Union of Concerned ScientistsEnergy – Union of Concerned Scientists https://blog.ucsusa.org a blog on independent science + practical solutions Mon, 22 Jan 2018 22:02:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://blog.ucsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-32x32.png Energy – Union of Concerned Scientists https://blog.ucsusa.org 32 32 NAACP’s MLK Day initiative makes solar more accessible https://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/naacps-mlk-day-initiative-makes-solar-more-accessible https://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/naacps-mlk-day-initiative-makes-solar-more-accessible#comments Fri, 12 Jan 2018 19:25:54 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=56030
Solar Energy Industries Association

The sun shines on everyone, and the benefits of solar energy can too.  Look at the synergies of community-supportive/community-supporting solar, how this can spread.  Solar can create jobs, clean the air, and replace fossil fuel.  As Dr. Martin Luther King said: “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

Smiles in the sunshine. Credit: Solar Energy Industries Association

The NAACP is launching a civil rights economic and environmental justice initiative to connect 30+ communities of color and low income communities across the nation with solar energy infrastructure for homes and community centers, as well as skills training for solar jobs, all supported by strengthened solar equity policies. This will provide solar job skills training, install solar panels on households and community centers, and strengthen equity in solar access policies. Partners supporting this national initiative include GRID Alternatives, Solar Energy Industries Association, Sunrun, United Methodist Women, Vote Solar, and others. The Solar Equity Initiative will advance the aims of multiple NAACP civil rights initiatives: Environmental and Climate Justice, Economic Development, Labor, Education, Health and Criminal Justice.

Installing solar on community buildings will lower the energy bills and strengthen the budgets for those service-providers. Any non-profit can take this up, and the funds raised can be tax-deductible. Profit-minded owners of commercial buildings do this with tax credits, churches can do this with donations that are tax-deductible.

The NAACP kicking off this initiative at the Jenesse Center in Los Angeles will provide lifetime financial savings to that service organization estimated at $48,825. These savings will enable Jenesse to infuse more funds into its life-saving services.  Similar environmental and economic savings will be replicated with installations by this initiative, and others where communities combine social equity and clean energy.

Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by pollution-emitting power plants, impacting health, education, incomes. Environmental justice can be served by using community-based solar to replace the fossil fuel burned at old power plants, and remove the plants entirely.

The NAACP has taken this direct action as part of its Environmental and Climate Justice Program.  There are toolkits, links to local efforts, full-length movies and videos and resources all available from the NAACP.

UCS is developing the science and tools to make the direct replacement of power plants with solar, efficiency and storage or demand response a common practice. We have been inspired by early work of Elena Krieger  and real cases in California where power plants are to be closed, replaced, or never built as solar plus storage fill the need.  We have watched with hope as the solar solutions for Puerto Rico start to take shape, and as legislation in Illinois paves a path for solar for low-income folks.

To close with more words from Dr. King:

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

[Correction Tuesday 1/16/2018, 1:35pm: We corrected Dr. Krieger’s first name. It’s Elena, not Elaine]

Solar Energy Industries Association
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Cap-and-Invest: A Key Tool to Help Oregon Fight Climate Change https://blog.ucsusa.org/jason-barbose/cap-and-invest-a-key-tool-to-help-oregon-fight-climate-change https://blog.ucsusa.org/jason-barbose/cap-and-invest-a-key-tool-to-help-oregon-fight-climate-change#respond Tue, 09 Jan 2018 22:00:31 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55958

With the Trump administration undermining federal action to address climate change, states like Oregon are stepping up to protect the planet for future generations.

For example, after President Trump announced that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, Oregon joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of states committed to the goal of reducing global warming pollution consistent with the Agreement. In joining the Alliance last year, Governor Kate Brown said, “it is our moral obligation to fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement. Oregon will continue to make meaningful strides, with the rest of the world, to ensure our communities and economies adapt to meet the challenge of climate change.”

Fortunately, Oregon lawmakers and Governor Brown have the opportunity this year to take a huge step in Oregon’s fight against climate change. Last year legislators debated the Clean Energy Jobs bill, which would establish a “cap-and-invest” program that cuts global warming emissions by requiring polluters to pay for pollution, and then use the proceeds to invest in clean energy solutions. A cap-and-invest program would be a major new tool in Oregon’s climate-change-fighting toolbox, and the Clean Energy Jobs bill is now poised to be the single-biggest issue before Oregon lawmakers in 2018.

Pricing Pollution and Funding Solutions  

Oregon is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, from higher temperatures, a warmer and more acidic ocean, increased wildfire activity, and reduced snowpack. Putting a price on global warming emissions through a cap-and-invest program helps integrate the risks of climate change into the cost of doing business because it forces the costs of climate impacts and the value of low-carbon technologies to be better reflected in decisions companies make about what to produce and how to produce it, and consumers make about what to buy. This leads to fewer emissions that heat our atmosphere.

In addition, because major polluters are required to pay for their pollution, a cap-and-invest policy also generates significant revenue. These proceeds can be used to fund investments that help reduce climate change emissions, like making renewable energy more affordable, improving the energy efficiency of homes and other buildings, increasing transportation options, and expanding clean energy job training programs.

The Clean Energy Jobs bill is modeled on similar programs in other states and Canadian provinces, which have seen impressive success in making clean energy investments. For example, through the end of 2017, California’s legislature appropriated more than $4.7 billion in proceeds from the sale of cap-and-invest pollution permits for investments in a range of useful programs, from supporting rooftop solar panels to water efficiency projects. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-invest program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, has invested heavily in energy efficiency programs, helping 141,000 households and 5,700 businesses with investments in 2015 that will return $1.3 billion in energy bill savings. Oregon has the chance to build on these successful examples to create a program that reduces pollution and meets the unique needs of Oregonians, including its rural residents.

A Cap-and-Invest Program Will Complement Other Oregon Policies

While Oregon has already taken considerable steps to reign in global warming pollution from electricity production and cars and trucks, the state is not yet on track to meet its pollution reduction goals. Passing a cap-and-invest program is the single-biggest step state lawmakers can take to get Oregon on track.

Fortunately, a cap-and-invest program would nicely complement existing policies in Oregon to reduce global warming pollution, such as the Clean Fuels Program (CFP) and Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The CFP requires a 10 percent reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels sold in Oregon by 2025 (compared to a 2015 baseline). The program creates a dependable market for cleaner fuels, which facilitates steady investment into research, development, and deployment of low-carbon fuels that are necessary to decarbonize the transportation sector in coming decades.

Meanwhile, the RPS requires that by 2050 half of electricity sold in Oregon is supplied by renewable sources, like wind and solar. Similar to the CFP, this policy creates a dependable market for renewable technologies, which is critical for facilitating investment in clean energy solutions necessary to decarbonize the electricity sector.

A cap-and-invest program would complement these policies by providing greater assurance that Oregon will meet its targets for reducing global warming emissions statewide. That is because the central design feature of a cap-and-invest program is a limited pool of pollution permits (i.e., the “cap”), which shrinks each year to ensure that emissions are staying in line with emission reduction targets. In addition, the revenue from the cap-and-invest program is important for helping overcome market barriers for clean technologies that performance standards—such as the CFP and RPS, but also others like energy efficiency standards—cannot solve on their own.

Finally, the programs complement each other because compliance with CFP or RPS eases compliance with the cap-and-invest program. This reduces the price of pollution permits, reducing compliance costs for all sources covered by the cap-and-invest program.

Clean Energy Jobs Bill is “Fully Baked”

The Oregon legislature has considered various forms of legislation like the Clean Energy Jobs bill for more than a decade, with a sustained push to develop a cap-and-invest policy since 2016. This past fall Senator Dembrow and Representative Helm chaired a work group process to make further refinements to the program’s design. While the Union of Concerned Scientists may not end up agreeing with every detail in the House and Senate bills that will be introduced in February, it is abundantly clear that legislators’ sustained engagement on this topic, along with extensive stakeholder input, has produced a thorough and well-vetted program design. In the parlance of the legislature, the policy proposal is “fully baked” and ready to be passed into law.

The daunting consequences of a changing climate require a swift response from governments around the world. In 2018 Oregon lawmakers have the chance to accomplish something big to maintain the Beaver State’s commitment to seriously addressing this crisis. Let’s hope—and work—to see a cap-and-invest program passed this year.

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Department of Energy Coal Bailout Rejected: Told to Get the Facts First https://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/department-of-energy-coal-bailout-rejected-told-to-get-the-facts-first https://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/department-of-energy-coal-bailout-rejected-told-to-get-the-facts-first#comments Tue, 09 Jan 2018 21:21:56 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55953

The Trump Administration got a punch in the nose trying to overthrow energy markets and deprive consumers of the savings created by lower cost, competitive energy supplies. All five Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioners, four of them appointed by Donald Trump, rejected an open-ended bailout proposed by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Not the end, a beginning

Hurricane Irma restoration in Fort Lauderdale, FL, on Sept. 11, 2017.

The unanimous Commission decision starts a fresh look at what can threaten the power grid, and what is already being done, this time within the legal system that applies to energy markets. Going forward, FERC will look for a common understanding of resilience, and will ask the organizations that operate the power pools through independent wholesale markets, not monopolies.

The Commission asks over 25 questions to the independent grid operators that serve two thirds of the US population (New England; New York; the PJM region from Northern Illinois across the Ohio Valley to the Mid-Atlantic states; as well as the California ISO, the Midcontinent ISO and the Southwest Power Pool that have operated with very high levels of renewable energy).  Not included in this inquiry are the power pools in the Pacific Northwest, Texas, or the mountain states and southeast region of the U.S., areas where grid operators have not formed an independent system operator subject to Commission market rules.

Time for questions and answers

The Commission poses questions about existing practices, and market-based services that already support resilience. There are questions about how the grid operators assess the resilience of the grids they operate. The Commission asks if there have been studies about resilience in the face of threats, what sorts of threats have been studied, and how these kinds of events are selected. The grid operators are asked to explain their criteria for events, the basic methods for understanding threatening events, and useful preparations or practices for withstanding such events.

This assignment for the grid operators continues, asking what attributes of the power system contribute to resilience, and what design standards are in place, as well as how different generation types perform in drought and other extreme weather, physical attack, or cyber threat. Then the public and UCS can comment on the grid operators’ answers.

What will we say?

First, FERC is right to start with the power pool operators, as these were set up to make the electricity supply better, cheaper, faster.  Grid reliability can be improved, coal plants can be retired. Let’s gather up-to-date information. Unlike the proposal from the Trump Administration to rush a multi-billion dollar cronyism scheme, this is something worth discussing. We depend on electricity, the grid has weaknesses and signs of aging, and the threats to reliability are real. So yes, let’s consider how we can improve what we have built.  Better to look for needs first, and then ask what is available to fill these needs.

Wind and Solar Offer Resilience

Image: Mike Jacobs

Grid support from offshore wind is real in New England. We will urge the grid operators to look West, and to the Plains, where higher levels of wind and solar have provided new ways to make the grid resilient.

Using renewable energy brings the opportunity to forecast the impacts of weather, in more complex and subtle ways. The California ISO was first to implement wind forecasting, beginning in 2004.  The regional grid operators of Texas, New York ISO, and the Midcontinent ISO implemented wind forecasting in 2008 and PJM did so in 2009.

Look now at the Southwest Power Pool, (serving western Plains from North Dakota to northern Texas) where wind has reached 50% of the energy supply in some hours. There, grid operators have learned to adjust the voltage controls when wind is forecasted to be a major supply on the wires. In Colorado, Xcel has learned that there are some predictable aspects to the variability of wind, and operations can be improved by using some simple logic to reduce the costs. California ISO  recently learned it can use solar farms for reliability services. The technology is already in place to meet the need, but the contracts need to be written to gain access to the flexibility.

Water can be a vulnerability

We will urge the Commission to look to the state regulators’ body (NARUC) which resolved to support water-smart energy choices.  UCS has emphasized the impacts of drought on conventional power plants. Knowing fossil and nuclear plants depend on cooling water to run in hot weather, UCS quantified the water withdrawal needed for older generators, and technologies that need little or no water. Renewable energy and energy efficiency came out at the top of that analysis.

Storms can strike suddenly. Credit: Shane Lear

Wires are the backbone of the Grid

Transmission lines are key to the reliability of the grid. Most power outages are traced to transmission for large areas, and local outages are due to problems with wires on the street level. Storms can cause large-spread outages, but so can the frailty of transmission.  Transmission is burdened by the expense of including redundancy for reliability. Look to the role of energy storage to free up more of what is already built, part of a “smart” or modern grid that can diagnose and respond to disturbances.

To be continued

FERC Commissioner Rich Glick wrote in a concurring opinion how more work is needed to clarify resilience issues, and the role of new supply technologies:

“The Department’s own staff Grid Study concluded that changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid. To the contrary, the addition of a diverse array of generation resources, including natural gas, solar, wind, and geothermal, as well as maturing technologies, such as energy storage, distributed generation, and demand response, have in many respects contributed to the resilience of the bulk power system.”

 

Florida Power & Light
Florida Power & Light
Mike Jacobs owner
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Clean Energy in 2018: Here’s What to Expect https://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/clean-energy-in-2018-heres-what-to-expect https://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/clean-energy-in-2018-heres-what-to-expect#comments Tue, 09 Jan 2018 18:07:13 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55893

While the year 2017 is one I don’t mind seeing in the rear view mirror (and I’ve got colleagues that would agree), in the field of clean energy we made a whole lot o’ progress. A new year, if I’ve done my math right, means 12 more months to move the ball forward on clean energy. Here are a few things I’ll be keeping my eyes on as we traverse the length of 2018.

Solar – Sour or soar?

For solar power, February should be when we see the official tally for 2017 progress—how much, where, what price, what sizes. We already know, though, that last year was down from the record-breaking 2016.

One factor is that very record-breaking-ness: Developers and customers pushed to get lots of solar installed before an important investment tax credit was scheduled to expire. The tax credit got extended, but momentum carried many solar projects to completion in 2016. Not a bad thing, certainly, but it left 2017 as a bit of a cooling-off period.

Another really important factor: Right now, US solar companies don’t know what kind of environment they’re going to be operating in, which is something I’ll be watching this very month. We’ve got a president who seems gung-ho about tariffs (in this case, on solar cell/module imports) even when they don’t make sense, and a decision due from him on January 26 about whether to slap tariffs on.

In the meantime, we’re seeing, in the words of Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Abigail Ross Hopper, “what happens when policy uncertainty becomes a disruptive factor…” What we get: Shaky investors, as they try to read the tea leaves from an unstable teacup, and higher prices (temporary though they may be), as solar companies scramble to bring in what they can before any tariff hammer falls.

What that adds up to is that lower 2017, and a 2018 with potentially even fewer new solar installations, even if wisdom prevails on the tariff issue.

Still, the solar totals are and could still be impressive. The third quarter of 2017 saw more solar come online than in all of 2011, and the 2017 totals will show that it was the second-best year ever. And 2018 could bring considerably higher amounts of new solar than any year other than 2016 and 2017—and still enough new solar to power more than a million and a half typical US homes.

And then there’s the broader, and longer-term picture: Solar costs have kept impressively dropping as scale has ramped up, and solar has gotten harder and harder to ignore (even for smaller projects). Global totals for new solar are projected to have ended up much higher in 2017 than in 2016, and to be in that same high range in 2018.

Solar’s (mostly) steady climb (Source: GTM-SEIA)

Wind – Sigh or fly?

Wind power is another exciting technology to watch in 2018, including because the viewing can take you from coast to coast, and from the Great Plains to the waters off our shores. And, like solar, this technology has both headwinds and tailwinds.

  • For wind (and solar), the big holiday almost-spoiler was the federal tax bill. The house and senate versions each had provisions that would have undercut incentives, even for projects already up and running with those incentives in their calculations. That particular crisis was averted—a testament to the strong bipartisan support that wind has earned (and the volume of opposition to wrong-headedness).
  • Another big factor for land-based wind is the planned phase-out of one of those key incentives, the production tax credit (PTC). Wind projects that began construction before last year can get 100% of the tax credit. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, though, that credit is falling to 80%, 60%, and 40%, before going away entirely for projects started in 2020 and beyond. That gives a strong incentive to get projects built now.
  • Wind power also has going for it the incredible cost reductions it has achieved in recent years: In some parts of the country, it’s the lowest-cost thing out there. A utility in Colorado, for example, had projected last year that it could save its customers hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few decades by replacing some of its coal plants with renewable energy. When they asked for bids, though, the wind projects came in at even lower prices than they had assumed (more info here; subscription required).

Lots of tailwinds, and the numbers are bearing that out: The amount of wind capacity under construction as of the third quarter of 2017 was about as strong as ever (and all over the map, in a good way). And the fourth quarters are always the strongest for actually turning projects on. So I’ll be looking for those results in the next few weeks.

Wind power on the move (Source: AWEA)

Wind in the water – Time to buy

And then there’s offshore wind. Since the launch in late 2016 of the first offshore wind project in the country (and the hemisphere), off Rhode Island, this has been a technology on the move. And 2018 looks to bring more progress:

  • Utilities in Massachusetts will be deciding on the offshore wind proposals that got submitted last month by several high-powered collaborations. The timeline calls for the winners to be selected later this year, meaning at least 200-800 megawatts of offshore wind could be on the way, the first phase of the state’s planned 1,600 megawatts by 2030.
  • New York Andrew Cuomo just announced the next step toward realizing the state’s 2030 goal of 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind: a call for the state to get bids for at least 800 megawatts of offshore wind power over this year and next, enough power for some 400,000 Empire State households.
  • With the election last November, New Jersey now has a governor (Phil Murphy) with an even bolder 2030 goal than New York’s or Massachusetts’s: 3,500 megawatts. The Garden State certainly has the coastline, and the wind resource, to support ambitious plans.
  • Meanwhile, Maryland has two projects that were awarded state support last year and that add up to more than 360 megawatts, Connecticut is exploring a requirement that might result in a couple hundred megawatts of offshore wind, and several other East Coast states also have offshore wind areas already leased out. Don’t lose sight of the Great Lakes or the West Coast, either.

For a happy 2018

There’s plenty more to watch beyond wind and solar, of course. Other renewable energy technologies stand ready to contribute. Energy storage is growing (and getting cheaper) more quickly than just about anybody imagined. Energy efficiency keeps making things better, smarter, cheaper. And we could talk about electric vehicle progress for hours (or you could just look here).

States are figuring out, too, how to modernize electricity grids and policies—and upgrade transmission lines—to help us get off large old centralized power plants and take advantage of renewable energy in all its forms. All worth monitoring, and helping move along.

And we need to keep an eye on fossil fuels, too, to make sure bad decisions don’t get made to try to prop up failing coal plants via federal policy (even if they fail), or at the state level. To make sure our EPA works for us in cutting pollution from power plants, not for polluters.

And we need to make sure we don’t hamstring our economies with an overcommitment to natural gas.

But for energy progress in 2018—for our economy, for jobs, for our environment, for our kids—clean energy is what I’ll be watching.

DOE
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Trump Administration Rescinds Fracking Rule for Public Lands: A Blow to Public Protection https://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/trump-administration-rescinds-fracking-rule-for-public-lands-a-blow-to-public-protection https://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/trump-administration-rescinds-fracking-rule-for-public-lands-a-blow-to-public-protection#comments Mon, 08 Jan 2018 19:34:54 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55900
Photo: Tim Evanson/Wikimedia Commons

At the end of last month, we saw yet another casualty in the Trump administration’s war on science-based policy. The administration announced it would rescind a 2015 rule at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to address risks associated with unconventional oil and gas development on public land. Though not unexpected, this move was disheartening. The 2015 BLM fracking rule was an important step in protecting people from many unchecked risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. To understand what we lost, let me quickly review the national setting back in 2015 when the rule was issued.

The BLM fracking rule, rescinded by the Trump Administration, was the only major federal rule governing risks associated with unconventional oil and gas development. Photo: Shutterstock.com/krivenko

A Wild West of oil and gas drilling

Around 2008, the oil and gas industry refined methods of hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling that made the process of shale oil and gas drilling more economically viable. This led to a rapid expansion of oil and gas development across the country. Many of the new places seeing oil and gas development had never experienced drilling in close proximity before, and now it was happening around them—in some cases, literally in their backyards. The nation was caught off guard. Notably, the scientific community had to play catch-up to assess risks to air and water and from occupational chemical exposure. Reports began to surface from communities complaining of drinking water contamination or poor air quality causing health concerns. But scientific studies on these subjects were limited.

One major barrier to understanding the risks associated with the new boom in fracking was a lack of transparency from industry. Researchers studying air quality around facilities were only able to take measurements from facility fencelines without closer access to emission sources on site. Researchers studying water quality were forced to analyze samples without any baseline measurements of what water quality was like before drilling started. And physicians were forced to make medical decisions about patients without knowledge of the chemicals they were exposed to because companies refused to disclose chemicals used in fracking fluid.

As a result, the public was left in the dark. The federal government failed to take a large role in regulating this Wild West of oil and gas drilling, leaving regulation largely up to states—many of which were ill-equipped to manage a new and complex industry now ever-present in their state. In some ways the federal government was limited in what it could do. The infamous “Halliburton Loophole” in the Safe Drinking Water Act prevents the EPA from protecting people from fracking risks to drinking water using the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The BLM fracking rule: the federal government steps up

But one way the federal government could take action (or at least so they thought) was by creating a rule dictating how unconventional oil and gas drilling could happen on public lands. Thus, the BLM fracking rule was developed. While modest in scope, the BLM rule was an important step toward greater regulation and disclosure of an industry unaccustomed to playing under such constraints. The rule set standards for well construction, wastewater management, and chemical disclosure. The greater chemical disclosure requirement was huge. It meant companies couldn’t continue to hide behind trade secret claims and the public, scientists, landowners, medical personnel, workers, and first responders would now have greater access to information about chemicals involved and risks to health.

The rule’s requirements about well construction and wastewater management could also have gone a long way toward minimizing risks of groundwater contamination—perhaps the issue of greatest concern for communities based on several high-profile cases of large-scale drinking water contamination. This is an area where we also saw a high degree of industry misconduct. There were cases of dumping wastewater and many accidental spills and leaks. In other cases, water was contaminated by faulty well-casings or natural and manmade fissures in bedrock that allowed fracking chemicals or naturally occurring hazardous chemicals to reach water sources. All the while, industry often hid behind their narrow definition of fracking, despite a public understanding and concern about water contamination throughout the process—from initial drilling, to oil and gas production, to transportation from the site. Setting standards, even if only for public lands, could have encouraged companies to adopt such protocols industry-wide, guarding against future water contamination.

The rule also restricted where drilling could happen. It required companies to avoid endangered species habitats. This was important for species like the sage grouse which live in prime areas for development and need quiet spaces for mating. (Side note: This is actually one of three hits on the sage grouse by the Trump Administration. Earlier this year it reopened state management plans that were designed to ensure the species could stay off of the endangered species list. And last week, the administration rescinded an order for the BLM to prioritize oil and gas permit granting outside of sensitive sage grouse territory.)

Back to square one: leaving us in the dark

Though the rule was stayed by a court in 2016 and thus wasn’t in effect when the Trump Administration made this move, the rule did sent a signal to industry that they would soon have to accept a more transparent and safety-focused business model. Without such a rule on the books, we are now back to square one when it comes to federal protection of people against the risks of fracking. And that leaves us all in the dark.

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A Year of Resistance—and Why I’m Hopeful for 2018 https://blog.ucsusa.org/rachel-cleetus/resistance-2018 https://blog.ucsusa.org/rachel-cleetus/resistance-2018#respond Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:54:15 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55732
Photo: UCS/Audrey Eyring

What a year it’s been. The destructive antics of the Trump administration and Congress and a political discourse increasingly polluted by ‘alternative facts’ have frequently made many of us angry, sad, and sometimes just plain crazy.

Through it all, it’s been inspiring to see a resistance movement gather strength and show its muscle. I’ve been awed by the work of racial justice activists, scientists, grassroots groups, immigrant rights groups, youth groups and many many others. Here’s a snapshot of what a year in the resistance looked like for me.

January

The Women’s March (one of the largest protest marches ever, coordinated across the nation and globally), held a day after President’s Trump’s inauguration (with its less-than-record attendance), showed where the true power of the people lies.

Like many of you, I joined the march with my family. Watching my kids (in their pink hats, of course) experience the crowds, point out their favorite signs, raise their voices in call-and-response chants—all of it gave me a thrill to think that a new generation was beginning to understand the power of peaceful protest in a democracy.

And we called out a dangerous new form of climate denial taking hold in the administration, especially with the nomination of Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator.

February

In courts across the nation, including in Hawaii, Washington, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Maryland, there were immediate challenges filed to President Trump’s terrible ‘Muslim Ban’ executive order issued at the end of January.

As an immigrant myself, it was especially moving to join a large and diverse crowd of people marching in protest in Boston, and to see similar protests nationwide. At many major airports teams of lawyers also flocked in to offer pro bono assistance to travelers affected by the ban. (The Supreme Court has since allowed a modified version of the ban to go ahead but this is by no means the last word since it is still being litigated.)

March

We called out Scott Pruitt’s lies on climate change, held the administration accountable on its rollback of protective health standards including an all-out attack on climate policies, and we urged Congress to resist harmful cuts to the EPA budget (and succeeded in fending off some of the most damaging cuts).

April

The March for Science March and the Peoples Climate March were the highlights of April. It was magnificent to join the throngs of people marching for climate, jobs and justice on that sweltering hot day in Washington DC. More importantly, we are building a movement that is about more than just that one day.

May

President Trump’s destructive first budget proposal was shown up to be all bark and no bite since Congress actually controls the purse strings. We campaigned against the many awful elements of the Trump budget proposal, including cuts that would harm our nation’s ability to prepare for climate and extreme weather disasters and cuts that would gut the EPA. (Harmful budget cuts are an ongoing threat. It’s critical for constituents to continue to urge their policymakers to resist deep cuts to agency budgets that jeopardize the health and well-being of Americans.)

June

We are still in!’ declared states, cities, counties, tribes, businesses, investors, faith groups, colleges and universities, in prompt response to President Trump’s shameful announcement that he intended to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.

Unfortunately, June also brought terrible heatwaves and wildfires, further evidence that the impacts of climate change are here and now, despite the climate denialism rampant in this administration.

July

One of the most satisfying ways to resist the madness wrought by this administration is to just carry on doing good science. In July, my colleagues and I released a new report, When Rising Seas Hit Home: Hard Choices Ahead for Hundreds of US Coastal Communities. The report highlights the threat of chronic coastal inundation exacerbated by sea level rise, and is accompanied by a fantastic online mapping tool.

Its findings challenge us to work toward solutions at the national, state and local level. Frontline communities facing these risks need help—and this should not be a partisan issue.

August-September

The nightmare hurricane season of 2017 unfolded in August and September, bringing Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Houston, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands suffered particularly devastating impacts. Groups like Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), an Environmental Justice organization in Houston, rallied to call attention to urgent needs.

My colleagues and I wrote about the flood threats in Houston, especially the risks from toxic pollution and the need to keep environmental justice front and center in the recovery process. We also laid out the science of hurricanes and climate change, and called on Congress to take action to help devastated communities.

And, yes, we also pointed out the irony of the Trump administration’s rollback of the federal flood risk management standard just a week before Harvey hit. And the how damaging the administration’s proposed budget cuts to FEMA and HUD, key agencies for our nation’s disaster response, would be.

October

Market trends, state policies, and federal tax incentives continued to drive a historic transition away from coal to cleaner forms of energy, despite the EPA’s announcement that it would repeal the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever limits on power plant carbon emissions. We called out Administrator Pruitt’s cynical move to pander to fossil fuel interests while blatantly ignoring the EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment.

Terrible wildfires raged across Northern California, killing 44 people and causing billions of dollars of damage. Sadly, another example of how climate change is exacerbating risks to people and property.

November

I was in Bonn, Germany for COP23, the annual UN climate talks, where the Trump administration was rendered largely irrelevant and isolated in its stance on the Paris Agreement. Every other nation is steadfastly committed to the agreement, and the ‘We Are Still In’ coalition of US sub-national actors was there in full force to reiterate that the nation’s clean energy and carbon-cutting progress will continue despite the retrograde actions of the Trump administration.

December

As we close out the year with the passage of a deeply unjust and harmful tax reform bill and a sober reckoning of this year’s record-breaking disastersincluding wildfires and hurricanes, there are lots of reasons to be very concerned.

Yet, there are some bits of good news too. The terribly destructive Thomas Fire in California is finally under control, for one. I also see signs all around that the resistance is alive and well–and gathering steam.

Just a few examples of positive developments:

  • We’ve seen a number of unqualified nominees proposed by the administration forced to withdraw recently because of public pressure;
  • Our nation’s transition away from coal to cleaner power sources continues unabated, lowering power sector carbon emissions;
  • Many states continue to enhance the ambition of their clean energy policies;
  • Many people stood up to defend science (here’s UCS’ list of 2017 Science Defenders, example);
  • Congress roundly rejected many of the extreme budget cuts proposed by the administration;
  • The Alabama election demonstrated the power of African American voters (women especially), a historically disenfranchised segment of the population;
  • The National Defense Authorization Act recently signed by President Trump explicitly acknowledges that climate change is a direct threat to US national security. (Of course we had to then call him out for flip-flopping a week later when the administration released a National Security Strategy that doesn’t even mention climate change!)

Hope for 2018

What gives me hope for 2018 is that Americans from all walks of life are now awake to the threats this administration poses to our democracy, our health, our climate, and basic human rights—and we’re fighting back! Our movement is strongest when we work together, connecting our work to people’s daily lives and concerns, and specifically aiming for solutions that are just.

The wins may not come easily and there’s a lot of work ahead. This administration’s attacks on science and our core values will very likely continue. But they are helping to forge our resistance and build its power. (Not to mention inspiring reams of incredibly biting, funny, incisive political satire–humor is sometimes the only way to handle the farcical extremes we’ve experienced this year!)

I hope you’ll share your moments of resistance in the comments section. A peaceful new year to all.

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Don’t Believe the Trump Administration—That Coal In Your Stocking Is Not a Compliment https://blog.ucsusa.org/julie-mcnamara/trump-coal-stocking https://blog.ucsusa.org/julie-mcnamara/trump-coal-stocking#comments Thu, 21 Dec 2017 20:03:34 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55703

In this the year of our collective disappointment on federal support for climate, energy, public health—progress—let us relish in one certainty: a surge in year-end searches about holidays and coal. From the warm and cozy outposts of our nation’s leaders’ homes, hiding from the storm of public scorn, one can imagine little queries being soon sent into the night:

  • “is receiving coal a compliment?”
  • “if coal is clean why is stocking dirty?”
  • “does lump of coal mean democratic process is preferred?”

And so on.

But here’s the thing. Earlier this year, the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy released an infographic titled “6 Things You May Not Know About Coal.” Unfortunately, this infographic is a tour-de-force in obfuscating truth through diversions and distractions.

And me? I don’t want those late-night searches leading to any wrong conclusions.

So below, we’re adding context to DOE’s coal trivia to help ensure these lumpy forms of year-end feedback are appropriately received.

1. Menacing piles is right—our nation is being smothered in coal ash. One side effect of using all those coal reserves? Generating even more of the toxic coal ash that gets left behind. It turns out that when we burn coal, it doesn’t all go up in polluting smoke. Indeed, coal ash comprises one of the nation’s largest industrial waste streams, totaling more than 100 million tons last year.

This waste is an awful gift that keeps on giving, from its toxic pollutants leaching into drinking water, to multiple horrors of coal ash ponds bursting forth and decimating unsuspecting communities and waterways below.

But protections against these threats? Keep dreaming. This fall, the Trump administration moved to reconsider a regulation that would demand basic protections against these ticking time bombs.

2. If your state has traditionally been a coal-based economy, prepare for your budget to take a tumble in a front-load washer. There is an undeniable and unrelenting transition taking place in the nation’s power sector. And a transition, by its very nature, means moving away from one thing and toward another. For states that have long provided our nation with the fuel required to power our energy needs, this transition is hard. But the administration’s continued denial about what’s really happening means that these states aren’t planning for the future—they’re desperately clinging to a rapidly disappearing past.

Unfortunately, the end result of all those rosy distractions from the Trump administration is states forgoing actual long-term opportunities that could help them stay afloat.

3. The nation’s coal cart isn’t serenely parked—it’s careening headlong towards a crash. What’s remarkable about coal’s contribution to electricity generation is not that it represents nearly a third of our supply—it’s that as recently as 2006, it made up more than half. Driving this precipitous fall is a confluence of factors, foremost among them an abundance of cheap natural gas, as well as limited load growth, and more recently, sky-rocketing rates of deployment of renewable resources like wind and solar.

4. Potato, potahto; one man’s beneficial byproduct, another man’s toxic waste site. Our nation is awash in the harmful coal mine outflow known as acid mine drainage—estimates suggest that in Pennsylvania and West Virginia alone, 10,000 miles of streams are affected—as well as a seemingly endless supply of coal ash (see above). Researching ways to clean up these environmental and public health catastrophes is good; calling them opportunities—and implying value in creating ever more—is a bad joke.

Let’s clean up what we’ve already spoiled, not set off to make an even bigger mess.

5. Clean coal? Beautiful, clean coal? Close your eyes, click your heels, and repeat after me [loudly, so EPA Administrator Pruitt can hear from his soundproof booth]: “There’s no such thing as clean coal. There’s no such thing as clean coal. There’s no such thing as clean coal.”

Poof! Welcome back to the sweet, sweet land of reality. Facts are hard, and sometimes even inconvenient, but they do have the distinct benefit of being true. So long as we’re still burning coal, yes, let’s do it as cleanly and efficiently as possible—we all benefit from that. But let’s not kid ourselves. Coal can be cleaner, but it’s not clean, and all the while the disproportionate burden of pollution from mining and burning coal too often falls on low-income and minority communities.

6. If we go all-in on “clean coal,” the only thing still going up is our pollution footprint. To forestall the worst of climate impacts, it’ll take a wholesale shift in our economy, including remaking our power sector to reach near-zero carbon. Given the urgent need to cut emissions, let’s get going with renewables today, which can go a long way toward getting the job done right here and right now—from stimulating the economy, to creating new jobs, to improving public health.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology—which aims to capture and store CO2 from burning coal—could eventually play a larger role if we can overcome the significant technological and cost challenges it currently faces. But remember: while CCS can make coal cleaner, it can’t alone take care of all the other lifecycle pollution baggage coal’s got.

And thus take note, all you dirty-stocking coal queriers out there: others can try to spin it all they want, but the hard truth for you is that coal you got? It’s no compliment. So take your lumps, and then let’s look ahead to smoother times next year: one driven by facts, pointing toward truths, and reckoning with the real challenges and real opportunities ahead.

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The Next Big Step in Massachusetts Offshore Wind: The Bids are in https://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/the-next-big-step-in-massachusetts-offshore-wind-the-bids-are-in https://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/the-next-big-step-in-massachusetts-offshore-wind-the-bids-are-in#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 18:40:14 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55686

Something big to celebrate in the world of US offshore wind as 2017 winds down: We’ve just hit the deadline for proposals to build the first projects in response to Massachusetts’ pioneering 2016 energy diversity law. And the responses from the three holders of offshore wind leases off Massachusetts are in.

What’s on offer

More on the way! (Credit: J. Rogers/UCS)

Offshore wind is brand new in this country. So you could have bet that each new proposal would have a unique flavor. The proposals bear that out.

Deepwater Wind owns the title of First in the Water, with their five-turbine, 30-megawatt offshore wind farm near Block Island, RI, that went online in late 2016 as the first offshore wind farm in the Americas. For this Massachusetts move, they’ve partnered with National Grid Ventures and the Northfield Mountain pumped hydro storage facility in a project they’re calling Revolution Wind.

The partnership with the Northfield Mountain, located in north-central Massachusetts, Deepwater says, would mean that “offshore wind can act like a baseload resource,” supplying energy around the clock.

With National Grid Ventures, an affiliate of National Grid (one of the utilities tasked with buying offshore wind based on the 2016 law), Deepwater is looking to build a transmission backbone, enough capacity to move electricity not just from their own project, “but also future offshore wind farms, even if they’re built by [their] competitors.”

The Deepwater proposals would result in 200-400 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity. The company is aiming to start construction in 2022, for operation in 2023.

Vineyard Wind, a collaboration between a Danish fund management company (Copenhagen Investment Partners) and a subsidiary of a Spanish utility (Avangrid Renewables), is looking to supply half or all of the energy from a planned 800-megawatt project in its lease area. The company, according to Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens, is

…confident that its proposal… is the right approach for local residents and businesses eager to reap the abundant environmental and economic benefits that are associated with large-scale renewable and sustainable wind energy…

Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Thaaning Pedersen says the project “will serve as an accelerator for the local clean energy economy and green tech workforce…”

Both Copenhagen Investment Partners and Avangrid have strong offshore wind experience in Europe, directly or through affiliates, and Avangrid is one of the largest developers of land-based wind in the US.

The company is looking to start construction in 2019, and be online by 2021.

Bay State Wind, like Deepwater, is incorporating energy storage, but in the form of a 55 megawatt battery, which it claims will be “the largest battery storage system ever deployed in conjunction with a wind farm,” aimed at “helping to ensure power is available during peak hours when it is needed most.”

Like Vineyard Wind, Bay State Wind is offering 400-800 megawatts, which it says will allow it to “provid[e] energy at the lowest cost to consumers, all while bringing significant environmental and community benefits.”

Bay State Wind is a partnership between Danish power company Ørsted and Eversource Energy. Ørsted (formerly DONG Energy) is the owner of thousands of megawatts of offshore wind, developed the very first offshore wind farm in the world (in 1991), and is working on what will likely be the largest offshore wind project in the world. Eversource Energy is New England’s largest utility (and another of the offtakers for whichever projects win these bids).

What’s next

Three projects, lots of partners, decisions to make.

The state-approved process calls for “projects for negotiation” to be selected by May 22, 2018, for contract negotiations to be done by October 3, and for the utilities to submit their proposed contracts for approval by the department of public utilities by November 1.

Cost will certainly be one factor in the decision making, but far from the only one. The 2016 legislation, in fact, had a boatload of criteria for would-be projects, including:

(i) provide enhanced electricity reliability; (ii) contribute to reducing winter electricity price spikes; (iii) are cost effective to electric ratepayers in the commonwealth over the term of the contract… (vii) allow offshore wind energy generation resources to be paired with energy storage systems; (viii) where possible, mitigate any environmental impacts; and (xi) where feasible, create and foster employment and economic development in the commonwealth. 

It also required that preference be given “to proposals that demonstrate a benefit to low-income ratepayers in the commonwealth, without adding cost to the project.”

The wide variety of issues and opportunities will make sauce out of attempts to do apples-to-apples comparisons. Each proposal will likely offer appreciable advantages over others in one area or another.

The important thing, for now, is that, in our path to the eventual 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind that the law requires, we’ve passed the next big milestone for Massachusetts’s embrace of this incredibly exciting new technology. On to 2018.

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¡La Lucha No Se Acaba!: La lucha Continúa por una Transición Justa de la Planta de Carbón de Crawford en La Villita https://blog.ucsusa.org/guest-commentary/la-lucha-no-se-acaba-la-lucha-continua-por-una-transicion-justa-de-la-planta-de-carbon-de-crawford-en-la-villita https://blog.ucsusa.org/guest-commentary/la-lucha-no-se-acaba-la-lucha-continua-por-una-transicion-justa-de-la-planta-de-carbon-de-crawford-en-la-villita#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 15:43:38 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55561

El 12 de agosto de 2017, nuestra organización, la Organización de Justicia Ambiental de La Villita (LVEJO por sus siglas en ingles, por sus siglas en inglés), celebró un encuentro en el parque La Villita en el vecindario de La Villita para celebrar el quinto aniversario del cierre de las plantas de carbón Crawford y Fisk en Chicago. Con miembros de la comunidad y líderes juveniles en asistencia, fue una oportunidad especial que tuvo LVEJO para recordar a muchos, todos los años de organización comunitaria y de formar coaliciones que tuvieron lugar, y para agradecer a viejos amigos y aliados del vecino vecindario de Pilsen quienes fueron esenciales en esta campaña. Con ritmos de cumbia comimos pastel, distribuimos literatura acerca de la Justicia Ambiental a los asistentes del parque(aprenda sobre los principios de justicia ambiental aquí), y disfrutamos viendo a nuestros niños romper una piñata y correr rápidamente por las golosinas que caían al suelo.

Líder juvenil de La Villita en el 5to aniversario del cierre de la planta de carbón Crawford (Crédito de la foto: Antonio López)

La conmemoración fue un momento agradable, pero también nos recordó que cinco años después La Villita sigue enfrentándose a serios desafíos de justicia ambiental, incluyendo una batalla difícil para reconstruir la planta de carbón de Crawford. De hecho, la comunidad es cada vez más vulnerable al aumento de las emisiones de diésel y muchos están preocupados por la gentrificación y el desplazamiento. A pesar de estas amenazas, los líderes de La Villita continúan luchando por una comunidad más sana y responsabilizar a los que tienen poder para que sigan principios de reconstrucción comunitaria equitativa. Como decimos en LVEJO, ¡la lucha no se acaba!

Una Transición Justa en la Planta de Crawford

Cinco años más tarde, la planta de carbón de Crawford sigue siendo un sitio poco acogedor en La Villita. A diferencia de muchas otras comunidades dependientes del carbón, La Villita no fue devastada económicamente por el cierre de la planta de carbón y la pérdida de puestos de trabajo. De hecho, Crawford contrató a muy pocos trabajadores de La Villita. Sin embargo, sabiendo que Crawford perjudicó la salud de la comunidad durante tanto tiempo y excluyó a la fuerza de trabajo local de empleos bien pagados, LVEJO está comprometida a ver llevar a cabo una transición justa en el lugar.

Una transición justa de la vieja planta de carbón significa para nosotros que los miembros de la comunidad estén profundamente involucrados en el proceso de reconstrucción y que el sitio eventualmente se convierta en un catalizador de mejor salud, acceso a trabajo y otras actividades económicas que beneficien a los residentes de largo tiempo. Situado en 72 acres de terreno creemos que hay una oportunidad significativa para transformar el sitio en un lugar que satisfaga múltiples necesidades identificadas por la comunidad, y sea una fuente de orgullo. Hemos escuchado claramente que nuestra comunidad quiere más espacios verdes, oportunidades de capacitación laboral, agricultura urbana y pequeñas empresas que sean culturalmente relevantes como Los Mangos. Puede parecer un sueño inalcanzable – y ciertamente hay muchos obstáculos – pero con un profundo apoyo de la comunidad realmente creemos que la transición justa de Crawford es posible.

Líderes juveniles de LVEJO continúan resaltando los daños a la salud comunitaria causados por Crawford (Crédito de la foto: LVEJO)

Desafíos para el Desarrollo

Entendemos que la reconstrucción de una vieja planta de carbón toma muchos años y no es fácil. Desafortunadamente, desde el cierre de Crawford, LVEJO ha tenido conocimiento de proyectos recientemente propuestos y planes de uso de terrenos que amenazan con quebrantar los avances en la calidad del aire por los que tanto luchamos.

Como La Villita tiene una ubicación centrada en Chicago y está muy cerca de las principales arterias de transporte, planificadores urbanos han designado a La Villita como un área para nuevos centros de transporte y de logística. Sin considerar el impacto en la salud de las emisiones de diésel en la comunidad alrededor, planificadores urbanos y concejales locales están rezonificando espacios industriales, aprobando proyectos de reurbanización y llevando a cabo planes de uso de terrenos que no toman en cuenta la incorporación de la justicia ambiental. En lugar de aprovechar las fortalezas y el sólido historial de ambientalismo en la comunidad, los responsables de tomar decisiones amenazan con hacer de La Villita una zona de sacrificio una vez más. Un ejemplo importante es el Proyecto de Expansión de Unilever.

Amenazas de Diésel/Unilever

La planta cercana de Unilever ha estado en el vecindario desde 1918, un testimonio del legado industrial heredado en el vecindario. En febrero de 2015, la planta de Unilever que produce la Mayonesa Hellman’s, anunció que aumentará la producción y generará 50 empleos locales adicionales en la fábrica. Pero estos trabajos tienen un costo. Hoy en día, las leyes de zonificación actuales permiten que una fábrica industrial tan grande como Unilever se expanda justo al lado de una escuela primaria de más de 1,000 niños e innumerables familias. Todos los días más de 100 camiones de diésel fluyen dentro y fuera de esta área. Basado en el estudio de tráfico de Unilever, habrá un aumento de hasta 500 camiones diésel que estarán fluyendo dentro y fuera del vecindario diariamente. Los camiones de motores diésel producen una gran cantidad de contaminantes de partículas finas que se han relacionado con el asma, las enfermedades respiratorias, y el daño general a los tejidos pulmonares. Los humos adicionales del diésel crearán peligros para la salud, aumentarán la incidencia de asma y de enfermedades relacionadas con el aire. Los niños son especialmente vulnerables. Debido a estas preocupaciones de salud, LVEJO ha lanzado una campaña de para educar a los miembros de la comunidad sobre los riesgos que el diésel plantea y hacer responsables tanto a las empresas como a quienes toman decisiones.

La Ley de Empleos en Energía del Futuro (Future Energy Jobs Act, o FEJA por us siglas en Inglés)

El fracaso de los planificadores de la ciudad y los funcionarios locales en aprovechar el cierre de la planta de Crawford para volver a desarrollar la comunidad de acuerdo con nuestras necesidades no ha detenido nuestros esfuerzos para organizar y defender una nueva economía libre de combustibles fósiles. LVEJO sigue luchando por la democracia energética y se opone vehementemente a las falsas soluciones al cambio climático.

LVEJO fue vital para la creación de una Ley de Empleos en Energía del Futuro (FEJA, por sus siglas en inglés) en Illinois que tuvo un amplio apoyo de coaliciones y de la comunidad. Críticamente, el liderazgo de LVEJO en la FEJA priorizó oportunidades de salud y justicia económica, incluyendo acceso a capacitación laboral y trabajos en energía limpia en las comunidades de bajos ingresos – una alta prioridad para todos los líderes comunitarios. FEJA incluye $33.25 millones en gastos anuales en programas de eficiencia energética para comunidades de bajos ingresos, el triple de niveles actuales de gasto en dichos programas en el estado de Illinois.

Esto sumado a millones de dólares comprometidos a aumentos en asistencia para cuentas de energía, ahorrarán dinero a las familias que luchan por pagar estas cuentas. LVEJO participó como arquitecto principal de políticas críticas en la legislación relacionadas con el servicio a comunidades de bajos ingresos, incluyendo la nueva Illinois Solar Para Todos (Illinois Solar for All), un programa de energía solar para comunidades de bajos ingresos con metas enfocadas en acceso para comunidades de justicia ambiental financiado con más de $400 millones.

El programa está emparejado con un canal de capacitación laboral que se centrará en el reclutamiento en estas mismas comunidades, con incentivos adicionales para contratar a 2.000 personas con antecedentes penales y egresados del sistema estatal de cuidado de crianza temporal.

Con la aprobación de la Ley de Empleos en Energía del Futuro, comunidades de bajos ingresos y comunidades racializadas y/o etnias minoritarias, como La Villita, tendrán oportunidades importantes de beneficiarse de los recursos comprometidos para construir una economía de energía limpia en el estado.

Kim Wasserman de LVEJO y Jerry Lucero de PERRO celebran el 5º aniversario del cierre de las plantas Fisk y Crawford en Pilsen y La Villita. Crawford está atrás de ellos. (Crédito de la foto: Antonio López)

¡No al Carbon! ¡Queremos Justicia Ambiental!

Además de asegurar que los programas de FEJA lleguen a comunidades de línea de frente y de bajos ingresos, la transición justa de la planta de carbón de Crawford es un objetivo principal de la Organización de Justicia Ambiental de La Villita. Creemos que el redesarrollo equitativo de la planta de Crawford puede destacarse como un modelo para otras comunidades de Justicia Ambiental que trabajan en iniciativas de transición justas.

De hecho, en todo el Medio Oeste de EE.UU. las comunidades de Justicia Ambiental están liderando la lucha para cerrar plantas de carbón, incineradores y otras fábricas contaminantes. La reconstrucción comunitario de la planta de Crawford no sólo beneficiará profundamente a La Villita, sino que también será un poderoso símbolo de justicia ambiental.

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Major Job Losses in Renewable Energy if Current Tax Plan Passes https://blog.ucsusa.org/steve-clemmer/tax-bill-job-losses https://blog.ucsusa.org/steve-clemmer/tax-bill-job-losses#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 14:00:57 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55541

In March 2017, I testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on how federal tax credits for renewable energy have been a key driver for the recent growth in the US wind and solar industries, creating new jobs, income, and tax revenues for local communities.  They have also helped drive down the cost of wind and solar power by more than two-thirds since 2009, making renewable energy more affordable for consumers.

Originally enacted as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, Congress has extended the Production Tax Credit (PTC) seven times and has allowed it to expire on six occasions. This “on-again/off-again” status resulted in a boom-bust cycle of development in the wind industry. In the years following expiration, installations dropped between 76 and 93 percent, with corresponding job losses. Congress has also extended the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar several times.

Finally, after many years of this policy uncertainty, Congress passed a five-year extension and phase-down of the PTC and the ITC for wind and solar in December 2015. The legislation also removed the longstanding US oil export ban, as part of a compromise deal with the oil industry.

Unfortunately, the Senate and House tax bills would renege on this deal and change the rules midstream, resulting in major job losses across the US renewable energy industry. They would also jeopardize tens of billions in investments in renewable energy projects and manufacturing facilities in rural communities across America—many of which are in districts and states held by Republicans and that voted for President Trump.

Senate tax bill undermines renewable energy financing

The renewable energy industry initially praised an earlier version of the Senate tax bill, which honored the 2015 deal and did not make any direct changes to the PTC and ITC. However, the Senate made two last-minute changes to the bill to fill revenue gaps and build support from key Republicans that were concerned about the deficit that would have a significant impact on renewable energy projects.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT): One of these last-minute changes was to restore the AMT to fill a $40 billion revenue gap. The proposal in both the Senate and House tax bills to reduce the corporate tax rate to 20 percent would likely move most US corporations from the regular corporate income tax rate to the AMT (which is also set at 20 percent on a broader tax base), according to tax experts.

However, not all tax credits count toward the AMT and depreciation must be calculated at a slower rate. While the ITC for solar projects can count toward the AMT, the PTC for wind projects (and geothermal, biomass, landfill gas and incremental hydro projects) can only count for the first 4 years out of the 10-year window that projects are eligible to receive the tax credits. Not only would this jeopardize investment in new projects, it would have a retroactive impact on existing projects placed in service after 2007 that are still receiving tax credits under the PTC.

Base-Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT): The Senate also made a last-minute change to the BEAT provision that could greatly reduce tax equity financing for renewable energy projects. BEAT would impose a tax on large corporations that make cross-border payments by requiring them to add those payments to their taxable income. This amount is then multiplied by 10 percent to determine what they owe to the government (except for banks and security dealers, which the Senate raised to 11 percent). These corporations must also calculate their regular tax liability minus any tax credits they receive, including the PTC and the ITC. If their adjusted tax liability is less than the fraction of their taxable income with the cross-border payments, the company would have to pay the difference to the IRS as a tax.

The more tax credits a company has, the more a company is likely to pay, making banks and other large tax equity investors reluctant to finance renewable energy projects. And like the AMT, the BEAT provision would not only impact financing for new projects but could have a retroactive effect on most existing projects that received tax equity financing.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) claims that the Senate bill could threaten $12 billion in annual tax equity financing in 2017, up from $7.3 billion in 2013 (see Figure). They estimate that tax equity financing accounted for 21 percent of the $58.5 billion in total US renewable energy investment in 2016.

The Senate tax bill would have a big impact on companies like JPMorgan, Bank of America, GE, US Bank, and Citigroup that led tax equity financing in 2016 for both wind and solar projects, as shown in this BNEF chart.

The BEAT provision would also hurt other energy sources that currently receive tax credits such as refined coal facilities placed in service by December 2011. The coal industry is also speaking out against the AMT, which Bob Murray claims will cost his company $50-60 million in increased taxes and eliminate 65,000 jobs.

House bill puts 60,000 wind industry jobs and $50 billion in new investment at risk

While the House bill does not include the AMT or BEAT provisions, it makes several direct changes to the PTC and ITC that would undermine investments in new wind and solar projects and have a retroactive impact on existing projects. These changes include:

  • Eliminating the inflation adjustment for the PTC, reducing its value by 38 percent from 2.4 c/kWh under current law to 1.5 c/kWh.
  • Changing the commence construction provision, dropping safe harbor provision, and requiring projects to have “continuous construction” to be eligible, which would greatly accelerate the PTC phase-down schedule. When combined with the change to the inflation adjustment, AWEA estimates these two provisions could reduce the value of the PTC by more than half.
  • Allowing the permanent 10 percent solar ITC to sunset in 2027.
  • Extending the tax credits to “orphan” technologies like geothermal, biopower, landfill gas, and incremental hydro that were largely left out of the 2015 deal to extend the tax credits for wind and solar for 5 years. This is the only positive change in the House bill.

The House bill would cut new wind development by more than half by 2020, according to both Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs. AWEA estimates that the House bill would put 30,000 MW of new wind projects that are under development in the US worth $50 billion of new private investment at risk, along with 60,000 jobs, as shown in this map.

Source: AWEA, Protecting American wind workers during tax reform.

Making renewable energy a priority in conference committee

The provisions in the House bill that renege on Congress’ 2015 compromise deal with the oil industry and drastically cut the value of the PTC are completely unacceptable and should be dropped. The AMT and BEAT provisions in the Senate bill should either be dropped (they are not included in the House bill) or renewable energy tax credits should be excluded—similar to how R&D tax credits are currently excluded from the BEAT provision.

House and Senate conferees were named last week. They will meet over the next two weeks to resolve key differences, with the goal of delivering a final bill to President Trump by the end of the year.

It is an ominous sign that Senator Grassley (R-IA), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, was left off the conference committee. As the father of the PTC, who represents a state that ranks second in installed wind capacity, he has been outspoken about honoring the 2015 deal and working to fix the problems in the Senate and House tax bills. “The wind energy production tax credit is already being phased out under a compromise brokered in 2015. It shouldn’t be re-opened,” Grassley said.

Pro-renewables Senators like Grassley and Susan Collins (R-ME) will have a tough vote to make on the Senate floor if these damaging provisions are not addressed in conference. Maine, for example, has over 900 MW of existing wind capacity and nearly 300 MW of new solar and wind under development that is potentially at risk.

But there are conferees who represent states with large renewable energy industries, and they are in unique position to make the changes necessary to keep that clean energy momentum going.

  • Conferees like Senator Thune and Representative Noem from South Dakota, where a wind turbine blade manufacturer from Aberdeen just announced they will be closing and laying off over 400 people, citing the federal tax bills as one of reasons for this decision. “It’s apparent that the new tax bill will cause some economic disruption and this is one of them,” according to Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen. “It’s what happens when government policies turn against industries. It discourages investment.” South Dakota also has 960 MW of wind projects currently under development, representing $1.6 billion in new investment, that is at risk.
  • Senator Murkowski (R-AK) has also said that fixing the BEAT and AMT provisions in the Senate bill will be “clear priorities” for lawmakers in conference
  • Senator Portman (R-OH) is from a state with a strong renewable energy supply chain, including 5,831 solar jobs at 189 companies and more than 2,000 jobs and 61 manufacturing facilities in the wind industry. Ohio also has 560 MW of new wind projects under development and $900 million in new investment that is at risk.
  • Other conferees from leading renewable energy states such as Texas, California, Illinois, Washington and Oregon would also experience significant job losses.

The US renewable energy industry has a proven track record of creating new jobs and making new investments in states and rural areas across America. Federal tax reform should encourage rather than discourage US investment in this rapidly growing global industry.

Make sure your members of congress know clean energy is important to you. Tell them to fix the AMT and BEAT provisions, and to leave the renewable energy tax credits alone.

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