Author Archives: Californiasolar Staff

A Rebuttal to “The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels Far Outweigh the Costs” Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, June 18, 2018, page A17

The Wall Street Journal periodically publishes perspectives of climate issues by individuals and/or institutions that disagree with the prevailing scientific consensus, but who raise issues for consideration.  The reference article was written by Messrs. Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara of the Heartland Institute; following are comments on what I believe to be half-truths and invalid reasoning in the op-ed.

The authors make six assertions to support their perspective that benefits will outweigh the costs.  Some of these assertions are factually correct, but more limited in scope than their conclusions warrant; others are open to question; and other significant social costs are simply omitted as they are neither raised nor addressed.  In all, the authors attempt to make their case through selectively picking topics and making unsubstantiated inferences.  Let’s consider these assertions individually.  I hope Judge Alsup to whom these were submitted sees through some of the artifice.

1. Fossil fuels have indeed lifted billions of people out of poverty and improved health (in many ways). I’m delighted they start with the quote from Vaclav Smil who is dense to read, but very astute and extremely well reasoned. Matter of fact, Dr. Smil is quite clear in recognizing the need to transition fuels.  I’ve just been reading his 2017 book “Energy Transitions” in which he says right up front (Introduction, page x), “Modern civilization could not have arisen without the massive combustion of fossil fuels” (note, rather similar to the 2003 quote in the OpEd, yet Dr. Smil continues), “but that very dependence has been the source of rising atmospheric CO2, and the leading cause of anthropogenic global warming.  That is why the principal concern of the unfolding energy transition is with decarbonization, displacement of fossil fuel combustion by increasing reliance on carbon-free flows of renewable energy.”  (Italics in original.)  Extolling the historic benefits of fossil fuels does not allow us to ignore the need to mitigate the problems it has created. This first assertion is irrelevant to our current problem and incomplete as a summary of its author’s thinking.

2  The second assertion is that “alternative energy sources environmental activists favor are generally more expensive.” This is supported by a study conducted by Stacey and Taylor. A couple problems here.  First, interesting that most of the investment in new powerplants by energy providers in recent years has been in alternative (primarily wind and solar) sources.    Let’s look at the largest US Energy company based on market capitalization, NextEra Energy.  “We continue to be the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun,”   “In 2016 we achieved our lowest ever emissions rates of SO2, NO2 and CO2—rates that were 94%, 74% and 53% lower, respectively, than the average U.S. utility sector”   (http://www.nexteraenergy.com/sustainability/environment.html ).      OK, let’s try the second largest, Duke Energy.  Duke Energy’s renewable energy portfolio grew almost 20 percent in 2017, according to new report the company added more than 1,000 megawatts of wind, solar and biomass; almost 40 percent of the company’s electricity produces no greenhouse gas emissions.”  (Press release dated April 30, 2018, at https://news.duke-energy.com/releases/duke-energy-s-renewable-energy-portfolio-grew-almost-20-percent-in-2017-according-to-new-report?  ) Hmm, let’s try number 3, Southern Company,Wind power is a commercially proven, rapidly growing form of generation that provides clean, renewable and cost-effective electricity.”  (https://www.southerncompany.com/our-companies/southern-power.html )  Darn, these “environmental activists” sure are showing up in unexpected places—who would have thought they’d be setting the policy at the country’s leading power companies.

OK, let’s forget that the corporations whose future is based on carefully choosing cost-effective investments are investing heavily in renewables, Stacey (sic, I believe it’s actually Stacy) and Taylor say alternative energy is more expensive.  Their 2015 study does make this claim for new wind resources versus existing nuclear and coal facilities.  But wait, isn’t comparing an existing facility to a new-built facility apples and oranges;  isn’t it like asking how much does it cost to run your existing car versus a new car (being sure to include the new car purchase price in the calculation)?  If your existing car is paid-off, it will be cheaper per mile than your new car (amortizing the new-car purchase price over miles driven) unless the new car is enormously more efficient.  Again, apples and oranges.  This second assertion is not supported by the examples above of industry investments and only by a study that compares apples and oranges.

3. The third assertion is that an increase in electricity prices (of 10%) would decrease GDP by 1.3%. Indeed, after searching through the referenced Dr. Bezdek’s study, “The Social Costs of Carbon? No, the Social Benefits of Carbon.” This conclusion (page 74) is drawn from dozens of studies spanning 30 years and many countries.

A major problem with the application of this conclusion to the current situation is that fails to account for affects that don’t appear in Dr. Bezdek’s summary of studies.  Two specific concerns.  First, the share of imported energy generating the electricity is not identified.   Rises in energy import prices are shown to reduce GDP; the more dependent a country is on imported oil, the more likely its electricity costs will rise and GDP will decline as oil prices rise.  As US electricity has been less dependent on imported oil (yes, thank you historically, coal), it’s not clear how this multinational GDP elasticity applies to the United States.   The second concern with the inferred conclusion (that “higher priced” (not proven, see #2 above) renewables will reduce GDP growth) is that it fails to account for substitution effects elsewhere in the economy.  Specifically, if the assumption of higher prices is accepted (which is not proven, but for the sake of argument), and these prices rise as a result of infrastructure investment in newly built powerplants and transmission systems, these higher prices are offset by their stimulus effect on the construction sector.  In a similar vein,  Dr. Bezdek’s conclusion does not take into account savings realized from lower carbon emissions from reduced health care costs, reduced climate/storm damage, avoided increases in food prices due to increased harvest uncertainties and moderated sea level rise.   In conclusion, this third assertion while factually correct if “all other factors are equal,” does not acknowledge the uncertainty of any price rise, nor the many savings and possible positive stimulations to other parts of the economy that arise by replacing carbon-based energy sources with renewable sources.

4. The fourth assertion appears to be the suggestion that the benefits of modernity are uniquely tied to “cheap energy from fossil fuels.”  This is historically correct, but does not obviate the need to now move toward “decarbonization” as refered to by Dr. Smil in comment #1, above.  Nor has it been shown whether energy from renewable is any “less cheap” (comment #2).

5. The fifth assertion highlights the historic beneficial impact of fossil fuel on agriculture.  Same response as in comment #4, above.

6. The sixth assertion is that mortality rates from cold weather are higher than those from warm weather, therefore “global warming” should reduce weather-related mortality.  There are indeed numerous studies that document cold weather is associated with higher mortality rates than is warm weather, and a few that show the reverse to be true.  The process of classifying cause of death and the affects of air conditioning, heating and similar measures complicate these results.  But charts from an extensive British medical Journal Lancet-reported study (2015) copied in a post at https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/1/17/16851398/cold-snap-heat-wave-deaths-human-health and other studies cited show steeper rises in mortality rates on the “hotter” side than on the “colder side.”  As a result of this asymmetry, national differences in health care and infrastructure and the classification problems, the application of current findings to a warming globe remains widely debated.  Similarly ambiguous and controversial is the authors’ inference that recent research suggests vector-borne diseases will not contribute to expanding health-related problems.  Some portions of a mosquito’s life cycle and geographic range are enhanced by increasing temperatures; some life-cycle portions are suppressed.  A lot depends on the starting point, but the widening geography of Lime Disease points toward an overall expanding risk.

When considering health-related areas of impact of global warming studies raise about seven topics of concern, of which only two (temperature impacts and vector-borne diseases) are addressed in this op-ed.  The op-ed does not address adverse air quality impacts (particulate matter, smog, ground-level ozone effects on asthma and related respiratory conditions), extreme events (infrastructure disruptions, stress), water-related illnesses (runoff contamination, damage to waste water treatment facilities), food safety and nutrition (increased food spoilage and contamination) nor mental health (stress (again) with increased incidence of interpersonal violence, and reduced ability of persons taking some mental health medications to respond to regulate body temperature).  Taken together, for its selection of sub-topics and their inconclusiveness, this sixth assertions of benefits is not supported.

Though generally citing research, the six assertions apply these findings in a manner not in accord with the original research focus or by selective inclusion and omission.  It does nothing to prove fossil fuel benefits.

Gerald Bernstein
Editor, CaliforniaSolar.org

Community choice programs are not delivering on clean energy for California

Eighteen years ago, California was faced with rolling blackouts and a major energy crisis. It may not seem like it, but another energy crisis is brewing – this one caused by cities getting in the business of buying and selling electricity.

It was a lack of oversight and poor deregulation that led to those blackouts, when bad actors such as Enron saw an opportunity to game the system, manipulate energy markets and ultimately crash power grids.

Now, government-run energy programs – also known as Community Choice Aggregation – are unraveling the centralized planning and service California needs to keep the lights on.

As the former mayor of San Diego, I can see why CCAs are attractive to some local lawmakers since they’re billed as cheaper and greener alternatives. But they aren’t delivering on their promises and it’s not a program I would have introduced to taxpayers.

For the full opinion piece, click here

What’s happening with U.S. solar after four months of panel tariffs

Here we are, four months after 30% panel tariffs were placed on imported crystalline silicon solar panels. Who are the winners, and who are the losers?

Utility-scale contractors are hurting more than those in the residential or C&I markets because their work is more price-sensitive. Cypress Creek Renewables recently said it has canceled 1.5 GW of projects because the tariffs have made them uneconomical. That’s 20% of its project pipeline, and a significant number of contracting jobs.

Although China-based JinkoSolar has started plans on a 400-MW panel assembly plant in Florida and South Korea-headquartered Hanwha Q CELLS recently said it is setting up a 1.6-GW module plant in Georgia, those projects aren’t contributing to a surge in American manufacturing today, right now.

“We’ve seen announcements, but it’s unclear to what extent capacity actually will grow,” said Dan Whitten, vice president of communications for SEIA, of manufacturing expansions. “We do know that any new manufacturing won’t begin to fill our nation’s demand for solar panels, so the increased costs of projects are real and unfortunate.”

“Ironically for a U.S. company, it’s been quite disruptive for us,” said CEO Suvi Sharma Solaria, U.S. company manufactures the majority of its panels in South Korea. “We’re writing checks to the U.S. government instead of investing in R&D. We have an aggressive technology and product roadmap. To meet that, we have had significant growth plans in R&D expenditure. Paying the tariffs has reduced money available for that. This is an unintended consequence of the tariffs. U.S. companies reducing R&D makes us less competitive in the long-term.”

So here’s a tally, four months into the tariffs:

Losers: utility-scale installers, module R&D

Neutral parties: residential installers.

For the full article with hyperlinks, click here

Energy Storage Could Be Residential Solar’s Next Growth Product

Residential solar installers are quietly starting to expand their offerings to include energy storage, which could be a much-needed revenue boost for the industry. Tesla‘s Powerwall is the best-known energy storage device, but SunrunSunPower, and Vivint Solar are entering the market as well, and they’re seeing some signs of success early in 2018.

What’s great about energy storage for solar installers is that it’s incremental revenue that leverages existing marketing and sales expenses. And it could help make solar more attractive to customers in states that have made it more difficult to justify solar economically. 

Sunrun has given the most information about how many energy storage systems it’s selling with residential solar systems in the U.S., and the early numbers are impressive. During the company’s first-quarter 2018 conference call, CEO Lynn Jurich said, “We launched Brightbox in Massachusetts less than three months ago, and already nearly 10% of the time customers we sell to directly are opting to add a battery.”  She added, “In California, over 20% of the time our direct customers are choosing to add a Brightbox. In certain markets in Southern California, this rate is now above 50%”

For the full article, click here

California is shattering renewable records. So why are greenhouse emissions creeping up?

The green beacon that is the state of California is making clean-energy strides, according to new stats out this week. It’s harnessing a record amount of solar power, building more turbines to capture wind power records, and closing in on the moment when the grid goes 100 percent carbon free.

And yet it’s also starting to generate more greenhouse gases.  WTF?

Since 2015, renewables have helped California decrease the amount of greenhouse gases its power plants released into the atmosphere. But this past February, the state’s electricity was more carbon intensive than it was in 2017, and in March it was even worse.

What’s that all about? There’s a hint in the report by CAISO. (see http://www.caiso.com/Documents/MontlyStats-Apr2018.pdfnew stats)  California had to dump about 95,000 megawatt hours of renewable power in April, because all that power would otherwise have flooded onto the grid when people didn’t need it — blowing fuses, igniting fires, and melting every computer without a surge protector. 

Transporting electricity and storing it is expensive, so the people managing the electrical system ask power companies to stop putting power on the grid, to curtail their production. It’s called “curtailment” in electric-system jargon. As the number of solar panels feeding the grid increases, so do curtailments.

 

For the full article, click here

California RA: ‘Fear and Loathing’ in Redondo Beach

California’s grid reliability will be increasingly at risk if the state doesn’t soon address its unfocused approach to resource adequacy planning, industry experts said last week.

Panelists at Infocast’s California Energy Summit criticized the policy drift leading to an increasing reliance on reliability-must-run contracts for gas-fired units. They called for a more focused effort to address Resource Adequacy (RA) needs as the state brings on a growing volume of renewable resources.

For the full article, click here

Solar farm outside Joshua Tree National Park gets go-ahead from Trump administration

The Interior Department said Thursday (May 17, 2018)  it plans to approve the Palen solar farm, which would be built on public lands just south of Joshua Tree National Park, in the open desert east of the Coachella Valley. The 3,100-acre, 500-megawatt power plant would be one of the country’s largest solar projects, generating enough renewable energy to balance out the planet-warming emissions of 17,000 average Palm Springs homes.

But Palen has been criticized by some environmentalists, who say building a large industrial facility on the doorstep of the national park could have devastating impacts to natural ecosystems. They’re especially concerned the project would interrupt a sand transport corridor that feeds the sand-dune habitat of Mojave fringe-toed lizards, desert kit foxes and other species. Native American groups have criticized the proposed solar project as well, saying it would destroy ancient tribal artifacts and sacred sites.

 

For the full article, click here

California will require solar panels on all new homes. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently voted 5-0 to add some new provisions to the state’s building code. Among them is the requirement that as of 2020, all new house and multi-family residences of three stories or fewer, along with all major renovations, must be built with solar panels.

Where solar is not suitable, homeowners must have access to a community solar project or receive efficiency upgrades that compensate. (There are some exceptions for buildings in highly shaded areas.)

Solar on most new houses! This might seem like an obviously good thing. Solar is great; solar panels are cool; California is leading the climate resistance.

But among energy nerds, the mandate has caused much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. They’ve been debating it all week on Twitter — on one hand, on the other; by now there are so many hands that I must confess to paralyzing ambivalence.

So let’s walk through some of the pros and cons and see if we can draw some kind of conclusion.

For the full opinion piece, click here

Is California risking another energy crisis with community choice programs?

Californians have more options than ever for buying energy. Rooftop solar and batteries have made it possible for homeowners and businesses to generate and store their own electricity. Community-led energy programs, which started in the Bay Area and are now rolling out in the Coachella Valley, have allowed cities to abandon their traditional electric utilities. And corporations looking for cheaper, cleaner energy are increasingly buying power directly from big solar and wind farms.

While those innovations have generally been celebrated for democratizing the energy landscape — and taking control away from monopoly utilities — the state’s top utilities regulator is worried they could have dangerous unintended consequences.

 

For the full article, click here

California Will Require Solar Power for New Homes

Long a leader and trendsetter in its clean-energy goals, California took a giant step on Wednesday, becoming the first state to require all new homes to have solar power.

The new requirement, to take effect in two years, brings solar power into the mainstream in a way it has never been until now. It will add thousands of dollars to the cost of home when a shortage of affordable housing is one of California’s most pressing issues.

That made the relative ease of its approval — in a unanimous vote by the five-member California Energy Commission before a standing-room crowd, with little debate — all the more remarkable.

Under the new requirements, builders must take one of two steps: make individual homes available with solar panels, or build a shared solar-power system serving a group of homes. In the case of rooftop panels, they can either be owned outright and rolled into the home price, or made available for lease on a monthly basis.

The requirement is expected to add $8,000 to $12,000 to the cost of a home.

For the full article, click here