UCS Blog - Clean Energy (text only)

Illinois’ Energy Future: Less Coal, More Renewables

Photo: US Air Force

Yesterday the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency submitted a proposal to set stricter air pollution limits in the ongoing state rulemaking over Dynegy-Vistra’s fleet of coal-fired power plants in Illinois.

The proposal is a good thing for lowering harmful air pollution. Dynegy-Vistra has also discussed the possibility of retiring some of its remaining coal-fired units in the near future.

Coupled with the recently-introduced Clean Energy Jobs Act (SB2132/HB3624) pending before the Illinois General Assembly, the state’s path toward cleaner, healthier energy is taking shape.

Why Illinois’ multi-pollutant standard is important

Originally enacted in 2007, the state environmental regulation known as the MPS limits how much of the harmful air pollutants sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides Dynegy-Vistra’s coal plants can spew into the air.

In 2017 and 2018, the Illinois EPA, under then-Governor Bruce Rauner, supported a Dynegy-Vistra proposal to significantly change and weaken the MPS. The Illinois Pollution Control Board modified the proposal in October but the proposed changes still contained public health risks, as pointed out in testimony I submitted on behalf of environmental and health advocates in December.

This January, the Illinois EPA under new Governor J.B. Pritzker, requested an opportunity to re-evaluate the Board’s modified proposal which led to yesterday’s filing by Illinois EPA proposing lower pollution caps.

My colleague Jessica Collingsworth and I previously examined the public health concerns under earlier versions of the MPS rulemaking proposals. We also discussed in detail the public health impacts of Illinois coal-fired power plants in last fall’s Soot to Solar report. It’s clear that lower pollution caps on coal plants are a good thing for cleaner air and a healthier environment.

The path ahead: The MPS and the clean energy jobs act

Assuming the Illinois Pollution Control Board adopts Illinois EPA’s revised proposal, the MPS will hopefully continue as a meaningful limit on air pollutants from Dynegy-Vistra’s coal-fired power plants.

And if Dynegy proceeds to retire some of those plants, which will eliminate significant amounts of climate change pollution, the company should also ensure that workers at those plants are treated fairly and that transition plans are developed with affected communities such as the E.D. Edwards Power Station in Bartonville, Illinois.

In the state capitol, the legislature also has before it bills proposed by Dynegy-Vistra designed to charge ratepayers to increase the company’s revenues and keep old, uneconomic coal plants afloat.

A better path is provided by the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, which was introduced in February and has provisions to expand renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage while also putting the state on a path to further reduce fossil fuels in the power sector.

By keeping the MPS strong with respect to air pollution limits, and enacting policies like the Clean Energy Jobs Act to keep clean energy growing in Illinois, we can keep the state moving toward its cleaner, healthier energy future.

Ask your state legislator to co-sponsor and support the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Coalition (of which UCS is a member) is working to get all 177 legislators to support the bill.

Photo: US Air Force

What’s Hot in Offshore Wind: 5 Dispatches from the Front Lines

Credit: J. Rogers/UCS

Here’s the latest on offshore wind, in 5 quick bites: Projects, pull, protections, power, and people. For America’s newest renewable energy source, the pieces are coming together nicely.

1. Projects: Rhode Island approves Massachusetts offshore wind project

The offshore wind project poised to be the first Massachusetts one out the gate—and maybe the first large-scale one in the US—hit a snag a few weeks back, as it seemed unable to reach an agreement with a key stakeholder in a neighboring state. The Fishermen’s Advisory Board in Rhode Island was threatening to throw a big wrench in the permitting process of the Vineyard Wind project, by hurting the project’s chances to get a required sign-off from the Ocean State’s Coastal Resources Management Council.

A recently announced agreement, though, will see millions of dollars going to commercial fishermen to compensate them for perceived impacts on their businesses—and helped garner a thumbs-up from the council. More.

Plus: In New York, four offshore wind developers submitted a range of bids last month in response to that state’s search for its first 800 MW.

2. Pull: New York ups the offshore wind ante—in a big way

Project announcements seem set to be coming more and more frequently as states compete to attract offshore wind (and related jobs) with the market “pull” of action by legislatures and governors. Requirements from Massachusetts (1,600 MW), New York (2,400 MW), and New Jersey (3,500 MW), combined with other states’ procurements underway, and a likely doubling-down by Massachusetts, put the total for offshore-wind-on-the-way at some 10,000 MW.

But New York has decided that bigger is even better. As part of his latest ambitious state-of-the-state package, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a move to almost quadruple the state’s target, to a stunning 9,000 MW by 2035. More.

Plus: Legislatures in other states are looking at higher offshore wind targets themselves. In Massachusetts, for example, different bills would up the state’s existing requirement by 1,600, 2,000, or 2,800 MW (or even more in conjunction with other New England states). And Connecticut has bills already moving through the legislature that would put in place offshore wind requirements of 1,000 or 2,000 MW.

3. Protections: Conservation groups and Vineyard Wind agree on whales

As offshore wind takes off in the US, a really important piece of getting it right is making sure that endangered species are properly protected. And a key species along the Eastern Seaboard is the North Atlantic right whale, of which there are only around 400 left.

So it was great to hear that some of the most important conservation organizations active in this space had reached an agreement with Vineyard Wind on how best to protect right whales. Here’s a piece of the announcement:

Vineyard Wind and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation, and Conservation Law Foundation today entered into an unprecedented agreement to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Under the historic agreement, Vineyard Wind will institute a variety of protective measures to keep right whales safe while installing and operating turbines at its proposed 84-turbine project off the coast of Massachusetts. Harnessing offshore wind is a key step in transitioning the nation away from dirty, polluting fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.

More here.

Plus: That effort has now broadened into a set of “Best Management Practices” for right whales and offshore wind, from those and other environmental organizations.

4. Power: Innovation keeps happening

Offshore wind technology keeps evolving, as proponents look to continue to bring down costs with greater scale, and look to expand the range of options for deploying offshore wind.

One important recent development is the ongoing increase in wind turbine sizes. The South Fork Wind Farm, planned as a 90-MW project, has now increased its expected output to 130 MW—with the same number of turbines and the same layout—just by swapping out 6-MW turbines for 8.6 MW ones. Vineyard Wind has inked a deal for even larger turbines, each 9.5 MW—60% more powerful than those in America’s first offshore wind farm off Block Island. More and more.

Plus: In the what’s-over-the-horizon category (literally, actually), the US Department of Energy has just announced it’s looking to invest almost $30 million in “new and potentially disruptive” innovations to enable more floating offshore wind turbines.

5. People: The heart of it all

Of course, none of the progress that we expect, hope for, and need in offshore wind is possible without the people to make it possible—and academic institutions to empower them. So it was particularly good to see an op-ed in papers around New England from a range of university personnel highlighting the importance of workforce development, including this:

New England’s colleges and universities can and will help this industry grow even beyond what existing public policy envisions. Our professors, students, and graduates will help ensure a robust offshore wind industry is built with minimal impact on the marine environment and maximum benefit for our economy and environment. As we educate the leaders of tomorrow, we need to build an industry that will keep our graduates in New England.

More here.

Progress

For US offshore wind, these pieces are crucial for realizing our potential. And the progress is palpable and empowering.

And, in case you’re looking for even more inspiration, one more tidbit from the broader world of offshore wind: The first turbine is now producing electricity in what will be the largest offshore wind farm in the world—almost twice as big as the current market leader.

Progress!

Photo: Kim Hansen/Wikimedia Commons Photo: NOAA.gov Photo: Ad Meskens

A Comment Guide for Fighting the EPA’s Attacks on Mercury Standards and Cost-Benefit Analysis

Download the public comment guide. 

A couple of days after Christmas last year, during the federal government shut-down, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler somehow found time to issue a pernicious proposal to undermine a crucial clean air rule, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for coal-fired power plants.

More insidiously, the proposal is an attack on long-standing legal, economic and regulatory precedent on cost-benefit analysis—and as a result could have far-reaching consequences for many other public health protections. That’s why we’re asking experts–and anybody who cares about science and public health—to weigh in and submit comments on this proposal by April 17.

UCS has just issued a new public comment guide to support those efforts.

Attendees at a December 2011 hearing on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. The EPA’s Clean Air Act standards protect the health of all Americans, especially our children. Photo: USEPA/Flickr

What’s behind the EPA proposal?

The 2012 MATS standard for coal-fired power plants was aimed at addressing the single largest industrial source of mercury at the time. The standards also limit other hazardous air pollutants, including hydrogen chloride, arsenic, chromium, cadmium, and nickel. These toxic pollutants can cause or contribute to neurological damage in developing fetuses, chronic respiratory diseases, various cancers, and other severe damage to human health and ecosystems.

These first-ever standards came 30 (!) years after Congress directed the EPA to study the public health threat of air toxics from coal-fired power plants, and to limit this pollution under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act if the EPA found regulation “appropriate and necessary.” The agency made and confirmed that determination several times, including in 2016 as part of a detailed supplementary finding where the agency specifically took costs of compliance into account.

Now the EPA is seeking to undermine MATS by reversing the prerequisite finding that this regulation is “appropriate and necessary.” The agency is basing its current proposal on a deeply flawed and narrow evaluation of the costs and benefits of this standard, essentially inflating its costs and stripping down its benefits, to deliver an outcome firmly tilted in favor of polluters.

For more on the EPA’s attack on MATS, please read UCS Executive Director Kathy Rest’s recent blog posts here and here.

Eviscerating the value of health benefits

How significant are the public health benefits of implementing MATS? Well, in 2011 the EPA estimated that once MATS was in place, each year 11,000 fewer people would die prematurely and there would be 130,000 fewer asthma attacks and and 4,700 fewer heart attacks—resulting in monetized savings on the order of $37 billion to $90 billion each year. Meanwhile they estimated costs to be on the order of $7.4 to $9.6 billion annually.

A big part of why MATS is so valuable to public health is that the same technologies and measures that help limit mercury and other toxic pollutants also help limit other harmful pollutants that are produced when coal is burnt, especially fine particulate matter (PM2.5). This simultaneous and significant reduction in multiple harmful pollutants is a major bonus for public health, worth billions of dollars annually.

Now, however, the agency is trying to ignore these clear public health benefits and focusing instead on a narrow definition of benefits that only considers the benefits from reducing the directly targeted pollutants (mercury and other air toxics) while completely eliminating the significant co-benefits of PM reductions.

What’s more, data from the US Energy Information Administration also show that the power sector’s actual costs of complying with MATS turned out to be far lower than initially estimated. The EPA’s current proposal ignores these recent data, however, and still uses the older, higher cost numbers from its 2011 regulatory impact analysis for MATS.

Far-reaching consequences

The craziest part of all this is that the EPA is attacking the essential foundation of MATS while claiming to leave the standard itself in place.

In a sense it has no choice: virtually all coal-fired power plants are already in compliance with MATS and utilities have already made the necessary investments in pollution control technologies. The reality is that MATS is already a fait accompli.

So why take this action now?

The Wheeler EPA has its eyes set on the more far-reaching and consequential effects of finalizing this proposal. Specifically, formalizing this distorted method of cost-benefit analysis would make it easier to weaken a range of regulations under the Clean Air Act and other public health laws, including the agency’s actions to regulate global warming emissions.

And regardless of what the agency claims, it does also put MATS on precarious ground. The end result of finalizing this egregious proposal could very well be that MATS is rescinded. It could even go as far as creating a risk that the agency removes power plants from the list of sources regulated under section 112 of the Clean Air Act (which addresses hazardous air pollutants like mercury). The agency itself acknowledges these risks by seeking comment on these specific issues in the proposal.

Taken together, these potential impacts would be a huge blow to public health—and a boon to polluters.

Send your comments to the EPA!

The mission of the EPA is to protect public health and the environment, which makes it hard to believe that the agency actually wants to argue against the value of limiting harmful emissions of mercury and air toxics—but that’s exactly what the EPA under the Trump administration is seeking to do.

If any of this sounds ludicrous to you, it should. (And you’ll probably find grim solace in my colleague Julie’s scathing takedown of rulemaking in the Trump era.)

But you can do something about it: your comments are vital to restoring science to the rule-making process. If you’re a public health expert, a legal scholar, an economist specializing in cost-benefit analysis, an expert who sees the everyday impacts of toxic pollution in your community, or a parent who worries about the impacts of mercury on children, your voice matters.

We realize that regulatory proposals and rule-making processes can be complicated, so we’ve broken it down for you in an easy-to-use comment guide. In it, we’ve highlighted four key areas for your comments and provided more information related to each of them. They include the EPA:

  • refusing to consider all benefits when evaluating the “worth” of a rule;
  • ignoring unquantified direct benefits of reducing air toxics;
  • relying on outdated information and disregarding new information; and
  • undermining the public health gains from MATS and potentially other public health protections.

Detailed, individual comments that draw on your expertise and experience are of greatest value. Were this rule to face legal challenge (which is a virtual certainty if the proposal is finalized), the EPA will have to reckon with the record of substantive comments in court.

Tell Administrator Wheeler to take back this harmful proposal and leave MATS, and its underlying foundation, in place. The public health protections we rely on are at stake.

Photo: SvetaZi/iStock USEPA/Flickr

Getting to 100% Clean Energy—and the Grid Operators that Stand in the Way

If we are going to fulfill the growing commitments from states, cities, and corporations for clean energy, we are going to need explicit action in the right direction. The electricity industry mixes private and public interests, so a combination of public policies and markets has been the norm in utility regulation for the past 100 years. Now, this is an important place for the fight to reduce fossil fuel use and increase renewable energy.

Transition to renewable energy takes place in a governing framework. Recent debates over “fuel security,” “resilience,” and “the changing energy mix” reveal how electricity service is laden with the public interest. Our utility regulatory framework already deals with the costs of a monopoly and the costs to avoid possible power outages. Regulators watch for prudent costs and non-priced “externalities” that affect society such as safety, health and reliability. Public policies set by public governing bodies balance these issues.

Without regulatory oversight of expenses, a utility can collect money to build and operate for ever more reliability. To keep this from getting too complicated, policymakers often seek focused and measurable requirements or standards. Present practices at PJM, the grid market operator in 13 states from Illinois to New Jersey and North Carolina, are costing $200 million to $2 billion per year, before the next “fuel security” gets layered on top.

Standards for reliability exist

Electric system reliability is closely watched. The largest electric utility investments are in power plants used collectively by all the consumers in an area. The adequacy of the supply from power plants is the most common measure of reliability, and every utility compares supply to demand for electricity. For at least 50 years, utilities and regulators have used a standard of “one day of shortage in ten years” for judging adequacy of electricity supply. This probability estimates risks in the forecast and provides a reserve, or margin for unexpected incidents that would affect both supply and demand.  Without such a standard, the utility industry has incentives to keep building and operating power plants without any means to judge if the added expense is needed.

Addressing externalities with policies

Most of the environmental harm and impacts on communities from building new power

plants and continued operation of old, polluting power plants are externalities, outside the price paid for electricity. Utilities are governed by public entities to deal with these external costs. Cost reviews and environmental standards help define how the utility can raise consumer rates for the costs to meet standards.

As fuel types change and debates shift, there are still private interests and public policymakers. PJM, along with another grid operator in New England, has been having trouble with public policies for clean energy, in addition to also having trouble with market prices favoring natural gas as fuel for electric power plants over coal and nuclear. The market operators PJM and ISO-New England are disqualifying renewable energy from being counted in the capacity market as a supply. That means that as states meet renewable energy laws and corporate buyers add wind and solar, PJM and ISO-NE have policies that continue to pay redundant fossil generation to meet demand and hide the amount of renewables on the grid. This adds costs and delays the retirement of fossil-fired plants and their carbon emissions.

A wind farm in winter (credit: Vermont Environmental Research Associates, Inc.)

PJM and ISO-NE argue that there are other values and attributes to other energy resources that deserve higher payments. PJM has changed the definition of a qualified supply to be year-round, discarding the summer peak as the driver of peak demand. PJM and ISO-NE now want to reward plants that have “secure fuel.” Already, PJM and ISO-NE provide a variety of payments to power plants to provide energy, or be ready to provide energy, or to change their energy production on short notice. The definition of these “products and services” other than energy have been debated and changed pretty much continuously since the markets were launched 20 years ago. (One stakeholder counted 40 requests made by PJM to FERC to change the capacity market rules.)

The trend from PJM in the last few years has been hostile to clean energy. The newest of PJM’s policy shifts favoring “fuel security” is aimed at reducing the dominance of natural gas. But as happens often in PJM, this also disadvantages wind, solar, demand response and the latest in new technology, energy storage. PJM’s premise is that a whole series of improbable events might happen to stress the supply and the gas generators.

But PJM finds the power grid would still be reliable. The PJM analysis says the power system would be fine if a combination of particularly bad things happen all at once: the weather was colder than 1 in 20 years, the market does not replace closing power plants with new plant investment of any kind, and during the cold snap the gas pipelines are overloaded and start to explode (PJM uses the term “high-impact disruption”). PJM’s view of supplies for theoretical cold snaps misses lessons from wind contributions in 2011 in Texas and 2014 in PJM.

Wait, the analysis says reliability is OK?

The PJM reporting on this says upfront: “The PJM system is reliable today and will remain reliable into the future. While there is no imminent threat, fuel security is an important component of reliability and resilience—especially if multiple risks come to fruition. The findings underscore the importance of PJM exploring proactive measures to value fuel security attributes, and PJM believes this is best done through competitive wholesale markets.”

And yet we need to fix this?

PJM is taking the stakeholders through a process to make new changes to its market. PJM hasn’t offered any probabilities to the events it calls improbable, other than the extreme cold. But this isn’t the first time PJM focused on the gas supply delivered by pipelines. In 2015 PJM found “Gas sector infrastructure improvements have resulted in much greater operational flexibility across the pipelines and storage infrastructure that heighten the resiliency of the network to compensate for highly disruptive gas-side contingencies.”

Now PJM notes: “there is no common planning standard similar to what is required for the planning of the bulk electric system.”

Overbuilding every day, making policy as it goes

The PJM power supply has a persistent fat reserve margin, plus numerous clean energy sources it doesn’t count that boost its safety margins even further. PJM meets the one-day-in-ten-years standard with its “Reliability Pricing Model” (RPM, aka capacity market). PJM makes calculations and estimates of peak demand plus a reserve margin to determine how much capacity it needs. In doing so, the regulated private utility starts acting like a policymaker.

PJM manages the eligibility, bid prices, and clearing mechanics of its RPM auction. An intertwined set of PJM practices interfere with prices in the energy market and elevate the capacity market. PJM has made changes (40 by some count) to manage the capacity market. The trend of these changes is to spend more on fossil generators, obtain more generator-based supplies, and ensure asset owners have steady revenues.

The cumulative results of these changes is overbuilding, and greater expenditures for reliability. Instead of a reserve margin that provides one day in ten years probability, PJM’s practices are providing an estimated probability of one day in 100 years, with annual costs of $200 million to $2 billion more per year than the standard requires. The results from recent capacity market procurements show PJM is spending to exceed the 16% needed reserve margins to reach reserve margins of 20% (2015), 21% (2018), 22% (2016) and 23% (2017).

Summarize please

The policy-setting done by public, transparent organizations regarding the reliability of the electric grid, and the shift to include more renewable energy, is being trampled by PJM. The costs fall on consumers. Other regions have adopted some or none of these practices. The states and locally-controlled utilities that have voluntarily joined PJM should be asking who is in charge, how are they following their mandates, and whether or not will this lead where we want to go.

Photo: Vine House Farm/Public domain (Flickr)

3 Key Facts on the Participation of Women in Renewable Energy

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The International Women´s Day commemorates efforts to promote the equitable participation of women in society. Even though this celebration started in some countries in Europe in 1910, it was not institutionalized until 1975 by the United Nations (UN).

It has been more than a century after its first celebration and almost half a century after the UN invited states to declare the International Day of Women’s Rights. So, what progress have women made in the renewable energy industry?

Here I share 3 key facts:Women represent 32% of the global renewable energy workforce

Women representation in traditional energy, renewable energy and global workforce

Globally, the renewable energy industry has more women representation (32%) than traditional energy industries like oil and gas (22%). However, this figure is considerably lower than the women’s participation in the global labor market (48%).

In the case of US solar, 28% of the industry’s workforce was female in 2016, compared to 2018, where the participation of about 64 thousand women was equivalent to 26% of the workforce. The numbers show us that there is a weak representation of women in the solar workforce.

Women represent 28% of the roles in STEM in the renewable energy industry worldwide

Shares of Women in STEM, non-STEM and administrative jobs in renewable energy

Women representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in the renewable energy industry is only 28%, compared to 45% in administrative roles. This shows a clear imbalance in the participation of women in the value chain of the renewable energy industry.

A recent McKinsey survey conducted in the US showed that the higher up the corporate ladder, the fewer women you find. 48% of entry level positions were represented by women, going down to 39% to 34% in management roles, 30% for vice presidential positions, and just 23% for executive-suite roles.

The renewable industry should promote the participation of women in leadership positions in order to enjoy the benefits offered by a diverse workforce. They include new perspectives, better financial returns, better understanding of customers, and improvements in the work environment.

More than 70% of women perceive a gender wage gap in the renewable industry globally

Beliefs about pay equity among women and men.

A recent survey led by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) that included more than 1,500 participants from 144 countries found that 71% of women perceive payment inequities among women and men. In comparison, just 38% of men perceive such inequity. Studies confirm this perception.

Research on the participation of women in Germany’s solar workforce identified that women continue earning less money than their male counterparts.

Ingresos de al menos $75/Hr por género y raza

Similar situations are reported in the US solar worksforce. In 2017, just 1 in 5 white women (20%) and almost 1 in 20 women of color (4%) reported earning wages of at least $75 per hour. In comparison, 1 in 3 white men reported earning this hourly wage.

Greater transparency with respect to salary scales and professional careers within organizations is a vital step to achieve equity in payments, salary increases, bonuses and promotions.

Renewables: a growing industry that needs to integrate a diverse workforce

In commemoration of International Women’s Day, these numbers serve as a reminder of efforts that began more than 100 years ago to ensure women’s participation under equitable conditions, and the work that is still ahead in the renewable energy industry.

The industry had a global workforce of more than 10 million workers and by 2050 this number is expected to triple. It is essential that this growth comes hand-in-hand with inclusive practices that reflect in the workforce the communities that the industry serves. This will undoubtedly contribute to advancing not only the rights of women and other diverse groups, but will also yield better performance for companies, thanks to highly competitive, committed, and motivated teams.

IRENA IRENA online survey, 2018 IRENA online gender survey, 2018 The Solar Foundation

3 Cifras Claves Sobre la Participación de la Mujer en la Energía Renovable

En la conferencia ANDREC 2018 con líderes de la industria de energía renovable en las Américas. De izquierda a derecha: Natalia Gomez (Light4Education), Monica Gasta (SER Colombia), María Urrea (MEICO), Olga de Narvaez (IADB), Cristina Clavijo (Mujeres en Energía Renovable Latinoamérica), Paula García (UCS), Carolina García (Bavaria)

El Día Internacional de la Mujer conmemora la lucha de la mujer por su participación en la sociedad en condiciones de equidad. Aunque esta celebración inició en algunos países de Europa desde 1910, solo hasta 1975 fue institucionalizada por la Organización de las Naciones Unidas (ONU).

A más de un siglo de su primera celebración y a casi medio siglo que la ONU invitara a los Estados a declarar el Día Internacional de los Derechos de la Mujer, ¿cómo ha avanzado la participación de la mujer en la creciente industria de energía renovable?

Acá les comparto 3 cifras claves

  • Las mujeres representan el 32% de la fuerza laboral global en la industria de energía renovable

Representación de la mujer en la industria energética, la industria de renovables y el mercado laboral

A nivel global hay mayor participación de la mujer en la industria de energía renovable (32%), en comparación con industrias tradicionales de energía como el petróleo y el gas (22%). Sin embargo, esta cifra es considerablemente inferior al casi 50% de participación de la mujer en el mercado laboral global.

En el caso de la energía solar en los EE.UU., en 2016 hubo mayor participación de mujeres en la industria solar con casi un 28% de representación, en comparación con el año 2018 donde la participación de cerca de 64 mil mujeres fue equivalente al 26% de la fuerza laboral. Los números nos muestran que hay una débil representación de la mujer en la fuerza laboral de la industria solar.

  • Las mujeres representan el 28% de los roles en STEM de la industria de renovables a nivel mundial

Participación de las mujeres en diferentes roles de la industria de energía renovable

La representación de mujeres en áreas relacionadas con la ciencia, tecnología, ingeniería y matemáticas (STEM, por sus siglas en inglés) en la industria de energía renovable es tan sólo del 28%, en comparación con un 45% en roles administrativos. Esto muestra un claro desbalance en la participación de la mujer en la cadena de valor de la industria de energía renovable.

En efecto, una reciente encuesta de McKinsey en los EE.UU. mostró que entre más se asciende en la escala corporativa, hay menos probabilidades de encontrar mujeres. 48% de empleos para principiantes estaban en cabeza de mujeres, a nivel gerencial la participación de las mujeres bajó de 39 a 34%, a nivel de vicepresidencia a 30% y en cuanto a posiciones de presidencia o cargos ejecutivos a tan sólo un 23%.

La industria de energía renovable debe promover la participación de las mujeres en posiciones de liderazgo para así gozar los beneficios que brinda una fuerza de trabajo diversa como nuevas perspectivas, mejores rendimientos financieros, mejor entendimiento de los clientes y mejoras en el clima organizacional.

  • Más del 70% de las mujeres perciben inequidad salarial en la industria de energía renovable a nivel mundial

Percepción sobre equidad en pagos en la industria de renovables a nivel mundial

Una reciente encuesta liderada por la Agencia Internacional de Energía Renovable (IRENA, por sus siglas en inglés) que incluyó 1.500 participantes en 144 países, reveló que el 71% de las mujeres entrevistadas perciben inequidad salarial. Esto, en comparación con un 38% de hombres entrevistados que reportó percibir dicha inequidad. En este sentido, los estudios confirman la percepción de las mujeres entrevistadas por IRENA.

Por ejemplo, una investigación sobre la situación laboral de las mujeres en la industria de energía renovable en Alemania encontró que las mujeres continúan ganando menos dinero en comparación con los hombres.

Situación similar se presenta en la fuerza laboral de la industria de energía solar en los

Ingresos de al menos $75/Hr por género y raza

EE.UU. En el 2017, sólo una de cada 5 mujeres de raza blanca (on un 20%) y aproximadamente sólo 1 de cada 20 mujeres de minorías étnicas y raciales (o un 4%) ganaba un sueldo por hora superior a 75 dólares. En comparación, 1 de cada 3 hombres de raza blanca reportó recibir este sueldo.

Mayor transparencia con respecto a las escalas salariales y carreras profesionales al interior de las organizaciones es un paso vital para lograr equidad de remuneración en salarios, aumentos, bonos y promociones.

Las renovables: una industria en crecimiento a tiempo de integrar una fuerza laboral cada vez más diversa

En conmemoración del Día Internacional de la Mujer, estas cifras sirven de recordatorio de una lucha que empezó hace más de 100 años y que aun continúa para asegurar la participación de la mujer en condiciones de equidad, en este caso en la industria de energía renovable.

En el 2017 la industria contaba a nivel global con más de 10 millones de trabajadores y para el 2050 se espera que este número sea triplicado. Es fundamental que este crecimiento de las renovables venga de la mano de prácticas incluyentes que reflejen en la fuerza laboral a las comunidades que la industria sirve. Esto sin duda contribuirá a avanzar no sólo los derechos de las mujeres y otros grupos diversos, sino a generar mayores rendimientos financieros y mejorar el desempeño en las empresas gracias a equipos de trabajo altamente competitivos, comprometidos y motivados.

IRENA IRENA online survey, 2018 IRENA online gender survey, 2018 The Solar Foundation

100% Clean Electricity in Washington State: Everything You Need To Know

Photo: Juliwatson /Pixabay

Washington state’s lawmakers are contemplating the transition to 100% clean electricity. Fortunately, Washington’s grid is already one of the cleanest in the nation, with much of its electricity coming from hydropower. So what exactly does “100% clean electricity” mean for the state? How would this transition affect Washington’s economy? And why should Washington do this in the first place?

What “100% clean” means

The current electricity mix in Washington state is very clean already. Roughly two-thirds of Washington’s electricity comes from hydropower, but there’s still a problem. Nearly a quarter of Washington’s electricity comes from fossil fuels. Electricity generated from coal and natural gas accounts for a fifth of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions. With that in mind, 100% clean electricity means 100% carbon-free electricity. Carbon-free electricity will require ratcheting down the use of fossil fuels and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. The state can do that by generating electricity from carbon-free resources (such as wind and solar) or reducing demand for electricity by investing in energy efficiency.

Roughly two-thirds of the state’s electricity comes from hydropower, but a quarter still comes from fossil fuels, namely coal and natural gas. Data is for 2017 from the Washington State Department of Commerce.

The transition will be easier for some electric utilities than for others. For example, Puget Sound Energy, Washington’s biggest utility, gets almost 60% of its electricity from coal and natural gas. Replacing all that electricity with energy from carbon-free sources will require a continued shift in investments.

On the other hand, some utilities, such as Seattle City Light and Tacoma Power, already get more than 95% of their electricity from carbon-free sources. These utilities will have less work to do to reach 100% carbon-free electricity. Instead, they will serve as examples, demonstrating that 100% carbon-free electricity is well within reach.

The clean economy

Transitioning to 100% clean electricity will have countless benefits, especially for Washington’s economy.

While the most common objection is that transitioning to 100% carbon-free electricity will cost too much, that is simply not true. Renewable energy from wind and solar is often cheaper than energy from natural gas and coal. Financially speaking, renewable energy just makes sense. To demonstrate this further, a study conducted for the Washington governor’s office showed that rapidly decarbonizing all sectors of Washington’s economy (not just the electricity sector, but also transportation, industry, etc.) could be achieved at reasonable cost. It’s very clear: 100% carbon-free electricity will not break the bank.

As Washington invests in new energy infrastructure – building wind turbines, solar farms, energy storage and transmission lines – many jobs will be created in the process. Research indicates that investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency create three times more jobs than investments in fossil fuel infrastructure. Furthermore, jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency are good jobs, built to last.

In short, working towards 100% clean electricity won’t cost too much, and it will bring more good jobs to Washington state.

Why should Washington do this in the first place?

Workers construct massive wind turbine in Colorado. Photo: US Department of Energy

If for some reason you’re not convinced by the creation of good jobs in Washington, there’s another important reason to make the transition to 100% carbon-free electricity: preventing climate change.

Climate change is already affecting Washington in numerous ways. For example, climate change has led to record-breaking that have blanketed the state in smoke the past few summers, and it has acidified the ocean, threatening Washington’s shellfish industry. Unfortunately, this may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Carlton Complex Fire in north central Washington. Photo: US National Guard

This past year we saw a number of sobering new reports on climate change, including the Fourth National Climate Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report. These reports set off alarm bells, demonstrating the urgency of reducing our global warming emissions fast.

Transitioning to 100% carbon-free electricity in Washington would significantly reduce the state’s global warming emissions, and not a moment too soon.

What is Washington waiting for?

Luckily, Washington is not waiting. (And neither are many other states!) Senate Bill 5116 was passed in the Washington state Senate on March 1st, so it just needs to pass the House before it makes it to the Governor’s desk. This bill will phase out electricity generated from coal by the end of 2025, and it will set a goal for all electricity to be 100% carbon-free by 2045.

If all goes well, it’s only a matter of time before Washington takes another major step towards a carbon-free electricity sector, creating good jobs and preventing climate change in the process.

Photo: Juliwatson /Pixabay

From Minnesota to Louisiana, Renewables are Poised for Dramatic Growth, but…

Every so often I take a look at the interconnection queue of the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator (MISO) that shows the mix of new generation resources applying to connect to MISO’s transmission system that extends across much of the central U.S. MISO operates this extensive transmission network, maintaining reliable electricity supply and operating the region’s wholesale electricity markets. Last updated on January 31st, MISO’s interconnection queue summary shows how wind and solar resources are dominating interconnection applications and foreshadowing a historic transition to clean energy resources.

As of January 31st, there is 72,000 megawatts MW of new wind and solar resources in MISO’s interconnection queue, including more than 64,000 MW of new wind and solar projects. To put this in perspective, MISO’s summer peak is about 130,000 MW. Taking a bit of a closer look at the numbers, some exciting observations can be made.

MISO’s January 2019 summary of projects awaiting approval to interconnect to the system included more than 64,000 megawatts of wind and solar resources spread across the central U.S. Source: MISO

Utility-scale solar is everywhere!

Approximately:

  • 9,000 MW spread across Illinois, Indiana and eastern Missouri
  • 8,000 MW spread across Arkansas, Louisiana, western Mississippi, and a bit of eastern Texas
  • 4,000 MW in eastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
  • 4,000 MW spread across Minnesota, Iowa, western Wisconsin and the Dakotas, and
  • 3,000 MW in Michigan’s lower peninsula.
Wind keeps going in Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas

About 20,000 MW of wind is looking to interconnect across these wind-rich states, continuing the growth trajectory that we’ve seen over the past decade.

Battery storage is looking attractive to investors

There’s now almost 500 MW of battery storage projects in MISO’s interconnection queue – nearly all of it applying for interconnection in the past year. Battery storage has enormous potential to provide a wide range of benefits to the grid – and ultimately to consumers – and the opportunities for investment are projected to grow significantly over the coming years.

Now here’s the tough news.

Even under ideal circumstances, some of this renewable energy wouldn’t ultimately make it onto the grid as projects withdraw for a variety of financial or technical reasons. That’s normal as some projects in the queue are more speculative than others. But MISO’s current process for approving interconnection isn’t helping matters and needs significant reform to accommodate the shift to renewable energy. Current estimates of the time it takes MISO to conduct the required studies and ultimately approve interconnection is nearly 17 months. This adds a significant level of uncertainty and delay for project developers. As currently designed, the interconnection process is so backed up that renewable energy projects are dropping out because they won’t be able to meet project timelines that allow them to take advantage of expiring tax credits.

More tough news

The existing transmission system is already congested. This means new projects are having to foot the bill for costly system upgrades before they can connect. This is leading to more RE projects dropping out due to excessively costly network upgrade requirements. The harder pill to swallow in all of this is that these system upgrades often provide significant benefits beyond just allowing the project to connect. Benefits like avoiding other system upgrade costs, reduced wholesale electricity prices, or improved reliability and resilience are overlooked, meaning other stakeholders are free-riding off the investments made for interconnection and not paying their fair share of network upgrade costs.

The point

If we don’t fix these problems to (1) develop a timely interconnection process for ready-to-go projects and (2) conduct transmission planning, project approval, and cost-allocation that will accommodate the rapidly evolving generation fleet, it will severely constrain the ability for cost-effective renewable energy to come online. This will ultimately leave consumer benefits on the table – forcing them to pay more for a dirtier, less reliable electricity supply.

Public Domain

6 Clean Energy Milestones to Watch For

Photo: RichmondBUILD Academy

Clean energy superstars have been on a tear in recent years, and those superstars—solar, wind, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and others—have had me watching for signposts on our journey to a clean energy future.

My focus on clean energy milestones has been turbocharged by the latest figures for how we make electricity in this country, and the news that we passed yet another notable milestone in 2018: solar panels and wind turbines provide fully 10% of our power mix last year (five times what those two technologies were contributing just a decade before).

So what clean energy milestones can we hope to hit next in this country? Here are 6 I’m watching for.

1. Wind hits 100,000 megawatts

Wind’s progress in recent years has been a marvel to behold. From less than 1% of our electricity mix just over a decade ago, this technology has grown to be a serious player.

The milestone math: The recently released year-end figures from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) showed that by the end of 2018 we hit 96,488 megawatts (MW) of wind power, across 41 states. The US industry has installed 7,000-9,000 MW each of the last few years, and as of December, says AWEA, had 16,521 MW under construction. New wind farms tend to go online late in each year (with 50-80% of additions in Q4).

So we look set to hit 100,000 MW—100 gigawatts (GW)—of wind power in just a few months. That’ll be enough capacity to meet the equivalent of 30 million US households’ electricity needs.

2. Solar hits 2 million (rooftops)

The rooftop market is an important piece of the overall solar photvoltaic (PV) picture, and, in many parts of the country, the most visible evidence of the clean energy revolution (when we remember to look up).

This is another milestone that would have been hard to grasp just a few short years ago, when solar would barely show in calculations of our electricity mix. And we hit the 1 millionth PV system less than three years ago.

The milestone math: In 2017, says Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, we gained 300,000 distributed (small-scale) systems, putting the US total at close to 1.6 million systems. Preliminary results for last year suggest residential solar grew about by about the same amount in 2018 as in 2017.

All that adds up to the 2-millionth solar rooftop being in our very near future, if we haven’t already covered it in solar panels.

As a bonus (Milestone 2b, maybe), I’ve also got my eye on solar’s own 100,000 MW level. We’re at around 64,000 MW now, and projected to gain 12,000-15,000 MW a year over the next several years. So we’d be looking at hitting that numerically interesting threshold sometime in the year 2021.

3. Renewable energy hits 20% of US electricity

Exciting though solar and wind and their 10% mark are, they’re just pieces of the renewable energy story. Hydropower has been a piece of the mix for more than a century, and  biomass and geothermal are also in there.

The milestone math: With hydro at 6-7% and solar and wind at 10% and growing, we’re getting close. If solar and wind continue their brisk pace, we could be looking to hit the 20%-renewables mark as early as next year.

4. Offshore wind hits 1,000 megawatts

After all those high-flying numbers above, a 1,000 MW target may not seem like much. And Europe’s offshore wind industry (with a 25-year head start) is at more than 18,000 MW.

But getting to 1,000 MW in this country with offshore wind will be a neat, tangible milestone in our journey from a little to a lot—from the one five-turbine/30-MW offshore wind project in existence in the US at this point, to a future where turbines off our coasts are contributing seriously to cleaning up our power sector and growing our clean energy economy.

The milestone math: Yeah, we’re at 30 MW now, but there are thousands of megawatts of projects under development. Some combination of the Vineyard Wind project (800 MW, off Massachusetts), Revolution Wind (700 MW, between Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island), South Fork (130 MW) off Long Island, or projects off New Jersey, Maryland, or even Virginia (12 MW) would do the trick. And the next megawatts should be springing from the water in the next couple of years.

Credit: J. Rogers

5. LED A-type bulbs hit 1 billion

If we’re talking about clean energy milestones, it’s good to include energy efficiency—the energy we’re not having to use because we’re doing more with less. It isn’t always the easiest thing to quantify, but there are options (check out ACEEE, for example).

For these purposes, I’ve picked a prominent, palpable proxy for our progress (and a personal favorite): light bulbs. Specifically, the uptake in LED bulbs that are “A-type”—the shape we all knew and loved back in the old, inefficient days (before curly-cue compact fluorescents).

The milestone math: While white LEDs have been broadly available for only a few years, they’re rapidly gaining market share. The latest Sustainable Energy in America Factbook from BNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy shows that the number of A-type LEDs in use in the US grew from essentially nothing in 2010 to 200 million in 2015 and 436 million in 2016. So that billion-bulb milestone has got to be right around the corner, if we haven’t already hit it.

BloombergNEF/Business Council for Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Energy in America Factbook 2019

6. Electric vehicles hit 2 million

When we’re talking clean energy and momentum, America’s roadways are another place where there’s progress to celebrate. The move to electric vehicles has been another story, one good for our move away from dirty fossil fuels (and a whole lot of fun for EV drivers).

The milestone math: EV sales have been taking off, and there are now 1 million battery-electric and plug-in hybrids in the US. At current rates, says my colleague David Reichmuth, we’re likely to double that tally within 2.5 years, meaning we’d hit the 2 million mark in 2021.

And more!

These 6 milestones are just a taste of the different indications that our clean energy momentum is real, serous, and growing—and just a glimpse of some of the technologies in play. And, of course, the US is just a slice of the clean energy momentum story throughout the world.

But those are some milestones we’ll watch out for, and report back to you on.

In the meantime, I’m plenty happy to add to this watchlist. If you’ve got clean energy milestones you’re looking to see in the near future, feel free to add them below.

Because every one of these is testament to the now-ness of clean energy, and worth a little celebration—even as we zip on by them to the next ones on our lists.

Public Domain

The Energy Burden: How Bad is it and How to Make it Less Bad.

Everybody wants affordable energy. Energy consumers want to be able to pay their bills and energy providers also want customers to be able to pay their energy bills. What we can’t seem to agree on is how to best measure energy affordability.

Energy burden, the percent of a person’s income spent on energy (electricity, home heating, and transportation), is one of the better metrics we have to measure affordability.

In an earlier blog, I took a look at electricity affordability, looking only at electricity bills, leaving out other energy costs like those to heat a home with a gas or oil furnace. The data was also limited to looking at averages, which can obscure the burden energy costs place on low and moderate-income (LMI) folks. While those households tend to use less energy than the average household, LMI households also make less, so the energy burden for LMI folks tends to be above average.

In this blog, I’m able to expand the scope of my analysis thanks to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL.

Illuminating the national energy burden

My original post only looked only at electricity. Similarly, the map on the right is the estimated electricity bill of LMI households by county. On the left, is the estimated home heating fuel bill of LMI households by county. LMI is defined here as 0% to 80% of area median income.

Both maps show the average household expenditures ($/month) for LMI households, at the county level. On the right is only electricity expenditures and on the left is only home heating fuel expenditures. Both choropleth scales reflect $<80/month for the lightest color and >$160/month for the darkest shades.

Looking at these maps side by side, you might be tricked to thinking the energy burden is distributed evenly across the United States: with a higher electricity burden in the Southeast and a higher home heating burden in the rest of the US, it all balances out. Right?

Wrong.

 Energy burdens (at the county level) for LMI households. The lightest color in the choropleth scale is <6% of annual income spent on housing energy bills, and the darkest is >19%.

Energy burden isn’t distributed equally across the US, as the map below shows.

Appalachia lights up on the orange-colored map, with parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee all experiencing high energy burden. Why?

The energy burden issue is complicated.

The data shows significant energy burdens felt by communities in the Gulf Coast and Southeast, with clusters spanning Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and north Florida, up through the Carolinas. These areas experience high energy burden driven mostly by electric bills.

The Northeast area also sees hot spots of decreased energy affordability, which is mostly driven by home heating expenses.

Sometimes it is electric bills, sometimes it is home heating (gas and oil) bills, and sometimes it is both.

Bright ideas on what reduces bills

Okay, so energy burden is a problem; what’s a policymaker to do?

The good news is we have two resources that are well equipped to help reduce customers’ bills.

Both these solutions I noted in the original blog and just so happen to have been evaluated by NREL.

Energy efficiency potential

Energy efficiency can take many forms, from replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs to in installing home insulation. Efficiency reduces home energy consumption and, as a direct result, reduces monthly bills.

Average energy bill savings for the cost-effective package of efficiency upgrades, at the county level, for LMI households. Lightest color means <$100 in annual savings and darkest color indicates >$1,000 / year. Grey = data unavailable.

In this green-colored map, the darker the green represents greater potential savings for LMI households.

Note the tremendous amount of efficiency potential in states like California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, and really… everywhere.

The potential for LMI households to save some green by investing in energy efficiency is widespread, with cost-effective savings in nearly every county where there is available data.

Solar potential

Solar panels can be installed on or near LMI households and with the right policies can be used to reduce the bills of LMI households. One great example of such a policy is DC’s Solar For All program, which helps improve LMI households’ access to solar.

The lightest color in the choropleth scale represents LMI household bill savings of less than $800 per year, and the darkest is >$1,600/year. 

Some of the areas with the greatest potential for bill reductions (darker teal) are in places you’d expect, like California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. These are all states where the sun is shining and where households often see higher electricity bills.

Kansas, a state I spent many formative years, lit up, much to my surprise. Also surprising: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The high potential for consumer savings isn’t just a function of the number of sunny days a state has, but also the building stock and energy consumption patterns.

Parts of Maryland, New Jersey, New York (notably Long Island), Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire also showed up as places where LMI households could reduce home energy bills by hundreds of dollars a month with judicious applications of solar.

Even the places that don’t show up on the map as the hottest of hot spots were still significant. Florida doesn’t look that great when compared to say, California, but, most of Florida’s LMI customers could see savings in the $800-$1,400 per year range. That’s a lot of money.

How will this change with climate change?

One more angle on this to consider is the impact of climate change. A recent analysis (and accompanying graphic) released by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and based on data from the Climate Impact Lab, showed how the US energy burden will worsen over time, in many states, if we don’t rapidly reduce carbon emissions. The southern parts of the United States, already burned by energy bills, will be hit very hard. Communities in these states will have higher energy costs. This analysis suggests that climate change will exacerbate the existing energy burden.

Interestingly, renewable energy and energy efficiency can play a role in staving off both climate change and the energy burden.

“Make things less bad.”

A policy professor of mine was fond of asserting that the objective of most public policy should be to “make things less bad.”

NREL’s latest data confirms what utility practitioners have known for a while: LMI households in most parts of the US are well positioned to reduce their energy bills with energy efficiency and solar. Energy efficiency and solar policy alone won’t solve the issue of energy burden for LMI households, but it will make their energy burden less bad.

 —

Fresh Charts and lots of data

In this blog, I expanded the scope of my original analysis by digging in on some new (to me) data.

I want to thank the great staff of DOE’s office of renewable energy and energy efficiency for pointing me in the data’s direction. Maybe I’ll get my hand on some good transportation cost data, and if you know where I can find some, hit me up on twitter?

The latest data comes from one of the US Department of Energy’s fine national labs (the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL) and it is all assembled in a great interactive map. A big thanks to the find staff of NREL. NREL’s latest data is aggregated at the county level which made it difficult to turn into a table or provide clear data labels on the maps above. If you’d like to know more or zoom in on the data, you can find the map and the underlining data: here. Have fun digging in.

Natural Gas Power Plant Retirements in California

Photo: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

As the rest of the country rushes to build natural gas power plants, California continues to downsize its fleet. While the official numbers are not yet in, 2018 appears to have been a big year for natural gas power plant retirements in California.

California saw three big plant retirements last year: Encina (854 MW), Mandalay (560 MW), and Etiwanda (640 MW). The retirement of Encina and Mandalay was no surprise – those two plants used ocean water for cooling, and California has been phasing out plants that use that cooling technology because of its harmful effects on marine life. On the other hand, Etiwanda shut down simply because it was not making enough money. While California has figured out solutions to keep the electric grid operating reliably without the Mandalay and Etiwanda power plants, Encina is being replaced by the Carlsbad Energy Center, a new 500 MW natural gas power plant.

A dwindling fleet

These retirements in 2018 continue California’s downward trend in natural gas power plant capacity. California’s gas fleet peaked in 2013 with just over 47,000 MW of gas capacity, but California has shed roughly 5,000 MW of gas capacity since then.

Source: California Energy Commission

California’s gas fleet is shrinking because many natural gas power plants just cannot make enough money to stay open. Since 2012, California has added roughly 20,000 MW of wind and solar to the grid, and these renewables are generating electricity that otherwise would have been generated by natural gas power plants. Since there is less demand for electricity from gas plants, some plants are shutting down for good.

More retirements to come

Looking forward, California is expecting many more retirements in the years to come. Another 1,380 MW of natural gas power plant capacity is expected to be retired in 2019, and another 4,600 MW of gas capacity is expected to be retired in 2020.

Will these retired gas plants be replaced by brand new gas plants? It’s not looking likely. There are only a couple thousand megawatts of new natural gas power plants under construction in California. In addition, Los Angeles recently decided not to rebuild a couple of outdated natural gas power plants, opting to invest in renewables and storage instead. California’s gas fleet is poised to continue its decline over the next few years.

At the end of the day, these retirements are not unexpected. Recent analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists has shown that California can retire a significant amount of natural gas power plant capacity while continuing reliable operation of the electric grid. Nevertheless, this is good news as California adopts increasingly ambitious global warming emissions reduction goals. California is continuing to head in the right direction – as the state adds more and more wind and solar to the grid, California’s electricity sector is gradually weaning itself off fossil fuels, downsizing its gas fleet one plant at a time.

Photo: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

SB 489 is the Clean Energy Catalyst New Mexico Needs

BLM New Mexico/Flickr BLM New Mexico/Flickr

In New Mexico, out of the crucible of power-sector transformation, economic vision, and climate imperative comes SB 489, the Energy Transition Act, a bold proposal to set a predominantly coal-fired state down a clean energy path.

Critically, SB 489 balances the urgent hunger for what could be—clear skies, bright futures, good jobs that are built to last—with the inescapable reality of that which is—more than half a century of dependence on coal—by ambitiously committing the state to a forward course while simultaneously reckoning with its past.

With the arrival of a new governor, New Mexico’s clean energy potential has swiftly snapped into focus after long seeming just out of reach. But vision is one thing, reality is another, and it takes a plan to navigate the liminal space.

SB 489 offers that response.

It’s big and it’s bold, setting a power-sector target of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by midcentury, but it’s also careful and considered, looking out for the jobs and economies that were, and shaping for the better the jobs and economies that will be.

SB 489 is supported by environmental, community, labor, and conservation groups, and has the full backing of the governor. It is the right plan, at the right time, for a state on the precipice of change.

Coal

As recently as two years ago, PNM, the state’s largest utility, was fighting to keep coal-fired San Juan Generating Station (SJGS) running through 2053. Now PNM is planning to close SJGS by 2022, and leave coal entirely by 2031.

The fact is, SJGS costs more to keep running than building new resources to take its place. PNM estimates that were it to keep SJGS running for another 20 years, it could cost its customers tens to hundreds of millions of dollars more.

But an exit from coal is not as straightforward as simply snuffing out the stacks. The legacy of coal runs deep. Investments have been made, careers have been built, economies have been centered—and the transition at hand upends all of that.

The departure from coal demands real leadership; officials willing to wrestle with hard truths rather than ducking reality and pretending change won’t come. And that takes leadership now—before plants and mines have closed, before that opportunity has passed.

That takes supporting a proposal like SB 489.

SB 489 begins with the recognition that coal plants are closing and then determines how best to act. It does this by tackling two major fronts: first, how best to protect ratepayers while retiring coal, and second, how best to address the needs of workers and communities at risk of being left behind.

Moving Coal Off the Ledger

As it currently stands, PNM, a regulated utility, earns a profit of approximately $16 million a year on $320 million in outstanding investments at SJGS, paid by utility customers. When these investments were approved, the intention was that the plant would operate well into the future, and thus those costs could be recovered over a long period of time. Now, even abandoned, those debts must still be paid.

Traditionally, the utility would go to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) and seek cost recovery, which would allow them to continue to earn a return on investment for the amount approved. This would likely result in a lengthy legal battle over just how much should be borne by ratepayers, and just how much by shareholders.

SB 489 provides an alternative to that by adding a new tool to the PRC’s regulatory toolbox: securitization.

Securitization works like refinancing a loan; by gaining access to AAA-rated bonds, PNM would be able to secure much lower-cost financing to cover outstanding plant, worker, and facility debts. In the process, the utility avoids taking a write-off but also forgoes earning returns.

Customers could stand to save as much as 40 percent via this form of plant closure, which frees up capital to advance workforce transition and economic development efforts. Of course, that “could” is crucial: baked into SB 489 is a requirement that the PRC only approve such a proposal if it guarantees ratepayers a certain amount of savings—and the bill provides funding for them to hire an expert to ensure such savings are the case.

At the end of the day, this approach embraces compromise as a means of moving forward; it looks to unite state, customer, and utility interests under single cover, working to navigate a viable path out of the deep and tangled morass.

Supporting Coal Workers and Coal Communities

Concurrently, SB 489 works to support the transition ahead for those coal threatens to leave behind.

SB 489 dispenses with the myth that the only way to shift from coal is to forsake jobs and local economies. That false choice, which dishonestly perpetuates hope for a commodity teetering on the brink of collapse, has done nothing to ready those at risk. It has done nothing to tackle severance, retraining, reclamation, or economic development. It has done nothing to tackle reality.

SB 489 does.

First, the proposal would set aside $20 million for severance and job training for employees losing their jobs. Importantly, this covers not just plant workers, but mine workers, too; the mine serving SJGS only serves SJGS, and its owner is presently in bankruptcy—these workers need significant and dedicated support. SB 489 would put approximately $15 million more into an Energy Transition Displaced Worker Assistance Fund, to be administered by the state’s Workforce Solutions Department, to further assist in workforce training. In addition, SB 489 requires that starting in 2020, a growing share of electricity generation projects host apprenticeships, thereby driving the development of a skilled workforce trained for good jobs that are built to last.

Second, SB 489 would set aside $30 million for plant decommissioning and mine reclamation costs. This is not a limit; it simply secures the first $30 million via the securitization mechanism. Careful and thorough decommissioning and reclamation are essential for enabling the area to move beyond its coal-fired past. At the same time, these activities have the potential to create good jobs, with overlapping skillsets, for many years to come. Thoughtful planning for how to leverage this critical undertaking can further benefit the local economy.

Finally, SB 489 relieves the community of being backed into the untenable position of fighting for something they know won’t last simply because it’s the only option they’ve got.

SB 489 approaches this in two ways. First, it allocates over $5 million to an Energy Transition Economic Development Assistance Fund, to be administered by the state’s Economic Development Department in concert with community input, to foster economic development in the area. Second, by leveraging the area’s existing energy infrastructure, SB 489 directly addresses the expected erosion of the local tax base by directing replacement power to be located in the affected school district. This action could be significant; a recent analysis found that building a 450 MW solar plant in the area could replace all lost property tax revenue, as well as generate thousands of construction jobs and generate tens of millions more in additional state and local taxes.

Renewables

Facilitating the transition away from coal is only part of the story; it does not address what comes in to take coal’s place. And that affects everything that comes next for the state, because as goes coal today, so goes natural gas tomorrow.

New Mexico cannot allow for its shift from coal to become a shift to gas. The risks of natural gas overreliance are significant, and largely borne on the backs of ratepayers. What’s more, a portfolio dominated by renewables has been repeatedly shown to be the most cost-effective option for the state.

And that makes SB 489’s concomitant strengthening of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) so critically important. By building from existing policy, SB 489 steadily strengthens renewable resource requirements from 20 percent by 2020 to 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040 for large utilities, and 80 percent by 2050 for co-ops.

But SB 489 doesn’t stop there. It further commits to a power sector 100 percent carbon-free come 2045 for the utilities, and 2050 for the co-ops.

Which means that every investment decision that gets made from here on out will now be evaluated in the context of this carbon-free energy course. It makes clear where the state is headed, and requires utilities to fall in line.

This is a major achievement, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it’s supported by utilities and co-ops alike.

SB 489 as energy transition guide

SB 489 offers a clear and convincing roadmap to navigating the transition ahead.

Critically, essentially, it begins not by leaping to where the state is going, but instead by reckoning with where it’s been. It is considerate of those the transition away from coal risks leaving behind, and works to ensure that they’re readied to be a part of what’s to come.

And with SB 489, the state’s future looks bright.

SB 489 boldly commits New Mexico to a rapid power transition, positioning the state as a renewable energy leader and signaling to forward-looking companies that this is a place to invest.

SB 489 doesn’t solve it all. The transition to a clean energy economy will take efforts large and small, ground-up solutions alongside top-down guidance and everything in-between. But SB 489 is a powerful place to start, and with major long-lasting investment decisions looming on the horizon, now is the time to begin.

Energía renovable en Latinoamérica y el Caribe: una gran riqueza que brilla cada vez más

La ceremonia de los Grammys 2019 empezó con una energizante presentación de Camila Cabello (cubanoamericana), Ricky Martin (puertorriqueño) y J Balvin (colombiano). Fue muy emocionante ver a latinos abriendo por primera vez uno de los eventos más importante de la industria musical. Si bien la presentación me hizo recordar la increíble riqueza musical de los artistas de Latinoamérica y el Caribe (LAC), la región también cuenta con una impresionante riqueza en recursos naturales como el sol y el viento para generar energía.

Camila Cabello, Ricky Martin y J Balvin abriendo la ceremonia de los Grammys 2019

Mas, ¿qué metas están llevando a que esta riqueza sea aprovechada? Acá les cuento.

 Visión: metas claras que guían el rumbo de los países

Los precios de la energía solar y la energía eólica han bajado considerablemente y su adopción ha aumentado casi que exponencialmente en toda Latinoamérica y el Caribe.

 

Tendencia en Capacidad Instalada en Centro América y el Caribe

 

Tendencia en Capacidad Instalada en Sur América

Adicional a la reducción en costos, un componente vital en la transición de combustibles fósiles a fuentes de energía limpia es el liderazgo de los gobiernos. De aquí que las metas que estos establecen en cuanto a reducción de emisiones de cambio climático e integración de energías limpias son vitales para la definición de políticas públicas que apoyen el logro de dichas metas.

A lo largo y ancho de Latinoamérica y el Caribe, los gobiernos han establecido ambiciosas metas de adopción de energías renovables, de reducción de emisiones de cambio climático, e incluso de abolición del uso de combustibles fósiles. Por ejemplo:

  • Costa Rica anunció en mayo del 2018 que para el año 2021 abolirá el uso de combustibles fósiles. Adicionalmente, por cuatro años consecutivos el país ha superado el 98% de generación renovable en su sistema eléctrico.
  • México ya cubría en junio del 2018 el 24% de sus necesidad eléctricas a través de la generación con fuentes limpias y tiene por meta que el 50% de la electricidad deberá generarse con energía limpia para el año 2050.
  • Jamaica ya cubre más del 18% de sus necesidades energéticas con energía renovable y tiene por meta generar el 50% de su electricidad usando energía renovable para el año 2030.
  • Colombia busca tener al menos 500 megavatios (MW) de energía renovable no convencional para el 2022, o alrededor del 10% de la matriz energética. En la actualidad cuenta con 50 MW.
  • Chile cuenta con la radiación solar más alta del mundo y fue elegido como el país más atractivo para invertir en energía renovable por ClimateScope en el 2018. Al final del mismo ya producía cerca del 20% de su energía usando fuentes renovables no convencionales, logrando llegar a la meta propuesta para el año 2025 casi 7 años antes.
  • Uruguay, gracias a su proceso de reconversión energética, pasó de tener tan sólo un 1% de su energía generada por energía solar y eólica en el año 2013, a un 32% en el año 2017.

Adicionalmente, medidas que garanticen la seguridad, resiliencia e independencia energética están siendo estudiadas en diferentes países de la región. En el caso de Puerto Rico:

La energía renovable en Latinoamérica y el Caribe, un baile para todos

Latinoamérica y el Caribe se unen cada vez con más fuerza y entusiasmo al baile de la energía renovable, y esto es motivo de celebración. La transparencia, la transición justa y la participación comunitaria serán aspectos claves para hacer que este baile sea tan contagioso y energizante que todos podamos participar.

 

 

 

 

 

@Camila_Cabello IRENA IRENA

Chaco Canyon at Risk: Interior Nominee Bernhardt Wants to Drill on Lands Sacred to Tribes

Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon National Historical park, New Mexico. Photo: Adam Markham.

The push to open our fragile public lands to more drilling is well and truly on, and it’s clear that David Bernhardt, President Trump’s choice to become the new Secretary of the Interior, is pulling all the strings.

Throughout the government shutdown in January, former oil lobbyist Bernhardt stayed on the job as Acting Secretary, working hard to push forward plans for oil drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and ensuring that the administration’s goal of “energy dominance” through opening new areas to fossil fuel extraction remained on track.

During the shutdown, 800 employees of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) were authorized to stay at work to process oil and gas drilling leases. Meanwhile 85% of the rest of the staff at the Department of the Interior (DOI) were furloughed, cutting off Native American healthcare programs, shuttering vital climate science research, and leaving national parks like Joshua Tree and Virginia’s civil war battlefields unprotected against vandalism and looting.

Drilling threatens lands near New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon UNESCO site

What’s happening under Bernhardt’s watch in the remote Greater Chaco Area of northwestern New Mexico illustrates in microcosm why he is perhaps the worst possible choice for the job as top steward of our public lands.

Chaco Canyon and thousands of Indigenous peoples’ sacred places and archaeological sites in the surrounding Greater Chaco Region are at risk from an unprecedented drive to frack and drill for oil and gas. The recent announcement (and then hurried withdrawal) of oil and gas lease sales within the 10-mile informal buffer zone for Chaco Culture National Historical Park shows Bernhardt’s intent, and that the land nearest to the park is not safe from oil and gas drilling.

Existing drilling wells close to Chaco Canyon, and the proposed 10 mile protection zone (in blue). Map courtesy of WildEarth Guardians.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is centered on Chaco Canyon, which from around 850 C.E. to 1250 C.E. was the center of one of the most remarkable pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas. Chaco Canyon was among the first national monuments created by Theodore Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act in 1907. And in 1987, together with Aztec Ruins National Monument and five smaller “outlier” archaeological sites in the region, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Chaco culture evolved and spread in the region and its people left thousands of pueblos, shrines, burial sites, cliff-stairs, track-ways, and ancient roads. Eventually there were more than 200 outlier communities, many connected to Chaco Canyon by roads. All modern pueblo peoples trace their ancestry to Chaco Canyon, and tribes including the Navajo and Hopi claim cultural affiliation with the ancient Puebloans and Chacoans. Most of the Chaco region today is traditionally Navajo land.

An extraordinary archaeological landscape at risk

It’s a rough drive into Chaco Canyon. On the northern access road, the last 13 miles are on a pot-holed and dusty washboard road that can become impassable when it rains. The first thing you see on your left as you turn off NM 550 towards the park is a big fracking well, but as you get closer to Chaco, the landscape is flat and expansive, the desert scrub vegetation is sparse, and grazing cattle and horses are few and far between. The nearest town to Chaco Canyon is 60 miles away and there is no visitor accommodation, merely a campground frequented by coyotes and rattlesnakes under a mesa. It’s an International Dark Sky Park and you’d be crazy not to stumble out of your tent at night into the cool, high-desert air and marvel at the jewel-box-bright stars of the Milky Way spilling though the black-velvet night sky.

Ancient Chacoans were closely connected to seasonal and astronomical cycles, and as you stand on mesa gazing at the night sky, you can’t help but be captivated by thoughts of how these ancient peoples connected with the same awesome spectacle. Today light pollution, associated with methane flaring from drilling sites that are creeping closer toward the park, is a real threat to the extraordinary dark sky views.

Chaco’s a harsh environment: Bone-chillingly cold in winter, dry and sometimes searingly hot in the summer, and with an average of not much more than 9 inches of precipitation annually. But in these forbidding surroundings a remarkable and enduring culture formed and grew. Before Chaco, ancient pueblo people created hunting camps or small villages that lasted a few years, or at most a decade or two. But in Chaco Canyon a culture developed that put down roots and created extraordinary architecture and a complex trade network.

Part of Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon. Photo: Adam Markham.

There are a dozen monumental, multi-story sandstone “great houses” in Chaco Canyon, and the remains of some are in remarkably good condition. Great houses contained store-rooms, granaries, offices, accommodations, circular ceremonial rooms called Kivas, and some probably had military barracks and aviaries for keeping or breeding rare birds. The most famous is Pueblo Bonito, which probably had at least 650 rooms. The great houses seem to have been occupied by an elite class, while the vast majority of ancient Puebloans lived in much simpler buildings.

Archaeological evidence shows that the Chacoans participated in extensive trade networks involving copper, ceramics, turquoise, obsidian and chocolate throughout the Southwest and into Mesoamerica. From around 900AD, they were trading turquoise for scarlet macaws that originated in southern Mexico.

A cultural landscape under assault from oil and gas drilling

The Greater Chaco Region is now under unprecedented assault by the oil and gas industry, with the enthusiastic support of the Trump administration and Acting Interior Secretary Bernhardt. According to WildEarth Guardians, there are already more than 20,000 oil and gas wells in the region, and the drilling is quickly encroaching closer and closer to Chaco Canyon. In early February 2019, BLM announced plans to sell more leases in late March (March 28) for oil and gas extraction, quite a number of which were within a 10-mile radius of the park. Then, a few days later, BLM announced that it was withdrawing the lease sales for sites within 10 miles of Chaco Canyon.

This is a welcome development, but it is unlikely to be the last time that BLM tries to push drilling closer to the park. Archaeologist Paul Reed of the non-profit cultural resources advocacy group Archaeology Southwest says,“I think this is probably a temporary victory, and the parcels will come up again in a future lease sale…I encourage folks to contact BLM to protest the March 28 lease sale, even with the near Chaco parcels removed.” And according to the Society for American Archaeology, land parcels that are still up for lease outside the informal 10-mile buffer zone, but are within the Greater Chaco cultural landscape, also contain important Chachoan remains. The US non-profit advisory body for World Heritage, US/ICOMOS (US Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites) has also protested the expansion of lease sales in the Chaco landscape.

Energy development on a Chaco Canyon access road. Photo: Adam Markham

Tribes and archaeologists want a drilling moratorium

Representatives of tribes, archaeologists, environmental advocates, and heritage experts are angry because planning for the new lease sales appears to have continued unimpeded during the recent government shutdown even though the Farmington Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) have not been completed.

Oil and gas leasing in the area continues despite calls by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Navajo Nation, and the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) for a moratorium on drilling in the whole Greater Chaco Region, pending initiation and completion by BLM and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) of an ethnographic study of cultural landscapes in the region. The study has not been initiated and new well openings continue apace. According to the NCAI, more than 400 new fracking wells have been approved in the region since 2013, and approximately 90% of federal lands in the oil- and gas-rich San Juan Basin, of which Chaco Canyon is the geographical center, have already been leased for drilling.

For the protected ruins inside the park and associated protected areas, the primary impact of the expanded oil-shale drilling is from air, noise, and light pollution. But outside the park boundaries, the concrete drilling pads, massive rigs, pump jacks, and dense network of oil industry roads are damaging a huge sacred and cultural landscape left by the Chacoans, and about which we know very little. The burden of increased water and air pollution falls largely on Navajo communities who have little say in the leasing or management of BLM lands.

Oil and gas land grab should disqualify Bernhardt

In May 2018, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced legislation to ban drilling and fracking on federal lands within 10 miles of the boundaries of the Chaco Culture park. The Chaco Cultural Area Protection Act is also supported by the APCG and the Navajo Nation. New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, the newly elected Chair of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests & Public Lands, and a tribal citizen of Laguna Pueblo, dubbed the latest drilling leases proposed (and then quickly withdrawn) by BLM a “land grab”, lamenting the lack of consultation with tribes.

David Bernhardt’s DOI is waving aside and ignoring the protests of tribes, Indigenous organizations, environmental groups, archaeologists, and New Mexico’s congressional representatives. Bernhardt, with his history of lobbying for drilling and mining interests, and his tangled thicket of conflicts of interest, seems not even slightly committed to the stewardship of public lands for the benefit of future generations, but only to the short-term benefits of the oil and gas industries. For this reason alone, he is not qualified to be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior.

Photo: Adam Markham

What to look for in Governor Pritzker’s Budget Address

Photo: Charles Edward Miller/Flickr

On Wednesday Governor J.B. Pritzker will give his first budget address as Illinois’s 43rd Governor. This is a key opportunity for him to address the financial benefits of renewable energy and a pathway for Illinois to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity.

Last month Pritzker joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In his Budget Address Governor Pritzker should take the next step by laying out a plan to achieve his climate commitments. The governor would do well by referencing recent findings and recommendations from the Powering Illinois’ Future Committee and the Illinois Commerce Commission’s NextGrid study. It’s vital that his energy platform be an equitable path forward for the state. Here’s what we hope to see included.

Reference to powering Illinois’ future

Earlier this month Governor Pritzker released a report from the Powering Illinois’ Future Committee, a committee  co-chaired by Jen Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council.

The report outlines an equity focused framework that will build upon the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA).  The report recommends that the state commit to 100 percent renewable energy while ensuring a just transition for all communities. Illinois can utilize renewable energy and energy efficiency to advance economic development, improve public health, and create good-paying jobs. The Committee recommended improving the health and safety of the state through equitable and responsible capital investments as well as catalyzing carbon-free energy expansion. Some key recommendations from the Committee include:

  • Ensure housing stock in Illinois is ready for energy efficiency upgrades and to prioritize older housing stock in low-income communities.
  • Create clean energy empowerment zones in rural, transitioning, and communities of color to share in the economic and environmental benefits of Illinois’ shift to a clean energy economy. Through these zones, provide grants to facilitate locally-designed, community-directed clean energy initiatives.
  • Expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure, by providing incentives for conversion of public transit and school buses and offer special rates to school districts that adopt EV buses.
  • Integrate R&D efforts with business creation and compete for federal and private sector energy storage investments in Illinois. Incentivize projects at retired or soon-to-be retired coal plants to spur economic development in those transitioning communities.
  • Support shovel ready solar projects for schools and state-owned properties. Implement the Solar for All program by initiating an additional 100 projects at publicly-owned properties in low-income communities.

These recommendations should be the cornerstone of the Pritzker Administration’s policy platform and they should be included in his capital plan.

Findings from the NextGrid study

Last year the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) launched NextGrid, the Illinois Utility of the Future Study. The study was a collaboration between key stakeholders to create a shared base of information on electric utility industry issues and opportunities around grid modernization. It was managed by the University of Illinois and consisted of seven working groups. UCS participated in two of the working groups, Regulatory and Environmental Policy Issues and Ratemaking.

While still in draft form, the report does include three specific recommendations that the Pritzker Administration should use in the areas of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, deployment of energy storage resources to enable further integration of renewable energy, and proactiveness on protecting consumer data privacy.  It is a missed opportunity that the NextGrid process did not result in a roadmap or larger set of policy recommendations for Illinois, but the report does identify areas where Illinois can move forward on policy changes to further the goals of a reliable, affordable, and carbon-free energy grid.

The Draft Final Report does recognize that there is “very broad interest in active participation to mitigate climate change impacts in every possible way”. Participants shared the goal to make the grid greener through the continued integration of renewable energy resources to reduce emissions, and the desire to pursue sustainable ways to meet the state’s energy needs.

There is an urgent need to respond to climate change by decarbonizing the electric grid and the many environmental and economic opportunities offered by advancing clean energy. The consensus points discussed throughout the process and laid out in the final draft report should be utilized by the Pritzker Administration.

A bold agenda for Illinois is needed now

There is no time to waste.  According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment projected changes in precipitation, coupled with rising extreme temperatures before mid-century will reduce Midwest agricultural productivity to 1980s levels without major technological advances. At the same time, we must swiftly and sharply reduce our global warming emissions, so we can avoid even worse impacts. Illinois deserves a healthy economy and environment where all communities can thrive.

The Pritzker Administration has the capacity to innovate around carbon-free energy sources, while creating jobs and protecting the health of all Illinoisans. Governor Pritzker’s leadership on renewable energy and energy efficiency is crucial. During his campaign he stated that Illinois deserves clean air, clean water, and a safe environment where all communities can thrive.  He said he stands on the side of science and believes climate change is real.  Now is the time to put these campaign promises into action.

Photo: Charles Edward Miller/Flickr

Trump’s Tariffs May Have Cost the Solar Industry Thousands of Jobs Last Year

Source: The Solar Foundation

The latest solar jobs census has just come out, and the news is… mixed. Here’s what the survey found, why the numbers are that way, and how we get the whole country on track.

Solar job numbers fall

The National Solar Jobs Census from The Solar Foundation is the non-profit’s annual review of “the size and scope of employment in the US solar energy industry… [and] the most comprehensive and rigorous analysis of solar labor market trends in the United States.” As such, it’s a really important tool for assessing our job-creation progress in what had been, until the last two years, a key growth area within our energy sector.

For 2018, the numbers are a mixed bag. Overall numbers for people employed in solar in 2018 stood at around 242,000—down 8,000, or more than 3%, from the year before.

At the level of individual states, there have been winners and losers. California’s drop in solar employment alone (down 9,600) could account for the whole overall drop, though with 77,000 solar workers it’s still by far the biggest state for solar jobs (and #3 in solar jobs per capita). Massachusetts, which had been #2 in overall solar jobs, also lost—with 1,300 fewer people employed in solar—and dropped to #3 by that overall-solar-jobs metric.

In all, 21 states lost ground, including 4 of the top 5 solar states by installed solar capacity (California, plus North Carolina, Arizona, and New Jersey).

On the plus side, that still leaves 29 states gaining solar jobs. Those include Florida (up 1,800, to take the #2 spot for total jobs), Illinois (up 1,300), and Texas and New York (each up 700+). And the 2018 total solar jobs figure is still 16% higher than the 2015 number.

But the annual drop—the second in a row—is concerning. So the next logical question is: Why are we losing solar jobs at all?

Why solar jobs have fallen

Many of the reasons for the recent drop in solar workers are pretty clear, actually, and start at the top:

  • Trump solar taxes – “Much of the decline,” says the new report, “is attributable to uncertainty over the outcome of the Section 201 trade case on solar modules and cells.” This is that solar tariff issue that was brewing for much of 2017 and finally settled in 2018, with substantial taxes on virtually all imported solar goods. Those tariffs, and particularly that uncertainty surrounding how high those taxes would be, and when they’d hit, were pretty disruptive. And, by slowing down progress with a key technology (and proven job creator), were a blow to any notions about US “energy dominance.”
  • State policies – At a more local level, states were certainly another piece of the pain, with uncertainty being the enemy of investment. California was figuring out what new high bars to set for itself in the climate and energy spaces. Massachusetts continued to wrestle with coming up with a worthy successor to its solar policies that had been so successful at building the local industry over the previous decade.
  • 2016 – Another noteworthy factor is the industry’s own big push in 2016, when it looked like the sizeable federal investment tax credit (ITC) was set to expire; that led to a full court press by industry and customers, and a banner year. That helps to explain 2017 (as the market recalibrated a bit), though, and not necessarily 2018; with a supportive policy environment from the top on down, this past year could have been much stronger.

One thing that doesn’t seem to be a reason for a drop in solar jobs is competition from coal. Given our president’s purported focus on jobs, and his (unhealthy) obsession with fossil fuels, you might well imagine that the job losses in solar have been made up in coal mining. The facts, though, say otherwise: The 1,800 new coal mining jobs from January 2018 to last month stacked up to less than a quarter of the 8,000 jobs lost in solar.

(Those increases also brought coal mining up to an estimated 52,700 jobs, which, astute readers will notice, even if Pres. Trump doesn’t, means that there are still 4.6 people employed in solar for every 1 in coal mining.)

Credit: Dennis Schroeder/US Department of Energy, via Flickr

The way forward

So, how about 2019 and beyond? There are reasons to think some of the job numbers might right themselves. The strong performers in 2018 look set to continue to perform well:

  • Florida (the Sunshine State) has finally discovered solar power, as regulators finally began to let homeowners take advantage of solar leases, a financial tool which has been a powerful driver elsewhere.
  • Illinois has been buoyed by the solar provisions in its important 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act.
  • Texas is finding that large-scale solar’s really low prices are a good complement to its nation-leading wind fleet.
  • Nevada is looking good after fixing a bad decision about net-metering a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, erstwhile leaders look to be getting back on track. California has a new requirement to put solar on virtually every new home, and a goal to get 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources. Massachusetts finally has its new SMART solar incentive in place, removing the policy uncertainty for at least a little while.

But this is also time for national leadership on clean energy policy. If the White House doesn’t feel compelled to provide it, at least many in Congress do—with Exhibit A being the Green New Deal. UCS was “excited and heartened” to see the GND resolution introduced last week, with its “bold, ambitious vision for how to address climate change in a principled, equitable and science-based manner.”

From where I sit, it seems pretty clear that any bold vision for our climate future has got to include a large role for solar power, with all its potential for cutting carbon, improving public health, enhancing resilience, empowering communities, and, yes, creating jobs.

Getting us squarely on the path toward climate sanity will involve some tough choices. Solar isn’t one of them.

Meanwhile, solar panel installer positions represent the fastest source of job growth in 8 states, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers examined by Yahoo Finance. There are a lot of reasons to think that number of states should be a whole lot higher.

Check out The Solar Foundation’s infographic for more facts and fun.

Minnesota Bill HF700 Considers Bold Carbon-Free Energy Target

Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr

Last week Minnesota Representative Jamie Long (DFL – Minneapolis) introduced HF700, a bill laying out a bold plan to achieve 100 percent carbon-free energy for the state.  Last Tuesday an informational hearing was held in the House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division, where dozens of Minnesotans testified in support of the bill. They stressed the need for Minnesota to be a national leader on clean energy, and the dire consequences of waiting to act on climate change.

In 2007, Minnesota passed the Next Generation Energy Act which set a 25 percent Renewable Energy Standard (RES) by 2025 (30% for Xcel Energy), and set a carbon reduction goal of 80 percent by 2050. Minnesota has met its RES goal 7 years ahead of schedule, but the state is not on track to meet its carbon reduction goal.

So, what’s in HF700, and what would its passage mean for Minnesota?

What’s in the bill

HF700 calls for electric utilities in that state to get 55 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030, 80 percent by 2035, and to go 100 percent carbon-free by 2050.  The state’s largest investor owned utility, Xcel Energy, has a higher standard to meet of 55 percent renewable energy by 2026, 60 percent by 2030, 85 percent by 2035, and 100 percent carbon-free by 2045.

The bill adds a definition of carbon-free to the RES, defined as a technology that generates electricity without emitting carbon. However, it doesn’t state which specific technologies would qualify as carbon free, such as nuclear energy or Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This is relevant because two of Minnesota’s nuclear plants, owned by Xcel Energy, have operating licenses set to expire in the 2030s.

The bill removes trash incineration from the definition of renewable energy sources and incorporates environmental costs as a factor that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must consider if a delay in meeting these benchmarks is requested by a utility. The bill also directs the PUC that in evaluating a utility’s claims of transmission capacity constraints, it must consider whether the utility has taken all reasonable measures to meet the requirements with renewables.

The legislation also includes an expanded section on local benefits, including important equity considerations like directing the PUC to ensure equitable implementation in the following areas:

  • The creation of high-quality jobs in Minnesota paying wages that support families;
  • Recognition of the rights of workers to organize and unionize;
  • Ensuring that workers have the necessary tools, opportunities and economic assistance to adapt successfully during the energy transition, particularly in communities that host retiring power plants and contain historically marginalized and underrepresented populations;
  • Ensuring that all share the benefits of clean and renewable energy and the opportunity to participate fully in the clean energy economy;
  • Ensuring that air emissions are reduced in communities historically burdened by pollution and the impacts of climate change; and
  • The provision of affordable electric service to Minnesotans, particularly to low-income consumers.
 Alignment with Xcel’s recent commitments

This bill fits nicely with what Xcel has already committed to and allows the company a lot of flexibility in achieving their long-term goals.

In December Minnesota’s largest investor owned utility Xcel Energy announced their commitment to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. Within their plan Xcel has also set the near-term goal of 80% reductions by 2030.

With existing technologies such as wind, solar and energy efficiency, Xcel will be able to achieve their near-term goal.  Additionally, energy storage costs are expected to continue to decrease, which will allow for even more renewable energy penetration. Their long-term goal will be harder to achieve and, in their words, will require technologies that are not currently cost effective and commercially available today.  However, they are committed to ongoing work to develop advanced technologies while putting the necessary policies in place to achieve this transition.

My colleague gives a variety of potential pathways for how they’ll be able to get all the way to zero, including unlocking the full potential of dispatchable renewables, energy efficiency, flexible demand, energy storage, and other technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration.

Learning from our friends to the west

California passed a similar bill in 2018, setting a bold goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045 and increased the renewable energy standard from 50 to 60 percent by 2030. UCS developed 10 key strategies that state policymakers and stakeholders could follow to achieve these goals and make the electricity grid more flexible while reducing fossil fuels.

Minnesota could benefit from implementing similar strategies. The  key strategies to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity include:

  • Using electricity as efficiently as possible to reduce peak demand;
  • Generate renewable energy from a diverse mix of resources;
  • Plan for an equitable transition away from fossil fuels, including natural gas;
  • Use renewables to provide grid reliability services;
  • Invest in energy storage;
  • Unlock the value of distributed energy resources;
  • Electrify cars, trucks, and buildings;
  • Shift electricity demand to better coincide with renewable energy production; and
  • Promote high-quality jobs and workforce development.
What’s Next?

HF700, and the Senate companion bill SF850, are a powerful move in the right direction for Minnesota. UCS will be working with our coalition partners to push the state’s utilities to look at all their options and make sure that cost-effective measures, like energy efficiency, are used in the path to 100 percent.

The Senate version awaits action by the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee.  The bill may face an uphill fight in the Senate, but a hearing would be a great first step. Now is the time for us to move toward with 100% carbon-free and equitable energy that benefits all Minnesotans.

Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr

What to Watch for in Michigan’s State of the State Speech

Photo: Terry Johnston/Wikimedia Commons

Next Tuesday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer will give her first State of the State address as Michigan’s chief executive officer. It is a key opportunity for her to address climate change, infrastructure needs, and clean energy and water—all priorities Governor Whitmer emphasized during last year’s campaign.

Here’s what to look for.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Joining the U.S. Climate Alliance

The U.S. Climate Alliance is a group of states committed to upholding the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Look for Governor Whitmer to highlight this week’s executive directive adding Michigan to the Alliance and the growing number of states in this coalition, which includes Minnesota and now Illinois whose new Governor J.B. Pritzker announced would also join.

Creating a state office of climate change

Governor Whitmer is also likely to highlight another executive directive from this week creating a Michigan Office of Climate and Energy. This new office will work with the governor to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and embrace more sustainable energy solutions.

The sooner this new office can be up and running, the better, especially in light of the urgent and compelling need to act on climate change outlined in two key scientific reports released last year.

Infrastructure investments, clean water, and electric vehicles

Governor Whitmer’s campaign focused in on the need to improve Michigan’s infrastructure, including electric and heating systems in addition to roads, bridges, and clean drinking water. She also promised to “mak[e] sure Michigan has the edge in electric vehicles [that] will not only reduce carbon emissions, but create and protect jobs here in our state.” Ideally Governor Whitmer will outline specific goals and a policy agenda to further these critical needs and opportunities during her State of the State address.

Michigan is primed for further clean energy growth

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council recently named Michigan to its 2019 Clean Energy States Honor Roll as its “Emerging Clean Energy Leader.” This is well-deserved as the Michigan Public Service Commission has launched several stakeholder processes to address regulatory policies facilitating integration of solar power in the state, including community solar and rooftop solar.

In addition, last year Michigan’s two major electric utilities both announced important carbon reduction and clean energy goals. Many of the state’s old and inefficient coal-fired power plants have been retired, and there are plans to close additional polluting facilities in the coming years. Both Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have integrated resource plan dockets filed or to be filed in 2019 that, as I wrote about in my blog post last month, will be key items to watch on how the utilities plan to follow through on their goals.

As a candidate, Governor Whitmer signed on to the Clean Energy for All Campaign, which asks candidates to commit to a vision where the United States runs on 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

Governor Whitmer’s leadership on renewable energy and energy efficiency can help build on the state’s clean energy momentum and ensure Michiganders are benefiting from cleaner air and water, more affordable energy bills, and expanded economic development. I look forward to hearing how her remarks on Tuesday night will further the clean energy transition.

Photo: Terry Johnston/Wikimedia Commons

Two Years in, and the State of Our Union Is Weakened—but It’ll Be Strong Again

We are now midway through the Trump administration, and the state of our union—while far too fractured and polarized to be judged strong—has, at least, proven resilient. The key institutions we count on—a free media, an independent judiciary, vigorous NGOs, strong governors and state attorneys general, and opposition representatives in Congress—have, for the most part, held the line and stemmed the damage that might have been inflicted by the wrecking ball that is the Trump presidency.

At the same time as our “old guard” institutions have held the line, a “new guard” is moving the line and changing the terms of the debate. People-powered activism is surging nationwide, and groups such as Indivisible, the Parkland students, and the Sunrise Movement captivate our imagination and demand attention with stirring ideas such as the “Green New Deal.”

Even the recent shutdown over the border wall, while a stunning example of government dysfunction that caused needless suffering, may have set a helpful precedent. How so? The border wall started out as a mnemonic device for a fledgling presidential candidate and became a symbol of toughness on immigration to Mr. Trump’s base. What it never was shown to be was an effective solution for border security. And when a policy, particularly one that involves billions of taxpayer dollars, cannot be supported by the evidence, and when there is an opposition party that will not suspend its disbelief out of blind loyalty to the president, such a policy will usually fail. That is the primary lesson of the shutdown, and one that President Trump’s administration would do well to learn if he wishes to salvage a failing presidency.

So, the question for UCS is this: How do we intend to operate in this landscape for the next two years?

Remain vigilant, but focus less on legislative defense

Two years ago, many of us reasonably feared that the president and his allies in Congress would enact what I have often referred to as “scorched earth” laws that would weaken key environmental safeguards, and restrict the ability of government scientists to do their vital work. Many of these bills had been passed by Congress but vetoed by President Obama, and we reasonably feared that they would be passed again by Congress and signed into law by President Trump.

Fortunately, for the most part this did not happen due to Senate Democrats working together to block noxious legislation. This was an all-hands-on-deck effort, supported by the work of many, including UCS, and it produced good results. Now, with a new majority in the House of Representatives that seems guided by science and motivated by constituencies who value clean air and water, it seems highly unlikely that such legislation will pass. For UCS, this means that some of the resources devoted to legislative defense can be deployed for other purposes.

Counter executive action

However, because Mr. Trump’s agenda will be stymied in Congress, it is also likely that he will double down on executive action.

Perhaps the most dangerous of these gambits lie in foreign policy, an area presidents often turn to when their domestic agendas are blocked. President Trump has already inflicted damage on our standing in the world and relationships with allies by seeking to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. Now he has announced the U.S. will begin withdrawing from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, with the potential risk of unraveling other arms accords, such as the New Start Treaty which expires in 2021 unless extended. There is no obvious way to counter these actions, at least in the short term, but we and others can and will challenge these actions.

On the domestic front, we will continue to see the president attempt to impose his will even when he cannot get Congress behind it. An example is the recently-announced effort to impose punitive work requirements on recipients of the SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps) after Congress chose not to include these requirements when it passed the farm bill in late 2018. As UCS experts have noted, the Department of Agriculture is now charging forward with a proposal that makes it harder for states (that have high unemployment rates and other barriers) to waive work requirements, thereby disqualifying many hungry Americans from accessing food through the program.

On top of new efforts such as cutting SNAP eligibility, the Trump administration will scurry to complete final rules eviscerating climate change policies. His administration will keep forcing rollbacks of proactive climate policies such as fuel economy standards and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, threatening public health by changing the formula for conducting cost-benefit analyses, stacking federal advisory boards with industry representatives, and limiting how scientific evidence can be used by federal agencies. These may be the only remaining “wins” Mr. Trump will be able to secure, and they are highlighted well in this recent UCS report.

UCS, and others, have fought hard against these rollbacks, soliciting thousands of comments of concern on these regulations before they’re finalized. What will most effectively derail the deregulation train? The nation’s courts. Courts are fact-based forums: when an administration makes spurious claims, they can expect skepticism from federal courts, particularly because the administrative record, as added to by UCS and others, contains the grounds to tear such arguments apart.

Take advantage of new oversight opportunities

In addition to litigation, we now have a new tool in countering excesses—Congressional oversight. Our elected officials can—and should—expose malfeasance and cronyism, rouse public opinion, and block misguided executive branch initiatives.

The challenge is that there is much material to work with—the US House committees that conduct any review of the Trump administration’s actions since taking office will need to be judicious. While there will be many competing demands, part of the new Congress’s agenda must be devoted to investigating regulatory rollbacks. We will be prepared to assist Congress in the legwork that goes into making oversight effective.

Examples of Congressional oversight that could be particularly illuminating include investigating:

  • The nefarious role that oil companies may have played in convincing the Trump administration to weaken fuel economy standards further than even the car companies wished;
  • The EPA’s decision to jerry-rig its cost-benefit analysis to minimize the benefits of regulations that Trump campaign contributors such as Murray Energy oppose;
  • The true facts about whether proposed missile defense systems actually work in real-world testing.
Perfect our science-based policies and build a coalition to support them

The next two years also give us time to lay the groundwork for 2020 and beyond. In part, we can start this by pushing for relatively modest measures that have bipartisan support now. Examples include funding increases for clean energy R&D, extensions of popular tax incentives for wind and solar energy, and broadening current incentives for deploying more energy storage and electric vehicles. And, if there’s a national infrastructure bill, UCS will push for “green” components, such as transmission lines that connect renewable energy to population centers and building EV charging stations.

But more importantly, we can use these next two years to draw up “rough drafts” of more ambitious legislation to solve our greatest challenges. Lawmakers can get feedback from stakeholders, for example, and continue to build public support for science-based policies so that when change happens again in Washington, we as a nation are ready to act decisively on climate change.

In addition to climate legislation, we should also lay the groundwork for ambitious action on nuclear weapons, including a bill to prohibit the US from launching a first use of nuclear weapons and/or restrict the president’s sole authority to launch a nuclear strike. We’ll be ready to inject these ideas into the next presidential debates, and educate a new cadre of legislators, as well as mobilize the public around them. We should also anticipate opportunities around—and lay the groundwork for—bills to protect scientific integrity and restore hollowed-out federal agencies.

Drive change at the state level

The polarized and dysfunctional state of the federal government likely won’t get better without a new election. But at the state level, there are abundant opportunities to make progress now. On the West Coast, all three governors and their legislatures can continue to show leadership on climate change—and California must begin the hard work of implementing the goals it set under Governor Brown. States like New Mexico, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have new governors who recognized the value of clean energy in their campaigns, and these states are poised to adopt ambitious climate goals, aided by ample and inexpensive supplies of renewable energy. And on the East Coast, nine states and Washington, DC, just pledged to create a “cap and invest” program to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector—the largest source of emissions. These local governments can make good on their pledge in 2019 and transition their states to clean transportation.

So, at this two-year mark, we have a weakened president, a resurgent House of Representatives, new governors committed to state-level progress, and an engaged and mobilized public. So, while I cannot call our state of the union strong at this moment, I see clear signs that in less time than I might have anticipated two years ago, our state of the union will be strong again.

Photo: Wikimedia

Will the Real State of the Union Please Stand Up? 7 Things President Trump Won’t Say

A great public servant and one of my mentors, William Ruckelshaus, always emphasized to me that the State of the Union was a time to put big ideas on the table, to talk about the truly great challenges facing the country, and to provide leadership for what we as a nation needed to do to live up to the ideals of our democracy. New education initiatives, cleaning up pollution, providing health care—these are some of the big ideas that previous presidents have talked about on this national stage.

Call me crazy but I don’t think that is what we will hear from President Trump.

Instead we’re likely to hear misdirection and falsehoods. According to the Washington Post, President Trump has made 8,158 false or misleading claims during his first two years in office. Even if by some miracle he sticks to actual facts during his State of the Union address, it’s a safe bet that he won’t address many of the most crucial challenges facing America. Instead he’s likely to tout the strong economy, while ignoring rising inequality and continuing losses for everyone but the wealthy. He’ll rail about border security, while dismissing the real security threats highlighted by his intelligence agencies. And he will talk about jobs, while ignoring worker safety and threats to public health.

What should be in the speech are some of the truly great challenges we need to tackle as a nation. We need a real change in direction and focus from this administration, and so I will be watching the speech live, tweeting the #RealSOTU, and calling for this nation to face up to the truth.

Here are seven BIG things that President Trump won’t say in his 2019 State of the Union speech.

Rolling back regulations hurts people

President Trump and his appointed agency heads have cut down landmark public protections that we all depend on for our health and safety, and sidelining science has consistently been one of their go-to strategies to accomplish it.

Rolling back regulations that reduce air pollution, water pollution, toxic contamination, worker protections, and more might give windfall profits to some companies. But those profits come at public expense. And who’s bearing the brunt of those impacts and costs? Poorer communities and communities of color.

That all needs to stop, right now.

And right now, with a new Congress in place there is a renewed opportunity to call on our elected officials to represent their constituents and to hold the Trump administration accountable. The administration should be doing its job of serving the public, not special interests.

We need policies that treat our people equitably, that require those who pollute to clean up their mess regardless of what neighborhood they are located in. And we need our government to hold polluters to account. Mr. President, do you want to make real change?  Then work for the people who need the government’s help. That isn’t the oil and gas or chemical industry.

We have one decade left to avoid catastrophic climate change

We have about a decade left to dramatically reduce carbon pollution and avoid truly catastrophic climate change impacts, including unprecedented and life-threatening heat waves, the loss of millions of coastal homes to rising seas, and a growing number of extreme and damaging weather events.

The IPCC’s recent special report and the Trump administration’s own National Climate Assessment (NCA4) both tell us that climate change is already affecting all of us, and that right now we are speeding down one of the most costly and damaging paths possible.

Whether it’s national security, natural disasters, the military, the economy, immigration, or any other number of issues, there’s one thing Trump will surely fail to recognize in his speech: Climate change affects all of them.

Consider, for example, the 2018 report on the vulnerability of military installations to climate-related impacts, which showed that about 10 percent of sites are being affected by extreme temperatures, and some six percent are affected by flooding due to storm surge and by wildfire. Or the 2019 worldwide threat assessment of the US intelligence community, which identifies climate change as a national security risk.  Or how the NCA4 finds that existing water, transportation, and energy infrastructure are already being impacted by heavy rainfall, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, drought, wildfire, heat waves, and other weather and climate events.

The last two years of natural disasters and extreme weather brought huge costs to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are also part and parcel of a warming climate, and our economy—indeed our very future—depends on the country getting deadly serious about the climate crisis right now.

Coal is dying and renewables are booming. Not fast enough.

Our electricity system is moving away from dirty fossil fuels and toward clean energy. Today coal produces only a quarter of our nation’s electricity, down from 50 percent a short dozen years ago. That’s an encouraging trend, but we still need faster progress and more ambitious policies to achieve the emissions cuts needed to meet the climate crisis head on.

The Trump administration is instead doing everything it can think of to try and prop up the failing coal industry. It’s not working, and coal is still on it way out, but President Trump is still wasting precious time that would be much better spent on ramping up clean energy across the country.

In his speech, Trump will also likely ignore the remarkable economic benefits of renewable energy, especially that the US clean energy industry means jobs, with already more than 100,000 working in the wind sector, 250,000 working in solar, and more than 2 million making our homes and businesses more energy efficient. And the nascent US offshore wind sector offers the potential for tens of thousands of new jobs up and down our coasts.

The administration is moving full speed backwards on transportation emissions

Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in the US, making it more important than ever to increase the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks and reduce the amount of planet-warming emissions we’re putting into the atmosphere. (Plus I like saving money—and driving a cleaner, more fuel-efficient car helps consumers do that as well.)

The president and his administration, however, are still moving ahead with their plans to roll back fuel economy and emissions standards for cars and trucks and halt progress on reducing emissions from the transportation sector.

My colleagues cranked the numbers on what this rollback would mean and it is truly staggering, especially when it’s taken together with the administration’s threat to void state regulations on vehicle emissions. As senior UCS vehicles analyst Dave Cooke points out, rolling back these standards will result in an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions by 2040—that’s 170 million metric tons in 2040 alone, equivalent to keeping 43 coal-fired power plants online. These inefficient cars and trucks will use an additional 200 billion gallons of gasoline by 2040—that’s as much oil as we’ve imported from the Persian Gulf since the standards were first finalized in 2010. And it will cost consumers hundreds of billions of dollars—in 2040 alone, consumers will spend an additional $55 billion at the pump if these standards are rolled back.

It’s a safe bet that the president won’t mention any of this. And, for good measure, he will also likely fail to mention his desire to get rid of the electric vehicle tax credit, which makes it easier and more affordable to buy a cleaner car.

Fossil fuel companies are responsible, but still getting special treatment

Trump definitely won’t bring up the fact that fossil fuel companies have known for at least 50 years that their products—oil, gas, and coal—cause global warming. Or that companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron have spent decades and millions of dollars intentionally manufacturing doubt about climate science and lobbying to block sensible climate policy—and are still playing dirty even today as the costs of climate change grow.

Just this past fall, BP poured $13 million into a campaign opposing a carbon pricing measure in Washington state—while simultaneously publicly claiming to support a carbon tax. Other major fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, still fund industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute to do their dirty work lobbying for anti-climate policies.

Meanwhile regular people living through the disruptive impacts of climate change are currently paying for it with their tax dollars. All while fossil fuel companies continue to cash in, plan for and envision minimal disruption to their business models, and avoid paying their fair share of the costs of climate change.

The administration is betraying farmers, workers, and children

Regulatory rollbacks and putting profits over the interests of the public don’t just affect pollution and the environment. They also impact the food we eat and the people who bring it to us, from farm to fork.

In his speech, Trump won’t mention that he and his Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue have repeatedly favored ideology and the agribusiness industry while disregarding science—but that’s exactly what UCS has found. This not only restricts the products and practices that would make us healthier but also ignores the very people who feed us. Small farmers, workers, and children all lose when the administration betrays their interests for the profits of big agribusiness companies, from chemical giant Dow to multinational poultry and pork conglomerates.

Rolling back school lunch rules for the nation’s children or threatening to deny food assistance to immigrant families and low-wage workers is not worthy of this nation. Undermining the USDA’s research agencies, catering to the chemical industry, and waging a disastrous trade war threatens the future for farmers, consumers, and communities.

What the country needs is a food policy that supports public health, ensures that everyone gets the nutrition they need, and reduces the impact of agriculture on the environment and the planet.

Investing massive amounts of money in nuclear weapons is just wrong

Spending over a trillion dollars to re-build the entire nuclear arsenal while walking away from highly successful nuclear arms agreements with Russia is, well, a really bad idea. So is saying that one’s nuclear button is bigger. But the president probably won’t admit that, or indicate that doing so would take the country backwards and greatly increase the chance of nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons still pose an existential threat to our nation and the world. We should be doing all we can to reduce that threat, not just “win” another arms race. Instead the administration just announced that it plans to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty—an agreement negotiated by President Ronald Reagan which eliminated a whole class of lethal weaponry and made the world a much safer place.

Bellicose rhetoric and building newer, more enhanced nuclear weapons won’t lessen the danger either. We need to be leading the world to reduce the nuclear arsenals, not increasing the odds of nuclear war.

Share the #RealSOTU

It can be hard to listen to the president when we’ve learned to expect an avoidance of essential truths like these.

But I’ll be watching his speech nonetheless, live-tweeting using the #RealSOTU hashtag, and highlighting some of the crucial facts that the president will not.

I hope you can join me.

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