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Federal utility CEO: Coal plants not reopening under Trump

Trib Live | Posted on April 24, 2017

The CEO of the nation's biggest public utility said Tuesday that the agency isn't going to reopen coal-fired power plants under President Trump, who has promised a comeback for the downtrodden coal industry. Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson said he thinks very little will actually change for the federal utility under Trump.TVA has said it's on track to cut its carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. By the end of 2018, the utility will have retired five of its original 11 coal-fired power plants.Trump, meanwhile, has begun repealing President Obama-era environmental regulations aimed at reducing pollution from mining and burning coal. He has promised to repeal and already ordered a review of the Clean Power Plan, Obama's centerpiece push to curb climate change by limiting carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants.Johnson said the retirement of many of TVA's coal plants was the cheapest way to serve customers, which include more than 9 million people in seven southeastern states. Natural gas prices, not regulation, caused the recent downturn for coal, Johnson said.“Our statutory duty is to produce electricity at the lowest feasible rate,” Johnson said. “And when we decided to close the coal plants, that was the math we were doing. We weren't trying to comply with the Clean Power Plan or anything else. What's the cheapest way to serve the customer? It turned out to be retiring those coal plants.”

Coal company plans huge solar farm on strip mine

Courier Journal | Posted on April 19, 2017

An Eastern Kentucky coal mining company plans to build what could become the state's largest solar farm on a reclaimed mountaintop strip mine, promising jobs for displaced coal miners. The Berkeley Energy Group and EDF Renewable Energy are exploring what they're billing as the first large-scale solar project in Appalachia. They're focused on two mountaintop-removal mining sites outside Pikeville, where engineering and feasibility studies are underway for a 50- to 100-megawatt project.By comparison, that could be five to 10 times are big as LG&E and KU Energy's 10-megawatt solar farm at its Brown station in Mercer County. That Central Kentucky array has 45,000 solar panels on 50 acres that company officials have said can provide energy for about 1,500 homes. The Kentucky Public Service Commission last year also approved an 8.5-megawatt solar farm for East Kentucky Power in Winchester.

California utility launches first hybrid power systems

Napa Valley Register | Posted on April 19, 2017

A California utility has launched unique systems combining a hybrid battery and gas turbine to produce and store electricity for use during hot summer months and other times when power demand soars.The new Hybrid Electric Gas Turbines are the first of their kind in the world, officials with Southern California Edison and manufacturer General Electric said during an event Monday near Los Angeles.The new systems will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution by 60 percent and save millions of gallons of cooling water annually, Edison said.There were no numbers on how much consumers might save. But officials said increased reliability and the reduced environmental impact will lead to significant cost reductions for the utility, which will be passed on to customers in the form of lower bills.

How Wall Street Once Killed the U.S. Solar Industry

The Atlantic | Posted on April 19, 2017

Why is the American solar-power industry so small? It’s less obvious than it may seem. The global industry is a $65-billion business, and the United States has been involved in it from the beginning. NASA first improved and perfected panels for early satellite and Apollo missions. American firms have been manufacturing and selling solar panels for 40 years.Yet North American firms produce only about 3 percent of the world’s solar panels. China and Taiwan, meanwhile, make more than 60 percent of them.Labor in East Asia is often cheaper than it is in the United States, but that’s not the only factor. Consider the global semiconductor industry. Both computer chips and solar panels emerged from the Cold War research-and-development boom. Both were commercialized before 1980, as American-invented products sold by American-owned firms. And both markets were essentially controlled by the United States before the rise of Asian firms in the mid-1980s and ’90s. But chips, which first went to market a decade earlier than solar panels, did not suffer the same catastrophe that solar panels did. Today, the United States still leads the computer-chip industry, holding more than half of global market share for 20 years. Why hasn’t solar followed suit? A new paper in Science Advances argues that enormous changes transformed the structure of the U.S. economy in the 1970s and 1980s, making it impossible for American firms to develop new industries and markets. They specifically gutted the solar industry, depriving the technology of funding at a critical moment in its development.

South Dakota farmers fear uncertain ethanol future

Rapid City Journal | Posted on April 19, 2017

Ethanol came to the rescue of growers like Swayze, injecting a new value into crops, driving prices higher and boosting the state's economy. Much of the industry's expansion since the 1990s depended on federal policies, including new rules to ensure clean air, fuel economy and a marketplace for renewable fuels.But like many of his peers in corn and ethanol, the next four years leave Swayze with questions.A Donald Trump White House means a new, uncertain political landscape. Some of the Trump administration's leaders have deep ties to the oil industry. The seismic political transition raises questions and concerns for the benefactors of a multi-billion-dollar industry that also happens to drive South Dakota's economy. Ethanol was far from a major talking point for Trump on the campaign trail. Even after touring a Poet biorefining plant in Iowa, he uttered just a few sentences about renewable fuel and its impact on Midwestern jobs.

Cultivating the coexistence of agriculture and solar farms

Green Biz | Posted on April 14, 2017

By now, most Americans have heard of solar farms. But how about solar farmers? A quarter of California farms, nearly 2,000 altogether, are generating onsite solar energy, making it far and away the national leader, according to a 2011 report (PDF) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) outlining the use of solar on farms. Hawaii, Colorado and Texas count over 500 farms producing solar power, while Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona and Montana have over 200 each. But how farmers are solarizing that land has become a point of contention. While some have chosen to install solar panels, pumps, coolers, heaters and more to decarbonize their farm operations and downsize costs, others — sometimes controversially — have stopped planting crops altogether in favor of solar farms. "The prevailing reasons farmers decide to replace crops with solar are because the farmers are getting older or because it’s easier and more lucrative," said Weinmann. "They’re principally motivated by risk aversion, and less inclined to want exposure to the volatility that might come with a more traditional crop. Risk is a significant part of the calculus in their decisions, at least in the cases I am aware of."

Maryland passes 30% energy storage tax credit for residential, C&I installations

Utility Dive | Posted on April 13, 2017
  • Maryland’s General Assembly has passed a bill that calls for a 30% tax credit for the deployment of energy storage technologies that runs from 2018 through 2022. The credit is capped at $5,000 for residential storage projects and at $75,000 for commercial projects with an overall cap on credits awarded of $750,000 per year.The bill now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), but it seems to have garnered enough votes – passing unanimously in the Senate and by 101-11 votes in the House – to avoid or survive a veto.

While cause remains unclear, earthquake prompts new look at Ohio fracking

Midwest Energy News | Posted on April 10, 2017

Regardless of how regulators resolve their investigation into an April 2 earthquake in southeastern Ohio, drilling and well operators in the area will almost certainly need to do more careful monitoring and reporting in the future, now that there’s a known seismic risk. “Any time an earthquake occurs, that’s an indication that there’s a fault there,” said geologist Michael Brudzinski at Miami University in Oxford.The magnitude 3.0 quake on April 2 took place at 7:58 a.m. in the Marietta unit of Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio. “We hadn’t really seen [an earthquake] in the area where this one occurred” in April, with the exception of the two events of magnitudes of 2.3 and 1.8 on December 12, 2016, Brudzinski noted.Nearby oil and gas activities are on hold pending further investigation by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Study: Coal plant pollution leads to lower birth weights for nearby residents

Utility Dive | Posted on April 5, 2017

Researchers from Leigh University say emissions from coal-fired power plants can impact pregnant women 20 to 30 miles away from the source, leading to increased incidence of low birth weights. The paper, "The Impact of Prenatal Exposure to Power Plant Emissions on Birth Weight," is the first scholarly look at the prenatal effects of coal emissions. It examines the impacts of pollution on New Jersey mothers in four counties from a Pennsylvania power plant located upwind.Researchers found a 6.5% increase in low birth weights and a 17.12% increase in very low birth weights among mothers exposed to the pollution. By taking into account infant health impacts, the research aims to broaden the scope of cross-border pollution impact analysis done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nevada legislature looks at job creation through advanced energy technologies

KOLO TV | Posted on April 5, 2017

Nevada legislators are looking at several bills that would expand Nevada's renewable energy output. A study by the American Jobs Project, a nonprofit focused on creating jobs in clean energy sectors, identified solar and battery technology as the state's most promising fields. The Senate subcommittee on energy is looking at a bill that would create a green bank program to help with access to capital for green technology."This is a bank that focuses on helping citizens to participate in renewable and clean energy projects with low-interest and sometimes no-interest loans," Senator Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas) says. "This is the missing piece because many of the traditional banks are not offering this to consumers. Anything pertaining to renewable energy is available as a possible loan through a green bank where that might not be an option with a traditional bank."