Waiting for Perry: Leaked draft gives us a glimpse into the study he should release

By Jim Marston

It’s been 100 days (and counting) since Secretary Perry ordered the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct a 60-day study of the U.S. electricity system. We expect the final report to be issued any day now.

The initial focus of the study was clear: to determine whether renewable energy policies or regulations have accelerated the retirement of coal and nuclear plants. Perry himself admitted the so-called study was intended to reassess “politically driven policies driven by a hostility to coal,” implying he intends to use the study to discriminate against renewables in favor of dirty, expensive coal.

But a bombshell recently hit. A leaked draft of the study seems to contradict Sec. Perry’s pro-coal thesis and rhetoric.

The draft is thoughtful, and it boils down to some conclusions that Sec. Perry’s political appointees – ahem, editors – will be hard pressed to massage into policy recommendations that call for more coal. Namely, America’s grid reliability remains strong with more clean energy and less coal.

Top 5 takeaways

Environmental Defense Fund conducted a detailed analysis of the draft, outlining the top five takeaways that demonstrate a clean grid is a reliable grid. EDF’s analysis can be found here.

1 – “Baseload” resources, as Perry defines them, are not necessary to preserve grid reliability

Sec. Perry refers to coal and nuclear plants as “baseload power plants,” and wants them to appear as critical to grid reliability. But “baseload” is not even a term industry uses to describe reliability.

The draft notes that “baseload” is a dated term and is not a core ingredient of reliability.

“[B]aseload power was useful to a well-functioning grid over the decades from 1960 to 1990, when these plants were initially built. But with technology and market changes, the bulk power system has changed markedly and high-value market and reliability require different services and capabilities to attain high reliability and resilience.”

In other words, America’s energy system is evolving, and coal and nuclear plants aren’t needed like they used to be.

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2 – Coal and nuclear plants have been retiring primarily due to low gas prices and flattened demand

The draft study concludes that many baseload retirements are consistent with observed market forces, stating quite plainly, “Many baseload plant retirements are not premature.” Nor are they the result of regulations:

“Retirements have been due primarily to flattened demand and low electric prices and the inability to compete successfully due to plant age, inefficiency and capital needs rather than regulatory burdens.”

The draft cites outside studies that address the cause of baseload power plant retirements, noting the key role of low natural gas prices and flattened demand.

Conclusion: You can’t blame coal’s woes on renewable energy.

3 – The U.S. grid is operating reliably, with ample resources to meet demand

This quote pretty much says it all: “Most of the common metrics for grid reliability suggest that the grid is in good shape despite the retirement of many baseload power plants.”

But there’s more. Reserve margins – a measure of whether the grid has extra energy capacity to satisfy potential demand – are “comfortably or significantly higher than the levels which would raise a resource adequacy flag or signal potential reliability problems.”

4 – Renewable energy sources like wind or solar can improve grid reliability

The draft includes an entire section named “High levels of wind penetration can be integrated into the grid without harming reliability.”

The reality is, renewables can be – and have already been – integrated into the grid, and reliability remains strong.

The vice president of Texas’ grid operator, ERCOT, himself recently confirmed “We can perform reliably with renewable generation; there are just things you have to do with renewables that you don’t have to do with (conventional) power generation.”

5 – Clean energy can lower costs for customers

The draft carefully points out that future electricity costs are hard to predict. But it suggests a diversified fuel mix, including more renewable energy, can help control costs to customers.

For example, the draft reports that:

  • Coal and nuclear power have become more costly while natural gas has remained at historic lows;
  • Wind and solar generation’s marginal cost is nearly zero; and
  • Trying to keep aging baseload plants “may end up raising rather than lowering the average cost of wholesale electricity for many customers.”

Perhaps most important, the draft notes what polling has shown for years: Americans, over 80% in fact,  want more renewable energy.

Fortunately, wind and solar has significant momentum, regardless of policies. The draft asks, “Will removing renewables subsidies and [renewable portfolio standards] make renewable generation go away (and presumably put less pressure on coal and nuclear plants)?” The answer: “No.”

The real vs. the political

The draft study has real conclusions, which should be included in Perry’s final version. But standing between the draft and the final study is a review by Sec. Perry’s political appointees at DOE. Given the administration’s promise to “bring back coal” and attempts to slash important clean energy and efficiency DOE programs, we anticipate Perry’s final study may look quite different from this initial draft. A DOE spokesperson has already confirmed that large chunks of the draft have been deleted.

Extensive research and analysis supports the initial draft’s conclusions, which you can find on EDF’s website here. If Perry’s final study conflicts with these fact-based findings, the administration’s coal propaganda will be on full display.

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Goodbye, internal combustion! Electric Vehicles are rolling in

By EDF Blogs

By Rory Christian and Larissa Koehler

Electric vehicles (EVs) don’t make much noise on the road, but they’re generating a lot of buzz about the future of this technology and what it means for business and the environment.

Cars, buses, and trucks are the second biggest source of pollution in the U.S. after electricity production. They are responsible for over 26 percent of emissions that adversely affect the health and well-being of the population, and put communities located close to highways and other major thoroughfares at risk. These communities, typically low-income, are often plagued by elevated asthma rates and other pollution-induced health conditions.

When thinking about ways to reduce pollution, EVs can make a world of difference. And, when charged using renewable energy sources, they produce no emissions and can be much cheaper to operate than traditional, internal combustion vehicles. As such, let’s take a look at the global EV market and impacts in the U.S. on the electric grid in two environmentally progressive states ‒ New York and California.

The global market – and future outlook

More and more automakers are shifting their focus to EVs, a market that is expected to grow faster every year. A few examples:

These exciting developments all point to a trend where electric cars are much more than just a niche – indeed, they show that global competition is heating up quickly and that companies around the world see EVs as key to the automobile industry. These movements should not be understated, as it gives a hint of a clean energy future that can’t come fast enough.

EVs on the grid

Overall, strategic deployment of charging stations will be essential to EV growth – drivers need convenient places to charge. What’s more,

EV expansion must be paired with strategies for how best to integrate them without negatively impacting the electric grid.

Here’s what we can do now to prepare for a clean car economy:

  • Chase innovation: Testing out more nascent technologies, such as vehicle-to-grid capabilities, will ultimately help make EV charging more convenient and ensure the electric grid can cleanly and reliably handle a significant uptick in electrified transport.
  • Educate consumers: Utilities must ensure their customers are well-positioned to take advantage of EV benefits by educating them about how their charging behavior can impact the grid and the integration of renewable energy. More specifically, utilities must exercise load management via well-designed rates and other means in order to ensure their customers are charging their vehicles at times when renewables (rather than fossil fuels) are abundant and when the grid can best handle it. By reaching out to their customers through multiple means and languages, utilities can better ensure the robust participation needed in order to bring success.
  • Emphasize vulnerable communities: Plans must genuinely consider benefits to and impacts on communities most likely to be harmed by pollution. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recommends a minimum percentage of charging stations be placed in these communities where applicable, and that all projects focus on enhancing transportation electrification in areas positioned to benefit them most.

New York

Earlier this year, New York State committed to the purchase of two thousand electric vehicles by 2025, more than doubling its current fleet of government automobiles.

New York is also doing its share to expand electrification to make it easier for customers to buy and use electric vehicles. The State’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) aims to align utility needs with marketplace innovations, and is doing the following:

  • Decentralizing the electric grid so customers can make and buy renewable energy, New York is working toward a future where EVs and less pollution are commonplace.
  • Developing favorable electricity rates to encourage charging of EVs at times when renewable energy is readily available and affordable. This way, EV adoption will benefit the grid and the environment.

Con Edison’s Smart Charge NY program, an early stage effort in New York City,  is paving the way for mainstream EV use; the results will be an example for how other cities can adopt the policies and tools necessary to seamlessly integrate EVs.

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With over 300,000 EVs and more than 12,000 charging stations, California leads the nation in clean car sales. Moreover, that number is poised to grow rapidly ‒ California EV sales rose 91 percent in the first quarter of 2017 from the same time last year.

Even in the face of threats from the current Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt to take away California’s waiver allowing the state to exceed national clean car standards, the Golden State has made clear its progress won’t be stalled anytime soon. State legislators, cities, and agencies have taken a tremendous amount of initiative on EVs, including:

  • The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining stronger vehicle emissions standards.
  • Volkswagen updated its plan for investing $800 million to accelerate electrified transportation in California, with input from CARB.
  • Senate Bill 350 (SB 350) prioritizes widespread transportation electrification.
  • In Los Angeles, half of all municipal vehicle purchases will be electric starting this year, and that share will increase to 80 percent by 2025. The city is also moving forward with a pilot EV ride share program to extend their benefits to communities with fewer car owners.

Moreover, as part of SB 350, investor-owned utilities filed applications with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for investments in light-duty, medium-duty, and heavy-duty sectors.

The utility plans in particular represent an exciting new opportunity to accelerate electric transportation in all its forms. With planned projects from placing charging infrastructure for passenger EVs in single family homes, to providing car dealers with incentives and education to sell more EVs, to electrifying buses and ship ports – and everything in between – these plans are well-designed to clean the sector most responsible for harmful emissions.

Still, changes to the utility proposals would further strengthen them. EDF recommended to the CPUC that the plans focus more on load management as well as the other key elements listed above.

Forging ahead

Despite obvious benefits, widespread EV adoption around the U.S. faces a number of challenges. For example, some analysts believe that even California will need another 200,000 charging stations to properly serve the number of EVs expected by 2030.

The internal combustion engine has had a long run, but it’s about to burn out. As we work to address domestic barriers to EV adoption, it is important to note that even if it is a global effort, this is a race the U.S. may need to catch up on. As the electric vehicle market continues to flourish, EDF will continue to advocate and make sure environmental benefits follow financial rewards.

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The HSUS reports that bald eagles can’t soar with lead weighing them down

Gulliver, pictured above, was suffering from acute lead poisoning when he was found. He survived, but so many other birds suffer from lead poisoning, and their plight may never be discovered.

Iconic symbols of the United States and also one of the first animals to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, bald eagles are dying in alarming numbers, according to an HSUS survey of news reports. The analysis reveals that lead poisoning has afflicted more than 70 bald eagles in the last year. These, of . . . 

The post The HSUS reports that bald eagles can’t soar with lead weighing them down appeared first on A Humane Nation.

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