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Thursday, August 27, 2015

CEO Notes: When it comes to energy policy, “all of the above” just doesn’t work

As President Obama embarked on an 11-day climate change tour across the country. As his trip takes him on what would be the most comprehensive tour of Alaska by a sitting president, it makes sense to consider the good, bad, and often conflicting nature of Obama’s energy policies.

One of the lessons that should come out of the Obama administration's "all of the above" energy policy is that it is completely schizophrenic and ill-suited for our future. Consider the following conflicting actions:

  • President Obama's Clean Power Plan places the president on the map as the first to take significant action to address climate change. While much of the action will need to occur at the state level, this is an important first step.
  • Ironically, the vehicle rules that the Obama administration adopted are proving that the best place to drill for oil is under the hoods of our cars. Efficiency is a significant factor in driving down oil demand.

There are many more examples of how the "all-of-the-above" energy policies are deeply flawed and must be abandoned. As the president sees firsthand the enormous risks of climate change visited first upon the Arctic region, may he understand that by looking north he is seeing our common future and revise his energy policies to match his rhetoric. Let's follow the president as he travels north.

Larry J. Schweiger is president and CEO of PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. He tweets @LJSchweiger.

President Obama begins clean energy push

On Monday, August 24, President Obama gave a speech on the importance of clean energy at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can check out his full speech online, but here is a rundown of the significant issues he mentioned: 

As one of his first points, President Obama said: “No challenge poses a greater threat to our future than climate change.”  We could not agree more. 

One of the many ways to overcome that challenge is to put more "energy" into clean energy. It is up to us to push the private and public sector to ramp up investments in clean energy. We cannot afford to sit idly by while politicians, corporations, special interests, and others determine our future.

We have already begun to make progress in areas like wind power, but as the president stated a few times during his speech, we must do more. He emphasized that, “If we keep investing in wind, rather than making shortsighted cuts or chasing mindless austerity, wind could provide as much as 35 percent of America’s electricity and supply renewable power in all 50 states by the year 2050.” 

We have also vastly increased the development of the solar industry. “Every three minutes, another home or business in America goes solar,” the president added. In fact, there are now twice as many solar industry workers than coal miners. 

Yet in order to get to the president’s goal of achieving 20 percent renewable energy by 2030 - excluding hydroelectric power - we need to triple our current output. Solar only makes up 1 percent of our energy mix and wind accounts for 5 percent. This is why the Department of Energy (DOE) has been deploying more micro-grid and battery storage opportunities and will offer loan guarantees to folks who are interested. 

The president also announced the expansion of the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program to help homeowners pay for their solar panels through savings on their electric bills. The program allows homeowners to finance energy improvements for up to 20 years through assessments attached to property taxes, allowing owners to benefit from the improvements immediately while paying the loan back over time. Under the new federal initiative, lenders will be able to evaluate loan applications for properties with existing PACE assessments using FHA-insured financing.

The president also acknowledged that the trend is going toward clean energy. Consumers want it, and we keep making advancements in technology. Those advancements include things like smart meters and appliances.  

President Obama dismissed the obstructionism by the opposition: 
“When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, or the Koch brothers pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding -- that's a problem. That's not the American way. That's not progress. That's not innovation. That’s rent seeking and trying to protect old ways of doing business and standing in the way of the future.”  
He stressed: 
“This is not, and should not be, a Republican-versus-Democratic issue. This should be an issue that can bring everybody together. If you're a progressive, you should care about this. If you're a libertarian, you should care about this. If you just want to save some money, you should care about it. And if you care about the future of our children and grandchildren, you should care about it.” 
“Folks whose interests or ideologies run counter to where we need to go, we've got to be able to politely, but firmly say, sorry, we're moving forward.” 
We are already beginning to see the president’s plan take hold here in Pennsylvania. Penn State just won a federal grant of $2.9 million to develop new solar panels to capture sunlight more efficiently. Now it is time to for all states to move collectively toward a clean energy future. 

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How much solar potential does your rooftop have?

Google has put its mapping technology to good environmental use by developing a program to encourage homeowners to purchase rooftop solar. The program is called "Project Sunroof" and it can tell you whether or not the roof of your home has solar generation potential.  

All you have to do is enter your address to see if your roof has more solar potential (shown in bright yellow) or less solar potential (shown in purple). In order to determine the “color” of your roof, the tool considers the roof orientation, shade from trees and other buildings, and local weather patterns. A dialogue box will pop up to tell you the square footage and hours of usable sunlight per year. It will also calculate the most efficient system size for your home then subtract any state and federal incentives to tell you about how much a 20-year solar system would cost you to lease, loan, or purchase. 

As an additional benefit to you as a utility customer, the program will give you an estimate on how much you could save on your electric bills if you leased or purchased a 20-year solar system. Selecting your typical utility bill amount will provide you with a more accurate estimate. Additionally, the map links to solar installation companies in your area.

Google developed the program in response to the increase in searches for information related to rooftop solar such as system size, cost, and installers. According to google, “Project Sunroof is intended as ‘kind of a treasure map of solar energy.’”

Currently, you are only able to use the program if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno, California, and Boston, Massachusetts. Fortunately, Google intends on mapping the entire U.S. and possibly other countries. In the meantime, check out how the program works and look for updates on when you can use it to discover the solar potential of your home.

If you live in western Pennsylvania and are interested in discovering if your home has solar potential, check out Solarize Allegheny's website. Through Solarize Allegheny, residents and businesses have the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of solar energy through a robust on-the-ground outreach campaign that connects people directly to local, pre-screened, qualified solar installers who will offer competitive bids, guidance and assistance to go solar – making the process simple and affordable. Even though outreach is focused on these communities, anyone can attend the events or request a solar quote through the program by going to the website – – and clicking “Find Out if Your Home is Good for Solar.”

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Methane reductions: lessons from a crash test dummy

The recently proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to curb volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from the natural gas sector are a good start. The EPA predicts the standards will reduce leaks of methane by 20 – 30 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. They also show that the rule will be highly cost-effective with benefits exceeding costs by as much as $150 million by 2025.

Like many EPA rules, this is a modest step. For sources covered by the existing (2012) NSPS, no additional controls would be required. The major advance here is extending some basic requirements like leak detection and repair (LDAR) to some categories of sources not covered in 2012.

Because this is a modest step, there is plenty of room for improvement. For example, readers may notice that the 20 – 30 percent reduction predicted from this rule is much less than the 40 – 45 percent reduction President Obama set as a target in his Climate Action Plan. Why so much less? It's because this rule leaves control of existing sources up to the industry who, we are left hoping, will make up the difference with voluntary measures.

Will that work?

No, it won't, and we have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Back in 1966, Henry Ford II claimed in Senate testimony that requiring "unreasonable, arbitrary, and technically unfeasible" safety features such as front seat belts and safety glass in windshields would shut down the industry. In 1973, General Motors vice president Earnest S. Starkman claimed in an EPA hearing that "it is conceivable that complete stoppage of the entire production could occur" if catalytic converters were required. Ford went even further and claimed the catalyst rule would reduce the American gross national product by $17 billion and cause the loss of 800,000 jobs. (Spoiler alert: it didn't.)

To be sure, there were auto manufacturers who undertook voluntary measures. Nash and Ford offered seat belts as options in the mid 1950's and by the late 50's Volvo and Saab had them as standard equipment. Cars even started to appear with mounting points so that owners could buy their own seat belts. But, it's not surprising that the vast majority of cars had none, despite a clear and growing record that they saved lives.

While it's not an excuse for delaying installation of life-saving features, we know that asking a business to take voluntary measures creates a conflict of interest. Even if they want to do the right thing, they have to worry that their competition will opt-out or cut corners to get an advantage in the market.

So, the result was predictable. We didn't get the safety equipment most of us take for granted today until regulations required it.

Is the gas industry different?

Again, No. Not from the evidence we have seen.

Like the auto makers from decades ago, the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute was quoted as saying, "The last thing we need is more duplicative and costly regulation." Instead, they want to go with "voluntary efforts for existing sources." As we saw with auto makers, there are companies that are taking voluntary measures either by adopting federal rules earlier than required or by adopting additional measures of their own. But, for the most part, the outcome is the same: industry-wide, few companies are willing to take meaningful additional steps and voluntary measures don't get the job done.

Lets look at the data

In the 2013 emissions data, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) showed a 13 percent reduction in methane emissions. While a reduction is positive news, those reductions come almost entirely from operators phasing in federal requirements for "green completions," which no longer permit uncontrolled release of pollutants as wells are completed. When we look even more closely, we see that those reductions come, for the most part, from a single company (Cabot) reporting lower completion emissions.

If it were not for Cabot's reporting, the remaining natural gas companies would be reporting a 10 percent increase in emissions year-over-year. If we look at the source types that are relying on voluntary measures for reductions (those other than completions), we see a 14 percent increase in emissions. It's no surprise, voluntary measures are not working.

What Now?

This current EPA action is a proposed rule. Once it's published in the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day comment period where the public and other interested parties can have their say. It's important for EPA and the administration to hear that the public supports the added environmental protections this proposal offers, but it's also fair to add constructive criticism about what the EPA can do better.

While EPA action is one avenue, Pennsylvania doesn't need to rely on the federal government. As the second largest producer of natural gas, it's vitally important that we be a leader in protecting our citizens. The gas industry in Pennsylvania—including the existing sources—can and should be the cleanest and safest in the nation. To make this happen, our leaders in Harrisburg need to hear voices of support.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Spotting misleading Clean Power Plan claims

A couple weeks ago, before the Clean Power Plan (CPP) was released, I went out on a limb and made the bold prediction that polluters and their allies will seek to inflate the cost estimates required to meet the goals of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plan.

The EPA predicts that this plan will result in electricity bills that are 7 percent lower by 2030, or about $7 less each month for the average American family. As we've mentioned before, opponents always predict that environmental regulation will cause higher electricity bills, but Punxsutawney Phil has a better track record for predictions. In spite of their consistent naysaying, here we are after decades of environmental improvement with electricity that costs less in real dollars than when the EPA was founded.

Since the EPA numbers are not favorable to their cause, polluters often substitute their own studies or those of sympathetic think tanks that simply ignore relevant data. We saw one such claim from an organization that brags on its website that the New York Times called them "the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism." It's no surprise they are predicting electric bills will rise but not every organization makes their bias so clear, and some of the flawed arguments they use are intentionally subtle. With that in mind, I thought I'd review some examples.

Demand-Side Energy Efficiency

When the EPA set the targets for the CPP, it didn't include demand-side energy efficiency (EE) as one of its building blocks but it made it clear that states can use increased efficiency as part of their compliance program. In Pennsylvania, we have years of data from our Act 129 energy efficiency program that demonstrates increasing efficiency pays for itself. Independent studies commissioned by the Public Utility Commission have also found that Act 129 only gets a fraction of the cost effective efficiency that is available.

Polluters who don't want to face these facts may simply ignore EE altogether. This can be hard to spot but you may notice folks making claims about the costs of the individual building blocks EPA considered and not the plan as a whole. So, instead of having the extra savings from EE offset other higher cost measures, it is ignored.

Another way they ignore EE is to talk about impacts in cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). On average, most of us spend but a few minutes a year looking at our electricity bills. In that time, we might glance at the rate we are paying (about 14 cents per kWh) but few of us pay much attention. The only number most of us care about is probably printed in bold, and maybe with a box around it, along with words like "Pay This Amount." If we improve energy efficiency, that number drops. It's possible for that number to go down, even if the rate we pay goes up.

Renewable Energy

Polluters who feel threatened by increases in clean renewable energy often claim it's too expensive and resort to similar shenanigans. One method is to focus on capital costs. According to the EPA analysis, the capital cost of building utility scale solar is slightly higher than the cost of building equivalent natural gas capacity. They admit that there are a number of factors that are not considered, making this a conservative estimate, but even if it's true, does this matter to consumers?

If someone builds a new grocery store across the street from an existing store, the capital costs of the construction will eventually be paid by shoppers but that doesn't mean that prices are going to rise. In fact, with competition just across the street, they probably can't raise prices. Maybe the new store will be more efficient and have lower utility bills, or maybe the store just won't make as much profit, but higher capital costs don't always translate to higher prices.

With renewable energy, the situation is similar. If you build a utility-scale solar plant or wind farm, you make money by selling power to the grid. Since the grid buys the cheapest power first, raising prices isn't an option. Fortunately with solar and wind, once you build your plant, you don't have the fuel costs that the fossil fuel operators do. Renewable operators typically bid power into the grid at a much cheaper price than the fossil fuel operators. This influx of low cost power actually drives down the market, lowering wholesale costs across the board.

Also, not all solar and other renewable energy is utility scale solar. As the price to install solar is falling, more and more people are choosing to put solar panels on their rooftops. As was the case with EE, the EPA didn't consider any of this small-scale solar when setting Pennsylvania's target but it is generating real emission reductions that we can use for compliance. This behind-the-meter generation often never makes it out on the grid but it still provides benefits. The benefits come in the form of reducing peak demand, reduced line losses, and even health and environmental benefits.

Another technique you often see is opponents focusing on the subsidies paid to promote renewable energy while completely ignoring the far higher subsidies that have been paid, and continue to be paid, to promote fossil fuel use and keep prices artificially low. A common refrain here is the claim that most fossil fuel subsidies are in the form of tax breaks, and these folks seem to believe that a tax break on fuel isn't a subsidy even though it makes fuel cheaper than other alternatives. If that argument fails, polluters then try to claim their opponents want higher taxes. Again, untrue, but they seem to think repeating it often enough will make it so.

Pennsylvania Specific Results

The costs for implementing the CPP in Pennsylvania depends, in large part, on the plan that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) develops. As we've mentioned before, multi-state trading is probably the cheapest solution but there are other alternatives. Many of them, such as recent construction of renewable resources, increases in energy efficiency, and uprates in nuclear capacity, have already happened and will have no additional cost. Other factors, like the rapidly decreasing cost of solar and advances in battery technology, will further reduce costs. Since DEP is going to prioritize the most cost effective measures to get us the rest of the way, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the plan ends up costing much less than the EPA has predicted.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

Results of aging pipeline investigation are alarming

The natural gas boom in Pennsylvania has brought more attention to the issue of pipelines crossing our state’s rivers, lakes, and streams. Pennsylvania has over 100 rivers and over 5,000 lakes and reservoirs across the state. Thus, every pipeline that is installed will impact numerous bodies of water. The pipeline companies like to tell us that it is perfectly safe and they closely monitor all of their pipelines. But the companies can only see so much, and it is up to them to decide when to replace a pipeline. 

Motherboard recently did a story on two parallel oil pipelines crossing the Straits of Mackinac which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. They found that the pipelines with an original recommended life span of 50 years are now 62 years old. The pipelines are owned by Enbridge, the same company responsible for the Kalamazoo River oil spill in 2010. That oil spill is the largest inland spill the United States has ever seen and resulted in 840,000 gallons of crude oil flowing into the river. Five years later, the cleanup effort continues. 

If something were to happen to just one of the Straits of Mackinac pipelines, 1.5 million gallons of oil would be released. The amount would be even greater if Enbridge were not able to fix the pipeline immediately. Yet, Enbridge stands by its decision not to replace the pipelines that were laid by workers who for the most part have passed away. When the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) sent divers to take video of the pipeline, they discovered broken structural braces and sections of completely unsupported pipeline. When a pipeline is left unsupported, it is more susceptible to damage.

Motherboard's and NWF's findings are extremely concerning. The question is, what is Pennsylvania going to do to monitor the pipelines that natural gas companies want to install across our state and under our waterways? We already have hundreds of miles of other aging infrastructure such as waterlines which have been rupturing. Gov. Tom Wolf has organized a Pipelines Infrastructure Task Force -- PennFuture staff attorney Mike Helbing is a member of the Task Force -- and we will be paying close attention to its findings. We cannot afford to have a Kalamazoo type spill in Pennsylvania.  

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The final Clean Power Plan is here

On Monday, August 3, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the final Clean Power Plan, the rule that will help limit carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants.

What does it mean for Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be the lead agency developing the state plan and they have many options on how to proceed. The EPA's role here is not to tell states what to do, rather, set targets for states to meet and act as a referee to determine if the state plans meet those targets.

Instead of setting a one-size-fits-all target, the EPA has tailored targets for each state depending on their current generation sources. The EPA also provides additional flexibility by allowing states to choose from four different targets. 

In Pennsylvania, those targets are:
  1. Each affected facility meets a rate-based standard
    • 1,305 lbs/MWh for coal, gas (steam turbine), or other fossil fuel
    • 771 lbs/MWh for natural gas combined cycle (NGCC)
  2. All affected sources in a state average 1,095 lbs/MWH
  3. All affected sources in total emit <= 89,822,308 tons per year by 2030
  4. All affected sources and new sources in total emit less than 90,665,764 tons per year by 2030
All of these targets should achieve similar reductions in carbon pollution but there may be reasons why a state prefers one over the other.

For example, DEP knows that a multi-state compliance approach using trading will be more cost effective than having each state go it alone in developing their plans. While no decision has been announced to join a particular multi-state group, it is not surprising that DEP wants to keep this option open by developing a "trade-ready" plan. This suggests that they will select one of the mass-based options (#3 or #4) as a target.

DEP is also going to look carefully at the details of the plan and to see if there is anything that has already happened, or any existing programs, that could provide creditable measures. In this case, there are a number of options.
  • Before this rule was proposed, a number of coal-fired power plants retired (or announced their retirement) and will be replaced primarily by natural gas generation.
  • Increases in the generation capacity of our nuclear power plants can provide credit.
  • Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) will encourage a certain amount of creditable reductions.
  • Pennsylvania's Act 129 Energy Efficiency Program will likely generate creditable reductions in its next phase.
Early indications are that these measures can get us about halfway to our goal.

What about legal challenges?

All major EPA rules face legal challenges and the Clean Power Plan will be no exception. The EPA has experience in this area and has established a track record in writing rules that survive legal review. In the case of the Clean Power Plan, there was an unprecedented amount of public participation with over 4.3 million comments submitted in response to the original proposal. In response to those comments, the EPA made changes to its method of calculating targets, it clarified key areas of the rule, and it gave states more time to develop their plans. All of this will make it likelier that the rule will survive.

Even still, there are individuals who advocate that states "just say no" and refuse to adopt their own plans. States have every legal right to do this but, needless to say, burying your head in the sand is never a good plan. For states that can't or won't adopt their own plan, the EPA has now proposed a federal plan that will automatically apply to their fossil fuel power plants. Thankfully, Pennsylvania is committed to addressing carbon pollution in a more positive and constructive way.

What are the next steps?

Pennsylvania can, and should, be a leader. With the final rule in place, the ball is now in DEP's court to decide how to proceed. It is encouraging that Gov. Tom Wolf has said his administration, "Is committed to making the Clean Power Plan work for Pennsylvania." But we know the polluters and their allies will be out in force, contacting DEP and their legislators, and doing everything they can to weaken Pennsylvania's plan and delay the process. Those of us who understand what's at stake and are supportive of a strong plan for Pennsylvania need to ensure they don't prevail

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a win for renewable energy and energy efficiency

Since announcing the final Clean Power Plan rule on Monday, the Obama Administration has been focusing on the importance of renewable sources of energy, particularly wind and solar. During President Obama’s remarks, he mentioned making “greater investment in our booming clean energy sector, and smarter investments in energy efficiency.”

In fact, the final rule requires more renewable energy than the proposed rule. Instead of 22 percent renewables by 2030, we will now likely see 28 percent. Although 6 percentage points may not seem like much to those of us who wish to see the U.S. become a leader in renewable energy, the increase is a significant feat. That is especially true considering much of the rule's prior focus was on switching from coal-fired power plants to natural gas. However, this switch is still one of the three remaining building blocks of the plan. According to a White House official, we should expect to see natural gas generation to be “business as usual” as opposed to a dramatic increase.

Under the final rule, states now have an option to participate in a Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP). States that choose to participate in the CEIP will be rewarded for making early investments in renewable energy and demand-side energy efficiency measures that generate carbon-free MWh or reduce end-use energy demand during 2020 and/or 2021. The EPA will match the allowances or Emission Rate Credits (ERC) generated up to an amount equal to the equivalent of 300 million short tons of CO2 emissions. Wind or solar projects will earn one credit for one MWh of generation and demand-side energy efficiency projects implemented in low-income communities will receive two credits for one MWh of avoided generation. In addition to incentivizing renewable energy, the CEIP encourages taking early steps in low income communities because they experience greater impacts from power plant pollution and climate change.

The EPA stated, “The CEIP specifically incentivizes wind and solar renewable energy because these technologies can be implemented relatively quickly and because stakeholders were concerned that the Clean Power Plan could potentially shift investment away from these zero-emitting technologies.”

Although the EPA removed the energy efficiency component (aka Building Block 4), energy efficiency will still be an extremely important part of states’ compliance with the rule. That is important because - as we’ve mentioned before - energy efficiency is the most cost effective way to reduce energy usage while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

EPA stated that it “anticipates that, thanks to their low costs and large potential in every state and region, demand-side energy efficiency programs will be a significant component of state compliance plans under the Clean Power Plan. The CPP's flexible compliance options allow states to fully deploy energy efficiency to help meet their state goals.”

According to the Home Performance Coalition president and CEO Brian Castelli, “The Clean Power Plan is a positive step for the energy efficiency industry. This allows states to craft their plans to best fit their own specific circumstances, opening the door to further impact and success.”  

We are thrilled that the final rule is here and that renewable energy and energy efficiency are getting a lot of well deserved attention, but there is still much work to be done. Up until the first deadline, Pennsylvania will be busy working on its state plan. Fortunately, based on Gov. Tom Wolf's and DEP Secretary John Quigley's remarks on the release of the final rule, it looks like increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency will be significant components of Pennsylvania's State Implementation Plan.

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pittsburgh continues leadership role in developing next-generation energy technology

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce awarded the Pittsburgh region a designation under the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, making it one of 12 cities to receive federal support for long term economic development growth in regional manufacturing. On Friday, July 17, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to set up a lab in the Hill District’s Energy Innovation Center.  

The lab will allow NETL to develop new technologies to upgrade Pittsburgh’s aging infrastructure. The MOU will also assist local universities in researching and developing energy solutions; support energy-related businesses in Pittsburgh and those seeking to relocate to the city; and create the foundation to integrate 21st century energy technology and infrastructure into large scale developments in Hazelwood, the Lower Hill District, and Uptown.

The Seven Goals of the MOU are as follows:
  1. Craft a strategic plan that does the following: a) Assists in the identification, decision support, and adoption of district energy strategies, including the development, demonstration, and deployment of next generation energy solutions and electric power delivery technologies; and b) supplies near-, mid-, and long-term guidance for public and private audiences on the development of district scale clean energy and grid design strategies, with a focus on combined heat and power and distributed energy resources.
  2. Identify the appropriate financial mechanism to provide a catalyst and underwrite investment in the design and construction for district energy systems, adoption of monitoring and automation technologies, advanced intelligent infrastructure, and renewable energy deployment.
  3. Design a policy plan that supports the development of municipal, utility and regulatory needs for district energy applications and infrastructure modernization.
  4. Conduct economic analysis that presents costs/benefits of district energy solutions with micro-grid integration and building performance policies.
  5. Accelerate the growth of, and access to, energy jobs.
  6. Form a technical team to explore Pittsburgh’s efforts.
  7. Prepare a technology research and development road map for rapid demonstration and deployment.
Mayor Peduto noted after the signing that, “Now we have an opportunity to be the world leader when we think of 21st century urban energy – how we’re producing it."

DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz agreed and stated, “This link between NETL and the city will position Pittsburgh to lead the nation in next-generation energy strategies and to build one of the largest integrated district energy ecosystems in North America. Today at the Energy Innovation Center we saw the possibilities for Pittsburgh to be a leader in new energy technologies, and this agreement will only help accelerate their development."

According to U.S. Representative Mike Doyle, “Pittsburgh is on the grid, so to speak, down in Washington, D.C., especially where energy is concerned, and I think we have a bright future ahead if we continue on the path that we’ve started with the energy innovation center and the partnerships that we’ve built.”

This is good news for the City of Pittsburgh as well as the Commonwealth, and it further illustrates that the energy world is changing with the times. We can no longer afford to run our grid on antiquated technology.

PennFuture looks forward to seeing the new energy developments coming out of the laboratory.  

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Waiting for the Clean Power Plan

Within the next couple of weeks, we expect to see the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) release the final version of its Clean Power Plan. This is the regulation that will seek to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuel electricity generation. While we wait, there are some things to keep in mind...

The EPA will set a target but it won’t mandate what states must do to get there.

The EPA’s target will likely be based on a similar mix of strategies as was found in the proposed plan: Increased efficiency at coal-fired plants, switching generation from coal to natural gas, preserving nuclear generation, adding more clean renewable generation, and improving energy efficiency. The EPA picked these because they found them to be available and cost effective, so it should be no surprise if states base their plans on the same choices. But, states have flexibility. States can mix and match among these strategies to find the right balance. They can also use other measures if they choose, or even work with other states to find the best way forward.

When the targets are released, we're sure to hear opponents decry how expensive compliance will be. The doom and gloom is predictable but the fact is neither they, or anyone else, will know what path our state plan will take. Our state plan will be developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after a year or more of analysis, public hearings, comment periods, meetings with industry, and careful review and consideration.

Industry representatives will inflate cost estimates.

It isn’t surprising to hear industries complain about the cost of regulation. However, it’s worth noting the history that shows they are notoriously bad at making such estimates. They like to overestimate costs, underestimate benefits, and blame every retirement of a power plant on EPA regulation.

Auto manufacturers, for example, resisted putting seat belts in cars for years, complaining it was too expensive. And yet, that turned out to be one of the most cost effective safety measures ever devised.

Every attempt to limit pollution has faced similar complaints, but we can look to the 40-year track record. We have made huge strides in protecting public health and welfare since EPA was founded and, adjusted for inflation, electricity costs less today than it did when we started. Does anyone concerned about their health want to go back to the pollution we had in the days before the EPA?

Industry will try to stall and delay.

When opponents are unable to halt progress, their next step is to try to stall and delay it. We are sure to hear a chorus of folks talk about how we are “rushing” and why we should slow down. In reality, we could hardly be going slower.

We have been aware of climate change as a potential problem for over 50 years. For many outside the scientific community, that potential problem became real on June 23, 1988 (27 years ago) when James Hansen told the U.S. Senate that climate change had begun saying “it is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” Since then, volumes of research and analysis have confirmed that we need to take action, and that any delay will make the solution that much harder.

The fossil fuel sector is the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. The Clean Power Plan might be a small step toward fixing the problem but it’s time we start.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cars and carbon pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which will control carbon pollution from power plants, is a necessary step in the fight against climate change. The generation of electricity is the largest source of such pollution, accounting for 37 percent of our nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. We must do better.

While electricity generation is the largest source of pollution, the transportation sector is a close second. While a major source of emissions, this sector is often more difficult to regulate.

Under our current legal structure, the federal government preempts much of the possible state regulation. No one wants to see 50 different standards for vehicles and the associated confusion that would entail. But the lack of state regulation means the federal government can’t use state programs as a “testing ground” for new ideas like it does for stationary sources.

The transportation sector also has massive existing investments in infrastructure that are hard to alter or replace. While other fuel choices such as hydrogen or natural gas could lower carbon pollution, we couldn’t sell such cars without an adequate network of refueling stations, and no one will invest in the stations unless folks are buying the cars. That sort of chicken-and-egg problem has limited the deployment of alternate fueled vehicles to things like locally-operated fleets, airport service equipment, and other special purposes. Even if other issues such as methane leakage from natural gas are addressed to make these vehicles cleaner, it's not clear the economics will ever support wide deployment.

One recent advance has been the rise of hybrid vehicles. Where a few years ago there were only a couple of makes and models on the market, these days practically every major manufacturer has at least one hybrid in their stable, from sub-compacts to SUVs. Up until 2013, there was even a Cadillac Escalade hybrid. (It’s 20 mpg city was not impressive mileage but it beat the truly awful 14 mpg of the base model.) Hybrids are still more expensive, in some cases enough so that you are unlikely to recover the difference in fuel savings. That said, costs are declining.

Dedicated electric vehicles are another choice. While these are not “zero emission” vehicles, they move pollution from the tailpipe to the power plant. However, as the Union of Concerned Scientists reports: “The good news is that no matter where you live in the United States, electric vehicles charged on the power grid have lower global warming emissions than the average gasoline-based vehicle sold today.” Electrics are still not cheap but they aren't all in the Tesla Model S price range, either, as cars like the Nissan Leaf can be had for under $30,000.

There are, of course, pluses and minuses to electrics. While lower fuel costs, less pollution, and often fewer maintenance issues are great, that has to be balanced with limited range and fewer options for recharging. For many, this means that for now, an electric will be a commuter vehicle and not the only car in the garage.

On any list of vehicle choices, Pennsylvanians now have another choice. Last year, Rep. Mike Fleck’s HB 573 (with an amendment by Rep. Kevin Schreiber) was signed into law as Act 154. This (finally) added electric-assist bicycles to the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code. This means that if you are 16 or older, you can operate an electric bike with a 750 watt motor that can drive the bike at up to 20 m.p.h. Following the passage of this law, I couldn’t resist converting an old mountain bike. Sure, its not going to replace a car, especially in bad weather. But there are some advantages: it costs me about a half a cent in power to get to work, it's faster than a car by avoiding traffic, and most importantly, it’s a blast to ride.

If we choose to do a little better with our own personal carbon footprint, there are certainly a lot of options. Whereas a few years ago, buying a tiny sub-compact car was the only way to save fuel and reduce pollution, we can now shop for the choice that best fits our needs. We just hope that's not a 14 mpg Escalade.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

Is your smart meter giving you a headache? No, but opponents are giving us one.

In yet another attempt to derail Pennsylvania’s successful Act 129 program, House Bill 396 was introduced in January and, if passed, it would remove the smart meter requirement from the Act 129 legislation. Under Act 129, utilities are required to replace outdated meter technology with smart meters for all of their customers. 

According to Representative Mike Reese’s memo when he introduced the legislation, “Many electricity customers throughout Pennsylvania have expressed their desire to not have smart meter technology at their homes or businesses. Their concerns range from securing sensitive and personal information to the health impacts of radio frequency (RF) waves.”

First, I have a feeling that the “many” he is referring to is really a small constituency of people who happen to have a large voice in his district.  

Second, the security concerns are understandable. However, the benefits exceed any risks. Smart meters allow utilities to respond to outages more rapidly, which could save lives. In addition, collecting data about your home energy use is to provide YOU with detailed information. Smart meters are the reason YOU are able to go to your utility’s website and see how the electricity is used in YOUR home. They allow us to see what our “bad behaviors” are so that we can correct them and stop wasting energy and money. Since the utilities cannot share the information with a third party without your permission, there is little risk the data will be used for other purposes.

Third, the health impacts issue is baseless. Individuals have claimed that after a smart meter was installed on the outside of their home (with exterior and interior walls and insulation in between them and the meter) they became dizzy, tired all the time, had more headaches, suffered from memory loss, developed rashes on their skin...the list goes on and on. These are all non-specific symptoms with many possible causes. There is no scientific evidence linking those sorts of symptoms to smart meters, let alone to cell phones and microwaves, which expose you to higher RF waves (and where cellphones are concerned, they are in your pocket, on your ear, on your pillow, etc.).

According to a 2011 report by the California Council on Science and Technology, "Exposure levels from smart meters are well below the [FCC's established standards] for such [health] effects." The report further notes that, "There is no evidence that additional standards are needed to protect the public from smart meters."

Smart meters enable us to have more information about our electricity usage so that we can make our homes more efficient, help the environment, and maybe even put more money into our wallets.  And that’s all they do. They are not messing with our brains or allowing the government to spy on our every move. Enough is enough with these absurd pieces of legislation.  

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's time to support renewable energy

A recent fact sheet from the White House reports that, “Last year, the United States brought online as much solar energy every three weeks as it did in all of 2008, and the solar industry added jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.” The industry saw 34 percent more capacity installed last year over 2013, resulting in enough power for more than a million additional homes. Not resting on past success, the administration has announced new initiatives and new targets to keep the gains coming.

In Pennsylvania, however, many of the gains are passing us by. When we rank states by installed capacity, we are fairly high on the list. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open PV Project lists us as number 8 among states. When it comes to the amount we installed last year, however, the story changes and we are not even in the top ten. We were an early leader but years of neglecting development of renewable energy has allowed others to pull ahead.

It’s probably not surprising that we lag behind sunny states such as Arizona and New Mexico. It also isn’t too surprising that we lag behind larger states like California and Texas. But, when states like Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey are in the top ten, we have to question why we aren’t.

Not only are we polluting our environment and are more dependent on fossil fuels, we are also falling behind on other economic measures. When it comes to solar jobs, we are 15th in the nation with only 2,800. This hardly compares to states like Massachusetts, which is second in the nation with over 9,000 solar jobs, and New York and New Jersey, which each have more than 7,000.

Failure to invest in solar and other types of renewable energy has been a huge lost opportunity for Pennsylvania.  

There are many steps we can take to reverse this trend but the big issue on the table this summer is the state budget. The Governor proposed a budget that supported renewable energy and energy efficiency, and the legislature responded by offering nothing. On this issue, doing nothing means we'll be losing ground and that is certainly not where Pennsylvania should be heading.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

PA taking preliminary steps toward compliance with EPA Clean Power Plan

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell may be calling for states to wait for all the lawsuits surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan to be resolved before even thinking about compliance options but, lucky for us, Pennsylvania is not listening. In fact, thanks to new leadership, we are ahead of the game: the EPA hasn’t even issued its final rule and the Commonwealth is already weighing its compliance options.  

Along with Michigan, Missouri and Utah, Pennsylvania took part in the National Governors Association (NGA) “Policy Academy” wherein representatives discussed cost-effective strategies for compliance. During a recent discussion with Energywire, John Quigley, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), noted that with NGA's technical assistance, "we've been doing some preliminary modeling runs, just trying to scope out the universe of alternatives.” 
Our state’s chief air regulator recently stated that he believes trading carbon allowances with other states is a viable option to achieve our emissions reduction goal. As I’ve stated before, emissions trading is one of the best available options to reduce ghg emissions at the lowest cost possible and, as a result, lessen the overall cost of dealing with climate change. Check out my blog post entitled "What is RGGI and why should PA be interested?" for background information on emissions trading.  
Secretary Quigley echoed the sentiment by saying DEP will consider trading when developing its State Implementation Plan (SIP), and "there's a possibility to design our approach such that we'd be trade-ready." Joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or forming a trading group with states within the PJM (our Regional Transmission Organization) region are two emissions trading options to consider. 
But as the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Great Plains Institute have suggested, we could also trade allowances without signing a formal agreement, and simply trade with states that are also trading-ready. 
According to Secretary Quigley, "This could go any number of ways; we want to look at all of the options. At the end of the day, the governor's direction is we have to develop a Pennsylvania-centric plan, something that works for the Commonwealth; that preserves the role of coal-fired generation in our energy portfolio and that preserves the state's position as a net-energy exporter." Secretary Quigley also emphasized what he has stated many times before: DEP will be transparent and continue to have discussions with stakeholders throughout the process. 
Thanks to a law signed by former Gov. Tom Corbett, DEP will have to move quickly once the final rule is announced because the compliance plan needs to be submitted to the General Assembly for consideration 100 days before the EPA deadline. 
Even so, Secretary Quigley is eager to see the final rule and get to work on developing a plan that “complies with it and that advances the ball economically for the Commonwealth." 

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.