climate change-related sea-level rise and storm surge for each of 118 NPS sites situated on or near U.S. coasts. Using datasets from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the authors illustrate the potential for permanent coastal inundation and flooding under multiple greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Their research resulted in a collection of storm surge maps for each studied site.

According to those maps, the parks that will be hardest hit are along the southeast coastline. At risk for the highest sea-level rise is the NPS’s National Capital Region (Washington, D.C., area). At particular risk from storm surge are parks in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, within the Southeast Region.

“Human activities continue to release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm,” the report indicates. “Further warming of the atmosphere will cause sea levels to continue to rise, which will affect how we protect and manage our national parks.”

The authors highlight significant differences in how coastal areas in the vicinity of NPS sites will experience sea-level change—driven by factors such as variable ocean currents, coastal topography, and the influence of localized land elevation changes. Given those differences, the authors point to the need for site-specific information about local conditions that might influence sea-level rise and storm surge effects.

The final report makes multiple references to the role of humans in climate change. It became the subject of concern for science advocates and some in Congress after drafts obtained earlier this year by Reveal, the publication of The Center for Investigative Reporting, indicated that park service officials had removed those references.

China, NGOs Assess Paris Agreement Progress

China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, could meet its pledge to cap carbon emissions ahead of its 2030 schedule, according to China’s chief negotiator on the Paris Agreement in late 2015. Xie Zhenhua said China has already met several objectives it promised to fulfill by 2020, including cutting its carbon intensity by 40 percent to 45 percent three years early.

The Paris Agreement 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. The deadline for completing the Paris Agreement’s “rule book” is the November climate summit in Katowice, Poland. The agreement itself goes live in 2020.

Ahead of the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties, a number of organizations and NGOs have assessed progress toward the Paris Agreement’s goals. NGO Mission 2020, in a new report, focuses on how to attain the 1.5 degree goal. It outlines six milestones it suggests are critical to enable global peaking of emissions by 2020, including cities and states implementing policies and regulations to fully decarbonize buildings and infrastructure by 2050 and investment in climate action that surpasses $1 trillion U.S. dollars per year.

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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The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump on Friday tasked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to negotiate fuel economy standards with California officials.

Their orders are to “work with the industry and with the state of California on developing a single national standard so that domestic automakers do not have to comply with two different regulatory regimes,” said Helen Ferre, a White House spokesperson.

It is not at all clear, however, that California is interested in finding a compromise. California has vowed to stick to its own, stricter standards authorized under the Clean Air Act despite plans by the Trump administration to push back on fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards. On May 1, seventeen states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals over the EPA’s revisiting Obama-era vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards last month.

The Friday announcement came as automakers met with Trump to discuss a draft proposal developed by the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that The Hill reports would freeze fuel efficiency requirements at 2020 levels for five years. It’s a proposal with which the Trump administration may move forward, according to Reuters.

Study Points to Possible Policies to Preserve Nuclear Plants

Early nuclear plant closures in the United States will mean the loss of zero-carbon electricity, but a new report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) suggests state and federal policy options that could preserve existing nuclear power generation. The report finds that when they retire, nuclear reactors, which supply more than half of the country’s zero-emissions power, are being replaced by more carbon-intensive natural gas.

The report points to some operational and technological developments that might put nuclear plants on a firmer footing. First, electrification of other sectors of the economy could increase energy demand, easing pressure on larger and older energy plants like nuclear reactors. Second, midday nuclear power, which may not be needed when solar is available, could be stored as hydrogen and then used as fuel or feedstock. And third, nuclear plants that are paired with renewables could ramp up and down, following demand.

With federal policy to drive nuclear development in the near term unlikely, the report concludes that any long-term decarbonization strategy for the United States would entail policy support for both advanced nuclear and renewables.

“The nut we really want to crack is how renewables and nuclear can work together for each other’s mutual benefit,” tweeted report author Doug Vine, a C2ES senior energy fellow. “We need to have 80% reductions by 2050. We’re not going to get there if renewables and nuclear are fighting each other.”

To preserve the emissions benefits of nuclear energy, the report includes in its policy solutions

state-level policies such as expansion of state electricity portfolio standards to allow nuclear and renewables to work together on a level playing field to one another’s benefit as well as zero-emission credits, already being implemented in some states, to support distressed facilities. Other solutions offered by the report are license renewals by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would allow reactors to operate for 80 years; a “meaningful” price on carbon implemented in power markets; and increased pursuit by government agencies, cities and businesses of power purchase agreements, which give both buyers and sellers some certainty over a specified time period, for nuclear power.

DOE Plan Lays out Steps to Protect Grid from Cyber Threats

A new U.S. Department of Energy plan lays out steps to do more to protect the country’s energy systems and diminish energy interruptions due to the increasing scale, frequency and sophistication of cyber attacks.

“Energy cybersecurity is a national priority that demands the next wave of advanced technologies to create more secure and resilient systems needed for America’s future prosperity, vitality, and energy independence,” said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “The need to strengthen efforts to protect our critical energy infrastructure is why I am standing up the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER). Through CESER and programs like CEDS, the Department can best pursue innovative cybersecurity solutions to the cyber threats facing our Nation.”

The five-year plan focuses on strengthening preparedness, coordinating responses, and developing the next generation of resilient energy systems in line with the creation of a cybersecurity office—announced earlier this year—to help carry out activities to protect the grid from attack.

The plan calls for research and development into equipment and technologies that would “make future systems and components cybersecurity-award and able to automatically prevent, detect, mitigate, and survive a cyber incident.”

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

For the first time in recorded history, Earth has sustained an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in excess of 410 parts per million—a symbolic red line in the methodical upward march of greenhouse gas concentrations. The April Keeling Curve measurements at the Mauna Loa Observatory are 30 percent higher than the first Keeling Curve measurements, 315 parts per million, at the observatory in 1958, and 46 percent higher than concentrations recorded during the Industrial Revolution in 1880. They are the highest in the 800,000 years for which scientists have good data, thanks to paleoclimate records like tree rings and ice cores.

Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 Program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which monitors the readings and calculates the one-month averages, said the rate of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has been increasing faster in the last decade than in the 2000s.

“It’s another milestone in the upward increase in CO2 over time,” said Keeling, who is also the son of Charles David Keeling, creator of the Keeling Curve. “It’s up closer to some targets we don’t really want to get to, like getting over 450 or 500 ppm. That’s pretty much dangerous territory.”

Last year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate department reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2016 were at levels not seen on Earth for millions of years, when temperatures were 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and sea level was 50 to 80 feet higher than today.

Powelson Reflects on PJM Fuel Security Announcement, Defense Production Act

What are the primary drivers of change in the PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid for a 13-state region? Technology and people. That was the message from air and energy regulators from states in the PJM electricity market at an event co-sponsored by the Great Plains Institute and Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The event, keynoted by Robert Powelson of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), focused on change and the tensions revealed as different actors drive these changes or respond to their effects. Powelson reflected on PJM’s late April announcement that it will conduct a study to understand “fuel-supply risks in an environment trending towards greater reliance on natural gas.” PJM said it will conduct a three-phase analysis over several months to determine whether it can withstand a cyberattack on a natural gas delivery system or a prolonged cold snap.

Powelson cautioned that people should not read into PJM’s announcement that PJM may pay coal and nuclear generators to be backstops in the event of fuel delivery interruptions. “I think what PJM is saying is ‘we’re going to look at it and we’re going to do it in a market-based approach.’ There might be other technologies out there that have the same [fuel security] characteristics. It could be an oxidized fuel cell. It could be storage. It’s going to be a level playing field discussion. … It’s going to be done in a fuel-neutral, technology-neutral way.”

He called PJM’s capacity market proposal before FERC “a jump ball” aimed at neutralizing the effects of some state subsidies intended to prop up nuclear. PJM wants FERC to direct operators to update market compensation for power plants to reflect resilience attributes.

Powelson also touched on the U.S. Department of Energy plan to look into whether it can keep some struggling coal and nuclear plants operating by invoking the Defense Production Act—a 1950 law giving the president a broad range of power to require businesses to prioritize contracts for materials deemed vital to national security.

Invoking the act, Powelson said, “would lead to the unwinding of competitive markets in this country.”

Climate Talks Stall, U.N. Schedules Extra Sessions

As the latest round of Paris Agreement talks wind down May 10, delegates are marking their calendars for extra sessions to accomplish what they could not in Bonn, Germany, over the last two weeks: finalize the text of a rulebook for the agreement 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. On Monday, Executive Secretary of U.N. Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said producing a rulebook was impossible at the current conference.

“A single negotiating text. No,” said Espinosa. “That would really not be possible. It will all come together when it comes to the level of the COP [Conference of the Parties], of the conference in December.”

Given insufficient progress in Bonn, U.N. officials announced on Tuesday that they were adding a week-long session in Bangkok in September in order to meet the deadline for a rulebook at the main summit in Katowice, Poland, in December. Without that document, negotiators would have no basis for those talks.

Several issues stalled the Bonn negotiations. Most developed countries want to know how much climate funding they are committing to developing countries, which contributed the least to climate change but suffer its worst effects. They also want to understand how that funding will be adjusted to support countries’ progressive emissions reductions every five years. There is also pushback from developed countries on funding for climate impacts to which developing countries can no longer adapt.

At the Talanoa Dialogue, an international storytelling side event aimed at increasing global ambition to reduce climate change, State Department climate negotiator Kim Carnahan described President Donald Trump’s vision of a “balanced” global energy landscape and said the administration’s “position on the Paris Agreement remains unchanged,” a reference to Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. She maintained that the United States would ensure the viability of its nuclear power sector, currently its largest single source of no-carbon energy. Carnahan also noted the power sector carbon reductions that have accompanied increased natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing.

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

Hog waste is providing farmers and power companies with a new source of renewable natural gas, or what’s known as swine biogas. In North Carolina, the electric utility Duke Energy is capturing methane gas from the hog waste at area farms and piping it to a central location where the gas is cleaned and converted to pipeline-quality natural gas to meet a state-required mandate that 0.2 percent of energy come from hog waste by 2023.

The project kicked off late last month. Known as—OptimaKV—it uses a directed biogas approach to create enough renewable natural gas to power the equivalent of 1,000 homes a year.

“Optima KV is just the first of more projects where directed biogas will be used at Duke Energy power plants to create efficient renewable energy,” said David Fountain, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. “Getting projects to a meaningful scale is important as we advance this innovative technology.”

The Optima KV project follows a model designed in a 2013 study by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions that provided individual and centralized approaches for meeting North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard mandate for swine gas. The study, which used the similarly named Optima model, found the directed biogas approach could lower the cost of swine biogas to as little as 5 cents a kilowatt hour, or roughly the same price as solar power.

The potential for biogas as a renewable power source is also being explored by Duke University. The campus, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2024, held a forum Tuesday night to explore the alternative energy source.

“What’s so attractive is this dual dividend idea,” said Tanja Vujic, Duke University’s director of biogas strategy, of the university’s plan to displace conventional natural gas—now the primary fuel source for the university’s current steam plants—with methane from hog farms. “You [don’t] just destroy the methane, but [also] make something valuable in its destruction.”

Duke University led a pilot project in 2010 to test the viability of this kind of biogas at Loyd Ray Farms in Yadkinville, NC, and it is now in discussions with potential suppliers to expand biogas production and delivery to the campus.

Southern Company Announces Decarbonization Strategy

At the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Future of Energy Summit, Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning announced plans for the company to continue to transition away from coal-fired power plants to “low-to-no-carbon” electricity sources by 2050.

“We are transitioning the fleet,” Fanning said. “The dominant solutions will be nuclear … there will be renewables.”

Although few other details about the company’s decarbonization strategy were shared, Fanning told EnergyWire that more particulars about the transition of its fleet will be announced at the company’s next annual meeting.

Concentrated in four Southeastern states, Southern Company is responsible for nearly a quarter of the carbon pollution from southeastern utilities. The announcement makes Southern Company the first large utility in the region to publicly endorse a no-carbon pollution goal.

PJM to FERC: Rule on Proposals for Accommodating State Subsidies in Capacity Market

The PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Midwest region, on Monday asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to determine how the wholesale electric capacity market should handle state subsidies for power generators, whether aging nuclear and coal-fired plants or renewables sources such as wind and solar, and to issue an order by June 29.

“Left unaddressed the subsidies will crowd out efficient, competitive resources and shift to consumers the investment and operational risks of generation,” said PJM CEO Andrew Ott. “We seek the appropriate balance that respects state policy while avoiding policy impacts of a state’s subsidies on the market as a whole and on other states.”

The grid operator and some power producers have argued that subsidized generators are entering into the annual PJM capacity market, which allows utilities and other electricity suppliers to purchase power three years in advance, at prices below their actual generation costs, lowering overall market prices and potentially forcing other competitors to shutter their operations.

In a filing to FERC, the PJM asked the agency to decide between two proposals to deal with the issue and to identify which aspects of the proposals need to be revised, rather than send the issue to “trial-type proceedings.” One proposal—capacity repricing—would create a two-stage capacity auction to accommodate state subsidies without distorting market prices. All generators would participate in the first stage, and payments to subsidized plants that win in that round would be reduced in the second stage. The second proposal, which is preferred by some PJM member companies, involves removing the effect of subsidies from offers into the capacity market by effectively extending the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR). Subsidized bids would be changed to reflect unsubsidized costs, as a result of which some subsidized plants might lose their capacity payment.

One clue about how FERC may view the proposals is offered by its March 2018 decision on Independent System Operator-New England capacity market reform. In that decision, FERC approved a two-part capacity market but designated the MOPR as the “standard solution” for dealing with subsidized resources in the absence of other policies.

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.

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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The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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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The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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.