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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."

The entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby’s

The Washington Post | Posted on April 5, 2017

Experts in the industry have already pointed out, repeatedly, that the coal jobs are extremely unlikely to come back. The plight of the coal industry is more a function of changing energy markets and increased demand for natural gas than anything else. The chief executive of the nation's largest privately held coal operation said that Trump “can't bring coal back.” Another largely overlooked point about coal jobs is that there just aren't that many of them relative to other industries. There are various estimates of coal-sector employment, but according to the Census Bureau's County Business Patterns program, which allows for detailed comparisons with many other industries, the coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.  That number includes not just miners but also office workers, sales staff and all of the other individuals who work at coal-mining companies. Although 76,000 might seem like a large number, consider that similar numbers of people are employed by, say, the bowling (69,088) and skiing (75,036) industries. Other dwindling industries, such as travel agencies (99,888 people), employ considerably more. Used-car dealerships provide 138,000 jobs. Theme parks provide nearly 144,000. Carwash employment tops 150,000.

Why utilities don't think Trump will stop the clean energy transition

Utility Drive | Posted on April 3, 2017

Today, President Trump is poised to release a long-anticipated executive order to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature climate initiative.  The order is expected to be accompanied by directives to lift a moratorium on federal land coal leases and to cease the use of the social cost of carbon — all part of a broad campaign to dismantle environmental regulations on the power sector that Trump blames for the decline of the coal economy in the United States.  But while rescinding the rules could help slow coal power’s decline in the short term, analysts say it is unlikely to reverse its long-term downturn, mostly due to the economics of natural gas and renewables. That attitude is shared not just by market observers, but by electric utilities themselves. According to Utility Dive’s fourth annual State of the Electric Utility Survey, the sector plans to keep moving steadily toward a cleaner, more distributed energy future — no matter what happens with the Clean Power Plan. President Trump’s push against carbon rules may grab headlines, but the 2017 survey indicates utility executives are significantly more concerned about other issues.For the first time, physical and cyber security topped the list of utility sector concerns in 2017, with nearly three quarters of respondents indicating it is either “important” or “very important” today.Security concerns were followed by more familiar utility issues with distributed energy policy, rate design reform, aging grid infrastructure and reliable integration of renewables and DERs — all issues which tracked close to the top in past Utility Dive surveys, the report notes.  

Food companies, others still moving toward renewable energy

The Progressive Farmer | Posted on March 30, 2017

On the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the Clean Power Plan, the world's largest beer company announced it would buy 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. Anheuser-Busch InBev will start renewable energy shifts in Mexico, which is home to the company's largest brewery. The company will be buying power from a major wind and solar project being built in Mexico. AB InBev has joined RE100, a group of major global businesses committed to converting to 100% renewable energy. AB InBev estimates its renewable-power conversion will reduce the company's carbon footprint by roughly 30%. Rescinding the Clean Power Plan likely will still require a long legal battle once the rulemaking process begins at EPA. If successful, it also likely means the U.S. doesn't have a plan for showing reduction in carbon emissions agreed to by the Obama administration in the Paris climate agreement in 2015. The U.S. had committed to reduce emissions by at least 26% from 2005 levels by 2025. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association along with 39 rural power cooperatives petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2015 to reject the Clean Power Plan, leading to the current legal stay of the power rule by the Supreme Court.

While Ohio coal employment falls, solar jobs double in Cleveland area

Midwest Energy News | Posted on March 30, 2017

Solar industry jobs doubled in the Cleveland, Ohio area last year, driving about half of the state’s total job growth in the sector, according to new data released today by The Solar Foundation.  However, the industry’s future growth in Cuyahoga County and elsewhere in the state could be jeopardized by ongoing uncertainty over Ohio’s renewable portfolio standards.  The detailed data are a follow-up to a nationwide report released by the group last month. In addition to each state’s solar job totals, data posted by the organization at include information about minority participation, breakdown of jobs within the industry, patents, per capita ranking and more.

Policy Shift Helps Coal, but Other Forces May Limit Effect

The New York Times | Posted on March 29, 2017

Many fossil fuel executives are celebrating President Trump’s move to dismantle the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. But their cheers are muted, because market forces and state initiatives continue to elevate coal’s rivals, especially natural gas and renewable energy. In coal’s favor, there is the new promise that federal lands will be open for leasing, ending an Obama-era moratorium. Easing pollution restrictions could delay the closing of some old coal-fired power plants, slowing the switch by some utilities to other sources.And with the government pendulum swinging from environmental concerns back to job creation and energy independence, share prices of many energy companies, particularly coal producers, soared Tuesday on the news.For coal executives, however, optimism and expansion plans remain guarded. Regulatory relief could restore 10 percent of their companies’ lost market share at most, they say — nowhere near enough to return coal to its dominant position in power markets and put tens of thousands of coal miners to work.