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Energy News

Close call for Illinois solar program funding

PV magazine | Posted on July 13, 2017

The Land of Lincoln drama over operating for over two years without a budget ended on July 6, with legislative approval over a gubernatorial veto. Among the many programs threatened in Illinois were the solar programs in the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA, also known as SB 2814), which was signed into law last December and technically took effect on June 1.  While the funding under FEJA was immune from being raided or “swept” for general revenue purposes (a popular Illinois political pastime), funding critical to the start up of FEJA programs, such as Illinois Solar For All, was not. But, buttressed by bipartisan political support and a near unanimous legislative resolution, the Renewable Energy Resource Fund (RERF) was protected and FEJA solar program development will continue.

U.S. officials say Russian government hackers have penetrated energy and nuclear company business networks

The Washington Post | Posted on July 13, 2017

Russian government hackers were behind recent cyber-intrusions into the business systems of U.S. nuclear power and other energy companies in what appears to be an effort to assess their networks, according to U.S. government officials.  The U.S. officials said there is no evidence the hackers breached or disrupted the core systems controlling operations at the plants, so the public was not at risk. Rather, they said, the hackers broke into systems dealing with business and administrative tasks, such as personnel.At the end of June, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sent a joint alert to the energy sector stating that “advanced, persistent threat actors” — a euphemism for sophisticated foreign hackers — were stealing network log-in and password information to gain a foothold in company networks. The agencies did not name Russia.The campaign marks the first time Russian government hackers are known to have wormed their way into the networks of American nuclear power companies, several U.S. and industry officials said. And the penetration could be a sign that Russia is seeking to lay the groundwork for more damaging hacks.

A Startup Wants Homeowners to Design Their Own Solar Systems

Green Tech Media | Posted on July 12, 2017

Lennie Moreno believes customer empowerment is key to unlocking the next phase of growth in residential solar, which is why he created Draw My Roof.  “I strongly believe the companies...that will win over the market in the long term will succeed because customers have full transparency,” said Moreno, CEO of the emerging solar software company Sofdesk and a former solar installer. “Once you provide full transparency and give tools to the end user, that’s when you’re building a long-term business model.”Draw My Roof is a new online platform that allows potential solar customers to design their own home solar installation, based on their own roof, and get an accurate sense of system size, cost and projected savings. With that information in hand, the customer can decide whether or not they want to take the next step and speak to a set of approved solar installers. Professionals will conduct their own site review with an enhanced set of tools -- the kind Sofdesk built its core business on -- knowing they’re already working with an engaged customer.

EEOC seeks sanctions in JBS USA discrimination case

Meat + Poultry | Posted on July 10, 2017

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a motion to impose sanctions against JBS USA, a unit of São Paulo, Brazil-based JBS SA, for losing or destroying evidence in a religious discrimination and retaliation case. In a statement, JBS USA denied any wrongdoing. “The company is confident that no documents relevant to the case have been lost or destroyed,” a spokesperson for the company said, “and its lawyers will be responding to the EEOC’s motion.”In the original lawsuit, which was filed in 2010, the EEOC claims JBS refused to allow Somali Muslim employees to pray according to their religious beliefs. The lawsuit also claims that the company retaliated against Muslim employees by disciplining them or firing them when they requested their evening break be moved so that they could break their fast and pray closer to sundown during Ramadan in 2008. Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic faith which requires daytime fasting.Now, the agency is alleging that JBS USA lost or destroyed documents relevant to the long-running litigation.

EPA Sets 2018 Ethanol Volumes at Statutory Maximum

National Chicken Council | Posted on July 8, 2017

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday proposed once again to keep the mandated volume for conventional ethanol use for 2018 at the statutory maximum of 15 billion gallons. In proposing this level, EPA has breached the 10-percent blend wall and will continue to subsidize the over production of ethanol, far in excess of the statutory maximum, which will divert corn from America’s food and feed use to foreign energy markets. In crafting the Renewable Fuel Standard, Congress set a cap on conventional ethanol at 15 billion gallons to prevent ethanol production from artificially diverting too great a volume of corn from feed, food, and seed use to energy.  At the time Congress set this cap, ethanol exports were not envisioned. However, last year ethanol exports exceeded one billion gallons, diverting more corn away from domestic feed and food markets to foreign energy markets. “Ethanol exports add nothing to U.S. energy security and the RFS is not being administered in keeping with congressional intent,” said National Chicken Council President Mike Brown. “The RFS bureaucracy has taken on a life of its own and it is time for Congress to stop this runaway train. American chicken producers are only one drought, flood or freeze away from another crisis, while the ethanol industry is protected by federal mandates. The RFS has cost our members $60 billion more in feed costs since it was implemented. The RFS is broken. It is time for Congress to reform it.”

Iowa farmers and politicians 'disappointed' in EPA biofuel standard volume

KWQC | Posted on July 6, 2017

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today the proposed Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) for the 2018 conventional biofuels requirement at 15 billion gallons under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).The EPA lowered the amount of biofuel that must be used in the U.S. next year. It's the first ever reduction in volumes under the program. The EPA’s proposal would cut the “advanced biofuels” category from 4.28 billion gallons required in 2018 to 4.24 billion gallons, an important category that biodiesel helps fill.Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) released a statement saying, “I am disappointed biodiesel levels are not higher, but Iowa will continue working with the administration to increase marketplace opportunities for biodiesel." Governor Reynolds went on to say, “I am grateful this administration works for and with our state rather than against it.”Republican Senators Ernst and Grassley called the decision a 'mixed bag.' Senator Ernst saying, “While I am pleased the new administration has set the proposed volume requirements for conventional ethanol for 2018 at congressionally approved levels, I am disappointed that the 2019 biodiesel number was held constant, and would like to see it more accurately reflect current domestic usage and production capacity.

G20 public finance for fossil fuels 'is four times more than renewables'

The Guardian | Posted on July 6, 2017

The G20 nations provide four times more public financing to fossil fuels than to renewable energy, a report has revealed ahead of their summit in Hamburg, where Angela Merkel has said climate change will be at the heart of the agenda. The authors of the report accuse the G20 of “talking out of both sides of their mouths” and the summit faces the challenge of a sceptical US administration after Donald Trump pulled out of the global Paris agreement. The public finance comes in the form of soft loans and guarantees from governments, and, along with huge fossil fuel subsidies, makes coal, oil and gas plants cheaper and locks in carbon emissions for decades to come. But scientists calculate that to keep global warming below 2C, most fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground, requiring a major shift of investment to clean energy.

As coal dwindles, mining states trim safety inspections

My Blue Ridge Communications | Posted on July 6, 2017

Kathy Bartlett watched helplessly this spring as Kentucky lawmakers cut back on mine safety inspections and replaced them with coaching sessions on miners' safety habits. She knows more than most what's at stake.Bartlett's son, Rickey Thorpe, was crushed to death in a western Kentucky underground mine in 2015 when a coal-digging machine's 17-ton cutting head — propped up with wooden boards — gave out as he worked underneath it.Bartlett, who recently visited her son's grave on what would have been his 31st birthday, says that's why the state shouldn't reduce the number of traditional inspections."Them passing this (law), it's totally wrong," she said. "I was totally against it, but that's one person against thousands. Rick lost his life because there was things that wasn't done properly." State officials say they aren't easing up on enforcement. They say the new law, which takes effect Friday, puts officials in the mines more frequently to work with miners on safe working habits.Appalachian coal states like Kentucky have seen a slowdown in mining and are looking to trim the required number of annual inspections. West Virginia lawmakers considered scaling back mandatory inspections to one from four this year but backed off amid criticism.With Kentucky's law, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, state officials can replace half of the six required inspections with "analyst visits" that focus on coaching. The law still allows for increased inspections if officials identify a problem.The reductions come as the Trump administration proposes cuts to the Department of Labor, which administers the federal mine safety program, even as Trump seeks to reinvigorate the coal industry. Federal inspectors are required by law to conduct four inspections a year on underground mines.In West Virginia, a backlash to the proposed state cutbacks may have caught lawmakers by surprise."Frankly I think the attempt to received national media attention in West Virginia, and I don't think those who were leading that charge were prepared for that," said Phil Smith, United Mine Workers of America spokesman.West Virginia recorded its fifth mining death June 13, surpassing last year's total of three. Nine coal miners have been killed this year nationwide. A record low of eight died in 2016.Smith said western mining states have all but eliminated state inspection programs; Illinois and Alabama have reduced theirs. Virginia requires two annual inspections on underground mines.State officials and industry advocates praise the new Kentucky law, saying it will put inspectors in the mine more frequently but alter their role. Inspectors on analyst visits can still write citations if they see violations.

California Supreme Court upholds cap-and-trade law

Reuters | Posted on July 6, 2017

The California Supreme Court refused to consider a challenge by business groups of the state's cap-and-trade law, a ruling that environmentalists hailed as ending a legal fight that had cast a cloud over the program. The state supreme court did not issue a written opinion on the program itself but declined take up the case on appeal from a lower court. California's program to cap emissions and trade carbon permits is a crucial component of a broader effort to reduce the state's output of heat-trapping greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The carbon market sets a steadily declining cap on the state's carbon output and then sells or gives permits that businesses are required to submit every three years to the state to cover their emissions.

D.C. federal appeals court blocks Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to suspend Obama-era methane pollution rule

Pittsburgh Post Gazette | Posted on July 6, 2017

A federal appeals court in Washington ruled Monday that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped his authority in trying to delay implementation of a new rule requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and reduce methane leaks.In a split decision — the first major legal setback for Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator — the three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the environmental agency to move forward with the Obama-era requirement that aims to reduce planet-warming emissions from oil and gas operations.The ruling signals that President Donald Trump’s plans to erase his predecessor’s environmental record are likely to face an uphill battle in the courts.