Obama Addresses Climate Change
Describing climate change as “no longer a distant threat,” President Obama on Tuesday unveiled a climate change action plan to combat carbon emissions by at least 3 billion metric tons by 2030.
In addition to authorizing $8 billion in loan guarantees, Obama’s broad proposal calls on the further deployment of renewable energy on federal lands, increased energy efficiency enhancements to appliances and federal buildings to curb carbon U.S. emissions, including pollutants from new and existing power plants.
While Obama’s plan fell short on enacting federal renewable portfolio standards, his plan called for the federal government to derive 20% of its energy usage from renewable energy.
The plan, which consists of several executive actions, has three main components:
Cut carbon pollution. In 2012, U.S. carbon emissions fell to the lowest level in two decades even as the economy continued to grow. To build on this progress, the Obama Administration is putting in place new rules to cut carbon pollution – just like we have for other toxins like mercury and arsenic – so we protect the health of our children and move our economy toward American-made clean energy sources that will create good jobs and lower home energy bills.
Prepare the U.S. for climate change. The Obama Administration says it will aid state and local governments to strengthen roads, bridges and shorelines to better protect homes and businesses from severe weather.
The proposal directs agencies to support local climate-resilient investment by removing barriers or counterproductive policies and modernizing programs and establishes a short-term task force of state, local and tribal officials to advise on key actions the federal government can take to help strengthen communities.
Lead international efforts. Realizing the U.S. cannot reverse climate conditions by itself, Obama called for the U.S. government to end its support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas, except for the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries or facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies.
“Just as no country is immune from the impacts of climate change, no country can meet this challenge alone,” Obama said. “That is why it is imperative for the U.S. to couple action at home with leadership internationally.”
Given that the U.S. has more than doubled generation of electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources since his first term, the plan carves out an opportunity for the development of enough renewable energy, such as wind and solar, to power 6 million homes.
The plan calls on the U.S. Department of the Interior to permit enough renewables projects on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), such an undertaking would require the construction of more than 11,000 wind turbines, assuming a 35% capacity factor and an average turbine size of 2 MW.
The proposal also sets a new goal to install 100 MW of renewable energy on federally assisted housing by 2020 while maintaining the government’s commitment to deploy renewable energy on military installations.
“Climate change is no longer a distant threat – we are already feeling its impacts across the country and the world,” Obama said. “Last year was the warmest year ever in the contiguous U.S., and about one-third of all Americans experienced 10 days or more of 100-degree heat. The 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15 years.
“While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, we have a moral obligation to act on behalf of future generations. Climate change represents one of the major challenges of the 21st century, but as a nation of innovators, we can and will meet this challenge in a way that advances our economy, our environment and public health all at the same time,” Obama added.
Obama’s announcement received wide praise among environmental and conservation groups, such as AWEA.
“We welcome the president’s initiative to proceed with climate actions focused at this time on executive agencies. AWEA supports policies to achieve science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets,” said Tom Kiernan, AWEA’s CEO. “Since wind energy is a leading zero-carbon source of electric power, we’re ready to do our part – especially since wind turbines can be deployed in a matter of months, and wind power is rapidly scaling up to make a major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Others, however, thought Obama was long on rhetoric but lacking specificity.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions here,” explained Frank Maisano, an energy policy analyst at the Bracewell Guiliani law firm, adding that outside of the president curbing emissions for existing power plants, not much new was discussed. “The old expression of putting a square peg in a round hole applies here. That’s what the administration is trying to do with greenhouse gas emissions.”
As for the renewable energy component, Maisano said the deployment of renewable energy could potentially be a great opportunity. However, he cautioned, stakeholders for these projects must guard against reliability and cost pressures.
“The burden and pressure associated with these projects could cause unintended consequences that could negatively impact renewables,” he noted.
In a 195-234 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives defeated its almost $1 trillion version of a 2013 Farm Bill, leaving the fate of the Senate’s recently passed version uncertain.
The Senate Farm Bill includes $68.2 million in mandatory funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which helps rural businesses and agricultural producers invest in renewable energy projects. The House Farm Bill did not include REAP funding, but had the legislation passed, both the House and Senate bills would have went to a conference committee – leaving the possibility for REAP funding to make its way into the final legislation.
Ryan Stroschein, co-director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition, says the advocacy group is disappointed by the House’s action.
“Usually, the House leadership doesn’t bring a bill to the floor unless they’re pretty confident it could pass,” he tells NAW. “Obviously, that didn’t happen in this case.”
Nonetheless, Stroschein remains somewhat optimistic. “There are a lot of reforms in this bill that people want to see get done. I think they’ll come back to the drawing board and see if they can reconfigure this bill in a way that will get more votes,” he says. “I don’t know if they’ll succeed, but I think they will try.”
Congress has not passed a Farm Bill since 2008.
CT Gov. Amends
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, D-Conn., has signed into law S.B.1138, An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Clean Energy Goals. The legislation amends the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), allowing large-scale hydropower to qualify as a Class I resource.
Connecticut’s RPS requires 27% of utilities’ electricity to come from renewable energy resources by 2020, with a Class I requirement of 20% by 2020. Previously, qualifying Class I resources included solar, wind, fuel cells, biomass and hydropower facilities up to 5 MW. However, S.B.1138 now increases the hydropower limit to 30 MW.
The legislation first passed the state Senate in early May, followed by the passage of a companion bill in the state House. The legislation then went back to the Senate to iron out some differences between the two versions.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Gov. Malloy recommended the change to the RPS in March. According to a statement from the governor’s office, the new law will “allow Connecticut [to] move away from dirtier fuels like biomass to cleaner large-scale hydroelectric power.”
“Updating our renewable energy portfolio strengthens Connecticut’s competitiveness while also protecting our environment for future generations,” Malloy said. “This legislation creates clean energy jobs right here in Connecticut, moves us away from polluting fossil fuels and provides cleaner, cheaper, more reliable energy to ratepayers.”
Several environmentalist and energy groups have protested the hydropower measure, claiming it could sidetrack local renewable energy development and provide an advantage to companies such as Canada’s Hydro-Quebec.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., signed into law S.B.252, which increases the renewable energy standard (RES) for cooperative associations that provide wholesale electricity in Colorado and large electric associations that provide service to at least 100,000 meters. The bill expands Colorado’s RES to 20% by 2020 while capping retail cost increases at 2%.
The bill, “Setting Renewable Energy Standards for Rural Colorado,” authorizes the co-ops to collect a monthly surcharge to offset the cost of meeting the target. Hickenlooper also signed an executive order calling for the creation of a panel to study if the goal is achievable and if ratepayers get enough protection from the rate cap on the surcharge.
S.B.252 expands access to wind, solar and other clean energy for rural Colorado at a time when major renewable investments are being made across the region.
“We believe that this legislation, while imperfect, is necessary to keep diversifying electric generation and reaping the associated rate, economic and environmental benefits,” Hickenlooper said. “Vetoing this bill and waiting until the 2014 legislation session for a more perfect version would set Colorado back one year in our pursuit of a more diverse energy portfolio. We cannot afford to lose this valuable time, especially with the expiration of the federal production tax credit on wind generation at the end of this year.”
According to Western Resource Advocates (WRA), large cooperatives, such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission, have bet heavily on coal as a primary energy source and predicted that S.B.252 could lead to skyrocketing energy costs.
But according to the Colorado Energy Office, the 2% rate cap would limit average household bill increases to no more than $2 a month. Moreover, notes WRA, the falling costs of and increasing investment in renewable technologies like wind and solar, and the fact that there are no fuel costs associated with renewables, could ultimately lower electricity costs for consumers.
Sales Tax Exemption
Now Nebraska Law
After much debate, Gov. Dave Heineman, D-Neb., reluctantly signed L.B.104 into law.
L.B.104 provides sales tax exemptions for the purchase of wind turbines, towers and other wind farm components. Supporters contend Nebraska lags far behind other states, such as Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, in developing wind energy and that without L.B.104, the state will continue to fall behind.
Much of the debate over the bill’s effectiveness in bringing more wind energy centers around Lenexa, Kan.-based developer TradeWind Energy, which is planning a $300 million to $400 million wind farm in Dixon County, located near the Iowa and South Dakota border. w
Obama Addresses Climate Change
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