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Wind Energy Blows Away Records Throughout Europe

By Michael Goggin

The data is in, and 2013 went out with a bang as wind energy output soared to new records across Europe. Electricity prices and air pollution dropped as wind energy drastically reduced fossil fuel use during high winter energy demand. Ireland, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and the UK all saw noteworthy wind output records broken with no electric reliability problems. Below, we summarize the news that has just broken.

Graphic credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Ireland

The Emerald Isle is now green for two additional reasons, as wind energy reduced pollution and protected consumers’ pocketbooks from near-record natural gas prices by providing 24 percent of Ireland’s electricity for all of December. The Irish Examiner said on Monday that “The sustained wind volumes forced expensive gas powered plants off the system and this provided downward pressure on wholesale prices.” It quotes an energy trader noting that “The substantial contribution of wind energy helped reduce the monthly average wholesale electricity price by 5 percent.” The article further explains that wind energy played a critical role in driving the price of electricity down despite near-record natural gas prices. At times wind energy has reliably provided 50 percent of the electricity in Ireland, which is particularly impressive for an island power system without the advantage of large power lines to import and export power to neighboring power systems. On Dec. 5, the output from the country's wind turbines peaked at a record 1588 megawatts (MW), and another new record of 1769 MW was set at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 17.

Denmark

Long a leader in wind energy use, Denmark’s wind energy set a new record by providing a staggering 54.8 percent of the country’s electricity consumption for the month of December, as reported yesterday by The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch. For all of 2013, wind energy provided around 33 percent of Denmark’s electricity. On certain days, such as Dec. 21, wind energy generated more than 100 percent of the country’s electricity use, with the remainder exported across Denmark’s strong transmission links to neighboring countries.

Spain

Electric sector carbon dioxide emissions plummeted more than 23 percent in 2013 as wind energy grew to be Spain’s largest source of electricity, as noted last week in The Guardian. Wind energy provided 21.1 percent of Spain’s electricity for the year, beating out all other fuel sources to provide the largest piece of the country’s electricity mix. Wind drove the dramatic drop in carbon dioxide emissions as natural gas power plant output dropped by 34.2 percent from 2012 and coal-fired generation fell by 27.3 percent, even though overall electricity use was relatively flat at a 2.1 percent decline.

Wind has been the dominant factor driving Europe’s carbon emissions downward. Even though coal use continues to decline across Europe, that hasn’t stopped fossil fuel industry groups, as well as some who should know better, from fabricating the myth of a coal resurgence by misleadingly exaggerating the completion of a few coal plants that were begun nearly a decade ago and a temporary blip in carbon emissions as Germany shut down its nuclear fleet.

Portugal

Portugal generated over 70 percent of its power from renewables during the first quarter of 2013, driven by a surge in wind and hydro power output. At times, Portugal has reliably produced more than 90 percent of its electricity from wind. Shockingly, we still hear fossil fuel-funded groups and other naysayers in the U.S. claim that it is not practical to reliably or efficiently exceed 10 percent (or some other made up number) wind energy on the power system. With glaring counterfactuals in many European countries and now many parts of the U.S., it is becoming increasingly hard for them to keep their heads buried in the sand.

Germany

Germany's old wind generation record was blown away on Dec. 6, as wind-generated electricity peaked at slightly more than 26,000 MW. A news article explains: "The effect on [electricity] prices was also remarkable. In day-ahead trading, power prices on the exchange in Germany were only half of the levels in France and Switzerland, resulting in a large amount of power exports ... Perhaps the most interesting thing about the storm in terms of wind power is that it shows how much more wind power capacity we can withstand. The record peak was still not even one third of peak demand at the time, suggesting that Germany might be able to have three times the current level of wind power—100 gigawatts (GW)—installed before large amounts of wind power would have to be stored." On Dec. 24, German wind energy output came close to setting a new record.

United Kingdom

Britain set a new wind record of 6,053 MW on the morning of Dec. 2, providing about 14 percent of the electricity on the U.K. system, according to Bloomberg News. The article said nearly 7,900 MW of gas-fired generation was shut down during the period of high wind, explaining that “wind and solar have no fuel costs, generally making them cheaper than coal or gas” and quoting an analyst that “it has given the chance for less efficient gas-burn facilities to drop output.”

A Business Green article this week provides additional updates on other wind records that were set in December.

“The facts speak for themselves—National Grid's records tumbled one after another. Over the course of the week, which began on Monday [Dec. 16], wind generated a record 783,886 MW hours—the highest ever for a seven-day period—providing 13 percent of Britain's total electricity needs that week.

On the Saturday before Christmas—a busy day for everyone and one when demand for electricity is high—we saw a record daily amount of power produced from wind with 132,812 MWh generated; a staggering 17 percent of the nation's total electricity consumption that day. Don't forget that every unit of clean electricity generated by wind means one less unit is generated using expensive imports of polluting fossil fuels, so this represents a significant economic and environmental benefit for all of us.

The good news is, in fact, even better when we consider that the smaller wind farms that feed into local networks where the output isn't recorded by National Grid would make the above figures at least 30 percent higher.

The record-breaking trend has continued into the New Year with the highest half-hour contribution from wind on the transmission system having been achieved on [Jan. 6].”

Where does the U.S. fit in?

American wind energy continues to grow quickly, and many parts of the U.S. are now reaching wind output levels comparable to those seen in Europe. Iowa and South Dakota now produce more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind, and another seven states are above 10 percent. However, as shown in the U.S. Department of Energy chart above, we could and should be doing more to cultivate the clean energy technologies of the 21st century.

Our wind plants are roughly 50 percent more productive than those in Europe on average, which yields a far lower cost of wind energy in the U.S. Our wind resource is far more diverse, and our power system far larger and more interconnected, making the reliable integration of large amounts of wind energy even easier. The total wind energy resource in the U.S., enough to meet our electricity needs roughly a dozen times over, is unmatched. Yet the lack of policy stability in the U.S. continues to inhibit the wind industry’s growth, as seen by the recent lapse of the wind production tax credit due to Congress’s inattention.

Fortunately, that problem is fixable.

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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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.

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