SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Historic Climate Agreement Reached in Paris
Much work left to be done to truly end the era of fossil fuels
Just days ago, the 21st annual United Nations climate change conference and negotiations concluded by culminating in the unanimous adoption of the Paris Agreement. Signatories to the Agreement from 196 countries agreed to “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”
SACE welcomes the fact that there was broad voluntary agreement among 196 countries to reduce carbon pollution, the intentions they set out to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and the commitment to transparency, which will be important for maintaining progress towards reduction goals.
However, the devil is in the details. It is important to note that the agreement is not binding and its success depends on many factors. It took decades of movement building, supported by an ever-growing body of scientific research, to get this far. Given the favorable economics of clean energy and the largest body of climate activists ever mobilized, we are well-poised to take the climate movement further faster than we ever have before. But it will still take work from all of us to see the promise of Paris delivered as we demand responsibility and accountability from our decision makers.
Over the past year leading up to this historic agreement, 187 and counting countries have submitted voluntary climate change goals, called INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), which the parties to the Paris Agreement agreed to. These goals, if met, would limit global warming to 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit), which is of course only part of what is needed to reach the 2 degree pledge. Therefore, the Paris Agreement calls for a reconvening every 5 years, starting in 2020, at which time each country will have the opportunity to increase the ambition of its goals. Furthermore, countries are required to reconvene every five years, starting in 2023, to report on their progress, using a standardized accounting system.
It is our sincere hope that the Paris Agreement sends clear signals to the market to support the ongoing change in the way the world produces and consumes energy. The cost of solar and wind have fallen dramatically over the last decade and their widespread deployment is inevitable. Meanwhile, meeting the 2 degree pledge will only be possible if 80 percent of the remaining fossil fuel reserves are kept in the ground, and if the 1.5 degree limit of change is to be sought then that percentage will need to increase. The Paris Agreement states that Parties to the agreement “aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,” and seems to indicate a more serious global commitment than ever before to transitioning to a post-carbon economy, run by clean, renewable energy. However, obstructionist politicians and policies that continue to subsidize the true cost of inaction on climate change jeopardize the success achieved in Paris.
The Paris Agreement makes our work at SACE, and that of our supporters and allies, even more important. Together, we will need to demand responsibility and accountability for meeting and increasing our contributions in carbon pollution reductions to protect against the worst impacts of climate change. SACE has always and will continue to push the markets to adopt cleaner energy sources and work to hold leaders accountable. The sentiment of ‘trust but verify’ holds true for our continued collective work on climate policy and progress.
If you’d like to read more blog posts in the lead up to the Paris climate talks, check out SACE’s Prelude to Paris blog series here. To view the SACE-produced video series called Parlez-Vous Climate: Conversations from Paris & Beyond filmed and published throughout the region over the last two weeks of the climate talks, click here.
In recent years, North Carolina has been a national leader on solar development with more than one gigawatt of installed solar capacity. Neighboring South Carolina, in contrast, has been a laggard. Today North Carolina ranks 4th in the country in solar installations; South Carolina ranks 34th. But that gap may narrow as South Carolina ramps up efforts to bring more solar to the state at the same time that the North Carolina legislature continues seeking ways to roll back the policies that have fostered North Carolina’s solar growth in recent years. In both states, 2015 has been a year with many stops and starts and a few U-turns on solar policy, a situation that is likely to continue into 2016.
Solar Policy in North Carolina
As described in detail in a blog published this past August, the 2015 legislative session sent North Carolina’s solar advocates on a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. Early in the session, the Renewable Energy Safe Harbor Act was passed to protect solar projects that will be still under construction when the North Carolina renewable energy tax credit expires this year. The tax credit itself – which provided a tax deduction for 35 percent of the value of a solar project – was, however, allowed to expire despite a robust fight that saw the credit added to the state budget and then removed in final budget negotiations.
Fortunately, advocates managed to fend off yet another threat to the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). Language added to several bills in both the House and Senate sought to freeze the requirement for the state’s investor-owned utilities to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency to essentially current levels that have already been attained. But since efforts to roll back the REPS have continued to come up in the legislature, and Americans for Prosperity has stated that repealing the REPS remains a priority, we expect this issue to return in the future.
The Energy Freedom Act, which would allow third-party solar companies to install rooftop solar systems and sell the power produced to homeowners and businesses, is still pending and remains a priority for its sponsor, state Representative John Szoka. Third party solar is currently prohibited in a just a handful of states, including North Carolina. In 2014, 72 percent of residential solar systems in the United States were installed using third-party financing; the Energy Freedom Act would significantly open the market for rooftop solar in North Carolina.
Solar Policy in South Carolina
This past year has seen strong progress on solar development in South Carolina as the investor-owned utilities have moved to implement the 2014 Distributed Energy Resource Program Act. Duke Energy’s South Carolina Solar Rebate Program, launched in October, has yielded strong interest among customers. Almost 200 residential customers and 50 non-residential customers have applied to interconnect solar PV facilities in the company’s service territory. Duke has also solicited contracts for approximately 58 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale solar under Act 236 and is hopeful that all capacity will be online by year-end 2016.
South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) has chosen to offer customers a capacity-based incentive, paying a premium for energy produced by their solar systems. For the first 2.5 megawatts (MW) of system capacity installed under the program, SCE&G will pay $0.04 above the retail rate for each kilowatt-hour produced – as of November, the company already had more than 1.6 MW in reservations.
The one dark spot on the solar horizon in South Carolina was the December 7 adoption of excessive charges for solar customers by the state-owned utility Santee Cooper. These charges will cost the utility’s solar customers more than $300 per year for a typical residential solar system, making solar uneconomical and unfairly penalizing South Carolinians in its service territory.
The number of privately installed solar electricity generators needs to increase from fewer than 500 statewide to approximately 10,000 to meet the goal of bringing 195 MW of renewable energy online by 2021. SACE is working closely with a variety of partners to support the effort, and the Savannah River National Laboratory has received a three-year, $1.5 million Department of Energy SunShot grant to help reduce solar installation costs and educate the industry in South Carolina. The future looks bright for solar in South Carolina!
The evidence is stacking up for shutting down Plant Hammond, a medium-sized coal-burning power station in Northwest Georgia. The Georgia Water Coalition named Plant Hammond one of the 2015 Dirty Dozen threats to Georgia waterways, and a front-page investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution found that coal ash at Plant Hammond and elsewhere continues to pose a toxic threat to neighboring areas. Then, a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) showed that the plant is both running less and costing more, while Georgia Power has many alternatives that are both cleaner and cheaper.
In the SACE-commissioned report, “Georgia Power Co. Should Retire Plant Hammond,” IEEFA researchers looked at Plant Hammond’s performance and cost, and compared them with other sources of power. It turns out that Plant Hammond closely resembles other coal plants Georgia Power is already retiring, and is out-shined by alternative power sources that also have lower carbon footprints. From the report:
The cost of generating power at Plant Hammond already is very high compared to the cost of purchasing power from other plants. More important, due to dramatic declines in the cost of adding new solar and wind capacity, power generated by Plant Hammond already is much more expensive than buying power from utility-scale solar and wind projects through long-term (15- to 25-year) power purchase agreements. And the cost of generating power at Plant Hammond is likely to rise even higher in coming years as a result of costly upgrades to add cooling towers and effluent treatment controls.
Closing a coal plant is a deliberate process, which in this case should begin as soon as possible. In past plant closures, the company has accommodated its workforce through attrition, early retirement, and re-assignment.
Every three years, Georgia Power submits its long-term plan, called an Integrated Resource Plan, to the state’s elected Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC decides whether the plan sufficiently represents customers’ need for reasonable rates and reliable service through a series of public hearings. The next plan is due in January, 2016 with hearings to follow.
The 2016 Integrated Resource Plan would be a great opportunity to announce a phase-out of Plant Hammond.
In early November, the 2015 Memphis Environmental Justice Conference – Envisioning a Cleaner, Healthier Environment – brought people together, from both the local area and national community, to hear speakers talk on issues ranging from transportation issues, to labor and the environment and even gender and environmental security.
It is rare for a conference to focus solely on environmental justice concerns and even rarer for such a conference to take place in a city that has played such a key role in our country’s own Civil Rights movement as Memphis. As we move into a cleaner energy future, it is up to advocates and community members to ensure that the most vulnerable receive the most from the ensuing economic, environmental and health benefits.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy was proud to be part of the conference and present on the benefits of solar with Jimmie Tucker of Self + Tucker Architects, founder of a Memphis architectural firm that incorporates energy efficiency and solar into projects that promote economic development. (For access to the presentation “Hot Times: Solar in Our City” – click here Memphis Conference Solar in Our City Presentation)
Attendees at our panel expressed frustration with the difficulty in finding local manufacturers of solar panels as well as confusion about the actual growth of the solar energy sector, given the somewhat recent closure of the solar panel division of the Sharp Manufacturing facility in Memphis.
In response, we pointed out that the solar market is growing rapidly. In 2014, the United States brought more solar online every three weeks than it did in all of 2008 – and our nation’s solar industry added jobs at 10 times the rate of any other industry. In fact, Tennessee’s solar market consists of 151 companies employing roughly 2,200 workers across the state!
Mr. Tucker highlighted his use of solar panels in the renovation of Memphis’ historic Universal Life Insurance building and in the Knowledge Quest Green Leaf project, which will provide education opportunities and community redevelopment in an impoverished neighborhood. By using solar panels, Mr. Tucker will be able to offset 20% of the energy use for the Universal Life building and provide backup power to his building in the case of a power outage.
This conference helped instill hope in those still fighting for environmental justice that new initiatives, like the Clean Power Plan with its Clean Energy Incentive Program, will bring real benefits to those who have long suffered at the hands of dirty energy.