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Energy Update, June 1, 2012

June 1, 2012

In the States

MD – Governor Martin O’Malley has signed three bills into law that are designed to increase the usage of solar energy and geothermal heating and cooling.  The new geothermal law makes Maryland the only state to count geothermal heat pumps toward its renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS), which requires utilities to obtain 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2022.  Governor O’Malley also enacted laws that will increase tax breaks for solar and geothermal projects and move up the deadline on the solar energy RPS, which will now require two percent of the state’s energy to come from solar by 2020 rather than the original 2022.  Maryland Gov. signs geothermal heat pump billContracting Business and O’Malley signs hundreds of bills that will tint Maryland a deeper shade of blueWashington Post and Maryland Legislation To Accelerate Solar Carve-Out Signed Into LawSolar Industry

NC – Governor Bev Perdue has issued an executive order mandating the creation of a workgroup to make recommendations on regulations concerning hydraulic fracturing.  Governor Perdue said that the workgroup should define regulations that allow for energy development while protecting water resources and citizens’ health.  "If done safely, fracking can be part of a larger energy solution to create jobs and help lower energy costs," the Governor said.  State House and Senate Republicans favor a bill that would create a board comprised of House, Senate, and Gubernatorial appointees to develop regulations and lift the moratorium on drilling, but expressed optimism that the Governor is taking action on drilling regulation.  Gov. Bev Perdue issues order to develop fracking rules for North CarolinaFayetteville Observer

OH – Governor John Kasich has said that he will sign a bill into law that will require new regulations on construction of new oil and gas wells, greater disclosure of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, and water testing within 1,500 feet of hydraulic fracturing water wells.  The energy bill, which passed with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, also requires that the amount of time between drilling and capping of wells be tracked, that well owners purchase insurance, and that waste water imported from other states be disclosed.  Ohio legislature OKs bill on energy fracking rulesChicago Tribune

National News

Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Christopher Coons (D-DE) have founded a working group with other Senators designed to examine the renewable fuels standard in an effort to determine which of its provisions are working and which are not.  The group will dedicate 20 – 30 staff members to a “seed-to-wheel examination” of the standard, which will take into account its affect on markets, the environment, food prices, feedstock, and consumers.  The group’s intent is to bring biofuels and the renewable fuels standard up for discussion in the next Congress, following this year’s elections.  US Senate group starts up “seed to wheel” review of US Renewable Fuel StandardBiofuels Digest

The U.S. Commerce Department has issued a preliminary ruling that will impose a 13.7 to 26 percent duty on wind turbine towers manufactured in China on the grounds that the companies building the towers have received unfair government subsidies.  The ruling comes not long after the Department issued a similar ruling on Chinese solar panels based on unfair subsidies.  After that ruling, the Department also ruled that Chinese companies manufacturing solar panels were “dumping” in the American market and subjected them to additional tariffs.  Wind turbine towers may also face additional duties due to dumping charges in the coming weeks.  Reactions to the rulings among businesses have been mixed.  Steelworkers are in favor of the rulings, as are U.S. solar panel and wind tower manufacturers; solar panel installers say that the higher prices will slow their business.  A lawyer for the coalition of U.S.-based wind turbine tower manufacturers that brought the complaint to the Department said that the decision is a “positive step” and is “where we expected it to be,” while a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that “resorting to protectionism will not solve these frictions.” U.S. imposes duties on Chinese wind tower makersNew York Times and U.S. sets duties as high as 26% on wind towers from ChinaBloomberg BusinessWeek

 

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Energy Update, April 22, 2011

April 22, 2011

In the States

CA – Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the country’s strongest renewable energy standard that will require electric utilities in the State to generate 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources in less than nine years.  Although the new law limits the amount of rate hikes due to the new requirements, opponents of the measure cite studies showing that rates may increase by 7-19 percent.  The Governor cited reliance on foreign oil, economic instability, and climate issues in expressing his support for the law while other supporters said it would keep investment strong in the renewable energy industry.  Calif. sets nation’s most aggressive goal for renewable energy as critics say rates will soarWashington Post

OK – Governor Mary Fallin has signed a new law that will expand the allowed length of horizontal drilling into shale reservoirs, easing investment costs for companies to drill for oil and natural gas.  Proponents said that the new law allows for increased production while protecting mineral owners’ rights, and modernizes regulations to account for technological advances that have made it possible to extend drilling longer than was previously possible.  Drilling bill modernizes state oil and gas statutesEnid News & Eagle and Oklahoma’s Gov. Mary Fallin signs energy reform billThe Oklahoman

OR –  Speaking at a conference on the future of energy, Governor John Kitzhaber announced he is developing a 10-year plan for Oregon that will emphasize renewable energy as a way to rebuild the State’s post-recession economy.  During his remarks, one example he cited was the possibility of retrofitting homes with energy-saving materials as a way to replace economic activity previously generated by the housing construction industry.  He also said that he and Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington State had recently discussed forming a three-state coalition with California focused on creating green energy jobs and reducing carbon emissions.  Kitzhaber says it's time for a 10-year plan on clean energy in Oregon – The Oregonian

National News

The U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture have announced $30 million in spending on projects that will support research and development in advanced biofuels, much of which will be in rural areas in the Midwest.  These funds come from the Biomass Research and Development Initiative and could help rural communities become less reliant on fossil fuels.  They will now be able to produce much of the fuel they use for heating and electricity locally, lessening dependence on foreign oil.  The home-grown fuel can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since burning biomass creates no more pollution that the decomposition process that occurs naturally.  U.S. expands seeding of biomassNew York Times

The U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) has signed a memorandum of understanding with Duke Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit utility consortium, to test its first electricity-related invention.  The new product is an energy storage device that may allow electric power generated by wind turbines to be stored and then used when needed.  It may also have applicability to solar power.  Electric power would be used to pump air into an underground cavern.  When more energy is needed, this compressed air would flow through a generator, at 70-75% efficiency.  ARPA-E provided $750,000 to General Compression, the company that makes the device, which then attracted $12 million in private investments.  ARPA-E is poised to put products on the gridNew York Times

The U.S. Supreme Court appears likely to dismiss a case in which six States are suing five energy companies to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.  While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun regulating emissions from new and modified industrial sources, the States are seeking to apply Federal and State laws to regulate existing plants.  Justices listening to oral arguments in the case expressed skepticism about the States’ claim that the costs and benefits of emissions standards can be evaluated by courts rather than determined through the regulatory process administered by federal agencies.  U.S. Supreme Court signals rejection of State climate-emissions lawsuitsBloomberg

Three U.S. States – New York, Minnesota, and California – have joined with 11 utility companies and two environmental groups as a coalition to ask the U.S. EPA to allow States to choose the best approach for meeting federal greenhouse gas emissions standards.  Specifically, the coalition seeks permission to regulate greenhouse gases through existing regional or statewide cap-and-trade programs or renewable energy standards as an alternative to plant-specific limitations.  Some power companies that use more fossil fuels than those taking part in the coalition did not join and are continuing to raise general objections to new restrictions on plant emissions.  States, utilities ask EPA to boost regional cap-and-trade programs

 

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Energy Update, April 8, 2011

April 8, 2011

In the States

SD –  Governor Dennis Daugaard has signed a bill into law that he proposed earlier this year that will divert a portion of funds that previously would have gone to ethanol production plants toward grants to fuel stations for installation of blender pumps that will allow motorists to purchase fuel containing higher levels of ethanol.  Governor Daugaard referenced the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision that allows cars made in the past decade to use fuel containing 15% ethanol, higher than the previous 10% limit.  The blender pumps will allow consumers to choose the amount of ethanol in the fuel they purchase.  SD Governor signs bill to boost ethanol industryRapid City Journal

State Fiscal News

Energy production appears to be a driver of economic recovery in some States.  In Wyoming, thousands of new mining jobs have opened up, increasing by 8.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 over the same period in 2009.  Higher demand in developing countries, particularly in Asia, is leading companies to hire more workers to extract coal, soda ash, and uranium.  Rising oil prices and demand for natural gas may soon contribute to job growth in those industries as well.  These industries have increased sales tax revenues for Wyoming by 10% in 2010.  In Montana, unemployment numbers are higher on the west side of the State, where workers rely more on wood-product manufacturing jobs dependent on the housing market.  On the east side of the State, energy jobs in the coal, oil, and wind industries have kept unemployment rates much lower.  Energy powers robust Wyoming economyStar-Tribune and Montana growth slows but withstands recessionUSA Today

National News

In a series of recent appearances, President Barack Obama has called for a one-third reduction in oil imports within 14 years.  The President addressed shortcomings in previous methods in reducing oil imports, stressing that “there are no quick fixes” and that efforts must continue once drivers see relief at the gas pump.  Proposals for reducing oil imports include greater use of natural gas in fleet vehicles and buses, increased production and use of biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol (for which the President said four refineries will be built in the next two years), higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks, and increasing domestic oil production both on- and offshore.  President Obama also said that “we simply cannot take [nuclear power] off the table, regardless of concerns over the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan.  Part of the President’s message on energy independence includes an economic aspect: that transitioning to a less oil-intensive economy could create jobs.  The President cited new lower unemployment numbers adding “we need to keep the momentum going” by “making a transition to a clean energy economy.”  President Obama calls for one-third cut to oil importsWashington Post and Reviving elusive goal, Obama calls for one-third reduction in U.S. oil importsWashington Post and Obama promotes his energy agenda by showcasing energy-efficient vehiclesWashington Post

U.S. EPA regulations on greenhouse gases and mountaintop removal have become major points of contention in Congress, and attempts to limit the agency have thus far been unsuccessful.  Nineteen House Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for a bill that would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and, beginning in 2017, from granting waivers to States for stricter emissions standards for automobiles.  A similar bill was defeated in the Senate.  Although four Democrats joined 46 Republicans in supporting a ban on the EPA regulations, the bill needed 60 votes to pass.  The fate of appropriations riders that would have restricted EPA greenhouse gas and mountaintop removal regulations in the fiscal year omnibus 2011 funding bill appeared settled as of the afternoon of April 8, when Republicans agreed to drop the measures.  If Congress does pass a bill limiting EPA’s oversight of greenhouse gases, the Obama Administration has signaled that the President would veto such a measure.  Senate rejects bill that would limit EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasesWashington Post and House votes to stop EPA from regulating greenhouse gasesWall Street Journal and EPA riders axed, lawmakers sayPolitico

 

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Energy Update, July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010

In the States

FL – A $14 million program that provides rebates to homeowners and businesses for installing solar panels and equipment has proven so popular that it has run out of money ahead of schedule.  Those who purchased a solar system are still eligible for a 30% federal tax credit.  Although the State Energy Department made it clear that the program would need more funds to satisfy demand, the legislature, under budgetary constraints during a prolonged economic downturn, did not appropriate the needed funding.  Residents who went solar won’t get their rebatesFort Myers News-Press

MI – Three wind farms that will soon be built in Michigan are expected to boost the State’s wind energy capacity by over 60%, generating enough electricity for 84,000 households.  Governor Jennifer Granholm praised the projects, saying that “we intend to lead the nation in making our nation energy independent” in a speech at the Michigan Energy Fair.  Senator Debbie Stabenow, who also spoke at the event, talked about the importance of manufacturing clean energy products domestically.  The new wind farms, along with a new power plant that will use gases from a landfill to create electricity, will allow a utility company, Consumers Energy, to increase the percentage of power it obtains from renewable sources from 4% to 6.2%.  Three wind farms to open in MichiganDetroit Free Press

RI – A new law signed by Governor Donald Carcieri will require the State’s Public Utilities Commission to revisit a proposed contract between Deepwater Wind, a company that is planning an offshore wind farm, and National Grid, the utility company that would deliver the electricity generated by the proposed wind farm.  A contract between the companies was unanimously rejected by the Commission earlier this year for being “commercially unreasonable” in that the wind power would cost rate-payers an additional $400 million.  Governor Carcieri said the project “holds the key to Rhode Island’s economic future” and that it will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs.  While he and a majority of legislators support moving forward with the project, some State officials say the project is not worth the costs and the process is unfair to rate-payers. Carcieri signs wind farm legislationBlock Island Times

Regional News

Governors from several Western States focused on the need to streamline the process by which new interstate transmission lines will be built during the Western Governors Association Annual Meeting.  While the Governors are in favor of increasing electricity produced from renewable sources that are abundant in their States, the infrastructure to transmit that energy from the source of production to distant population centers needs to be designed and built.  The Governors acknowledged that objections raised by private landowners and environmental groups, as well as requirements for permits, often affect the siting and construction of new transmission lines, but also see new transmission lines as a critical to the development of alternative energy.  Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer stated his belief that, “we don’t develop any of the alternative sources until you get transmission,” echoing Washington Governor Christine Gregoire’s concern that, “if we can’t get it anywhere, what good does it do?”  Governors see need for transmission lines Billings Gazette

National News

President Barack Obama invited 23 Senators to the White House recently in an attempt to bridge divergent opinions on the best way to move forward on comprehensive energy legislation.  Accounts from the meeting suggest that little progress was made in reaching a consensus.  During the meeting, the President and many Democratic Senators insisted on some kind of cap on carbon emissions while Republican Senators pledged opposition to any such plan.  Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, co-authors and enthusiastic supporters of climate change legislation, left the meeting saying that they were willing to compromise on some parts of the bill, and that some unnamed Republicans expressed interest in a scaled-back version of their bill that would regulate only power plants rather than entire sectors of the economy.  Republican Senators, upon leaving the meeting, reiterated their opposition to a carbon cap and called for more domestic oil production.  One idea not promoted by Senators from either party was increased offshore oil drilling.  White House energy session changes no mindsNew York Times and Democrats, Obama willing to scale back energy and climate change billPolitico

The US Department of Energy has announced $24 million in funding for three companies to perform research on how to make algae-based biofuels commercially viable.  These awards are part of the $800 million in biofuels funding made available through economic stimulus legislation passed last year.  The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set a goal of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be produced by 2022, including 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, such as algae-based fuels.  A roadmap released by the US Department of Agriculture reveals that achieving that goal will require this type of research as well as large investments in infrastructure and other technology, but could create many jobs, mainly in the Southeast and Central-Eastern regions.  Obama funds research into algae-based biofuelsUSA Today and New USDA report provides roadmap for US biofuels energy goalsEERE News

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