Listen to the story below.
CHICAGO (WLS) –Illinois officials say the state is well-equipped to meet new power plant emissions goals. The Obama Administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. It sets the first national limits on carbon dioxide and will further diminish the use of coal in electrical production.
The proposal sets off a complex process in which the 50 states will each determine how to meet customized targets set by the EPA and then submit those plans for approval.
“It is important that we take serious, comprehensive action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, “so I look forward to reviewing the draft guidelines of the federal plan in detail and helping to develop a flexible and effective approach for Illinois.”
You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers on what’s in store in Illinois now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its long-awaited proposed rule for reducing carbon emissions from power plants.
Explain in brief what the Obama administration’s climate change rule is all about.
Frustrated by inaction by Congress, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is claiming the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulated carbon emissions by power plants. Today it issued a proposed rule, which calls on states to take the lead in reducing emissions from power generators within their borders and gives them flexibility in how to do it.
Are Illinois power plants a source of significant emissions?
Yes, indeed. Only five other states emitted more greenhouse gases from power plants than Illinois in 2012, according to EPA. And while the Obama administration is saying that the proposed rule requires a 30 percent reduction of carbon from the power sector by 2030 based on their emissions in 2005, the reductions don’t fall equally state by state. Illinois is being asked to cut its power-plant emissions by 33 percent from its 2012 emissions. Only two other Midwestern states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, are being asked to do more. Strangely, neighboring Indiana, which emits more greenhouse gases than far larger Illinois thanks to its heavy dependence on carbon-heavy coal, must cut its emissions by only 20 percent.
What’s the time frame for action?
EPA is on a tight time line. The proposed rule must be made final in a year. States have until 2016 to come up with their plans. That won’t stop Illinois from taking the issue on earlier, thanks mainly to the lobbying exertions of Chicago-based Exelon Corp., whose six nuclear plants in Illinois stand to benefit financially from quicker action. State legislative leaders have signaled that they will consider far-reaching legislation to comply with the regulations next spring.
Why is Illinois in such a rush to enact changes that are likely to raise its residents’ electric bills?
Exelon, which owns Commonwealth Edison Co., is one of the most influential companies in Illinois. It has claimed that three of its six nukes in Illinois are losing money, largely due to competition in western Illinois from close-by wind farms. The company sees compliance with EPA’s rule as a means to boost revenues at its in-state plants. It argues that compliance with the rule will be next to impossible for Illinois if even one of its nuclear plants close, since nukes are virtually carbon-free and account for nearly half of the electricity produced here.
Which direction are lawmakers leaning in addressing the situation?
Every direction. Last week the Illinois House passed two resolutions dealing with the then-expected EPA regulations. One, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, effectively called on EPA and other state and federal agencies to do everything they could to promote retention of Exelon’s nukes. The other, introduced in January and tied to a state-by-state pro-coal effort by an organization tied to the Koch brothers, called on EPA to allow Illinois to take longer to comply with the rule and to meet less stringent standards if it desires in the interest of keeping coal-fired power plants open. “The House has passed two resolutions that point in two different directions that are hard to reconcile in a policy way,” says Howard Learner, executive direction of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which has battled coal plants for years.
STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center
CHICAGO – Howard A. Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, issued the following statement regarding the U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon pollution reduction standards issued on Monday:
“These carbon pollution reduction standards will drive technological innovation for a cleaner environment and protecting the public’s health. Solving our climate change problems by cleaning up the energy sector is necessary to fulfill our moral obligation to our children and a better future,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
Learner continued: “The United State Supreme Court held that the U.S. EPA has both legal authority and responsibility under the Clean Air Act to set standards to reduce carbon pollution to safe levels. Now, it’s time for the engineers and technical specialists to develop cost-effective solutions and unleash innovative new clean energy technologies that can both repower our economy and achieve better environmental protection.”
“The Midwest, alone, is responsible for about five percent of global greenhouse gas pollution and states like Illinois and Iowa are positioned to lead with wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency development solutions that spur economic growth while reducing carbon pollution. We commend the Obama Administration for advancing these carbon pollution reduction standards on a clear path forward,” said Learner.
The new edition of ELPC’s Farm Energy Success Stories features over a dozen projects from across the nation funded by the Farm Bill’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which ELPC has long championed. These projects span a wide variety of technologies — including biomass, anaerobic digesters, energy efficiency, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar and wind — that have had a positive impact on rural development.
The new Farm Bill passed earlier in 2014 provides $881 million for Energy Title programs like REAP over 10 years, benefiting small- and mid-sized farms and ranches, as well as rural small businesses. ELPC’s Farm Bill Clean Energy Team has led the charge to extend the Farm Bill’s Energy Title programs and make these programs work well on the ground.
Learn more at ELPC’s www.FarmEnergy.org.
ELPC’s Andy Olsen joined the National Association of Farm Broadcasters to discuss the Energy Title in the recently passed Farm Bill. ELPC worked hard to maintain support for the important program with helps bring clean, renewable energy projects to rural communities.
“The top-funded program is the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which provides grants and loan guarantees to farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses and rural electric cooperatives to install energy efficiency and also a wide range of renewable energy technologies,” Olsen explained. “And that received $250 million in mandatory funding over 5 years. The next priority, in terms of funding, is the Biorefinery Systems Program, and that program provides loan guarantees for advanced biofuel production plants. This is an important program to get cellulosic biofuels, as well as other new biomass technologies, in place.”
Listen to the story here:
Olsen explained the difference between a grant and loan guarantee.
“A grant is actually a cost share from the federal government in a project. They may pick up, say, 25% of the cost for an activity. Whereas a loan guarantee basically says the banker wants to provide a loan to get a project built, then the federal government will cover a certain percentage of that loan in the event of a default.”
REAP can serve every state and every agricultural sector, according to Olsen.
“The eligible recipients for that are agriculture producers of all sorts, urban and rural, as well as rural small businesses, and rural small businesses include rural electric cooperatives. And the technologies that are supported in this are pretty broad so that every ag sector can choose the technology that best meets their needs. This has been used for cutting energy bills for producers and boosting their profits in a wide range of uses for a wide range of sectors.”
People can submit applications now for REAP funding and find information at FarmEnergy.org. Deadlines have yet to be announced, but Olsen said USDA staff are working on getting those notices out.
House and Senate negotiators unveiled a new five-year Farm Bill on Monday, a $956 billion piece of legislation that’s been worked on for the past two years and, if passed, will be in effect for the next five.
The House is expected to vote on the bill on Wednesday, with the Senate voting sometime after. The bipartisan bill has gained attention from some liberals for its cuts to food stamps — a program that makes up about 79 percent of the Farm Bill’s cost — and from some conservatives, who think the current bill doesn’t save enough compared to the current funding. But there’s also several energy and environmental implications in this Farm Bill, especially in the realm of conservation, which at $56 billion makes up 6 percent of the bill’s total funding.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 28, 2014
Farm Bill Preserves Core Clean Energy Programs
Important Energy Initiatives Good for Rural Development, Jobs, Farm Income
After three years of stops and starts, debate and negotiations, the Congressional Farm Bill Conference Committee has released a compromise bill between the House and the Senate that includes mandatory funding for a downsizedEnergy Title, including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).
If passed by Congress, the funding for REAP and BCAP in the compromise would ensure the popular programs will continue to support diverse technologies for renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives in farm communities across the nation.
“Every state in the nation has benefitted from REAP projects and the program has broad support across party lines,” Olsen explained. “We thank Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwomen Debbie Stabenow (MI) for her leadership in preserving REAP and BCAP.”
“We also thank Ranking Member Thad Cochran (MS), House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (MN) for their bipartisan support for farm energy,” Olsen said.
“For over a decade, REAP proved its value by creating jobs and farm income in farm communities while advancing homegrown renewable energy and energy efficiency,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Analyst for the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). “With this support, REAP remains a bright spot in rural energy.”
REAP offers grants and loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects owned by farmers, ranchers, rural small businesses and rural electric co-ops. BCAP provides incentives to jump start sustainable energy crops that also provide conservation benefits.
“While the overall Energy Title funding has been reduced, this compromise provides the certainty for renewed growth in rural energy projects under both REAP and BCAP,” Olsen said. The bill announced late Monday by the Farm Bill Conference Committee includes $881 million for Energy Title programs over ten years.
For more, including examples of Farm Bill energy title success stories visit http://www.farmenergy.org.
By Kari Lydersen
Chicago energy experts who spent a week in Germany and Brussels in mid-November on a fact-finding expedition came back with a complicated take on Germany’s famous Energiewende, the sweeping transition to clean and renewable energy.
They were highly impressed with the fact that unlike the U.S., Germany has a cohesive national energy policy, and that it has meant rapid adoption of solar and wind power, including through substantial governmental support and subsidies.
But they also learned how Germany has in some ways been a victim of its own success, with the swift transition to solar and wind and the closure of nuclear plants raising reliability issues.
“They’ve been successful beyond their wildest dreams – there’s so much solar and wind coming on to their grid that it’s actually destabilizing their grid,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which convened the delegation along with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) – a think tank affiliated with German Conservative political parties. “It’s exciting, but there is too much (renewable power) coming on at times, and sometimes not enough.”
“There are some days where they get 80 percent of their energy from renewable energy, and some days they get one percent,” added Tom Wolf, executive director of the Energy Council of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “When the sun shines and the wind blows, they’ve built up so much that even on average they have more energy from renewable than from nuclear.
“A lot of people in this country would consider that an incredible victory, and it is amazing,” Wolf added. “But now the problems happen. I’ll call them challenges rather than problems.”
Another delegation member — Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center — had a more “glass-half-full” take.
“What we’re seeing in Germany with a tremendous growth in renewable development is truly a glimpse into the future for the Midwest,” he said. “There are tremendous opportunities. And there are some challenges, but we have an opportunity to learn from them…We have a three- to four-year lead time here in the Midwest in terms of addressing those problems and learning from some of the German solutions.”
In the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, Germany pledged to close all nuclear reactors by 2022, and eight reactors were closed almost immediately. The plan, implemented by Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, was the culmination of a decades-long push against nuclear power by the Green Party and many German citizens.
The rapid phase-out of nuclear power is popular, but has presented concerns about making sure adequate generating capacity is available at all times.
The Chicago delegates said the trip gave them new insight into how the German response to Fukushima was influenced by their experience with the Chernobyl disaster three decades earlier.
“Chernobyl wasn’t just in the paper for them – people I talked to remembered Chernobyl very well,” said Wolf. “They couldn’t drink milk (from regional dairies), they worried about their kids playing outside, that moment really hit home for them.”
Still, the Chicagoans think the German decision to quickly phase out nuclear power may be based more on emotion than sound policy. Wolf compared it in his blog to what he sees as a somewhat misguided American obsession with energy independence.
“In a democracy, logic can lose out to perception,” he wrote.
The group’s last stop was in Leipzig, an industrial city in former East Germany near some of the country’s sprawling open pit mines for lignite brown coal or “braunkohle,” which is wetter and dirtier-burning than the standard hard black coal found deeper underground.
Since the closing of nuclear plants, Germany has boosted its imports of hard black coal from the U.S., Colombia, Russia and other countries. An April 2013 report by German environmental groups said Germany increased its imports of U.S. coal 50 percent since last year, with most of it coming from Appalachia.
Germany also has its own hard coal, but much of it has become too expensive to mine. And in Germany, as in the U.S., there is significant popular opposition to coal. In March, Greenpeace released an academic study estimating that particulate matter from German coal plants causes 3,100 premature deaths each year. Many Germans are pushing for tighter limits on the mining and burning of brown coal, especially since recent and planned expansions of the brown coal mines eat up villages and forest.
Bronson and Wolf came away from their trip feeling the German government perhaps needs to do more to support the coal industry, to make sure it is available to provide baseload power as nuclear plants close.
“Coal remains important for industry, employment, as well as operations,” wrote Bronson in ablog post for the Chicago Council. “Unless policy is carefully crafted and reconsidered, all of the above is at risk.”
Wolf noted that the German policies which have encouraged an explosion of renewables have made it less profitable to run coal-fired power plants.
“We talked with people who said they can’t make money being the backup for wind and solar,” he said, noting that they toured a “beautiful” Leipzig coal plant which ramps up or down frequently depending when its power is needed – an inefficient way to operate. “Renewables get first crack at the grid. The problem is you can’t run a coal plant and all the machinations that go with it in the long-term just being backup power. You need some kind of compensation, or you need to tone down the tariffs or subsidies for renewables.”
Bronson said that while many people consider “clean coal” to be an oxymoron, she sees it differently especially after being in Germany “at a moment where they had just waved a wand and done away with nuclear.”
“They need coal,” Bronson said. “If you need coal, figure out how to make it cleaner.”
The trip offered numerous examples of how energy issues are inextricably linked across sweeping geographic areas, and can never be addressed in isolation.
The Chicago contingent heard about a serious challenge that the U.S. and Germany have in common in pushing for cleaner energy: the need for more transmission lines to get wind power from remote windy areas to population centers where it’s needed.
Wolf noted that “NIMBY” or “not in my back yard” is “a word in German too,” and even clean energy-loving Germans don’t want big transmission towers built near their homes.
“Not surprisingly there are a fair number of people in German communities who are unhappy with transmission running through their towns and their farmlands,” said Learner. “That’s an issue we’re also facing in the Midwest and nationally. For transmission planners to sit down with a map and have engineers draw lines that will move power from place A to place B is one thing, it’s another thing to engage with communities in between who don’t always see the value and benefit of transmission lines.”
He said that in Germany and in the Midwest, concern over transmission lines is motivation to also develop decentralized, smaller-scale wind and solar projects closer to where the power is needed.
Bronson noted that Germany’s location in the European Union actually presents parallels to the regulatory situation in the U.S., where states present a patchwork of different energy-related laws and policies even though the generation and distribution of energy typically crosses numerous borders.
The delegation members heard from Germans surprised at the booming growth of controversial hydraulic fracturing in the U.S. Bronson noted that fracking has been slow to take off in Germany and most of Europe in part because individual landowners are much less likely to benefit directly from fracking if they don’t own subsoil mineral rights.
American fracking, Bronson added, “has implications for them too,” since it increases U.S. coal companies’ motivation to export their product. Craig Morris, lead author of the German Energy Transition project, explained this trend in a blog earlier this year. “It’s an environment where their energy policy is shifting,” Bronson said, and U.S. fracking “is making it harder for them to do what they want to do,” even as it is helping to lower carbon emissions in the U.S.
Despite the challenges they observed, the delegation members said seeing the German experience first-hand inspired more confidence in growing renewables in the Midwest.
“Even in these difficult moments where (the Energiewende) doesn’t seem to be constructed right, the population really believes in a cleaner future and paying a cost to get there,” said Bronson. “That was pretty inspiring.”
They also said that as much attention as Germany is getting for its clean energy transformation, they think the U.S. is in better shape than many people realize. Learner pointed to a recent study by GE Energy Management showing that the PJM Interconnection could handle 30 percent renewables on the grid without endangering reliability, reducing costs to boot.
“We look at our own model and we’re so frustrated at not having an energy policy, and yet we have increasing use of renewables, increasing diversity with natural gas and alternatives to oil,” said Bronson. “Our carbon emissions are coming down while (Germany’s) are going up. If you look at the full plate we’re actually stumbling along kind of impressively.”
The ELPC is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.
The Energy Transition Project is run by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think tank affiliated with the German Green Party. The Heinrich Böll Foundation has supported Midwest Energy News reporters Kari Lydersen and Dan Haugen to report on clean energy development in Europe.
Chuck Bushman Farm flipped the switch earlier this year on 360 solar panels spread across its chicken barn in Castalia, Iowa.
Each panel is capable of generating 240 kilowatts of power for the supplier of organic milk and chickens. Some days, the solar panels are able to produce more power than what is needed, and the farm banks it for when the demand for electricity exceeds what the panels provide. The farm also has smart meters for the chicken coop and the rest of its buildings to monitor where electricity demand is highest.
The Department of Agriculture provided the funding for the project through its Rural Energy for America Program, whose mission is to help farmers and ranchers install renewable energy technologies and improve energy efficiency. Since its creation in 2002, the program has given rural landowners grants and loans for about 7,000 projects in all 50 states.
But USDA’s ability to carry out projects like the installation of solar panels was left to dangle last night with the expiration of the farm bill. Without a new bill that includes mandatory funding, conservationists warn, REAP and other programs will run out of fuel and USDA won’t meet rural landowners’ demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
“There’s a great degree of uncertainty around the program, and word is getting out that funds are getting cut, but USDA still had demand in excess of what the funding would supply,” Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said late last week. “What we really need is for Congress to pass a new farm bill.”
After months of wrangling, mostly on the House side, the sun set on the farm bill at midnight with little fanfare, dwarfed by the larger government shutdown.
This is the second time in two years that Congress has allowed the farm bill to expire. Last year, U.S. farm policy lapsed for three months before Congress early this year tacked a nine-month farm bill extension into larger legislation to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”
Last year’s farm bill expiration was unprecedented in U.S. farm policy history, but this year’s had been long expected as the House has proposed cuts to the bill’s food stamps program. The farm bill’s expiration, though, has been downplayed by senior agriculture leaders in Congress because funding and authorities for major commodity subsidies and food stamps will not begin to expire until the beginning of next year (E&E Daily, Sept. 20).
But several of the bill’s smaller programs — such as those in the energy, conservation, organic and trade-promotion sections — are facing uncertainty at best and shutdowns at worst as of last night’s expiration. For energy programs, it’s a question of funding.
USDA operates seven energy programs, including one that provides loans to biorefinery producers to commercialize the next generations of fuels made from agricultural residues, perennial grasses, municipal solid waste and algae.
Most share a foxhole with REAP, which the department also uses to install pumps at gas stations capable of dispersing higher blends of ethanol.
While they retained their authorizations to operate when the farm bill expired at midnight, the programs are left with a dwindling supply of carryover dollars and no certainty that funding will be available in the future. Planning for future projects will likely become more complicated the longer the nation is without a new bill.
“This year in a couple of the programs we had some carryover mandatory dollars that we were able to utilize. But those opportunities are just about gone,” said Doug O’Brien, USDA’s acting undersecretary of rural development, in an interview last week. “We’re running out of that fuel that is moving these renewable energy programs.”
Rural advocates say the programs are already on life support because of both uncertainty over the farm bill and diminished dollars from congressional appropriators — discretionary funding for REAP this year totaled about $3 million, compared with the $25 million that the farm bill had authorized for each of the past four years.
A year ago, all of the farm bill’s energy programs were among 37 “stranded” programs that did not have an authorization beyond fiscal 2012. While they were reauthorized in the farm bill extension, none of the programs was provided with any mandatory funding.
The 2008 farm bill provided for a total of $255 million in mandatory funds for REAP and $320 million for the Agriculture Department to offer to biofuels producers as part of its Biorefinery Assistance Program.
In the absence of fresh cash, USDA is using carryover mandatory funding from the 2008 farm bill to enroll new participants in the programs, according to the agriculture official. Though the department expected to be able to exceed $35 million this year in grants through the Rural Energy for America Program, energy program accounts are just about tapped out.
O’Brien, whose office administers the programs, said the department is doing its best to work with the funding it’s been given.
“As folks who work in the department, we certainly are cognizant and concerned about what happens about policy in the future,” O’Brien said, “but at the end of the day, we have — and have had — great tools and we’ve just been focused on making sure we’re implementing those in the best way possible.”
The farm bill’s expiration won’t affect ongoing projects but instead hampers the department’s ability to sign up new farmers and ranchers.
“Without the new mandatory funding or appropriated dollars, which is highly unlikely in the short term, they’re essentially not going to run those programs. They’ll remain dormant to nonexistent,” said Lloyd Ritter, co-chairman of the Agriculture Energy Coalition who has worked on four farm bills.
The Obama administration and rural energy advocates are pushing for a farm bill conference committee to include the Senate version of the farm bill’s energy title, which would provide $900 million in mandatory funding for programs. REAP would receive about $48 million a year for the five-year bill’s duration, while the Biorefinery Assistance Program would receive $100 million this fiscal year and $58 million in fiscal 2014 and 2015.
The House version authorizes $1.4 billion in discretionary funding for energy programs but does not provide any mandatory funding.
Stakeholders are simply looking for a clear signal from Congress, Ritter said.
“It’s a very poor way of doing business in the federal government,” he said. “It’s just inappropriate to have programs exist and not exist and exist again. … I don’t think there’s any question it’s turning people away.”
Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful AdvocacyDonate Now