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Sierra Club sues Energy Department over grid study

Washington Examiner | Posted on August 24, 2017

The Sierra Club sued the Energy Department on Monday to release the names of groups and experts that the department consulted while developing a yet-to-be-released study on electric grid reliability. "We want to make sure that when this study is finally released, that the public and policy makers fully understand how it went about doing it, who they were influenced by, and whose views they did not take into consideration," said Casey Roberts, a lawyer with the environmental group. The Sierra Club sued the Energy Department on Monday to release the names of groups and experts that the department consulted while developing a yet-to-be-released study on electric grid reliability."We want to make sure that when this study is finally released, that the public and policy makers fully understand how it went about doing it, who they were influenced by, and whose views they did not take into consideration," said Casey Roberts, a lawyer with the environmental group.

Fracking debate ramps up again in Illinois with first permit application under new rules

Midwest Energy News | Posted on August 21, 2017

Four years ago, the Illinois legislature passed a law to regulate high volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, after months of contentious negotiations between oil industry interests, environmental watchdogs and community groups. Leading up to the law’s passage, companies had secured hundreds of leases to potentially frack in Southern Illinois.But then oil prices dropped, and the eagerness to tap the state’s New Albany Shale faded.This summer, the filing for the first permit under the new rules has reignited debate over fracking in Illinois and concerns over the law’s ability to protect citizens and the environment. Environmental and citizen groups say that this permit will be a test case as to how rigorously the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) will seek to enforce the law.In the spring, the Kansas-based, family-owned company Woolsey Energy filed for a permit to frack in White County in southeastern Illinois. Advocates criticized that permit as incomplete and inconsistent, and the department sent Woolsey back to the drawing board.Woolsey submitted a revised permit application this summer, with the public comment period closing this month. Environmental advocates say the revised permit is still sorely lacking required information, and they are urging the IDNR to reject it.

Missouri regulators deal Grain Belt Express another setback

Midwest Energy News | Posted on August 21, 2017

Even though four of its five members stated unequivocally that a proposed wind energy transmission line would be in the public interest, the Missouri Public Service Commission on Wednesday said it could not grant Clean Line Energy Partners a permit for development of the Grain Belt Express. The commission said it was constrained by a recent state appeals court ruling in a different transmission case.  A lawyer representing clean-energy interests said that another appeal is a near-certainty. Mark Lawlor, Clean Line’s vice president for development, wasn’t quite as definite.“I think it’s sort of placed the burden on Clean Line to go ask the courts to sort this out,” he said. “Because of this legal quagmire, the project can’t move forward. It’s a broken system. It’s a problem for Missouri.”

States Move to Encourage Community Solar

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on August 21, 2017

The number of U.S. homeowners who have their own solar panels has been growing steadily since 2000. But as that market slows, the industry’s focus is shifting to the huge swath of customers who can’t put panels on their own roofs. Among them are renters, people who live in places where installation isn’t allowed or isn’t feasible, and those who simply cannot afford their own panels. For these would-be solar customers, the only option is to draw the power from panels set up elsewhere.Traditional utility companies have until now driven much of the growth in these community solar, or shared solar, efforts. But while states have little control over whether utilities set up shared solar projects, many have been moving to open up the market to enable private companies, nonprofits, homeowners associations and others to develop and run community solar projects.The thorniest question states face, perhaps, is how to value the excess energy that is sold back to utilities — an issue dogging efforts to encourage the use of solar power and incorporate it into the power grid.Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws enabling third-party community solar. And some 90 percent of the explosive growth in the sector in the next five years will take place in five of them that have taken early steps to encourage the industry: Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York, according to GTM Research, which studies solar power and other renewable energy.

Biomass-Based Biodiesel Prices--How Much Does Policy Matter?

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on August 17, 2017

Our analysis suggests that the imposition of an antidumping duty that restricts biomass-based diesel (BBD) imports from Argentina and Indonesia would add about $0.15 per gallon to the average price of BBD in 2018. In addition, an EPA remedy to the court ruling invalidating the interpretation of "inadequate domestic supply" that increased BBD demand by 500 million gallons in 2018 would also add $0.15 to the equilibrium price of BBD. The price impact of each of these policy alternatives is relatively small at about four percent, with a combined impact of about 8.5 percent. While the estimated price impact is modest, it is not economically trivial when applied to 3.5 billion gallons of total BBD consumption. There are two fundamental reasons why the BBD price impacts are rather modest. The first is the flatness of the total supply curve. More technically, the total supply curve is extremely price elastic. With an estimated elasticity of four, only a one percent increase in price is required to increase BBD quantity by four percent. The second reason is that the shift in the total supply curve due to the import restrictions considered here is relatively small.It is important to recognize that our identification and estimation of the supply curves depends entirely on data only from 2016. In addition, results of our analysis would differ if supply curves are non-linear beyond the largest observed annualized values we used in estimating the curves. Our estimates of the price impacts of alternative BBD policies should be considered in light of these potential limitations. Upcoming farmdoc daily articles will examine the potential impact on D4 biodiesel and D6 ethanol RINs prices of restricting BBD imports and increasing RFS requirements. The RINs price implication of converting the blender tax credit to a producer tax credit will also be examined.

Did This Billionaire Game Ethanol Markets for a $50 Million Windfall?

The Motley Fool | Posted on August 17, 2017

It hasn't exactly been a secret that billionaire investor Carl Icahn holds contempt for renewable fuels. His companies, CVR Energy and CVR Refining, have often blamed government rules for eating into profits. Fuel blenders are required to submit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency special compliance credits, called renewable identification numbers, or RINs, to show that mandated volumes of renewable fuels are being blended into the nation's gasoline supply. If a blender's gasoline volume does not contain the required percentage of biofuels, it can buy RINs from blenders that have excess credits. But a weird thing began happening in late 2016.CVR Energy and CVR Refining began putting off purchases of RINs in the months leading up to and following the general election in November. In fact, the company began selling millions of them. In effect, the company was betting that the prices of the compliance credits, which are traded freely on the open market, would drop in the future. Icahn was essentially shorting RINs.There's nothing wrong with that. However, a group of eight senators has pointed out that the unusual trading activity of CVR Refining and Icahn resulted in a $50 million profit -- an "impossible" "rare profit" -- and have requested an investigation into possible insider trading. Did the billionaire game renewable fuels markets for his own gain? The compliance credits are traded on the open market, which keeps ethanol producers from flooding the market with ethanol and allows refiners a chance to buy low and sell high (if they choose).So, CVR Refining wasn't doing anything illegal in the last year by simply not buying RINs or reselling RINs.But here's the potential problem: Carl Icahn was advising President Donald Trump -- first unofficially during the presidential campaign and then, beginning in late December, as a special advisor -- on matters involving the EPA and deregulation while making these market trades. In other words, there may have been a conflict of interest that essentially amounted to insider trading.For instance, Icahn was a strong supporter of nominating Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. Pruitt was a strong critic of the RFS -- and now leads the agency. RIN prices fell 20% immediately following his nomination. CVR Energy and CVR Refining stocks hit 52-week highs. 

Report: Climate Change Is Already Hurting the U.S.

Time | Posted on August 15, 2017

A draft report produced by 13 federal agencies concludes that the United States is already feeling the negative impacts of climate change, with a stark increase in the frequency of heat waves, heavy rains and other extreme weather over the last four decades. The preliminary report summarizes the current state of the science for the upcoming National Climate Assessment. Trump and his Cabinet have expressed public doubts that the warming is being primarily driven by man-made carbon pollution and will have serious consequences for Americans. The assessment has generally been released every four years under a federal initiative mandated by Congress in 1990. The assessment said global temperatures will continue to rise without steep reductions in the burning of fossil fuels, with increasingly negative impacts. Worldwide, 15 of the last 16 years have been the warmest years on record. Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2017 is on track to be the second warmest for the United States. The report calls the long-term evidence that global warming is being driven by human activities "unambiguous.""There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles are found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate," the report said, citing thousands of studies. "Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans."

New Jersey-Size 'Dead Zone' Is Largest Ever in Gulf of Mexico

National Geographic | Posted on August 15, 2017

A record-breaking, New Jersey-sized dead zone was measured by scientists in the Gulf of Mexico this week—a sign that water quality in U.S. waterways is worse than expected.The Gulf of Mexico hypoxic or low-oxygen zone, also called a dead zone, is an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and other marine life. It’s primarily caused by an excess of agricultural nutrients that flow downstream and into surface waters, stimulating harmful algae.To record the new measurements and assess the severity of low oxygen levels in the Gulf, scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) embarked on their 31st mid-summer hypoxia research cruise in July. Even with reported numbers as large as they are, the team of scientists said the entire area of the dead zone couldn't be mapped due to an insufficient number of workable days on the ship. There was more hypoxia to the west, and the measured size would have been larger if there was more time for researchers to work.

CA: Cap-and-trade extension included fire fee repeal

Capital Press | Posted on August 10, 2017

The bill to extend California’s cap-and-trade program through 2030, which was signed recently by Gov. Jerry Brown, included the repeal of a controversial fee charged to rural landowners for fire protection.

15 states appeal EPA delay of stricter air-quality standards

AP | Posted on August 3, 2017

Attorneys general from 15 states filed a legal challenge on Tuesday over the Trump administration’s delay of Obama-era rules reducing emissions of smog-causing air pollutants. The states petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s extension of deadlines to comply with the 2015 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.Pruitt announced in June he was extending the deadlines by at least one year while his agency studies and reconsiders the requirements. Several pro-business groups are opposed to the stricter rules, including the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.