SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Fla. Scientists Talk Climate Change with Governor Scott
Present the undeniable impacts of climate change on Floridians
In August, scientists from several Florida universities met with Florida’s Governor Rick Scott to present the science of climate change and its impacts on Floridians to him. This meeting was prompted by Governor Scott’s past responses about climate change. In 2011, he said, “I’ve not been convinced that there’s any man-made climate change… Nothing’s convinced me that there is.” More recently, when asked about his plan for climate change, he stated “I am not a scientist.” In response, ten scientists from leading universities in Florida, sent a letter to Gov. Scott, requesting a meeting to help him understand the issue.
Governor Scott has ducked questions on climate change time and again. While the Governor stays silent on the issue, however, Floridians are in the crosshairs of some of the greatest, and first-to-be-felt, impacts of climate change, such as flooding and salt water intrusion into municipal drinking water wells from sea level rise. It is crucial that the Governor understands these impacts and begins to take action as the first-ever proposed limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants were released this summer by the EPA. Over the next few years, Florida’s governor will oversee the state’s plan to comply with the rule – which calls for reductions in Florida’s carbon pollution levels by 38% by 2030.
During the meeting, the scientists presented a compelling, fact-based case for why the Governor should care about climate change. They told him about the role of carbon pollution in global warming, how we have millions of years of data showing we now have too much carbon in the air from burning fossil fuels, how global warming causes sea level rise, and how all this jeopardizes Floridians’ way of life. The scientists also connected the dots between climate science and political science and called for leadership to address this crisis, including statewide adaptation and mitigation planning using the best available science. They presented the costs of inaction on climate change and stressed the importance of taking the EPA’s proposed limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants seriously.
Following the meeting, Dr. David Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College, said that he did not feel there was any recognition from Governor Scott about the importance of the impacts of climate change, even though it would have been easy on his part. The Governor did not spend much of the short meeting focusing on climate science itself, but rather used the first ten to fifteen minutes asking each professor which classes they teach, and then ended the meeting a few minutes early. In spite of this, when Dr. Hastings tried to impart the fact that there are tremendous viable solutions for dealing with climate change and how the Governor could be a strong leader on the issue, he was cut off ”in the interest of time” by an aide.
What Governor Scott will do with this information remains to be seen. The Governor does not need to be a scientist to act on behalf of Floridians, but he surely does need to take advice from experts. Governor Scott must listen to the recommendations of these experts, who collectively possess hundreds of years of experience studying these issues, and represent some of the finest of Florida’s academic institutions.
2. North Carolina Makes Strides in Offshore Wind
The Tarheel State takes significant step towards offshore wind development
North Carolina is one step closer to developing its immense offshore wind energy potential. In August, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced three Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) off the coast of North Carolina. The three WEAs – Kitty Hawk, Wilmington West and Wilmington East – total 307,590 acres, and they have been identified as areas suitable for potential offshore wind energy development. That much area could potentially contain up to 6,200 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity – or about six nuclear power plants worth.
We commend BOEM and North Carolina for taking this significant step towards offshore wind energy development. Offshore wind energy is a clean and inexhaustible resource that would reduce air pollution, preserve precious water resources, and reduce carbon emissions. However, these WEAs are greatly reduced from what was originally proposed due to perceived interference with shipping lanes, visual aesthetics, and wildlife impacts. BOEM previously estimated that North Carolina contained approximately 24,000 megawatts of offshore wind potential, or about four times more potential than the current Wind Energy Areas designated.
The announcement does not mean that an offshore wind farm for North Carolina is imminent. The areas designated by BOEM are only for “Site Assessment Planning,” meaning the areas will be available to be studied for up to five years. A wind farm development company would need to lease a particular area offshore, then submit a Site Assessment Plan to BOEM for review and consideration, and after studying the site, a wind farm developer may or may not decide to move forward on a Construction and Operations Plan. Then the developer would have to secure an offshore wind lease from BOEM and conduct an environmental impact statement prior to construction and operation of a wind farm.
While an offshore wind farm in North Carolina is still not guaranteed, wind energy advocates hope to see competitive lease sales of these areas in the near future. In the past year, BOEM has awarded competitive lease sales for Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Five wind energy companies have already expressed interest in developing offshore wind farms in North Carolina. BOEM’s recent announcement is a significant step, but the journey has just begun.
Last month the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board of Directors voted unanimously to retire all three coal-fired units of the Allen Fossil Plant (990 MW) in Memphis and approved replacement with a new 1,000 MW natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) plant. Although TVA originally proposed replacing Allen with a large 1400 MW natural gas plant, SACE and allies strongly advocated for a smaller natural gas plant that would leave room for additional renewable generation resources in the area. In the end, TVA approved replacement with a 1000 MW natural gas plant and signaled that this smaller natural gas plant will allow for more flexibility to add in renewable generation in the future. TVA plans to build the new 1,000 MW NGCC plant directly across from the current Allen site but did not confirm dates for its construction. The cost for the new combined cycle gas plant is estimated to be approximately $975 million.
In making this announcement, TVA stressed that a smaller natural gas plant will provide flexibility for later inclusion of renewable energy resources. TVA considered building a larger capacity natural gas plant, however, SACE and allies are working to ensure solar generation and low-cost wind become part of the replacement choices for Allen.
The Allen retirement announcement comes on top of significant TVA coal retirements over the past year, marking a continued move away from coal-fired power in the Tennessee Valley. At the August 21st meeting, the TVA Board voted to delegate authority to TVA CEO Bill Johnson to determine the exact retirement date of the Allen coal units, which must retire by December 31, 2018 under the terms of a 2011 Consent Decree with EPA and environmental groups. Ultimately, Allen’s coal units will be brought offline when the new NGCC plant becomes operational.
The 2011 Consent Decree was a response to work done during the 2011 TVA Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) process, which led TVA on the road to significant coal retirements. As with the 2011 IRP, SACE is heavily involved in the current 2015 IRP process. SACE staff serve on each of three dedicated 2015 IRP working groups. We anticipate additional coal plant retirements, beyond those contemplated in the 2011 Consent Decree, as part of the 2015 TVA IRP process. As TVA’s current 2015 IRP process continues, SACE is hopeful that TVA will announce significant investments in renewable energy generation resources when the final IRP is released in the Spring of 2015.
SACE, along with other environmental groups, submitted comments on TVA’s Draft Environmental Assessment for the Allen project calling for a smaller natural gas build to leave room for renewable generation growth in the Greater Memphis Area. (Prior to the TVA Board meeting, TVA released its Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Allen project.)
Retiring Allen is great news for Memphis, which continuously struggles with poor air quality and regularly shows up on national lists as one of the worst places to live for asthma sufferers. Additionally, the Allen site is home to over 417 million gallons of toxic coal ash that is polluting local groundwater supplies. By retiring the Allen plant, TVA will help to clean the air in Memphis and we hope it will take the necessary steps to clean up the waters around Allen as well.
The Florida Public Service Commission recently approved a poorly designed Florida Power & Light (FPL) solar power program based on donations that will not meaningfully promote solar power development in Florida. The program relies on customer donations of $9 month ($108 year) to build relatively small solar installations in FPL’s service territory. Participating customers receive no direct benefit from their donations. The utility has only committed to constructing a minimum of 300 kilowatts (kW) of solar power over 3 years through the support of its program.
FPL, the state’s biggest power company with 4.7 million customers, currently generates less than 1/10 of 1 percent of its electricity from solar power – and this program will do virtually nothing to increase this meager solar generation. In addition to its unambitious scope, the so-called “community based” program is poorly designed. FPL would be well served to follow their neighboring municipal utility’s, Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), lead on solar.
OUC has fully subscribed its 400 kW community solar project. Customers can choose 1 kW blocks of the solar project at essentially no upfront cost. The electricity generated by the solar project will used to offset the customers bill at a fixed rate for the 25-year life of the project. This provides customers with a financial benefit because as electricity rates rise over time, the price of the electricity generated from their portion of the solar plant will remain the same. In this way, customer feel truly invested in the clean energy project.
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy was a party to the docket and filed comments prior to its approval challenging the scope and design of the program. Some of the Public Service Commissioners were clearly troubled by the design of the FPL project. One commissioner stated that she was “stunned” by the Company’s lack of answers at the hearing. In the end, the Commission approved the program by a 4 – 1 vote. In a statement after the approval, Stephen A. Smith, executive director of SACE stated, “we are disappointed that the Florida Public Service Commission is allowing Florida Power & Light to go forward with a misleading, public relations gimmick masquerading as a solar program.”
The Sunshine State has the best solar resource east of the Mississippi and is the fourth most populated state in the country. Yet, it hardly ranked in the top twenty (18th) for solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity added in 2013, and currently ranks 14th in overall solar PV. In fact, neighboring states with roughly half the population, Georgia and North Carolina, each added four times and twelve times respectively more solar in 2013 than Florida.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy continues to fight against rollbacks to existing solar programs in Florida, such as net metering, and working to establish new, innovative ways to power the Sunshine State with solar energy.