Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
May 24, 2015

Renewable Energy Growth Will Remain Strong Through 2040

“In its forward-looking report for the year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts renewable energy will be the fastest-growing power source through 2040,” writes Scientific American.

“New investments in renewable energy rose from $9 billion in the first quarter of 2004 to $50 billion for 2015’s first quarter…and the volume of installed photovoltaic systems in the United States has grown every year since 2000.”

“The story that renewable energy advocates often share of how their favorite power sources have grown so rapidly over recent years belies the reality that those industries have expanded from small market shares to start. Yet with increasing interest, investors are targeting renewables as strong assets, not dodgy options.”

Vatican Releases Climate Declaration As Pope Prepares Encyclical on Environment

“A daylong Vatican meeting on climate, energy, ecology and equity has produced a declaration that offers a promising vision for religious and secular leaders eager to foster a sustainable human journey,” according to Andrew Revkin.

“The event, attended by dozens of religious leaders, scientists, social and environmental campaigners and others, is part of Pope Francis’s campaign ahead of the release of his encyclical on the environment and equity.”

“It’s encouraging to see subtle, but significant, wording here, in particular the phrase ‘and other low-carbon energy’ — code for both nuclear power and for ‘carbon capture’ methods of using fossil fuels that capture and sequester carbon dioxide (which will need an awful lot of large-scale development before they can be seen as a climate-scale option).”

Senate Republicans to Challenge Global Climate Change Agreement

“President Barack Obama and Congress are headed for another power clash on the international stage, as key Senate Republicans challenge his efforts to forge a global pact on climate change,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“The White House considers the agreement with nearly 200 nations a historic opportunity to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions world-wide. But some GOP senators view it as executive overreach, and they are quietly considering ways to warn other countries that the president doesn’t speak for them and may not be able to deliver on his promises to slash emissions.”

“Administration officials have signaled optimism in recent weeks that climate talks are on track, with countries working toward completing a deal in December in Paris. They have expressed confidence that laws already on the books will allow them to move ahead with a plan submitted to the United Nations to cut greenhouse gases in the U.S. by nearly 30% by 2025 based on 2005 emission levels.”

Tesla’s Battery ‘Gigafactory’ Could Revolutionize Electricity

“Billionaire Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc. is expected to announce next week that it will expand into a new business offering battery-based energy storage for residential and commercial customers,” The Los Angeles Times reports.

“The electric car company has started to brief environmental groups and analysts on its plans. Retailing giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. confirmed that it is participating in the test programs and expects to purchase more Tesla battery systems.”

“Storing electricity efficiently, inexpensively and safely is a problem that has vexed the power industry since electricity was first harnessed. But such storage has huge implications for bolstering the national electricity grid and reducing pollution from power generation.”

“Tesla’s strategy is designed to leverage a planned $5-billion investment by the car company, battery cell manufacturer Panasonic and other partners in a massive lithium-ion battery ‘gigafactory’ under construction near Reno. Musk has said the factory will slash the cost of producing batteries about 30%.”

USDA to Incentivize Carbon Reduction in Agriculture

“The Agriculture Department unveiled a host of voluntary programs and initiatives Thursday to encourage agricultural producers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage and generate clean and renewable energy in their operations,” according to The Des Moines Register.

“The initiatives, which are carried out under the 2014 farm bill and don’t require congressional approval… The USDA plan seeks to improve soil resilience and increase productivity by promoting conservation tillage and no-till systems, among other practices. A greater focus also would be placed on more timely and efficient use of fertilizers to reduce emissions and help producers save money.”

“In addition, it would back a number of practices to reduce methane emissions from cattle, dairy and swine. Producers and landowners would receive financial incentives including grants and low-interest loans to help.”

The Symbolism of Obama’s Earth Day Visit to the Everglades

Slate explains why the Florida Everglades were “the right setting” for President Obama’s Earth Day comments on climate change.

“Obama couldn’t have picked a better place to showcase how frustratingly complicated it’s been for America to take effective steps toward preparing for climate change.”

“The Everglades are the subject of a multibillion-dollar comprehensive restoration plan, but 15 years in, there’s been precious little to show in terms of progress… As of 2015, only 13 of the 68 original projects that were part of the 2000 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan have been federally authorized. What was supposed to be a $7 billion, 30-year project has since doubled in expected cost and may not be finished until 2050. By then, climate change is expected to produce a $40 billion hit annually to South Florida’s tourism industry.”

New EPA Carbon Rules Will Create Quarter-Million Jobs

InsideClimate News looks at a new report from Industrial Economics finding that the “Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to crack down on carbon pollution from power plants would create more than a quarter of a million additional jobs.”

“Significant job losses at shuttered coal-fired plants and at coal mines would be offset not only by investments in cleaner sources of power, but also by productivity gains across the whole economy—and by overall reductions in wholesale prices of electricity, the authors said. Many households and businesses would end up with extra cash in hand to spend on other goods and services. The overall effect of the rules would boost economic growth, but not significantly.”

Rubio Stays Ambiguous on Climate Change Solutions

Stephen Stromberg argues that presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been “strategically evasive” about addressing climate change.

“Rubio’s suggestion that ‘some’ people — scientists? policymakers?underpants gnomes? — are ‘trying to make’ us worry more than we should allows him to play to climate-science-is-a-hoax conspiracy theorists without explicitly endorsing their wackiness. But it also emphasizes the fact that Rubio hasn’t explained what the proper degree of alarm is — and, from there, what to do about it.”

Hawaii Pushes Utilities Forward on Solar Energy

The New York Times looks at recent developments in Hawaii, which it says is “at the forefront of a global upheaval in the power business.”

“In Hawaii, the current battle began in 2013, when Hawaiian Electric started barring installations of residential solar systems in certain areas. It was an abrupt move — a panicked one, critics say — made after the utility became alarmed by the technical and financial challenges of all those homes suddenly making their own electricity.”

“The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. But after a study showed that with some upgrades the system could handle much more solar than the company had assumed, the state’s public utilities commission ordered the utility to begin installations or prove why it could not. It was but one sign of the agency’s growing impatience with what it considers the utility’s failure to adapt its business model to the changing market.”

Should Texas End Wind Energy Subsidies?

The Dallas Morning News: “Texas is a wind energy juggernaut. So why would any lawmaker be so shortsighted as to kill a forward-looking state energy policy that has made Texas the nation’s wind energy epicenter? Yet, state Sen. Troy Fraser R-Horseshoe Bay, the lawmaker behind SB 931, is doing just that.”

“The bill, now on its way to the House, would repeal the state’s Renewable Portfolio standard that requires utilities to produce increasing portions of their power from renewable energy sources such as the sun and the wind. Passage of Fraser’s measure would toss wind energy development into economic uncertainty and all but crater the state’s budding solar power industry.”

EPA’s Proposed Carbon Rule Heads to Court

“The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s effort to tackle climate change is facing a high-profile legal test as a federal appeals court considers a plan that has triggered furious opposition from Republicans, industry figures and coal-reliant states,” according to ABC News.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hears arguments Thursday in two cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s ambitious proposal to slash carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants that is blamed for global warming.”

“The rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency last year requires states to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030… At issue before the court is whether the EPA has legal authority for its plan under the Clean Air Act. The agency and environmental advocacy groups have urged the court to throw the cases out as premature, since the agency won’t issue a final rule until this summer.”

California’s Drought is the Result of Climate Change

As California experiences yet another year of drought, is it right to point the finger at climate change? Jeff Nesbit provides an unequivocal “yes” to that question.

“Climate change intensified the California drought by fueling record-breaking temperatures that evaporated critically important snowpack, converted snow to rain, and dried out soils… In addition to fueling hot extremes, there is now considerable evidence that climate change was at least partly responsible for the dramatic fall-off in precipitation during the drought.”

“The unprecedented high-pressure weather pattern known as the ‘ridiculously resilient ridge’ that blocked storms from the state has been linked to climate change by researchers at Stanford University, while other researchers have also identified the fingerprint of global warming in the emergent high-pressure pattern.”

Melting Ice Makes Arctic Sailing Race Possible

“A sailing race across the icebound Northwest Passage is being planned for 2017,” reports Quartz, “through a route the organizers say has been made possible by climate change.”

“The route used to be unnavigable because of pack ice, which may well still be problematic for the race participants. But in the years since 1998 there has been less ice, with more below-average than above-average years, and more open water.”

“Sailing ships through previously ice-packed waters also offers the possibility of new trade routes to China—likely again for oil. Interest has quieted since falling oil prices made expensive shipments through tretcherous routes less profitable, but it’s likely to resurface when oil prices rise again.”

Renewables Begin to Hit Their Stride

The Economist: “Global investment in renewable energy, chiefly wind and solar power, rose by a sixth in 2014, to $270 billion. This was partly because of subsidies in the rich world, such as America’s 30% federal tax credit for solar projects. Under a system known as ‘net metering’, consumers with small solar installations can sell surplus power to the grid at the same price as they pay for power flowing in. But even if the tax credit is cut, as expected, solar electricity could displace 9.7% of American retail electricity sales by 2019.”

Obama Launches Clean Energy Initiative in Caribbean

During a trip to Jamaica Thursday, President Obama announced various efforts to encourage the development of low-carbon energy sources in the Caribbean,” The Hill reports.

“The initiative includes a $20 million finance facility for clean energy projects in Caribbean and Central American countries, a United States-Caribbean task force and collaborative efforts to lend the United States’ expertise to countries wishing to expand low-carbon energy. The U.S. is also financing a massive wind farm and in advanced talks to finance a solar array in Jamaica.”

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