Billionaire entrepreneur and CEO Elon Musk of Tesla Motors Inc. envisions a world charged by solar and shaped by super batteries to store the excess energy. Whether people are willing to shell out lots of cash to turn homes into tiny, solar-powered entities boosted by battery storage is the big lingering question.
Utility regulators gave final approval for what will become the largest solar power project in Minnesota, setting the state on a trajectory to become a bigger player in the nation’s fast-growing solar market. The $250 million Aurora Distributed Solar Project, to be built by Geronimo Energy, calls for installing ground-mounted arrays at 21 sites throughout southern and central Minnesota, according to proposals submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Construction is slated to begin this fall, with first power coming from the panels in 2016, officials said. Once built, the project will transfer in ownership to development partner Enel Green Power North America.
An offshore wind developer vying for the right to build a 25-megawatt wind farm off the coast of New Jersey lost an appeal in state court last week. Cape May, N.J.-based Fishermen’s Energy failed in its bid to overturn a Board of Public Utilities decision from last year that denies the company the right to start construction. BPU has maintained the power would be too expensive, despite the pledge of a $47 million federal grant to subsidize the project and statements in the past by Gov. Chris Christie (R) that he wanted the Garden State to be a leader on offshore wind.
When U.S. EPA announced its ambitious effort to cut the power sector’s carbon footprint 30 percent below 2005 levels over the next 15 years, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) called the proposed regulation “a war against middle America.” And yet, one day before he signed a new law eliminating his state’s renewable portfolio standard and replacing it with voluntary goals, the deeply conservative governor also signed a measure setting a path for Kansas to develop its own state implementation plan for the federal regulation. Brownback signed both measures into law last week.
A Texas bill to give the state Public Utility Commission oversight of transmission projects designed to export wind power from or into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas region is headed to the governor’s desk after being approved by the state’s House of Representatives. However, a Senate-passed bill that would have eliminated the state’s renewable portfolio standard and forbidden the PUC from either establishing new “competitive renewable energy zones” or approving new CREZ transmission lines was derailed by the House and is dead for this session.
If Congress does not extend a pair of subsidies for the renewable energy industry, new construction will slow unless retail electricity providers pay significantly more for wind and solar power or developers forfeit a big chunk of their returns, the U.S. Government Accountability Office projected in a recent report. That analysis, included in a report responding to a congressional request for information on federal programs designed to support utility-scale power projects, comes as wind and solar lobbyists increase pressure on lawmakers to renew the production and investment tax credits. The production tax credit, which compensates developers $23 per MWh that a wind farm generates, expired at the end of 2014, while the 30% investment tax credit is scheduled to fall to 10% of project costs at the end of 2016.
With lawmakers in both chambers prepping major energy bills for floor debate later this year, interest groups are scrambling to untangle policy disputes that threaten to ensnare key legislative priorities. Leaders of the primary House and Senate committees of jurisdiction have been careful to separate the more controversial policies — such as U.S. EPA’s push to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants — from the legislative push by focusing instead on less-contentious issues, such as infrastructure, efficiency and accountability, all of which are seen as capable of drawing bipartisan support.
House lawmakers will hear from top Department of Energy officials this week about the evolving energy bill that could hit the floor by this summer. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz kicks things off tomorrow with an appearance before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power to brief members on DOE’s recently completed Quadrennial Energy Review and offer his thoughts on the more than half-dozen draft bills the committee has released. On Wednesday and Thursday, the subcommittee convenes a two-day hearing on the bill’s efficiency and accountability provisions.
At the center of the debate is a new “accountability” subtitle the House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled this week to be included in the lower chamber’s larger energy bill. The House language mirrors a proposal that Berkshire Hathaway proposed at a Senate hearing earlier this month where Cantwell made her skepticism and disapproval clear. The subtitle will receive its first airing at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing this week.
If Johann Steinlechner had his way, you wouldn’t see the Coachella Valley’s iconic wind turbines as you drove through the San Gorgonio Pass. The turbines would still be there, generating renewable energy. They’d just be a lot closer to the ground.