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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, July 15, 2011

July 15, 2011

In the States

HI – Governor Neil Abercrombie has signed a bill into law that will require the State’s Public Utility Commission to study and, if practicable, implement a program that would allow homeowners to finance the upfront costs of home-based renewable energy and efficiency projects through savings realized in utility bills.  This “on-bill financing” option would allow many homeowners to bypass the often unaffordable initial cost to take advantage of renewable energy and allow them to own the equipment outright once the costs are paid down through savings credits on their utility bills.  Electric customers could get a financing break with new lawHawaii News Now

NH – Governor John Lynch has vetoed a bill that would have withdrawn New Hampshire from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade consortium comprised of ten States in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.  The Governor explained his veto by saying the legislation would “cost our citizens jobs, both now and into the future, hinder our economic recovery and damage our state's long-term economic competitiveness.”  While the House passed the bill with a veto-proof majority of over two-thirds, the Senate did not.  The Governor also said that a withdrawal from RGGI would cost ratepayers $6 million in additional costs and the State would forego $12 million per year in sales of emissions permits.  Supporters of the bill have said that RGGI has increased energy costs.  House Speaker William O’Brian released a statement calling RGGI a “failed policy” that has raised New Hampshire’s electricity rates 149 percent above the national average.  Citing jobs and economic growth, NH Gov. vetoes bill to exit RGGIReuters

NJ – Governor Chris Christie has proposed revisions to the State’s master energy plan, last revised by former Governor John Corzine in 2008, that are intended to lower electricity rates for residents and businesses by eliminating some of the incentives and subsidies currently offered to promote clean energy.  The Governor says that New Jersey has some of the highest energy costs in the country and that he wants to make rates more comparable to other states in order to promote economic growth and reduce financial burdens on rate-payers.  The revisions would also lower the State’s renewable energy use goal from 30% to 22.5% by 2021.  However, Governor Christie is also proposing the development of large solar generation projects on brownfield sites and landfills, as well as the codification of statutory provisions intended to promote the development of offshore wind energy.  Opponents say the changes may jeopardize green investments and green job growth.  While Matt Elliot, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey, acknowledges that renewables currently have higher costs, he also argues that fossil fuels benefited from subsidies and that prices for solar energy and other renewables are becoming more competitive every year.  Advocates say changes threaten New Jersey’s green energyAsbury Park Press

Regional News

At meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a group of New England Governors and Canadian premiers have discussed a new transmission line from Canada that would bring clean hydroelectric power to major population centers in New England States.  Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin discussed the plan with reporters in a teleconference call, saying it is too soon to know whether the transmission line will be routed through Vermont, but that any State willing to host it could expect to receive preferential rates.  Governor Shumlin also discussed proposals from two Canadian companies to purchase the State’s largest utility.  Group looks to bring more Canadian power to New EnglandVermont Public Radio

National News

U.S. Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner of Virginia have introduced legislation that would allow for offshore oil and natural gas drilling in federal waters off the Virginia coast.  The bill requires half of leasing revenues to go to the State to be used for renewable energy development, conservation, and infrastructure.  Senator Warner cited the large amount of money sent to unfriendly oil-rich nations and Senator Webb said the drilling would bring more domestic energy and an improved economy.  Governor Bob McDonnell said the proposed legislation is a “common-sense proposal” that would bring “much needed jobs and revenue.”  The Director of Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter sad the plan will not reduce costs or dependence on foreign oil and that the efforts would be better spent on renewable energy.  Webb, Warner introduce bill to allow offshore drillingRichmond Times Dispatch

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a final rule that requires power plants in 27 states to reduce emissions that contribute to pollution in neighboring states.  The EPA estimates the rule will save hundreds of billions in health care costs due to a reduction in chronic health problems caused by the pollution, and prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths in 2014 but will cost around $800 million per year.  The rule, which goes into effect January 1, 2012, has received mixed reactions from States.  Governor Rick Perry of Texas called the rule “another example of heavy-handed and misguided action from Washington, D.C.” that would have negative consequences for residents in his State.  However, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz, the State’s top environmental official, believes the rule will greatly help Vermont since it has had difficulty attaining federal air quality standards because of emissions produced in other nearby states.  "By reducing ozone and fine particle pollution, EPA's new rule will protect the health of Vermonters, saving lives and preventing illnesses," Markowitz said.  New EPA rule aims to reduce pollution across State bordersPittsburgh Post-Gazette and Texas Governor bashes new federal environmental regulationsNew Orleans Examiner and Vermont environment chief hails new EPA ruleBoston Globe

 

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Energy Update, May 20, 2011

May 20, 2011

In the States

IN – Governor Mitch Daniels has signed into law a statewide renewable energy portfolio that sets a voluntary goal of 10% of the electricity used in the State to come from renewable sources by 2025 with half of that energy to come from utilities located in Indiana.  The new law also provides incentives for utilities to participate in the program and for investment in wind, solar, nuclear, clean coal, and hydroelectric power.  Wind energy industry leaders applauded the law and the Governor and legislators who created the bipartisan measure.  Wind industry praises Indiana’s clean energy lawBrighter Energy

MA – Governor Deval Patrick spoke at the dedication of the State’s first wind farm, a ten-turbine system that will produce 15 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 6,000 homes.  The Governor’s Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan said that the project involved 20 companies and employed 50 people.  The wind farm almost doubles the amount of wind energy produced in the State, which Secretary Sullivan said was a step toward achieving the State’s goal of 25 percent fewer carbon emissions by 2025.  After hailing the benefits of the wind farm to Massachusetts residents, Governor Patrick said “There is an opportunity here for us to grow a whole new industry, and make the world our customer, and the jobs that come from it."  Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick dedicates Berkshires wind farmWAMC

National News

President Barack Obama has announced several changes in his administration that are aimed at increasing oil and gas drilling in the U.S., a policy shift his administration says demonstrates the President’s commitment to increasing domestic oil production in order to reduce imports and to signal flexibility to political opponents who seek increased oil and gas drilling.  Included in the reforms are an annual lease auction for parcels in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, an environmental review on the possibility of drilling off the southern and central Atlantic coast, and an extension in the offshore leases that have been off-limits to drilling under the moratorium in place since the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will still not be allowed under the new policies.  The changes were received favorably by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and did not receive much opposition from environmental groups or praise from Republicans.  Obama shifts to speed oil and gas drilling in the U.S.New York Times

 

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Energy Update, January 31, 2011

January 31, 2011

In the States

MN – Several bills have been drafted that would repeal, to differing degrees, a 2007 bipartisan law that bans new coal-fired power plants and the importing of coal-powered electricity until carbon offsets or a plan to lower emissions are in place.  Sponsors are saying that the law places unnecessary burdens on industry, slowing economic recovery once the recession is over.  Governor Mark Dayton has not said yet indicated whether he will veto any particular repeal bill, but he did campaign in part on maintaining a moratorium on new nuclear power plants that is a part of the same law.  Minn. Republicans hope to undo clean energy policiesMinnesota Public Radio

NM – A State Supreme Court ruling has reversed an order by Governor Susana Martinez that blocked publication of regulations aimed at reducing emissions from utilities and dairies within the State.  One of the regulations requires a three percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions every year.  The Court ruled that the regulations must be published in the State’s register, but opponents of the regulations plan to work with the Governor and the State legislature to change the rules.  Court reverses New Mexico Governor on environmental rulesNew York Times

State of the State Addresses

While approximately half of the Governors have given their State of the State or State of the Commonwealth addresses, the realities imposed by the financial downturn caused most Governors to focus their speeches on addressing fiscal difficulties and job creation rather than energy issues.  Still, some Governors incorporated energy plans tied to job creation and retention.

Several Governors cited recent energy business investments that would help lead their States to better fiscal times, including South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, and Delaware Governor Jack Markell, all of whom who noted recent increased renewable energy investments or improvements.  Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said that Nordic Windpower USA’s new plant will create 200 jobs, and proposed to create more through the construction of a new nuclear power plant.  Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour noted several investments in his State, including coal, oil, nuclear, LNG, solar, ethanol, coal-to-liquids, and carbon capture projects. 

A few Governors called for increased domestic renewable energy production.  For example, Hawaii Governor Neal Abercrombie expressed support for accelerating renewable energy projects in his State, and improving Hawaii’s energy security.  Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval called for more renewables on federal lands, saying, “I support all efforts to make Nevada the renewable energy capital of the country.” 

Some Governors discussed a mix of fossil fuels and renewable energy resources available to their states.  Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said he hoped to make Virginia the “Energy Capital of the East Coast” by investing, in part, in solar, wind, waste-to-energy, and biomass, and promoting offshore wind by leasing offshore parcels for wind energy production and serving as headquarters for the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium.  But he also called for increasing oil, coal, gas, and nuclear energy production.  While Alaska Governor Sean Parnell said that investments in hydroelectric power and renewable energy grants in his State would create jobs and help the State meet his goal of 50% renewable power by 2025, he also wants to lower taxes on oil production in order to create more jobs.  Wyoming Governor Matt Mead discussed “value-added” projects such as combing wind power with gas-fired turbines, as well the manufacturing of wind turbine components.  In addition, he supports continued use of coal while making it a cleaner fuel through carbon capture and sequestration, and also advocates greater use of carbon injection technologies for enhanced oil extraction, as well as coal gasification.  

In discussing his State’s abundant fossil fuel resources, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said he will aggressively pursue the State’s lawsuit against the U.S. EPA over mountaintop removal regulations, and that he supports development of the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia and carbon capture and sequestration.  

Links to all of the Governors’ addresses can be found at the State of the State Speeches Calendar on Stateline.org

National News

President Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union speech to Congress last week, during which he issued a challenge of producing 80% of electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.  President Obama said that all forms of energy production are needed to meet this goal, and mentioned nuclear power, clean coal, and natural gas in addition to wind and solar.  U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, who gave the Republican response to the State of the Union, emphasized the need for less government spending and a more limited government rather than new investments.  Several high-ranking Democrats expressed support for the idea of a broader clean energy mandate while most Republicans remained skeptical about incentivizing one energy type over another or imposing mandates on the private sector.  Senators laud “clean energy” pushPolitico and State of the Union (Transcript)White House and State of the Union Response (Transcript)House Budget Committee

According to a new report commissioned by the federal government as required in the 2009 Defense Authorization Act, the United States military would not receive any significant benefit from greater use of alternative fuels.  The study, performed by the RAND Corporation, said that focusing on energy efficiency would have a greater impact on lowering greenhouse gases.  The report received criticism from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for the Navy Thomas W. Hicks, who said he was not consulted by RAND, and that the report ignores energy security issues, and from environmental groups, biofuels proponents, the Algal Biomass Organization, and others.  RAND says that while the military is a major consumer of liquid fuels, it still only uses two percent of the country’s daily intake, and since some biofuels are still in their infancy, the money spent on alternative fuels in the military would have a small effect on greenhouse gas emissions.  Alternative fuels don’t benefit the military, a RAND report saysNew York Times

 

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