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How California Will Use Renewables to Replace Massive Nuclear Plant

By Sierra Martinez

California took another major and symbolic step this month with its decision to rely significantly on energy efficiency and other clean energy resources to help replace electricity once generated by the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) serving San Diego and the greater Los Angeles area.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) made official its strategy to address the loss of the huge nuclear plant, which had been offline since January 2012 and was officially retired last year. Fortunately, it closely resembles its proposal released last month.

San Onofre nuclear power plant in California was officially retired in 2013. Now, the state has a new plan to replace its output. Photo credit: Jason Hickey/Flickr Creative Commons

The final plan uses efficiency and other “preferred resources”—those resources with lower environmental impacts—like demand response (ways customers can consume less energy at key times during the day) and renewable energy such as wind and solar, as well as some upgrades to the electric system, to replace the vast majority of the lost SONGS generation. Instead of turning directly to dirty gas-fired power to replace SONGS, this decision fills the gap left by SONGS with at least two-thirds of clean energy resources, and up to 100 percent clean energy. That means that dirty gas-fired power is limited to contributing, at most, one-third of the replacement energy and at best, zero.

The groundbreaking step puts California on a better course for the long term, avoiding a significant number of fossil-fueled power plants, and those power plants' emissions that Californians are all too familiar with. As the state gears up for the summer strain on the grid this year, two of California’s largest metropolitan areas—Los Angeles and San Diego—begin to dread their often daily dose of smog and its related quality-of-life and even medical issues.

Positive Steps Forward

We applaud the commission for moving in the right direction and, especially for its significant reliance on the contribution of “preferred resources”—resources that are critical to the health and well-being of Californians.

In addition, it’s notable that the commission authorized no additional mandatory gas-fired power sources (which create emissions) because previously, the commission did enact mandatory gas requirements in its 2013 decision. This frees the utilities to appreciably, if not entirely, rely on clean energy resources to replace SONGS.

California has embraced efficiency—getting the same or more work from less electricity—as the cleanest, simplest and most cost-effective energy resource. Not only does efficiency lead to lower utility bills, it reduces the amount of electricity that must be generated from dirty energy that pollutes our air and harms our health.

The fear had been that the replacement of SONGS, a mammoth 2,200-megawatt (MW) power plant (equivalent to about four regular large-sized power plants) around which much of the California transmission grid was built, and which left an over 2,500 MW hole in the grid (due in part to its electrical location and characteristics), would be met with the least creative response—the excessive use of more fossil-fueled power plants.

In June 2012, for example, a retired 50-year-old gas-fired generator at Huntington Beach was brought online to help address the loss of SONGS, but not so much for energy but rather to maintain voltage levels—a complex demand-and-supply balancing act. Fortunately, with this long term decision, the state is definitively not going to make excessive reliance on gas-fired power plants its long term solution.

The Plan

The decision, which affirms that clean energy is the pillar of replacing California’s retired nuclear plant, the state will:

  • Rely on the supply of energy from what amounts to two medium-sized fossil-fuel power plants (600 MW of power) from “preferred sources”—those that have lower environmental impacts and lower public health costs—like efficiency, reducing energy consumption at peak times, wind, solar, and energy storage.

  • Use 400 to 900 MW of power from new resources, meaning any type of energy resource as needed. This historically has meant gas-fired power generation because many preferred resources were competing on a non-level playing field, but new language requests more fairness in competition for cleaner sources such as efficiency, demand response, solar and wind.

These sources will account for between 1,000 and 1,500 MW of power to replace the more than 2,500-MW hole in the grid left by SONGS. Fortunately, the remainder is made up by additional solutions that are not fossil-fueled power plants, such as reducing the demand through energy efficiency and making improvements to transmission networks. This diverse portfolio of resources will meet the extensive voltage support, energy, and power needs that were originally provided by SONGS.

As a result, this move is good news for Californians and the air we breathe.

Room For Improvement

While the plan is well-balanced, NRDC is concerned that the plan failed to explicitly rely on all reasonably-expected-to-occur energy efficiency. As NRDC demonstrated in the proceeding, the model results that used the best resource estimates available showed there was no clear need to authorize any additional gas-fired generation at this time (beyond the 1,500 MW of gas-fired generation already authorized in 2013) to replace SONGS. These estimates explicitly rely on a conservative 733 MW of savings from building efficiency standards, appliance efficiency standards, and utility efficiency programs. We know the efficiency estimates should have been even higher – because the 733 MW estimate didn’t account for the recently-adopted federal appliance efficiency standards, like efficiency standards for microwaves and commercial refrigerators.

The plan also underestimated other preferred resources and transmission solutions, discounting those resources by up to 90 percent. We called for improving the accounting of these preferred resources because an assumption that their contributions are only worth 10 percent was not backed by the record.

While it has its shortcomings, the replacement strategy significantly avoids the construction of many fossil-fueled power plants and is a critical step forward for California’s clean energy future. For Californians within the greater Los Angeles region and in San Diego region, their health and environment will be directly affected by this decision. And for the entire state of California, this decision will have a major impact on future long term energy planning because it demonstrates that we can replace an enormous nuclear power plant with largely clean energy and transmission solutions.

This piece was originally published on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

 

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Trump's Response to Climate-Related Disasters: Open America's 'Crown Jewels' to Oil Drilling

By Andy Rowell

You would have thought that after being battered by two devastating hurricanes in recent weeks, which experts believe were fueled by warmer seas caused by climate change, even the most die-hard climate denier would think again.

But you would be wrong.

You would have thought that as the cost of rebuilding after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey mounts, with an estimated bill of $150 billion so far, that politicians would press to move away from a fossil fuel economy.

But you would be wrong again. In fact the opposite is happening.

Instead of pushing for clean technology and to end our oil addiction, the Trump administration is quietly pushing to open up one of America's great last wilderness areas, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—or ANWR for short—has been described as "one of the largest intact ecosystems in the world," and "the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System and one of the most important protected areas on Earth."

Anyone who knows about contemporary American petro-politics will know that the fight over ANWR is not new. It is a 40 year "multi-generational" fight. The naturalist, Peter Matthiessen, once called the battle over ANWR the "longest running, most acrimonious environmental battle in American history."

The oil industry and its allies have long salivated over the prospect of drilling in the refuge's 19.6 million acres. They have long argued that the refuge, home to caribou, polar bears and many endangered species, also houses an estimated 10 billion of barrels of recoverable oil.

There could be more oil, there could be much less, there could be none—no one really knows for sure.

The industry has wanted to drill the refuge for decades, but have been stopped by a determined coalition of environmentalists, First Nations and conservationists.

But for how much longer? When Trump became president he said that opening up ANWR was a top priority. And it seems that despite the recent Hurricanes, Trump is pressing ahead to do this.

As the Washington Post reported at the end of last week: "The Trump administration is quietly moving to allow energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ... with a draft rule that would lay the groundwork for drilling."

Although the Trump administration is pushing for the move, the final say on whether drilling goes ahead lies with Congress.

But in the meantime, officials from the Interior Department—now stuffed full of pro-oil appointees—are quietly modifying a regulation from the 1980's that would allow the industry to undertake seismic surveys.

The Post acquired a leaked memo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acting director, James Kurth, to prepare an assessment and a proposed rule to update regulations which go back to the eighties.

Kurth wrote: "When finalized, the new regulation will allow for applicants to [submit] requests for approval of new exploration plans."

Once the rule is finalized, companies could bid to undertake seismic testing in the refuge.

Environmentalists are naturally outraged. Defenders of Wildlife president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, who led the Fish and Wildlife Service under President Bill Clinton, told the Post: "The administration is very stealthily trying to move forward with drilling on the Arctic's coastal plain ... This is a complete about-face from decades of practice."

"This is a really big deal," adds Niel Lawrence, Alaska director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This is a frontal attack in an ideological battle. The Arctic is the Holy Grail."

It looks like this battle will go to the courts. It could drag on for years. The stakes are huge. As Robert Mrazek, a former New York congressman and chair emeritus of the Alaska Wilderness League told a recent article in Fortune magazine: "ANWR is an American Serengeti. You can have the oil. Or you can have this pristine place. You can't have both. No compromise."

Sarah James, an ambassador for the Gwich'in First Nations, who lives close to the refuge and who opposes oil development, adds: "If you drill for oil here, you will be drilling into the heart of our people."

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New Agreement Offers Brighter Future for Pacific Bluefin Tuna

By Amanda Nickson

The Pacific bluefin tuna is among the most depleted species on the planet, having been fished down more than 97 percent from its historic, unfished size. For years, this prized fish has been in dire need of strong policies that would reverse that decline, but the two organizations responsible for its management—the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC)—failed in their recent efforts, allowing overfishing to continue and further risking the future of the species.

Last week, however, at a joint meeting of the WCPFC Northern Committee and IATTC, Pacific bluefin received a much-needed respite when its primary fishing nations—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico and the U.S.—reached agreement with other member states on a long-term plan that would rebuild the population from its current status of 2.6 percent of pre-fishing levels to 20 percent by 2034. This agreement, if properly implemented, would start the species—and the fishing industry that depends on it—on a path toward sustainability.

After decades of inaction, why did these two fisheries management bodies agree to take the needed steps toward rebuilding? Because ignoring the problem became impossible for managers. In the past two years, three nations exceeded their catch limits. Amid increasing calls from The Pew Charitable Trusts and others for a complete fishing moratorium, and in a worst-case scenario, an international trade ban, the government representatives to the WCPFC committee and IATTC finally stepped up to make a change.

Perhaps most significant was the course reversal by Japan. By far the largest fishing nation for, and consumer of, Pacific bluefin, Japan had long resisted proposed rebuilding plans. This year, though, thanks in part to strong international pressure and growing media attention within the country on the plight of the species, the Japanese delegates dropped that opposition and helped make progress that just a few years ago seemed far out of reach.

Despite this commitment, the work to help Pacific bluefin recover has only begun. In the fishing season that ended on June 30, Japanese fishermen exceeded their catch limits by 334 metric tons, and with many reports of illegal fishing in Japan's waters, the real amount could be higher. The U.S., South Korea and Mexico also exceeded limits over the past two years. Rebuilding the species under the new quotas and timeline will be nearly impossible if such overages continue. All countries that fish for Pacific bluefin must pledge to strengthen their domestic controls and monitoring programs to guarantee that the commitments to rebuilding made this year are not squandered in the future.

The decision on Pacific bluefin made at the joint meeting could signal a move toward a greater focus on conservation at regional fisheries management organizations like the WCPFC and IATTC. This action by major fishing nations indicates that concrete action is possible. Fishermen and fleets now hold the key to a sustained recovery, and all countries must work together to uphold the new rules. If they can do that, real change on the water may come sooner than many of us expected.

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Clustered disasters hold our attention in ways that singular events cannot—they open our minds to the possibility that these aren't just accidents or natural phenomena to be painfully endured. As such, they can provoke debates over the larger "disaster lessons" we should be learning. And I would argue the combination of Harvey and Irma has triggered such a moment.

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly. Climate change is expected to be high on the agenda at this year's gathering.

As the world leaders meet, another major storm—Hurricane Maria—is gaining strength in the Caribbean and following a similar path as Hurricane Irma. The current forecast shows Maria could hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm as early as Wednesday. The U.S. Virgin Islands, which were devastated by Irma, also appear to be in line to be hit by Maria.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that the Trump administration is considering staying in the Paris climate agreement, just months after the president vowed to pull out of it. The White House denied the report. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday signaled Trump may back away from the Paris accord, but National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster gave a different message on Fox News Sunday.

We speak with best-selling author Naomi Klein, a senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her most recent book, "No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need," has been longlisted for a National Book Award.

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who had sent members of the state National Guard to devastated Houston, anxiously recalled them while putting in place emergency measures for his own state. A small flotilla of naval vessels, originally sent to waters off Texas, was similarly redirected to the Caribbean, while specialized combat units drawn from as far afield as Colorado, Illinois and Rhode Island were rushed to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, members of the California National Guard were being mobilized to fight wildfires raging across that state (as across much of the West) during its hottest summer on record.

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