President Barack Obama has submitted to Congress his fiscal year 2014 budget request, which includes increased funding for clean energy initiatives and calls for a permanent and refundable production tax credit (PTC).
A fact sheet released with the budget describes some of its components that are intended to make the U.S. “the leader in the clean energy sector and bring about a clean energy economy with new companies and jobs.”
According to the fact sheet, the budget proposes to boost funding for work on clean energy technology across all federal agencies to $7.9 billion – a 30% increase over 2012’s enacted level. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would receive $6.2 billion committed to clean energy technology – a 40% increase over 2012’s enacted level.
For example, the budget would give the DOE $615 million to “increase the use and reduce the costs of clean renewable power from solar, wind, geothermal and water energy,” as well as $80 million to help integrate renewable energy into the grid. The budget also provides the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy with $379 million to fund energy-related research.
In addition, eight agencies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture would receive a total of $255 million to help advance clean energy development in rural regions, according to the fact sheet. The budget also supports $4 billion in loans to rural utilities in support of clean energy generation, as well as $238 million in loan guarantees and grants to help renewable energy development among farmers and rural businesses.
The U.S. Department of the Interior would receive increased funding for the development of renewable energy and transmission projects on federal property, including $100 million to help “maintain capacity to review and permit new renewable energy projects on federal lands and waters,” according to the fact sheet.
The proposed budget also includes new policies meant to help spur clean energy development. Perhaps most notable is President Obama’s call for making the PTC both permanent and refundable. The fact sheet says this would “provide a strong, consistent incentive to encourage investments in renewable energy technologies and to help meet our goal to double generation from wind, solar and geothermal sources by 2020.”
Robert Gramlich, interim CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, says the permanent and refundable PTC would help increase wind development and provide additional pools of capital. But, he adds, the prospects of passage are far from a given at this point.
“Given the current legislative cycle,” he says, “it’s unclear how Congress will react to the timing and scope of the president’s budget proposal.”
The budget also aims to repeal over $4 billion in fossil-fuel tax subsidies annually. However, ML Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based government relations consulting group, notes that Obama’s proposals do not equal law.
“Many of these proposals are not new, and some have been rejected,” the company says in its assessment of the budget. “The repeal of $40 billion in tax provisions for fossil-fuel extraction and refining is opposed by most Republicans and oil-state Democrats.
“In light of these realities, the budget remains an aspirational document highlighting the administration’s priorities since the actual appropriation levels depend on Congress,” the company concludes.
Gov. O’Malley, D-Md., signed into law the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, legislation meant to create a framework for the development of wind energy off the state’s coast.
Passed by the Maryland House of Delegates in February and the State Senate in March, the legislation aims to provide up to $1.7 billion to subsidize the construction of a 200 MW offshore wind farm. If such a wind farm is proposed, permitted and constructed, the act would allow Maryland utility customers to be charged $1.50 a month on their electricity bills to help offset the project costs.
In addition, the legislation alters Maryland’s 20% by 2020 renewable portfolio standard, requiring the state’s utilities to begin obtaining 2.5% of their electricity from offshore wind by 2017 if such a project is built.
According to the governor’s office, a 200 MW offshore wind farm would support about 850 manufacturing and construction jobs and 160 more supply and operations and maintenance jobs afterwards.
O’Malley introduced the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 in January, his third attempt at establishing offshore wind legislation. His 2011 and 2012 versions of the act were defeated by the Maryland General Assembly.
For more than a decade, wind developers have been notified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that their wind projects may kill birds and, therefore, violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).
However, research conducted at a sampling of more than 140 communication towers owned and operated by the Michigan Public Safety Communication System (MPSCS) shows that several state and federal agencies – including the FWS and U.S. Forest Service – are violating the MBTA on a regular basis.
Funded by the Michigan Attorney General’s office and the Michigan State Police, Curry & Kerlinger conducted research over a three-year period. The results show that more than 11,000 birds, mostly night-migrating songbirds, were killed annually at 143 communication towers owned and operated by the MPSCS during the spring and fall migration seasons between 2003 and 2005.
The MPSCS towers, both with and without guy wires, are 380 feet to 485 feet tall – similar in height to modern wind turbines. The guyed towers were shown to kill about 100 migrants per year.
For perspective, this number is similar in magnitude to the number of night migrant fatalities at about 20 wind turbines.
In other words, night migrant fatalities at one or two guyed public safety communication towers are equivalent to the number of night migrants killed at one or two small wind farms.
Even more interesting about the MPSCS towers is that they are also used by agencies that are entrusted with protecting birds.
Both the FWS and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are listed as members of the MPSCS and use the towers as part of their agency communications.
The MPSCS fatality estimates made by Curry & Kerlinger do not include birds killed during the non-migration seasons, so the estimate of 11,000 birds killed by these towers per year is undoubtedly less than the annual total.
Various other state and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, also use these towers, and each tower has been licensed by the Federal Communications Commission through the National Environmental Policy Act process.
And Michigan is not the only state encountering this problem. For example, in Ohio, the Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) has about 250 towers, some of which are taller than 500 feet and have guy wires.
These towers are also used by the FWS, as well as by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources – the state agency entrusted with protecting birds. Using the same methodology of the Curry & Kerlinger studies in Michigan, it is possible that the MARCS towers kill about 15,000 migrating birds – perhaps more – per year in Ohio.
Most states already have public safety systems that have thousands of towers, many of which will be used by federal and state wildlife agencies. Together, these towers likely kill more than 100,000 migrants per year and perhaps more than are currently killed by wind turbines.
Other publicly funded towers are also likely to kill birds. Hundreds of public radio and television towers broadcast signals across the U.S., and some are taller than public safety towers.
Unfortunately, it is purely speculative to say how many birds are killed by public broadcasting towers because such towers have never been thoroughly scrutinized by the wildlife agencies.
It is also interesting that in the 13 years since the FWS released its interim wildlife guidelines for siting and building communication towers, it is likely that more than 1,000 public communication towers have been erected in the U.S.
To date, Curry & Kerlinger’s study in Michigan appears to be the only one conducted at publicly owned or funded towers, despite the fact that fatalities at communication towers have been reported hundreds of times since the 1940s.
Overall, 6.7 million birds per year are estimated to be killed at public and private communication towers in the U.S., yet no pre- or post-construction studies are required as part of the federal licensing of towers.
Now that peer-reviewed and reliable estimates of fatalities at publicly owned and funded towers are available and show that large numbers of birds are killed at these facilities, it will be interesting to see if federal and state agencies are subject to the same laws and standards as the wind industry or if they are exempt from those laws.
Author’s note: Paul Kerlinger, Ph.D., is senior scientist and principal at Curry & Kerlinger LLC, a consulting firm specializing in bird and bat issues. He can be reached at (609) 884-2842 or email@example.com.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has launched the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (CEMI), which the department says is focused on growing U.S. manufacturing of clean energy products and boosting U.S. competitiveness through major improvements in manufacturing energy productivity.
As part of the CEMI, the DOE has awarded over $23 million in funding for clean energy manufacturing research and development and plans to award more funds in the coming months. In addition, the CEMI involves hosting a series of summits to gather input on manufacturing priorities and opportunities, as well as launching new public-private partnerships focused on improving U.S. clean energy manufacturing competitiveness.
The announcement was made at the ribbon cutting of the DOE’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a new manufacturing facility that will be used to help reduce the cost of carbon fiber – a critical material for next-generation wind turbines.
Now open to U.S. manufacturers, this state-of-the-art facility provides clean energy companies and researchers with a test bed for the development of less-expensive, better-performing carbon fiber materials and manufacturing processes, the DOE says. The 42,000-square-foot facility is supported by a $35 million DOE grant and will produce up to 25 tons of carbon fiber each year.
“We are at a critical moment in the history of energy in our nation. Over just the last seven years, global investment in the clean energy sector has grown nearly five-fold to over $260 billion, and these markets will grow into the trillions of dollars in the years to come,” said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson. “Our nation faces a stark choice: The energy technologies of the future can be developed and manufactured in America for export around the world, or we can cede global leadership and import these technologies from other nations,” added Danielson.
The Ontario legislature voted down Bill 39, the Ensuring Affordable Energy Act – a measure that sought to limit provincial wind development, eliminate the feed-in tariff and give municipalities a greater voice in planning renewable energy projects.
The bill, which was introduced by Progressive Conservative (PC) party member Lisa M. Thompson, is founded on the proposed notion that wind energy is a leading culprit for rising electricity prices in Ontario.
However, Brandy Giannetta, Ontario regional director at the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), says such claims are misinformed.
“The PC Party continues to ignore a number of studies that have conclusively demonstrated that wind energy has made only a minor contribution to rising electricity costs in Ontario in recent years,” she says, citing a CanWEA-commissioned Power Advisory LLC study that shows wind energy is responsible for about 5% of the total rise in provincial electricity costs.
Ontario’s leading political parties – the ruling Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the PC Party – are all trying to navigate around a perfect storm of low demand, surplus generation and rising power prices.
Upon the bill’s defeat, Thompson issued a statement that expressed her disappointment for a defeat that she suspects was politically motivated.
“The NDP and Liberals could have supported the bill to at least get it into committee, where all three parties could have put their political stripes aside and worked together on a thoughtful, affordable energy plan where municipalities could have their say,” Thompson said.
The PC Party has repeatedly cited wind energy as Exhibit A in what they view as wasteful government. In the recent past, PC Party leader Tim Hudak, who was unsuccessful in his attempt to unseat then-Premiere Dalton McGuinty of the Liberal Party in 2011, has called for the abolishment of the province’s Green Energy Act and the dismantling of the Ontario Power Authority.
Wash. Firms Urge
RE Tax Extension
Thirteen renewable energy companies and advocacy groups have issued a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., urging support of Senate Bill 5896.
If passed, the bill would extend the renewable sales and use tax exemption, which the parties say has provided a tangible incentive for clean energy businesses to locate their projects in the state. The policy will otherwise expire in June.
Signers of the letter include the American Wind Energy Association, Atkins Global, Climate Solutions, EDF Renewables, EDP Renewables, Everpower, First Wind, Iberdrola Renewables, the NW Energy Coalition, REC Silicon, Renewable Northwest Project, RES Americas, SolarCity Corp. and Vestas.
The policy results in a net benefit for the state, explains Ben Fairbanks, business development director for First Wind.
“The Palouse Wind Project in Whitman County invested over $30 million locally during construction and will generate over $1 million each year in public benefits,” Fairbanks says. “This policy is one of the reasons for our project’s success, and it should be extended.”
The letter states that the sales tax exemption brings business to Washington and makes the state more competitive with other non-sales tax states, such as Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Renewable energy policies in Washington have resulted in $8 billion of capital investment, creating more than 5,000 construction jobs and over 1,200 permanent operations and manufacturing positions, according to the groups. w
Proposal Includes Permanent PTC
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