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Beyond Energy Efficiency

We’re not just reducing demand for electricity—we’re destroying it.

By Daniel Gross

Clos du Bois Winery, located in the Alexander Valley, near Healdsburg, California, features solar paneled roofs.

Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal had a good front-page article this week about the challenges facing the nation’s utilities. For the longest time, electricity sales and consumption went hand in hand with economic growth. In the last several years, not so much. Electricity retail sales peaked at 3.77 trillion kilowatt-hours in 2008, dropped in 2008 and 2010, recovered a bit in 2011, and fell in each of the next two years. The 2013 total of 3.69 trillion kilowatt-hours was down 2 percent from 2008.

The culprits are many: changes in the economy (less industry, more services), higher prices and low wages pushing people to cut usage, more people and companies generating their own electricity on their rooftops, and a renewed focus on efficiency. I’d add another factor, one that the Journal underplays: Utilities are confronting the prospect of significant and widespread demand destruction.

Demand destruction is different from energy efficiency. Efficiency is when you decide to use a little less of a resource than you did last year (turn out the lights, drive a more efficient car) or on a seasonal basis (turn down the heat during the winter). That can be a bummer for a provider. But in many instances, it is part of the business model. Many states require regulated utilities to run, fund, or offer energy efficiency programs.

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Momentum Builds Behind Utility 2.0: Will Minnesota Be the Next State to Reform Utilities?

More states are considering the next step in utility regulation.

Stephen Lacey

July 31, 2014

Aside from hosting a majority of the nation's wind farms, the Midwestern U.S. is not known for aggressively pushing the agenda on clean energy issues. But that may be changing as Minnesota joins other leading states in the effort to remake the electricity sector.

Over the last year and a half, Minnesota has emerged as more than just a wind state. In May 2013, the state's legislature passed a bill that would expand the solar market by 450 megawatts. And in March of this year, regulators agreed to create a value-of-solar tariff to complement net metering.

Minnesota's solar targets aren't enough to threaten utility revenue or overload the distribution system quite yet, but it's set in motion a conversation about how the power sector should adapt to accommodate more distributed generation. And that means proactively thinking about the utility business model itself.

Throughout the next year, more than two dozen organizations, utilities and public officials in the state will be meeting to discuss new approaches to utility regulation that will create the framework for the concept of "utility 2.0."

The group, called the e21 Initiative, was formed by the Great Plains Institute. It brings together Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, George Washington University Law School, the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) and regulatory observers to proactively address the "changing nature of the electric energy system."

The process started after the Edison Electric Institute released a report last summer warning about the impact of distributed generation on utility revenue.

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Utility Industry: We Need to Promote Electric Vehicles in Order to ‘Remain Viable’

Facing flat or declining electricity sales, electric vehicles are a path to growth for power companies.

Stephen Lacey

July 30, 2014

The Edison Electric Institute, the power industry's main trade group, is calling on utilities to better promote electric cars in order to stimulate demand for electricity and help reverse trends that threaten the long-term viability of some in the industry.

Without a strategy to help connect more vehicles to the grid, utilities will continue to face slow growth and stagnant revenues, warns EEI in a new report. The organization calls electric vehicles a "quadruple win" for power companies looking to boost demand, find new ways to interact with customers, support environmental goals and mandates, and reduce operating costs through electrifying their own fleets.

"The bottom line is that the electric utility industry needs the electrification of the transportation sector to remain viable and sustainable in the long term," conclude the authors.

Some leading investor-owned utilities have rolled out programs to support charging stations, created pilots to test integration of new vehicle-to-grid technologies and have supported studies to model how lots of electric vehicles would interact with the distribution system. But there hasn't yet been a strategic, industry-wide effort to support the electrification of transportation as a way to boost demand.

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Tesla and Panasonic Agree to Build Factory in U.S.


Tesla Motors announced on Thursday that it had an agreement with Panasonic to build a large-scale battery plant in the United States.

Hours after the deal, the company said its losses grew in the second quarter to nearly $62 million, or 50 cents a share, from $30.5 million in the year-ago quarter. But adjusted earnings were 11 cents a share, 7 cents higher than analysts estimated.

The planned factory will produce batteries for Tesla’s all-electric vehicles, as well as modules for the stationary storage market, according to a news release from Tesla.

The company said it estimated that the plant and its associated supplier complex, which it is calling the Gigafactory, would employ 6,500 people by 2020. The company has not yet said where it will be located and is negotiating with several states.

J. B. Straubel, chief technical officer and co-founder of Tesla, said the plant represented “a fundamental change in the way large-scale battery production can be realized.”

“Not only does the Gigafactory enable capacity needed for the Model 3, but it sets the path for a dramatic reduction in the cost of energy storage across a broad range of applications,” Mr. Straubel said in a statement.

The joint project calls for Tesla, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., to “prepare, provide and manage the land, buildings and utilities” as well as assemble the battery packs. Panasonic will manufacture and supply the lithium-ion cells needed for the batteries and invest in machinery and tools.

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Tesla breaks ground in Reno for potential gigafactory, ramps up Model S production

By Dana Hull

Posted:   08/01/2014 05:53:58 AM PDT

PALO ALTO -- Tesla Motors revealed Thursday that it is drastically ramping up electric car production with a new assembly line at its Fremont factory and broke ground on a potential site for its much anticipated battery "gigafactory" just across the California border in Reno.

The Palo-Alto based company reported Thursday that it delivered 7,579 all-electric Model S sedans in the second quarter and increased its expectations for 2014 deliveries to more than 35,000 cars. By the end of next year, Tesla expects its delivery rate to exceed 100,000 units per year. That number will include both the Model S and its next car, the Model X, a crossover SUV scheduled to come out in 2015.

Tesla shares were up slightly in after-hours trading on a tough day for the market.

In a letter to shareholders Thursday, the company announced it has broken ground in Reno, Nevada, on a site that could "potentially be" the location for the massive battery factory it plans to build in partnership with Panasonic. However, Tesla said it is still evaluating several locations in four other states, leaving hope that California is still a contender, along with Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

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Reno may have hit jackpot with Tesla Gigafactory lottery

David R. Baker

Updated 11:04 pm, Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reno may have won one of the coveted economic prizes in America: Tesla Motors' $5 billion "Gigafactory."

The electric automaker reported Thursday that it broke ground in June at a site outside Reno for a potential 6,500-employee battery factory.

Five states - including California - have been vying for months to host the facility, which will build lithium-ion batteries for Tesla's expanding line of electric cars. And Reno, with easy rail and road access to Tesla's Fremont auto plant, had been considered a likely choice, particularly after executives from the automaker were spotted scouting sites there in February. Nevada also boasts America's only lithium mine.

But California may still be in the running.

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Sharp Jumps Into Distributed Storage, Targeting 50MW of Behind-the-Meter Systems

Sharp’s storage-as-a-service leverages solar, power electronics and batteries.

Jeff St. John

July 31, 2014

California, already the epicenter of distributed solar PV, is also a growth market for behind-the-meter energy storage. Companies like Stem, Green Charge Networks, Coda and the dynamic duo of SolarCity and Tesla are installing big batteries in buildings, mainly on the business case of reducing demand charges for commercial and industrial customers.

In the future, those batteries could also help store, stabilize and shift solar power -- if the mechanisms and markets for paying them for doing so can be established successfully. GTM Research reports that demand charge reduction is driving today’s energy storage economics, but that the growth of solar PV will open new, more lucrative applications and markets in years to come.

Japanese PV giant Sharp is targeting both applications with its SmartStorage energy solution, a managed energy storage technology package it launched this week. The system, using lithium-ion batteries from an as-yet-undisclosed set of providers, along with power electronics from Texas-based Ideal Power, is aimed at commercial and industrial customers. It is now available in California, with plans to roll out to other U.S. markets later this year.

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Retired Coal Miner To EPA: ‘We’re Dying, Literally Dying For You To Help Us’

by Shannon Greenwood Posted on July 31, 2014 at 11:55 am

Original source:

A retired coal miner traveled roughly 1,300 miles from his home in Harlan County, Kentucky to Denver, Colorado where the Environmental Protection Agency was holding public hearings on its new proposed regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants.

In the five minutes he was allotted, Stanley Sturgill spoke to the EPA about how he now suffers from black lung diseases among other respiratory illnesses and how the pollution from coal plants were adversely affecting not only his health, but the public’s too. His plea: “We’re dying, literally dying for you to help us.”

The hearing in Denver was one of several the EPA held across the country Tuesday and Wednesday to gauge public opinion on the Clean Power Plan, the new proposed regulations to cut carbon pollution emitted from existing power plants by 30 percent by 2030 proposed in early June. Other hearings this week on the rule were held in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. At EPA’s headquarters in D.C., pollution’s health effects dominated the concerns of speakers giving their testimonies.

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The Money Behind Big Oil’s Win On Atlantic Drilling

Sue Sturgis

July 26, 2014

This article originally appeared on Facing South, the website published by the Institute for Southern Studies.

Original source:

The Obama administration's controversial decision in favor of the petroleum industry comes during an election season in which Republicans are reaping greater rewards than even pro-drilling Democrats.

In a controversial move, on July 18, the Obama administration gave final approval for the oil and gas industry to begin conducting seismic testing to map potential offshore reserves along the Atlantic Coast from Delaware to Florida. The decision comes as the administration is drawing up a new five-year plan for selling offshore drilling leases beginning in late 2017.

The animals' only breeding and calving grounds are off the coast of Georgia and Florida, part of the area designated for seismic testing.

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The U.S. cities with the worst climate change-related flooding

By John Metcalfe

Annapolis, Md.

Original source:

What’s the most pernicious climate-change threat facing the U.S. in the years to come? It might not be lung-scorching air pollution, less-nutritious crops, or super-fueled wildfires, but rising sea levels repeatedly swamping coastal cities, according to a new NOAA report.

The number of “nuisance flooding” days in the U.S. has shot up markedly since the middle of last century, by as much as 925 percent in Annapolis and 922 percent in Baltimore. And as the oceans continue to swell – a byproduct of melting glaciers and the heat expansion of water — we can expect these waterlogged days to become yet more common, especially on the East Coast, says the report’s lead author, William Sweet.

“Flooding now occurs with high tides in many locations due to climate-related sea-level rise, land subsidence and the loss of natural barriers,” Sweet says. “The effects of rising sea levels along most of the continental U.S. coastline are only going to become more noticeable and much more severe in the coming decades, probably more so than any other climate-change related factor.”

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Oregon LNG wins natural gas export license

Posted on July 31, 2014 at 1:43 pm by Jennifer A. Dlouhy in General

WASHINGTON — The federal government gave an Oregon project a coveted permit to broadly export liquefied natural gas on Thursday, even as the Obama administration faces criticism for moving too slowly on the proposals.

Oregon LNG won the conditional 20-year permit to export up to 1.25 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas to countries that don’t have free trade agreements with the United States, a major milestone for the Pacific Northwest project.

It still must clear a lengthy and expensive review process at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which can span at least 18 months. FERC has so far approved construction of three LNG export facilities, with two of those authorizations coming Wednesday night.

“This has been a good week for those of us advocating for an expansion of our nation’s natural gas exports,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “Rising domestic production presents a golden opportunity to become a world leader in energy exports, while still meeting the full demand for gas at home.”

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Proposed Oregon LNG project gets blessing of U.S. DOE to export natural gas from Warrenton

By Ted Sickinger|

on July 31, 2014 at 12:08 PM, updated July 31, 2014 at 6:43 PM

The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday conditionally authorized a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal near the mouth of the Columbia River in Warrenton to export natural gas to countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the United States.

The DOE authorization is important to the backers of the Oregon LNG project in Warrenton because it opens the possibility of selling gas to some of the most potentially lucrative markets in Asia, such as Japan, China and India.

The controversial project still needs to navigate a complicated permitting process at the federal, state and local level before it can break ground. DOE conditioned the authorization on Oregon LNG's completion of its environmental review process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The project faces other hurdles. Clatsop County, for example, has refused to provide zoning approvals for its feeder pipeline, and that could pose permitting problems at the state level if the county's decision is not overturned by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

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PG&E shares plunge as investors ponder new criminal charges over San Bruno explosion

By George Avalos

Oakland Tribune

Posted:   07/31/2014 10:02:26 AM PDT

SAN FRANCISCO -- PG&E shares plunged on Thursday, amid a slump in profits that were weakened by expenses related to improvements to its natural gas system, under scrutiny following a fatal explosion in San Bruno nearly four years ago.

The decline in second-quarter profits came the same week that investors also had to ponder the potential consequences that the utility faces in the wake of a new federal indictment on criminal charges, including obstruction of justice accusations, that were filed in connection with the San Bruno explosion.

The holding company for the utility said its profits fell 18.6 percent, and totaled $267 million, during the second quarter that ended in June.

One-time expenses totaling $97 million undermined the profits, PG&E said. These items were expenses related to its natural gas system, including the costs of safety improvements, as well as legal expenditures.

"We continue to make good progress on our goal of providing our customers with energy that is safe, reliable and affordable," PG&E Chief Executive Officer Anthony Earley said in a prepared release.

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Researchers Seek Methane Leaks

July 31, 2014

William J. Kelly

Original source:

Eyes in the skies are watching California’s natural gas utilities for methane leaks from pipelines. They’re also scanning landfills, dairies, and oil and gas producers.

What those satellites, airplanes, and monitoring eyes are looking for are methane emissions, which are considerably higher than the state’s official estimate.

“Statewide methane emissions are greater than previously known,” explained Air Board manager of greenhouse gas technology & field testing Abhilash Vijayan.

The measurements of methane come as the Air Board aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. That means tamping down on virtually all sources of greenhouse gases, including the state’s gas utilities, which are due to come under the state’s carbon cap-and-trade program in 2015.

Better control of methane is a priority because scientists have shown the gas is 84 times as powerful a warming agent as carbon dioxide. Traditionally, scientists thought it was only 25 times as powerful.

Air Board member Daniel Sperling said the monitoring work “has tremendous implications for our policies.” However, he and other board members stopped short of specifying how the emerging findings about methane and other greenhouse gases may affect future regulations.

So far, Vijayan told the agency’s board July 24, the measurements show that Central Valley has a majority of the emissions, though researchers still are trying to pinpoint the sources.

Monitoring shows that valley methane emissions are 30 to 70 percent higher than the agency’s official inventory of methane emissions specifies, said Bart Croes, Air Board research chief.

The measurements are gathered from a permanent network of monitoring stations the Air Board has installed, plus data from other existing monitors, typically mounted on towers about the ground.

Measurements from the fixed monitors are being supplemented with periodic flights over the state, plus satellite data collected by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, said Vijayan.

He called the growing monitoring network “the first of its kind.”

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Expert offered deeper San Onofre review

Hired to investigate nuke-plant outage, consultant was never asked what went wrong

By Morgan Lee7:13 p.m.July 31, 2014

A nuclear safety expert hired by the California Public Utilities Commission to investigate the breakdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant offered to investigate the questions of what went wrong, who was responsible and what might have been done to avert costly errors, according to documents obtained by U-T Watchdog.

He told U-T Watchdog that state officials never took him up on the offer.

After declining for weeks to provide relevant documents, the utilities commission changed course Thursday, the same day the U-T wrote about withheld documents. The new records included a single limited report from a consultant retained by the agency last year as it delved into who should pay — corporate stockholders or utility investors — for the early retirement of San Onofre.

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The twin-reactor plant was shut down in January 2012 because of the rapid deterioration of steam generators that triggered a small radiation leak. The San Francisco-based state commission is weighing approval of a settlement agreement that would allow owners of San Onofre to collect $3.3 billion from Southern California utility customers for the shutdown.

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