In a big win for environmentalists, the Supreme Court on Monday effectively endorsed the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from sources like power plants, even as it criticized what it called the administration’s overreaching. The decision is one in a recent string of rulings upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to issue Clean Air Act regulations to curb climate change, and the agency celebrated the decision. But the combative tone of Monday’s ruling, along with its rejection of one of the agency’s principal rationales for the regulations under review, suggests that the road ahead may be rocky for other initiatives meant to reduce carbon emissions.
The project’s $500,000 cost is an afterthought for the multibillion-dollar company, but it is part of a larger trend of investment in what the industry has long considered its holy grail: a backup source of low-carbon energy from intermittent sources like wind and the sun. In part because of its fast-growing renewable energy sector, Texas has become a major testing ground for storage technology, which, while still decades away from grid-wide use because of its costs, is gaining attention as the technology improves.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants may not be the panacea for clean energy that environmentalists and industry advocates hoped for, with critics and others saying the new requirements are likely to spur only modest increases in renewable energy. Instead, environmentalists and other observers say the proposal could further incentivize the switch from coal to cheap natural gas and is unlikely to replace federal tax incentives and state renewable energy requirements as the main drivers behind the transition to alternative energy sources.
Minnesota Power, the state’s third-largest power company, is concerned that more than $800 million in wind power investments appear to be credited to North Dakota, where the wind farms were built, rather than to Minnesota, where the power is delivered. “We just don’t like the fact that Minnesota seems to have gotten very little credit for how much it accomplished,” said Dave McMillan, a senior vice president for the Duluth-based utility. “Our customers shouldn’t pay again while other states do less.”
Ohio made headlines last week after its governor, John Kasich (R), signed a bill into law making his state the first in the nation to freeze its renewable portfolio standard (ClimateWire, June 13). Green groups and some industries immediately fired back, saying the move could hamstring their markets and hinder state actions on future greenhouse gas standards from U.S. EPA. Much less attention was given to a separate bill, issued with little fanfare just before the state Legislature went into summer recess. Yet that bill, H.B. 483, may include an even greater challenge for renewable energy in Ohio than the RPS freeze, according to renewable energy advocates.
A leading bird conservation group today filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama administration challenging a rule for wind and other energy projects that permits injuring, killing or disturbing bald eagles for up to 30 years. The American Bird Conservancy filed the lawsuit against the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. The suit challenges the new rule allowing Fish and Wildlife to grant programmatic incidental take permits to wind farms, transmission projects and other long-term energy operations for a much longer period than the previous five-year term.
Much of the nation’s electrical infrastructure is decades old and decaying. More distributed energy sources like rooftop solar power are coming online in some parts of the country, while homes are becoming more efficient and reducing demand growth. Meanwhile, climate disruptions are exposing weaknesses in the grid. This is driving utilities to come up with new business models to build a smarter, more resilient grid. But it’s also forcing regulators to revise how they manage electrical infrastructure, cajoling a notoriously slow-moving industry to respond to a rapidly shifting energy landscape.
Doomsday scenarios for the electric power sector in the wake of the Obama administration’s proposal to cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions ignore the industry’s ability to innovate and adapt to change, a senior U.S. EPA official said yesterday. “The discourse in the coming months will be explosive,” Joseph Goffman, an associate assistant administrator and senior counsel in the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, told state regulators and energy executives at a meeting here. “There will be all sorts of allegations about high costs.”
The nine Northeastern states that participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative hailed U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon rule for existing power plants that would let them comply through their interstate cap-and-trade emissions system. But RGGI members are now studying the rule’s fine print to see how EPA emission targets line up with reductions they’re already making and whether responsibilities are fairly divided across all 50 states. I’m really excited that they’ve not only allowed RGGI to participate, but they’ve recognized that a regional approach would be the most cost-effective possible,” RGGI Commissioner Kelly Speakes-Backman said in an interview.
Federal energy regulators today signed off on a politically popular plan that allows California’s grid manager to launch a voluntary “real time” energy market and share its electricity resources with five Western states. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously voted to conditionally accept the California Independent System Operator’s (ISO) proposal — as made through tariff revisions — to design an energy imbalance market, or EIM, which pools energy resources in parts of Oregon, Washington, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. State grid operators have proposed to launch the market on Oct. 1.