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Aggregating Energy Since 2006

Climate Change

RES Update

I have been meaning to write something about the 18 Jan, 2007 Senate Energy Committee meeting. Minutes are not posted as of now, but will be linked to from that page when they are available. I don't think they have made an audio version of the hearing available, but you can stream video of it (Real Media format or Windows Media Player format).

I previously analyzed two of the RES bills that are under discussion in the committee. There are two others. Committee Counseler John Fuller created a really handy spreadsheet that shows how each of the four bills differ and where they agree (pdf). I want to thank him for making that available to us.

For those unfamiliar with a Renewable Energy Standard or Renewable Energy Objective, both require utilities to generate a certain percentage of the electricity they sell within MN from renewable sources. The standard provides more stringent penalties for failing to meet the requirements; the objective requires a good faith effort to meet it.

Committee Chair Prettner Solon has suggested that these bills will be merged into a single bill based on stakeholder agreement. It would appear that they will delete-all of S.F. 4 (Anderson's bill) and create a new whole new RES or REO proposal based on the pieces of the existing four. They will use S.F. 4 out of deference to Senator Anderson who has worked on this issue for 6 years. A group of stakeholders is meeting to guide this process.

I'm not really sure how this all works; Senator Dibble was also a bit concerned and wanted to make sure the Committee would still discuss the big issues. I think the idea is for the stakeholders to work behind the scenes to make it easier for the committee to create a popular, effective bill.

The rest of this post will cover the discussion in the committee as the bills were officially introduced and my thoughts on the issues that each brings up. Don Davis wrote an article for The Forum news about these bills also.

Senator Anderson introduced S.F. 4 first. She noted that mandating renewable energy helps the economy, saying it creates 40% more jobs per unit of energy when compared to fossil fuels. Later she said Minnesota lost 1000 good jobs on the Iron Range because a wind company chose Pennsylvania instead because it had a more aggressive standard than us. Also, Minnesota imports more electricity than any other state (apparently 1000 MW from Canada (Manitoba Hydro) and 1000 MW from the Dakotas alone).

Anderson tackled the big question in front of the committee - objective or standard? Minnesota's current "objective" is unique; many other states have embraced the standard. She noted that her bill features an "offramp" which I'll quote:

The commission must delay or modify the standard for an electric utility if it finds that
compliance with a standard is not in the public interest because compliance will either
produce undesirable impacts on the reliability of the utility's system or on the utility's
ratepayers or if it finds that compliance is not technically feasible.

Those who say that a standard is too inflexible often fail to note that the PUC can excuse a utility which has good reasons for failing to meet the requirements. Anderson suggested that the "good faith effort" language of the REO is too lax and difficult to interpret. The Department of Commerce objects to this, saying they have defined what a good faith effort is - more on that debate in a later post.

Senator Anderson's last argument for the word 'standard' argued that the "word in law" matters. The very word 'standard' sends a clear signal to wind developers that Minnesota will be a reliable market for them.

One of Anderson's other changes with S.F. 4 is to limit eligible renewable facilities to those built after 1974. She justifies this, saying we need to reduce emissions, stimulate jobs, and avoid disadvantaging some utilities over others.

Senator Anderson finished by saying this will not cost ratepayers more. It will save them money in the long term because "we all know the cost of coal will go up." This relies upon Congress creating either a cap & trade program for carbon emissions or implementing a carbon tax. Though she didn't phrase it in these terms, she was basically saying that those the wind strength may be variable, its cost is not. The fuel for wind turbines will remain zero cost for the life of the turbine.

Anderson's bill was followed by S.F. 129, introduced by Senator Tomassoni. Because the committee is hearing only RES specific provisions now, they are only discussing sections 2-7.

I feel that this is the weakest bill by a considerable margin, despite being a standard rather than an objective. First, I'll summarize Tomassoni's comments.

He started by pushing for the IGCC coal plant, saying that even with renewables, we still need coal and IGCC lends itself well to sequestion (capturing the carbon dioxide emissions and storing them deep underground). Greg Oxley, from the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association then argued that utilities cannot meet 25% by 2020. He said they don't have enough transmission or time to build the needed amount.

To those who say we cannot make 25% by 2020, I refer you to John Tuma's post on Loon Commons which essentially reminded the committee that no one thought we could hit the moon in 10 years when Kennedy told us we were going to.

Tomassoni's bill suffers from many weaknesses and I hope it is mostly ignored when the committee puts together the final RES/REO proposal. Weaknesses include:

  • Instead of a list of eligible renewable technologies, it says all renewable energy technologies may be counted. Thus, the PUC will have to decide if hydrogen produced by natural gas counts as being renewable or not (for example). This is not a good idea.
  • 20% by 2020 is too lax. If we are not going to push as hard as possible, let's use Governor Pawlenty's 25% by 2025.
  • My favorite: the penalty for noncompliance cannot be more than the amount the utility would have expended to meet the requirements. This is not an incentive to meet the requirements. Penalties should exceed the cost of compliance (though we need an offramp like the one proposed by Anderson).
  • Finally, this bill significantly limits what evidence the PUC can use when considering the offramp provision - giving a big advantage to the utilities.

Committee Chair Prettner Solon next introduced one of her bills, S.F. 145 and Mike Bull, Deputy Commissioner for the DoC discussed it. Like S.F. 129, this is an omnibus bill and the committee is only looking at sections 2-8 currently.

Bull noted that this is the most progressive energy package ever by a Minnesota Senator - something to which Anderson later agreed. She and Bull actually complimented each other several times as the committee exuded bipartisan vibes.

At any rate, Bull noted that the Governor would prefer signing an omnibus bill but recognizes the committee will do as the committee will do. This bill calls for a 25% objective by 2025 with a fine of $.05 per kilowatt/hour of unmet requirements when utiliies do not meet the good faith effort bar. The PUC may count large hydroelectric sources if absolutely necessary (large hydro is usually not counted due to the damage to surrounding ecosystems). Compliance fines would be used to fund renewable energy projects in Minnesota.

Senator Dibble questioned what new generation would be if the Governor's proposal is implemented because it counts renewable sources built before 1975. The committee is supposed to be informed how this breaks down - essentially, the question is how many renewable MW MN has from before 1975.

Chair Prettner Solon then introduced S.F. 74 - an objective with blank % to be met by blank. The idea is to figure out the max we can do and fill in the blank with those numbers. It also allows the PUC to increase the requirement for some utilities who are better poised to add renewable capacity than others. This is a unique idea though I wonder if the PUC would actually do that.

The other major unique provision for this bill is that it allows utilities that go above and beyond the required CIP (Conservation improvement programs - these are intended to reduce electricity demand) to get credit toward their objective requirement. This could be tricky in practice to measure.

Wow. That was fun. Another exciting Saturday night for me. If you read this far, thank you. There will be more coming eventually.

Coal rush runs into some hurdles

NPR had a story this morning talking about the rush to build coal plants in the U.S. and around the world. Apparently, costs have rapidly increased in recent months due to material and human resource shortages. Engineering firms with the knowhow to design new plants are maxed out at the moment, largely due to all the building going on in China. The article mentions one utility in Kansas that has seen the capital cost estimate for a new coal plant rising from $1 billion to $1.4 billion in just 18 months.

The article also discusses how the possibility of a future carbon tax is giving state regulators pause before approving new coal plants. All of this should at least give added incentive for utilities and regulators to consider renewable energy and conservation, which is good news.

Iowa and California

Jeff, from sustainablog has featured incoming Iowegian Governor Culver and his energy plan on the treehugger blog. Governor Pawlenty may have his work cut out for him if he wants Minnesota to beat Iowa for renewable energy innovation.

Newspapers around the state of Iowa on Sunday were reporting on or editorializing about governor-elect Chet Culver's proposed Iowa Power Fund, a $100 million investment by the state in renewable energy development. Culver proposed the Fund during his campaign, and made it one of the pillars of his economic development plan. Legislators on both sides of the aisle are considering Culver's proposal, but support for renewables seems solid across the board.

Energy issues appeared to be Culver's #1 focus in his campaign.

As Governor, I will make Iowa a national leader in job creation and new technology research and development with a, $100 million Iowa Power Fund ... Over the next four years, My Iowa Power Fund will attract more than three times this $100 million investment in new private sector funding for renewable and alternative energy industries in Iowa.

This will make the Iowa Power Fund the largest of its kind in the nation and will put Iowa on the map for the “Next Generation” power and fuel investors and entrepreneurs. The Iowa Power Fund will require that that the jobs created provide good wages and good benefits and that any company that misuses Iowa Power Funds or doesn’t provide the jobs promised will have to pay taxpayers back with penalties and interest.

In trend-setting California, the governer has signed an executive order mandating less GHG intensity from vehicle fuels.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is establishing by Executive Order a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) that requires, as an initial goal, a 10% reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) intensity of all passenger vehicle fuels sold in California by 2020.

This is rather interesting proposal. I was confused about it until I saw this:

The LCFS will use market-based mechanisms that allow providers to choose how they reduce emissions while responding to consumer demand. For example, providers may purchase and blend more lower-carbon ethanol (e.g., cellulosic ethanol rather than corn ethanol) into gasoline products, purchase credits from electric utilities supplying low-carbon electrons to electric passenger vehicles, diversify into low-carbon hydrogen as a product and more, including new strategies yet to be developed.

Watthead noted that this takes some of the responsibility for meeting the AB 32 targets away from the auto industry. This effectively undercuts their legal challenge that AB 32 (now more properly known as the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) is effectively a fuel efficiency requirement rather than a measure to reduce pollution. This act mandates all cars emit fewer GHGs per mile traveled ... there is a specific schedule somewhere with targets, but I cannot find it just this minute.

At any rate, I hope this will help California's case in the courts if the Supreme Court rules that the EPA cannot regulate carbon dioxide as a Clean Air Act pollutant. That ruling is expected in the next 6 months. I believe the challenge against California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is in a holding pattern until that ruling (but I could be wrong).

As for the other states, I hope to get more up here later. Until then, sustainablog has a roundup of some other states that are working on renewable issues as well.

Energy Challenge block leaders

Update: The contact person previously posted was for the Seward neighborhood only. Please contact MNCEE if you would like to have your neighborhood considered for this pilot program.

CEE is looking to get block clubs and neighborhood groups involved in the Energy Challenge. The paragraph below was included in an email sent out to my neighborhood group. I'm posting it here to help get the word out. I'm going to volunteer for my block. (Note: I do not work for CEE.)


Energy Challenge. The Minneapolis Center for Energy and Environment (MNCEE) would like to collaborate with neighborhood groups and block clubs to help Minnesotans fight global warming. They are asking for several neighborhoods’ help in developing and participating in a pilot project to work with block clubs to deliver energy saving equipment and information to their neighbors. They need your suggestions for ways to involve and empoweryour neighbors and for your help in contacting them. Would you be willing to?...convene block blub meetings to access the Energy Challenge website...pass out information, including free high efficiency lightbulbs or other energy saving equipment...urge your neighbors to encourage your legislators to take action on global a yard sign saying, for example: "Our block took the Energy Challenge to lower costs and curb climate change”...deliver coupons for products such as low flow shower heads and outdoor rated high efficiency bulbs. 


Recommendations for Offsetting Carbon Emissions

Looking to offset your global warming emissions but confused about where to start?  Which offset company has the most impact and uses the best methodologies?

Three articles that make recommendations:

Environmental Defense Fund recommended list

Grist Magazine article

World Changing article & full report (PDF)

No one company appears on all three lists.

Two for three? Climate Trust, Native Energy, and Carbon Fund.


Now, since green tags, renewable energy credits, and green pricing are confusing enough for consumers, will they be able to differentiate this new class of environmental credits?  Time will tell... 

Green chimney and blowing smoke



1. CNN is reporting overzealously on a new carbon dioxide mitigation technology in an article, "Green chimney could save the planet" (because one technology is likely THE answer).  But it's worth a read:

"A new experimental technology he calls a liquid chimney that captures the greenhouse gas escaping from coal and natural-gas furnaces and turns it into a harmless material that could be used in construction or even dropped into the ocean to rebuild coral reefs."

Any theories on what the process or material is?


2. And if you think the global warming tide is turning and want a reality check with some right -of-center opinions, read this Katherine "Controversy Sells Papers" Kersten column (the comments from her readers are more interesting). "Global Warming's True Believers Stifle Dissent."

Does global warming science have a communication or believability problem?  And how do you respond to uncited comments in articles, columns, or blog comments that blatantly go against commonly understood scientific principles?

Saying nice things

Though many of us have already heard about this, I thought I would throw up a post anyway, just in case. Yesterday Gov. Pawlenty announced a target for the state of 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025. It basically ups the ante from our current renewable energy objective of 10% by 2015 and adds some teeth in the form of financial penalties for utilities that fail to the requirement. I'm still not clear on how this differs from the renewable energy standard that has come up recently. Business interests support Pawlenty's version - in fact a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce representative is quoted as saying that it is the "best of both worlds" - it avoids possible rate increases of a "mandate" while growing the renewable energy industry in the state. That leads me to believe that either utilities would be prohibited from passing on the penalties to ratepayers or that the penalties are rather mild.

Anyone have any more information?

Regardless, I think this could be a major step forward. I hope that there will be incentives for utilities to go beyond the 25 percent, and that lawmakers won't be prohibited from increasing the percentage in the future.


Cost of an Overheated Planet



The New York Times is continuing its "Energy Challenge" series with this article, the "Cost of an Overheated Planet," which attempts to bring economics into the discussion.


Kids Love Coal

Apparently kids love coal because it’s “American Energy” (that comes with “American Mercury,” “American Soot,” “American Carbon Dioxide” and “American Mountain Top Mining”). Our good friends at the “Coalition for Affordable and Reliable Energy” (CARE) are at it again and they sure “care” for kids.  Phase 2 of the coal is exciting-and-good-for-you marketing campaign is up on the DC metro, shilling children for coal.  (You’ll recall phase 1 was female internet excitement about coal.)

Women and children are apparently unconvinced about coal’s positive attributes and are the subjects of the marketing campaign.  No burly men have been seen yelling about burning carbon however. The lumps of coal, blackened miners, and mountain top removal must not have polled well.

Climate Change Investigation

The BBC is offering Climate Change skeptics an opportunity to publicize how they are discriminated against. Those who have been wronged may submit evidence to the BBC, which will then investigate the allegations.

As we come up to the release of the fourth IPCC assessment report, the first for half a decade and undoubtedly the major event of next year in climate terms, the issues raised by the loose and diverse community of sceptics will become doubly prominent.

For that reason, we on the BBC News website will be spending some time over the coming months looking at these issues; and the allegations against science come first.

I may be crazy to ask this given my already bulging inbox, but here goes. If you have evidence of research grants turned down because of a clash with the prevailing consensus, of instances where journals or conference organisers or consensus bodies have rejected "inconvenient" findings, please send it to us; my email address is at the bottom of this article.

While we should expect that scientists who reject human-caused climate change are going to be discredited within the community, this invitation is more geared to refute those who claim that "inconvenient" evidence against climate change has been covered up.

I originally saw this story on slashdot, which has a discussion about it.

Massachusetts v. EPA

The Supreme Court hears Massachusetts v. EPA on Wednesday, 30 November. This case will determine if the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate carbon dioxide emissions as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Bush's EPA is arguing that the CAA does not apply to carbon dioxide and it therefore cannot regulate emissions. The case is immediately about regulating from cars but will likely determine whether the EPA can regulate greenhouse gases at all. Odds point to a decision in favor of the EPA as the court tends to defer to administrative agencies. The decision will not come out for another 6 months, so we won't have any resolution until then.

I wrote a series of 3 papers about this case for my environmental law class at the University of Minnesota. I'm putting them up because they are (I hope) a quick and accurate introduction to the case and arguments involved.

Basic facts and arguments of the case
EPA's arguments
Massachusetts's arguments that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gas emissions

The NY Times covered the trial here

Xcel Advocates CO2 Reductions

Maria Energia discusses Xcel's recent announcement encouraging mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Now this is where it gets confusing.

Because of its wind, nuclear and hydropower facilities, Xcel would be well-positioned to meet the standards under the draft legislation proposed by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

The legislation would require utilities to generate up to 10 percent of their power from sources that don't emit carbon by 2020, increasing to 20 percent by 2025. Utilities would receive carbon- offset credits for renewables such as wind and solar power, coal-gasification plants, nuclear power and programs that encourage efficiency and conservation by consumers.

What is up with Coleman? We just ran a post about his opposition to state policies to regulate greenhouse gases. Now he is proposing the feds do it? I don't know enough about his motivations, but I have to wonder if some business interests (like MN-based Xcel) are encouraging him to make their life easier by setting a nation-wide renewable energy standard rather than the state-by-state patchwork of regulations they now face.

Xcel could clearly be motivated by the fact it faces steep renewable requirements in Colorado from the recent Amendment 37 and in Minnesota from the Prairie Island deal (which requires them to invest heavily in wind in return for expanded nuclear waste storage at that facility).

Xcel also seems to recognize the inevitability of a regulatory sytem to stem greenhouse gases. They are pushing for a renewable energy standard (sometimes called RPS) rather than a general carbon tax. Again, they must feel quite competitive compared to other energy companies when it comes to generating from renewable sources.

Nonetheless, as Maria Energia noted, they do not appear to be ending their opposition to a state-wide RPS here in Minnesota. I imagine they are worried about this proposal which would not include their mandated renewable generation from the Prairie Island deal in its renewable portfolio, forcing them to invest most heavily in renewable sources than any other energy company.

While I support a national RPS, this must not come in return for a trade that does not allow states to regulate GHG emissions. States like California must retain the right to both legislate car emissions standards and a higher RPS than the federal if they choose. This may not be ideal for the energy companies, but it is necessary to known global warming down a peg and encourage the industries that will thrive under a carbon constrained future.

Update: Coleman actually has a press release stating his position on the RPS. The press release basically says that he is in favor of it.

Renewable energy and the election

I haven't found any sources discussing the election and what the results mean for renewable energy. This is a tricky one, because although renewable energy policy can be aggressive under either party (Democrat Governor Rendell in PA or Republican Governor Schwarzenegger in CA for examples). I firmly believe this is a bipartisan issue.

To avoid the severest of global warming consequences, scientists tell us we have about 10 years to make aggressive changes to our energy policy and how we do business. This includes energy standards and other initiatives, where government sets the rules of the market and the businesses play the game. Democrats and Republicans in Congress have recognized global warming as a national security and economic threat, but they need to take action NOW.

Signs point to Congress enacting some sort of tax or fee or restriction on carbon dioxide in the near future, and with over 20 states already having renewable electricity standards, a federal goal for renewable energy should not be a foreign concept to many in Congress.

If we're serious about pulling out of Iraq (either immediately or with a more gradual timeline), then talking about energy policy in the same breath is a great opportunity. We need our energy use to be as efficient as possible, and wean ourselves off this absurd overdependence on fossil fuels and start harnessing our own renewable energy options. Government needs to set the rules for this burgeoning clean energy market (like making the Production Tax Credit for wind permanent, for Pete's sake) so capitalism can figure out how to get us toward our end goal a more efficient, clean, and secure energy system for the 21st century.



Australian drought leads to opinion changes on global warming

Article in International Herald Tribune on changing public opinion in Australia regarding climate change -- "Parched in Australia:  Drought changes views on warming."  Australia is in the midst of a four-year drought that is affecting crop and livestock prices and is also making people concerned that when they turn on a tap, water will not be there.  A survey done by a group in Sydney found that Australians ranked global warming as the third highest threat facing them currently (after international terrorism and nuclear proliferation), and nearly 70% of respondents thought Australia should take immediate steps to respond to climate change, even if these steps had significant cost.  Apparently this is also reaching the politicians within Australia, so perhaps we will see some actions as well.

Greenland becoming more green?

Greenland is losing 100 billion tons per year of ice, according to a BBC article, "Gravity satellites see ice loss." Apparently this is not contributing much to sea level rises - something like 0.3 mm per year - but it is still worrisome and an indicator of global warming.

Does anyone know whether the aggregate of sea level changes will cause problems with plate tectonics? I am wondering whether the extra weight will shift the plates and cause changes - perhaps more volcanic activity, etc.

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