SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Clean Energy Congress 2.0 Wraps Up in Florida
Delegates send a clean energy message to lawmakers
The Clean Energy Congress – which we were honored to convene – was designed to facilitate an honest discussion about what constitutes good energy policy for the Sunshine State.
Florida utility regulation rewards power companies for building large new power plants and the Investor Owned Utilities get a healthy rate of return on their capital expenses and there is little or no incentive to help customers use less energy by capturing cost effective energy efficiency. Like waiters in a restaurant, utilities recognize the larger the bill, the more money they bring home. This dynamic must change, which is why business leaders are coming together to develop a plan for the 2014 Legislative session.
At The Congress, delegates proposed and debated the following policy goals seeking to diversify Florida’s energy mix.
- Develop one gigawatt (1GW) of new solar power in Florida.
- Create and open and transparent Public Service Commission process. (The PSC is the body that regulates Florida utilities).
- Meet 1% of electricity demand through energy efficiency measures that cost less than building new power plants.
- Make Florida a leader in clean transportation.
- Boost Florida’s economy through jobs in the clean technology sector.
According to the Florida Solar Energy Center, every year, the state sends $57 billion out of the state to buy fuel for electricity and transportation. Keeping energy dollars here at home circulates through the economy creating jobs. Florida lawmakers must allow a robust energy marketplace to develop.
Energy efficiency can meet demand at a fraction of the cost of new power plants. Renewables are increasingly competitive as conventional power rates have increased in Florida by over 50% since 2000, yet the installed cost of solar systems has dropped by 50% over the same time period.
Florida does not utilize a least-cost, least-risk approach to meet energy demand. The state’s utility planning process is disjointed. Low cost efficiency and renewables must be considered on a level playing field with conventional power.
Georgia conducts utility planning with a transparent, least cost approach. As a result, the Georgia Public Service Commission just required Georgia Power – counterpart to Gulf Power – to increase cost-effective solar by 525 megawatts by the end of 2016. Georgia Power is already developing 260 megawatts of solar for a total of 785 MW. By contrast, the Sunshine State has only 205 MW of solar power.
Yet Florida’s big power companies resist changing energy market dynamics. They should embrace change and adapt for the benefit of their customers. Legislative leaders have a role to play in ensuring that policies embrace where technology is headed – not hinder it.
The Clean Energy Congress delegates – which ranged from Mitsubishi Electric to Danfoss Turbocor to Ameresco, from the Florida Catholic Conference to Nature Conservancy and included Tampa and Pinecrest elected officials – will work together to encourage lawmakers to meet the energy challenges of the 21st century with wise policy and planning. In doing so, they will create jobs by bringing economic development to our great state.
2. What’s Up With Sea Level Rise?
The facts, the people taking action, and what you can do
As the globe warms from carbon pollution, one of the biggest negative impacts is sea level rise. Given we have thousands of miles of coastline from North Carolina to Florida, and millions of families living in coastal counties, a large portion of the Southeastern population is poised to be affected by rising seas.
Rising sea levels pose threats in multiple forms, impacting a huge swath of stake holders: flooded real estate, historic and cultural monuments, and critical infrastructure, salinified drinking and irrigation wells, inundated septic tanks and wastewater treatment facilities, increased coastal erosion, loss of beach and wetlands, amplified vectors for water-borne pathogens, and the list goes on.
SACE is working on raising awareness of sea level rise and working proactively with coastal stakeholders to find solutions. SACE has been working on a blog series on sea level rise, detailing its basic mechanisms, how high the seas may rise, and government, business, and individual actions that can be taken to help mitigate the impacts from sea level rise. SACE was also a partner for the Sea Level Rise Summit at Florida Atlantic University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida last month, which facilitated collaboration between hundreds of sea level rise experts from academia, local government, and the business sector.
Sea level rise is caused by two primary mechanisms resulting from global warming: thermal expansion and melting glaciers. Scientists generally believe that most sea level rise observed historically has been a result of thermal expansion, the phenomenon of a warmer ocean becoming less dense and expanding in volume. Glacial melting has been occurring too, as was documented in last year’s major film Chasing Ice, and has the potential to cause much more sea level rise in years to come. For example, the Greenland ice sheet contains a remarkable potential of 20 feet of sea level rise if it were to totally melt. While that may be a long way off from happening completely, scientists are finding that glaciers are indeed melting at rates much greater than was predicted even just a decade ago.
It is difficult to predict just how much the sea level will rise and when, but recent studies have helped further the field of knowledge. For example, as part of this year’s National Climate Assessment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report profiling projections for future sea level rise, citing 90% confidence that as a global average there will be no less than 8 inches and no more than 6.6 feet of sea level rise by 2100. It’s important to note that the sea level won’t rise everywhere uniformly. Some places’ unique geology or local oceanographic factors influence the rate of rise. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported last year that the rate of sea level rise on the US east coast is three to four times greater than the global average. Therefore local data is critical for gaining a clear picture of how much sea level rise to expect in a particular locale.
But our news about sea level rise isn’t all doom and gloom. Right now, there are communities throughout our region that are working proactively on solutions to sea level rise. Communities like Wilmington and New Bern, North Carolina have developed programs to adapt their water management systems to the challenges to sea level rise. Regional organizations in northeast, southeast, and southwest Florida have come up with regional plans to comprehensively assess their vulnerability to rising seas and are beginning to implement solutions. And of course, businesses are beginning to take leadership on the issue, through programs like South Carolina Businesses Acting on Rising Seas, which we profiled in our September newsletter.
In the coming weeks, months, and years, SACE is excited to continue playing a role in helping our region become more resilient to climate impacts such as sea level rise and to help move to a clean energy future in the face of a warming planet.
What are they saying about efficiency? It’s real; there’s plenty of it; it’s cheap. With attendees from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and Saudi Arabia, The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s “Conference on Energy Efficiency as a Resource” in Nashville, Tennessee was truly an international gathering.
The message of the conference was that energy efficiency offers a real and valuable resource that can compete with conventional generation resources like coal and gas. Energy efficiency is real and measurable, there’s plenty of it out there for utilities to take advantage of, and it’s the least-cost resource available.
Is it real? Can we depend on energy efficiency to offset conventional generation? A number of the states represented at this conference have been relying on energy efficiency for decades now. The evidence is in, the verdict is clear: yes, it’s real and yes, it’s dependable.
How much energy efficiency is there? Massachusetts has achieved an energy savings of 2% of the state’s total retail electric sales, and has plans to increase that to 2.5% and higher in the near future. Vermont has achieved a 2% savings rate in 2007 and, with a few ups and downs, continues to climb. Other states have achieved similar results.
How do the Tennessee Valley Authority’s programs compare? In the last four years, TVA has saved over 1,600 GWh and reduced capacity needs by over 900 MW. That’s the size of a good-sized power plant. And yet TVA’s efforts are only about 0.3% of retail sales; Vermont and Massachusetts programs are six times more successful.
The highest performer in our area, at about 0.65% of sales, is Duke Energy Carolina. Even so, they have a way to go to equal the 1% savings that many states have achieved, much less the 2% that others are seeing. In the Southeast, TVA is solidly in the middle of the pack, but several other Southern utilities are barely in the game.
Finally, how much does this cost? TVA told us that they were getting this energy efficiency at about 2 cents per kWh. A national review of energy efficiency programs found the average cost of this resource to be 2.8 cents per kWh, ranging from a low of 1.3 cents to a high of 4.5 cents. This compares very favorably to traditional nuclear, coal and gas generation costs that vary between 6 to 14 cents per kWh.
We’ve just skimmed the surface of the many important and informative presentations from this conference. The full listing of presentations from the conference is available here. It’s clear that energy efficiency is real, there’s plenty of it, and it’s cheap. We’ve also seen tantalizing hints that the true value of energy efficiency has not yet been fully recognized.
Last month in Providence, Rhode Island, the American Wind Energy Association and the Offshore Wind Development Coalition hosted the annual Offshore WINDPOWER Expo. This was SACE’s fifth offshore wind conference and it was definitely one of the best. Simon Mahan, SACE’s Renewable Energy Manager; Allie Brown, SACE’s Renewable Energy Associate, and Chris Carnevale, SACE’s Coastal Climate and Energy Coordinator attended. Nearly 800 other attendees traveled to the Ocean State to discuss the state of the offshore wind industry here in the United States.
One of the unique aspects of this conference was the renewed focus on the value of offshore wind energy. Because of a natural phenomenon called the sea breeze effect, offshore and nearshore wind farms can generate electricity when utilities need it the most and when it is most valuable – during peak summertime demand. Peak summertime demand occurs when people crank up air conditions in the hot summertime afternoons and utilities have to respond with additional power for their region. During the wintertime, the offshore and nearshore wind resources naturally morph into a relatively flat, stable and predictable resource; much like an intermediate or base load power plant. This natural phenomenon makes offshore and nearshore wind resources behave a bit like solar plants in the summertime, and somewhat like coal plants in the wintertime – which is extremely valuable and desirable to utilities. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy presented a poster based on the analysis we completed regarding the sea breeze effect, and we won the “Attendees Choice Award” for our work. You can download our report here.
Another aspect that was new to this conference was the focus on logistics – specifically ports, vessels and transmission capabilities. The Department of Energy (when it’s not at the mercy of a government shutdown) has been working on an “Offshore Wind Port Readiness Tool” that helps local ports identify their capabilities of serving the offshore wind industry, and cost estimates for necessary upgrades.
Next year’s conference will be heading back to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the city’s onshore wind turbines serve somewhat as local celebrities and major tourist attractions, and home to one of the first offshore wind projects in the U.S.