May 26, 2011 - NJ to withdraw from greenhouse gas compact

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has announced that he will pull New Jersey out of the nation's leading regional greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.
The Maine State House, seen on a recent day of legislative debate over energy policy.

Since 2007, New Jersey has participated in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  RGGI is the first market-based greenhouse gas regulatory program in the United States.  RGGI represents a cooperative effort by Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.  These ten states agreed to cap and reduce their electrical energy sector's greenhouse gas emissions by 10% by 2018.

While each state's legislature implemented its own version of the compact, the overall structure is that carbon allowances are auctioned off to the power sector.  Proceeds from these auctions are invested in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other clean energy technologies.  The program has been a success in creating jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, and funding high-yield energy efficiency projects at businesses.

If New Jersey withdraws from RGGI, it will be the first state to end its participation in the program.  Other states are considering whether to stay in the compact.  For example, New Hampshire recently considered the question, and the Maine Legislature's energy committee recently voted to support a bill to withdraw from RGGI if enough other states withdraw first.  Under LD 793 as amended, Maine would withdraw from RGGI if the total carbon dioxide emissions budget for remaining states is less than 35,000,000 tons.  While New Jersey's departure alone would not shrink the program below Maine's proposed threshold, it would represent the first concrete erosion of RGGI's base.

May 25, 2011 - Maine declines to change renewables standard

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Maine Legislature's energy committee has just declined to change the state's ten year commitment to renewable power.

On Monday, I noted that Governor LePage's energy bill, LD 1570, proposed to freeze Maine's renewable portfolio standard.  His stated intent was to lower the cost of energy to consumers.

Further analysis suggested that the cost of the renewables law was far smaller than its economic benefits, and that deviating from the stable increase in renewable power would send a market signal to developers that they cannot count on revenue from Maine renewable energy credits.  Project developers, energy consumers, and environmentalists decried the proposal as "stepping over dollars to get to nickels".

This afternoon, the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology voted unanimously to pass a significantly pruned version of that bill.  If enacted, the revised LD 1570 would not deviate from Maine's annual 1% increase in the sourcing of renewable energy.  Rather, the bill calls for a study of the costs and benefits of Maine's renewable portfolio standard.

May 23, 2011 - Maine considers RPS changes

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Maine Legislature is considering changes to Maine's renewable portfolio standard.  Since 2007, Maine law has required electricity suppliers to source an increasing portion of their energy from qualified new renewable resources.  This portion of new renewable power is scheduled to increase 1% annually, reaching 10% by 2017.  Proponents point to this long-term state commitment to renewable power as essential to securing financing for new renewable projects in Maine.

The rotunda in the Maine State House.

LD 1570, developed by Governor LePage, proposes to freeze this commitment at the current year's 4%.
You can find the original text of LD 1570 here.  This proposal is generating significant debate over the cost of energy, whether or how much Maine's renewables law increases consumer costs, and the economic development value of siting renewable projects in Maine.

The Portland Press Herald has published an editorial arguing that the Governor has not made the case for freezing the renewable portfolio standard.  The Bangor Daily News ran a similar editorial, noting that the Governor's bill would not make a dent in electricity costs, but would stifle economic growth.

The bill is scheduled for further committee work on Wednesday.

May 16, 2011 - DOE loan guarantee program ramping down

Monday, May 16, 2011

The U.S. Department of Energy's loan guarantee program for renewable energy is preparing to run out of funding and shut down.  Last month, I noted how the Department's "1705" loan program uses loan guarantees to help energy projects get lower-cost financing.  Through the 1705 program, created and funded through the 2009 federal stimulus act, the Department committed $11 billion to support 19 projects ranging from nuclear power to solar, wind to transmission, biofuels to energy efficiency.  Continued funding for the loan guarantee program for 2011 was in doubt during the recent wrangling over the federal budget, but survived the cutting -- through September 30, 2011.

Now, DOE is preparing to close out the 1705 program.  With stimulus act funding expiring September 30, 2011, DOE is pushing to get the funding out the door -- and to turn away applicants who are not yet far enough along in the process.  Because project construction must also commence by September 30, DOE is screening out applicants it deems unlikely to meet that deadline.  While DOE's other loan programs -- the 1703 program for certain clean technologies and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program for fuel-efficient transportation -- will remain in operation, the apparent end of the 1705 program will close the book on an innovative federal incentive for renewable energy development.

May 10, 2011 - large hydroelectric dams in Chile?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hydroelectric dams offers society the opportunity to generate large amounts of electricity without consuming any fuel, but can come with local environmental, social and political impacts. In North America, Canadian provincial corporation Hydro-Quebec generates nearly 40 gigawatts of electricity from its hydro facilities, making Quebec a regional power in the energy sector.  Now, a nation at the other end of the earth is considering developing similar hydropower resources.

The Chilean government has given environmental permits for a $7 billion project to build five dams totaling 2.75 gigawatts on the Baker and Pascua rivers in Patagonia. The project, proposed by HidroAysen, would generate enough electricity to cover about a third of Chile's current load, and could allow Chile to export power to neighboring countries.  With no domestic oil or natural gas supplies, hydropower represents a key Chilean energy resource.  Chile is home to a booming mining industry, meaning it not only demands large amounts of electricity but -- like Quebec -- Chile also has a philosophy relatively supportive of development of its hinterlands. 

On the other hand, some locals as well as international interests oppose the project, arguing that the area's landscape, wildlife, and societies are worthy of conservation. The Baker and Pascua rivers are also heavily visited by tourists interested in the free-flowing rivers, meaning dam development may adversely impact the local economy.

May 5, 2011 - North Carolina offshore wind legislation

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Here's a quick pointer to an article I wrote for the Offshore Wind Wire on proposed offshore wind legislation in North Carolina. Senate Bill 747 calls for long-term contracts between utilities and 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity in the next decade, and posits that the net economic benefits of developing offshore wind (and siting supply chain jobs onshore) should exceed the costs.

A National Electrical Manufacturers Association sign promoting fluorescent lightbulb recycling, recently spotted outside Boston.

Meanwhile, the Maine legislature is considering a slate of bills about land-based wind energy.  Last week the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology held public hearings on the bills; today, the committee is holding work sessions on 14 pieces of legislation affecting wind projects.

May 3, 2011 - renewable energy versus wildlife?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Renewable energy is touted as helping the environment -- but project development can be halted due to concerns about wildlife impacts.  In today's news, a 39-turbine wind project in Maine has withdrawn a key state land use application due to agency concerns over the project's impacts on wildlife.

Highland Wind LLC had proposed a 117 megawatt wind energy development to be located on Stewart Mountain, Witham Mountain, Bald Mountain, Briggs Hill, and Burnt Hill in Highland Plantation and Pleasant Ridge Plantation, Somerset County.  As initially conceived, the project would consist of approximately 39 wind turbines, plus access roads, interconnection facilities including a 34.5 kV collector line, substation, and 115 kV transmission line, and an associated outbuilding.

Two weeks ago, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued findings that the project could impact habitat for threatened and endangered species including the northern bog lemming and the Roaring Brook mayfly.  Now, Highland Wind has withdrawn its application to allow it time to evaluate these impacts.

This isn't the first renewable project to be halted due to wildlife concerns.  Last week, BrightSource Energy put the development of phases 2 and 3 of its 392 megawatt Ivanpah solar project on hold due to impacts on the endangered desert tortoise.