SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. TVA Proposes Shortsighted Energy Plan
2015 Draft IRP Views Clean Energy Through a Blurred Lens
Nostalgic for the days when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) brought innovation, increased economic development and low-cost energy to the Tennessee Valley, we hoped TVA’s recently released draft 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) would establish a clear path to a robust clean energy economy. Unfortunately, TVA’s draft IRP does not renew its legacy and instead undervalues critical cost-effective options that would help families and businesses cut energy bills.
TVA continues to view clean energy resources through a blurred lens. TVA underestimated performance and over-estimated costs of energy efficiency, resulting in a draft 2015 IRP that contains less energy efficiency than the 2011 IRP. To TVA’s credit, there was a significant amount of effort with stakeholders to bring forth wind data that would accurately reflect the dynamic nature of wind energy based on the latest technologies and current market trends. Unfortunately, TVA ultimately chose outdated wind data, resulting in a draft IRP that includes very little low-cost wind energy.
As part of various IRP and resource planning groups, SACE has been engaged in each step of the planning process. TVA staff commonly use a highway analogy to explain the movement of the different planning strategies within the various “IRP roadways” on the “energy highway.” In theory, TVA’s plan would indicate a range of options that the utility could move freely among, finding the best path forward along its “energy highway.” However, TVA’s excessive cost and debilitating performance assumptions for wind and energy efficiency act as penalties – effectively functioning like toll lanes that restrict the utility’s interest in choosing these low-cost energy choices.
TVA recently cut its energy efficiency budget and scaled back its energy efficiency programs from those endorsed in its 2011 IRP. The draft 2015 IRP firmly caps the growth of energy efficiency programs — they cannot catch up with the 2011 IRP goals until at least 2025. This leaves TVA behind regional energy efficiency leaders and well behind national best practices.
TVA is equally short-sighted in the way it treats wind energy in the draft IRP. In particular, we are disappointed with TVA’s failure to align its plan with the market as demonstrated by the Clean Line Plains & Eastern HVDC ( high voltage direct current) wind power transmission project. Although TVA acknowledged that wind generated in western Oklahoma and north Texas is highly productive (operating at a very high “capacity factor”), TVA selected a highly prejudicial method for valuing wind power’s contribution to its peak capacity needs. TVA’s decision to cherry-pick the only calculation method that applies a lower wind capacity value demonstrates a level of disengagement from market and performance data.
The public comment period for the draft 2015 IRP ends on April 27. During this public comment period, TVA will host public listening sessions across its service territory. Make your voice heard and tell TVA to correct its mistakes concerning energy efficiency and wind energy and give clean energy a fighting chance!
In less than a year, South Carolina has gone from being a state that was widely seen as resistant, if not downright hostile, to solar energy, to establishing itself as trailblazer in brokering an agreement between utilities, industry, and clean energy advocates that will ramp up solar development in the state over the next five years. With last year’s passage of Act 236, which established a state-wide distributed energy resource (DER) program, and the subsequent stakeholder engagement process to negotiate the program’s net metering rate – which led to a landmark settlement agreement in December – South Carolina’s process is now being looked to as a model of collaboration for the development of state-wide solar programs.
On March 20th, the South Carolina Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the net metering settlement agreement and paved the way for solar energy to take off in the state. What is unique about South Carolina’s experience is how stakeholders that typically find themselves on opposite sides of the table came together and showed real leadership in brokering a deal that all parties could get behind. In the end, the electric power companies, regulators, and conservation organizations were able to craft first a law and then an agreement for how to compensate customers for the solar energy produced by their rooftop solar systems and recover any associated costs that had universal buy-in.
Much of the credit goes to solar advocates who have been working to advance energy policy in the state for decades. Organizations like the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League (CCL) and Conservation Voters of South Carolina, along with regional partners SACE and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and others, took a lead role in shepherding the negotiations, which first began in 2013. As Hamilton Davis, CCL’s Climate and Energy Director, observed, “You have to have groups with the stamina and capacity to stay engaged.” In February, solar advocates launched a website to keep the public up-to-date on solar program development and new incentives the utilities will offer to help homeowners and businesses install rooftop solar systems: www.scsolarnow.com. The home page proudly proclaims, “Solar Energy Has Arrived in South Carolina!”
To read more about Act 236 and how it will advance solar development in South Carolina, please read the full blog post here.
On March 10, 2015, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a new analysis, which shows that instead of aggressive over-reliance on natural gas by utilities as they phase out coal plants, a far better bet for achieving a clean energy future is to greatly expand the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Many U.S. electric utilities, including our own Southern utilities, are doubling down on natural gas to generate power as they retire aging and polluting coal plants. Here in the Southeast, a number of our states have seen significant increases since 2007 in their reliance on natural gas. In fact, five southern states rank in the top ten among states with the most increases in gas dependence between 2007 and 2013 (see Table 1 below).
While this unprecedented shift does provide some near-term benefits, including reduced air and water pollutants, fewer smokestack carbon emissions, less power plant water use, greater flexibility of the power grid, and an economic boost to some regions of the country, these rewards must be carefully weighed against the risks. Dramatically expanding our use of natural gas to generate electricity is an ill-advised gamble that poses complex economic, public health, and climate risks. Natural gas price volatility, which can lead to higher electricity prices is of paramount concerns since price spikes not only harm consumers and the economy, but can also create perverse incentives for utilities to switch back to using old and polluting coal plants. Even more concerning is that the extraction, distribution, and combustion of natural gas result in the leakage of methane, a powerful global warming gas 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 100-year period.
Where natural gas consistently comes up short, renewable energy and energy efficiency delivers. These technologies are already ramping up quickly across the country and demonstrating that they can supply affordable, reliable, and low-carbon power. By choosing clean energy pathways and avoiding an over-reliance on natural gas, we can ensure a more consumer-friendly, resilient, and diversified electricity system, while also delivering cost-effective CO2 emissions reductions and improved public health. Read more about the new report in our blog.
New wind turbine technology is a game changer for clean energy opportunities in the Southeast. Taller turbines and longer blades are capable of capturing more wind, which results in generating more electricity and reducing costs. In just five years, wind turbines have greatly evolved and are now more suitable for the Southeast. One modern wind turbine can now power the equivalent of about 600 homes a year!
New wind speed maps released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) demonstrate the greatly increased potential for wind turbine development in the Southeast with advanced turbines. As wind turbines increase in height and are able to access better wind speeds, more areas become attractive for wind energy development within the Southeast. The shading on the map below represents new available land for wind development by increasing the tower height of turbines from 96 meters to a more modern 140 meters. With this newly available land that may be suitable for wind development, the South now has over 134,000 megawatts (MW) of wind potential—about half of the region’s total currently installed electric utility capacity.
The Southeast currently has just one wind farm, the Buffalo Mountain wind project in Tennessee, but new wind farms have been proposed in all Southeastern states in recent years, showing the developers’ understanding that the South is becoming ripe for wind development. While our in-region wind generation is low now, a number of Southern utilities are purchasing wind power from out-of-region due to its low price. Significant wind power purchase agreements have been made by Georgia Power, Alabama Power, Gulf Power, TVA, SWEPCO, and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. Proposed High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission projects, like the Plains and Eastern project, would inject thousands more megawatts of new high quality, low cost wind power into Southeastern states.
In addition to the substantial onshore wind resource, the Southeast is home to arguably the best offshore wind development opportunities in the entire nation, due to its good wind speeds and shallow waters. An offshore wind development lease has been granted offshore Virginia, while North Carolina and South Carolina are both in the process of working toward a lease sale. Meanwhile, Georgia Power has applied for a research lease for an area offshore Georgia.
While the Southeast is not yet home to much wind energy development, the region does already benefit greatly from the wind industry. The Southeast is home to at least 123 wind energy-related manufacturing facilities serving the domestic and international wind industry markets. In 2013, there were up to 8,500 direct and indirect jobs provided by the wind industry in the South. Developing wind energy in our region would give our already existing industry a bigger market and would create a large opportunity to create new jobs and generate additional revenue.
Based on the Jobs and Economic Development Index model, developed by NREL, developing one gigawatt worth of land-based wind energy capacity in each Southeastern state (255,500 homes’ worth and just a small portion of most states’ potential), would yield on average in each state approximately 4,300 construction jobs, 140 permanent maintenance-related jobs, with an annual payroll of more than $7 million.
As the Southeast becomes a new frontier for wind energy, it is only fitting that the largest wind energy conference of the year will be in Orlando, Florida. Join us, May 18-21, 2015 for the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) annual WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition in Orlando. Each year, the event draws thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors all looking to advance the wind industry. WINDPOWER features over 30 sessions ranging from market and policy analysis, to project performance and technical advancements in wind energy. It’s an excellent way to connect with subject matter experts–anyone interested in the wind industry should plan on attending. As a benefit to you for reading our newsletter, you can use this discount code to receive $50 off the full registration: SPKWP50.
We hope you can join us in Orlando to learn more about wind energy opportunities for the Southeast! You can register here.
To learn more about wind energy in each Southeastern state, you can follow our Southeast state wind profile blog series, of which we are publishing one blog post each week this spring in the lead up to WINDPOWER 2015.