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Beyond Energy: Making the Distributed Grid ‘Capacity-Efficient’

EPRI’s new report lays out overhaul for today’s “energy-abundant but capacity-inefficient” power grid.

Jeff St. John
July 28, 2015

Ask your typical utility customer what it means to be energy-efficient, or what “green energy” is, and you’re likely to get a fairly well-informed response. The idea of using less energy or using solar panels and wind turbines to lower pollutants is pretty easy to understand.

But ask those same customers if they know how to be “capacity-efficient,” or to describe how renewable energy and traditional power plants compare in terms of providing capacity to the power grid, and you’re more likely to get blank stares.

That’s because the concept of capacity -- a measure of how much reliable electricity generation the grid needs to meet ever-changing peaks and troughs in energy demand -- hasn’t been something that the average utility customer has had to know or worry about. Instead, capacity has largely been the concern of grid insiders like utilities and transmission system operators, power-plant owners and investors, and state and federal regulators.

But in a world where utility customers are increasingly generating their own energy, fine-tuning their moment-by-moment power consumption, and striving for “net-zero-energy” status, this disconnect between energy and capacity can become a serious roadblock to achieving a clean, efficient and reliable grid.

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Utility Ownership of Large-Scale Renewables Would Reverse a Decade’s Worth of Ratepayer Savings


Gavin Donohue challenges Con Edison’s claim that utility ownership of renewables is the cheapest option.

Gavin Donohue
July 27, 2015

Gavin Donohue is the President and CEO of the Independent Power Producers of New York, Inc. IPPNY member companies generate 75 percent of New York’s electricity using a wide variety of resources, such as water, wind, coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, solar, waste and landfill gas.

There's a debate going on in New York over who should own and operate large-scale renewable energy projects. Contrary to what Con Edison claimed in a recent editorial at GTM, we think utility ownership of large projects would be a costly mistake for New York ratepayers.

Utility ownership of generation assets would only serve to put ratepayers directly on the hook for costly investments, while ignoring the benefits and undermining the functionality of non-discriminatory, competitive energy markets.

Competitive wholesale electricity markets are where independent power producers sell electricity to utility companies through a competitive auction process designed to meet energy demands using the most affordable resources. This process ensures that market participants strive to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

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PUC plays by its own rules, hires outside lawyers

JULY 27, 2015

$49,000 contract with San Francisco attorneys balloons to $5 million-plus

California Public Utilities Commission hires outside lawyers in corruption investigation

Commission official says turning to outside lawyer is ‘least crummy’ alternative


On Sept. 9, 2010, a massive fire set off by a PG&E gas pipeline roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno. The inferno killed 38 people. | Michael Sah Associated Press file


Imagine the outcry if the California Senate had used taxpayers’ money to hire criminal defense lawyers in 2013 when a leaked FBI affidavit detailed an investigation into then Sen. Ron Calderon.

What if the California Department of Parks and Recreation had hired a pricey defense counsel to fend off the 2013 investigations into how it hoarded $20 million while shuttering parks and pleading for donations?

The California Public Utilities Commission operates by a different set of rules.

Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office is investigating former President Michael Peevey, and perhaps other current and former commission employees, and the CPUC is paying an outside law firm, Sheppard Mullin, to represent it.


The commission entered into the contract in November 2014, claiming it was for $49,000; the contract since has ballooned to $5 million-plus. Peevey, who stepped down in December, was president at the time, though he has his own attorneys.

The scope of the investigation into Peevey is not altogether clear. But internal PG&E emails show Peevey sought a $1 million PG&E donation to combat a ballot measure in 2010, while the commission considered issues related to PG&E, including the 2010 gas line explosion that killed 38 people in San Bruno.

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Feds end probe of Murray Energy coal rally for Mitt Romney


Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney waves to the crowd during a rally Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, at the Century Mine Main Office Building near Beallsville, Ohio. The Federal Election Commission has dropped its investigation of a complaint that the mine owner, Beachwood-based Murray Energy, forced miners to attend the rally. (Scott Mccloskey, AP Photo Scott McCloskey/The Wheeling News Register & The Intelligencer)

By Sabrina Eaton, Northeast Ohio Media Group Washington Correspondent

on July 27, 2015 at 5:17 PM, updated July 27, 2015 at 5:18 PM


WASHINGTON, D. C. - The Federal Election Commission has dropped its investigation of a Democratic-leaning group's complaint that Beachwood-based Murray Energy illegally forced coal miners to attend a Mitt Romney campaign rally.

Three Republican commissioners voted to dismiss ProgressOhio's allegation that Murray Energy violated campaign laws by coercing miners to attend the August 2012 Romney rally at the Century Mine, in Bealsville, Ohio. Two Democrats and one independent commissioner wanted to pursue the case, according to records made public late last week.

Romney used his appearance at the coal mine to criticize what he called a "war on coal" by President Barack Obama's administration, which he said was costing jobs in the coal industry. Romney's campaign later centered an ad campaign around footage from the rally.

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Clinton’s Energy Plan: Chardonnay Instead Of Beer

Michael Lynch Contributor

I analyze petroleum economics and energy policy.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

ENERGY 7/28/2015 @ 8:12AM 90 views

Hillary Clinton has announced her energy program and must be experiencing a Tennyson moment: Environmentalists to the left of her, Republicans to the right, into the Valley of Energy Policy Death rode the frontrunner. (Okay, Tennyson I ain’t.) But her announced energy policy leaves me cold, or would if I took it seriously.

As a grad student, I once created a homemade campaign button that read, “64-40 or fight.” (Look it up.) The point was to express my skepticism about political promises: both presidents Bush promoted manned flight to Mars, for example, but actually did little with regard to achieving said goal. And no few politicians have supported nuclear power without overcoming the economic problems that have plagued that industry, and indeed, most have done nothing concrete in support of their support. Clinton’s energy plan is already becoming a rallying point (and target for critics of both sides) as well as a part of the political debate, but doesn’t really move the policy debate forward very much.

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Hillary Clinton’s Climate Change Plan Includes Massive Growth in Solar

It’s easy to lead in renewable energy policy when most of the opposition doesn’t fully accept climate change.

Eric Wesoff
July 27, 2015

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton just issued a renewable energy vision fact sheet that sets aggressive goals for solar and renewables as it acknowledges the challenge of climate change.

The document establishes Clinton as one of the few renewable energy advocates (and climate change conspiracists) in the 2016 presidential race.

Here are 5 takeaways.

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Saving water adds up to rate hikes

Conservation hurts agency finances, so rates must increase

By Morgan Cook and Bradley J. Fikes | 7:09 a.m. July 27, 2015 | Updated, 8:21 a.m.


Shasta Dam viewed from the air, with the reservoir nearly full. — Robert Campbell - Wikimedia

Whenever drought hits, Californians invariably do their part to save water. They cut back on watering lawns, shorten showers and fix leaks.

This conservation ethic has taken hold quickly during the current drought. Ratepayers in San Diego County and elsewhere in the state are meeting or often significantly exceeding their state-mandated reduction.

Now for the unpleasant but predictable sequel. As water use goes down, the rates charged are going up. And many of those good citizens, who are dutifully pitching in for the public good, are outraged. But the retail water agencies, who directly supply residential, business and agricultural customers, say they have little choice.

The financial logic is inexorable. If you sell less of something, to balance the budget you must either cut costs, raise the price, or a combination of both, the agencies say.

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Filed under: Water Comments Off

Worse than ’97-98?! New El Niño growing into monster

See what happened during the last major El Niño event in Bay Area

Mike Moffitt Updated 11:45 am, Monday, July 27, 2015

  1. pastedGraphic.pdf


    The present El Niño formation has the potential to become the strongest on record. The yellow areas indicate concentrations of warming water.

    The broad swath of warmer-than-usual seawater is spreading and deepening. The two largest concentrations are off the coast of Peru, where water is 4 degrees Centigrade warmer than usual, and just west of Vancouver and Seattle — 3 degrees warmer.

    If this El Niño continues to grow, it could surpass the modern record-setting 1997-98 El Niño event, which inundated the Bay Area and the rest of California for months, causing flooding, mudslides and subsidences, and heavy snowfalls in the Sierra.

    "We don't know if one model is better than any other," said Null, who noted that strong ocean warming trends have occurred before in the summer only to have the El Niño fizzle out in the winter.

    Indeed, earlier this month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's El Niño blog threw cold water on claims of a strong or super El Niño based on weekly fluctuations of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

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    Filed under: Water Comments Off

    Water Recedes and Anxiety Rises After Hole Opens Near Upstate New York Dam

    By JESSE McKINLEYJULY 24, 2015

    DEPOSIT, N.Y. — It has been a half-century since the waters first rose at Cannonsville Reservoir, engulfing several towns, swaths of farmland and untold family memories under billions of gallons of water, all to slake New York City’s unrelenting thirst.

    But over the last two weeks, those waters have been receding, as city officials try to contain the effects of a potentially dangerous accident that has allowed water to seep out of a rock embankment near the base of the reservoir’s 175-foot-high earthen dam.

    Since discovering the problem earlier this month, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, which operates the reservoir, has been diverting or releasing more than a billion gallons of water a day, creating a widening ring of newly exposed rock and sand around the rim. Crews are monitoring the dam and water pressure gauges around the clock, and amassing materials and equipment for possible emergency repairs. Local officials and residents, too, are on alert, with public meetings being held along the Delaware River Valley.

    And while engineers say that the communities in this upstate area are safe, the episode has nevertheless reignited the long-simmering anxieties of those who live in the shadow of the aging reservoir, as well as the animosity they feel toward those who benefit from its waters more than 100 miles away.

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    Filed under: Water Comments Off

    There’s An Inconvenient Hole in the Climate Forecasting Map

    Ethan Chorin Contributor

    I cover innovations in energy, development in Middle East, Africa

    Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

    BUSINESS 7/24/2015 @ 9:24PM 12,231 views

    England’s lead scientific adviser warned recently that increased demand for water and energy, and a warmer world, may combine to create a ‘perfect storm’ of “public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration by 2030″, with developing regions hardest hit: ”there’s not going to be a complete collapse, but things will start getting really worrying if we don’t tackle these problems,” he noted.  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  In large parts of the Middle East and Africa things are much worse than worrying.

    The region is already severely vulnerable to climate change:  large parts are blazing hot, water-starved, and  resource-taxed.   Here, small changes in the environment, and resources can mean the difference between war and peace, or more war, and populations at greater or lesser risk of radicalization.  Yet, the region is one of the least understood climatically.

    That climate change was one factor in the Arab Revolutions of 2011 is highly plausible.  Researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory found that the severe drought concurrent with the Syrian implosion was likely exacerbated by climate change.   Joshua Hammer’s excellent piece in this month’s New York Review of Books notes the connections between environmental change, poverty and the rise of Boco Haram in Nigeria.   Juan Cole opines on the link between climate change, economic collapse and the rise of ISIS.

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    Bad news for Russia: Oil prices are falling again

    Russia is facing a mounting fiscal crisis as the combination of low oil prices and western sanctions continue to take their toll.

    By Nick Cunningham, JULY 27, 2015 Save for later

    Russia may have though it was out of the woods this past spring when oil prices started to rise, but the onset of another bear market for oil presents serious economic and financial threats for the country.

    Russia is facing a mounting fiscal crisis as the combination of low oil prices and western sanctions continue to take their toll. For a country that gets about 50 percent of its budget revenues from oil and gas, the sudden collapse of oil prices since June – Brent is now trading at $55 per barrel – threatens to drag the Russian economy down to lower depths.

    The drop in oil prices since June is not entirely unrelated to Russian actions. Russia decided to cooperate with the West in reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, which contributed to the fall in oil prices as markets expect new Iranian crude to be forthcoming over the next few months and into next year. Although the cooperation amounts to a self-inflicted wound, it also pushes several strategic objectives forward for Russia. A disarmed Iran removes the justification for a U.S.-backed missile defense program in Europe, a plan vociferously opposed by Russia.

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    BP Reports Second-Quarter Loss as Oil Spill Settlement Takes Toll



    BP earned $228 million in the second quarter from oil and gas exploration and production, compared with $4 billion a year earlier.


    Oli Scarff/Getty Images

    LONDON — The British oil giant BP said on Tuesday that it had lost $5.8 billion in the second quarter, reflecting a huge settlement over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

    The roughly 40 percent fall in oil prices since last year is also sharply cutting into profits at BP and at other oil companies. BP had an operating profit from oil and gas exploration and production of $494 million in the second quarter, compared with $4.7 billion a year earlier. Besides lower prices, the central causes of the drop were sharply diminished production in the Gulf of Mexico because of maintenance and a write-down on exploration in Libya because of the political turmoil there.

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    POLICY: U.S. government falls behind its energy efficiency goals as it sets new ones

    Camille von Kaenel, E&E reporter

    ClimateWire: Thursday, July 23, 2015

    Correction appended.

    President Obama's tweaked goals for reducing energy use within federal agencies in the next 10 years will give agencies some space to catch up, the Federal Energy Management Program head said.

    The government fell behind some of the goals Obama set for 2016, including cutting the energy use per square foot in federal buildings 30 percent compared to 2005, or an average of 3 percent per year.

    The Federal Energy Management Program helps implement the rules. Director Tim Unruh spoke at an Association of Climate Change Officers roundtable yesterday about the government's overall progress.

    The new rules, which will become active at the start of next year, were outlined in an executive order this spring (Greenwire, March 19). Many of the goals moved up from the previous version. Obama ordered greenhouse gas emissions slashed 40 percent from 2008 levels by 2025, a hike from the previous goal of 20 percent by 2020.

    But the order also called for a reduction in energy use per square foot of 2.5 percent per year on average until 2025, lower than the previous goal of 3 percent.

    Energy use by square foot has been on a long-term trend downward, dropping 20 percent since 2003. In the last few years, however, the trend has flattened out, falling short of the 3 percent annual reduction set out in Obama's first executive order, statute (42 USC 8253[a]).

    "We were doing pretty decent, and then it kind of hit a wall, and we aren't entirely sure why," Unruh said.

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    Gov. Brown wants to keep oil in the ground. But whose oil?

    By David R. Baker

    July 26, 2015 Updated: July 26, 2015 8:16pm

    Even the greenest, most eco-friendly politicians rarely utter the words Gov. Jerry Brown spoke at the Vatican’s climate change symposium last week.

    To prevent the worst effects of global warming, one-third of the world’s known oil reserves must remain in the ground, Brown told the gathering of government officials from around the world. The same goes for 50 percent of natural gas reserves and 90 percent of coal.

    “Now that is a revolution,” Brown said. “That is going to take a call to arms.”

    It’s an idea widely embraced among environmentalists and climate scientists. Burn all the world’s known fossil fuel supplies — the ones already discovered by energy companies — and the atmosphere would warm to truly catastrophic levels. Never mind hunting for more oil.

    But it’s a concept few politicians will touch. That’s because it raises a question no one wants to answer: Whose oil has to stay put?

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    Opponents of Oakland coal shipping target governor’s pal

    By Matier & Ross

    July 25, 2015 Updated: July 25, 2015 4:02pm

    1. pastedGraphic.pdf

      Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

      A train loaded with coal approaches the Levin-Richmond Terminal in Richmond, Calif., on Thursday, July 23, 2015. A similar plan for a coal exporting operation has been proposed at the old Oakland Army Base by Oakland developer Phil Tagami and a company called Terminal Logistics Solutions.

      While Gov. Jerry Brown was busy at the Vatican warning of possible human extinction from global warming, his business partner and friend Phil Tagami was treading hot water with environmentalists and civic leaders over a plan to ship millions of tons of coal from city docks in Oakland.

      At issue: a proposal to ship Utah coal through an $820 million cargo facility that Tagami is building at the old Oakland Army Base — a big chunk of which is being paid for by public money.

      “The governor just told the pope that we need to leave 90 percent of the world’s coal in the ground or face an environmental catastrophe,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, conservation program coordinator for the San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club. “If he is serious about doing something, he could and should start with his own hometown and with his own friend.”

      Coal is the issue where two powerful forces in Oakland run straight into each other. One is the city’s longtime dream of turning the old Army base into an economic engine. The other is the desire to adopt an environmentally progressive stance that can change the city’s hardscrabble image.

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