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Blog posts March 2020

Energy Update: March 27, 2020

In the States

CA: Pacific Gas and Energy (PG&E) reached an agreement with Governor Gavin Newsom over the California wildfires caused by its equipment. The agreement finalizes PG&E’s bankruptcy plan, preventing PG&E’s sale and allowing the company to benefit from a fund that will help utilities pay claims for future wildfires. The deal requires half of PG&E’s new board to include California residents selected by an independent executive recruiter with the Governor’s approval. PG&E also agreed to oversight of its finances by the state and a four-year suspension of its dividend. Per a previous agreement, PG&E will pay out $13.5 billion to wildfire victims, half of which will be paid in PG&E stock. “Through California’s unprecedented intervention in [PG&E’s] bankruptcy, we secured a totally transformed board and leadership structure for the company, real accountability tools to ensure safety and reliability and billions more in contributions from shareholders to ensure safety upgrades are achieved,” said Governor Newsom. PG&E Reaches Agreement with Governor, Clearing Bankruptcy HurdleThe New York Times

 

OR: Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order updating the state’s carbon emissions goals and directing state agencies to take action on reducing greenhouse gases. Under the new executive order, Oregon will aim to reduce carbon emissions 45% compared to 1990 levels by 2035, and 80% compared to 1990 levels by 2050. The order also directs agencies to modify building codes to prioritize efficiency and to focus on assisting populations vulnerable to climate change impacts. Other key provisions of the order include tighter standards on fuel, expanded oversight of electric utilities, stricter energy efficiency standards for household appliances, and a greater focus on developing electric transportation. “This executive order is extensive and thorough, taking the boldest actions available to lower greenhouse gas emissions under current state laws,” Governor Brown said in her press statement. The executive order, however, is not universally supported; both energy industry lobbyists and Republican legislators have indicated they intend to legally challenge the order. Governor Brown’s office said they are confident the order is “bulletproof”. Gov. Kate Brown Orders State Action On Climate ChangeOregon Public Broadcasting

 

 IN: Governor Eric Holcomb signed a bill that would help coal-fired electricity plants temporarily remain open and ease the transition of coal workers displaced by the changing energy market. House Bill 1414 requires electric utilities to provide six months of advance notice if they propose a plant closure, sale, or transfer not included in their long-term plan on file with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC). After notice is provided, the IURC must review the closure and hold a hearing on “the reasonableness of the planned retirement, sale, or transfer” of the plant. Hearings will assess the impact of the action. HB 1414 also prioritizes job retraining through the state’s Department of Workforce Development for coal-industry workers affected by lay-offs. Ind. Governor signs bill pausing coal plant retirementsS&P Global Market Intelligence

 

WI: Governor Tony Evers named a new member to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. Tyler Huebner, an electrical engineer and former employee of the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services, will replace Mike Huebsch, an appointee under former Governor Scott Walker. The appointment will give Governor Evers a majority of seats on the three-person commission responsible for approving large utility investments and setting energy rates. Utilities and consumer advocates cheered Governor Evers’s pick. Bill Skewes, executive director of the Wisconsin Utilities Association, praised Huebner’s consensus-making abilities. Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said he believed Huebner will “push to keep the focus squarely on making sure that customers aren’t overpaying for their utility services”. Clean energy and climate advocates were also pleased; Clean Wisconsin president and CEO Mark Redsten said “[Huebner] undoubtedly brings a unique perspective that will keep economic and environmental impacts of commission decisions in mind”. Tony Evers appoints clean energy advocate Tyler Huebner to Public Service CommissionWisconsin State Journal

 

The novel coronavirus is delaying multiple state legislatures from acting on energy initiatives. At least 22 state legislatures have suspended or postponed their sessions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stalling pending energy legislation in Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and Minnesota. In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis’s goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2040 relies on timely passage of several related bills covering issues like transportation, building, and renewable natural gas, which are now in danger of being indefinitely postponed. In Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker, climate change activists and utility advocates are eager to advance the Clean Energy Jobs Act, a broad energy bill that would facilitate development of nuclear and renewable energy. In Maryland, bills concerning energy savings for low-income customers and climate change are stuck. Michigan faces a delay for two of its bills pertaining to solar energy and climate change. Finally, in Minnesota, a suspension of all committee hearings has halted crucial debates on “carbon-free” energy development. As many Governors have pledged to make responses to COVID-19 their first priority, other developments in energy will likely continue to be postponed. How COVID-19 is impacting 5 state energy legislation effortsUtility Drive

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Energy Update: March 6, 2020

In the States

CO: Governor Jared Polis named his Director of Policy and Research, Wade Buchanan, to head the Office of Just Transition, a new office created to help workers and communities adapt as coal plants and mines close. Buchanan’s appointment comes as the latest step in Governor Polis’s plan to meet 100% of Colorado’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2040. In accordance with legislation passed in 2019, the Office of Just Transition will write a plan that lays out assistance to coal industry employees and grants for coal-dependent communities to diversify their economies. The office is expected to issue a draft plan by July, with the final plan due by the end of the year. “As we work toward achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, we need to make sure that Coloradans in coal-dependent communities have the tools they need to thrive in today and tomorrow’s economy,” Governor Polis said. Governor’s policy director to head office helping workers, communities transition away from coalThe Denver Post

 

NM: Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed three bills focused on accelerating the development of renewable energy in New Mexico. One bill brings back an income tax credit of up to $6,000 for the installation of solar panels or thermal solar water heaters. Another bill commissions a grid modernization project and establishes a grant for non-utility projects that help improve grid resiliency and expedite the state’s transition to clean electricity. The third bill eliminates some taxes on utility-scale electrical transition projects, which effectively provides an incentive for new wind and solar developments and makes it easier for New Mexico to export renewable energy. “Thanks to the leadership of these bill sponsors and the support of the Legislature, we have additional tools to meet [climate change] head-on. By making solar power more accessible to New Mexicans, addressing our electric grid, and establishing tools to help expand the transmission infrastructure, we are ensuring that New Mexico is on the right track – and creating more jobs, reducing emissions, and saving New Mexicans money on their electric bills,” Governor Lujan Grisham said in a press release. New Mexico Governor Signs Solar Energy, Grid Update BillsUS News and Gov. Lujan Grisham signs bills expanding renewable energy, updating green infrastructure in New MexicoOffice of the Governor

 

NY: Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing opposition from local government advocates over his administration’s plan to speed up the siting process for renewable energy power plants. Under the Governor’s plan, which was included in his budget proposal, a new Office of Renewable Energy would handle applications for industrial wind and solar projects. This office would streamline the approvals process and expedite consideration of applications and the issuance of approvals. Opponents of his proposal argue that the new office will force projects on communities over local objections. They also contend the Governor’s plan would effectively change the character of many upstate towns that would be disrupted by industrial-scale energy generation projects. In response, Governor Cuomo said the new office will help New York address climate change more effectively and will attract new investments and jobs to the Empire State. “Climate change is the existential challenge of our time,” said Governor Cuomo, “And New York State has risen to the occasion by enacting the strongest laws in the nation to protect and preserve our environment.” Cuomo power site plan sparks controversyAdirondack Daily Enterprise

 

UT: Governor Gary Herbert continued his promotion of Tier 3 fuels and is considering a tax break for a Utah refiner that is in the process of transitioning to the less-polluting gas. Tier 3 fuels are highly-refined vehicle fuels that contain less pollutants and reduce vehicle emissions by up to 20%. Governor Herbert has promoted Tier 3 fuels since in-state refiners began producing them, appearing at gas stations offering the fuels and urging drivers to make the switch. In his latest move to promote Tier 3 fuels, Governor Herbert is considering proposals from the legislature to extend a 2017 sales tax exemption for BigWest, a Utah energy producer needing additional time and resources to transition some of their plants to make Tier 3 fuels. One proposal would extend tax cuts should BigWest demonstrate “satisfactory progress” to developing Tier 3 fuels available by 2025, while another proposal focused on accountability would extend the tax breaks provided BigWest meets a reporting requirement. Proposal would give tax break to Utah refiners slow to make cleaner fuelThe Salt Lake Tribune

 

National

Federal lawmakers are trying to reach a compromise on a proposed amendment that risks stalling the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA), a bipartisan energy package. If passed, the AEIA will modernize American energy laws with over 50 energy-related measures designed to increase investment in American energy markets, strengthen national security by protecting strategic energy assets, and spur research and investment in clean energy to protect the climate. While the legislation has strong support, an amendment that would require states to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons threatens its progress.  A bipartisan group of Senators are seeking to make minor changes to the amendment so the bill can come to a vote. However, some Senators are considering offering other amendments which could further slow AEIA’s progress. Lawmakers weigh walking back amendment stalling energy bill votesThe Hill

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