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10Jul/17Off

Editorial: Here’s how Jerry Brown can truly build a lasting environmental legacy

JULY 07, 2017 6:00 AM

BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Gov. Jerry Brown’s announcement that he will host the world’s climate leaders in San Francisco was well-timed. Ensuring he will remain relevant as his days in office come to an end, the event will take place in September 2018, at the height of the campaign to replace him.
But for all the acclaim that Brown receives internationally for his leadership in the fight against climate change, the governor has work to do in Sacramento to cement his environmentalist legacy.
His aides wheel, deal and draft a compromise to extend the cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases and generate billions for years beyond his time in office, while forward-looking corporations are making clear how quickly the world is changing.
Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk tweeted the other day that the mid-market Model 3, an electric vehicle selling for a base of $35,000, would roll off the Fremont assembly line this month. Volvo, owned by China’s Geely Automobile Holdings, made the flashy declaration that by 2019, all its new cars would have electric motors.
Though some of the vehicles will be hybrids, the notion that a venerable Swedish automaker, known for producing safe but not slick cars, is fully committing to an electric fleet should spur other companies to make the same commitment.

For most Californians, a $40,000 car is hardly affordable. Leases on lower-end EVs might make financial sense for moderate or low-income Californians, though not make practical sense. The state must ensure that charging stations are spread beyond the Silicon Valley and West L.A.
The California Air Resources Board is reviewing a plan by Volkswagen to spend part of its $800 million penalty for lying about diesel emissions to build electric charging stations in out-of-the-way locales, vital if the state is to reach Brown’s goal of having 1.5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2025, as detailed by The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff.
All that notwithstanding, the car culture California helped create is changing. With apps, ride-sharing, and, soon enough, driverless vehicles, car ownership, we are told, will become passé. To get around, mass transit will be more popular. Buses and trucks powered by diesel are a source of much pollution. That’s changing, too.
The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to award a contract to begin transforming its 2,200-bus fleet into electric buses this month, and intends to have an all-electric fleet in 13 years. An initial contract for 60 buses is expected to go to the Canadian-based company, New Flyer. We don’t endorse protectionism, but there should be room for public agencies to reward companies that manufacture or assemble electric buses in California.
One such company, Proterra, moved to Burlingame from South Carolina, and operates a factory east of Los Angeles, recognizing that high costs of doing business here aside, California is committed to green energy. Its buses transport commuters in Stockton and soon in Fresno, among other locales. It’s the sort of green economy company that should be nurtured.
In an interview with an editorial board member, Ryan Popple, Proterra’s chief executive officer, predicted that by 2019, electric buses will cost less than diesel-hybrid-powered buses. By 2021, they will be on par with buses fueled by natural gas. Its factory can turn out 100 buses a year, with plans to increase production, and provide solid jobs for workers who don’t have advanced degrees.
Musk built his massive battery factory outside Reno, in part because Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Silver State’s Legislature provided rich incentives, and because California could not guarantee that Tesla could get the permits needed to quickly construct the factory. That shouldn’t happen again.
http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article160144879.html

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10Jul/17Off

Renewables Generated More Power Than Nuclear in March and April 

Utility-scale renewable electricity generation surpassed nuclear for the first time since Reagan was president.
by Eric Wesoff
July 07, 2017

Solar farms planted on an abandoned nuclear plant site or powering a coal museum or atop a strip mine offer stark images of the ascendance of renewables.   
But forget metaphorical images -- utility-scale renewable electricity generation in March and April actually surpassed nuclear for the first time since July 1984. (Ronald Reagan was president, and "When Doves Cry" was the No. 1 hit on the radio.)
Recent months have seen record generation from wind and solar, as well as increases in hydroelectric power because of 2017's wet winter (note that these numbers, from the Energy Information Administration, do not include distributed solar). Most of the time, conventional hydroelectric generation is still the primary source of renewable electricity.
But one of the takeaways from this data set is the emergence of wind in the last decade as a material slice of the energy mix. The U.S. wind industry installed more than 8 gigawatts in 2015 and did it again in 2016. The country now has over 84 gigawatts of installed wind capacity.
Another takeaway is the relatively diminutive contribution from solar, which falls between geothermal and biomass in its annual contribution. The U.S. installed 14.5 gigawatts of solar last year, up 95 percent over 2015. 
And still, more than 60 percent of all utility-scale electricity generating capacity that came on-line in 2016 was from wind and solar technologies, according to EIA.
https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Renewables-Generated-More-Power-Than-Nuclear-in-March-and-April

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10Jul/17Off

Utilities fighting against rooftop solar are only hastening their own doom

Batteries are going to make rooftop solar invulnerable.
Updated by David Roberts@drvoxdavid@vox.com Jul 7, 2017, 1:10pm EDT

(Shutterstock)
Several of the big trends in clean electricity depend, in one way or another, on batteries. How fast batteries get better and cheaper will help determine how fast renewable energy grows, how fast fossil fuel power plants get shut down, and how fast the vehicle fleet electrifies.

The consulting firm McKinsey & Company recently released an analysis noting that batteries, like solar panels before them, are getting cheaper much faster than anyone expected — and the consequences for the power sector are going to be immense.
Batteries have entered a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle. This graphic, adapted from a Ramez Naam post, captures it:

(Javier Zaraccina)
As they get cheaper, batteries make sense for more commercial applications. As new markets for storage grow, demand for batteries increases. As demand increases, economies of scale kick in and batteries get cheaper. Rinse, repeat.

The McKinsey analysis shows this dynamic playing out within the power sector, both “behind the meter” (batteries inside a customer’s home or building) and “in front of the meter” (batteries assembled into large-scale storage installations). Batteries are soon going to disrupt power markets at all scales.

The whole analysis is interesting, but I want to focus in on the way batteries will affect rooftop solar. Across the country, intense battles are being waged as utilities push back against the rapid spread of rooftop solar. (See, as the latest example, Nevada.) Batteries, McKinsey reveals, are going to scramble those battles, making them effectively unwinnable for utilities. The existential crisis they hoped to avoid by slowing rooftop solar is going to slam into them twice as hard once batteries enter the picture.
To begin, let’s back up a bit. To understand the role of batteries, first you have to understand why utilities don’t like rooftop solar in the first place — and what they’re doing to stop it.

Utilities’ problem with rooftop solar power, in 250 words or less
Utilities don’t make money selling electricity — for that, they can only recover costs. They are, after all, monopolies.
Investor-owned utilities make money by investing in grid infrastructure and then charging ratepayers the cost of that infrastructure plus a “reasonable rate of return,” as defined by the state public utility commission (PUC). They make money, in other words, by building stuff.
Utilities generally recover their costs-plus-returns from ratepayers through flat volumetric rates — “flat” means the rate is the same for everyone, at all times of day, and “volumetric” means that the more a customer uses, the more she pays.

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When a customer installs solar panels, it hurts the utility in two ways.
One, it reduces demand for utility power. Utilities generally don’t want lower demand. To justify building stuff, they need to be able to project higher demand.
Two, the more solar customers reduce their utility bills by generating their own power, the more utilities have to charge other, non-solar customers more, to cover their costs-plus-returns. This pisses the other customers off. And it incentivizes them to install solar themselves!
Utilities are terrified of the “death spiral” that could ensue as more customers are driven to generate their own power. So they are increasingly fighting back.
“The utilities’ response,” McKinsey writes, “has been to design rates that reduce the incentive to install solar by moving to time-of-use pricing structures, implementing demand charges, or trying to reduce how much they pay customers for the electricity they produce that is exported to the grid.”
Those battles are ongoing across the country.
Enter batteries.
https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/7/7/15927250/utilities-rooftop-solar-batteries

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30Jun/17Off

The Case for Utilities to Bundle Their Energy Businesses—Before They’re Cannibalized 

Experts at Grid Edge World Forum 2017 explain why utilities are buying up distributed energy companies and “anything that gets them closer to customers.”
by Jeff St. John
June 29, 2017
0
The utility industry has already been undergoing significant change over the past 25 years, with the rise of independent grid operators, competitive energy markets and the split of vertically-integrated business models.
But the rise of distributed energy is creating more turmoil for the utility industry than even these epochal changes. And because these changes are being driven by fundamental advances in technology, they’re happening at a pace and scale that’s increasingly outside the utility’s control. 
These underlying trends -- or “megatrends," if you will -- have created a world in which utilities are increasingly moving into unfamiliar markets and business models, according to experts at Greentech Media’s Grid Edge World Forum 2017 conference in San Jose.
“There are two no-regret decisions for utilities -- renewable energy and anything that gets them closer to customers,” said Andrew Bennett, senior vice president and “Internet of Things Evangelist” for Schneider Electric North America, during a Wednesday panel session. “Look at all the acquisitions that are taking place on the commercial side of utilities, both European and in the U.S. over the last year.” 
Large-scale renewables have long been a part of many utilities’ portfolios, but this trend has been accelerating over the past few years. Notable examples include Duke Energy Renewables, the utility giant’s new business created by the acquisition of California solar installer REC Solar and energy management company Phoenix Energy Technologies. Other utility moves into commercial solar include NextEra's acquisition of Smart Energy Capital and Edison International's purchase of SoCore.
Utilities are also getting closer to customers. Some of the biggest U.S. examples include Southern Company’s $431 million purchase of PowerSecure and its 1.5-gigawatt fleet of backup power systems, and Edison International’s creation of its energy services business through the acquisition of a roster of energy service providers and renewable power developers.
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European utilities have been following suit. France’s EDF formed its distributed electricity and storage business unit earlier this year, building on its 2016 acquisition of groSolar. French utility Engie bought U.S. energy services provider Ecova and OpTerra Energy Services, as well as behind-the-meter battery startup Green Charge Networks. And Italian utility Enel’s U.S. subsidiary has joined the fray with its purchase of behind-the-meter energy storage project developer Demand Energy, and most recently, demand response market leader EnerNOC.
All of these acquisitions share several common characteristics, Bennett said. First, they’re bringing utilities opportunities in territories outside their core regulated services territories. After all, “you’re not going to self-cannibalize your steady income,” he said. 
Second, they’re aimed at capturing the growing share of large commercial and industrial customers that are looking for more control of their energy usage. “They’re going to take those high-end customers, because the customers want it.” 
These two trends are mutually reinforcing, he noted. The defection of C&I customers from traditional utility relationships is already happening, “and at a scale that’s pretty large,” said Bennett, pointing to high-profile examples like MGM’s Nevada casinos paying $87 million to drop service from utility NV Energy and take up with retail power provider Tenaska. 
It doesn’t take too many of these losses to have a significant impact on a utility, he noted. “You don’t need to lose 10 percent of your customers. You just have to lose a few percentage points of your top customers that are subsidizing major portions of your grid costs.” 
Regulatory efforts are underway to enable distributed energy to play a role in utility operations, as with California’s DRP proceeding and New York’s REV initiative, as well as to play a role in energy markets run by transmission system operators such as California ISO or PJM.
But “regulator-driven change hasn’t been particularly successful” in this industry, noted Michael Carlson, president of Siemens Digital Grid, noted, citing the experience of California’s abortive deregulation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 
Regulatory changes can also take too long to keep pace with changes being wrought by technology, noted Todd Glass, a partner with law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Still, despite the rise of contenders like Tesla and SolarCity, the utilities’ deep pockets and central role as energy provider for the majority of the country could put them in position to offer the complete package of products and services that many customers are looking for, said Glass. 
“I don’t know who the ultimate competitors or providers of services will be in the future,” he said. “You’re going to have larger companies offering bundled services.”
https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-case-for-utilities-to-bundle-their-energy-business-before-theyre-can

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30Jun/17Off

Jerry Brown went to China to fight climate change. But can he do it in his own backyard?

JUNE 30, 2017 12:01 AM

BY CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO, ALEXEI KOSEFF AND TARYN LUNA
ccadelago@sacbee.com

In a room once occupied by Republican Gov. Earl Warren, Jerry Brown toasted legislators from across the aisle at a recent climate luncheon in the stately Governor’s Mansion.
Republican lawmakers, the Democratic governor said emphatically, are an essential component of the coalition he needs to pass a bullet-proof extension of California’s cap and trade system, a complex, market-based program viewed as the linchpin of his climate change fight.
“I am very confident that the key to that objective are Republicans,” Brown told reporters.

Brown has made climate change the focus of his return to the governorship. He’s hammered Donald Trump for his withdrawal from the Paris accords and cast GOP climate skeptics as “troglodytes.” He’s just returned from China, where he held up the state’s environmental policies as a model for the world.
Now he wants to convince two-thirds of the Legislature to keep a version of the program going beyond 2020. He believes he needs Republicans because he can’t count on all the votes from Democrats, including an influential bloc of business-friendly lawmakers. He has argued in the past that businesses should prefer to keep the system intact rather than face more stringent controls.

Brown’s negotiating moves at the Capitol in recent weeks underscore the lengths he is willing to go to maintain his state’s status as a global climate leader. Arriving at a compromise, however, has proven difficult.
Cautious lawmakers say privately they are not especially keen on sticking out their necks for a program many concede they don’t fully understand and that critics could cast as raising gas prices again.
Environmentalists fret that an eventual deal will be too friendly to the oil industry and impede the state’s ability to meet its aggressive greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Republicans say they want to be part of the solution, as long as costs for consumers and industry are kept down.
While early drafts of bill language circulate, the Brown administration stresses it’s continuing to work with everyone: legislators, environmental organizations, agriculture, business interests, groups worried about low-income communities that historically have struggled with pollution.
“We have to put the coalition together,” Nancy McFadden, Brown’s executive secretary, said in an interview Thursday. “Are we going to get all Republicans? Absolutely not. Do we want more than one or two? Yes. Are we going to get all moderate Democrats, whoever they are? No, probably not. And are we going to get all progressives? No. But we are aiming to get 54 (votes), or more.”
http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article158975044.html

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30Jun/17Off

As Trump moves to grow oil and gas, House considers curbing environmental suits

By James Osborne Updated 7:42 am, Friday, June 30, 2017

WASHINGTON – When it comes to expanding U.S. oil and gas production, President Donald Trump has few greater hurdles than litigation from environmental groups that can tie up companies and federal agencies for years.
Now Republicans in Congress are examining ways by which to reduce the delays such litigation can bring to drilling and mining projects on federal lands.
"In reality a legal subindustry has thrived from endless environmental litigation," Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louis., said at a hearing in the House Committee on Natural Resources this week. "Our legal system is an important avenue for citizens seeking redress of wrongs perpetuated by the federal government... however special interests repeatedly exploit our legal system to further their own agendas."

So far House Republicans have not introduced any legislation or made specific recommendations on how the Department of Interior might go about speeding up the legal process. But members of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations heard testimony this week from an attorney that has frequently represented the oil and gas industry and Caroline Lobdell, head of the Western Resources Legal Center, which trains law students for careers representing mining, timber, oil and gas and ranching interests.
Lobdell recommended a series of administrative changes at the Department of Interior, including moves to reduce environmental groups ability to recover attorneys' fees and reducing the practice of putting strict requirements on companies operating on federal lands.
http://www.chron.com/business/energy/article/As-Trump-moves-to-expand-oil-and-gas-House-11256123.php

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27Jun/17Off

Rick Perry promises new age of American ‘energy dominance’

By James Osborne Updated 8:01 pm, Monday, June 26, 2017



Photo: Erik Schelzig, STF

IMAGE 1 OF 3
FILE - In this May 22, 2017 file photo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry speaks at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)


WASHINGTON – Energy Secretary Rick Perry described a new U.S. energy age Monday, one in which the nation increases domestic energy production across the board, including fossil fuels, not only to reduce reliance on foreign oil, but also to become energy supplier to the world.
"For years, Washington stood in the way of our energy dominance, and that changes now," Perry said during a White House briefing Monday. "An energy-dominant America means a self-reliant, a secure nation, free from geopolitical turmoil of other nations who seek to use energy as an economic weapon."

In what were his most forceful statements since taking over the Energy Department earlier this year, Perry echoed President Trump's "America First" message in describing a national energy policy that would not allow environmental interests to outweigh economic ones while using the nation's "abundant domestic energy resources for good, both here at home and abroad."

That is sure to play well in the oil fields of Texas and other parts of the United States where crackdowns on greenhouse gas emissions have raised drilling costs and drawn sharp rebuke from oil industry lobbyists. It is just as sure to be welcomed along the Gulf Coast, where energy companies are spending billions to build pipelines, storage terminals and export facilities to ship West Texas crude and natural gas to foreign markets.
The commitment to fossil fuels stands in sharp contrast to the policies of the Obama administration and political leaders across most of the developed world, who advocate for decreasing the world's reliance on fossil fuels in favor of cleaner forms of energy to slow the effects of climate change.

Perry spoke to the administration's "commitment to clean energy," urging the development of technology that captures carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions and the need to secure the country's ailing nuclear power industry. But he did so as part of an "all of the above strategy," in which fossil fuels, including coal, nuclear energy and renewable sources like wind and solar all compete in a free market to reduce U.S. energy costs.
Growing domestic fossil fuels even as efforts to curtail their use gain momentum around the world is likely to pose a serious challenge for Trump and his administration. Trump has made reviving coal a particular focus, but the outlook for that industry is particularly daunting, considering the competition from cheaper and cleaner natural gas, said Bud Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University.
"I don't know how realistic [Trump] is," he said. "He's catering to a constituency that got him elected."
http://www.chron.com/business/energy/article/Rick-Perry-promises-new-age-of-American-energy-11248619.php

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27Jun/17Off

Canadian oil sands industry faces innovation or bust

With high costs of extraction and an exodus of large oil companies, the Canadian oil sands industry demands innovation to succeed. Can determined entrepreneurs find new, cheaper methods to keep up with the US shale industry? 

JUNE 20, 2017 CALGARY—In the boreal forests and on the remote prairies of Alberta, Canada, a handful of firms are running pilot projects they hope will end a two-decade drought in innovation and stem the exodus of top global energy firms from Canada's oil sands.
They are searching for a breakthrough that will cut the cost of pumping the tar-like oil from the country's vast underground bitumen reservoirs and better compete with the booming shale industry in the United States.
If they fail, a bigger chunk of the world's third-largest oil reserves will stay in the ground. Canada's oil sands sector has become one of the biggest victims of the global oil price crash that began in 2014 when top OPEC producer Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap crude to drive out high cost competitors.

This year alone, oil majors have sold over $22.5 billion of assets in Canada's energy industry, and been lured south to invest in the higher returns of US shale.
Joseph Kuhach is among the entrepreneurs in Canada hoping they can turn the tide. He runs a small Calgary-based firm, Nsolv, that is testing the use of solvents to liquefy the bitumen buried in the sands and make it flow as oil.
Mr. Kuhach says using solvents can cut 20 to 40 percent from the cost of producing the oil. The technique currently used is to use steam to heat the sands underground to extract the oil.
It's a hard sell, he said, to Canadian producers struggling with low oil prices. They are reluctant to invest in a multi-million dollar technology that is unproven on a commercial scale, he said.
"The comment I hear so often when I am talking to companies is, 'We want to be the very first in line to be second'," said Kuhach. "It's easier to go after incremental improvements that they can back away from with no great cost and no great risk."
https://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2017/0620/Canadian-oil-sands-industry-faces-innovation-or-bust

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27Jun/17Off

Xcel Energy gets go-ahead to modernize power grid and recoup costs

Utility can recoup costs if customers use less electricit
Andy Cross, Denver Post file Workers prepare large steam pipes at Xcel Energy’s Comanche III Station in this 2009 file photo.
By ALDO SVALDI | asvaldi@denverpost.com | The Denver Post
PUBLISHED: June 21, 2017 at 3:22 pm | UPDATED: June 21, 2017 at 7:18 pm

Xcel Energy will equip homes and businesses in Colorado with state-of-the-art meters that allow customers to more closely track their energy usage under a plan approved by state regulators Wednesday.
The $612 million upgrade over the next six years should make it easier for consumers to conserve energy and generate their own power. It also will smooth out voltage fluctuations on the grid, saving about 2 percent of the electricity now sold that goes to waste.
But that efficiency poses a financial problem for the state’s largest utility, whose revenues rise and fall based on how much electricity it sells.
As a trade-off, regulators also approved a “decoupling” provision that would allow Xcel to recover costs in a special surcharge to all customers if total electricity consumption and sales drop over time.
The technology upgrades will require Xcel to replace up to 1.6 million existing meters with more sophisticated ones that can communicate in real-time. Customers should start noticing that switch in 2020, and they will have an option to stick with the older technology.
The first 13,000 new meters will provide real-time feedback on the voltage traveling through the grid, key to reducing losses.
The meters and other upgrades will also give Xcel advanced warning on transmission problems and pinpoint outages instead of having to wait for customers to call in.
At Wednesday’s hearing of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, chairman Jeff Ackermann said the plan, the result of negotiation between Xcel, regulators and interest groups, allows the utility to modernize its grid while covering costs even if consumption falls.
“There is still a cost associated with having that utility to be there to serve you,” Ackermann said.

Consumers sometimes view their power supplier like a grocery store — you only should pay for what you buy. But a utility is also a power delivery system with costs that need to be covered, he said.
As more customers produce their own energy or turn to energy saving measures like LED bulbs, paying for the system has become a bigger concern.
Nationally, the country’s economic output grew by 33 percent between 2000 and 2015, after accounting for inflation. But electricity generation has risen only 7 percent, according to M.J. Bradley and Associates.
Xcel initially proposed a fixed “grid charge” on all customers to recoup system costs. But environmental and renewable energy groups pushed back, arguing that higher fixed costs on monthly bills made rooftop solar systems less economic for homeowners and businesses.
After months of wrangling, 11 parties came together to craft a settlement with Xcel on grid modernization, and most of those also backed the idea of decoupling in return for dropping the grid charge.
 http://www.denverpost.com/2017/06/21/xcel-energy-power-grid-plan/

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27Jun/17Off

As Oil and Gas Faces a ‘Last Cycle,’ a Generational Divide Emerges Over Its Future 

Ernst & Young’s poll of U.S. energy industry perceptions finds a generational disconnect. Except over renewable energy—nearly everyone loves renewables.
by Jeff St. John
June 26, 2017
8

The oil and gas industry is facing its “last cycle,” according to consultancy Ernst & Young.
What does that mean? It's a “time when energy abundance, driven by technology, creates a permanent oversupply that not only keeps prices low but also allows consumers to make new choices about their energy usage."
In this new world, consumer perceptions are critical, writes E&Y in a new report. While most Americans still see fossil fuels playing an important role for decades to come, only about one in three trust the fossil industry -- and the younger the generation, the higher the distrust of the industry.
Those are some of the top-level findings laid out in the report, the first in a series to explore U.S. consumer attitudes toward the oil and gas industries. It's based on polling of consumers of all ages, as well as oil and gas executives, starting in early 2017. And like its subject, the findings are filled with seeming contradictions. 
About four-fifths of adults and three out of four teenagers say the fossil industry is important to the national economy, for example. But only 37 percent of adults and 33 percent of teens “trust the industry to do the right thing.”
And not surprisingly, few people want oil and gas industries to set up shop in their neighborhoods or communities. 
“Energy’s perception rating is respectable but precarious. Its value to consumers is based largely on necessity, a weak attribute for long-term appreciation and support,” the report noted. And “overall, consumers believe the industry is good for society, though they still see it as a problem causer, not a problem solver.” 
https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/advice-for-an-oil-gas-industry-facing-its-last-cycle

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27Jun/17Off

Exxon’s support for a carbon tax is the first step in big oil’s long, negotiated surrender

The industry sees the writing on the wall.
Updated by David Roberts@drvoxdavid@vox.com Jun 27, 2017, 8:20am EDT

What are they up to? (Shutterstock)
It made news last week when ExxonMobil, along with a slate of other big companies, including other oil giants, backed a plan for a substantial, rising US carbon tax.

The plan was put forward by the Climate Leadership Council, a new group that is seeking a bipartisan path forward on climate policy. The tax would start at $40 a ton; the revenue would be returned as per-capita dividends to all US citizens.
The Council includes some (retired) Republicans like James Baker III and George Schulz, along with a few centrist favorites like Michael Bloomberg and former Energy Secretary Steven Chu. (For some reason, Stephen Hawking is also a fan.) And among its “corporate founders,” are GM and Unilever, along with ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Total.
Why would Exxon back a carbon tax that would raise the price of its products?

There’s more to it than you might think. Exxon’s motives on this are complicated — some are short-term and greenwash-y, but others are longer-term and have to do with the industry’s health over coming decades. It’s all a useful lens through which to view the oil industry’s place in warming world.

Big oil has more to worry about than lawsuits
In the near-term, Exxon is embroiled in a messy legal and PR fight, which is why environmentalists were quick to dismiss its gambit as greenwashing.
Critics pointed to a provision within the plan that would shield oil companies from legal exposure to climate-based lawsuits, which is of particular interest to Exxon, as the company is currently being sued by a group of state attorneys general. The lawsuit alleges that the company knew about the risks of climate change long before it revealed those risks to investors, and even when it did, instituting an internal carbon price, it secretly used a much lower price in actual business decisions.

In January, a Massachusetts judge issued Exxon a setback when it ordered the company to turn over 40 years of climate research, based on an investigation by state Attorney General Maura Healey. In May, a Texas judge (Exxon’s home field) dealt the company another blow by transferring the case to New York, where it will be led by dogged NY AG Eric Schneiderman.

MARCH 21: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks beside the Gowanus Canal, which is a designated federal Superfund site, in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn on March 21, 2017 in New York City. Schneiderman joined area residents, city">
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Greens also pointed out that the plan would repeal a range of environmental regulations targeted at greenhouse gases, something oil and gas companies would very much like to see.
They pointed out that tax is, in the words of 350.org’s Jamie Henn, “dead-on-arrival.” There is no chance this Republican Congress will pass it and very few Republicans are willing to speak up in even tepid support.

And they pointed out that Exxon has lied about climate change for years and lobbied against other carbon tax bills, which casts its motivations in some doubt.
All of this is true, and all of it has likely informed Exxon’s effort to position itself as a constructive partner on climate policy.
But there are also bigger, longer-term trends at work, which are pushing all the oil majors to the table on climate.
The oil industry faces enormous risk if the world takes climate change seriously
https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/6/27/15869522/exxon-carbon-tax

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27Jun/17Off

Reports: Tesla-Branded Solar Panels Arrive in Stores 

The company reports its first attempts at selling solar via showrooms were a success.
by Julia Pyper
June 26, 2017
1

Tesla-branded solar panels have officially arrived in Tesla stores, marking another step in Tesla's ongoing integration with SolarCity.
In an SEC filing from March 1, the company stated: "We plan to reduce customer acquisition costs by cutting advertising spend and increasingly selling solar products in Tesla stores." Tesla said it began offering solar products and services "in select stores" as of the first quarter of 2017.
GTM visited Tesla showrooms in Santa Monica, San Jose, Palo Alto and Boston in late March, and found few references to solar products and services. Tesla salespeople in several of these locations were aware of the company's solar offerings -- including the forthcoming solar roof -- but there was no sales pitch or process in place. 
Things have changed. Electrek reported Sunday that "Tesla Solar" displays and actual panels have now been spotted on the West Coast.
Commenter ElectriCourrier shared a photo of a Tesla Solar display in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

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And Instagram user raina0624 recently shared a photo of a Tesla Solar display in Washington. 

Tesla's solar shingles have garnered a lot of attention since CEO Elon Musk first unveiled the new product last fall. Musk announced last month that solar roof orders were live and forecast that U.S. deployments would begin later this year. While the true cost of the solar roof is subject to some debate, Tesla claims it has already sold off enough tiles to be out of stock “well into 2018."
Meanwhile, the company continues to sell standard solar panels. Given that the shingles are really aimed at customers looking to build a new roof, there are plenty of other people who are happy to go the more traditional route. But even with a familiar product, Tesla is looking to differentiate itself.
https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/reports-tesla-branded-solar-panels-arrive-in-stores

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22Jun/17Off

Opinionated: Transformation at The Grid’s Edge

19
JUN
2017
By Fereidoon Sioshansi

Opinionated: Transformation at The Grid’s Edge

Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Defense Secretary, referring to developments following the Iraq invasion famously said, in war, “Stuff happens,” suggesting that much of what happens is unpredictable and not necessarily pleasant. Similarly, in the electric power sector these days, stuff is happening – generally characterized by buzzwords including industry transformation, grid modernization and developments at the grid’s edge – broadly referring to the interface between the distribution network and customers’ premises, appliances, devices, distributed generation, storage, sophisticated energy management systems, electric vehicles, etc.
 

Source: The future of electricity: New technologies transforming the grid edge, World Economic Forum in collaboration, March 2017
 
The question is why the surge of interest in the topic – which attracted virtually no interest 2-3 years ago?
There are many explanations including the confluence of three major trends further described in The Future of Electricity: New technologies Transforming the Grid Edge, a report by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Bain & Co. released in March 2017:
Electrification;
Decentralization; and
Digitization.
Many sources substitute de-carbonization for the first item, which makes it 3 “D”s, and easier to remember.
These 3Ds are rapidly and radically changing the role of consumers, empowering them and making them more engaged. This, unsurprisingly, means that they will be far more demanding of the distribution networks of the future. This, in turn, explains the massive proposed grid modernization investments.
We can expect this consumer-centric future with increased reliance on the distribution networks to materialize sooner rather than later given the rapid pace of technological innovation, falling prices and – broadly speaking – supportive regulatory environment, although this varies from one place to another.
While technological breakthroughs of the past took 30-40 years or longer to penetrate markets, nowadays, things happen fast, a trend that is likely to accelerate in the future.
And with the rapid penetration of renewables in and outside of California, the energy component of electric service is expected to shrink, making the cost of kWhs relatively trivial compared to the fixed cost of the network, which must increasingly do more to keep variable supply and demand in balance.
Another important issue–widely recognized–is that in a future where an increasing share of generation is coming from variable renewable resources, demand must begin to play a more active and pronounced role. Storage, currently a critical but missing piece, is unlikely to be sufficient to handle large variations in wind and solar – a growing share of the generation pie.
The other critical component is the presence or absence of regulatory schemes needed to provide appropriate incentives for necessary investments – such as in grid modernization and the development of sufficient charging infrastructure for EVs.
Regulation also must provide clarity on the growing role of distributed energy resources, including distributed solar PVs, distributed storage, micro-grids and yet to be implemented peer-to-peer trading and other means of transactions among consumers, prosumers and prosumagers of the future. (Prosumer refers to a consumer who is withdrawing from the grid part of the time and injecting into it at other times. Add storage and a prosumer becomes a prosumager, suggesting that he/she can store the excess energy and/or rely on shift patters of consumption and production at will.)
The current piecemeal and fragmented treatment of distributed energy, for example, has to be resolved. In addition, the value of these resources need to be better monetized and reflected in future tariffs, which must increasingly account for the bi-directional flows of electrons based on time, location and their value or impact on the network.
Finally, regulators in California, Hawaii and New York–with the latter’s pioneering reforming the energy vision  (REV)–must address how the changing role of the distribution network will redefine the role of stakeholders, including better clarity on who can do what, when and where and under what types of rules, rewards and investment recovery.
In the Preface to Innovation & Disruption at the Grid’s Edge, Michael Picker, the President of California Public Utilities Commission explains that he has “… chosen to focus actively at the CPUC on more tangible tasks that can deliver benefits quickly, rather than questioning the fundamental nature of utility business models,” adding,
“The overarching philosophy I have followed in pursuit of more distributed energy future can be described as ‘Walk, Jog, Run.’ ”
With so many distributed energy resources coming on-line at fast pace, the approach is understandable. Picker goes on to say,
“The vision we (the CPUC) are pursuing is that, over time, DERs will be able to benefit from ‘stacking’ multiple value streams.”
This entails improved monetization of the multiple benefits of DERs while acknowledging, paradoxically, their increased demands on the distribution network – for example with high concentrations of PVs and/or EVs on certain distribution circuits. California’s regulators are already sensitized to the new realities of DERs and other developments taking place at the grid’s edge.
On this, Picker adds:
“Targeting DERs to high-value locations also necessitates development of a tool to highlight areas of the distribution grid where DERs can provide location-specific values, such as distribution capacity deferral and voltage support.’
Likewise, in the book’s Introduction, Audrey Zibelman, former Chair of the NY Public Service Commission and now the CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator, explains that:
“The crux of the utility changes contemplated in REV can be summarized into the following 5 areas, many of which are touched upon by authors of the [book’s] following chapters.”
Creation of a Distributed System Platform;
Promotion and encouragement of innovation;
Regulation of the earnings model;
System information and transactive markets; and,
Fair and cost effective universal access.
Two other regulators, Paula Conboy, Chair of Australian Energy Regulator and Johannes Mayer, Head of Competition & Regulation at E-Control Austria, echo similar sentiments in the book’s Foreword and Epilogue, offering perspectives from Australia and Austria, respectively.
The WEF report provides four recommendations for utilities, network operators and the regulators:
Redesign regulatory paradigm;
Deploy enabling infrastructure;
Redefine customer experience; and
Embrace new business models.
The challenge is how to implement the sensible words into actionable strategies given the many moving parts and the complicated and highly unpredictable regulatory environment in which many utilities operate today.
Despite many similarities and universal trends, at the end what works for one utility in one geographical setting may not be suitable to another facing different regulatory constraints as described in several related articles in this issue. Suggesting grand strategies is the easy part. Implementing them is far more difficult and perilous.
Innovation and Disruption at the Grid’s Edge can be purchased here.  A 30 percent discount is available to Current subscribers and free postage using the code ENER317.
—Sioshansi can be reached at t fpsioshansi@aol.com or visit www.eenergyinformer.com.

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22Jun/17Off

No, Cities Are Not Actually Leading on Climate. Enough With the Mindless Cheerleading 

Sam Brooks, a former director for the D.C. government’s energy division, examines the “cities are leading on climate” myth.
by Sam Brooks
June 21, 2017
24

The idea that cities are leading on climate change is applauded over and over and over. There’s just one problem.
It's not actually happening.
Retrofit programs for buildings and homes aren't delivering results. Power distribution remains rooted in century-old thinking and technology. And those cities that claim to be on track to go "100 percent renewable"? Not even close.
With the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris accord, city contributions are needed more than ever. But it’s time to stop with the empty platitudes and face reality.
We’ve a lot of got work to do.
Cities haven’t yet taken on key roles 
The truth is that cities have done little to contribute to recent declines in carbon pollution. Renewable portfolio standards have spurred tons of new renewable generation, but states adopt those, not cities. Transportation-related CO2 is down in many cities, but that's largely the result of improved national fuel-efficiency standards. And urban areas did nothing to create cheap natural gas, which, by displacing coal, has been the leading driver of reduced emissions.
A central issue is that cities seldom have jurisdictional authority over energy infrastructure. There are few municipally owned utilities -- and most regulators are chosen at the state level. Even with respect to the critical issue of building codes, mandates are frequently determined by counties, states, and the International Code Council.
It turns out that when cities claim reductions in greenhouse gases, they're usually taking credit for things they didn’t do.
Minimal progress with energy efficiency and solar
This doesn’t mean that cities can’t play a vital role. They can.
As San Francisco’s Renewable Energy Task Force stated in a 2012 report, "Reaching [100% renewables] will require coordinated action in three main areas: improving energy efficiency to reduce total electricity demand, increasing in-city renewable distributed generation (DG) to reduce the need for imported green power, and providing all customers a 100% renewable power purchasing option.”
Most city climate plans reflect these principles -- focusing on reducing demand (i.e., efficiency) and increasing renewable supply (i.e., distributed solar) within their borders.
With energy efficiency, however, it’s difficult to identify much progress. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently released its 2017 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard. Among the leaders in energy efficiency, you’d reasonably expect improvements with energy efficiency. You'd be wrong.
Electricity consumption, a primary source of carbon emissions, is flat or growing in each of ACEEE's top 20 cities with available information. In a host of frequently lauded cities, building electricity use is up over the last five years of data: Los Angles (+3 percent); New York City (+1 percent); San Francisco (+1 percent); Boston (+2 percent); Denver (+3 percent); Austin (+5 percent); and D.C. (+1 percent).
On a per-capita basis, residential electricity use is down in Austin (-9 percent) and San Francisco (-9 percent), but it’s up in Boston (+7 percent), Los Angeles (+9 percent), and D.C. (+17 percent).
This is bad news. The bottom line is that in urban areas, where new residents often live in highly efficient apartments and businesses operate in increasingly dense office buildings, electricity use must drop. That's not happening.
While potentially less impactful than efficiency, solar is another top priority. But according to the 2017 report, Shining Cities, only a few cities have more solar per capita than the national average. For example, while Los Angeles accounts for 10 percent of its state's population, just 2 percent of California’s solar is in L.A. 
Solar panels may dot farmlands and deserts, but the sun is not yet powering most urban areas. Just 0.3 percent of NYC’s power comes from solar, and the situation is similar in other cities, including San Francisco (1.2 percent); Boston (0.4 percent); Denver (1 percent); Austin (0.3 percent); D.C. (0.4 percent); Chicago (0.1 percent); and Baltimore (0.2 percent).
https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/hard-truths-about-city-failures-with-clean-energy

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22Jun/17Off

Plan To Regionalize Western Power Grid Stalls Post-Trump

 Ben Bradford 
Wednesday, June 21, 2017 | Sacramento, CA | Permalink

cbcastro / Flickr
http://www.capradio.org/articles/2017/06/21/plan-to-regionalize-western-power-grid-stalls-post-trump/

California energy regulators say the state could benefit from sharing more electricity with its neighbors during heat waves such as this week’s, but a proposal to do so has stalled after the election of President Trump.
While an enormous electric grid carries power throughout the western United States, it’s divided into 38 fiefdoms, where regional operators figure out their own power needs. That can leave solar energy unused in one state while another fires up reserve gas plants to meet demand.
The Brown administration last year looked to create a centralized authority that could plan power use across the west. Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, is a major proponent of "regionalization."
“We will reduce costs for everybody. We will reduce pollution. We will improve system reliability, and these are all reasons to do this,” says Cavanagh.
Last August, Gov. Jerry Brown wrote to leadership in the Legislature that he would look to pass a proposal earlier this year.
“I have directed my staff, the Energy Commission, the Public Utilities Commission and the California Air Resources Board to continue working with the Legislature,” Brown wrote. “The goal is to develop a strong proposal that the Legislature can consider in January.”
That still hasn’t happened, although the governor has maintained he still supports regionalization.
Some environmental groups worry about partnering with coal-burning states, but a larger concern is that a major change in grid operation would create an opportunity for federal regulators appointed by President Trump to influence California’s renewable energy policies.


Ben Bradford
State Government Reporter
As the State Government Reporter, Ben covers California politics, policy and the interaction between the two. He previously reported on local and state politics, business, energy, and environment for WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Read Fu

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