Top White House energy aides exited last year, creating high-level vacancies and uncertainty about who’s leading the Obama administration’s energy and environmental agenda in 2014. The void will be filled in part by President Obama’s new counselor John Podesta, a top Democratic strategist who came on board this month to help guide the administration through its second term. He’s expected to join Obama’s top aide Denis McDonough in steering the ship when it comes to key energy and climate policies and filling out key White House staff positions.
The federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power must be extended for 2014 and Congress has yet to act. This has injected uncertainty into the market and threatening the livelihoods of thousands of hardworking Americans. While some detractors in Congress attempt to frame the PTC in a negative light, the facts show the incentive for wind power is wildly popular on both sides of the aisle, not only for its effective, market-based design, but also for the economic development it helps create.
Renewable energy critics harp on the variability of wind and solar production, suggesting (or pretending) that this increasingly manageable challenge is some kind of fatal flaw. Meanwhile, these critics ignore that conventional power sources are no sure things themselves, particularly when the going gets rough, as it has this week in much of the U.S. with an extraordinary cold snap.
The head of the Bonneville Power Administration recently resigned in the wake of a scandal over the agency’s illegal hiring practices. Bill Drummond “is no longer an employee at the Department of Energy,” according to a DOE official. His tenure was short-lived; he spent less than six months leading the agency before DOE placed him on administrative leave in July.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday proposed a regulatory tweak to help speed along his vision for an electricity transmission superhighway in the Empire State. During a State of the State address, the Democrat said he will push the state’s Public Service Commission to lower regulatory review of power lines from an average of two years to 10 months. The rule, to be taken up by the PSC this year, would expedite transmission construction along existing rights of way, in an attempt to address an expected generation shortfall when and if the Indian Point nuclear plant shuts down for good.
President Obama yesterday formally kicked off a sweeping report that’s intended to be a road map for the nation’s energy goals for years to come. Obama signed a memorandum directing agencies to get to work on the Quadrennial Energy Review, a four-year policy plan that’s part of the broader climate change plan he announced in June.
Obama directed an interagency task force to deliver the first report to him by Jan. 31, 2015, and he directed subsequent reports to be prepared for the president every four years thereafter. The first QER will focus on the development of a national strategy surrounding energy infrastructure.
The wind tax credit has expired before, including at the end of 2012, but Congress always renewed it. As the 2013 deadline neared, wind developers rushed to buy equipment and get their projects started before the end of the year. In December, MidAmerican Energy (BRK/A), an Iowa utility that’s majority-owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, bought $1 billion of wind turbines from Siemens (SI), the biggest single order for on-shore turbines ever. Mark Albenze, chief executive officer of the Wind Power Americas unit of Siemens Energy, says he now has 18 months of work lined up. After that, business could dry up pretty quickly without the credit as an incentive to build. “I’m already getting itchy,” he says.
The short-term price of natural gas in the Northeast eased on Wednesday after surging during the cold snap this week, but many consumers face the prospect of higher bills as utilities seek to pass along the added costs. Already, several utilities, including Connecticut Light and Power as well as National Grid and NStar, which serve Massachusetts, have recently announced increases in their retail electricity rate as they struggle to meet peak periods of demand. On Tuesday, for example, spot prices for a few large energy customers in the region spiked nearly 10 times higher than national prices as demand for electricity and heat soared and overwhelmed pipelines taking gas supplies to the region from the south and west.
A national bird conservation group plans to take legal action against the Ohio Air National Guard to stop the construction of a wind turbine along the shores of Lake Erie in one of the largest bird migration corridors in North America. The American Bird Conservancy, along with Oak Harbor, Ohio-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory, today sent a notice of intent to sue the Ohio Air National Guard, which is proposing to place the wind turbine at its Camp Perry facility near Port Clinton in northern Ohio.
Wireless vehicle charging, which uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy, made great strides toward commercialization in 2013, according to Navigant Research. In June, Bosch began offering the Plugless Power unit developed by Evatran for $3,000. The system is designed to serve popular EV models the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt. “In 2014, wireless charging will enter a critical phase as the first large-scale pilot projects and retail sales of chargers from Evatran/Bosch occur,” said John Gartner, research director at Navigant.