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Want More Wind And Solar Energy? Invest A Lot More In The Grid

Ken Silverstein Contributor

I write about the global energy business.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

BUSINESS 4/13/2015 @ 8:15AM 7,199 views

Want to increase the use of green energy and reduce the level of harmful emissions? Invest heavily in the grid to both modernize and expand it, which will accomplish such aims while also building the US economy.

That’s the view of energy and utility experts assembled by Public Utilities Fortnightly at its energy, money and power conference last week in Washington, DC. A smarter and more extensive grid that is able to distribute greener power is expensive. But the benefits of creating a modern infrastructure are huge.

“This vision is also about job creation and economic benefits,” says Massoud Amin, chairman of the IEEE Smart Grid and a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota. For every $1 invested in the nation’s network, as much as $6 is returned, not to mention the 47,000 new jobs since 2012.

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Jim Rogers Versus Audrey Zibelman on the Transfomation of the Utility

New York’s Audrey Zibelman tells ex-Duke CEO Jim Rogers what the future will look like.

Katherine Tweed
April 15, 2015

In his former role as CEO of Duke Energy, Jim Rogers was largely seen as a forward-thinking leader, encouraging his industry to support U.S. climate legislation nearly a decade ago, and later supporting rooftop solar.

At the Bloomberg New Energy Finance event in New York City this week, his stance was decidedly less cutting-edge. “We have these visionary solutions looking for problems,” Rogers said about technology changes happening in the utility industry. “How can we improve upon 99.9 percent reliability? Do we need to?”

He questioned the value of deregulated markets to foster innovation. Rogers, who noted that he was asked to be provocative, said that North Carolina was aggressively installing rooftop solar even though it is a state with vertically integrated utilities.

“I see most of the modernization going on in the vertically integrated, regulated markets,” said Rogers. “I never thought of myself as defending the status quo, but it feels pretty good.”

Audrey Zibelman, chair of the New York Public Services Commission, was unimpressed by Rogers’ pitch for the status quo. She noted that prices have fallen in deregulated New York because of its electricity markets, and inefficient merchant generation has been retired. “You can’t argue with efficiency,” she said, adding that the efficiency of generators in wholesale markets has increased overall.

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Judges Skeptical of Challenge to Proposed E.P.A. Rule on Climate Change



A power plant in Bow, N.H. Coal companies and many states are suing over a rule that would push states to use clean energy.


Jim Cole/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A panel of federal judges appeared inclined on Thursday to dismiss the first legal challenge to President Obama’s most far-reaching regulation to slow climate change.

But in the arguments before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, lawyers for the nation’s two largest coal companies, more than two dozen states and the Environmental Protection Agency offered a preview of what is expected to be a protracted battle over a regulation Mr. Obama hopes to leave as his signature environmental achievement.

At stake is the environmental agency’s proposed rule, issued under the authority of the Clean Air Act, to curb planet-warming carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. The rule, which would require all states to draft plans to restructure their electricity sectors and would push them to transition from coal power to cleaner forms of energy, could ultimately shut down hundreds of coal plants.

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FirstEnergy closes 104-year-old coal power plant, electric rates to rise (interactive map)

By John Funk, The Plain Dealer

on April 15, 2015 at 2:30 PM, updated April 15, 2015 at 5:02 PM


CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The last three FirstEnergy's coal-fired power plants on Lake Erie closed forever today.

The shutdowns come more than three years after the company announced it would close rather than modernize them to meet new clean air standards.

Built generations ago, the three small power plants are in Ashtabula, Eastlake and Cleveland.

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Climate Roundup: Ratepayers to Get Climate Dividend

April 16, 2015

California ratepayers are to see lower utility bills this month and in May because of the credit generated by the state’s carbon cap-and-trade auctions. The average utility bill credit for 10.7 million households is $27.00, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

“The Climate Credit returns money to consumers, and it is my hope that consumers will use the money to invest in simple tools that will help lower their electricity bills,” stated Mike Picker, CPUC president.

The average utility credit varies by company and is estimated by the commission as follows:

• $24.76 for Pacific Gas & Electric ratepayers;

• $29.00 for Southern California Edison customers;

• $36.24 for San Diego Gas & Electric ratepayers;

• $141.03 for Pacific Power customers; and,

• $35.01 for Liberty Utilities.

This is the third climate dividend to date. The two were given last year, totaling $736 million. A total of $577 million is  expected to be credited to households this year.

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Chairman: Scrap San Onofre deal

Hueso says settlement hatched in secret in Poland shouldn’t stand

By Jeff McDonald5:11 P.M.APRIL 15, 2015

The settlement that assigned billions of dollars in San Onofre nuclear plant closure costs to customers should be revisited after revelations about how the deal came together, the chairman of the state Senate committee overseeing utilities said.

Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, said a history of backchannel communications between regulators and utility executives – epitomized by a secret meeting in Poland a year before any public process began – convinced him the terms need to be revised.

“I do not think the settlement should stand,” Hueso told U-T San Diego via email this week. “The process by which the settlement was developed – previously undisclosed private meetings half a world away – clearly is troubling.”

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From Fracking to Keystone XL, Green Groups Face a Hillary Clinton Problem

Tom Zeller Jr. Contributor

Minding the collision of business, energy, science & the environment.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

ENERGY 4/17/2015 @ 1:44PM 11 views

Way back in October 2010, when federal deliberations over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline had only been plodding along for a little over two years, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had this to say when asked about the wisdom of “mainlining” heavy Canadian crude oil amid escalating climate risks:

“We haven’t finished all of the analysis. So as I say, we’ve not yet signed-off on it,” Clinton said. “But we are inclined to do so and we are for several reasons — going back to one of your original questions — we’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf, or dirty oil from Canada.”

It was an odd but telling response — odd, because the questioner had actually been asking about the Alberta Clipper pipeline, which was already delivering diluted bitumen to Wisconsin; and telling because Clinton clearly was referring to the Keystone XL project, which was about to explode into the national debate over global warming, fossil fuels and the future of energy.

It was also the last unambiguous tip-of-the-hand that Clinton would offer on the issue, which would soon become mired in a political tug-of-war between Republicans in Congress and the Obama administration — a battle that outlived Clinton’s tenure in the State Department and continues to this day.

But on this — and a variety of other energy issues that are of concern to environmental groups, climate activists and supporters of rapid clean energy development, Clinton presents something of a conundrum. Perhaps even more than Obama, who has assiduously pursued an all-of-the-above energy agenda, Clinton seems natively inclined toward a sort of energy realpolitik that accepts the need for a clean-energy revolution, but views continued fossil fuel production and consumption as a global inevitability.

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Natural gas industry lobbyists ask feds to put LNG projects on fast track

Posted on April 16, 2015 at 1:59 pm by Rhiannon Meyers in LNG

A 40-year-old ban on U.S. crude oil exports means oil tankers in U.S. waters usually are bringing the cargo into U.S. ports. (Michael Stravato/The New York Times)

The U.S. should speed up its approval process for new liquefied gas export terminals if it wants to remain competitive against other countries eagerly preparing to supply the world with gas, a natural gas trade association argued Thursday.

America’s Natural Gas Alliance on Tuesday called on the federal government to revamp its lengthy and expensive permitting process for projects aimed at exporting supercooled gas to foreign markets, arguing that such exports are in the country’s national interest.

“The time is now for the U.S. to seize the day,” alliance President and CEO Marty Durbin said in a conference call with reporters.

The Department of Energy should issue blanket approval to all companies wanting to ship LNG to countries with which the U.S. does not have free trade agreements, rather than requiring each of those projects to undergo their own permitting process, Durbin said. The department should be able to make that change without congressional approval, alliance economist Erica Bowman said.

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New Capital Is ‘Postponing The Day Of Reckoning’ For Oil Companies

Christopher Helman Forbes Staff

Big Oil, Big Energy

ENERGY 4/17/2015 @ 12:43PM 509 views

Carl Tricoli recently relocated the offices of private equity group Denham Capital to Houston’s beautiful Philip Johnson-designed Bank of America BAC -1.71% Center. The postmodernist masterpiece, completed in 1983, has long been a favorite of Tricoli’s, primarly for its grand architecture but also because of what it represents. “It has a special place in my heart,” says Tricoli, co-president of Denham, “because I started my career at Republic Bank, which went bankrupt in the process of putting this building up. It was my first exposure to the lesson that when a company starts building a new headquarters it’s time to short.”

Republic was one of those victims of the great oil bust of the early 1980s, which decimated Houston, morphed into the great Texas real estate crash and introduced the world to the term “see-through office building,” of which there were many examples in this town.

Tricoli has worn a lot of hats in the three decades since then, with stints at Enron and Koch Industries , among others. In 2004 he co-founded Denham Capital, an energy-focused private equity firm with $9 billion currently invested in oil and gas, power generation and mining. Over the years Denham has invested $3 billion in 26 oil and gas companies, of which 14 remain in their portfolio.

For years I’ve enjoyed Tricoli’s no-nonsense insights on what’s going on in the oil and gas industry. It says something about the man that on the wall of his office he has an illustration of a comic strip character with a word bubble that says: “Bullshit walks.”

Tricoli and I sat down for a talk last week to try and cut through the bullshit. The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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Designing Community Solar Programs to Manage Risk


In the second of three articles, Adam Capage of 3Degrees looks at how utilities can address the larger risks of a community solar program.

Adam Capage
April 16, 2015

With interest in community solar continuing to grow, more utilities are grappling with how to design a successful program that meets their organizational goals.

In part one of this series on best practices in community solar, we reported on project ownership and siting options. This article focuses on risk mitigation -- a critical subject for every utility, but especially for investor-owned utilities (IOUs) that operate within regulatory mandates to hold non-participating customers harmless. When designing a community solar program, there are multiple risks utilities must assess. Here, we’ve focused on two that are particularly important and relevant.

Risk No. 1: Oversupply

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Apple Goes To China To Build Solar Projects With SunPower

Ucilia Wang Contributor

I write about renewable energy, electric cars and water tech

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

GREEN TECH 4/16/2015 @ 11:29AM 3,987 views

Apple AAPL -0.69% is building solar power plants in China.

You read it right. The guys who are bringing you fancy watches is teaming up with SunPower SPWR -0.18% to build 40 megawatts of solar generation projects in the Sichuan Province.

Apple has been developing its own solar power projects in the United States and worked with SunPower to build some of them. Those projects, owned by Apple, are located near or next to its data centers in North Carolina, Arizona and Nevada and are designed to send clean energy into the local grids from which Apple draws energy. In all, SunPower has built 90 megawatts of projects for Apple in the U.S.

Apple also signed a $850 million deal to buy solar power from a 130-megawatt project that will be built by First Solar FSLR -1.85% in California. Apple expects the project to feed enough power into the grid to provide for all of its needs in the state.


Apple’s foray into China seems unusual because the company isn’t investing in projects that will benefit its operations.  But Apple clearly has a strong interest in solar energy development, and most of its products are made in China through contract manufacturers. It’s becoming more like Google GOOGL -2.01%, which does a mix of buying solar energy and taking stakes in solar power projects in the U.S. and abroad. Other tech companies such as Microsoft and Facebook have opted for buying renewable energy to inject more low-carbon electricity into the local grids that they tap into to run their operations.

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Did California Just Break Six Gigawatts of Grid Solar?

by Chris Clarke April 15, 2015 4:10 PM

Don't look now, but it looks as though California might have broken another solar record, with 6,000 megawatts of solar power flowing into the state's grid for about four hours Wednesday. [Update: we didn't quite make 6,000 megawatts. See the end of this story for details.]

That's according to an automatically generated graph created by the mighty computers at the California Independent System Operator (CaISO), the agency that manages most of the state's power grid. Those figures are tentative and haven't yet been checked by a CaISO human staff person, but from the graph, if the state didn't break 6,000 megawatts of solar Wednesday, we came pretty close.

CaISO only tracks solar power (and other renewables) that generate power on the utilities' side of the electric meter, so that tentative 6,000-megawatt figure doesn't include most rooftop solar setups in the state.

In fact, the California Solar Initiative counts 2,374 megawatts of residential and commercial rooftop solar installed by customers of the state's three largest utilities as of last week, and that's not including a lot of potential solar being generated by customers of public utilities such as Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power, so the actual amount of solar electricity flowing into California wires on Wednesday might be closer to 9,000 megawatts.

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Want More Solar Cheaper in California? Give It to the Poor, Says Study

by Chris Clarke April 8, 2015 4:50 PM

California's range of incentives for rooftop solar has been less effective than hoped, but putting that same amount of money into free solar for the state's poorest residents could give the state more solar for its buck.

That's according to researchers at Nashville's Vanderbilt University, who examined the results of the $2.2 billion California Solar Initiative (CSI) in a paper scheduled for publication next month. CSI provides rebates to encourage the installation of rooftop solar systems in California, and is at least partly responsible for California's explosion in solar power generating capacity, with more than 2,300 megawatts of rooftop solar in the state these days.

But CSI could have done better, say the researchers. The increasing popularity of solar leasing companies has limited the effectiveness of CSI's per-watt rebate incentives to the point where it's hard to tell whether they actually encourage any homeowners to go solar. A far better use of that $2.2 billion, says the study, would be to provide free or extremely low cost rooftop solar for less-affluent Californians. That switch would mean a lot more solar gets built faster, with all the attendant climate and employment benefits that go along with rooftop solar installation.

The study, to be published in May in the imposingly named journal Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems, was performed by Vanderbilt doctoral student Haifeng Zhang and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Yevgeniy Vorobeychik, along with Joshua Letchford and Kiran Lakkaraju of Sandia National Laboratories.

In the study, the researchers considered data from 8,500 new solar projects installed in San Diego County between 2007 and 2011. They collected data on system cost and size, home and lot size, whether the system was leased or bought outright, amount of incentives used, and so forth. They then used that data to create a model to describe the effect of the incentives on solar adoption, which they then ground-truthed by using the model to predict local solar installations from 2011 through 2013.

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To shield tech executives, California’s biggest water users are secret

  1. Topics: Environment / The Secrets of the Drought

By Katharine Mieszkowski and Lance Williams / April 16, 2015

In the midst of a historic drought, Californians have no way of knowing who’s guzzling the most water.

That’s not an accident. It’s by design, thanks to an obscure 1997 measure that weakened one of the state’s chief open government laws, the California Public Records Act.

For the source of this legislation, look no further than Silicon Valley, where the city of Palo Alto decided it needed to do more to protect the privacy of the tech elite.

“Palo Alto, even then, was home to a number of very high-profile tech-­related residents,” said Ariel Calonne, who was the city attorney at the time. “We had fairly extensive databases that covered a lot of sensitive information for a lot of noteworthy people, and that became a concern for our utility managers.”

In the name of privacy and security, the city of Palo Alto backed legislation sponsored by Byron Sher, the local state senator. It allowed utilities to keep secret their customers’ “utility usage data” – that is, how much water and power they were using.

Other supporters included the California Municipal Utilities Association and the League of California Cities.

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California Assembly members push to speed up water storage construction

By Dakota Smith, Los Angeles Daily News

POSTED: 04/16/15, 6:19 PM PDT |

Amid a crippling state drought, several state Assembly members are pushing a bill intended to speed up construction of water storage facilities by changing the state-mandated environmental review process.

Introduced last month, AB 311 creates a window to resolve litigation over environmental reviews of new water storage facilities.

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, co-author of AB 311, said her bill addresses the “abuse” within the environmental review process, which has “stifled California’s economic growth.”

“We have to move away from outdated thinking in state government,” Olsen said.

Olsen’s bill and eight others were part of a package of proposed legislation highlighted Thursday by Assembly Republicans, laws that “will keep California at the leading edge of the modern economy,” backers said.

Both AB 311 and AB 641, a similar bill announced Thursday to speed up the environmental review process for housing projects, target the California Environmental Quality Act, a state statute that requires the environmental impacts of a project be studied.

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