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Could A Carbon Tax Prevent The Catastrophic Consequences Of Climate Change That Obama Fears?

SEP 1, 2015 @ 11:13 AM

Howard Gleckman,CONTRIBUTOR

In recent days, President Obama has painted the risks of climate change in apocalyptic terms.  Speaking in Anchorage, AK on Monday, Obama warned that without quick action to slow or reverse global warming, “entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems: More drought. More floods. Rising sea levels. Greater migration. More refugees. More scarcity. More conflict.”

Yet for all his tough rhetoric, Obama’s own policy proposals are rather modest. After failing to convince Congress to enact a “cap and trade” system to limit carbon emissions, Obama has increasingly relied on a regulatory approach such as his recently-announced limits on use of fossil fuels by power plants.

Predictably, those regulations attracted a wave of political criticism and legal challenges. But they also gave states flexibility to limit emissions through a carbon tax or by a carbon trading system. While congressional Republicans rejected the trading model when Obama proposed it, many conservative thinkers like the idea and some governors may be willing to experiment with it.

What about a carbon tax? That’s harder to see, at least for now. After all, Congress can’t even pass a modest hike in the gasoline tax to fund the busted Highway Trust Fund. And Obama, for all his talk about the importance of both infrastructure improvements and climate change, won’t publicly back a small gas tax increase either.

A broad-based carbon tax has far more support among academic economists and think-tankers than politicians. But despite its political problems, such a levy has important benefits. Reducing demand for carbon fuels by directly raising their price is simpler and far more efficient than regulatory curbs. Some of the revenue generated by such a tax could be used to cushion the economic blow suffered by low-income households as well as coal mining communities. Extra revenue could be used to reduce individual or payroll tax rates, help finance corporate tax reform, or trim the budget deficit.

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Sweeping Retirement of Nuclear Power Could Make Obama’s Climate Plan ‘Impossible’


A new report predicts “dire” consequences for U.S. carbon emissions if the country’s nuclear plants shut down.

Stephen Lacey
September 2, 2015

While many cheered the White House's plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants last month, there was one group of potential supporters that was not happy: nuclear power advocates.

After a long debate over how to credit nuclear plants for their zero-carbon electricity, the Environmental Protection Agency will not allow the country's existing fleet to qualify under its final plan.

In a welcome change from the draft rule, the five nuclear plants currently under construction will qualify as part of state plans to cut carbon emissions. But nuclear proponents are upset that the country's largest provider of emissions-free power is getting left out.

It also has some worried about the viability of Obama's marquee climate plan.

Without a federal strategy for keeping America's 105 gigawatts of nuclear reactors running for the next couple of decades, emissions goals under the Clean Power Plan will be "extremely difficult if not impossible," concludes a new report from Third Way, a centrist think tank based in Washington, D.C.

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NextEra Promises Grid Upgrades and Greater Savings With HEI Acquisition


The Florida energy giant provides a long list of new commitments to Hawaii consumers.

Julia Pyper
September 1, 2015

Accelerated smart-meter deployment, updated emergency-response plans, and more charitable giving are some of the 50 new commitments NextEra Energy has made as part of its $4.3 billion proposal to buy out Hawaiian Electric Industries.

The Florida-based energy giant made the promises in a filing submitted Monday to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. NextEra said the deal with HEI will deliver a broad range of public benefits, including nearly $465 million in customer savings and $500 million in economic benefits over the first five years following approval.

These figures are "a conservative estimate" that his company could defend, said Eric Gleason, president of NextEra Energy Hawaii, on a conference call. He added that NextEra is dedicated to reaching Hawaii's goal of 100 percent renewable energy in 2045, "if not sooner."

“Our expanded set of commitments is a clear reflection of the thoughtful input we have received from many key stakeholders, including the governor and the Consumer Advocate,” said Gleason, in a statement. "We will continue to listen, learn and constructively engage with stakeholders and communities throughout the state -- including Gov. Ige and his administration -- as we respond to questions and present our vision to the PUC.”

In July, Hawaii Gov. David Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he opposes the acquisition, and is recommending that the PUC reject it. Two Hawaiian state agencies -- the Office of Planning and the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism -- have also said they're opposed to the deal, along with several other “interveners” in the case.

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Independents to Calif. Utilities: More Grid-Edge Data, Please

DRPs’ lack of data sharing and third-party opportunities under fire

Jeff St. John
September 1, 2015

Over the past few months, we’ve been covering the controversy over how much data California utilities need to share in their distribution resource plans (DRPs) -- the regulatory framework that could open a multi-billion-dollar market for distributed energy resources to support the state’s grid.

July’s DRP filings by Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric opened up some important data to third parties and customers. But it also left a lot out -- and now groups ranging from fossil-fuel power plant owners to environmentalists are demanding that they cough it up.

In a first round of comments filed with the California Public Utilities Commission this week, groups including the Environmental Defense Fund, the California Energy Storage Alliance and the Independent Energy Producers have asked commissioners to push utilities to provide more data -- and thus open up more opportunities for competition -- in their DRPs.

Without some radical data-opening, these groups warned, utilities could end up contracting for, or even owning, the majority of investment into “non-traditional” assets like rooftop solar, behind-the-meter batteries, smart thermostats and plug-in electric vehicles that’s going to be required under the DRPs. These systems can stand in for traditional grid investments, like replacing transformers and upgrading circuits. But they can also destabilize the grid and increase costs in certain areas, utilities say.

Just where, when, and how much distributed energy resources are deployed, and how they are controlled, will have a huge effect on these kinds of calculations, which is why companies active in California’s distributed energy market, including SolarCity, Nest, Stem, Enphase and Advanced Microgrid Solutions, have been demanding more distribution grid data for years. Now that utilities have finally submitted their plans, we’ve got more specifics to argue over. Here are some highlights from this week’s filings.

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PG&E wants to boost revenue by $2.7 billion, pushing up bills

By David R. Baker

September 1, 2015 Updated: September 1, 2015 5:17pm

  1. pastedGraphic.pdf

Photo: Michael Macor, SFC

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Tuesday asked state regulators for permission to collect an extra $2.7 billion from its customers over the course of three years, using the money for technology upgrades and improved disaster response.

The request covers the years 2017 through 2019. If the California Public Utilities Commission approves it, monthly bills for a typical PG&E residential customer would rise about $4 in 2017. The company did not immedately offer an estimate of how much bills would climb through 2019.

“Our customers want us to be the safest and most reliable energy provider in the country while also supporting California’s goals to be the leader in renewable energy and emerging energy technologies,” said Tony Earley, chief executive officer of the utility’s parent company, PG&E Corp. “This proposal supports these goals while also balancing the need to keep customer bills as low as possible.”

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Sunny San Diego fights new utility charges on rooftop solar

By Morgan Lee | 7:46 p.m. Sept. 1, 2015


Happier days: San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders visits a solar power plant at the city's Otay Mesa Water Treatment Facility as the project is turned on in April 2010. — K.C. Alfred

The city of San Diego said changes to rooftop solar tariffs proposed by California utilities would hamper the renewable energy market and interfere with local plans to address climate change.

The city, in filings Tuesday with state utility regulators, took issue with a request from San Diego Gas & Electric to add a monthly "grid connection" fee for solar customers as well as special charges based on peak periodic energy use, regardless of overall monthly electricity consumption.

California utility regulators are reconsidering the current "net metering" tariff that provides bill credits for solar energy at the full retail electricity rate. SDG&E says grid-connected solar customers are avoiding their fair share of costs for infrastructure and utility programs, forcing others to pick up the tab.

Attorneys for the city acknowledged the need for all customers to support the grid that serves them, but said the new charges by SDG&E "would be discouraging to sustained growth" of solar. The city stressed its own plans to offset more city government energy demands with solar, as well as an interest in keeping open cost-effective options for residents and businesses in San Diego.

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Move over solar: Big batteries ‘sexiest’ now

By Morgan Lee | 2:47 p.m. Aug. 28, 2015


Rob Wilder shows a system of lithium ion batteries, in the garage of his Encinitas home, which help power his home and his two electric cars. photo by Bill Wechte

Early adopters of rooftop solar and electric cars are finding a new obsession in energy storage as the first generation of consumer-friendly batteries capable of supporting household circuits comes to market.

Rob Wilder, a globe traveling professor of marine environmental conservation, has a lithium-ion battery mounted on his garage wall at an Encinitas home overlooking the San Elijo Lagoon estuary.

“The batteries are what are the newest, coolest, sexiest,” said Wilder, a devoted environmentalist — and capitalist — who in 2004 founded a socially responsible investment fund for low-carbon energy technology companies.

Wilder’s new battery, cloaked in a grey metal box the size of a large gym locker, is a trial version of the household “Powerwall” battery developed by plug-in carmaker Tesla Motors. It ties into several electrical circuits in a house equipped with rooftop solar and charging stations for two plug-in cars. In the event of a rare power outage, the new battery keeps lights on and the kitchen fridge cool for several hours. Other California solar customers currently lose all power, including solar, during outages.

Wilder is heralding his experience as an early breakthrough for households that want to use more of their own renewable energy, or even cut ties with the power grid altogether.

“Imagine something like Mad Max,” he says. “The battery merely has to make it through the night, and then I’m running off sunlight again.”

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Drought Puts California Water Rights in Crosshairs for Reform

  1. September 1st, 2015 by Gary Pitzer  ·

Some experts believe California's antiquated regulation of water rights is ripe for reform; farmers worry it would come at their expense

California’s severe drought has put its water rights system under scrutiny, raising the question whether a complete overhaul is necessary to better allocate water use.

That process would be a monstrous undertaking and extremely complicated. It would be vigorously opposed by those with long-held water rights who favor the present system, and supported by reform advocates who believe the time has come for California to join other western states with more defined rights.

Some experts believe it’s time for a change.

“It’s a system that worked reasonably well 20, 50, 100 years ago, but the current drought is showing that it is most inadequate to deal with California’s current water challenges,” said Richard M. Frank, professor of environmental practice and director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at the University of California Davis School of Law. “It’s very inflexible in terms of water rights priorities, there is limited recognition of environmental values and environ­mental needs for water, and there’s a lack of transparency that is very frus­trating to me and to a lot of observers.”

But to those on the ground, changing the current system is inviting catastrophe and unpredictable results.

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Price of Crude Oil Tumbles After Soaring for 3 Days


HOUSTON — After three days of spiking oil prices, a barrel of crude tumbled back nearly 8 percent on Tuesday, renewing despair in the oil patch. At the same time, ConocoPhillips announced it was cutting its global work force by 10 percent.

The two events were not directly linked, but they combined to reinforce the widespread notion around the oil fields and corporate headquarters in cities like Houston and Oklahoma City that the declining fortunes of the industry will not reverse anytime soon.

“Our industry is undergoing a dramatic downturn,” Daren Beaudo, a ConocoPhillips spokesman, said in an email statement. “As we have assessed the implications of lower prices on our business, we’ve made the difficult decision that work force reductions will be necessary.”

The company will cut 1,800 employees, most of them in North America. More than 500 of ConocoPhillips’s 3,750 employees in Houston, the company’s base, will be cut, and another 400 will lose their jobs in Canada. The company had already cut 1,000 jobs this year.

The job cuts are part of a general restructuring that includes reductions in future deepwater exploration.

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Feds doling out millions to boost rail safety along heavy oil routes

Posted on September 2, 2015 | By Jennifer A. Dlouhy

WASHINGTON — The United States is doling out $10 million to help states upgrade highway-rail crossings and tracks that are seeing a surge in traffic involving flammable oil and ethanol cargoes.

The Federal Railroad Administration announced the grants Wednesday, amid mounting concern that more needs to be done to boost the safety of moving oil by rail. A series of fiery derailments involving tank cars carrying hazardous oil and ethanol has drawn attention to the rapid climb in oil-by-rail traffic, as trains heave crude to refineries and ports.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the grants would “support innovative ideas and solutions developed at the local level.”

The Transportation Department has already imposed tough new standards for rail cars transporting crude and ethanol.

But some analysts say more resilient tank cars only solve part of the problem — and more needs to be done to keep trains on the tracks.

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Opinion: Transit is key to both climate change and transportation


Legislature is debating carbon reduction and road construction too separately

Better transit service can reduce global warming and keep cars off the roads


Rep. Doris Matsui, center, is greeted by confetti and a marching band at Regional Transit’s new Blue Line extension at Cosumnes River College on Aug. 24. Randy Pench


Special to The Bee

Jeanie Ward-Waller is policy director of the California Bicycle Coalition. Chanell Fletcher is senior California policy manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

We are in the midst of a record drought and wildfire season that scientists tell us is one of the effects of climate change. We clearly cannot continue business as usual, yet two deeply intertwined debates are underway in their usual separate silos in the Legislature.

Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing even more ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions by increasing renewable energy production, improving energy efficiency of buildings and cutting petroleum use in half by 2030. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León aims to write those goals into law with Senate Bill 350.

Brown also convened a special session on our decrepit transportation infrastructure. Legislators have introduced a range of proposals, including raising the gas tax. But the focus of discussion on how to spend the money has been on filling potholes and adding new highway lanes to move more trucks.

We’re part of a coalition that called Tuesday for the Legislature to pass two bills that would provide $600 million a year in critical funding for public transit. We are pushing for investment to make it safer and easier to walk and bicycle to transit. The hard truth is we can’t tackle climate change without dealing with transportation.

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European regulators approve Shell-BG Group deal

Posted on September 2, 2015 | By Collin Eaton

    HOUSTON – Royal Dutch Shell on Wednesday got closer to completing its nearly $70 billion acquisition of BG Group after the European Commission cleared the purchase in an antitrust review.

    European antitrust regulators said Wednesday the the deal doesn’t raise concerns about market competition because it “would not lead to Shell benefiting form market power in a number of markets, namely oil and gas exploration, the liquefaction of gas and the wholesale supply of liquefied natural gas.”

    Shell, based in The Hague with its main U.S. offices in Houston, wouldn’t be able to box rivals in European LNG markets or in gas markets in the North Sea. It faces strong competition in its oil exploration and LNG businesses, so it wouldn’t be able to control product prices in its various regions, the European Commission said.

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    Former Fukushima Worker Sues TEPCO Over Cancer

    William Pentland ,CONTRIBUTOR

    I write about energy and environmental issues.

    Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

    A 57-year-old man is suing the Tokyo Electric Power alleging that he developed cancer as a result of exposure to radiation at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in 2011.

    The lawsuit, which was filed in the District Court of Sapporo, is seeking about half a million dollars in damages from TEPCO and Taisei Corp., one of the contractors hired by the utility to deal with the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

    In March 2011, multiple reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant spiraled out of control after a 42-foot tsunami overwhelmed the plant’s sea walls, rendering the vital systems used to cool the plant’s six reactors inoperable. Ultimately, fuel meltdowns occurred at three reactors, releasing vast amounts of radioactive matter and resulting in the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.


    The lawsuit is the first to allege a direct causal link between the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima reactors and cancer.

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    India Could Be a Major Draw for International Solar Manufacturers

    JA Solar’s recent capacity announcement hints at the possibility.

    Mohit Anand
    September 1, 2015

    According to Bloomberg, JA Solar plans to start construction on a 500-megawatt solar cell manufacturing facility in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in partnership with Essel Infraprojects. The cell-manufacturing facility will likely be followed by a 500-megawatt module plant later next year. While doubts remain on the progress of these manufacturing plans, the move is a noteworthy signal of the increasing viability of setting up Indian solar manufacturing for leading international PV suppliers.

    According to GTM Research’s estimates, cell-manufacturing capacity in India currently stands at close to 0.9 gigawatts, with module-manufacturing capacity at 2.1 gigawatts. This is despite India expecting to become an annual 3.3-gigawatt-demand market in 2016, with a cumulative 100-gigawatt ambition for 2022 put forth by the Indian government (though, by some estimates, actual installation numbers by around then might not exceed a cumulative 31 gigawatts).

    With the significant expected demand, a domestic content requirement of at least 5 gigawatts under the National Solar Mission, and the Indian market’s reliance predominantly on cell and module imports from China, the case for sizable Indian solar manufacturing is very strong.

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    Iceland turned an old coal plant into a haven for artists and entrepreneurs

    By Scott Shigeoka on 1 Sep 2015

    Incongruously placed at the center of the Elliðaárdalur valley in Reykjavík, Iceland, is a large, gloomy structure tucked between a crowding of trees along the banks of the Elliðaár River. I’m waiting by the building’s brick-lined door, under a large red sign with its name emblazoned across it — TOPPSTÖÐIN — when a tall, spectacled man glides up to me on his bicycle.

    Upon meeting Andri Snær Magnason, writer, activist, and co-founder of Toppstöðin, one quickly gets the impression that he could talk anyone into embarking on an adventure with him. (His ideal excursion, as he later tells me, is cycling 280 miles along Iceland’s southern coast with his family.) His gift for persuading people to tackle big challenges bleeds into his professional life, too: He’s arguably the father of the modern Icelandic environmental movement.

    Toppstöðin — Magnason’s pet project since 2008 — is a decommissioned coal plant turned equal parts co-working space and artists’ haven, and has become a model for how communities can re-purpose old power plants in a post-fossil fuel economy. Built by the teamwork of an eclectic group of activists, entrepreneurs, artists, and local government, Toppstöðin provides a glimpse of the possibilities for Reykjavík’s future.


    Andri Snær Magnason, co-founder of Toppstöðin. Scott Shigeoka

    This was the last coal-fired power plant here in Iceland before we removed coal from the grid in the `80s,” Magnason tells me.

    Magnason’s soft-spoken demeanor belies the fact that he’s a gifted storyteller. He can move people with his words and has mobilized grassroots rallies, bringing together tens of thousands of Icelanders. With his book Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation, he brought the conflict between Iceland’s ecology and its economy onto the global stage by exploring corporations’ exploitation of the country’s natural resources. Since its publication, Magnason has spent much of the last decade working on environmental projects in Iceland, alongside influential leaders like singer Björk and the country’s former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was the world’s first democratically elected female head of state.

    “You could say Iceland is the post-coal utopia in some ways,” he adds.

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