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Tag: renewable energy

Renewables Best Coal As America's Second Largest Energy Source

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that renewables generated 21 percent of all electricity in the country for 2020. Renewable energy sources like biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind accounted for 834 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of the nation’s power last year. That falls just behind natural gas, which generated 1,617 billion kWh or 40% of all energy in the U.S. The news comes from a report released in July that the EIA shared again last week as the year winds down and we look towards 2022. The agency believes that coal-fired electricity use likely rose this year due to rising natural gas prices, increasing about 18 percent compared with 2020. This will likely push coal to be the second-most used energy source in 2021.

It’s highly unlikely that the trend of coal surpassing renewables will continue into 2022. For one, coal-fired electricity has been on the downturn since 2007 when it peaked at 2,016 billion kWh and was the largest source of energy until 2016, most likely because natural gas has replaced much of coal’s capacity. According to another EIA report, dozens of coal-fired plants have been replaced or converted to natural gas since 2011. Some of those decisions made by power companies are in order to comply with emissions regulations, like the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which was unveiled in 2011.

In the following years until 2019, Alabama Power Co. converted 10 of its generators at four Alabama coal plants to comply with the standard, which took effect in 2016.As for renewables, the EIA believes their power generation will rise 7% this year and another 10% next year. The agency also forecast that 2022 will be another year in which renewables are the second-most-used energy source, making 2020 not an anomaly, but a possible sign of trends to come. It’s anyone’s guess what 2022 will hold in terms of emissions, primarily because it’s unclear how deeply the pandemic will continue to affect the power industry.

Graph Shows Alterative Energy Beating Coal in 2021

images.dailykos.com


A report released on December 22 by the EIA shows that 2020 saw a substantial decrease in carbon dioxide emissions due in part to a warmer winter season and factors exacerbated by the pandemic, including more people working from home and traveling less, plus industry slowdowns resulting in lower commercial building activity. One of the long-term factors cited by the EIA was a trend in declining natural gas production. This resulted in a decrease in emissions of 11 percent in 2020, or 570 million metric tons compared to 2019. Such declines in emissions haven’t been seen since 1983, shortly after an amended Clean Air Act was implemented requiring cars built in 1981 and beyond to comply with lower emissions standards. More stringent emissions goals, such as the Biden administration’s push for 50 percent of new vehicles to be electric by 2030, could see a similar reduction that puts the U.S. one step closer to reaching its goal of net-zero by 2050.


Manchin Bullies Reporter For Asking About His Coal Millions

This month, Sen. Joe Manchin's interests in the fossil fuel industry have been the subject of in-depth reporting by Coral Davenport in the New York Times and Kate Aronoff in The New Republic. And when Bloomberg News reporter Ari Natter asked the centrist West Virginia Democrat about his fossil fuel interests this week, Manchin became quite defensive.

Davenport, on September 19, reported, "Joe Manchin, the powerful West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate energy panel and earned half a million dollars last year from coal production, is preparing to remake President Biden's climate legislation in a way that tosses a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry — despite urgent calls from scientists that countries need to quickly pivot away from coal, gas and oil to avoid a climate catastrophe."

Aronoff noted that Manchin has received considerable donations from fossil fuel companies and made millions of dollars from Enersystems Inc. and Farmington Resources, two coal companies he founded during the 1980s."NBC News' Frank Thorp, on Twitter, described the testy exchange between Manchin and Natter — who asked if it is a conflict of interest that someone with his fossil fuel connections is playing a major role in shaping energy policy. Manchin said of Enersystems, "I've been in a blind trust for 20 years. I have no idea what they're doing."

But Natter persisted, noting that Manchin is still receiving dividends from Enersystems stock — to which Manchin angrily responded, "You got a problem?"

Natter also pointed out that Manchin handed over control of Enersystems to his son, Joseph. And the senator snapped, "You'd do best to change the subject."


Yes, We Really Can Save The Earth (And Here’s Proof)

Reprinted with permission from Creators

Anyone who lives in the world of scientific reality — which we all do, although some like to pretend we don't — may feel dejected these days by the inevitability of catastrophic climate change. For years now, the news about the fate of the Earth (and the living things that inhabit our planet) has grown increasingly grim, with doomsday projected to arrive sometime before the end of this century.

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While Texas Froze, Feckless Republican Leaders Failed Again

Within hours after a catastrophic winter storm crippled the Texas power system, leaving millions to freeze in the dark, the Lone Star State's politicians did what Republicans always do: They hunted up a scapegoat.

She was thousands of miles away and had absolutely no role in the Texas disaster, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a proponent of clean energy, so they made do with the outspoken Bronx Congresswoman. Besides, blaming AOC fit perfectly with the impertinent falsehood that Texas Republicans seized on to explain their own failure, which was that renewable energy had shut down in bad weather, just as the oil and gas industry always predicted.

It was a politically pleasing explanation that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott loudly proclaimed on Fox News, but it had one big flaw. It's a ridiculous lie that only a simpleton would believe. Following the usual trajectory of right-wing disinformation, Abbott's falsehood was instantly repeated by his fellow Republicans and spread swiftly on social media. But it was swiftly and easily debunked, much to the governor's embarrassment. A day later, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick admitted that blaming solar and wind was wrong and unfair.

As Patrick noted, the power crash in Texas had little or nothing to do with wind turbines, which provide only a fraction of the state's energy in winter. Those machines froze in the sub-zero temperatures, but so did the natural gas plants and pipelines that supply a far larger proportion of electricity to Texans. So did water pipes that are also critical to the system.

In fact the restoration of power began on February 17 with solar energy, according to the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT – the nonprofit entity that operates the largely deregulated electric grid across most of the state. "We had quite a bit of solar generation online," said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's director of system operations. "When the solar generation was online, we started trying to bring back a lot of the load."

Speaking of ERCOT, that hapless outfit was teed up as the next scapegoat when the effort to blame solar, wind, and the Green New Deal fell flat. And no doubt the loosely managed energy system that organization represents is liable for much of this deadly fiasco. But the truly responsible parties include Abbott, his clueless predecessor Rick Perry, and the energy industry they have allowed to run wild for many years. After all, ERCOT is overseen by the Texas Public Service Commission, which under Republican governors has exercised no real oversight at all.

Much of the trouble can be traced to the ideology of the oil industry, shared by Texas Republicans, which denies climate change and rejects regulation by state or federal authorities. So the state's grid and electric utilities did little to prepare for an emergency of this magnitude – and lax regulators required nothing more. Texas also insisted on having its own energy grid, unconnected to neighboring states, because that allowed the state and the utilities to avoid federal rules.

In a moment of unvarnished candor, Perry suggested that avoiding federal regulation was worth all this week's unnecessary mayhem. Of course, the supposed Texas allergy to "federal interference" didn't discourage Abbott or the Texas Congressional delegation from begging for Washington's help – which was immediately forthcoming from a magnanimous President Joe Biden.

If the fatal farce in Texas seems all too familiar, then you may be noticing an eerie resemblance to the botched pandemic response of the Trump administration. The impulse of Republicans in government is not to govern but to shift responsibility and try to affix blame, almost always on "liberals" or "socialists" or some other partisan goblin. What they seem utterly unable to provide are honest leadership and real solutions.

You can keep electing these inept bozos, but don't expect any better results. This is what they do, because this is all they can do.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Silver Lining? The Transition From Fossil Fuels Begins

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

Energy analysts have long assumed that, given time, growing international concern over climate change would result in a vast restructuring of the global energy enterprise. The result: a greener, less climate-degrading system. In this future, fossil fuels would be overtaken by renewables, while oil, gas, and coal would be relegated to an increasingly marginal role in the global energy equation. In its World Energy Outlook 2019, for example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that, by 2040, renewables would finally supersede petroleum as the planet's number one source of energy and coal would largely disappear from the fuel mix. As a result of Covid-19, however, we may no longer have to wait another 20 years for such a cosmic transition to occur -- it's happening right now.

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How The Rise Of Renewables Brings A Fix For Climate Ever Closer

By Alex Morales, Bloomberg News (TNS)

LONDON — United Nations climate talks set to begin in Paris next week promise to produce a landmark deal that has eluded diplomats for more than two decades.

All of the Group of 20 nations, including the biggest developing countries — China, India and Brazil — have prepared to limit emissions into the next decade. Plunging costs for wind and solar power mean alternatives to fossil fuels are more viable.

At least 130 heads of government and state will descend on the city for the opening of the two-week conference Monday as France’s biggest diplomatic gathering since 1948 coincides with a security lockdown spurred by the deadly Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. Thousands of police and soldiers will be deployed, and planned demonstrations by environmental activists have been canceled due to the terror threat.

While the fatal assaults will make the mood more “sober,” said Yvo de Boer, a former U.N. global-warming chief who is now director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute in Seoul, South Korea, “there is a broader desire to see global action on climate change, which was there before the unfortunate Paris attacks and is still there now.”

Momentum is building toward a comprehensive deal to curb greenhouse gases and the worst effects of global warming, including prolonged droughts, rising seas and melting glaciers. The previous effort, in Copenhagen in 2009, collapsed in acrimony, and fewer than 80 nations stepped forward with emissions pledges. More than 170 countries have done so this time.

The pledges would restrain the rise in global temperatures to 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, according to Climate Action Tracker. That’s better than its 2009 projection of 3.5 degrees Celsius, though short of the international target of 2 degrees and the goal sought by island nations of 1.5 degrees.

“In Paris we have two important positive points of departure: global political momentum and leadership and a better competitive environment for clean energy,” said International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol.

As costs come down, countries are investing more in renewables, especially developing countries. In six years, India has multiplied by five its solar power target for 2022, raising it to 100 gigawatts.

Wind turbines cost $935,000 per megawatt on average, down from 2009, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Solar panel prices have fallen to 65 cents per watt this year from about $2 at the end of 2009, according to Jenny Chase, BNEF’s head of solar analysis. The cost of a kilogram of polysilicon, the raw material used in most panels, this month fell to $14.76, a record low that’s a quarter of the price in December 2009.

Onshore wind power is cheaper than fossil generation in Brazil, Chile and the windiest parts of Texas and Oklahoma, said Amy Grace, who heads BNEF’s wind analysis. In most major European markets, including the U.K. and Germany, the best wind projects are cost-competitive with new coal and gas plants when accounting for the carbon price.

“It’s actually possible now to combine growth with a green agenda to tackle climate change,” Vestas Wind Systems A/S Chief Executive Officer Anders Runevad said in an interview.

“The cost of delivering this looks more manageable now,” said U.K. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd.

There are signs of a retreat from coal and oil. Investors with $2.6 trillion of assets under management have pledged to withhold money from fossil fuels, up from $50 billion a year ago. The oil industry is divided, with European majors in June breaking with their biggest U.S. competitors and supporting efforts to put a cost on carbon pollution.

Last year, renewables contributed almost half of the world’s new power generation capacity, according to the IEA. Mandatory energy efficiency regulations on everything from fridges to industrial boilers now cover more than a quarter of global energy use, the agency says. In the five years through 2014, new investment in clean energy totaled $1.46 trillion, up from $802 billion in the five previous years, according to BNEF.

While investment in renewable energy has boomed, the industry hasn’t been a safe bet in the stock market. WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index of 105 clean energy companies has tumbled 29 percent since the Copenhagen climate summit while global shares in the MSCI World Index appreciated 46 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The so-called NEX index fell 9.5 percent in the past year as concern about the global economy prompted a flight to safety in equities.

Politically, efforts to boost renewable and curb global warming are gaining traction. The turning point came in November last year, when U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping jointly announced efforts the world’s two biggest emitters will take to limit pollution, said Birol of the IEA.

Commitments by developing countries are crucial to a deal because their share of emissions has rocketed since 1992, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change established the divide that required only industrialized nations compelled to adopt numerical targets on emissions.

“You’re going from action by few to action by all,” EU negotiator Elina Bardram said in an interview. “The momentum is really unique.”

©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: United Nations Photo via Flickr

Climate 2016: Will Hillary Clinton Become The Next ‘Greenest President’?

If Hillary Clinton wins the nation’s highest office in 2016, she seems certain to pursue the kind of environmental, energy, and climate policies that earned Barack Obama praise as one of our “greenest” presidents. Certainly that is what the nation’s leading environmental activists seemed to expect when they gave her a tumultuous welcome at the annual dinner of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) last December 1.

In her speech to the LCV dinner – where she sat with Tom Steyer, the Democratic billionaire who has dedicated his fortune to fighting climate change – the former Secretary of State blasted the climate deniers, praised the president’s commitment to a green economy, and promised that America could become “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.”

With those words, she echoed not only the rhetoric and policies of the Obama administration, but the programs of the Clinton Foundation, where promoting renewable energy, conservation, and a clean environment at home and abroad have been among the highest priorities since her husband left the White House. Ever since the defeat of the Kyoto Treaty on climate change in the U.S. Senate in 1999, both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have sought to promote those same goals in other ways – notably through the C-40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which the Clinton Foundation helped to organize.

As Secretary of State, Clinton strongly supported President Obama’s approach to climate and energy issues with her own set of policies, actions, and appointments. Less than a week after Obama’s inauguration in 2009, she named Todd Stern, a former Kyoto negotiator for President Clinton, as the nation’s first special envoy on climate change – a new diplomatic post with full ambassadorial rank, intended to demonstrate, as she remarked, “that the United States will be energetic, focused, strategic, and serious about addressing global climate change and the corollary issue of clean energy.”

Following Stern’s appointment, Clinton continued to push the issue through a series of new working groups and ongoing, intense negotiations in other countries and regions, all designed to promote cooperation toward reducing carbon pollution and promoting renewable technologies. Those efforts ranged from small-scale appropriate technology, such as solar-powered cook-stoves that reduce deaths from household carbon pollution and save trees, to major international negotiations over climate goals – including a famous late-night confrontation with China’s leaders in Copenhagen that saved the 2009 global climate summit from complete failure.

Hillary Clinton’s personal legacy of environmental action can be traced all the way back to her years in Arkansas. Serving as the first woman on the board of Walmart – a position for which she has often been criticized – Clinton led the giant company toward greener marketing, products, and practices that have since been imitated across the retail industry.

As U.S. senator from New York, she compiled a voting record well within the Democratic environmentalist mainstream, although her 82 percent lifetime LCV score was diminished by missing several votes during her 2008 presidential campaign. But while running for president the first time, Clinton also promoted an ambitious $50 billion “strategic energy fund” to invest in a clean energy “Apollo Project,” to be funded by a special tax on the “excess profits” of oil companies.

Still, Clinton is a politician, not an activist – and not everything she does or says has earned applause from the environmental community. She has refused to openly oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, even after leaving the government. And some environmentalists have criticized her position on shale gas extraction, or “fracking,” a term she seldom utters, because her State Department sought to promote natural gas exploration abroad.

At the LCV dinner, she described natural gas, which burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, as a “transitional” source of energy, bridging civilization toward the renewable future. At the same time, however, she added that “many of us have serious concerns with the risks associated with the rapidly expanding production of natural gas. Methane leaks in the production and transportation of natural gas pose a particularly troubling threat, so it is crucial we put in place smart regulations and enforce them, including deciding not to drill when the risks to local communities, landscapes and ecosystems are just too high.”

“Our economy still runs primarily on fossil fuels and trying to change that will take strong leadership,” she said. With determined guidance, she added, “we do not have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.”

Whatever may or may not be known about Hillary Clinton’s vision for the presidency, one thing ought to be obvious by now: She is far more likely to provide that kind of environmental leadership than any of the oil-owned, climate-denying Republicans she may face in November 2016.

The Sun Is Rising On Solar Panels, And There’s No Fighting It

On the average sunny day, Germany’s huge energy grid gets 40 percent of its power from the sun. Guess what happened one recent morning when the sun went into eclipse. Nothing.

Or close to nothing. When the moon hid the sun for a few hours, the backup natural gas and coal plants switched on. The price of electricity rose briefly. That was it. Solar again showed itself to be a reliable energy source under a tough challenge.

Back in the United States, meanwhile, electric companies and various fossil fuel interests are fighting the American public’s growing passion for rooftop solar panels. They’re also doing battle with state laws requiring utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.

Oil, gas, and coal lobbyists, fed by Koch brother checks, are backing a campaign by utilities to slap fees on solar panels. Their target is net metering — the system whereby homes and businesses with solar panels sell their excess electricity back to the grid.

In Arizona, the big utility Salt River Project is adding a $50-a-month surcharge for customers with rooftop solar panels. SRP argues, as do other utilities, that solar customers rely on the grid for backup power when the sun doesn’t shine and should pay for it.

Studies out of Missouri, New York, Texas, Nevada, and Vermont counter that the alleged subsidies to those with solar panels are being offset. After all, solar consumers reduce the amount of power the utilities must provide — especially on hot sunny days, when demand is high. And a price can be put on greenhouse gases that were not emitted.

Big voices in the conservative movement are leading the charge for solar panel taxes. They also liken states’ green energy mandates to Obamacare. The conservative masses, however, don’t seem to be taking the bait. You don’t even have to ask about the liberals.

A power source that is domestic, is pollution-free and costs nothing (once the panels are paid off) — all courtesy of Mr. Sun — would seem to be in our national interests. Also, how interesting that SRP, in super-sunny Arizona, reportedly gets less than 2 percent of its power from solar and wind sources combined.

Huge numbers of Americans have been installing solar panels, thanks to better and cheaper technology. Businesses that stand to lose from this fact have set off clashes in nearly half the states — from Maine to California and Washington to South Carolina.

The utilities weren’t getting much traction in the legislatures — even in such Republican states as Indiana and Utah. So they turned to the public utilities commissions, where they can get a more private hearing.

Pro-solar conservatives hold that taxing solar panels stifles competition. A group called T.U.S.K. (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed) is led by a former congressman named Barry Goldwater Jr. (the son).

Of a plan in Indiana to tax solar panels, one woman wrote, “Indiana’s utilities are interested in keeping us reliant on traditional fuel sources that hurt our national security and weaken our economy.” She would be Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America.

So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can huff and puff about a “war on coal,” but to little avail. By the way, the domestic solar industry now employs more workers than does coal mining.

The utilities’ distress is understandable, but they can’t win this war. The means of generating energy are undergoing profound change worldwide. The utilities must change their business model or, if they can’t, concede the inevitable. You can’t stop the march of solar power any more than you can stop the sun from rising.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Solar panels at the Pittsfield Waste Water Treatment Facility (Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection/Flickr)