CLEAN ENERGY

Greenwire: ELPC’s Howard Learner Says Pruitt Wrong for U.S. EPA

GreenwireTRANSITION: Pruitt Has Mixed Court Record in EPA Showdowns
December 8, 2016
By Jeremy P. Jacobs and Amanda Reilly

As Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead U.S. EPA, built a record of filing politically charged lawsuits against the agency.

Almost all of those lawsuits failed.

Since Pruitt became attorney general in 2011, the Republican has used the office to launch an offensive against EPA as well as other major Obama administration policies, including the Affordable Care Act.

But a review of those lawsuits by E&E News shows Pruitt lost the majority of those cases, some of which were quickly tossed by federal judges.

Pruitt’s most significant win was the Supreme Court’s decision to put President Obama’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions program on hold. But legal experts say his primary argument — that EPA was overstepping constitutional limits and trampling states’ rights — is unlikely to prevail.

Yet Pruitt has drawn a significant following on the right for his tenacity in challenging the Obama administration. And Pruitt’s legal strategy appears in line with Trump’s strong statements on the campaign trail about rolling back Obama administration regulations that he views as threatening the economy.

The president-elect commented along similar lines in announcing Pruitt’s nomination today.

“For too long, [EPA] has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn,” Trump said in a statement. “As my EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, the highly respected Attorney General from the state of Oklahoma, will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”

Pruitt’s critics, however, say the Republican is more interested in scoring political points than advancing sound legal theories.

“He clearly files politically motivated lawsuits aimed at protecting polluters,” said Bill Snape, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “And he’s done some odd things legally.”

Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center was more direct in assessing Pruitt’s record.

“Look, as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mr. Pruitt consistently challenged EPA clean air and clean water standards,” Learner said. “And mostly, he did not achieve success.”

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Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: ELPC’s Andy Olsen Questions Use Of Efficiency Funds On Broadband

 

Milwaukee Journal SentinalEnergy Dollars Would Fund Broadband Vouchers
December 3, 2016
By Thomas Content

 Nearly 100,000 rural Wisconsin residents will be receiving $50 vouchers from the state if they sign up for new high-speed internet service or upgrades, under a proposal that would be funded by the state’s electricity customers using money that’s supposed to be spent promoting energy savings.

The $50 incentives, approved this past week by the state Public Service Commission, would cost $5 million and are part of more than $60 million in utility customer funds that Gov. Scott Walker’s administration wants to reallocate to expand broadband in rural areas of the state.

The broadband vouchers have come under criticism from energy-efficiency advocates as well as from the company that runs Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program, which helps utility customers save energy through discounts on LED light bulbs and energy-efficient appliances as well as other initiatives.

More than half of the money to be reallocated, $35 million, would come from reserves in the Universal Service Fund, through a bill Walker has asked the Legislature to pass in 2017 in order to expand state broadband grants. The remainder taps electric and natural gas ratepayers’ funding from the Focus on Energy program’s reserves.

The PSC on Thursday approved spending $16 million to send energy-efficiency kits to nearly 100,000 broadband customers. Of that, nearly $5 million from Focus on Energy funds would be used to fund the $50 broadband subsidies.

Focus on Energy is funded through a surcharge collected from Wisconsin electricity customers. On average, 1.1 million We Energies customers each pay $15 a year to fund the program.

PSC commissioners say the broadband voucher initiative is important to help deliver more programs in rural parts of the state where customers have paid into the program but haven’t received many services from Focus on Energy.

Elise Nelson, commission spokeswoman, said the vouchers are part of the broader kit that will be sent to rural homes, including a variety of energy-saving home devices from smart power strips to LED light bulbs to rebates for smart thermostats.

“The vouchers go hand in hand” with the energy-saving devices to be provided in the kits, she said. “We’ve got to keep up with technology, and this is the new forefront of energy efficiency in the home.”

Critics aren’t buying it.

“The Public Service Commission continues to try to fit a square peg in a round hole by using Focus on Energy to subsidize rural internet service companies,” said Andy Olsen, who works in the Madison office of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “Using Focus to fund internet subscriptions only helps people who already have broadband access. It doesn’t increase access to those who could most benefit.”

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Energy Wire: Howard Lauds Renewable Energy Victories In Illinois Legislation

EnergyWire

Exelon Nuclear Plants Get Bailout in Sweeping Energy Bill
December 2, 2016
By Jeffrey Tomich

Years of sagging energy prices and eroding electricity demand pushed two Illinois nuclear plants to the brink of closure. A procedural assist in the final hours of the legislative calendar spared the plants from a knockout blow.

In the end, lawmakers approved the most significant rewrite of state energy policy in two decades. Among other things, it authorizes up to $2.4 billion in subsidies over the next decade to keep Exelon Corp.’s Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants running.

The bill, which will also trigger billions of dollars for wind, solar and energy efficiency, was helped by a last-minute maneuver removing the effective date. The seemingly innocuous change lowered the threshold for passage in the House, where it ultimately passed by just three votes.

The “Future Energy Jobs Bill” now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who issued a statement late yesterday evening indicating he’ll sign it.

“This legislation will save thousands of jobs. It protects ratepayers, through guaranteed caps, from large rate increases in years to come. It also ensures taxpayers are not on the hook to keep the power plants open and online,” Rauner said in a statement.

The stakes in the battle over S.B. 2814 were high, especially for Chicago-based Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear operator, which has been pushing for state aid for money-losing nuclear plants for the past two years (EnergyWire, June 3). The company threatened to take “irreversible” steps to shut down the plants if the Legislature didn’t pass the bill yesterday.

It’s also a win for clean energy advocates. The measure strengthens the state’s energy efficiency standard and includes a fix for Illinois’ long-broken renewable standard. Specifically, it requires development of enough new wind and solar energy to power 1 million homes by 2030.

Exelon went head-to-head with a coalition of wind and solar groups for much of the past two years over the future of Illinois’ energy mix (EnergyWire, Feb. 27, 2015). The state’s largest energy company and green groups finally reached a compromise last week.

“This forward-looking energy policy levels the playing field and values all carbon-free energy equally, positions Illinois as a national leader in advancing clean energy, and will provide a major boost to the Illinois economy,” Exelon’s chief executive, Chris Crane, said in a statement.

For opponents, including the state’s biggest energy users, the outcome is a setback.

Manufacturers, chemical plants and owners of Chicago skyscrapers repeatedly warned legislators that the bill will increase electric costs, undoing the benefits of competition that grew from deregulation in the late 1990s.

“Beware when you hear Exelon telling you what’s good for the customers,” an official from the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago told a Senate committee in a hearing Wednesday. “We’re the customers.”

Power plant owner Dynegy Inc., which has shut down 20 percent of the generating capacity in downstate Illinois in the past six months, also lobbied hard to kill the bill in the final days.

Dynegy supported it until last week, when the sponsor pulled a convoluted provision that would have generated millions of dollars in additional capacity payments for the Houston-based company’s coal plants (EnergyWire, Nov. 23).

A company spokesman didn’t respond to an email seeking comment last night.

Rates, Jobs at Issue

In the end, for legislators who voted on the bill yesterday evening, arguments centered on bill’s impact on electric rates and the state’s economy. And both sides came armed with conflicting data and studies as supporting evidence.

Rep. Bill Mitchell (R), whose district includes the 1,046-megawatt Clinton nuclear plant northeast of Springfield pleaded with lawmakers to spare jobs and taxes that are vital to the area.

Not only the 800 jobs at the plant but also those at nearby schools and businesses that depend on the plant were in jeopardy.

“The people of DeWitt County have been put through hell for the last six months wondering if they’ll have a job,” he said.

Opponents made equally passionate pleas to not ram through a massive, complex bill in the final hours while the state faces so many other pressing needs.

Rep. Mark Batinick (R) said the aid for Exelon was unnecessary because Illinois is a significant exporter of electricity.

“We’re going to subsidize a company so that it can sell its power out of state?” he said. “That’s supposed to be more important than a budget, than social services, than education?”

Bill supporters cited studies by Illinois agencies and another by Brattle Group consultants suggesting that Illinois electricity rates would go up if the nuclear plants shut down prematurely. Rauner pressed for rate caps for all classes of utility customers as a condition for his approval.

Including the energy savings from huge investments in energy efficiency that would be unleashed, consumers would actually see a net savings in energy costs in the long run, according to proponents including the Citizens Utility Board, a utility watchdog group.

St. Louis-based Ameren, a distribution utility that serves the southern half of Illinois, agreed and said its customers would save money even factoring in the cost of the nuclear subsidies.

Other consumer advocates, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) and AARP, weren’t convinced. Both fought the bill until the end and raised questions about whether the last-minute rate caps would protect all customers equally.

“We want to gamble on 50-plus lobbyists who spend a lot of money who tell us if we don’t do something, the sky’s going to fall? The sky is not falling, and rates are not guaranteed to go up,” said state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R).

State Sen. Chapin Rose (R), the bill’s lead sponsor in the state Senate, asserted that allowing the Exelon plants to close was the bigger risk. “How would you define losing 20 percent of the power on your grid? That’s a gamble,” he said.

Renewables, Efficiency Score Wins

Almost overshadowed by the drama around Exelon’s nuclear plants was the effect the bill will have on renewable energy development and energy efficiency in Illinois.

Illinois’ 25 percent renewable standard has been broken for years because of an unintended conflict in state law. S.B. 2814 resolves the conflict so the standard can be funded. It also specifically requires development of 1,300 megawatts of new wind and 300 MW of solar — a mix of utility-scale, community and rooftop projects.

The bill also strengthens Illinois’ energy efficiency standard, requiring Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison to reduce electricity usage in its service area by 21.5 percent by 2030. Ameren will be required to cut usage in its mostly rural downstate territory by 13 percent.

“This legislation should reenergize Illinois’ solar energy and wind power development bringing investments and cleaner air and water,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, in a statement.

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WI State Journal: ELPC Concerned Over Use of Energy Efficiency Money On Broadband Coupons

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More Broadband Money is on the Way for Rural Wisconsin
December 2, 2016
By Judy Newman

Efforts to bring high-speed internet to rural Wisconsin residents and businesses got a double-boost on Thursday, with up to $61.5 million in additional funds being funneled toward projects to expand broadband.

Gov. Scott Walker asked the state Legislature to pass a bill that would allocate an additional $35.5 million over the next three years to make broadband more accessible to rural residents and businesses.

The proposal, to be funded by a surplus in the state’s Universal Service Fund, would triple Wisconsin’s broadband and technology investments to $52 million for the 2017 through 2019 fiscal years, Walker said.

“It will allow Wisconsin communities, especially in rural areas, to compete for jobs, improve education, and provide a higher quality of life,” the governor said.

The money includes grants to expand high-speed internet access in rural areas, and for schools and libraries to upgrade their internet access and train teachers.

Also on Thursday, the state Public Service Commission approved spending up to $26 million in the 2017 and 2018 calendar years toward new programs for rural areas that couple energy efficiency projects with broadband upgrades.

The PSC action puts broadband benefits — for the first time — into the mix of incentives offered through the Focus on Energy program for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. It also calls on internet service providers, from local companies to national giants, to offer a package of energy- and internet-related incentives.

That means, for example, rural homeowners may be able to get a $50 rebate for installing high-speed internet along with a rebate for adding a smart thermostat. “Smart thermostats use the internet to adjust the energy consumption in your home,” said Bob Seitz, executive assistant to PSC chairwoman Ellen Nowak.

The plan drew some critics.

“The Public Service Commission continues to try to fit a square peg in a round hole,” Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in a statement. “Using Focus to fund internet subscriptions only helps people who already have broadband access; it doesn’t increase access to those who could most benefit.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Rob Kelter says New Ohio Energy Bill Could Threaten Jobs

Midwest-Energy-News-Logo

Critics: Jobs Will Be in Jeopardy if Ohio Energy Bill Becomes Law
December 2, 2016
By Kathiann M. Kowalski

On the same day that a new study reported that more than 300 companies in Ohio are part of the supply chains for the wind and solar industries, lawmakers voted a bill out of committee that would make compliance with the state’s clean energy standards voluntary until 2020.

If House Bill 554 becomes law, critics say the state would lose out on business opportunities and jobs. In their view, the bill would also discourage competition, keep electricity prices high and promote pollution that causes health problems and contributes to climate change.

“We’re either going to move in a clean energy direction that produces new jobs related to solar and wind and efficiency,” said Rob Kelter of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which released the supply chain report on Nov. 30. “Or we’re going to let other states and other countries manufacture these new products.”

‘Behind the Radar’

According to the supply chain report, 207 Ohio companies supply the solar energy industry, 134 manufacture things for the wind energy industry, and 20 serve as suppliers for both industries.

Those companies’ manufacturing operations “are sort of behind the radar,” Kelter noted.

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BREAKING: ELPC Statement on Illinois Energy Legislation

Illinois Energy Legislation Boosts Renewable Energy
ELPC’s Work to Protect Consumers Continues

SPRINGFIELD – After more than two years of negotiations, the Illinois General Assembly voted Thursday on a measure that should significantly improve and expand renewable energy in Illinois by modernizing the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

“This legislation should reenergize Illinois’ solar energy and wind power development bringing investments and cleaner air and water,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Growing Illinois’ renewable energy resources is good for job creation, good for economic growth and good for the environment.”

ELPC led a coalition of environmental, consumer advocacy, low-income, faith, public health groups and solar energy businesses in negotiating improvements to the state’s broken RPS. The modernized RPS creates new programs for community solar, promotes redevelopment of brownfields as solar brightfields, spurs solar projects in lower-income communities, and should also help ramp-up wind development. These policies will expand access to renewable energy to people throughout the state. The RPS maintains existing rate caps.

ELPC continues to be concerned about large consumer subsidies provided in the legislation for two Exelon nuclear power plants which the company executives had slated for closure because they are uneconomic in the competitive power market.

ELPC is pleased with the environmentally beneficial provisions in this energy legislation that should result in significant development of new wind power and solar energy projects in Illinois, spur millions of dollars of economic development, and provide for a cleaner environment.

During hundreds of hours of bill negotiations, ELPC partnered with the Clean Jobs Coalition to advance strong clean energy legislation. Additionally we worked with public officials, consumer advocates, renewable energy developers and low-income grassroots groups to strike several controversial provisions from the bill. These include so-called “demand charges,” which would have fundamentally changed how customers are charged for electricity.

“This bill will expand new solar energy and wind power for Illinois instead of creating new barriers through unfair demand charges and proposed weakening of fair net metering compensation for consumers with solar energy panels,” added Learner.

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WCBE.org: ELPC’s Rob Kelter Says Ohio’s Trained Workforce Makes it Ready to Become Renewable-Energy Hub

wcbe.org logo

Report: Keeping Green Energy Standards Freeze Will Hurt Ohio Businesses
December 1, 2016
By Jim Letizia

While state lawmakers continue to fight over whether to extend the 2014 freeze on Ohio’s clean energy standards, a new report shows keeping them in place can position the state to be an industry leader.

The report by The Environmental Law and Policy Center shows Ohio has more than 300 solar and wind supply-chain businesses, meaning it’s ready to become a major renewable-energy hub. Center spokesperson Robert Kelter says Ohio’s manufacturing base and trained workforce are a main reason why.

The report also cites the state’s central location and transportation system, as well as the large number of institutions that support renewable energy growth and development.

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Public News Service: ELPC’s Rob Kelter says wind and solar play important role in Ohio’s clean-energy future

Public News ServiceReport: Solar and Wind Good Business for Ohio Companies
November 30, 2016
By Mary Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As Ohio lawmakers debate the future of the freeze on the state’s clean-energy standards, a new report highlights how strong clean-energy policies can boost the economic growth of wind and solar energy. According to research released today by the Environmental Law and Policy Center, with more than 300 solar and wind supply-chain businesses, the Buckeye State is primed to become a major renewable-energy hub.

Senior attorney at the center Robert Kelter said the state’s established manufacturing base and trained workforce are a big part of the reason.

“Ohio has a really strong workforce of people in the manufacturing sector, and those people are perfect for the kinds of jobs that are needed to supply the wind and solar industries,” he explained.

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Greenwire: ELPC’s Dexter Says EPA’s Coal Ash Pond Hazard Disclosures Good But Don’t Go Far Enough

Greenwire

Coal Ash: Utility Filings Reveal Dump Conditions, EPA Compliance Plans
November 23, 2016
By Sean Reilly

When Dynegy Inc. released information about a coal ash storage pond at its Joppa, Ill., power plant, the resulting picture was unsettling: The pond had a “high hazard” ranking, meaning people could die in the event of a dike failure.

Papers submitted by the utility showed it also barely cleared a safety assessment and had no liner to protect groundwater.

But from a disclosure standpoint, the filings — required by U.S. EPA to be made public this month — represented a noteworthy development for watchdogs.

“It’s interesting to be able to get a glimpse into what has been a black box,” said Jessica Dexter, a staff attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocacy group that favors stricter oversight of coal ash.

Across the country, the newly released records are casting fresh light on the condition of hundreds of coal ash ponds and showing what utilities intend to do with the vast quantities of waste left over from coal-fired electricity generation.

In its disposal rule published last year, EPA gave companies two closure options: leaving the coal ash in place — after “dewatering” the ponds and capping the residue — or excavating the ash and possibly sending it to a landfill.

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Scientific American: ELPC’s Learner Weighs in on Coal and Energy Legislation in Illinois

Scientific American

Will the Rust Belt Stick with Coal Under Trump?
November 22, 2016
By Ben Storrow

Coal remains king in the Rust Belt. But whether the carbon-laden fuel retains its throne depends on state lawmakers in a handful of Midwestern capitals.

Illinois legislators are debating a bill that would provide subsidies to aging nuclear and coal plants. Ohio policymakers are fielding calls from utilities to guarantee a rate of return for their old coal facilities. And Michigan representatives are sorting through an energy package that will determine the future makeup of their state’s electric grid.

The state decisions come at a critical moment for U.S. energy policy. Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential contest means the United States is unlikely to implement the carbon caps on the power sector proposed under President Obama, which are the centerpiece of America’s participation in the Paris climate agreement.

Trump’s victory has added a new wrinkle to Rust Belt energy debates. In Illinois, Exelon Corp. had argued financial assistance for its nuclear plants was essential to meeting the state’s goals under the Clean Power Plan, U.S. EPA’s carbon-cutting regimen. Utility executives, testifying before Illinois lawmakers last week, acknowledged Trump’s victory complicated their position (EnergyWire, Nov. 17).

To the north in Michigan, some Republican lawmakers are calling for policymakers to apply the brakes on an energy package that was developed with the assumption the Clean Power Plan would be put into place. Supporters, who include Gov. Rick Snyder (R), dismiss those arguments. Michigan has witnessed a wave of coal plant closures this year and needs to focus on grid reliability, they say.

“Could some coal plants stay open longer as a result of the Clean Power Plan going away? Yes, I think that’s a possibility,” said Paul Patterson, a financial analyst who tracks the utility sector at Glenrock Associates LLC. “We will have to wait and see what the Trump administration comes up with, but also for what the individual states want to do.”

The decisions made by Midwestern lawmakers figure to be particularly important. The Rust Belt remains disproportionately reliant on coal to meet its electricity needs, meaning a further greening of the U.S. grid will depend to a great degree on state actions.

Michigan gets 46 percent of its power from coal. The fuel accounts for 59 percent of power generation in Ohio. In neighboring Indiana, that figure reaches as high as 75 percent. Nationally, coal power represents about a third of total power production.

Debate over the Clean Power Plan obscures a more important trend, though, analysts said. Economics will be the main driver in deciding the future makeup of the Rust Belt’s power grid.

Electricity demand in the region is stagnating, in large part due to energy efficiency measures.

Natural gas plants are out-competing their coal counterparts. And renewables are fast approaching the point where they can displace coal-fired power, even without subsidies.

There is also this: Many Rust Belt coal plants are simply old.

Analysts predict the region’s electric grid will become less reliant on coal in the coming years, regardless of whether the Clean Power Plan is implemented. But how fast the transition occurs, and what fuels replace it, will depend to a great degree on what state policymakers decide.

“I don’t think the Clean Power Plan is the central story,” said Nachy Kanfer, deputy director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “I think the central story is how wholesale markets reorganize themselves to survive in an era of persistently low wholesale power prices and a market where consumers are persistently demanding cleaner alternatives.”

A Brownish-Green ‘Christmas Tree’ Bill in Ill.

Illinois lawmakers have proposed expanding the state’s ability to procure electrons from coal plants in the southern part of the state (EnergyWire, Nov. 16). The provision was largely aimed at winning the support of coal-reliant utilities, like Dynegy Inc., which might have objected to the bill’s financial support for Exelon’s nuclear facilities. But it has attracted a wide array of opposition from environmentalists, who object to the coal facilities’ emissions, and business groups, which are against paying more to keep old plants online.

To complicate matters further, the legislation also contains measures aimed at enticing greens.

It calls on Commonwealth Edison Co., which serves the Chicago area, to cut electricity demand 23 percent by 2030 through efficiency measures. The bill would also boost the state’s renewable energy standard, requiring 25 percent of Illinois power to come from low-carbon sources by 2025.

“Right now, the bill is a Christmas tree that badly needs some pruning,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago.

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