Sen. Max Baucus’ ascension to a plum ambassadorship is weeks if not months away, but the reality of an oil and gas stalwart controlling a Democratic Energy and Natural Resources Committee began to sink in yesterday for both sides in the capital’s environmental culture wars. Although Baucus’ likely departure from the Finance Committee chairmanship he first claimed in 2001 hinges on multiple political variables, the current Energy chief in the upper chamber — Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) — is poised to replace the Montana Democrat and hand over the ENR panel’s gavel to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in the spring. That leaves a champion of the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling expansion, whose re-election battle next November further heightens the value of industry support, in charge of a committee with outsize importance to the U.S. fuel mix.
In 2011, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu brought in an ambitious Wisconsin state utility commissioner to advance the Obama administration effort to site and build critical power lines and transmission technologies. Lauren Azar was seen as the person who could help Chu’s Department of Energy navigate a maze of local opposition, permitting delays and lengthy reviews to get transmission projects going. But it’s unclear whether Azar’s two-year run that ended in September will bring about clear game-changing transmission breakthroughs.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission marked yet another milestone in implementing one of its largest and most controversial rules, Order 1000, but questions remain about just how long it will take to make the rule a reality.Grid operators and utilities in October submitted plans to comply with the landmark rule, aimed at revamping the way new power lines are planned and paid for while considering policies like renewable portfolio standards. FERC has now taken action on the first round of compliance filings, including 15 submitted plans from utilities and grid operations across the country. The agency’s focus in coming months will now turn to more granular interregional filings.
“The challenge is — as with every big project like this — there’s multiple parallel processes going on,” said Jesse Gronner, the Oregon-based company’s vice president for business development for the western United States. “So we’re left with being in a position of doing things slightly out of order.” That’s just one consequence of new rules this year to determine eligibility for the production tax credit (PTC), the federal incentive that’s key to determining whether a wind farm can sell electricity at an attractive price. As long as developers begin working on projects by Dec. 31, they’ll have at least two years to remain eligible for the lucrative subsidy.
With the clock ticking loudly on the U.S. wind energy sector’s production tax credit, which is set to expire Dec. 31, another blockbuster deal between two major wind energy firms materialized yesterday, as Vestas Wind Systems A/S and Enel Green Power North America Inc. cemented the terms of a 350-megawatt deal to significantly expand EGP’s wind energy portfolio in the United States. Denmark-based Vestas, whose U.S. operation includes large turbine, blade and tower manufacturing plants in Colorado, said it would supply 75 2 MW turbines to EGP’s $250 million Origin wind farm in Oklahoma, which is set to begin producing power by the end of 2014.
Even before news broke that Sen. Max Baucus would soon be heading to China, Democrats on Capitol Hill were starting to get antsy over the fate of dozens of expiring tax credits that had been placed on the back burner while Baucus tried to craft a complete overhaul of the tax code. Now that the Montana Democrat is all but officially headed for the exits, momentum behind extending the temporary incentives like the production tax credit, home efficiency rebates and alternative fuels tax breaks has shifted into high gear in the Senate. “I think people are thinking about that now that this transition is happening. … People are thinking about getting that done sooner rather than later,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), a member of the Finance and Energy committees, said of the coming push for tax extenders.
Buried beneath the world’s oceans and the Arctic permafrost lies a global energy source that many think might dwarf today’s fracking revolution: huge reservoirs of natural gas trapped in ice crystals. They’re called methane hydrates and are sometimes known as “flammable ice.” If tapping methane hydrates ever becomes feasible, it once again would change the geopolitical map of the planet. Nations like Japan and India that lack their own conventional oil and gas resources suddenly could become energy power players.
“Nearly all policies affecting electricity production and consumption — such as renewable energy and efficiency incentives, low-carbon standards and environmental protection laws — by definition impact use of the transmission grid,” Allison Clements, director of the coalition, said on the site. “FERC’s rules, which govern the operation of the grid, can either facilitate or create barriers to the success of these clean energy policies.” The groups’ focus on the agency highlights a growing interest in FERC as more companies and homeowners are enlisted to green their energy use, with many turning to distributed generation and energy conservation.
The president’s top economic adviser said yesterday that limiting carbon emissions at power plants won’t dampen the nation’s financial recovery, noting that it’s “very easy” to create economic benefits in the future landmark regulations. The assertion by Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, foreshadows one of the thorniest challenges in crafting U.S. EPA’s standards to address rising temperatures: public concern about electricity prices and jobs.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany vowed Wednesday to fight a European Union investigation into her government’s policy of exempting hundreds of companies from a surcharge on electricity that is used to promote renewable resources. Ms. Merkel insisted that promoting solar and wind energy was crucial to German competitiveness, but she also noted that other issues were at stake.