Investments in the renewable energy sector were a mixed bag during the second quarter of 2013, according to a trio of analyst reports and many of the same trends we've seen lately persist: the U.S. and Asia-Pacific regions were more active, and downstream activity continues to intensify.
If you’re feeling a sense of déjà vu, it’s because this bill was introduced during the last Congress with the same widespread support and a similarly positive outlook. The main problem back then wasn’t what was in the bill, though; it was the amendments lawmakers were lining up to be tacked onto it, including a controversial Keystone XL amendment. Trying to limit the amount of votes on controversial topics, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) ultimately didn’t let it go to the floor.
Despite the disappointing setback, several provisions of the original Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (Shaheen-Portman bill) were adopted as amendments to a previous energy bill, including provisions on industrial energy efficiency deployment and coordination of R&D, best practices for advanced metering, and a federal energy management and data collection standard.
In a Congress that views loan programs with a certain hostility, it’s no surprise that the new bill dropped provisions that would create building loan and revolving loan programs. In their place, it calls for the Secretary of Energy to provide grants to states “to establish or expand programs to promote the financing of energy efficiency retrofit projects for private sector and commercial buildings.”
Aside from the grant program to encourage state energy efficiency financing programs, the reintroduced Shaheen-Portman bill also includes provisions that will directly improve energy efficiency in buildings, industrial processes and federal agencies. More specifically, these measures include strengthening energy efficiency requirements in building energy codes, incentivizing industrial energy efficiency using rebates for certain equipment, encouraging energy efficient supply chains through a new Supply Star program, and requiring federal agency energy savings techniques.
In its preliminary analysis of the new bill, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that Shaheen-Portman would save about 9.5 quadrillion Btu’s between 2014-2030, or nearly one-tenth of the annual energy use of the U.S. In his testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Energy on June 25, 2013, Executive Director of ACEEE Steven Nadel discussed other amendments that could be added to Shaheen-Portman to increase the energy savings, including provisions that would promote benchmarking in large commercial and multifamily buildings, coordinate energy efficiency retrofits at schools, increase energy efficiency efforts in states through a “race-to-the-top” program, and reauthorize the low-income Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the State Energy Program (SEP), among others.
According to The Hill, the Shaheen-Portman bill may be headed to the floor soon and while there’s no shortage of unrelated amendments waiting on the sidelines, Sens. Portman and Shaheen have been working hard to limit them.
As Politico reported last month:
The trick will be to appease a Republican delegation that has long waited for a debate on its energy proposals but not to overload it with amendments that would give Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) an excuse to pull the bill from consideration.
Let’s hope that lawmakers can work together on this common sense legislation, so we can start seeing the benefits of a more efficient economy.
Those standards were first enacted in 2007 under the Bush Administration by the Energy Independence and Security Act — though Congress has delayed implementation of the standards sense. Many commentators characterized the standards as a “ban” on incandescent light bulbs, but technically they weren’t. They were merely new efficiency requirements that apply to the manufacture of all light bulbs, and incandescent light bulbs are inefficient energy users, making the new standards a nearly impossible technological hurdle for them to clear.
Of course, that’s how efficiency standards are supposed to work. Take the inefficiency of any given incandescent, multiply it by all then incandescents used across the nation, and that translates into a lot of wasted energy. That, in turn, means unnecessary energy costs for consumers and unnecessary carbon emissions, adding to the growing global threat posed by climate change. And as Times’ Michael Grunwald pointed out, even without the standards in place, alternative LED bulbs are becoming more advanced and dropping rapidly in cost, while a new super-efficient incandescent bulb that uses nanotechnology was just released as well. The standards would merely serve to speed this process even further.
It’s how markets are supposed to work: present them a challenge, and they adapt. None of that moved Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), however.
Last year he proposed language prohibiting any Energy Department funds from being used to implement the standards. He re-proposed that language this year, and today the House approved an amendment affixing it to the energy and water bill. “If the new energy-efficient light bulbs save money, and if they’re better for the environment, we should trust our constituents to make the choice on their own move toward these bulbs,” Burgess said while justifying his proposal. “Let the market decide.”
But the way markets work is through price signals — that’s how we sort out the value we place on the environment, versus the value we place on convenience, versus the value we place on energy, etc. And an appropriate signal for carbon emissions is precisely what we don’t have. Carbon emissions threaten future damage to lives and the economy through the droughts, heat waves, and extreme weather brought on by climate change. Right now we don’t pay for that damage when we use the types of energy that release carbon dioxide. Because of that failure, the U.S. actually subsidizers fossil fuel use far more than any other country in the world.
So for Burgess to suggest blocking the standards leaves it to “the market to decide” is nonsensical. Without price signals, the market can’t decide.
A cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax would address this problem directly. But in their absence, efficiency standards are a decent substitute. (And even in their presence, efficiency standards are a useful compliment.) If Burgess doesn’t like the standards, and would prefer a more “market-based” solution to the problem of carbon emissions, he should put his money where his mouth is and propose one.
Troubled German utility group Energie Baden-Württemberg AG (EnBW) has announced that it intends to shut down a total of four fossil-fuelled power plants as a result of the increasing volumes of renewable energy capacity in the country’s energy market. With renewable energy given priority in the despatch merit order, this, the company argues, means
The loan program itself is not new — it was created with the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. To date, two programs under the Department of Energy Loan Programs Office have funded projects: one that funds advanced vehicle technology made famous recently when Tesla Motors paid back its loan early, and Section 1705, which makes loans for renewable energy, electric transmission, and biofuels (including one of the largest wind farms in the world).
The part of the program that Secretary Moniz is pushing — Section 1703, an all-of-the-above effort to fund risky technologies to reduce carbon emissions — has essentially collected dust since 2005. Between 2008 and 2009, the $8 billion in loan-guarantee authority was first made available to fossil fuel companies, mainly to coal gasification plants and carbon capture and sequestration projects. No projects were funded. In 2010, two nuclear power projects received conditional loan approval. The Energy Department published a draft solicitation and plans to accept applications starting in the fall for loan outlay efforts to fossil fuel programs that reduce carbon emissions.
So what would those be?
- Carbon capture: keeping the carbon emissions as they are burned from escaping into the atmosphere by compressing emissions and storing the carbon permanently. Relying on this technology to cut carbon pollution poses feasibility and safety issues. Additionally, it is unclear if the coal industry is a serious market for the adoption of such technology given the popularity (and cheapness) of natural gas.
- Advanced resource development: improving the efficiency of, or reducing the emissions from, the extraction of fossil fuels. Until we stop all fossil fuel development in favor of renewable sources, makes some sense to make the process as efficient as possible. Dry fracking, coal gasification, and coal-bed methane recovery may reduce air pollution and emissions but would require significant advancements to become viable. “Associated gas production” could enable drillers to capture gas at the wellhead that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere as methane — or otherwise be “flared” or burned off wastefully. Additional technology or practices that prevent methane leakage throughout the transmission and distribution system would further cut down fugitive methane emissions.
- Low-carbon power systems: mitigating carbon emissions at power plants without having to separate the gas first, which is expensive and inefficient. The Energy Department listed several options for projects like this: coal or natural gas oxycombustion, chemical looping processes, hydrogen turbines, and synthesis gas, natural gas, or hydrogen based fuel cells.
- Efficiency improvements: utilizing the waste heat from fossil fuel-based energy production. If power plants can get more usable heat out of the fuel they use, then less emissions will result from the same amount of carbon-based fuel. Cogeneration, or combined heat and power, is already being adopted nationwide but improved technology that makes the process more efficient would be a welcome step to reducing emissions. Capturing the waste heat produced by normal industrial processes or adopting high-efficiency distributed power systems are also possibilities.
If it is mandatory that this money be spent on such fossil fuel project loans (rather than loans supporting cutting-edge renewable energy or battery technology), it does seem there are some options that cut emissions without chaining the future of energy to fossil fuels.
Most importantly, these investments should be applied to newer, already-existing fossil fuel plants, rather than used as an excuse to build additional carbon-fueled power plants. If the technology simply leads to more coal or natural gas plants that replace a possible renewable power plant, then the loan program’s purpose — reducing emissions — is at risk.
Does any of this sound like a “War on Coal”? Secretary Moniz said on Tuesday, “I think the issue is to prepare for the future — a future in which coal is in fact part of the mix.” Republican reaction has been indirect or nonexistent thus far.
Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) told National Journal Daily, “If the administration is trying to ameliorate the negative impacts of the regulatory regime, that’s always good,” when asked about news of more advanced fossil fuel loans. According to National Journal, a spokeswoman for Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) was still extremely critical of the Energy Department loan guarantee program, referring to a “history of mismanagement, bankruptcies, and failure.” This is the same overall loan guarantee program contained in a bill passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bush, and also supported Tesla Motors, Solyndra, and dozens of other clean energy businesses. If Republicans support loan guarantees for high-risk fossil fuel programs, it makes it harder to explain the doctrinaire opposition to clean energy loans.
I missed my regular monthly update on my Ten Clean Energy Stocks for 2013 model portfolio last month, and a lot has happened to the individual companies since. Because of this, I will split this semiannual update in two parts. This part will look at the performance of the portfolio as a whole, and the reasons it's lagging its benchmarks. The next part will look at the news driving the performance of specific stocks.
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute just released a jam-packed, five-page fact sheet on energy efficiency and renewable energy jobs. National and state figures from different sources carry the punch line that in 2012 alone, there were over 110,000 jobs created in the clean energy sector. It references the Bureau of Labor Statistics' green
Time To Reauthorize Weatherization Assistance Program, Which Returns $2.50 In Savings For Every Dollar InvestedAfter thirty-six of years of making homes energy efficient, creating jobs, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is currently up for reauthorization in Congress. The federal government funds weatherization programs in all 50 states, D.C., five territories, and three tribal governments. But it is the local and community organizations, through WAP, that have weatherized over 7.4 million homes. This program successfully cuts the energy costs for low income families.
Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced S. 1213 on June 20th to reauthorize WAP and continue its track record of saving families an average of $437 per year on energy.
“This bill isn’t just about reauthorization, it is also about modernization,” said Sen. Coons during the Energy Subcommittee hearing on June 25th. “For every dollar invested, the Weatherization Assistance Program returns $2.51 in household savings.”
WAP has benefitted families — particularly the elderly, disabled, and families with children — since it was created in 1976 under the Energy Conservation and Production Act. However, it has not been until recently that WAP has been able to weatherize a significantly higher number of homes. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contributed $5 billion towards the program’s goal of weatherizing 600,000 low income homes by the end of 2012. The program surpassed its objective by a substantial amount: weatherizing over one million homes through the end of last year.
In each home the program accepts, energy auditors implement plans to reduce energy costs by increasing insulation in key areas, as well as installing storm windows, smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors. These retrofitting actions have led to numerous success stories all across the country.
The Conn family of eastern Kentucky is just one household of millions that has benefited from WAP. The program turned their once drafty, unbearably cold house that used approximately 1,400 kilowatt hours of power per month into to a warmer, safer home that only uses 500 kilowatt hours per month.
Low income families typically spend 20 percent of their combined income on heating expenses annually, while those below the poverty line can see up to 40 percent of their wages covering their energy costs. With the weatherization program’s ability to cut utility bills by, “as much as 50 percent,” according to Shaun Wright, the Executive Director of Michigan’s program, families who receive this assistance can use the money they save on other basic living expenses.
Although WAP immediately benefits the families whose houses get renovated, it also spurs job growth and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. In Colorado, the weatherization opportunities have led Veterans Green Jobs to begin training military veterans on how to convert a house into an energy efficient machine.
The EPA states that buildings are responsible for 65 percent of this country’s electricity consumption. With over one million homes completed, the program has certainly attempted to decrease residential energy consumption which is a win-win-win: saving families’ money, creating jobs, and preventing the release of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
In order to continue reducing energy costs for low income families and therefore shrinking our energy usage as a nation, Congress needs to stand behind the re-authorization of this program and enact S. 1213.
Matt Kasper contributed to this blog.
Today President Obama spoke at Georgetown University about his plans to broadly address climate change. Ahead of his actual talk, the White House released the gist of what he would propose.
In 2011, the National Venture Capital Association and Dow Jones VentureSource released their study of the diversity makeup of the venture capital industry. Not surprisingly, the majority of people working in the VC industry were white and. . . wait for it. . . male. While women represented 21 percent of employment in the VC industry, only 11 percen
A solar installation built adjacent to a natural gas-fired power plant in Florida; a hydroelectric plant needed to meet an expected 6 percent annual growth in Chile; a coal-fired power plant that also burns biomass in Virginia; and a solar power plant built on a former lignite mining strip in Germany. These projects and more are some of the past wi
The International Energy Agency has today urged governments to put in place four energy policies that it claims will “keep climate goals alive without harming economic growth”.
Maine is trying to lower energy costs and increase energy efficiency. Sadly, its Governor may veto legislation that would do this at the expense of Maine’s ratepayers and emerging renewable energy industry.
A bipartisan omnibus energy bill is making its way through the Maine state legislature. The compromised package, L.D. 1559, passed the Senate on Thursday.
However, Governor Paul LePage opposes the bill, and his energy director said a veto will occur if the bill reaches his desk in its current form.
Andrew Sturgeon, president of the Action Committee of 50 (a group of business and community leaders promoting economic development), wrote a special for the Bangor Daily News highlighting the ways the omnibus bill helps Mainers:
- “By expanding efficiency programs, all electricity consumers achieve a net savings — amounting to $76 million last year.”
- “The expansion of natural gas infrastructure could reduce electric bills of Mainers by $100 million to $200 million per year after full implementation.”
- “The governor proposed adding ‘lowering energy costs’ to the Public Utilities Commission’s mandated responsibilities and goals for the Efficiency Maine Trust, something this bill achieves.”
- “By using $3 million to $5 million per year from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to reduce residential heating costs, this bill does exactly what the governor asks for.”
Despite the bipartisan work and the savings customers in Maine will experience, LePage will veto the bill because he wants the 100-megawatt cap in the state’s renewable energy standard to be removed.
This provision requires renewable energy facilities to be smaller than 100 megawatts in generating capacity in order to quality for energy credits. Wind energy, thankfully, is not included in this provision. If this specific part of the RES law is repealed, large hydro facilities (specifically from Canada) would be allowed to receive energy credits and therefore Maine’s standard would be “watered down.” The incentive for wind energy companies to continue their growth in Maine would likely end.
LePage is certainly not putting the citizens of Maine first. Over the past few years, an ALEC sponsored initiative undertaken by LePage and his allies — State Senators Michael Thibodeau and Edward Youngblood — have introduced legislation that would dismantle the state’s RES. The “model legislation” provided by ALEC would require the use of large hydropower as a part of the RES calculation. This change would reduce the ability of Maine to utilize its own existing renewable resources to provide for the state’s electricity needs.
Wind energy is becoming a vital and innovative energy resource within Maine due to its positive economic and environmental benefits. Indeed, wind developers in Maine have spent nearly $1 billion since 2004 which has led to the creation of hundreds of jobs. Furthermore, for every 300 megawatts of wind energy installed in Maine, $375 million in construction wages is generated along with a $750 million tax base increase.
Health and environmental advocacy groups, such as the American Lung Association and Sierra Club Maine, have also endorsed new turbine projects citing their potential to “reduce pollution, create good local jobs, and protect wildlife.”
Phil Bartlett, Maine’s Senate majority leader from 2008-2010, recently wrote in the Bangor Daily News:
“The attempts by LePage and his allies to dismantle Maine’s RPS represent an embrace of a corporatist approach to Maine’s energy policy, which, if left unchecked, will have serious, damaging consequences for Maine consumers and our environment. As a former legislator, I am perhaps most troubled by the ease with which these groups have infiltrated our State House.”
It is necessary for wind energy to increase in Maine as 63 percent of the state’s electricity is generated from gas and oil, and 90 percent of homes are heated by oil — mostly imported from other countries.
America's power system is too vulnerable to meet modern challenges — a harsh reality underscored by Hurricane Sandy, which left 8.1 million people in the dark for extended periods. Yet, widespread outages should no longer come as a surprise. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country's electrical infrastructure a "D" grade in 2008. Ye
The world has made “steady but modest progress” in improving global access to electricity and safe cooking fuels, increasing energy efficiency and adding renewable sources to the world’s energy mix, said Vivien Foster, energy unit sector manager at the World Bank’s sustainable energy department, at a recent briefing in London.
After Steven Chu departed the Energy Department, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) decided to take “A Look Back at Secretary Chu’s Enormous Impact on Energy Savings.”
The ACEEE found:
Taking into account products sold between now and 2035, new efficiency standards adopted during Chu’s four-year stint will net U.S. consumers and businesses more than $100 billion in savings. The energy saved by these new standards will be about enough to power the entire U.S. economy—all of our buildings, industries, homes, cars, and trucks—for about four months.
So Steven Chu is the $100 Billion man. No wonder energy efficiency has the highest documented rate of return of any federal program.
Here are some highlights:
- Standards completed in 2009 for the tube-shape fluorescent lamps used mostly in offices will save more energy than any other standard ever issued by DOE.
- New water heater standards will help heat pump technology and gas condensing technology gain a market foothold by focusing on large water heaters where these new technologies are most cost-effective.
- New residential refrigerator and clothes washer standards will reduce the average energy use of these products by about 25% and 40%, respectively. These standards show that continued technological gains can deliver cost-effective energy savings, even for products that have already achieved dramatic improvements.
In his first speech as energy secretary, Dr. Ernie Moniz pledged that “efficiency is going to be a big focus going forward.” Indeed, at a conference sponsored by the Alliance to Save Energy, Moniz said:
“Let me just say off the bat that I have been working these problems for quite a while, I have never seen a credible solution to the climate risk mitigation challenge, to reach the kinds of goals we need to reach, without the demand side playing a very, very important part in that.”
Perhaps Moniz will be the first trillion-dollar man. Certainly future generations will need that kind of savings if we are to avert catastrophic climate change.
- Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution, the biggest and cheapest low-carbon resource by far
How many people around the world lack access to electricity and safe household fuels? What’s the share of renewable energy in the global mix? How are we doing in improving energy efficiency?
A new online database created by Colorado State University's (CSU) Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) aims to serve anyone interested in clean energy legislation in any state in the U.S., or even those who are crafting policy themselves.
By Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
As Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I see a lot of fanfare applauding increased oil production in the U.S. and the increase is truly remarkable. We are producing nearly 2 million more barrels of oil a day than government (EIA) experts had predicted ten years ago. But here’s what is truly astounding: We are consuming over 5 million barrels less in oil a day than had been predicted in 2003. So, there is no question we are making dramatic strides in the oil sector, but we are doing twice as well on the conservation side of the ledger than we are in production.
Oil conservation lacks the sizzle that energy production enjoys. After all, you don’t see people striking it rich by taking a train to work, by driving an electric car, or converting their business’ fleet to run on natural gas. What’s worse, not only does it lack sizzle, some public figures say oil conservation isn’t even a serious approach to energy policy. Vice President Cheney famously said conservation is a “sign of personal virtue, but … not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”
But as a nation, in order to continue to improve our energy security, insulate our economy from high oil prices, and address climate change, we will continue to accomplish a lot more by using less oil than by producing more oil. It’s less exciting than an oil geyser, but the opportunity is simply much bigger. Increasing oil production in the U.S. helps our energy security and our economy, but increasing domestic production is often described as the healer of all wounds. Unfortunately it is not.
If it were, oil prices would not be so stubbornly high. Oil is traded in a worldwide market, so our increased production has been drowned out by increased demand elsewhere. But thanks to increased fuel economy standards, investment in public transportation, and a burgeoning market in alternative fuel vehicles, Americans do not need nearly as much oil to achieve mobility as once predicted. And we have a lot more improvement to do. After all, we use twice as much oil per capita as the United Kingdom and Germany and a third more than Australia.
Despite our exceptional prowess in drilling for oil, we simply cannot drill our way out of our problems. To address climate change, drive down prices, and truly end the world’s dependence on energy from unstable parts of the world, we need to use a lot less oil. The good news is that we have gotten off to a great start.
Volt owners are almost universally happy with their cars, despite the fact that very few will recoup the extra costs of the car in gas savings. Even though the financial savings are small compared to the large upfront payment for the vehicle, the emotional payback more than compensates.