Quantcast
Editor's Pick

By now it shouldn't be a surprise that the Trump administration is wiping Obama-era climate initiatives off the Internet.

This time, the Department of Energy (DOE) has significantly altered its websites on renewable energy, removing references on how clean energy technologies can reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels and help lower climate-changing emissions.

The DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy—which could face deep funding cuts under Trump's budget proposal—has made "extensive changes and reorganizations" on websites for the Bioenergy Technologies Office, the Wind Energy Technologies Office and the Vehicle Technologies Office, according to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), a coalition of academics and nonprofits that has tracked changes to federal websites ever since Donald Trump took office.

Environmental Data and Governance Initiative

As The Washington Post explained:

"Under the Obama administration, these offices' websites emphasized the importance of cutting down on U.S. carbon emissions and reducing the nation's dependence on fossil fuels—a message in keeping with President Barack Obama's push to address climate change.

"But with the Trump administration de-emphasizing climate change and looking to promote climate-friendly and carbon-intensive energy sources—an agenda that coincides with a broad attempt to eliminate regulations on fossil fuels and particularly on coal—the priorities outlined on these offices' Web pages have been shifting since the inauguration."

For instance, on the wind technology office page, this sentence was entirely removed:

"Wind power is an emission-free and water-free renewable energy source that is a key component to the Administration's renewable electricity generation goals."

Instead, the new wording emphasizes the potential of wind for U.S. jobs and economic growth. For example, this sentence was added:

"Wind energy currently supports more than 100,000 U.S. jobs, and wind turbine technician is the nation's fastest-growing occupation. According to industry experts, the U.S. wind industry is expected to drive over $85 billion in economic activity from 2017 to 2020, and wind-related employment is expected to reach 248,000 jobs in all 50 states by 2020."

This, of course, is true. The renewable energy sector has been a major boon to the nation's job growth and even the DOE can't ignore that.

However, the Rick Perry-led agency gives little weight to the clear environmental benefits of renewable energy.

Take the wind technology office's "WHY IT MATTERS" description. The EDGI noticed that the wording changed from how wind can "help the nation reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, diversify its energy supply, provide cost-competitive electricity to key regions across the country, and reduce water usage for power generation" to how wind "helps the nation increase its competitiveness, diversify its energy supply, increase energy security and independence, reduce emissions of air pollutants, save water that would otherwise be used by thermal power generation, and provide cost-competitive electricity across the country."

Another subtle change was, "creating long-term, sustainable skilled jobs" to "creating long-term skilled jobs." Notice the difference?

As the Washington Post puts it:

"Together, the changes collectively downplay the climate benefits of each form of technology and distance the agency from the idea that they might be used to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, instead emphasizing their economic advantages. It's a move that's well in line with the Trump administration's generally dismissive attitude toward the issue of climate change."

The decommissioned coal-fired Battersea Power Station near London. Loco Steve/flickr

The United Kingdom's grid operator just announced an incredible prediction—April 21 is probably going to be the country's first coal-free day since the Industrial Revolution.

"Great Britain has never had a continuous 24 hour period without #coal. Today is looking like it could be the first," according to a tweet from the National Grid's Electricity National Control Centre.

The National Grid confirmed with the Mirror that Friday is on track to be "the first time the UK has been without electricity from coal since the world's first centralized coal fired generator opened at Holborn Viaduct in London in 1882."

"The first day without coal in Britain since the industrial revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition," Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian. "A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years' time our energy system will have radically transformed again."

The UK intends to phase out the polluting fossil fuel, with plans to switch off its last coal power station in 2025 in order to meet climate commitments.

"The direction of travel is that both in the UK and globally we are already moving towards a low carbon economy. It is a clear message to any new government that they should prioritize making the UK a world leader in clean, green, technology," Martin added.

Great Britain's use of renewable energy has vastly expanded in recent years and the country is now a world leader in offshore wind. And last month, the nation's large expanse of solar fields and rooftop panels reached a milestone when the amount of electricity demanded by homes and businesses was lower in the afternoon than at night.

Solar power turned the country's grid demand "upside down," Duncan Burt, National Grid's head of real time operations, explained in a tweet at that time.

Sponsored
Renewable Energy
Dennis Schroeder / NREL.

By John Rogers

Clean energy has been having a really good run in recent years: costs falling, scale skyrocketing, millions of people enjoying its benefits. And the future is looking bright in a lot of ways, with technologies, customers and policies coming together in beautiful harmony for a whole lot more progress to come.

When it comes to the role of our 50 states in creating this great clean energy momentum, which ones do we have to thank? That's what the new Clean Energy Momentum State Ranking from the Union of Concerned Scientists set out to discover. As for how to figure out who's tops, that title says it all … if you just look at each piece.

Let's break it down, build it up and see what we get. (And some of the answers just might surprise you.)

Gauging Leadership on Clean Energy Momentum

The map gives a sneak peek at the results from the new analysis.

And here's how the pieces of the title come into play:

Clean energy. Our focus was the electricity sector, but that turns out to include a range of pieces, and it's important to think about the multiple dimensions of "clean energy":

  • Renewable energy—wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and bioenergy—is an obvious component, but certainly not the only one.
  • Energy efficiency figures in strongly in terms of how we make progress: Doing more with every electron means needing less electricity from some of our dirtiest sources, and having our renewable electricity take us further.
  • Transportation electrification is an increasingly important piece of the power sector picture, and cleaning things up. For most U.S. drivers, electric vehicles (EVs) give strong environmental benefits. And those benefits are going to keep going up as the country's electricity mix gets cleaner.

Our new analysis includes all three sectors.

Momentum. This is one of the things that's unique about this analysis. We were interested in capturing not just where states are now, but also where they've come from recently, and where they're headed.

Clean energy momentum covers "now" things like the renewable electricity fraction of a state's generation, its electricity savings, its EV sales, and its clean energy jobs.

But it also includes the "where ya coming from?" piece, like how much a state's renewables fraction has increased recently, and how much its power plant pollution has decreased.

And momentum in the clean energy space is about the "still to come" part—how much renewable energy is happening in the near future, and what kind of policies (for renewables, efficiency and carbon pollution, for example) will give clean energy oomph in the years to come.

Our analysis measures all that.

State. Why focus on the states when we need the federal government to be doing its thing? It's clear that we need both.

States have been a powerful, positive force for progress on clean energy, through different political climates and different federal administrations. Given the uncertainty of leadership from Washington, DC (to put it mildly), we definitely need states to continue to lead in each of these areas, to keep the momentum going—and growing.

That's why focusing our analysis on state performance made sense … not as the whole picture, but as a key part of the picture.

Ranking. We wanted to keep this simple and easy-to-understand, while covering the bases that needed covering. So our ranking incorporates a dozen metrics covering that range of sectors and time periods.

And we wanted to keep it grounded. The assessment gauges how states are doing relative to a really important yardstick: their peers. For each of the metrics, states could earn up to 10 points. We let the best-performing state define that top end, and set the zero-point level based on the worst-performing state. States got their points for that metric based on where they were on that worst-to-best scale.

The Envelope, Please

So, all together, those pieces gave us Clean Energy Momentum: Ranking State Progress. And when we put it together and looked at the numbers, here's what we found.

The top performers overall include a mix of West Coast, Northeast and Midwest states:

One surprise is who ended up on top. Yeah, I get that California might not seem like a shocker. But we were really careful, in designing the analysis, to make sure the metrics didn't give extra credit to big states, so that we'd have a level playing field for measuring leadership. All the figures were "normalized" in some way, with calculations per capita, per household, as a percent of generation or car sales or whatever. And yet California still tops the rankings.

Interestingly, the Golden State gets there not by being at the head on a bunch of metrics—it is #1 only on one (EV sales as a percent of overall car sales last year)—but by being a stellar, all-around performer. It shows up in the top five list for a total of seven metrics, and in the top 10 for still another.

In spot #2 is Vermont, which leads on two of the metrics: clean energy jobs per capita and carbon reduction target. But it also has a total of five top five appearances, in electricity savings, energy efficiency policy and EV adoption. Its record of 10 top 10 appearances is the most of any state.

Massachusetts captures #3 with the strongest energy efficiency resource standard (a leading policy for driving efficiency), and top five performances also in residential solar capacity per household, electricity savings, clean energy jobs per capita and carbon reduction targets. And it earned nine top 10s.

Rhode Island, #4, is in there because of its top electricity savings numbers, and its top-fiveness in pollution reduction and policies around renewables, efficiency and carbon reduction.

And Hawaii rounds out the top five. The Aloha State tops our residential solar metric (by a long shot) and is a strong performer for EV adoption and renewables policy.

Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York and Iowa round out the top 10 states. And those states are followed by Maryland, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada.

Metric Surprises

But the results are a lot more than the top overall states. The nice thing about the multiple metrics is getting to see not just who leads overall, but who leads on different pieces. And looking at it that way produces some surprising findings. For example:

  • South Dakota may not be the first name that comes to mind when you're thinking about renewables, but it turns out to have the highest renewable energy portion of its in-state generation—hydro, yes, but also wind. It also ties with New Hampshire for the top spot in our power plant pollution reduction metric. That makes SD one of only two states (with Vermont) to get two #1s.
  • Wyoming might bring to mind coal, not clean energy, but it tops our metric on new renewable energy capacity—how much is being built around now and in the near future, per capita and as a percentage of new power plant capacity.
  • Those who know wind might not be surprised to see Kansas somewhere on the leader board, and indeed it is: #1 for the increase in its renewable energy generation percentage, based on a tripling of its wind (from eight percent of its in-state generation to 24 percent).
  • For clean energy jobs per capita, the basis for another metric, Vermont tops the efficiency piece (along with overall clean energy jobs per capita) and Nevada leads on solar, but tops on wind jobs is North Dakota.

While our main focus is on the states that perform well across metrics, it's helpful to see who's moving forward in different ways.

Pedal to the Metal

Overall, the range of metrics incorporated in the UCS Clean Energy Momentum State Ranking paints a picture of state successes and a 50-state race for clean energy leadership. And the analysis points to recommendations for states as they build on clean energy momentum and continue strong progress toward a new energy future, like these:

  • States have to continue to drive clean energy momentum by adopting policies for continued progress in a whole lot of areas, from renewable energy and efficiency, to vehicle electrification, to economy-wide reductions in global warming pollution.
  • States should focus more on making sure that everyone shares in the benefits of clean energy, particularly low-income households and communities of color, those who are most affected by power plant pollution and other imbalances in the electricity sector.
  • States have got to push the federal government to accept its own responsibility for leadership in the clean energy space, given the value of strong national policies in a lot of these areas.

But, however we do it, we need, as a society and a country, to be picking up the pace. For clean energy jobs. For clean air and better public health. For a more just energy system.

And with an administration in the White House that seems more enamored of the brake pedal than the accelerator, where states are willing and able to lead on clean energy, we need them to be even more solidly in the driver's seat.

To clean energy momentum, then—and step on it!

John Rogers is a Union of Concerned Scientists senior energy analyst with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies.

Renewable Energy

A tiny, scenic island lying off Scotland's west coast is truly a model for sustainable, off-grid living. With no mainland electricity connection, the Isle of Eigg gets its electricity from the water, the wind and the sun.

After decades of using diesel generators, in February 2008 the residents of Eigg officially switched to their own renewable electricity supply, becoming the world's first community to launch an off-grid electric system.

The 12-square-mile island, with its small population of 105 residents, gets 'round-the-clock power via a combination of hydroelectric generators, wind turbines, a photovoltaic array and a bank of batteries. On days when renewable resources are low or during maintenance, two 80kW diesel generators provide backup.

"The set-up that we've got now will carry the island all day and put charge into the batteries for the evening," John Booth, the former director of the community-owned Eigg Electric company, told the BBC.

On days when there is a surplus of power—like when it's particularly windy or rainy—electric heaters automatically switch on in Eigg's church and community hall, which is ideal for keeping shared spaces warm throughout the winter.

This means "virtually no central heating in the system at all," Booth pointed out. "We don't charge for it because the whole community benefits."

As the BBC detailed, before making the transition to renewables, the island relied on noisy and expensive diesel generators that could only run for a few hours a day. But with the new power system, energy is available 24 hours a day.

Eigg residents are encouraged to use their power responsibly. Each house has a maximum use limit at any one time of 5kW, which is enough for an electric kettle and washing machine to run at the same time, or fifty 100w light bulbs. Businesses get 10kW. Residents are fined if they use too much power but meters help keep electricity use on track.

"The whole thing is run by and for the island," Booth said.

Researchers from all around the world—Brazil, Alaska and Malawi—have visited the isle to learn how the unique system can be adapted elsewhere.

Sponsored
The Prirazlomnaya platform is the first Russian project for developing the Arctic shelf. Credit: Gazprom

By Nika Knight

Exxon is applying for a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department to bypass U.S. sanctions against Russia and resume offshore drilling in the Black Sea with the Russian oil company Rosneft, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Among those charged with deciding to grant the permit is Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon who previously oversaw the company's Russia operations.

"Ka-ching! Payout time," tweeted Rachel Maddow in response to the Wall Street Journal report.

Exxon was previously granted a permit to bypass the sanctions in 2014. Tillerson has said that he would recuse himself from Russia-related matters for two years as Secretary of State.

The permit application also comes as calls grow for a government shutdown over the ties between Trump advisors and Russian officials. The FBI is currently investigating the Trump campaign's Russia connections.

And beyond the Trump campaign's apparent Russia ties and the implications of Tillerson's potential role in granting his former company the permit, environmentalists also pointed out the devastating climate impacts of further drilling in the Black Sea.

"If the Trump administration allows Exxon to move forward with extreme offshore oil drilling in Russia despite sanctions, the United States Congress must resist," said Greenpeace USA climate liability campaigner Naomi Ages in a statement. "Removing barriers to Exxon drilling in the Russian Black Sea with a state-controlled company like Rosneft would not only jeopardize global progress on climate change and provide momentum for a similar waiver in the Russian Arctic, it would also send a message to Russia that it can intervene in any country, including the United States, with no consequences."

"Members of Congress must stand up for the separation of oil and state," Ages urged.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Exxon, Chevron and other fossil fuel interests wrote big checks to fund President Trump's inaugural festivities, according to Federal Election Commission filings released Wednesday.

Contributions from the energy industry totaled more than $7 million, with Hess Corp CEO John Hess donating $1 million, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Citgo Petroleum each chipping in $500k. Coal company Murray Energy, which gave enthusiastically to the Trump campaign while simultaneously laying off workers, threw in $300k.

For many of these donors, the early months of the Trump administration have been particularly fruitful: Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren, who donated $250k, saw the president sign an executive memo ordering the construction of the ETP-owned Dakota Access Pipeline merely four days after the inauguration.

More than 1,500 corporate and individual funders for the inauguration raised $107 million all together—twice as much as Barack Obama's inauguration raised in 2009, and more than any other inaugural event in history.

For a deeper dive:

New York Times, AP, InsideClimate News, The Hill, Politico

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

Sponsored
Renewable Energy

By John Hensley

AWEA released its U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, Year Ending 2016 today, which showcases strong, steady growth throughout the year.

Wind power became the largest source of renewable generating capacity and supplied record amounts of wind energy to many parts of the country. Strong wind project construction, a growing manufacturing sector and the increasing need for wind turbine technicians and operators allowed the industry to add jobs at a rate nine times faster than the overall job market, as wind employment grew to a record 102,500.

Technology advances resulted in more productive turbines, with recent generations achieving average capacity factors more than 40 percent, all while costs continued to fall. And the industry saw the installation of the country's first offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island.

Here are the top 11 wind industry trends in 2016:

1. Record Wind Jobs

For the first time in history, there are more than 100,000 Americans employed in the U.S. wind energy industry. Strong wind construction activity throughout the year, combined with a strengthening wind manufacturing sector and growing need for personnel to operate and maintain more than 52,000 wind turbines, allowed the industry to add nearly 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2016.

That brings total U.S. wind industry jobs to 102,500. Impressively, the U.S. wind industry added jobs more than nine times faster than the overall economy. Strong wind project installation, construction, and development activity, combined with strong wind-related manufacturing activity, and over 52,000 wind turbines to operate and maintain, led wind jobs to grow 16.5 percent. That's compared to 1.8 percent for the overall U.S. job market.

2. Wind #1 Source of Renewable Generating Capacity

Wind energy passed hydroelectric power to become the number one source of renewable generating capacity in 2016. With federal policy stability secured, the U.S. wind industry installed 8,203 megawatts (MW) in 2016 and the industry now has 82,143 MW installed overall, enough wind power for the equivalent of 24 million American homes.

3. Generation Records Set

Wind energy delivered more than 30 percent of the electricity produced in Iowa and South Dakota in 2016. Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota generated more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind, while 20 states now produce more than five percent of their electricity from wind energy. ERCOT, the main grid operator for most of Texas, and SPP, which operates across parts of 14 states, competed for new wind power penetration records throughout 2016, both topping 50 percent wind energy on several occasions.

4. U.S. Manufacturing Sector Growth

Wind energy continues to fuel the domestic manufacturing sector, with more than 500 factories across 41 states producing components for the U.S. wind industry in 2016. Domestic wind-related manufacturing jobs grew 17 percent to more than 25,000 as three new factories began supplying the wind industry and five plants expanded production.

5. Technology Boosts Productivity

Technological advances allow wind turbines to reach stronger, steadier winds, and more sophisticated control systems are increasing the amount of electricity modern wind turbines generate. Wind turbines built in 2014 and 2015 achieved capacity factors more than 40 percent during 2016. At the same time, the cost of wind energy dropped more than 66 percent between 2009 and 2016.

6. Corporations and Utilities Want Wind

Fortune 500 companies, electric utilities and others signed 47 power purchase agreements totaling more than 4,000 MW during 2016. In doing so, they cited the declining costs and stable price of wind power as factors. Utilities submitted Integrated Resource Plans detailing at least 14,000 MW in wind power additions in the past two years.

7. Record Wind Enters Queue

67 gigawatts of newly proposed wind projects were added to interconnection queues in 2016, the largest since the addition of 67.3 GW in 2009. This brings total wind capacity in the queues to 136.8 GW, the highest level in five years.

8. Improving the Transmission Grid

Transmission expansion to serve wind continues, particularly in MISO and SPP. A number of proposed interregional Direct Current transmission lines have now also cleared final permitting hurdles. In total, transmission projects that could support the delivery of nearly 52,000 MW of wind energy over the next five years are currently under development, though not all are likely to be built.

9. Wind Benefits Every State

More than 74 percent of U.S. congressional districts have operational wind energy projects or active wind-related manufacturing facilities, including 77 percent of Republican districts and 69 percent of Democratic districts. The industry invested more than $14.1 billion in new wind projects and supported 102,500 jobs across all 50 states.

10. Wind Reduces Emissions and Saves Water
Operational wind projects avoided 393 million pounds of sulfur dioxide and 243 million pounds of nitrogen oxide. These pollutants create smog and trigger asthma attacks, so reducing them saved $7.4 billion in public health costs last year. Meanwhile, operating wind projects avoided the consumption of 87 billion gallons of water, equivalent to 266 gallons per person in the U.S.

11. Offshore Wind Debut
The first offshore wind project in the U.S. began operating in late 2016. The five turbine, 30 MW Block Island wind farm is located three miles off the coast of Rhode Island, near Block Island.

Renewable Energy
A mountaintop removal site near Pikeville, Kentucky. Photo credit: Kenny Stanley/Berkeley Energy Group

Kentucky, like most of the Appalachian region, has been in economic distress since the bust of the coal mining industry. But, new hope for jobs and the ravaged environment may come in the form of the state's largest solar farm.

The company spearheading the initiative, Berkeley Energy Group, used to be a coal mining company and still owns thousands of acres of land in the area, including the abandoned mountaintop removal site in Pike County, Kentucky, just outside of Pikeville in the heart of coal country. Berkeley Energy is working with EDF Renewable Energy and former Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen to build a 50-100 megawatt farm right on top of the old mine. The project was announced on Tuesday.

"This is really a history-making project for the region," said Ryan Johns, an executive with Berkeley Energy Group.

"Bringing together major players in both coal and renewable energy to build a solar farm on a mountaintop removal site, creating opportunity for out-of-work miners, is a once-in-a-lifetime project," Edelen told the Herald-Leader.

Coal production has drastically dropped over the last few years since the boom of natural gas and lower installation costs for renewables. According to Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet, in 2016 alone, coal production in the region, including Pike County, dropped by 40 percent from 2015, and the number of coal jobs in the county decreased by 30 percent.

"We have the opportunity to combine the strengths of both companies to bring jobs and economic development to Appalachia," Doug Copeland, EDF development manager, said.

Though the developers aren't sure how many jobs would be supplied by the solar farm, the project would be a massive undertaking and several hundred acres would be used to operate the facility.

Pike County is in eastern Kentucky, which doesn't get quite as much annual sunlight as western parts of the state. But, building it in this specific location would help the developers work with the electric grid supplied by PJM, an electric company that works with homeowners to allocate renewable energy resources.

But, before they can establish anything with PJM, the developers must complete geological and energy studies to measure the potential for solar on the property. EDF said this could take until the end of the year. But, Johns said, "if it can be done, we'll get it done."

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox