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SARL Members and Alumni News

Report challenges economics of 1950s coal plants as Ohio lawmakers seek subsidies

Midwest Energy News | Posted on June 20, 2017

As Ohio lawmakers move to advance a bill to subsidize two 62-year-old coal plants, a report released confirms older coal power plants’ ongoing difficulty competing against those fueled by natural gas. The Ohio House Public Utilities Committee’s agenda shows a version of House Bill 239 could get voted out of committee today, setting the stage for possible passage by the House of Representatives. The bill would require all utility customers to subsidize costs of two coal-fired power plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Cooperative (OVEC). Those plants are the Kyger Creek plant near Cheshire, Ohio, and the Clifty Creek plant in Madison, Indiana.Meanwhile, a June 20 report from the Analysis Group concludes that market forces — especially lower prices from shale gas development — are behind the general decline of coal-fired power plants’ competitiveness. The American Wind Energy Association and the Advanced Energy Economy Institute funded the report.

Nevada’s New Solar Law Is About Much More Than Net Metering

Green Tech Media | Posted on June 20, 2017

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 405into law to the cheers of solar companies and advocates. AB 405 reinstates net metering for rooftop solar customers in Nevada, after utility regulators eliminated the policy in December 2015, throwing the Silver State’s solar market into disarray. Because the policy change was applied retroactively, it triggered enormous public outcry, and the steep new fees effectively put a freeze on new rooftop solar installations. Nevada saw a 32 percent decline in solar jobs last year after large residential installers chose to pull out of the state. But with the new law now in place, Tesla, Sunrun and Vivint Solar said they plan to resume sales immediately. Under the new law, new solar customers will immediately begin to be reimbursed for the excess energy they generate at 95 percent of the retail electricity rate. The credit is scheduled to decline in 7 percent increments for every 80 megawatts of rooftop solar deployed, to a floor of 75 percent of the retail rate. The discounted compensation rates are designed to ensure that solar customers pay their fair share to use the power grid as solar penetration increases, but still leave a lot of room for growth. The 80-megawatt threshold for each credit tier is significant. In Nevada's biggest year, before the net metering policy changed, the state deployed around 100 megawatts of residential solar. Assuming the market booms again, it will likely still take around four years to get to 75 percent of the retail rate. And even at 75 percent, net metering compensation still looks economically appealing. The passage of AB 405 marks the first time in U.S. history that consumers have been statutorily guaranteed the right to self-generate electricity, said Wellinghoff, who helped craft portions of the bill in his new role as an independent policy consultant. Under Section 24 of the bill, consumers are granted the right to generate their own electricity and offset their own internal usage one-for-one at the full retail rate, in the same way they can install energy efficient light bulbs or appliances and save energy at the retail rate. Whatever energy you no longer take from the grid, you don’t have to pay for.

Federal Pullback, Climate Change Could Boost State Spending on Disasters

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on June 20, 2017

The roughly 150 mph winds hopped over Chef Menteur Highway and blew out walls at a NASA assembly plant. By the time the tornado fizzled out over Lake Borgne, it had caused millions of dollars of damage. Together with a cluster of other windstorms, it yielded the seventh presidentially declared major disaster of 2017. States have come to rely on these declarations, a practice that helps individuals and communities recover from disasters. And since the 1980s, the federal government has been on the hook for the majority of recovery costs when a disaster is declared. But as the country faces an increasing number of billion-dollar disasters, federal officials are considering scaling back that spending, aiming to save taxpayer money and encourage states to prepare for disasters with their own resources.And that has some local officials worried. Without the federal relief they depend on, many communities could be hamstrung after a disaster, unable to help their most vulnerable residents.Some could have to hold back so much money that other programs and services would suffer, said Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management director. “They would be miserable places to live and if you have a large enough disaster, they would be destroyed.”The proposed pullback, along with the threat of more frequent and intense natural disasters linked to climate change, is already forcing cities and states to change the way they prepare for — and recover from — events like tornadoes, forest fires, floods and hurricanes.

KY Food banks may get boost from new law protecting donors from lawsuits

Louisville Courier Journal | Posted on June 20, 2017

As thousands of Kentuckians struggle to feed their families, nonprofits hope a new law will encourage supermarkets to donate food they typically throw away by shielding them from being sued if someone gets sick after eating their donations.  There have been virtually no lawsuits filed over someone getting sick from consuming donated food, but fear of legal action has still stifled donations, said Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who launched an initiative last year that led to the "Food Immunity Bill." The law, which goes into effect June 29, protects groceries, farmers and other entities that donate food to nonprofit organizations from civil or criminal liability as long as there was no intentional misconduct.

State Labor Regulations and Labor-Intensive Agriculture

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on June 19, 2017

The state of U.S. agricultural production is changing. Over the next decade, increases to minimum wage and other changing labor regulations will have a dramatic impact on fruit, vegetable and other labor-intensive agricultural production in the U.S. These impacts will be on top of evolving immigration policies and trends, which have been receiving a lot of attention in mainstream media  as well as farm media in recent months. Many of these changes will undoubtedly be welcome to farmworkers and their families. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere, as well as the ongoing debate over what is an "appropriate" minimum wage. Here we consider the implications for agricultural production and farm management, which we believe will be substantial. While immigration is generally a national issue, many labor laws are set at the state level. Most U.S. fruit and vegetable production takes place in states that have significantly raised minimum wages in the last decade and plan further increases into the 2020s. Several of these states are also considering or have already mandated new benefits for farmworkers, such as sick leave and overtime. Many fruit and vegetable farmers, as well as other farms that rely on non-family labor, such as dairy farms, will need to reduce their labor use, increase productivity or take other measures, such as finding new markets, to remain viable. Farmers in the top 10 fruit- and vegetable-producing states (Figure 1) in the U.S. saw the minimum wage increase from 11% to 45% between 2008 and 2017. This range reflects important differences between these states, which we divide into "low-wage" and "high-wage" groups. The five "low-wage" states use either the federal minimum wage or a state minimum adjusted for inflation. The five states in the "high-wage" group have current minimum wages at or above $9 per hour and have committed to future increases. California, by far the largest fruit and vegetable producer in the U.S., will raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2023 and has also mandated overtime for farm workers. Washington ($13.50 by 2021) Oregon ($13.50 by 2022), New York ($12.50 by 2021), and Arizona ($12 by 2020) also plan to raise the minimum wage. Combined, the high-wage group represents more than two-thirds of U.S. fruit and vegetable production; California alone is 55% of production value (Figure 2).

California firms up marijuana rules, will allow deliveries

Capital Press | Posted on June 19, 2017

California would set standards for organic marijuana, allow pot samples at county fairs and permit home deliveries under legislation set to be considered by lawmakers Thursday as the state prepares for next year’s start of legal marijuana sales. Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration are working to merge California’s new voter-approved recreational pot law with the state’s longstanding medical marijuana program. They have settled on an array of regulations to protect consumers and public safety while ensuring taxes are collected.The provisions were tucked into the state budget agreement between Brown and top legislative Democrats announced this week following months of negotiations with businesses operating illegally or in the legal medical marijuana field and investors who want to enter the nation’s largest legal marijuana market.“One of the biggest challenges we have is taking a multi-billion-dollar industry out of the dark and now into the light,” said Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat whose district includes much of Northern California’s prime marijuana growing region.By 2018, state officials must have crafted regulations and rules governing the emerging legal marijuana market with an estimated annual sales value of $7 billion — ranging from where and how plants can be grown to setting guidelines to track the buds from fields to stores. Full legal sales are expected to roll out later in the year.In general, the state will treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow six marijuana plants at home.

Oregon wrestles with wolf management questions

Capital Press | Posted on June 19, 2017

There’s a question about who should investigate when Oregon wolves devour livestock. A “depredation,” as it’s called in wildlife management-speak. The Oregon Department of Fish Wildlife says it could use some help. Cattle ranchers would like to see properly certified local groups involved, to speed up the process. Depredation investigations are important because wolves involved in enough of them can end up dead. “Lethal control,” is the polite term. Oregon State Police say no thanks. The OSP Wildlife Division head, Capt. Jeff Samuels, said his game officers would need eight hours of training each, about 1,000 hours total. That’s expensive. Another issue: Does the burden of Oregon’s wolf management approach weigh too heavily on private landowners? People in Northeast Oregon, especially in Wallowa County and especially cattle ranchers, would say of course. Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf program manager, said 74 percent of confirmed wolf depredations occur on private land. Michael Finley, the ODFW Commission chair, raised the question. He said it’s a dichotomy: Private land with private expectations, and a public resource — wolves — is doing damage and costing owners money.He wondered out loud whether wolves on private or property ought to be managed differently. For example, require only two confirmed depredations on private land instead of three, the uniform private-public standard.  It’s complicated because Oregon land is about 50-50 public and private, often butting up against each other. Wolves go where they want and ranchers use both, because grazing is a permitted activity on land managed by the BLM and Forest Service.Todd Nash, a Wallowa County commissioner who is wolf committee chair for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, agreed property lines are intermixed and sometimes unfenced. But he said cattle are private property, and ranchers wouldn’t allow someone to rustle their cattle, for instance, no matter where they were grazing. Insert eat for rustle and the point is made.

Nevada Governor signs 3 marijuana bills into law, vetoes one

Las Vegas Sun | Posted on June 15, 2017

Medical marijuana cards will now cost as low as $50 for Nevada patients, edible products will come in opaque, child-proof packages and a 10 percent excise tax on sales of recreational weed estimated to generate $70 million will be designated for Nevada’s rainy day fund after three of four remaining marijuana bills passed by the Nevada Legislature were signed into law Monday by Gov. Brian Sandoval.  Senate Bills 478 and 344 were inked by the governor Monday along with Assembly Bill 422. Only Assembly Bill 259 - which would have allowed those convicted of past marijuana-related crimes involving an equal or lesser amount of what’s now legal to have that crime vacated from their criminal records – was vetoed. SB478 also calls for a 15 percent wholesale tax on both medical and recreational marijuana, a move praised by dispensary owners as cost-cutting, despite increasing current wholesale tax on the medical plant.The added tax allows a single-stream wholesale process from cultivation and production facilities to marijuana dispensaries, said Armen Yemenidijian of Essence Cannabis Dispensary, and saves weed vendors from the added internal costs and logistical headaches of having to classify marijuana plants as either medical or recreational from the moment the seed is planted.

Senate committee passes "cookie bill" with $25,000 income limit for home bakers

WKOW | Posted on June 15, 2017

One week after a state judge ruled Wisconsin's law banning the sale of home-baked goods unconstitutional, a State Senate committee passed legislation allowing people to sell up to $25,000 worth of home-baked goods per year without obtaining a food processing plant license. The original version of SB 271 would have set the income limit at $7,500, but an amendment passed by the Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Regulations supported boosting the limit to be more in line with neighboring states.The $25,000 limit would put Wisconsin on the same level as Illinois, and above both Michigan and Minnesota. Iowa has no limit on the amount of home-baked goods that can be sold in a calendar year.All of those states already allow the sale of home-baked goods without a license.
The bill does subject home bakers to some state oversight."Home bakers would need to adhere to labeling, signage and training requirements, as well as register with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. And they would have to document their sales," said Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls), who authored the SB 271.The bill would also require all sales to take place on a face-to-face basis, while prohibiting door-to-door sales.A separate bill being circulated by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) would eliminate food processing plant license requirements for bakers of all sizes.

Texas budget includes funding for vet school at Texas Tech | Posted on June 15, 2017

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law a 2018-2019 state budget worth around $217 billion, vetoing about $120 million in planned expenditures but keeping $4.2 million in funding for a Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo. “For everyone in the Panhandle, this is a big victory,” Smithee said. “The establishment of a vet college here has been a dream goal for some for at least 30 years, most thought it was unreachable within our lifetimes, but now it looks like it will be a reality.”The amount of funding is down about $1.5 million from the House’s initial proposal and well short of the $16.75 million that the Texas Tech University System initially requested from lawmakers to build the school.Smithee said previously that the more than $4 million was a commitment from the state of Texas that a veterinary college would be established in Amarillo.