The renewable energy production tax credit is gone for now and, even if it is reinstated this year, there are growing calls to replace the current system of year-to-year extensions with a more definitive path meant to phase out the credit altogether. To that end, the Congressional Research Service last month produced a report weighing the pros and cons of various phaseout proposals that have been floating around Capitol Hill and in energy policy circles over the last few years.
For the fourth year in a row, Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is pushing to roll back or significantly change portions of Maine law aimed at boosting in-state renewable energy production. LePage says he wants to level the state’s energy-production playing field and open the door to cheap, renewable hydropower from Quebec and maritime Canada, an idea to which Canada seems lukewarm.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Congress should not renew the wind energy tax credit. Instead he said the money would be better spent reducing the federal debt. “The massive taxpayer subsidy to windmill developers expired Jan. 1,” Alexander said. “A good way to celebrate the New Year would be to not renew it and to reduce the federal debt by $60 billion, an amount about equal to the spending in the recent budget agreement.”
The Bureau of Land Management overestimated how many eagles could be killed by what may become the largest wind energy project in the United States, the developers of the farm said. The federal agency said the Chokecherry/Sierra Madre wind power project would result in between 46 and 64 eagle deaths a year. But Power Company of Wyoming LLC said it has planned measures to keep that number much lower.
The answer may be blowing in the wind, but the National Wind Technology Center is using a new $16 million dynamometer to test how wind turbines perform. The 5-megawatt dynamometer test facility is the newest addition at the center, which is part of the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
To stave off climate change, sources of electricity that do not emit carbon will have to replace the ones that do. But at the moment, two of those largest sources, nuclear and wind power, are trying to kill each other off. In the electricity market, both are squeezed by pressure from natural gas, which provides some carbon reductions compared with coal but will not bring the country anywhere near its goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas has a carbon footprint that is at least three times as large as that goal.
As stewards of the U.S. electrical system, grid operators have a well-deserved reputation for caution. With the mandate to provide reliable, affordable energy as their bottom line, they typically favor time-tested approaches over radical innovations and can be slow to embrace new technologies until they’ve stood up to lengthy scrutiny. But the past two decades have seen some rapid shifts in U.S. electrical systems, with power consumption plateauing even as new fleets of renewable power stations come online. With more changes on the horizon, operators have had to move quickly to keep pace, using modeling and simulation to work out the complexities in the new power system.
New England’s governors have set an ambitious course to fast-track the construction of hundreds of miles of new transmission lines and pipelines to help bring down the cost of electricity and natural gas in the region, where consumers are paying much higher prices than most other places in the United States. While the plan unveiled in early December commits the governors’ combined political will to the task, it remains to be seen whether the best of intentions can overcome market barriers, inadequate incentives and old-fashioned not-in-my-backyard sentiments that have bedeviled past efforts to build energy infrastructure in the six-state region.
In 2012, Michigan environmentalists pushed a constitutional amendment onto the ballot that would have strengthened the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard, requiring 25 percent clean energy by 2025. Snyder opposed it, and it failed. But this past month, something remarkable happened. Snyder gave a speech announcing a commitment to weaning Michigan off coal power and replacing it with renewables, and reducing demand through energy efficiency. Snyder called on the legislature to pass a bill by 2015 setting a higher renewable portfolio standard, although he did not specify a target. He also emphasized his desire to transition away from coal, saying, “There is an opportunity to really reduce the amount of coal we use in terms of energy generated in Michigan. I’m very excited to see that percentage go down very significantly over this next 10-year horizon because coal is not a preferred fuel for a variety of reasons.”
Even as they close out the year with record production levels, biodiesel makers are facing an uncertain year at best in 2014. Producers will begin the year without their tax credit, a $1-a-gallon production incentive that has spurred the expansion of facilities and new participants entering the market. The measure is set to expire along with a raft of other renewable energy incentives Dec. 31 They are also facing the prospect of U.S. EPA retreating from aggressive production goals for the industry for the first time since the nation had a biofuels mandate put into place.