Congress Should Help Energy Innovators Power Technologies, Economy of the Future

This week, entrepreneurs from the Clean Energy Business Network — a group of small and midsize business leaders across all 50 states — joined us in Washington, D.C., to showcase their technologies and encourage lawmakers to invest in federal energy programs. These meetings came at an important time.

As Congress debates energy and climate proposals and the president’s budget request calls for elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, it is crucial that small businesses on the front lines of this work aren’t left out of the discussion.

These small businesses represent the promise of growth and a better future. Congress needs to help them deliver on that promise by protecting crucial funds to support American innovation.

You see, these entrepreneurs have brought new technologies to market across the country through partnerships with the Department of Energy, ARPA-E and the National Laboratories. This is exactly the kind of collaboration that will deliver new innovations to power America’s energy future and our economy.

The work of these companies shows that energy innovation knows no boundaries. From Utah to Iowa to Maine, the 14 companies represented in Washington this week — and the range of partners, contractors and distributors they work with — are spurring economic development and creating jobs across the country.

They are developing a broad range of technologies: novel storage and microgrid solutions, lighter and stronger steel, more efficient fuel cells, low-impact hydropower, carbon sequestration and more. And for these businesses and countless others, support from the Department of Energy has played a critical role in bringing their breakthrough ideas to life.

Put simply, Department of Energy applied research is behind most of the transformations the United States has experienced over the past few decades in both the incumbent and emerging energy sectors. From new oil extraction methods and hydraulic fracturing, to energy-efficient windows and dramatic declines in the cost of wind turbines and solar panels, these changes impact us all. The reverberations are felt not just by the businesses working directly with the DOE, but also across the broader landscape of energy technology and service providers across the nation, the many customers they serve and the communities benefiting from the creation of new industries and jobs.

The economic impacts of these energy transformations are profound. Renewable energy, energy efficiency and natural gas represent the growth sectors of the U.S. energy economy, according to data from the “2019 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.” These sectors supply more than half our electricity and employ 3.4 million American workers.

Our economy is doing more with less energy, with an overall trend in decoupling between gross domestic product growth and energy use over the past decade despite a slight uptick in 2018. In fact, renewable energy and energy-smart technologies attracted $64 billion in private investment to our economy last year.

At the Clean Energy Business Network, we have the pleasure of working alongside thousands of small and midsize business leaders who are creating a cleaner, more reliable and more affordable energy future for all Americans. As an independent arm of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, we help small business leaders make their voices heard on policy issues, access tools to educate the public and clients about the benefits of clean energy technologies, and tap into networking and business development opportunities.

Whether these companies are established providers seeking to grow new market opportunities or early-stage innovators advancing new breakthroughs, their work captures the imagination. These small businesses — and the innovative energy solutions they offer — call upon us all to imagine what’s possible.

There is strong, bipartisan support among policymakers and the public for energy innovation. Congress provided robust funding for the DOE and critical energy innovation programs in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. As Congress begins work on fiscal year 2020 appropriations, we need to thank our lawmakers for their past support and remind them of the critical role small- and medium-sized businesses play in driving forward our nation’s energy economy.

We urge our lawmakers to stand beside us in promoting American entrepreneurship and ingenuity.

About the author: Lynn Abramson is president of the Clean Energy Business Network, which works to advance the clean energy economy through policy, public education and business support for small- and medium-size energy companies.

Note: This op-ed was originally published in Morning Consult on March 15, 2019 and is republished here with the author's permission.

Report examines declining renewable energy costs (March 13, 2019)

Report examines declining renewable energy costs

Published on March 13, 2019 by Douglas Clark, Daily Energy Insider

The 2019 Minnesota State Energy Factsheet maintains renewable energy cost declines have cleared the way for the industry to deliver the lowest electricity cost options in the state.

Officials said the Minnesota State Energy Factsheet is a companion to the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, which is compiled by research firm BloombergNEF for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE).

“Sustainable energy’s contributions to Minnesota are expanding and delivering increased jobs and economic benefits to communities, businesses and manufacturers in the state,” Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said. “We examine sustainable energy trends across the country – and Minnesota is a clear leader. We look forward to seeing businesses and policymakers in the state build on these encouraging trends.”

The Factsheet notes the cost of wind and solar in Minnesota declined 16 percent and 23 percent, respectively over the past year – adding as an example cost of wind equals to $38/MWh unsubsidized compared to last year when Minnesota wind levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) came in at $45/MWh unsubsidized. With subsidies, Minnesota wind is now $26/MWh.

The report maintains renewable generation jumped 37 percent from 2013 to 2018 reaching an estimated 15TWh, or 25 percent of the state’s total electricity generation mix, making it the second largest source of electricity in Minnesota for the second year in a row.

“The biggest takeaway from this report is that Minnesota has a ton of momentum to make big leaps forward in transforming its energy system,” Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, said. “The rapid cost declines of renewables can’t be overstated because each year these technologies become cheaper. Clean energy is a smart choice for businesses across the state and country.” 

 

Cost of adding new wind, solar energy continues to fall in Minnesota, report says (March 11, 2019)

Cost of adding new wind, solar energy continues to fall in Minnesota, report says

Minnesota has "some of the best wind resources in the U.S.," new report says. 

By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
March 11, 2019

The cost of deploying wind and solar energy continued to decline significantly in Minnesota last year, and wind — even without federal tax subsidies — may be the state's cheapest source of new electricity.

Those conclusions were included in a report released Monday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which annually surveys the U.S. power generation sector for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, an industry-led group.

The cost of new wind and solar power facilities in Minnesota fell by 16 percent and 23 percent respectively in 2018 over the previous year, the report found.

"We are clearly seeing that these forms of generation are economically competitive," said Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, an industry-led nonprofit that contributed to the Bloomberg report's Minnesota research.

The "levelized cost" of new, unsubsidized wind energy came in at $38 per megawatt hour (MWh), which takes into account the cost to build a power plant and its total power output, according to the Bloomberg analysis. Bloomberg didn't have a state-by-state breakout of the levelized cost of natural gas. But wind in Minnesota is particularly cheap.

"Minnesota has access to some of the best wind resources in the U.S.," the Bloomberg report said. "As a result … new wind build in the state is likely already at parity with new combined-cycle natural gas plants even without incentives."

With the tax subsidies, wind cost $26 per MWh, making it the cheapest bet for new power in Minnesota. The 30 percent U.S. tax credit on wind-energy production is phasing out over the next few years.

New solar-energy projects in Minnesota are competitive with new gas-fired plants when they are subsidized, coming in at $39 per MWh, the Bloomberg report said. But without the 30 percent investment tax credit for new projects, solar appears more expensive than new gas-fired power in Minnesota.

Twenty-five percent of the electricity generated in Minnesota last year was from renewable sources, primarily wind. Coal, nuclear and natural gas respectively provided 36 percent, 23 percent and 15 percent of Minnesota's electricity in 2018, the report said, citing federal energy data.

Coal's share fell in 2018 after being at 39 percent of generation during each of the previous two years. Renewable energy's share dropped one percentage point in 2018 from an all-time high the previous year, because of an 8 percent drop in hydro power production and a 7 percent decline in biomass generation.

Biomass fell after the closure last year of a plant in Benson, Minn., which burned turkey manure to produce electricity. Xcel Energy bought and closed the plant after convincing state legislators that biomass plants are much more expensive than wind power.

When looking at shares of power generation, the Bloomberg report looks at in-state electricity production only. Minnesota has below average in-state power generation as it imports some electricity, mostly from coal-fired plants in North Dakota.

New Minnesota Factsheet reveals dramatic cost declines for renewable energy (March 11, 2019)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Date: March 11, 2019
CEEM Contact: Amelia Cerling Hennes
ahennes@cleanenergyeconomymn.org | 507.251.5140
BCSE Contact: Laura Tierney
ltierney@bcse.org | 202.785.0507

New Factsheet reveals dramatic cost declines for renewable energy
Cleaner generation sources bring Minnesota’s carbon emissions down 34% since 2005

ST. PAUL, MINN. – The rapid cost declines for renewable energy have enabled the industry to deliver the lowest cost electricity options in Minnesota according to the 2019 Minnesota State Energy Factsheet, released today. The findings, which show that renewables are the second largest source of electricity generation in Minnesota for the second year in a row, come at a time when state legislators and Governor Tim Walz are proposing to transition the state’s electricity generation to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

The Minnesota State Energy Factsheet is a companion to the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, compiled by research firm BloombergNEF for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE). The Factbook outlines key trends influencing national and state investment and economics, energy supply, and energy demand. As the American energy sector continues its transformation to cleaner, cheaper sustainable energy, Minnesota remains a leader. Highlights from this year’s Minnesota Factsheet include:

  • The cost of wind and solar in Minnesota declined 16 percent and 23 percent respectively over the past year. For example: cost of wind = $38/MWh unsubsidized compared to last year when Minnesota wind levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) came in at $45/MWh unsubsidized. With subsidies Minnesota wind is now $26/MWh.
  • Renewable generation jumped 37% from 2013 to 2018 reaching an estimated 15TWh, or 25 percent of the state’s total electricity generation mix, making it the second largest source of electricity in Minnesota for the second year in a row.
  • Wind alone produced 18% of total Minnesota power in 2018.
  • Minnesota now has 508MW of community solar online, the most of any state in the nation. Over 100 community solar gardens were added in the state in 2018.
  • Natural gas generation was 15.3 percent of the Minnesota electricity mix, at 8.8TWh, in 2018.
  • The total average monthly electricity bill for Minnesota households was $97.58 in 2017 (the last year for which data is available); this is 13% below the national average.
  • Minnesota-based corporations are stepping up efforts to procure renewable energy. 3M Co., Cargill Inc., Ecolab Inc., Target Corp., and General Mills have all signed agreements to power their operations with either wind or solar.
  • Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, which operates utilities in eight states, announced it would deliver 100% carbon-free power to all of its customers by 2050, and reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2030, from 2005 levels.
  • Minnesota is well-positioned to take advantage of rapidly declining battery storage costs (across the U.S. prices for lithium ion batteries fell 18% last year). The state’s first large scale solar plus storage project came online in 2018.
  • The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Minnesota 8th out of all 50 states, the highest ranking in the Midwest, for its overall energy efficiency programs (up from a rank of 9th last year).

Industry leaders are seeing these trends play out in Minnesota:

"The dramatically changing clean energy landscape means our business has to stay alert to changing prices, technologies and attitudes. As the costs for wind, solar, and energy storage all continue to fall year-over-year, that means new opportunities for our business, which in turn creates new jobs. Werner Electric is thrilled with the direction clean energy is headed in Minnesota.” said Ryan Butterfield, Director of Energy Services & Solutions at Werner Electric.

“The biggest takeaway from this report is that Minnesota has a ton of momentum to make big leaps forward in transforming its energy system. The rapid cost declines of renewables can’t be overstated because each year these technologies become cheaper. Clean energy is a smart choice for businesses across the state and country,” said CEEM Executive Director Gregg Mast. “I’m proud of the policy leadership happening at the state level, and I hope to see the passage of ambitious policies this legislative session that will lead to even more growth for innovative clean energy solutions.”

“Sustainable energy’s contributions to Minnesota are expanding and delivering increased jobs and economic benefits to communities, businesses and manufacturers in the state,” said Lisa Jacobson, President of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. “We examine sustainable energy trends across the country – and Minnesota is a clear leader. We look forward to seeing businesses and policymakers in the state build on these encouraging trends.”  

The 2019 Factbook is provided in a PDF format (totaling over 100 slides) and is intended to serve as a reference guide of energy statistics throughout the year. The Minnesota Factsheet is a shorter companion resource that can be used as a quick guide. Please see www.bcse.org/factbook for both publications.

###

About Clean Energy Economy Minnesota (CEEM): CEEM is an industry-led, non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening Minnesota’s clean energy business ecosystem. CEEM provides a unified voice for clean energy business across the state. Our mission is to provide educational leadership, collaboration, and policy analysis that accelerates clean energy market growth and smart energy policies.

About the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE): BCSE is a trade association representing the energy efficiency, natural gas, and renewable energy sectors. It advocates for policies at the state, federal, and international level that promote the deployment of the full portfolio of commercially available clean energy products, technologies and services.

2019 BCSE Summer Fellowship – Accepting Applications Now! (March 7, 2019)

The 2019 Jan Schori Summer Fellowship Program

About the Council

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) is a coalition of companies and trade associations from the energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy sectors, and includes independent electric power producers, investor-owned utilities, public power, commercial end-users and environmental market service providers.  Founded in 1992, the Council advocates for policies at state, national and international levels that increases the use of commercially-available clean energy technologies, products and services.  The coalition's diverse business membership is united around the revitalization of our economy and creation of a secure and sustainable energy future for America.

About the Jan Schori Summer Fellowship

The BCSE seeks one fellow to assist with policy research, legislative analysis, membership coordination, communications, and general office management.  Qualified candidates should have interest in the energy and environment fields and/or legislative experience. Responsibilities related to communications include press outreach, website maintenance and social media. 

Jan Schori Summer Fellows work alongside the BCSE’s fulltime staff in the Council’s downtown Washington, DC offices.  The Fellowship runs approximately from the beginning of June to mid-August, depending on fellows’ academic schedules and on-going congressional activity.  The position is unpaid, though a stipend is available for qualified candidates.

Following their work with the BCSE, previous Jan Schori fellows have gone to work for the Office of Management and Budget, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Maryland State Energy Administration, the Texas Legislature, and various clean energy businesses and business organizations.

The Fellowship was established in 2008 to honor upon her retirement Jan Schori, former BCSE Board Chair and general manager and chief executive officer of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).  Ms. Schori is currently of Counsel at Downy Brand in Sacramento, CA, and serves as an independent trustee on the North American Electric Reliability Council Board of Trustees and as a Board Member on the Climate Action Reserve.

Issue Areas 

Energy and environmental policy, greenhouse gas emissions management, domestic and international clean energy market development, politics.

Application Process

Please send a cover letter and résumé to Carolyn Sloan (csloan@bcse.org). The deadline for applications is March 20, 2019. Interviews for selected candidates will begin shortly thereafter and decisions made within a few weeks.

BCSE President Lisa Jacobson Testifies Before Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (March 5, 2019)

On March 5, BCSE President Lisa Jacobson was invited to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (SENR) at a Hearing to Examine the Electricity Sector in a Changing Climate.

In the first climate change-related hearing held by the Committee since 2012, and the first hearing under the leadership of new Ranking Member Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Lisa presented the Council’s view on the rapidly changing energy landscape in America and showcased the findings of the 2019 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.  Committee Chairman Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) closed the hearing with a pledge to continue to foster a bipartisan dialogue around climate change that is focused on the technology solutions of today and tomorrow, and that the SENR Committee will be “leading and leaning in” on this discussion.

In her exchange with Senators on the Committee, Ms. Jacobson highlighted:

On research, development and deployment:  The importance of the continued appropriation of federal funds to support research, development and deployment through various offices of the Department of Energy, including the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Office of Fossil Fuels, Office of Electricity and the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E).

On complementary energy policies: The need for federal policies to align with actions already underway at the state and local levels and by the private sector; and to align policies with private sector investment cycles.  Other potential policy areas of relevance to deployment of clean energy include improvements to electric and natural gas infrastructure, grid modernization, cyber security, promotion of the use of building codes and standards and streamlining of siting and permitting processes. Lisa also highlighted the value and cost-effectiveness of utilization of energy savings performance contracts in public buildings.

On climate policy:  Ms. Jacobson remarked on the potential of market-based mechanisms to address greenhouse gas emissions. For additional detail please see the Council’s Climate Change Policy Principles.

On tax policy: It has been an important driver that directs investment in clean energy. In the short-term a need to restore expired tax credits for energy efficiency and the non-wind Production Tax Credit technologies (hydropower, waste to energy, biomass, biogas and geothermal). In response to Senator Wyden (D-OR)’s mention of his proposed tax legislation, Clean Energy for America Act, BCSE welcomed the opportunity to comment on this proposal.

The witness panel, included the following experts:

  • The Honorable Joseph T. Kelliher, Executive Vice President, Federal Regulatory Affairs, NextEra Energy (see testimony)
  • Kenneth Medlock, James A. Baker, III and Susan G. Baker Fellow in Energy Research and Economics, Senior Director, Center for Energy Studies, Rice University (see testimony)
  • Ethan Schutt, Chief of Staff, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (see testimony)
  • Susan F. Tierney, Senior Advisor, Analysis Group, Inc. (see testimony)

Additional Resources:

Upton County acreage tabbed for major solar power project (March 7, 2019)

Upton County acreage tabbed for major solar power project

Enel Green Energy's Roadrunner project will create 500 construction jobs, $60 million in property taxes

By Mella McEwen, Midland Reporter Telegram
Thursday, March 7, 2019

Companies being drawn to West Texas by its abundance of energy see more than crude and natural gas.

Enel Green Energy, the Italian company, sees an abundance of renewable energy to harness. And it is already doing so with its 63-megawatt Snyder wind farm in Scurry County and the High Lonesome wind farm under construction in Upton and Crockett counties, the world's largest wind farm.

Now Enel Green Power is beginning construction on its Roadrunner solar project, a 497- megawatt project that is not only the largest solar farm in Texas but the company's largest solar project in North America.

Company executives said via email that wind and sun are some of the most abundant sources of energy in the world, "and Texas has plenty of both. This natural advantage, along with the call for increased energy storage, positions the state to lead renewable energy procurement. Through these projects we are supporting the diversification of energy production in the state and decreasing reliability on one source."

They point to a recent Business Council for Sustainable Energy report that total renewable energy capacity has doubled within the past decade, with wind and solar representing nearly all new additions.

"Solar, wind, and other renewable energy resources have helped diversify the state's energy supply, helping to increase resiliency and maintain lower energy prices. Enel first entered Texas in 2008 with the 63 megawatt Snyder wind farm, located in Scurry County. Since then we saw an opportunity to go back to Texas to diversify our market presence with the High Lonesome wind farm, and now we are excited to begin construction on the Roadrunner solar project. Together, the three projects have resulted in 1 gigawatt of renewables growth in Texas – that's enough power to light 100 million LED bulbs," the executives said.

The Roadrunner project is expected to create more than 500 construction jobs in the Upton County area, and Enel Green Power officials look to fill as many of those positions as possible with the skilled workforce already in place. More importantly, they said the project is expected to contribute more than $60 million in property taxes over the next 30 years.

The project will come online in two phases. The first phase of construction is expected to be complete by the end of this year and the second phase in operation by the end of 2020. When both phases are complete, Roadrunner will span 2,770 acres and be comprised of 1.3 million solar panels that will generate 497 megawatts

When Roadrunner is fully operational by the end of 2020, it will generate approximately 1.2 terawatt hours annually.

Officials said they are taking steps to ensure the reliability of the project.

"We consider potential weather impacts in our plant design and equipment selection. Recognizing the prevalence of wind and thunderstorms in West Texas, we have selected a solar panel tracking system that utilizes passive wind management technologies, which means that the system will automatically move to a wind-resistant position without power, computers or human intervention. When wind events stop, the system will then automatically reset and continue to operate normally. We also included stronger structural designs on the outer edge of the solar array, which experiences the greatest wind forces. This helps protect the trackers around the outer edge as well as those deeper inside the solar field.

"We utilize industry-leading technologies such as visual data analytics, drones, machine learning and edge computing to detect potential weather-related problems and solve them proactively. Combining all of these design features, technology and maintenance practices results in a very reliable system that is resilient to wind and storms," they said

Federal Climate Policy Needs a Digital Reboot

The heightened discussion on climate change and emerging rollout of solutions from both political parties have one thing in common: They are all stuck in the analog world.

Data production will be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009, which is the last time Congress seriously debated climate policy. So far, proposals such as a revenue-neutral carbon price, increased public spending and the Green New Deal are all missing the chance to put data to work to transform the climate debate into a market and investment opportunity.

The platform economy is just getting started, and it is already roaring. In 2018, online marketplaces created 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every 24 hours. That equates to more than 5.5 million Uber rides a day, or 3 million Google searches per minute.

Dominant technological, industrial and financial forces are racing to revolutionize business models and reinvent every aspect of how our global economy works based on the power of networked data. This market reality needs to be better understood by policymakers, and it must be reflected in climate policy going forward.

Chances are you haven’t heard of the OPEN Government Data Act, a bipartisan bill signed into law as part of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act. It builds on the Federal Data Strategy requiring federal agencies to institute and oversee best practices for the use, protection, dissemination and generation of data — including disclosure of all non-sensitive government data in open and machine-readable default formats.

A robust transition to a low-carbon economy — regardless of policy — will inevitably involve a shift in how wholesale and retail markets differentiate, value and price assets and commodities based on their lifecycle environmental impacts. That shift will necessarily involve advanced data use and management.

Data empowers transparency. Transparency empowers innovation. And data could lead to more evidence-based, market-driven policy approaches.

New methods of sourcing, refining and optimizing data are already transforming the energy sector, from electricity, buildings and transportation to industry supply chains. Emerging data analytics, machine learning, and blockchain-based tools are converting machine-readable data from a byproduct of economic activity into a transactable asset in its own right.

Going forward, transactive energy and environmental data, guaranteed by digital “smart contracts,” will enable immediate, measurable and transactive consumer value.  Products, commodities and services will naturally command market premiums by delivering resiliency, sustainability and reduced consumer exposure to energy and environmental risks.

This is not pie-in-the-sky thinking. As we at the Energy Consumer Market Alignment Project highlighted in our New Policy for an Era of Energy Digitalization reports, pioneering companies are already harnessing digital technologies to turn their data streams from all levels of energy production, distribution and use into valuable climate and sustainability solutions. Applications include leveraging transportation data to customize local alternative fuel infrastructure, crowdfunding clean energy and using blockchain to better control demand and track energy flows.  

What can policymakers do to leverage such innovations in the climate policy debate? First, we need consistent data governance standards and frameworks at the federal and state levels, in order to facilitate and reward market-driven behavior. The OPEN Government Data Act and President Donald Trump’s recent executive order promoting leadership in artificial intelligence are steps in the right direction.

Next, we need policies that accelerate the digital technologies necessary to empower consumers to drive markets for energy products and services that meet their needs. Electricity market reform, transportation finance and the illumination of industrial supply chains will all be critical, because many federal and state energy policies and mandates drafted in previous decades are (often unintentionally) creating barriers to their adoption.

Finally, governments themselves need to leverage energy and environmental data to streamline measurement, reporting and verification processes to improve regulatory outcomes. Regulators should not require analog reporting, legal documents and transactions merely because underlying rules were written in an analog era.

Congress, agencies, regional transmission organizations/independent system operators, state utility regulators and others will be needed to scale to a digital energy future. There’s no reason why these initiatives can’t serve as opportunities for real bipartisan policy breakthroughs.

Data is already emerging as the lifeblood of private-sector efforts to address and manage business-related climate risks. The digital economy could very well be the disruptive key to bringing about bipartisan climate policy solutions, as well.

If we care about addressing climate change while staying secure and competitive, it’s clear that the status quo in Washington is not the answer. We need to disrupt the climate policy machine in Washington and harness the power of data to enable investment and market-driven answers to today’s biggest environmental challenges. We need a climate proposal that seizes on the essential paradigm shift of the 21st century: digital transformation.

About the Author: Tom Hassenboehler is the founder and executive director of the Energy Consumer Market Alignment Project and a partner at COEFFICIENT, and he most recently served as the chief counsel for energy and environment at the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce under Chairmen Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

Note: This op-ed was originally published in Morning Consult on March 4, 2019 and is republished here with the author's permission.

Tax incentives, R&D needed to encourage power sector emissions reductions, panel says (March 6, 2019)

Tax incentives, R&D needed to encourage power sector emissions reductions, panel says

Published on March 06, 2019 by Joanna Marsh, Daily Energy Insider

Tax incentives and continued support for research and development are two ways that Congress and the federal government can address climate change and further reduce emissions from the power sector, industry leaders told the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.

 “Having a forward-looking policy that hopefully is long-term enough…and allows all technologies to participate is key,” said Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, at the committee hearing that examined the electricity sector in a changing climate. 

The policy has to be in line with market trends and the private sector’s investment cycle, Jacobson said.

Senate committee members sought testimony from power sector leaders because of the electricity sector’s ability to reduce CO2emissions over the last decade. Burgeoning domestic production of natural gas and shale gas in recent years pulled natural gas prices lower, making it more economical for utilities to switch to gas-fired generation from coal-fired generation. Significantly lower production costs for solar and wind also made renewable energy more affordable for utilities.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the committee, said that amid an expansion in renewables and a changing mix of baseload power, “Our committee will focus on maintaining grid reliability and resiliency. We will prioritize keeping energy affordable. And we will also be working to advance cleaner energy technologies that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “

Senators used Tuesday’s hearing to define what additional measures need to be taken at the federal level to enable the power sector to reduce emissions even further. 

“I believe the focus must be on the path towards innovative power generation, technologies that will keep the lights on and our economies humming, and achieving the emissions reductions we so desperately need,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the committee’s ranking member.

Although market factors served as the primary impetus in driving the power sector’s feedstock decisions, federal and state policies aimed at reducing CO2emissions and greenhouse gases also contributed, hearing witnesses said. 

“The evidence strongly suggests that the primary factor driving retirements [of coal-fired generation] has been market fundamentals, not regulatory policy, and there is no evidence to suggest the retirement of uneconomic generation poses a threat to electric reliability,” said hearing witness Joseph Kelliher, executive vice president of federal regulatory affairs at NextEra Energy, in written testimony.

Nonetheless, the federal government can address emissions reductions through crafting tax policies that incentivize businesses towards energy efficiency and reducing emissions, witnesses said. Another avenue is to establish tax incentives to develop and utilize innovations in battery storage so that utilities can generate electricity from wind and solar sources during times of peak use. 

“The tax code is one of the most important drivers that the federal government has to direct investment,” Jacobson said.

Other ways that the federal government can encourage emissions reductions is through developing building codes and standards that emphasize energy efficiency, working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure that their actions align with climate change initiatives, and reconsidering market-oriented policies such as cap-and-trade, which provide incentives for businesses to lower emissions via a marketplace trading scheme. Establishing voluntary load reduction programs and increasing grid interconnectivity are other avenues, witnesses said.

In addition to tax incentives, hearing witnesses stressed continued federal support for research and development, which they said would benefit the United States both domestically and internationally. Support for R&D initiatives can help utilities modernize their older units, while giving the U.S. leverage when working with countries such as China and India, both of which are using fossil fuel energy sources such as coal to ramp up their power output and meet surging demand.

Coal-fired capacity in the United States is aging, which is serendipitous for natural gas and renewables, said Kenneth Medlock, senior director for the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University. As such, “generators and utilities have a choice: they can retire and replace, or they can upgrade and retrofit. And economically, that’s a really easy decision to make right now,” he said.

Meanwhile, the United States can encourage China and India to reduce their emissions through ensuring that research and development initiatives are also economically attractive, Medlock said.

Business Council for Sustainable Energy Backs Bill Extending Tax Credits (March 6, 2019)

Business Council for Sustainable Energy backs bill extending tax credits

By Dave Kovaleski, Daily Energy Insider
Published March 06, 2019

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) supports a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate that would extend a broad package of expired 2017 and 2018 tax credits through Dec. 31, 2019.

The bill was introduced this week by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Finance Committee Chairman, and Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member.

“BCSE commends Senators Grassley and Wyden on the introduction of this bipartisan piece of legislation to extend tax measures and we would like to see the legislation enacted quickly,” BSCE President Lisa Jacobson said. “To this end, the Council’s signed on to a letter from a coalition of trade organizations in support of a broad package of tax extenders.”

Jacobson said it is essential to enact the energy tax extenders for energy efficiency as well as the non-wind Production Tax Credit technologies, which relates to hydropower, waste to energy, biomass, biogas, and geothermal.

“This is needed to provide a more even competitive environment for investment in these sectors. BCSE looks forward to working with Congress on this legislation and other energy tax measures to benefit our nation’s energy infrastructure, and to continue U.S. leadership in the development and deployment of advanced energy technologies,” Jacobson added.