SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Post-Election Energy and Climate Policy
What could the 2012 elections mean for the Southeast?
Although a final few races are still being determined, including several recounts or runoffs here in the Southeast as noted by the circled districts to the right, the vast majority of the 2012 races have been decided. Here, in the Southeastern states that SACE covers, voters elected 1 new governor, 4 U.S Senators, nearly 100 Representatives and hundreds of members to serve in state General Assemblies from Richmond, Virginia down to Tallahassee, Florida. There were party changes in ten Southeastern House seats, as well as four new seats created following the 2010 Census. Essentially, after $6 billion and more than a year of campaigning, we have ended up right back where we started at the national level: President Obama in the White House, Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House. The two main energy-policy implications of President Obama’s reelection may be: (1) the EPA’s ability to enforce the Clean Air Act remains intact, and (2) new rules and standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or improve air quality and public health are more likely to move forward, including a Carbon Pollution Standard, a Coal Ash Standard, National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), and a revised Ozone Rule. While these standards will be national in scope, they would have particular significance in the Southeast, which has such a heavy dependence on coal-fired generation.Maintaining a split Congress suggests that the sweeping energy legislation, which our country needs, is unlikely to become a reality in 2013 or 2014, but that we may see incremental policies advanced where there are ‘broad areas of agreement’ such as wider-deployment of electric vehicles, improvements in energy efficiency and transitions to lower carbon fuels. Unfortunately, continued legislative threats against the Clean Air Act are equally likely in the new Congress, requiring advocates such as SACE as well as citizens to defend this seminal law to maintain the public health protections it provides. One energy-related proposal that may advance in the new Congress – a Clean Energy Standard (CES) – could be problematic if it includes nuclear or ‘clean coal’ provisions which are not actually clean and which would preempt clean, renewable energy sources like solar, wind and bioenergy. Early in 2013, SACE will be releasing a white paper on how various CES proposals might impact energy generation in the Southeast and presenting a webinar, so check our website for updates. While comprehensive climate legislation like that which advanced in 2009 is unlikely in the next Congress, the concept of a ‘carbon tax‘ earned plenty of media coverage in the week following the election. Proponents and opponents have debated the carbon tax issue in the past, but the pending ‘fiscal cliff‘ will necessitate new revenue sources before tax hikes and automatic spending cuts go into effect on January 1, 2013. Some estimate that taxing the carbon content of fossil fuels could conservatively raise $90 billion or more a year, suggesting it is possible, though not probable, that this topic could be addressed as part of much-needed tax reform in the new Congress. On November 9, SACE’s monthly webinar series presented a state-by-state run down of election results with some early commentary and analysis for what the election may mean for energy policy in our region. For more detailed information, download and listen to our 2012 post-election webinar and podcast here.
2. Working on the Hill
SACE heads to DC to talk renewable energyThe week after the election, SACE staff traveled to Washington, DC to discuss wind energy with staff members of our federally elected officials. When Congress returns to DC right after an election, there is usually a short list of ‘to-dos’ for the chambers to attend to before the new congress gets inducted in January. But this year, the country is hurdling towards a major financial cliff and Congress is more preoccupied this lame duck session than in years past. Wind energy is facing its own fiscal cliff – on December 31st, 2012, the production tax credit (PTC) is due to expire. The PTC is the wind industry’s primary federal incentive, and in years past where the PTC has been allowed to expire, wind development plummets immediately afterwards. Companies engaged in the wind energy business across the country are slashing their workforces because of the uncertainty surrounding the PTC. Unlike other sources of energy production, especially coal and nuclear development, the wind industry’s tax incentives are not stable and must be renewed every year or so. In our discussions with republican and democratic Senate and House staff, there seemed to be a clear understanding that this stop-and-go tax policy is detrimental to any business, and renewable energy businesses are no exception. At an energy-policy breakfast briefing, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) even went so far as to say that the ‘yo yo affect’ of incentives one year and uncertainty the next was simply bad for business. Most Senate and House staff agreed: tax reform is at the top of the agenda for the 113th Congress. SACE will continue to represent our members and support renewable energy as Congress decides to take up energy tax issues and we encourage members to voice their support for continuing wind energy tax incentives, too.
3. Southeast Coal Plants Ripe for Retirement
A case for closing many of America’s Costliest Coal PlantsLast month SACE collaborated with the Union of Concerned Scientists to release an important new report entitled “Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America’s Costliest Coal Plants,” which highlights the financial uncertainty of many coal plants around the nation. It turns out that the Southeast is home to a staggering number of inefficient and uneconomic coal plants. As of May 31, 2012, a total of 288 coal-fired generating units representing 41.2 gigawatts (GW) of capacity across the United States have been scheduled for closure, many for economic reasons. UCS’ new report has identified up to 353 more coal-fired electric utility generating units (most coal-fired power plants have multiple generating units) – 121 of these are right here in the Southeast – that are ripe for retirement, meaning that economically speaking, they are uncompetitive compared with cleaner, more affordable sources of energy. These ripe-for-retirement generators (or units) can be closed on top of the already announced 288 retiring generators without jeopardizing the reliability of America’s electricity system. So how do the Southeast states’ coal-fired units fair in UCS’ assessment? Let’s take a closer look. “Ripe for Retirement” ranks the states and utilities with the most coal-fired power capacity that should be considered for closure. (Note: Megawatt/MW is a unit of energy measurement, while Megawatt hour/MWh is a unit of measurement of the volume of energy used over the set time period. For example, 50 MW over a 24hr period would mean 1200MWh.)
- #1 Georgia with 22 units at 7 plants representing 34.7 million MWhs of generation.
- #2 Alabama with 24 units at 7 plants representing 23.4 million MWhs of generation.
- #3 Tennessee with 22 units at 3 plants representing 9.6 million MWhs of generation.
- #4 Florida with 11 units at 7 plants representing 15.6 million MWhs of generation.
- #6 South Carolina with 11 units at 6 plants representing 11.2 million MWhs of generation.
- #9 Mississippi with 8 units at 4 plants representing 9.7 million MWhs of generation.
- #12 North Carolina with 13 units at 7 plants representing 7.4 million MWhs of generation.
- #17 Kentucky with 10 units 5 plants representing 4.8 million MWhs of generation.
UCS compared the cost of electricity from individual coal-fired electricity generating units with the cost of alternative forms of electricity generation, including natural gas and wind generation. If a coal-fired generator that’s had needed pollution controls would be more expensive than these alternative forms of energy, then that coal generator is considered ripe for retirement. They carried out several economic comparisons, but even the low estimate had the Southeast closing 47 coal units. For a more in depth look at what this means in the Southeast, take a look at our blog. You can also see a more complete picture of all of the analyses and variables considered by the UCS team by checking out the full text of the report. The report clearly gives us an important snapshot of the economic state of play as utilities actively make decisions on whether or not to extend the lives of their already woefully outdated coal-fired power plants.
4. 6 Ways to Save this Season
Cutting back energy use and spending during the holidaysIt’s that time of year again: the time when temperatures go down, lights come on earlier, and energy bills go way up. In addition to encouraging you to winterize your house for the colder months, we here at SACE wanted to share with you some ideas for making your holiday plans as energy efficient and environmentally conscious as possible this season. To do this, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite energy saving tricks to share with you. Whether you’re celebrating a faith-based holiday or just a few days off from work, these tips will help you enjoy your holiday season to its fullest potential, while still keeping your energy use, environmental impacts and energy spending as low as possible. 1) Take an energy quiz.
Think you’re already doing all you can to save on energy? Learn where you stand by taking an energy quiz or two today, and test your energy IQ! Several cover a broad range of subjects, while others provide more detail about your personal energy consumption. Already tested your knowledge with these tests? Click here for some other popular energy quiz websites for even more ideas.2) Calculate your carbon footprint.
Know all there is to know about energy, but still unsure of your personal impact? Carbon footprints are also great to learn just how much energy you are currently using to help you see where smart energy choices can reduce your consumption and your monthly bills, as well. Carbonfootprint.com and The Nature Conservancy provide a fairly simplistic way to do this.3) Decorate with your energy bill in mind.
No winter season is complete without the ornamental lights, or the cheerful air of holiday scents and decorations inside and outside your home. Hang LED lights, and use timers to ensure that the lights are only on when necessary. Or better yet, opt for non-electrical decorations: Traditional candles are just as beautiful as accent lighting, if not more so. Plus, if you’re a fan of scented candles, certain smells might be able to add just the right feel to your holiday festivities. 4) Plan your cooking around low energy use or high efficiency appliances and techniques.
Don’t just map out your holiday menu: map out your kitchen’s energy use! There is a lot to be said for proper tools in the kitchen, and investing in the right cooking instruments can actually help you cut back on your energy use while helping you create delicious works of art. For example, did you know that glass and ceramic are better materials for baking than metal? They retain heat more fully, allowing you to turn the temperature down by about 25 degrees Fahrenheit and still cook quickly and more evenly than a metal pan. But it’s not just about the right tools; you can save energy just by changing your cooking habits, too. Try cooking several dishes in the oven at once, and don’t waste energy pre-heating the oven if it’s not necessary. Give some serious thought to your cooking process, and you can easily start working towards making your seasonal cuisine with as little energy as possible. 5) Eco-Entertaining? Yes please!
This year, maybe you can take some time to consider how you can make your seasonal gatherings put less stress not only on yourself, but on the power grid as well. Invite your guests virtually; the average carbon footprint of an email is about one-sixtieth that of a letter – as long as you are not sending 60 email invitations for every one paper invite, you will still generate less of an impact. Suggest that your guests carpool, and bring ideas for board games and non-electric party fun as well as a pot-luck dish to share. And don’t forget, the more warm bodies you have in the home and the more you’re moving around, the lower you can set your thermostat.6) Shop ‘til you drop – your carbon footprint, that is.
This holiday season, instead of rushing to the store and buying the latest energy-hogging kitchen gadgets or video game consoles, why not consider one of these more energy-friendly gift giving options? Reduce, recycle and reuse can apply to your gift giving too.Reduce your loved ones’ energy impacts by giving them gifts that they would, or should, already be buying for themselves: energy-efficient light bulbs, for instance.Reuse ideas of things you’ve created or done for your family that they have previously said they’ve enjoyed. Homemade presents aren’t just for arts and crafts time in elementary school; gifts that cost you more personal time, thought and consideration than electricity and money are often some of the best presents you can give.Recycle someone else’s treasured possession and lower your own carbon footprint, by buying something used: Go old school or retro, and buy your uncle’s favorite childhood novel at a used bookstore. Of course, not everyone on your holiday list can be satisfied with homemade jams, recycled board games, CFLs or symbolic donations. In that case, limit your shopping to as few trips as possible, and map out the closest route to all necessary stores. And perhaps your kids don’t need the latest Xbox 360 game; maybe this year it’s time to go non-electric, and buy something that can bring joy to your friends and family without an “On” switch. Only you know your energy habits; this year, try to figure out the best ways you can save energy by altering your habits and traditions, without having to sacrifice any of the seasonal merriment. Interested in learning even more ideas for greening your holiday? Keep an eye on our blog and come back next week for a new post on giving greenly this season! Until then, you can check out last year’s holiday blog series on efficient and eco-friendly decorating, cooking and entertaining. Happy Holidays!