Energy in the News: Friday, June 22
What if U.S. fuel economy standards went away?
Ensia, feat. John DeCicco
On March 15, 2017, U.S. president Donald Trump addressed carmakers at a newly constructed test track for self-driving cars and other mobility technology, the American Center for Mobility, in Willow Run, Michigan. “We’re going to work on the CAFE standards so you can make cars in America again,” he said.
The U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were created more than 40 years ago under President Gerald Ford to improve the energy efficiency of vehicles. Since then, the standards have become increasingly stringent, with an eye toward goals such as reducing oil consumption and air pollution.
Americans warm up (a little) to price tag on carbon
Michigan Radio, feat. Barry Rabe
A lot of economists like the idea of putting a price on the use of fossil fuels, as a way to tackle climate change.
But it’s been a hard sell politically.
A new report on this topic is out from the National Surveys on Energy and Environment. It looks at Americans’ opinions on policies like carbon taxes and cap and trade over the last 10 years.
How a Florida utility became the global king of green power
The Wall Street Journal, feat. Andrew Hoffman
Who is the world’s largest operator of wind and solar farms? It’s also America’s most valuable power company. Still stumped? It’s by design.
“That is a marketing problem…that we foster intentionally,” Michael O’Sullivan, NextEra Energy Inc.’s head of renewable development, told University of Notre Dame students in 2015.
The Florida company has grown into a green Goliath, almost entirely under the radar, not through taking on heavy debt to expand or by touting its greenness, but by relentlessly capitalizing on government support for renewable energy, in particular the tax subsidies that help finance wind and solar projects around the country. It then sells the output to utilities, many of which must procure power from green sources to meet state mandates.
Green groups ditch Republicans
E&E Climatewire, feat. Barry Rabe
Thirty years ago, environmental organizations routinely endorsed Republicans running for Congress. Now they hardly endorse any.
Some blame President Trump. Some blame an increase in Big Oil donations. Some say Congress has failed to craft significant environmental legislation. Others say the GOP has abandoned its roots as the party of conservation.
Decades ago, under Republican administrations, Congress established EPA, passed the Clean Air Act and set up the Superfund program, among other green achievements.
Large outdoor study shows biodiversity improves stability of algal biofuel systems
University of Michigan News, feat. Brad Cardinale and Casey Godwin
A diverse mix of species improves the stability and fuel-oil yield of algal biofuel systems, as well as their resistance to invasion by outsiders, according to the findings of a federally funded outdoor study by University of Michigan researchers.
U-M scientists grew various combinations of freshwater algal species in 80 artificial ponds at U-M’s E.S. George Reserve near Pinckney in the first large-scale, controlled experiment to test the widely held idea that biodiversity can improve the performance of algal biofuel systems in the field.
Overall, the researchers found that diverse mixes of algal species, known as polycultures, performed more key functions at higher levels than any single species—they were better at multitasking. But surprisingly, the researchers also found that polycultures did not produce more algal mass, known as biomass, than the most productive single species, or monoculture.
Oil, gas methane emissions 60 percent higher than EPA reports
University of Michigan News, feat. Eric Kort
The U.S. oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of methane from its operations each year—nearly 60 percent more than current estimates, according to a national study that included University of Michigan researchers.
Published in the journal Science, the study estimates that the current leak rate from the U.S. oil and gas system is 2.3 percent versus the Environmental Protection Agency’s current inventory estimate of 1.4 percent.
While the percentages seem small, the volume represents enough natural gas to fuel 10 million homes—lost gas worth an estimated $2 billion, the researchers say.
Heavy vehicles using crumbling Wayne Co. bridges despite weight limits
WXYZ Detroit, feat. Jerome Lynch
Crumbling concrete and rusted steel: Some Wayne County bridges are in such bad shape, they’ve had to be blocked off or weight restrictions are now in place.
But no one seems to be enforcing those rules.
“People’s safety is at risk,” said Stephanie Allard, who bikes over the bridges regularly.
She wants them fixed.
After a recent bridge inspection revealed some serious structural concerns, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) told Wayne County in April to shut down several of the Hines Drive bridges.
How the carmakers Trumped themselves
The Atlantic, feat. UMTRI
These are strange times for America’s car industry.
This month, the White House will decide the fate of a set of federal rules called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, or cafe standards. These laws regulate the miles-per-gallon number of “light-duty vehicles”—that is, sedans, minivans, Ford F-150s, and anything else that’s street-legal and weighs less than 10,000 pounds.
The rules work mostly by getting a little more stringent every year. In 2018, cafe requires new vehicles to average about 29 miles per gallon (or mpg). By 2025, they must hit 39 mpg. (The government talks about fuel economy with two different numbers: A “cafe” figure, which estimates a car’s idealized miles per gallon; and the EPA’s “window sticker” number, which is used by dealerships to estimate real-life fuel economy.
Michigan solar net metering debate carries on in co-op country
Energy News Network
A northern Michigan electric cooperative approved new distributed solar rules Monday that represent the latest setback for customers who generate their own power in the state.
Cherryland Electric Cooperative, which serves 35,000 members in six counties, lowered its buy-all-sell-all rate for solar to 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. It was previously 10 cents per kWh.
“It’s frustrating,” said Gene Garthe, who had been pursuing solar power for his 200-acre, family-owned fruit farm near Traverse City. Instead, he ended up declining a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that would have helped pay for the project. “Suddenly the economics don’t work.”
Why Ford is buying Detroit’s derelict train station
Newspapers and magazines do this thing that drives Detroiters crazy. Doesn't matter the headline. Maybe Detroit is coming back, maybe crime is falling, maybe a few neighborhoods are seeing a resurgence, maybe it’s all a bit more complicated than a few statistics make it seem. But editors generally use a particular photo to symbolize the city: the gorgeous but abandoned and ill-used Central Depot.
The station feels like a symbol because it is. When it opened in 1913, the grand 18-story office tower, its cavernous waiting room fronted by looming Corinthian columns, was the tallest rail station in the world. Two hundred trains left each day, bound for New York City and Boston and Chicago and West Virginia and Canada.
Major universities join forces to slash emissions
Public university leaders say addressing climate change is part of their social responsibility.
The University Climate Change Coalition, or UC3, a consortium of 13 major universities including the University of California and State University of New York, launched this spring to combine its members' research expertise to reduce their carbon footprint. It is also working with academic leaders in Canada and Mexico.
"We can use the university buying power to buy clean power," SUNY President Kristina Johnson said yesterday at a forum held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "And I think that's what we all want to do."
Here are the carbon pricing battles to watch right now
Massachusetts, Washington state, and the District of Columbia have a decent shot this year at passing the first law that looks anything like a carbon tax.
While 81 percent of economists say that a carbon tax or cap-and-trade policy is the most effective way to cut carbon pollution, state legislatures haven’t been so easy to convince. Carbon tax proposals keep crashing and burning, even in reliably blue states like Washington and Oregon.
The only state to put an economy-wide cap on carbon emissions is California, where a cap-and-trade program began more than a decade ago. Now, the concept of a carbon fee is gaining popularity. The strategy ensures that funds go straight to a designated purpose, rather than being collected and used by the government like a more general tax.
New group, with conservative credentials, plans push for a carbon tax
The New York Times
Proponents of a market-oriented plan to fight climate change by taxing greenhouse gas emissions and giving the revenue to American taxpayers are starting a campaign to run advertisements as early as this fall and introduce legislation in Congress as early as next year.
The plan’s supporters have formed a group called Americans for Carbon Dividends that will lobby for the proposal. The group plans its first event on Wednesday and includes a number of well-known members, including Trent Lott, the former Senate Republican leader from Mississippi, and Janet L. Yellen, who led the Federal Reserve under President Barack Obama.
In Missouri, coal complicates the case for electric vehicle infrastructure
Energy News Network
Building electric vehicle infrastructure has emerged as a rare consensus topic for many utilities and environmentalists — a way to boost utility sales and simultaneously get oil-burning, smog-spewing cars and trucks off the road.
In Missouri, though, that alliance has been lukewarm at best.
Ameren Missouri, the state’s largest electric company, has asked state regulators to allow it to offer incentives for electric vehicle charging stations. The problem for environmentalists: most of the electrons flowing through those chargers would come from the company’s coal-fired power plants.
Automakers and utilities want EVs. But who drives?
General Motors, Honda and a who's who of the utility industry today embraced a common vision for how to charge the horde of electric cars rolling out in the next few years.
But it is unclear whether automakers and power companies — two vast enterprises whose paths have rarely crossed — are on the same schedule, a worrisome sign for industrial giants that will need to align hand and glove for their many billions of dollars of investments to pay off.
A GM official representing the new accord called the task "urgent," but a leading utility executive was much more circumspect.
The Transportation Electrification Accord refers to itself as "roadmap to electrification" and envisions a future where utilities, regulators, governments, charging companies and automakers get behind a standardized, open system where electric vehicle (EV) charging is simple and everywhere.
Distributed energy poised for ‘explosive growth’ on the U.S. grid
Distributed energy resources (DERs) are poised for “explosive growth” across the United States over the next five years. U.S. utilities “need to change, and are slowly changing,” how they plan, operate and maintain their distribution grids to adapt.
That’s how Ben Kellison, grid edge director at GTM Research, described the key challenges facing the country’s utilities at this week's Grid Edge Innovation Summit.
GTM Research has been tracking the rapid growth of rooftop solar, small-scale combined heat and power (CHP) systems, residential smart thermostats, electric vehicles and behind-the-meter batteries across the U.S.
Coal is being squeezed out of power industry by cheap renewables
Coal will be increasingly squeezed out of the power generation market over the next three decades as the cost of renewables plunges and technology improves the flexibility of grids globally.
That’s the conclusion of a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which estimated some $11.5 trillion of investment will go into electricity generation between now and 2050. Of that, 85 percent, or $9.8 billion, will go into wind, solar and other zero-emissions technologies such as hydro and nuclear, the London-based researcher said.
Better batteries, which allow grid managers to store power for times when it’s neither breezy nor sunny, will allow utilities to take advantage of plunging costs for solar panels and wind turbines. The ability of natural gas plants to work at a few minutes notice means the fuel will become the choice for most utilities wanting guaranteed generation capacity.