SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Clean Power Plan announced by President Obama
Health, energy, and economic experts add to the discussion
On August 3rd, President Obama announced the release of the finalized Clean Power Plan. Crafted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Power Plan sets achievable carbon pollution reduction goals for each state based on the unique energy mix currently serving the power needs of each state (for a detailed look at the basics of the plan, please read our blog).
Along with reducing climate-change causing carbon pollution, the Clean Power Plan will also reduce other harmful pollution from coal plants resulting in prevention of 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks in children and 300,000 missed workdays and schooldays due to illness. Using established source specific performance rates and a “Best System of Emission Reduction (BSER),” below, we’ve parsed out our Southeastern state’s goals.
Some changes from the draft version of the Plan include a BSER that includes only three building blocks rather than four, which were originally proposed last summer. EPA removed the demand-side energy efficiency piece of the puzzle, choosing to rely on strictly supply-side emission reduction measures while allowing states to use energy efficiency for compliance. Nuclear generation (both under-construction and existing nuclear plants) is also out of the BSER, a move made in response to concerns expressed by Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina during the public comment period – the only states in the country that have under-construction nuclear units.
One of the most interesting new pieces to the Clean Power Plan is the “Clean Energy Incentive Program.” Through this program, EPA allows states to create Emission Reduction Credits (ERCs) for reductions achieved using wind, solar, or energy efficiency programs that benefit low-income communities. EPA is giving double credit for actions that benefit low-income communities, ensuring these families receive significant benefits from this rule. Given that low-income communities have traditionally been more heavily impacted by the negative effects of fossil-fuel generation, this is great news.
EPA has also extended the compliance timeline in the final version of the Clean Power Plan with compliance beginning in 2022 – 2 years later than originally proposed. States must comply with their final reduction goals by 2030.
The Clean Power Plan represents an important opportunity for our Southeastern states to benefit from an increasingly robust clean energy economy. We’ve already seen significant growth of clean energy jobs in our region, as confirmed in the recent Clean Jobs Tennessee Report. Many of our major utilities, like Southern Company and the Tennessee Valley Authority, are already on the path to compliance and can help spur economic growth in the region by relying on clean energy compliance solutions, like solar, wind and energy efficiency.
Stay tuned for more information as we continue to learn more about the Clean Power Plan! If you are inclined to speak up and support the Clean Power Plan, click here for resources and links.
A recent survey performed by BW Research found that there are nearly 45,000 clean energy jobs in Tennessee. The results of the survey are detailed in a report released on July 29 by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2).
In the 12 months leading up to the survey report, Tennessee saw a 6.3% increase in clean energy employment. This represents one of the highest rates of clean energy job creation in any state, and employers expect to see a similar growth rate of 5.7% during the following 12 months. Tennessee’s clean energy industry is growing at three times the rate of the broad economy, which saw an overall increase in employment of 2.2% last year.
Recent developments could drive even greater clean energy job growth. Gov. Bill Haslam’s recently announced EmPower initiative has set a goal to reduce utility bills at state buildings by 28% over the next eight years, through energy efficiency and up to 67 MW of solar energy. With a $200 million initial investment, the initiative is predicted to yield $1 billion in savings by 2035.
In addition, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) final 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), released July 13, confirms that clean energy resources are least-cost options on par with traditional energy sources. Although the IRP doesn’t emphasize clean energy in the short-term, TVA noted that the timing may change, and recent deals show promise for accelerated resource adoption. Earlier this year, TVA agreed to purchase the output of an 80 MW solar farm in Alabama, and in late June, TVA announced a deal with Google to develop a 100% renewable-powered data center on the site of the soon-to-be retired Widow’s Creek coal plant.
On the national level, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) final Clean Power Plan, released Aug. 3, is also expected to stimulate clean energy job growth. Based on the draft rule, E2 estimated that the new carbon standards could lead to the creation of 274,000 energy efficiency jobs nationwide, in addition to renewable energy and other sectors. The Clean Power Plan could also drive job creation outside of the clean energy industry by lowering utility bills for residents and businesses. Upon the release of the draft rule, the EPA projected a typical bill reduction of 8%.
As Tennessee’s clean energy industry continues to expand, we can expect to see rapid job creation, lower utility bills and promising economic growth for years to come.
In 2011, Iberdrola Renewables announced plans to develop a huge wind farm in North Carolina. Nearly five years later, the Desert Winds wind farm is about to become a reality. Based on recent news reports, construction for the Desert Winds wind farm project should begin in September 2015 and be online sometime in 2016. The 102-turbine project is slated to generate as much electricity as the equivalent of 61,000 homes. Amazon, the online retail giant, will purchase the power to run its “future and current” data centers. The Desert Winds wind farm project will be renamed “Amazon Wind Farm US East.”
While this isn’t the first wind farm in the South (as many, many news reports incorrectly stated), it certainly is the largest. In 2004, the wind development company Invenergy constructed the Buffalo Mountain wind farm near Oliver Springs, Tennessee.
The Amazon Wind Farm US East is located near Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and will be sited predominately throughout agricultural land. While siting a wind farm near the coast increases the likelihood of being impacted by a hurricane, the risk of destruction from a hurricane appears to be fairly slim. The last time northeast North Carolina was struck by a hurricane was in 2011 with Hurricane Irene. All the wind farms in the northeast United States that were subsequently struck by Hurricane Irene operated as designed and no turbines were damaged. But having a wind farm situated near the coast does have its benefits. A natural phenomenon in the coastal zone called the “Sea Breeze Effect” ensures wind power production in the late summertime afternoons – when utility power demand tends to be very high.
The Amazon Wind Farm US East annual energy output is expected to be 670,000 megawatt hours; for a 208 megawatt wind farm, that roughly equates to a 37% annual capacity factor. Just a few years ago, such a high capacity factor would have seemed unreachable; but with new turbine technology, wind farm capacity factors are expected to continue to increase. The newly released National Renewable Energy Laboratory WIND Toolkit corroborates the estimated capacity factors of the Amazon Wind Farm US East. With better turbine technology, more wind farms will be developed throughout the south.
On July 21, the Obama Administration issued a veto threat against a congressional attempt to undermine EPA’s new coal ash rule with a pair of bad bills. The U.S. House of Representatives passed Rep. David McKinley’s (R-WV) deceptively-named “Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015” (H.R. 1734) by a vote of 258 to 166; and then U.S. Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. The minimum requirements in both bills are weaker than EPA’s rule finalized in December 2014 and would delay key protections within EPA’s coal ash rule by up to 10 years. These bills would even eliminate the rule’s ban on storing and dumping coal ash in drinking water. For more details, see our recent blog post.
The Obama Administration heard from over 300 organizations and countless community members across the U.S. including SACE members. The Administration responded by issuing a strong statement of opposition warning, “If the President were presented with H.R. 1734 as drafted, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
Southeasterners have great cause for concern with these two bills. The two biggest coal ash disasters in our nation’s history, the Dan River and Kingston spills, occurred in NC and TN respectively. These bills would weaken the mandate under EPA’s coal ash rule for operators to close inactive (contaminated and abandoned) ponds by extending closure deadlines and allowing old, unused ponds like the Dan River impoundment that burst in 2014 to continue operating.
The Southeast also has the highest concentration of coal ash in the country. Communities living in close proximity to coal ash impoundments should be concerned that these bills do not provide guarantees of public access to information about toxic releases from coal ash impoundments or even unstable dams.
After the disasters at Kingston and Dan River, EPA’s coal ash rule finally offers some basic protections from toxic coal ash for our communities and waterways, but these hard-won victories could go out the window if these bills become law. You can have a big impact by telling your members of Congress to oppose attempts to gut EPA’s basic public health protections.
FPL’s proposal to potentially build two costly, water-intensive new nuclear reactors at their existing Turkey Point plant about 25 miles south of Miami is facing increased opposition as cost estimates rise and the environmental risks increase.
At the federal level, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) extended the public comment period on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for FPL’s licensing application by two months at the bequest of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the EPA and the National Parks Service. The public raised serious concerns, such as threats to the region’s drinking water supply and impacts from sea level rise, from a diverse spectrum of interests, including the City of Miami and other officials, including mayors and state lawmakers. Due to deficiencies in the drat EIS, SACE and our partners in multi-year legal challenge of the federal licensing filed a new contention regarding insufficient wetland mitigation measures. Despite objections from FPL and the NRC staff, the NRC’s three-judge panel granted us an opportunity for oral argument led by Jason Totoiu of the Everglades Law Center. We now await a decision. If accepted, this will be the second accepted contention. The other deals with the possible contamination of the Biscayne aquifer given the convoluted FPL proposal to provide cooling water for the new reactors.
And it’s that time of year again – hearings on the annual nuclear cost recovery docket before the Florida Public Service Commission will happen later this month in which FPL and Duke are again seeking to charge their customers in advance because of Florida’s controversial, anti-consumer “nuclear tax.” SACE is again intervening and we are not alone, as the City of Miami has also intervened providing expert testimony. The Office of Public Counsel’s expert witness, Dr. William Jacobs (who is also the Vogtle Construction Monitor for the Georgia Public Service Commission, which is tracking Southern Company’s troubled, under-construction new reactor project) provided compelling testimony that underscores that FPL’s cost estimates are far too low and that the utility fails to provide an accurate feasibility analysis.
You can voice your concerns by signing the online petition opposing the nuclear expansion at Turkey Point. Take the next step by sharing it widely. It’s time to send FPL a clear message that more reactors at Turkey Point are not wanted when safe, affordable energy choices such as solar power and energy efficiency are available.