‘Great Day for Clean Energy’ as Supreme Court Gives Renewables a Boost

SCOTUS upholds rule meant to incentivize electricity conservation and idle dirty fossil fuel power plants normally used during periods of high demand

— by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

“Demand response provides tremendous benefits to our environment, helps consumers save money and makes our electricity grid more reliable,” says Earthjustice. (Photo: Image Catalog/flickr/cc)

In a decision heralded as “great news for consumers and the environment,” the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a rule meant to incentivize electricity conservation and idle dirty fossil fuel power plants normally used during periods of high demand.

As Timothy Cama explains for The Hill, the court ruled (pdf) that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) “did not exceed the authority Congress gave it when it wrote its ‘demand response’ rule, mandating that electric utilities pay customers to reduce use during peak demand periods.”

At the Natural Resources Defense Council blog, senior attorney Allison Clements offered further background:

In 2011, FERC (the agency that regulates our country’s high voltage electric transmission grid) issued a landmark rule called Order 745, which set compensation for demand response in wholesale energy markets. Under the rule, grid operators are required to pay demand response participants the same rates for reducing energy use as those paid to power suppliers for producing energy from resources like coal, natural gas, and wind and solar power. FERC said the rule reflected the common sense view that “markets function most effectively when both supply and demand resources have appropriate opportunities to participate.”

With its ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court essentially affirmed FERC’s position—and in turn, gave clean energy “a huge boost,” Clements said in a press statement. That’s because, she explained, “[i]f grid operators can count on fast-acting customer responses rather than plants that need more advanced notice to come online, they will have greater flexibility to meet electricity demand in situations when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.”

What’s more, said Sierra Club staff attorney Casey Roberts, “demand response programs make energy cheaper, ensure the reliability of the grid, and protect our air and water from fossil fuel pollution.”

As Politico points out:

The agency’s win is seen as a big loss for large “baseload” power sources like coal, natural gas and nuclear in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, which have seen their profits decline over the last several years as electricity consumption has eased and renewables grew. Now they have to compete with industrial customers and others who will at times be paid at market rates to reduce their electricity use without having the costs of operating and maintaining a power plant themselves.

“This is a great day for clean energy and the health of a more affordable, stronger power grid,” added Earthjustice managing attorney of clean energy Jill Tauber on Monday. “Demand response provides tremendous benefits to our environment, helps consumers save money and makes our electricity grid more reliable.”


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In the Win Column: Flaming George Stoppered

EARTH JUSTIC PRESS RELEASE
May 17, 2012
Contact: McCrystie Adams, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9616

Denver, CO  —

Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) closed the door on what will hopefully be the last attempt to permit the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. FERC denied a request for rehearing from Aaron Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water, Inc.—an attempted “do-over” on FERC’s earlier denial of a preliminary permit. The Colorado developer has spent several years, and a claimed $5 million, attempting to launch this ill-conceived boondoggle. His proposal has been met with stiff opposition from conservation groups, individuals, and local communities and businesses. Now, FERC has provided a point-by-point refutation of Wyco’s application and rehearing request, and left no doubt that this pipeline remains a pipe dream.

The Green River. The diversion would potentially be a fatal blow to one of the West’s last great rivers. (NPS)

FERC’s order recognized that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposal is poorly defined, and the approval process would be “difficult and lengthy” due to the opposition and controversy surrounding the project. As a result, FERC states that it would be premature to issue the permit for the project at this time. Importantly, FERC also made clear that it would not license the entire 501-mile water conveyance project. FERC is now the second agency to reject Mr. Million’s attempts to review and approve the Pipeline, following the Army Corps of Engineers’ termination of its review of the project in 2011.

McCrystie Adams, staff attorney for Earthjustice, had the following statement on FERC’s action:

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most expensive, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States. FERC got it right when they dismissed the permit application, and got it right again today when they denied Mr. Million’s rehearing request. We hope this will finally put an end to Mr. Million’s attempt to profit at the expense of one of the West’s last great rivers and the fish and wildlife, as well as the local economies, which depend on it.

“This project—and any similar, large-scale transbasin diversions—is the worst way to meet Colorado’s water challenges. Such a project is unnecessary and distracts us from the important work we must do to build a secure water future. Unfortunately, we cannot be confident that this project is dead until Mr. Million and those who might follow his path abandon this futile scheme. We will continue to work to ensure that the Green River is protected and that this and other assaults on the West’s rivers do not succeed.”

The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a massive transbasin water supply project that would annually take approximately 81 billion gallons (250,000 acre-feet) of water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River and pipe it more than 500 miles over the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range and southeastern Wyoming. This diversion would have devastating impacts on the native fish and wildlife in the Green and Colorado Rivers, batter regional recreational opportunities and jobs that depend on river flows, and potentially be a fatal blow to one of the West’s last great rivers. The plight of the Green River and the impacts of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline were highlighted this week when American Rivers declared it #2 on its list of “most endangered rivers” in the United States.

After an attempt at permitting through the Army Corps of Engineers was rejected last year, Aaron Million’s new company Wyco Power and Water, Inc. turned to the FERC. In February, FERC, acting well within its discretion and following its governing regulations, dismissed Wyco’s preliminary permit application as “premature.”

FERC, in its review of the preliminary permit application, rightly found that Wyco would be unable to gain the many authorizations and the design certainty necessary to file a license application within the three year permit term. Again failing to take “no” for an answer, Wyco then requested a rehearing, yet failed to provide any meaningful evidence or arguments that FERC got it wrong the first time. FERC’s ruling today upheld its earlier finding and left it clear that Wyco’s application is without merit.

Earthjustice had intervened in FERC’s preliminary permit review and filed papers urging the agency to deny the rehearing request. Earthjustice represents a coalition of ten conservation groups with interests throughout the Colorado River Basin: Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Rocky Mountain Wild, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, Glen Canyon Institute, Living Rivers: Colorado Riverkeeper, and Utah Rivers Council.