Skip to content Skip to navigation

Energy News

Beehive solar project draws opposition

Capital Press | Posted on June 11, 2018

A farmland conservation group is appealing a 73-acre solar project in Oregon’s Clackamas County which won land use approval because beehives will be raised on the property. 1,000 Friends of Oregon, a nonprofit, is challenging the county’s conditional use permit for the project near Estacada before the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals. The project developer proposes keeping about 100 honeybee colonies at the site while cultivating “bee-friendly forage” around the solar panels and “shade resistant native plants” beneath them.Under Oregon’s land use law, solar power facilities can be no larger than 12 acres without an exception to the statewide goal of preserving farmland.However, a hearings officer with Clackamas County has ruled the project will take up less than 12 acres, since the area under the panels will be used for forage.“There does not seem to be any dispute that an apiary is a farm use,” said Fred Wilson, the county’s hearings officer.The project developer estimated the apiary will generate $75,000 per year but opponents claimed the actual revenue would be about 80 percent lower.

Three big wins for solar energy in Illinois

Environmental Law & Poliocy Center | Posted on June 8, 2018

All three bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly and now await the Governor’s signature.  Each bill, in its own unique way, is important to successful solar energy development in Illinois.  SB 3214 (Solar Pollinators) – ELPC drafted this legislation after reviewing similar efforts in Minnesota and Maryland.  SB 3214 will lead to increased pollinator-friendly habitat on solar energy project sites in Illinois.  ELPC worked closely with the solar industry and conservation advocates to get buy-in; we also negotiated with the Illinois Farm Bureau to avoid confusion or opposition.  This legislation provides that if a solar company intends to present its project as “pollinator friendly,” then the solar company must meet a pollinator standard.  The University of Illinois Department of Entomology will prepare a scorecard to define a pollinator-friendly project. SB 486 (Solar Project Uniform Assessments) – Illinois does not have a statewide uniform standard for assessing the value of solar energy projects.  Currently, 102 county assessors determine solar project values, and each can reach a different result, creating uncertainty within the solar industry.  Solar developers, like other businesses, desire stability and certainty.  ELPC supported the solar industry’s efforts to negotiate a uniform standard to be used by the state’s county assessors.  This is similar to the legislative work ten years ago to establish a uniform statewide standard for assessing wind power projects. SB 2591 (Solar Agricultural Impact Mitigation Act) – The solar industry negotiated with the Illinois Farm Bureau to develop mitigation legislation to protect agricultural interests.  A comparable “AIM Act” is in place for wind power projects, and the Farm Bureau sought similar requirements for solar energy projects.  The initial draft legislation was problematic, but it was amended and is acceptable to the solar industry and to ELPC.  This bill is a good compromise that sets reasonable standards for solar energy projects.

In Colorado, a Fracking Boom and a Population Explosion Collide

The New York Times | Posted on June 5, 2018

A new oil rig will rise behind a middle school in this sprawling county in the coming months, its slender tower bearing an announcement: fracking is back. After a downturn that began in 2015, oil and gas production is booming again, and new projects are sprouting along American freeways and padding government budgets, cheered by state legislatures, the fossil fuel industry and the Trump administration. But this growth is also spurring a return of the turmoil that accompanied the last boom, pitting neighbor against neighbor and communities against companies in a fight over which projects should be allowed to pierce the land. In few places is that tension more evident than along Colorado’s Front Range, where a fracking boom is colliding with a population explosion. Drilling applications in the state have risen 70 percent in just a year, while the area north of Denver is expected to double in population by 2050.

Ruling provides new rationale for blocking Oregon solar project

Capital Press | Posted on June 5, 2018

The Oregon Court of Appeals has provided a new legal rationale for why an 80-acre solar power project on farmland in Jackson County was improperly approved. Last year, the county government granted Origis Energy, the project’s developer, an exception to Oregon’s land use goal of preserving farmland, but the decision was reversed by the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals. According to LUBA, the solar project didn’t qualify for the exception because it’s not dependent on a “unique resource” that would require converting farmland for industrial development. It’s not unusual for farmland to be “flat, 80 acres in size and exposed to the sun” and the project’s proximity to an electrical substation in Medford also doesn’t justify the exception, LUBA’s ruling said. Approving the project on this basis would undermine the purpose of “urban growth boundaries” by allowing development on farmland near cities, the ruling said. The Oregon Court of Appeals has now disagreed with this interpretation of the state’s land use law but has still reversed the county’s approval of the project.

Dineen says ethanol compromise would be the worst

Brownfield Ag News | Posted on June 4, 2018

The head of the Renewable Fuels Association says a potential “compromise” between big oil and renewable fuels on the renewable fuels program will NOT be good for the U.S. biofuels industry. Bob Dinneen tells Brownfield Ag News, “The so-called compromise that we hear is coming from the White House shortly, perhaps today, maybe later this week, is anything but a compromise. In fact, I would maintain it’s the worst of all possible worlds.” The expected deal would allow exported gallons of biofuels to qualify for the domestic fuel requirement, the RFS. Dinneen says that would undermine the domestic industry AND the foreign renewable fuels market. In related news, Dinneen says ethanol and biofuels groups have no other option but the courts to try and stop the EPA from granting hardship waivers to large refiners that don’t need them and for making up lost volumes because of them, “We want to make sure that gallons lost as a consequence of these waivers are reallocated in some fashion. And, unfortunately, we don’t believe we have any recourse BUT to go to the courts.” Today, the RFA and several groups filed a petition in court to force criteria for making up those volumes. Last week, the groups filed suit in federal court challenging RFS waivers granted to three refiners but have petitioned for a stay of those proceedings for the time being.

Ethanol critical piece of America's energy strategy

High Plains Journal | Posted on June 4, 2018

The conflict over the Renewable Fuel Standard between the EPA, Congress and special interest groups have left hardworking people throughout rural America with a growing sense of uncertainty about their futures. An honest discussion about this program is long overdue. In order to do that, it’s necessary to understand where the RFS began, how it evolved and the role it plays in ensuring American prosperity and security. For decades, refiners have used octane enhancers. Lead was the most common but was replaced in the late 1970s by an organic compound called Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). Twenty years later, Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which required the use of oxygenated gasoline in areas with high levels of air pollution. The law increased MTBE’s popularity because it helped reduced tailpipe emissions. However, when MTBE was exposed as a public health risk, its use sharply declined, leaving refiners searching for an alternative. That alternative was ethanol. In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which removed the oxygenate requirement for reformulated gasoline. It also instituted the RFS. Refiners eliminated MTBE from blending operations and switched entirely to ethanol. In 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act passed, expanding the RFS by extending yearly volume requirements and increasing long-term blending goals. The tax credit, what many called the “ethanol subsidy,” given to oil companies to incentivize blending, was then allowed to expire.

Canada to buy major pipeline to ensure it gets built

The Spokesman-Review | Posted on May 31, 2018

Canada’s federal government said Tuesday it is buying a controversial pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast to ensure it gets built. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government plans to spend $3.4 billion to purchase Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. The pipeline expansion would triple the capacity of an existing line to ship oil extracted from the oil sands in Alberta across the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. It would end at a terminal outside Vancouver, resulting in a seven-fold increase in the number of tankers in the shared waters between Canada and Washington state. Facing stiff environmental opposition from British Columbia’s provincial government and activists, Houston-based Kinder Morgan earlier halted essential spending on the project and said it would cancel it altogether if the national and provincial governments could not guarantee it.“It must be built and it will be built,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said.

Natural gas could soon surpass coal as U.S. electricity generator

Tribune Live | Posted on May 31, 2018

By the end of 2018, natural gas could surpass coal to become the most prevalent technology for generating electricity in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration .  The agency said fossil fuel consumption in the electric power sector declined in 2017 to its the lowest level since 1994. “The declining trend in fossil fuel consumption by the power sector has been driven by a decrease in the use of coal and petroleum, with a slightly offsetting increase in the use of natural gas,” the EIA said. In 2017, coal consumption by the electric power sector reached its lowest level since 1982, and petroleum consumption was the lowest on record, based on data since 1949, the EIA said. Recent natural gas consumption in the power sector has generally been increasing.

Electric power sector consumption of fossil fuels at lowest level since 1994

EIA | Posted on May 31, 2018

Fossil fuel consumption in the electric power sector declined to 22.5 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) in 2017, the lowest level since 1994. The declining trend in fossil fuel consumption by the power sector has been driven by a decrease in the use of coal and petroleum with a slightly offsetting increase in the use of natural gas. Changes in the fuel mix and improvements in electricity generating technology have also led the power sector to produce electricity while consuming fewer fossil fuels. In 2017, coal consumption by the electric power sector reached its lowest level since 1982, and petroleum consumption in the power sector was the lowest on record, based on data since 1949. Recent natural gas consumption in the power sector has generally been increasing, but 2017 consumption was slightly lower than the record-high 2016 level.In energy-equivalent terms, more coal was consumed in the power sector than natural gas in 2017, at 12.7 quads and 9.5 quads, respectively. However, in terms of electricity generation, natural gas-fired power plants in the electric power sector produced more electricity than coal-fired plants, at 31% and 30% of the U.S. total, respectively, in 2017. Natural gas-fired units tend to be more energy efficient, requiring less energy content to produce a unit of electricity.

Ethanol, farm groups sue EPA over refineries' biofuels exemptions

Reuters | Posted on May 30, 2018

A coalition of ethanol and farm groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, challenging its decision to free three refineries, including one owned by billionaire investor Carl Icahn, from annual biofuels requirements. The groups, including the Renewable Fuels Association and the National Corn Growers Association, filed the challenge in a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, according to a statement from the coalition. The lawsuit targets three waivers doled out to refineries owned by CVR Energy Inc, in which Icahn hold a majority stake, and HollyFrontier Corp.Refiners are required by the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard to blend increasing volumes of biofuels like ethanol each year, but the EPA can offer exemptions for facilities under 75,000 barrels per day, if they experience “disproportionate economic hardship.” The number of waivers has soared, amplifying controversy over a program that has been a battleground for entrenched farm and oil interests in Washington for years. Oil refiners say the requirements cause undue financial strain, while corn and biofuels supporters say the waivers reduce demand for their products.In addition to challenging the waivers themselves, the group criticized the EPA for its lack of transparency. The EPA has refused to share details of which companies have asked for and received the waivers, citing confidential business information.