Tag: Geothermal

Renewable Energy Responsible for First Ever Carbon Emissions Stabilization

Carbon emissions in 2014 remained at the previous year’s levels of 32.3 billion metric tons — a milestone that points to the impact worldwide renewable energy investment is having in the face of a 1.5 percent annual increase in global energy consumption, according to a new report from REN21. The tenth annual Renewables 2015 Global Status Report cites “increased penetration of renewable energy” and improvements in energy efficiency as the chief reasons for the noted emissions stabilization.

How New York is Using Local Power & Microgrids To Transform the State

New York’s antiquated infrastructure was in trouble long before hurricane Sandy. The bulk power system, designed to meet a peak demand 75 percent higher than most of America, is underutilized most of the day. New Yorkers have been paying some of the highest electrical bills in the nation, so that air conditioners have power during the hottest summer days. Hurricane Sandy revealed the vulnerabilities of the low-lying Atlantic state’s grid. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s response is a plan calling for New York’s statewide adoption of community utilities, or Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).

“This is the most innovative energy initiative to come from a state level, and a governor, in the United States. California has a very ambitious renewable portfolio standard and ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, but no plan to get there. New York is taking the bull by the horns around the need for localization to deliver the change. This is something that has been lacking in states that set targets for adopting percentages of renewable energy, but tend to be blind to the location of the energy,” said Paul Fenn, President of Local Power, Inc.    

Around 9 percent of New York’s electricity is lost, every year, because it originates from distant power plants. Transmission lines are full of power that travels hundreds of miles before being used.

This causes problems at the substations where streams of electricity converge. (There can be so much traffic on the line that substations sometimes overheat, or equipment might fail anywhere along hundreds of miles of transmission lines, causing blackouts or brownouts in entire regions.)

When hurricane Sandy struck, the whole grid went down for days and some areas did not get power back online for months following the storm – and the power markets responded by doubling rates for the Winter – a major economic blow throughout the state.

New York’s solution is for local communities to form their own utilities that utilize local power sources and the most cutting-edge smart technologies available. Fenn calls this CCA 2.0 (Community Choice Aggregation 2.0).

Fenn is one of the founders of the CCA movement, co-authoring America’s first landmark CCA bill in 1994 as well as similar laws throughout the U.S., drafting a CCA 2.0 law for California that passed in 2002.

His company, Local Power Inc, worked with a local group in Hudson Valley, New York called “Citizens for Local Power” to author New York’s CCA legislation in 2014.

Governor Cuomo took the initiative in February, bypassing the legislature and ordering state regulators to develop CCA in New York as a statewide platform for municipalities to develop Distributed Energy Resources and expand choice for all customers. CCA, a key component of the Governor’s “Reforming the Energy Vision” proceeding with state regulators, will mainstream micro-grids and advanced on-site power technologies for enhanced local energy resilience and better deals for small customers in a deregulated electricity market, traditionaly focused on serving large customers that has not traditionally served most businesses and residents.

One of the key questions confronting New Yorkwas, how do you give utilities a role without allowing them to distort the path of technology development? The answer was to create a firewall, so that utilities will not be allowed to own sources of distributed generation.

Fenn said that while solar is always popular with activists, communities need to develop the energy sources that are most applicable to their local situation.

He added that many of the confrontations around renewable energy development that we see throughout North America arise because of the lack of local control. Industrial scale fossil fuel  – and renewable – projects are being imposed on rural communities, who usually derive little benefit. The energy, and profits, go elsewhere. Local governments are left with the problems.

CCAs enable communities to take control. They can choose the power sources they want, develop local resources and have a vested interest in seeing that problems are resolved.

“Being municipalities, they also possess tools and authorities that are needed to develop distributed energy resources on existing buildings in dense urban areas. They own public rights of way and sidewalks, control zoning and permitting of development activities, and are the traditional planner and developer of the built environment,” said Fenn.

Four New York communities have already opted to form their own CCAs. Though the state has not completed the regulations, many with CCA 2.0 implicitly requested local green jobs and economic development. They are also changing their business model to let communities control, and customers, own significant parts of their power. 

Greenpeace Raises Pressure on Internet Companies to Go Renewable

For at least four years, Greenpeace has been raising public awareness and putting pressure on the world’s largest data and cloud computing center providers to fuel their operations with clean, renewable power. In May, Greenpeace released its 2015 “Clicking Clean: A Guide to Building the Green Internet” report, in which it evaluates and ranks the likes of Akamai, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Apple, Google and Microsoft in terms of renewable energy investment, use and leadership.

A Closer Look at Fossil and Renewable Energy Subsidies

A new study by the International Monetary Fund puts the total cost of fossil fuel subsidies at approximately $10 million a minute globally, when health costs and environmental degradation are included, never mind the effects of a destabilized climate in future centuries.

The most perverse of these subsidies are aimed at finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, even though it is generally understood that these must be left in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic irreversible climate change.

When drilling for oil was a start-up industry in the 1890s, it cost today’s equivalent of $500 a barrel to get it out of the ground, according to UC San Diego’s James Hamilton in his study Oil Prices, Exhaustible Resources, and Economic Growth.

The first federal tax break for the oil and gas industry came within its very first years. The Intangible Drilling Costs (IDC) still allows the industry to write off most drilling costs, like the tertiary injectants deduction, in full, immediately, rather than at normal business depreciation rates.

Enacted in 1926, the Percentage Depletion Tax Credit actually increases when prices go up, as it allows companies to deduct a flat percentage of income received from oil or gas wells, frequently resulting in tax deductions in excess of investment.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America describes the tax credit this way: “This deduction is a standard part of the American tax code that supports the development of U.S. oil and natural gas that would otherwise be uneconomic to produce.”

When coal was a start-up industry (in the U.S.) in the late 1700s, it was given tax-free status, smelting was given incentives, and competing old world coal imports were taxed at 10 percent. Four centuries later, coal is still receiving $5 billion in incentives a year. The result is coal-fired electricity at about US $0.04 per kilowatt-hour (when burned in power plants that are already built, the costs of which have already been passed along to ratepayers).

“There are dozens and dozens of tax credits for conventional energy,” said SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith, based on the knowledge he gained in 30 years of building natural gas plants.  “For example, if the Keystone pipeline goes ahead; the refineries who refine that type of alternative fuel get a 50 percent ITC. There are depreciation allowances for wells as they start to degrade, there are just a long list of tax advantages. And all of them are a permanent part of the tax codes.”

These and other oil and gas subsidies total about $7 billion a year in the U.S., according to Taxpayers for Common Sense Understanding Oil and Gas Tax Subsidies.

For centuries, the U.S. Congress has made these sorts of federal investments in each new form of fossil energy.

Permitting, Leasing Show Inequities, Too

State-level policies increase expenses for renewable energy project developers by making permitting onerous for new projects. In California for example, permitting has historically been almost nonexistent for fossil fuels, but has set a much higher bar for renewable energy.

Permitting solar farms in California can be a three-year multi-million-dollar process. Fossil fuel companies can simply declare on a one page form their intentions to drill next Friday. Further, land leasing costs are higher for solar and wind than for fossil fuels. Land leases for oil and gas were still at 1920s prices in 2009, when the BLM was setting market rates for the renewable industry.

The coal industry pays land rents for natural resource extraction on land that has been undervalued since the 1800s. In the last 30 years, the treasury has lost nearly $30 billion in revenue by undervaluing public lands in Wyoming and Montana where Powder River coal is mined, according to Tom Sanzillo, Finance Director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Make Renewable Subsidies Permanent

It is almost impossible to reverse permanent subsidies in the tax code. It has never happened in the U.S., so some advocates believe that a more practical solution would be: if you can’t beat them, join them.

The coal industry’s PTC for producing refined coal is $6.71 a ton — in 2015. The wind industry’s $0.023 per kWh PTC keeps flickering out every few years. Renewables have been stymied by stop/start subsidies that almost seem designed to scare off investors, because none are permanently in the tax code the way fossil fuel subsidies are.

Uncertainty alone makes subsidies less effective. If the ITC and PTC were permanent, renewable investment would be more predictable, so supplying equipment for projects and capital cost would be less, bringing generation costs down. While some investors are able to stomach the risk of buying into renewables projects without knowing whether the tax credits will still be there when their projects reach fruition, most cannot.

Because subsidies for fossil fuels are permanent, the effect is much greater, because permanence provides a stable and predictable investment environment not given to renewables.


One way to create a level playing field with fossil fuels would be make the subsidies for wind and solar just as permanent as those for fossil fuels. Either that, or remove all subsidies for all forms of fuel, something very unlikely to happen.

State and Metro Governments, Consumer Actions Drive Dramatic Shift in US Energy Landscape

The United States is experiencing a significant shift in its energy landscape. Last year, utility-scale wind and solar power combined for 47 percent of new generation capacity in the U.S. Based on this expansion, 11 states now generate more than 10 percent of their electricity from solar, wind, and geothermal power, with three of these states — Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas — exceeding 20 percent. In 2014, California became the first state in the nation to garner 5 percent of its electricity from utility-scale solar. When including hydropower, four states —Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and South Dakota — now exceed 70 percent renewables generation.