‘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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Obama Takes a Walk on the Greener Side

As Nevada short-circuits its solar boom, the White House gets more committed to renewable energy.

— by

Emily Schwartz GrecoUntil now, President Barack Obama has embraced gas and oil fracking, encouraged the construction of new nuclear reactors, and hailed government investment in wind and solar power. In keeping with this “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, he’d call for climate action one minute and sign off on measures destined to boost carbon pollution the next.

Suddenly, it looks like Obama may have ditched his inherently contradictory approach.

“We’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy,” he asserted during his final State of the Union address. “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”

Barack-Obama-solar-panel-green-energy
Wikipedia

Just three days later, the Obama administration moved in that direction by declaring a three-year moratorium on new leases to mine coal from federal land.

Obama’s speech also cast switching to renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels in a business-friendly light.

“We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy —  something environmentalists and tea partiers have teamed up to support,” he said. There’s plenty going on at a larger scale too. Wind and solar energy are generating more than half of the new power that came online last year.

The Republican Party’s obsession with “job creators” should make it a fan of green energy. Nearly 210,000 Americans now work for the solar industry, and some 73,000 are employed in the wind business. Renewable power forged at least 79,000 new jobs between 2008 and 2012 as 50,000 coal jobs vanished.

But the fossil fuel industries and their political allies won’t surrender without a fight. As Obama put it: “There are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.”

To see what he meant, check out what’s up in Nevada.

Right before Christmas, the state’s electric-sector regulators short-circuited policies that rewarded homeowners for investing in their own solar panels. Nevadans may end up paying for the privilege of generating their own electricity while simultaneously padding the profit margins of NV Energy, rather than getting compensated for it.

The Nevada Public Utility Commission, whose three members were all appointed by Republican governor Brian Sandoval, effectively killed demand for rooftop solar power and the jobs that diversifying industry would have created in Nevada—overnight. The new policies also punish consumers who previously bought or leased panels.

This about face prompted companies like SolarCity, Vivint, and Sunrun to shutter their operations in the state. SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive is calling this move an act of “sabotage,” and two Las Vegas residents have already filed a class action lawsuit.

Along with rigging the rules, fossil fuel lobbyists are trying to extract new political favors. The coal industry, for example, wants new government handouts from West Virginia’s cash-strapped government. And, there are rumblings about a federal bailout for Big Oil.

This money ought to support and ramp up the green transition, not delay it. That’s what Obama meant when he asserted: “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future.”

And although polls have shown that government efforts to expand solar and wind power enjoy bipartisan support, GOP presidential contenders and many Republican leaders dismiss these increasingly competitive industries.

“Why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” asked Obama, raising an excellent question. “The jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve  —  that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”

Indeed. Supposedly pro-business politicians who are out to kill the green energy boom make no sense. Neither does an all-of-the-above energy strategy.


Columnist Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org.

UN Report Shows World’s Pledges for Paris Are Recipe for Climate ‘Disaster’

— by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams Staff Writer

New analysis by UNFCCC finds wealthiest countries must step up efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to stave off extreme warming

Developing nations are first in line to experience extreme weather events like drought, floods, and rising sea levels. (Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/flickr/cc)

The latest United Nations (UN) analysis of the climate pledges of world governments reveals the commitments are not enough to avert “climate catastrophe,” green groups warned on Friday.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and German State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth presented in Berlin on Friday their report (pdf) on the effects of 146 participating countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)—representing 86 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions—submitted ahead of the UN’s upcoming COP21 climate talks in Paris.

“While this round of pledges is a step in the right direction, they only take us from a 4°C catastrophe to a 3°C disaster.”
—Tim Gore, Oxfam

Their conclusion: the pledges will not be sufficient “to reverse by 2025 and 2030 the upward trend of global emissions. Furthermore, estimated annual aggregate emission levels resulting from their implementation do not fall within least-cost 2°C scenarios levels.”

“The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7°C by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs,” Figueres said.

In fact, if emissions continue to go unchecked, current trends indicate that the global temperature rise could be by as much as 4.5°C by 2100, the UN reported—well above the threshold climate experts say would bring catastrophic floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events.

A 2°C goal is still within reach, the report said. But climate activists warned that meeting such a goal will require much more aggressive action by wealthy nations, many of which have recently come under fire for their lackluster pledges and attempts to evade financial obligations to developing countries.

“We’re going to need to see more ambition in Paris,” 350.org strategy and communications director Jamie Henn said on Friday. “The targets currently on the table still aren’t enough to prevent climate catastrophe. To close the gap, politicians must settle on a clear mechanism to increase ambition, make real financial commitments, and agree to a unifying goal of completely decarbonizing the global economy.”

However, the current inadequate pledges are “still enough to send a clear signal to investors that the age of fossil fuels is over—there’s no way to meet these targets, let alone the stronger ones necessary, without a full scale transition to renewable energy,” Henn said.

Tim Gore, head of food and climate policy at humanitarian aid group Oxfam, added, “The UN’s verdict reveals that, while the world is making progress, much more needs to be done. While this round of pledges is a step in the right direction, they only take us from a 4°C catastrophe to a 3°C disaster.”

“The targets currently on the table still aren’t enough to prevent climate catastrophe.”
—Jamie Henn, 350

The Least Developed Countries (LDC), a coalition of frontline nations taking part in the climate talks, were even more critical of the findings, which come just days after preliminary negotiations in Bonn ended without a concrete plan for rich countries to step up their part.

“Today’s analysis shows the urgent need to address the lack of ambition within the INDCs,” said LDC chair and Angolan diplomat Giza Gaspar-Martins. “Governments must do more in Paris, but the work does not end there. For the INDCs to succeed they must be adjusted before 2020 and reviewed in five year cycles from 2020 to ensure national actions quickly and rapidly progresses, or we all face a grim and uncertain future.”

Small island nations are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, Gaspar-Martins continued. “For 48 of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, economic development, regional food security and ecosystems are at risk in this 2°C ‘safe zone’. So we once again call on the world to grow its ambition for a 1.5°C target,” he said.


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There’s only one right answer on Keystone XL: NO

— OpEd by Bernie Sanders, Candidate for U.S. President and sitting Senator from VT

Climate change is an unprecedented planetary emergency. If we don’t act aggressively now to combat it, there will be major and painful consequences in store later: rising oceans that inundate coastal areas, bigger superstorms like Hurricane Sandy, worsening droughts, out-of-control wildfires, historic floods that come year after year, rising food prices, and millions of people displaced by climate disasters. It’s not a future any of us wants to imagine.

But despite how difficult the problem is, the basics of how we should respond to it are actually not that complicated: we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and move to 100 percent renewable energy — and we need to act immediately.

That’s why I cannot understand why some Democratic presidential candidates have refused to take a stand against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Keystone XL would transport millions of gallons of some of the dirtiest oil on the planet — oil that scientists tell us we simply cannot burn if we want to stop the worst impacts of climate change. As former NASA scientist James Hansen has said, building Keystone XL would mean “game over” for the climate.

A decision on Keystone XL could come at any moment, and that’s why it’s so important you make your voice heard through our campaign today.

It’s no big surprise that in recent years, most major Republican politicians have chosen to deny that climate change even exists. Republicans in Congress have collectively received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests who directly profit from stonewalling action on climate, at the expense of the climate and of humanity. Politicians who deny climate change is real, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus, are as morally bankrupt as those who helped Big Tobacco conceal the truth about the health effects of smoking, evading responsibility for years.

But in some ways, it’s even more disappointing to see Democratic politicians, who understand that climate change is real and profess to care about action on climate, equivocate on an issue as clear-cut as Keystone XL.

A study released by the scientific journal Nature just a few months ago found that if we want to keep global warming below the internationally agreed-upon safe upper limit of two degrees Celsius, we need to reduce all production of the Canadian tar sands — the kind of oil that Keystone XL would transport — to “negligible” levels. In other words, there is simply no scenario where we can address climate change in a real way and also allow this pipeline to go forward.

Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is not the only thing we must do to address climate change. Ultimately, we need to leave all fossil fuels in the ground and move to a 100 percent renewable energy economy.

That’s why I also oppose oil drilling in the Arctic, support the fossil fuel divestment movement, and have sponsored legislation in Congress to bring solar energy to ten million rooftops in America. As a result of these positions, and my long record in support of the environment, I was recently honored to receive the endorsement of Friends of the Earth.

To win the important environmental victories we so urgently need, it will take a coordinated grassroots movement fighting to take our country and our climate back from the fossil fuel industry billionaires. It was a grassroots movement — of Nebraska ranchers, Native American communities, and climate change activists — that managed to hold off Keystone XL for years, despite the conventional wisdom that the pipeline was a done deal. I’m proud to have stood with those activists in their fight from the very beginning.

One Simple Chart Explains The Climate Plans Of Hillary Clinton And Bernie Sanders

— by Emily Atkin

Credit:  AP Photos / Charlie Neibergall / Dennis Van Tin

From left to right: Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). All three have different plans to fight climate change if elected to the presidency.

When Hillary Clinton released a fact sheet detailing her plan to fight climate change on Sunday night, her presidential campaign characterized it as “bold.” Indeed, the goals outlined in the plan are significant — a 700 percent increase in solar installations by the end of her first term, and enough renewable energy to power every home in the country within 10 years.

But not everyone thought Clinton’s plan was as bold as her campaign made it out to be. That seemingly included the campaign of her Democratic rival, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, which sent an email to reporters titled “What Real Climate Leadership Looks Like” about an hour before Clinton’s plan was scheduled to be released.

What does real climate leadership look like? According to the O’Malley campaign’s email, it looks like having a definitive position on every controversial policy in the environmental space. Arctic drilling, fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline — O’Malley’s climate plan details strong stances on all of those topics. The plan Clinton released on Sunday does not.

Clinton’s plan does include ways to achieve her stated goals in solar energy production, including awarding competitive grants to states that reduce emissions, extending tax breaks to renewable industries like solar and wind, and investing in transmission lines that can take renewable power from where it’s produced to where it’s needed for electricity. She also proposed cutting some tax breaks to fossil fuel companies to pay for her plan, though she hasn’t proposed eliminating them completely like Sanders and O’Malley have. Vox’s Brad Plumer called Clinton’s goals “certainly feasible in principle, but the gritty details will matter a lot.”

Of course, many presidential candidates haven’t fully fleshed out their policy strategies yet — Clinton, for her part, has acknowledged that Sunday’s release represented only the “first pillar” of announcements about climate and energy. By contrast, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — her main contender for the Democratic nomination — hasn’t formally released a climate policy plan yet. But he has publicly stated his positions on many of the most hot-button environmental issues, including some that Clinton has not yet addressed.

With all that in mind, here’s a look at what voters can expect from each of those three Democratic presidential candidates when it comes to tackling climate change, based on their public statements and official plans so far.

climate-goals
Credit:  Graphic by Dylan Petrohilos

It’s worth noting that this checklist isn’t definitive. Just because Sanders has said he supports many of these policies doesn’t necessarily mean he will include them in his official climate plan when and if he releases one. And just because Clinton hasn’t included some of these issues in her current plan doesn’t mean she won’t (or will) in the future.

It’s also worth mentioning that just because O’Malley has included all of these things in his climate plan doesn’t mean he’ll be able to achieve them. His plan leans steeply to the left of even the Obama administration’s climate strategy, which the Republican-led Congress is fighting tooth-and-nail to dismantle.

That a Democratic presidential nominee might have a difficult time achieving their climate goals, however, can be said about any of the candidates — especially considering the fact that more than 56 percent of current congressional Republicans don’t believe climate change exists at all. For environmentalists and climate hawks, that may mean that the candidate with the most aggressive goals represents the safest option.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.