A few miles off the coast of Block Island, part of Rhode Island, a small flotilla has been gathering: crane vessels, tugboats and barges that began this week installing the 1,500-ton foundations of the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm. It’s a moment that its supporters have long anticipated, billing it as nothing less than the dawn of a new clean energy future for the United States, which lags Europe and China in harnessing ocean gusts for electricity. It is a much more modest beginning than was originally expected. Only five turbines will spin in the waters off Rhode Island; other, more ambitious projects like Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound and its 130 turbines remain stalled. But its backers see it as one that could lend credibility to other efforts.
Members of a House energy panel are headed for a partisan showdown over amendments to a sweeping energy package, with Republicans and Democrats staking out opposite ground on a range of divisive issues from crude oil exports to renewable energy. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) predicted that the committee’s members would have “a lot of good, constructive comments” on the bill when lawmakers return from their summer recess in September.
“If you don’t like something in it, if you think something needs to be added, this is going to be your opportunity to weigh in,” she said at a briefing with reporters. “There are some things that I think will be easy for the committee to sign onto them. There may be some other things that are perhaps a little more contentious and controversial. … I think what you can expect is there will be an opportunity for good debate in the Energy Committee, and I welcome exactly that.”
“The Holy See or individual countries might be able to make nice speeches at the United Nations, but if the work doesn’t come from the periphery moving to the center, there is no effect,” Francis said, comparing cities to the limbs of a body. “And that is the responsibility of you mayors of cities.” It was a sentiment echoed by another onetime Jesuit seminarian who attended the conference. California Gov. Jerry Brown has made greenhouse gas reductions a centerpiece of his fourth and final term. Brown told the collection of politicians that in order to keep the rise in global temperatures to a minimum, “one-third of the oil that we know exists as reserves can never be taken out of the ground. Fifty percent of the gas can never be used, and over 90 percent of coal.”
As President Barack Obama returns to Africa this week, his signature program to help the continent double its access to electricity is in jeopardy, undermined by Congress’ refusal to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. Of the $7 billion that Obama set aside for Power Africa, $5 billion fell under the auspices of the now-defunct bank, which guarantees loans to foreign companies buying U.S.-made products. But out of that $5 billion, just $132 million in transactions had been approved before the bank’s charter expired last month, rendering it unable to approve new transactions. Although the bank says it had several billion dollars of Power Africa projects in the pipeline, none of them can proceed unless lawmakers revive the bank.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this afternoon will introduce its long-awaited bipartisan energy package, with two markups slated to kick off next week. The “Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015” marks the first aisle-crossing effort in years to break through a legislative stalemate on energy policy. It has a heavy emphasis on modernizing energy infrastructure, encouraging efficiency, and increasing supplies of renewables and traditional energy sources, while also looking to boost the security of the electric grid from cyberattacks.
Republican lawmakers have included dozens of environmental policy riders in their 2016 spending bills, setting up a major clash with Democrats and the White House as lawmakers seek to hammer out a deal to fund the government. While most of the policy riders likely will never become law, some could be bargaining chips for President Obama and Democrats in their pleas for the GOP to raise discretionary spending levels. Republicans now have control of both chambers, giving them increased leverage to challenge the administration’s efforts to confront climate change, protect waterways and conserve imperiled wildlife.
A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee unanimously approved a comprehensive energy bill today, making clear the stripped-down measure will serve as a vehicle for policy riders down the road. In a voice vote, the Energy and Power Subcommittee advanced the legislation that its sponsors say would modernize energy infrastructure, boost energy jobs, and address security, diplomacy, efficiency and accountability.
Out is New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich’s proposal to give FERC backstop authority to approve projects that face state-level delays, as well as Arkansas Republican John Boozman’s bill to limit federal eminent domain authority. Whereas Heinrich is from a state seeking to fast-track long-distance transmission to tap isolated pockets of wind and solar, Arkansas has shown a reluctance to accept the government blessing lines that don’t have state consent.
But when it comes to low-carbon energy, Levi said, “The oil price drop is not nearly as bad for renewable energy as people imagine at first glance. But that doesn’t mean it’s totally disconnected.” He said the big wild card is if renewable energy policies weaken in the face of dipping prices. “Even if it is unjustified, lower oil prices tend to make people less interested in energy policy in general, and that includes climate policy,” he said.