Even though they were overshadowed by the Senate’s historic decision to eliminate the use of the filibuster when it comes to most Presidential nominees—the so-called “nuclear option”—there were some major developments this week at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that are critically important to solar and renewable energy.
First, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, who proclaimed earlier this year that, “solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything,” announced that he’s officially leaving his position at the end of the week. Chairman Wellinghoff has been a true champion to solar, and we wish him well in all of his new endeavors.
But before leaving, Wellinghoff presided over one last Commission meeting on Thursday as a new rule was approved by FERC that will expedite and reduce the cost of solar project interconnections, while maintaining the reliability and safety of the electric grid. In a nutshell, this action—which SEIA has championed for nearly two years—will help to spur new solar deployment nationwide. The rule was approved by a 4-0 vote with Chairman Wellinghoff abstaining because of a possible conflict of interest.
Here’s the back story. In 2005, FERC issued Order No. 2006, which—for the first time—established national interconnection procedures applicable to generation projects that are 20 megawatts (MW) or less in size and subject to FERC’s wholesale jurisdiction. Order No. 2006 was groundbreaking at the time, and the procedures were voluntarily adopted by many states to also apply to the retail interconnection process. However, demand for solar energy has grown dramatically since the original order was issued more than seven years ago, and certain aspects of the order have resulted in needless barriers to cost-effective and timely interconnections.
The approved rule will allow solar projects that meet certain technical requirements to qualify for a “fast track” interconnection process, thus eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming studies. Most importantly, today’s decision will help to reduce interconnection bottlenecks.
As an association, we applaud FERC for recognizing the challenges facing wholesale distributed generation development, which is one of the fastest-growing segments of America’s solar energy industry. But it’s important to point out that the new rule also maintains electric system safety and reliability, making it a win all the way around.
This is the way government should work. We deeply appreciate FERC’s open-minded approach and willingness to revisit this issue based on unforeseen developments. We look forward to working with FERC and all other interested stakeholders in the future to help further the deployment of clean, reliable and affordable solar energy nationwide. SEIA is also urging state regulators to consider using FERC’s new rule as a model and starting point for updating their own interconnection rules.
And, finally, this brings me to the other really good news coming out of FERC this week. According to the agency’s Energy Infrastructure Update report, 99.3 percent of all new electric generation placed in service during the month of October came from renewables—with solar leading the way by a country mile!
Twelve new solar units accounted for 504 MW or 72.1 percent of all new capacity last month. This is truly astonishing, not to mention historic, and should serve as a reminder to everyone in Washington and in state capitals that smart public policies—such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS)—are paying huge dividends for America.
Today, solar is one of the fastest-growing sources of new energy in the United States. More than 30 utility-scale, clean energy solar projects are still under construction, putting thousands of electricians, steelworkers and laborers to work and helping to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. These facilities, along with rooftop solar on homes, businesses and schools, will generate electricity for generations to come.
There are now more than 9,400 megawatts (MW) of cumulative solar electric capacity installed in the U.S. —enough to power more than 1.5 million American homes—and that number is expected to hit nearly 13,000 MW by the end of this year.
In addition, SEIA recently released a comprehensive new report outlining ways to create 50,250 new American jobs and save more than $61 billion in future energy costs by expanding the use of innovative and cost-effective solar heating and cooling (SHC) systems across the nation.
Today, solar employs nearly 120,000 Americans at more than 6,100 companies, most of which are small businesses spread across the United States, making solar one of the fastest-growing industries in America. Part of this amazing growth is attributed to the fact that the cost of a solar system has dropped by nearly 40 percent over the past two years, making solar more affordable—and more popular—than ever. And as solar continues to scale up, costs will continue to come down.
So in a week filled with high drama on Capitol Hill, you could say that solar—in its own unique way—has become the new “nuclear option” when it comes to helping America meet its future energy needs.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.