SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Comment Period Closes on EPA’s Clean Power Plan
But there’s more work to be done
December 1st marked the end of the extended public comment period for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) historic Clean Power Plan. SACE joined thousands of commenters in offering recommendations to EPA as it prepares to finalize the first-ever regulations to limit carbon emissions from our nation’s power sector. SACE has been working over the last 6 months with EPA, state regulators, utilities, public service commissions and allies to understand implications of the proposed rule for the Southeast and inform decision makers on how to affordably decrease emissions through growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Here we sum up SACE’s own technical comments and give a preview of what’s to come now that the official public comment period has closed.
Since EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan in June, SACE staff read through the thousands of pages of documents EPA released along with the rule to understand exactly how EPA came up with each state’s goals. (For further explanation of the rule, you can access several EPA fact sheets here). Through this work, it became clear that EPA significantly underestimated the potential growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency resources in the Southeast and overestimated the costs of these resources. It was also clear to us that EPA underestimated the cost of using nuclear energy as a compliance tool under the Clean Power Plan, creating a false assumption that the cost of nuclear is on par with other cleaner generation sources.
Now that the public comment period for the Clean Power Plan has come and gone, many may be curious about what’s next on the path to reducing our nation’s carbon emissions. EPA will begin to read through the myriad comments they received and will eventually post these on a public website for those who want to review them. We will update you when these become publicly available, so that you can check out what your states and utilities had to say about the proposed rule. After EPA finishes reviewing the comments, they will begin crafting the final rule, which is scheduled for a June 2, 2015 release.
With all of the debate around the Clean Power Plan, it is likely that the final rule will be legally challenged. It remains to be seen if the final rule will be stayed during any legal challenges or if the timeline for compliance will continue to run as the courts decide the merits of these cases. Assuming the rule proceeds on schedule, states will have to submit their complete compliance plans to EPA by June 30, 2016. Each state must hold a public hearing before it submits a compliance plan to EPA.
States may request a two-year extension for this deadline if they are entering into a multi-state compliance plan or a one-year extension if they need additional time to complete their compliance plan (assuming they submitted an initial plan by the June 30, 2016 deadline). EPA has one year after a state’s compliance plan is submitted to review and either approve the plan or reject the plan and create a federal compliance plan (or “FIP” – Federal Implementation Plan ) for the state. Ultimately, the compliance period for states will begin in 2020 and end with the final state emission reduction goal in 2030.
As we move into the next phase of advocacy around the Clean Power Plan, stay tuned to keep updated about how you can get more involved in pushing your state to embrace energy efficiency and renewable energy as compliance options and help grow our Southeastern clean energy economy!
2. Countdown to coal ash rules from EPA
Advocates and citizens looking for answers on Dec. 19th
We are exactly two days away from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) official release of final rules for coal ash regulation that have been in the works ever since the catastrophic Kingston disaster of 2008. Since then, it has taken almost 6 years and countless efforts by citizens and advocates to sound the alarm on the immense dangers of coal ash pollution. SACE was part of a lawsuit with Earthjustice and multiple other groups to hold EPA accountable to issue these new coal ash rules by Dec. 19, 2014.
To understand the seriousness of this issue, though, we need not look back as far as 2008; 2014 itself proved to be another immensely notable year in the world of coal ash. February 2, 2014 marks the date of nation’s second worst coal ash disaster in history, also right here in the Southeast on the Dan River in North Carolina. The Dan River spill precipitated a now infamous path of embarrassment for both the state of North Carolina and Duke Energy as they became exposed for their cozy relationship and lax methods of dealing with toxic coal ash waste. A notable culmination of the media blitz occurred over a week ago, on Sunday Dec. 7, on CBS’ 60 Minutes when Lesley Stahl interviewed Duke’s CEO, Lynn Good.
During the interview, Good tried to spin the situation, futilely attempting to fend off Stahl’s line of questioning as she points out again and again that Duke Energy’s lack of action is putting North Carolinians at risk. SACE’s lawyer from the Southern Environmental Law Center, Frank Holleman, deftly clarified that one of Duke’s key means of addressing the problem will be to simply leave the ash where it is and put a cap over it… which is the equivalent of allowing them to “pollute in place” and absolutely won’t solve groundwater and soil contamination at these facilities. While Duke Energy is the current poster-child for bad coal ash management, the problem is far larger than just one utility. We’ve known for years that coal ash was more than a disaster waiting to happen.
In fact, nearly 450 unlined, improperly monitored coal ash impoundments litter the Southeast and are silently leaking pollutants into many waterways on a daily and hourly basis. For decades the utility industry has been happily avoiding scrutiny for their coal ash management methods as numerous other pollution problems from coal dominated the public focus. In a specific attempt to bring more attention to and understanding of coal ash problems in the Southeast, SACE launched www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org in Dec. 2012. This website lets concerned citizens easily access information about coal ash across the region, and it has become an essential tool for citizens and advocates for the past two years. Recently, we’ve added a brand new feature to this interactive website that allows users to create their own, personalized reports about coal ash nearest them at www.CoalAshReport.org.
Ever since EPA’s first comment period for coal ash regulations opened, we, along with our fellow allies, have been calling for the strongest possible safeguards to be put in place. In an unprecedented move, EPA originally proposed two different options — one called Subtitle D and the other Subtitle C. The Subtitle D option is not firm enough and won’t require enough cleanup, removal, and ongoing monitoring to truly protect public health and the environment, but unfortunately that’s the option we think EPA is leaning toward. You can read more for yourself about the distinctions and why we hope Subtitle C is selected, on our Coal Ash Rules and the EPA webpage.
Do you also think that EPA’s rules should be strong? There is still time for you to let EPA know! Use our Take Action page to do so, or call the White House (tel: 202-456-1111), and tell President Obama that you want coal ash listed as a hazardous waste.
The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) is not even pretending to be objective anymore: they have become a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida Power & Light (FPL) and the other monopoly electric utilities in Florida!
Billions of customer dollars are at stake in decisions about what resources the power companies will use, and the PSC holds the power to make those decisions in a presumably fair and evenhanded manner. At the recent Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act (FEECA) goal-setting conference, goals for energy efficiency and for the promotion of demand-side renewables like rooftop solar were being set. During the conference, PSC Chairman Art Graham decided to parrot a few utility solar talking points for a few moments while PSC staff stumbled to answer a question from a fellow commissioner. What came out (see video below) was a glimpse into the mind of a chairman who, while supposedly regulating the state’s big monopoly electric power companies in an impartial manner, foreshadowed his intention to further undermine the solar power market in Florida.
In the video, Chairman Graham states outright that the often-quoted fact that Florida has the third largest technical potential for rooftop solar is “not factual.” He gives his source for this claim as nothing less than the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), although he does not cite a specific report. He goes on to state that Florida is really “22nd in the nation for solar energy.” He also declares, without citing a source, that Florida is 5th for rainfall, and therefore Florida’s Sunshine State branding should be viewed as nothing more than a “license plate slogan.” Graham delivers these tidbits with a satisfied smile at having corrected the misleading “solar facts” that “you read in the paper all the time.”
Well, “facts” can be dangerous in the hands of someone who does not know how to apply them and is attempting to nefariously mislead the public.
So for Chairman Graham, let’s separate the facts from his misleading statements.
Misleading: Our review of his statements found that the most likely NREL report used for Chairman Graham’s misleading assertions is the July 2012 U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS Based Analysis.
In the report, NREL provides three technical potential estimates for solar photovoltaic (PV) generation by state, including the technical potential of rural utility-scale solar PV, urban utility-scale solar PV, and rooftop solar PV. It appears Graham selected rural utility-scale solar PV as his red herring for Florida’s lack of solar potential. Indeed, Florida is ranked 22nd among other states in this category, however it is important to note that the calculation is heavily weighted toward a given state’s total rural landmass, putting states like Alaska far ahead of Florida due to their geographic size. Surely Chairman Graham does not believe that Alaska is really a better solar market than Florida.
Fact: If Chairman Graham’s dubious fact-finding mission had only gone one page further in the report to the chart found on page 12, he would have seen that Florida is indeed ranked 3rd in the nation for total estimated technical potential for rooftop solar photovoltaics in the United States – a fact he proudly claims to have dispelled.
Misleading: Mr. Graham’s statement that Florida is a leading state for rainfall seemed to imply that the state would have less sunshine than other states in our region.
Fact: Again looking to NREL’s data, the chart below shows Florida clearly has the best solar resource east of the Mississippi River.
So the question remains: Why would the Chairman of Florida’s PSC demonstrate such a lack of concern for the truth and make such misleading statements?
Sadly, the comments by the Chair and several of his fellow Commissioners all point to a well-orchestrated plan to further undermine the rooftop solar market for homes and businesses in Florida.
First, the PSC gutted energy efficiency opportunities for customers – even though efficiency can meet demand at a fraction of the cost of building new power plants and can help customers reduce energy use and save money on their bills. The goals approved by the Commission are stunning rollbacks compared to the goals set by the PSC in 2009, ranging from 77% to 99% reductions in customer energy savings.
So, with those pesky “non-cost effective” efficiency programs out of the way, monopoly utilities have turned again to Chairman Graham’s commission to have them review the threat of non-utility solar power to the poor electric customers in Florida. The Commission, in ending the popular solar rebate program, plans to hold to a “workshop” next year on solar power policy. The discussion by Commissioners Bablis, Brise and Chairman Graham questioning the value of programs, such as net metering, that support customer-owned solar power, provides additional foreshadowing of the monopoly utility biases at work with this Commission in advance of the “workshop”.
The line between the PSC and the monopoly utilities they are charged with regulating has become increasingly blurred. The massive amount of money poured into political contributions and lobbying by the state’s monopoly utilities is clearly paying off at the PSC – to the detriment of Florida customers. The PSC is motivated to continue to do the bidding of the monopoly utilities who see a robust market in non-utility owned solar projects as a threat to their monopoly utility business model.
If Florida were to open its energy market to companies who could help finance solar power for commercial and residential consumers, the monopolies would finally have a little competition. For big power companies like FPL, this would represent a dangerous intrusion of the free market, like a camel’s nose under the monopoly tent they have enjoyed to date. Since FPL cleared over $1 billion in profits in 2014, is it any surprise that they would do everything in their power to preserve this largesse by capturing and influencing the very PSC regulators who grant them rate increases and the licenses to build multi-billion dollar power plants that guarantee 10-12% annual returns on these enormous investments?
Should we feel good about the leadership of Chairman Graham? He is supposed to lead his colleagues to impartially protect the electric power consumers’ interest against billion-dollar monopoly enterprises like FPL. The record demonstrates anything but consumer protection – just look again at the historic roll back of the state’s energy efficiency goals. Instead of protecting consumers, Chairman Graham has led the commission to side with the utilities. In doing this, the PSC is arguing that it is better for Florida’s monopoly electric utilities to build more power plants and enlarge their cash generating assets than to offer programs to residents and businesses that would help consumers use energy more efficiently and save money, decreasing utilities’ sales and the need for the new power plants.
Yes, it’s clear why Chairman Graham would assert that the Sunshine State is “just a license plate slogan.” See, if you are going to oversee a “fair” hearing on solar power in Florida, you want your billion dollar electric power monopoly handlers to know you have done your “research” and you have your “facts” straight.
SACE just released updated, state-specific fact sheets detailing the impacts that climate change is having on six Southeast states. The new fact sheets are available for Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, in PDF format and webpages. Check out the new fact sheets here!
Recurring themes throughout the region include the incidence of crippling drought; unreliable winter weather, including crop-killing freezes; and flooding and sea level rise for the coastal states. More specifically, some of the impacts we’ve already witnessed in the Southeast that are projected to increase due to global warming include reduced generation at times of need at power plants due to lack of cooling water, damage to our states’ heritage foods and agricultural sectors (with natural disaster zones declared in all six states for impacts to agriculture in recent years), and droughts so bad that one town in Tennessee completely ran out of fresh water. These examples of climate change impacts are consistent with the findings of the updated National Climate Assessment, released at the beginning of this year, which stated that the biggest impacts to the Southeast are threats from sea level rise, extreme heat, and decreased water availability.
Another recurring theme among these states is the significant potential for clean energy development, which would lessen the amount of pollution driving the climate change. Energy efficiency, solar and wind power are essentially untapped markets that become ever-more attractive as the technology advances and prices continue to drop. For example, with modern wind technology, we now have about 134,000 MW of wind potential in the Southeast, which is about half of the currently installed electrical capacity in the Southeast.
Our region is experiencing more flooding, heat waves, and droughts, all of which have negative effects on industry and our communities. While the challenges are significant, we do have abundant solutions. Learn more about how climate change is impacting your state, and how you can take action, here.
As you may have noticed we are well into The Holiday Season! It’s time to dust off your decorations, start playing the Nutcracker Suite and begin your holiday baking. If your strings of Christmas lights have been around since Santa last filled your stocking, then it’s past time to replace them.
Your old lights are almost certainly strings of tiny, colorful incandescent bulbs. Although they may have been cheap to buy once upon a time, incandescent bulbs use far more electricity than light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs and, as a result, emit more heat which can become a fire risk when draped along greenery. LED lights are also more durable, more versatile and generally longer lasting than the older incandescent bulbs – meaning fewer strings of lights will end up in the landfill over time. If it’s time to replace or add to your Christmas light collection, consider the benefits of LEDs which come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and designs.
Even better news is that LED lights are not just for the holiday season! Over the past few years, we’ve published a few blogs here and here about changing lights in our homes/offices to more efficient bulbs. Earlier this month my college, John Wilson, blogged about the pros and cons of the current LED options at your local hardware store.
In short: LED technology has greatly improved in the past few years generally casting a softer, warmer light as compared to the harsh, blue light from early-generation LEDs. In fact, this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics went to the three scientists who successfully invited the blue LEDs twenty years ago. Because the average LED bulb uses a mere 6-8 watts of energy as compared to its incandescent equivalent of 60 watts, you’ll realize energy savings which can begin paying dividends within the first year. Read more about the differences between LED, incandescent and CFL bulbs here and then consider replacing some lights bulbs/light strings around the house with LEDs!