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Blog posts December 2011

Energy Update, December 30, 2011

December 30, 2011

In the States

CO – A new rule approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission requires companies that engage in hydraulic fracturing, often called “fracking,” to disclose the chemicals and the concentrations of each that is used in the fluid pumped into the ground to extract gas.  The rule had been vigorously debated, and eventually Governor John Hickenlooper stepped in to help settle the issue of how to handle trade secrets.  Environmental groups and industry representatives are generally pleased with the rule, which requires companies to disclose the chemicals on a website and provide nearby residents information on fracking.  Colorado approval of fracking fluids’ full disclosure came after long negotiations and nudge from GovernorDenver Post

CT – Under a new competitive bidding program, the State’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection selected two companies out of 21 applicants to build two solar power plants that will generate a total of 10 megawatts, enough to power 10,000 homes.  The plants will help to meet a state mandate passed this year that requires 30 megawatts of new renewable energy projects.  Governor Dannel Malloy praised the competitive bidding program, saying the number of applicants shows that “entrepreneurs and clean technology innovators are excited about the new approach Connecticut has taken.”  The remaining 20 megawatts of renewable energy will be developed by utilities.  Largest-ever solar projects approved by StateHartford Courant

MS – At Governor Haley Barbour’s request, the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has issued a set of regulations that could allow oil and natural gas drilling in State waters near barrier islands within the next year.  Environmental groups and tourism industry leader united several years ago to oppose legislation that allowed drilling in coastal areas, citing concern over environmental and economic effects of a potential spill.  The legislation that eventually passed kept some areas of the Gulf off limits to drilling but gave the MDA the authority to issue and regulate oil and gas leases in State waters.  However, Hurricane Katrina and last year’s Gulf oil spill delayed further consideration of the issue.  Earlier this year, Governor Barbour asked the MDA to work on the rules so they could be completed before his term ends.  The MDA estimates that the State will gain between $250 million and $500 million in royalties from drilling.  Miss. moves toward offshore oil and gas leasingHattiesburg American and State agency revives offshore drilling effortsSun Herald

NJ – Governor Chris Christie has signed a bill into law that will allow solar panels and wind turbines to be installed on closed landfills and quarries.  Lawmakers in favor of the new law said it would benefit the environment and the economy by creating renewable energy and jobs.  The bill was originally passed in January but was vetoed by Governor Christie due to a technical issue that was later corrected and returned to the Governor for his signature.  Solar power legislation now law in NJNorthJersey.com and Bill to promote solar energy facilities signed into lawNJToday.net

Regional News

Four states will receive a total of $60 million in a settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) after a multi-year lawsuit in which the states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and three environmental groups alleged that the TVA’s coal-fired power plants had spread pollution across the southeast.  The settlement directs the money to be spent on energy efficiency and environmental projects and requires the TVA to shutter 18 coal plants by 2017, close or convert an additional 16 by 2019, and spend $5 billion on emission control equipment for remaining power plants.  The states are currently planning how to spend the funds, which will paid out over the next five years.  States receive energy windfallChattanooga Times Free Press

Federal News

New rules released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will require power plants that generate electricity with coal or oil to greatly reduce emissions of 84 different toxins including mercury, arsenic, nickel, selenium, and cyanide.  The rules, which implement clean air mandates enacted by Congress over two decades ago and comply with a court order for federal action, are estimated by the EPA to prevent 11,000 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of ailments each year.  Within as little as four years, all coal- and oil-fired power plants must meet or exceed the emission rates of the cleanest 12 percent of such plants.  At the current time, about 40 percent of the nation’s plants have no emissions controls in place.   An analysis by the Associated Press concluded that between 32 and 68 coal-fired power plants may close as a result of the new rules.  Utility groups have said that the rules will cost as many as a million jobs over the next decade, though the EPA estimates that it expects only a small change in employment.  EPA rules target mercury pollution, toxics from power plantsUSA Today and EPA forces dirtiest power plants to clean up toxic air pollution but gives leeway on timingWashington Post

A provision in the payroll tax cut extension legislation recently signed into law by President Barack Obama will require the White House to make a decision on whether to allow construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline by February 21, 2012.  The President has said previously that a decision would not be made until 2013.  The provision requires the President to approve the pipeline within 60 days of passage unless he declares it to not be in the country’s “national interest.”  Several executive branch officials have indicated that a Congressionally-imposed 60-day timeline would result in a rejection of the proposal since there is not enough time to complete the review process and the route has not yet been finalized.  If the pipeline is rejected, its developer, TransCanada, would need to submit another application and start from the beginning with more hearings and reviews, a process that has taken three years to date.  Obama signs payroll tax bill that requires speedy decision on Keystone pipelineThe Hill and Politics stamps out oil sands pipeline, yet it seems likely to endureNew York Times

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has announced federal approval of two renewable energy projects on public land in the Southwest that he says “will produce the clean energy equivalent of nearly 18 coal-fired power plants.”  The projects include a solar energy facility southwest of Phoenix, AZ that will power about 90,000 homes and a wind farm east of San Diego, CA that will power up to 65,000 homes.  These two are the latest renewable energy projects approved for construction on public land; there are currently 25 such projects that, when completed, will power 2.2 million homes.  The Obama Administration is also attempting to promote the installation of wind turbines off the east coast, though a lack of investment and expiring tax credits are hampering those efforts.  Obama admin pushes renewable energy on 2 coastsAssociated Press and Obama Administration approves 2 huge renewable energy projectsCleanTechnica

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Energy Update, December 16, 2011

December 16, 2011

In the States

NE – After calling a special session to determine how to approach environmental issues related to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Governor Dave Heineman is now endorsing an accelerated approval process for the project.  Governor Heineman said “I certainly support expediting everything we're doing with the Keystone XL project,” which includes not only federal permitting but a State environmental review that is expected to take up to nine months.  The Obama Administration has said that it will not make a decision on whether to issue the required permits for the project until 2013.  Heineman supports speeding up Keystone XLLincoln Journal Star

NJ – Governor Chris Christie has approved a final master energy plan for New Jersey that would lower the percentage of energy required to come from clean sources by 2020 from 30 percent to 22.4 percent.  The revised plan calls for changing the focus of solar production incentives from residential installations to large-scale collection centers and increasing the amount of solar energy credits utilities will be required to buy.  The plan also calls for building a new nuclear power plant and convening a State panel to discuss the future role of nuclear energy.  The plan includes a longer-term goal to derive 70 percent of the State’s electricity from clean sources, which include nuclear, natural gas, and hydroelectric power.  Natural gas, nuclear get bigger role in energy master planNorthJersey.com and NJ energy master plan finalized: action on solar, but environmentalists still not happyNJ.com

WA – Governor Chris Gregoire is meeting with stakeholders to discuss potential changes to the State’s definition of clean energy.  A mandate passed by voters requires larger utilities to generate three percent of electricity from clean sources starting January 1, 2012, gradually increasing that percentage in coming years up to 15 percent in 2020.  Currently, the mandate does not consider existing hydroelectric energy, which generates two-thirds of the State’s electricity, to count toward meeting the goals. However, legislation is expected to be introduced in the next session that would modify the treatment of this source of energy.  Governor Gregoire has indicated she supports allowing some incremental hydropower and biomass improvements to count towards meeting the State’s clean energy standard, along with other changes to the law, such as delaying some requirements for smaller and slowly growing utilities, and allowing utilities to offset future requirements with excess conservation.  Governor weighs changes to Wash. clean-energy lawSeattle Post-Intelligencer

Federal News

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a draft report following a three-year study on hydraulic fracturing that suggests that the method of retrieving trapped natural gas may have contributed to the contamination of the water supply in central Wyoming.  The study notes that the gas wells are unusually shallow and are thus more likely to affect the water supply, but that synthetic materials used in the hydraulic fracturing process, including benzene and methane, were found in monitoring wells near the gas wells.  The study will now be peer-reviewed and available for public comment.  Wyoming Governor Matt Mead called for more testing to be done and called the study “scientifically questionable” while a local citizens’ group praised the EPA for offering protection to residents of the affected area.  E.P.A. links tainted water in Wyoming to hydraulic fracturing for natural gasNew York Times

Despite the fact that many energy-related bills have been proposed, introduced, or debated in the current Congress, almost no legislation has been enacted this year except for a bill to improve pipeline safety.  Included on the list of inaction is President Barack Obama’s proposal that he unveiled at this year’s State of the Union address: a renewable standard requiring 80 percent of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2035.  Other languishing energy proposals include 15 narrowly focused bills that passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with bipartisan support, efforts to respond to the Gulf oil spill and West Virginia coal mine explosion disasters, a range of House-passed measures to increase domestic energy production, limitations on EPA rulemaking authority, and initiatives to address climate change concerns.  The Obama Administration has moved forward with several regulatory initiatives, including new fuel efficiency standards for personal and industrial vehicles, offshore energy production oversight, and EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.  However, increased partisanship in Congress has made it more difficult to pass legislation than in previous years when lawmakers approved bills encouraging renewable energy production, increasing fuel efficiency, and increasing offshore energy production.  While some lawmakers from both parties are planning on pushing for new energy legislation in 2012, they acknowledge that the chances of passage are slim; Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chair Jeff Bingaman said, “Given the makeup of this Congress, it’s very hard to see how we get serious legislation of that sort through both houses and to the president for his signature.”  Big energy measures to slide past in 2012 - Politico

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Energy Update, December 2, 2011

December 2, 2011

In the States

HI – In a ceremony at the State Capitol, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed an agreement with the president of the Japanese government-sponsored New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) to build a smart grid on part of Maui in order to better integrate renewable energy sources.  Since the existing grid is not built to accommodate power supplies that vary such as solar or wind energy, the smart grid, which NEDO President Hideo Hata said would be “the most advanced smart grid in the world,” is needed to take advantage of large scale renewable energy projects planned in Hawaii.  Governor Abercrombie said the smart grid would help move the State away from imported oil use, strengthen Hawaii’s renewable energy technology capacity, and serve as a model for the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the rest of the world.  “After the test is done, we’ll have in place an alternative energy infrastructure that will be highly valuable to us now and on into the foreseeable future.”  The smart grid will cover homes and businesses in Kihei and electric vehicle charging stations on other parts of Maui.  Abercrombie signs deal to build smart grid on MauiBloomberg BusinessWeek

NE – Governor Dave Heineman has signed into law two bills that passed the unicameral legislature with unanimous support after a special session was called to respond to issues related to the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.  One new law gives greater control over future pipeline sitings to the State’s Public Service Commission, while the other is the result of an agreement with TransCanada, the Keystone XL project’s developer, to reroute the pipeline away from environmentally fragile areas in the State.  Under the second piece of legislation, Governor Heineman will need to approve the final route following the completion of a new environmental study.  Members of the Natural Resource Committee, which crafted the legislation, walked the bill to the office of Governor Heineman immediately after passage, where the Governor signed it upon arrival.  Governor signs two oil pipeline bills into lawLincoln Journal Star

NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced an incentive program that will provide vouchers of up to $20,000 to buyers of electric trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds.  The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will provide up to $10 million for the program, which will fund vouchers for at least 450 vehicles.  Electric vehicle manufacturers, such as Smith Electric Vehicles, which recently announced construction of a new factory in New York City that would build solar electric trucks, praised the program, while it drew skepticism from some environmentalists, including NYU environmental studies professor Juliette Warren, who said the program may increase air pollution through greater use of coal-fired plants to charge the vehicles.  Cuomo announces electric vehicle incentive programWashington Square News

Federal News

A Treasury Department program that provides incentives for companies to invest in renewable energy projects is set to expire at the end of this year.  The “1603” program offers tax-equity financing for renewable energy projects, but also allows investors to more quickly realize cash profits from their investments, which would not be the case without special grant payments.  After construction of a project is complete, investors can receive a cash payment instead of waiting for a tax credit against future tax liabilities.  This arrangement makes renewable energy projects very attractive to investors and has greatly increased demand for this type of financing.  Analysts have said that the program will likely not be extended even though the program is widely supported by Congress due to the price tag: around $3 billion per year.  More than 760 trade groups and energy companies sent a letter to Congress urging a one-year extension of the grant program, which reads in part that such an extension “will create jobs, spur economic growth, and promote private sector development of energy technologies.”  Clean energy funding to drop after Obama grant program endsBloomberg BusinessWeek and Letter to Congress from trade associations and energy companies [pdf]1603 Coalition

President Barack Obama has announced, along with former President Bill Clinton, a program that is designed to improve energy efficiency in both public buildings and commercial properties without additional public investment.  The program, which expands an existing effort, the Better Building Initiative, will use $2 billion borrowed by energy services companies to finance energy-efficiency upgrades for federal buildings, and another $2 billion for improvements for property owned by private sector companies, universities, and state and local governments.  The energy services companies will then be paid back through the energy savings costs achieved through energy retrofits.  By 2020, the program is expected to improve efficiency in 1.6 billion square feet of commercial office space by at least 20 percent.   Obama, Clinton, together again, pitching efficiencyBoston Globe and Obama enlists Clinton, 3M, Alcoa, in $4 billion energy planBloomberg BusinessWeek

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