Tag Archives: Environmental Issues

A Trifecta for Solar Energy and Distributed Generation

We all have good weeks and bad weeks. For proponents of Solar Energy (and all other inhabitants of our planet) this has been an historic week, with major achievements at the International, National and California-state levels. Setbacks will be inevitable, but the events of this week will have memorable and lasting impact.

The first and International achievement was the December 12 Agreement of 188 countries at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris to take measureable actions with the eventual goal of keeping global temperature rise to less than 2ᵒ Celsius (3.6ᵒ Fahrenheit) by 2050 compared with pre-industrial levels. As we have repeatedly been informed, this is the level estimated by numerous scientists to avoid the worst affects of atmospheric warming and ocean rise.

Though yet to be ratified (a process that starts in April 2016), the agreement commits those countries that do ratify the agreement to establish national emission targets and report on progress every 5 years. While the agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century, lowering the target would (according to some scientists) move this goal forward to the 2030 – 2050 timeframe. Either way, implementation of this agreement puts pressure on countries to support low- and non-carbon energy sources, solar very much included, accelerating their deployment and continued improvements.

The second and national achievement has not been enacted as this is written, but is the tentative agreement by Republican and Democratic House party leaders incorporated into the Appropriations bill that would extend tax credits for solar and wind projects from the current end-2016 expiration date through 2021. The agreement was the result of a compromise where-in Democratic Representatives would support eliminating the ban on US oil exports in exchange for Republican support for the Tax Credit extension.

While the vote can still go awry, a senior analyst at GTM Research (who closely follows the Solar market and industry) commented “the extension to the federal ITC is without question a game-changer for U.S. solar’s growth trajectory. Between now and 2020, the U.S. solar market is poised to see a number of new geographies open up with a 30% ITC, within both distributed and utility-scale solar.”

Finally, the third and California state achievement was the December 15 proposed ruling by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to leave in place most of the charges and fees now in place between the state’s major investor-owned utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric) and customers who have installed residential and commercial PV systems. Though yet to be finalized (in January 2016), the proposed ruling leaves in place most of the terms that allow customers with PV systems to recoup their investments in a timely manner thereby increasing the desirability of these systems.

Challenges to PV-favorable net metering terms and (lack of) other fees have been raised in many states, and regulator decisions have been mixed. The proposed CPUC ruling is perhaps the strongest pushback by any state regulator to utility claims of the high costs distributed PV systems impose on other (non-PV owning) rate payers. While new costs are proposed, and some uncertainty is introduced by requiring PV-system owners to be placed on Time-of-Use rates (with unknown impact on their bills), the proposed ruling is seen as leaving the business environment favorable for continued expansion of distributed generation.

For now the sun shines on distributed generation and the growth of solar-sourced clean energy. Let us hope that all three events help realize solar’s potential contribution to our future energy mix for the sake of maintaining our habitable planet.

San Diego Vows to Move Entirely to Renewable Energy in 20 Years

By Matt Richtel, The New York Times

Last weekend, representatives of 195 countries reached a landmark accord in Paris to lower planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. On Tuesday, local leaders in San Diego committed to making a city-size dent in the problem. With a unanimous City Council vote, San Diego, the country’s eighth-largest city, became the largest American municipality to transition to using 100 percent renewable energy, including wind and solar power.

In the wake of the Paris accord, environmental groups hailed the move as both substantive and symbolic. Other big cities, including New York and San Francisco, have said they intend to use more renewable energy, but San Diego is the first of them to make the pledge legally binding. Under the ordinance, it has committed to completing its transition and cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035.

The steps to get there may include transferring some control of power management to the city from the local utility. Officials said they would also shift half of the city’s fleet to electric vehicles by 2020 and recycle 98 percent of the methane produced by sewage and water treatment plants. Many details have yet to be determined, including how the new power sources will be delivered and managed.

Under the Paris accord, nations offered general, nonbinding plans to reduce their carbon emissions. Officials in the United States envision reaching the nation’s goals mainly through higher fuel-economy standards for cars and a move to cleaner sources of electrical power, something states could help oversee. This is where the actions of a city like San Diego fit in. As the city moves to renewable energy, the State of California can begin to build its bank of carbon reductions and contribute to global goals.

Read full article in the New York Times

At Paris climate talks, nations will look to California

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

California has long led the world in tackling climate change. Now, Golden State leaders hope the rest of the world will follow their lead.

Negotiators from more than 190 countries will gather in Paris two weeks from Monday, in a last-ditch effort to strike a deal that averts catastrophic levels of global warming. Gov. Jerry Brown plans to lead a delegation of eight lawmakers, and they’ll be joined by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, and many other environmental advocates who want to see world leaders draw inspiration from California.

California isn’t a country, but for the purposes of Paris it might as well be. It’s the world’s eighth-largest economy, and the federal government often adopts the state’s ambitious environmental policies. Brown’s administration has worked with national and regional governments in Canada, Mexico, China and elsewhere on programs to slash carbon emissions. The governor has made it clear he wants California to play a prominent role in Paris. “The real source of climate action has to come from states and provinces,” Brown said earlier this year at a climate summit in Toronto. “This is a call to arms. We’re going to build up such a drumbeat that our national counterparts — they’re going to listen.”

When Brown and others arrive in Paris, they’ll have quite a story to tell. California now gets a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, a figure expected to double by 2030. Californians use the same amount of energy today as they did in the 1970s, even as per-person energy use has spiked across most of the country. Policies to discourage gasoline consumption have led to cleaner fuels and helped put more than 150,000 electric vehicles on the road, a number that is growing quickly.

While California’s climate efforts are by no means perfect, world leaders can learn a lot from the state’s multi-pronged approach to global warming, policy and legal experts say. The key lesson, they say, is that the state has acted on climate without inflicting economic disaster. The state has outpaced the rest of the country in job growth and GDP growth since the height of the Great Recession, even as carbon pollution has fallen.

The Desert Sun interviewed nearly a dozen lawmakers, academics, activists and researchers about what California is doing to address climate change. Here’s a primer on what they think the nations of the world should — and shouldn’t — learn from the Golden State…[Read More]

Read full article in the Desert Sun

Interior Department, State of California Announce Innovative Strategy for Renewable Energy and Conservation on Public Lands in California Desert

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird today announced the final environmental review of an innovative landscape-scale blueprint to support renewable energy development and conservation on 10 million acres of federal public lands, managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the California desert. The release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Phase I of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) is a major step forward, and a key part of the collaborative effort to streamline renewable energy while conserving unique and valuable desert ecosystems and promoting outdoor recreation opportunities.

The blueprint is part of a larger, comprehensive effort with California, covering 22 million acres in the state’s desert region. Collectively, these lands contain the potential to generate up to 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy development, while meeting federal and state renewable energy and climate change goals through 2040.

Phase I of the DRECP, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, designates Development Focus Areas with high-quality solar, wind and geothermal energy potential, access to transmission and would allow impacts to be managed and mitigated. Applications will benefit from a streamlined permitting process with predictable survey requirements and simplified mitigation measures, and Interior is considering additional financial incentives through an ongoing rulemaking process. The first phase also identifies National Conservation Lands, and designates Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, wildlife allocations and National Scenic and Historic Trail management corridors. These lands would be closed to renewable energy and benefit from adaptive management in the face of climate change.

Read full press release from the U.S. Interior Department and the State of California

 

Ivanpah plant faced emissions deadline

By David Danelski, The Press-Enterprise

The operators of a Mojave Desert solar power plant at the center of the Obama administration’s push to reduce carbon emissions faced an unusual task this week. They had to prove to state air quality officials that they were complying with California’s cap-to-trade program to get carbon polluters to reduce their emissions.

The Ivanpah solar plant in San Bernardino County makes electricity by focusing heat from thousands of mirrors onto water boilers mounted on top of three towers. Steam from the water then turns turbines that generate power. But the plant also needs to burn significant amounts of carbon-emitting natural gas to operate and thus is required to be in the state’s cap-and-trade program.

This week, Ivanpah and the state’s other carbon emitting power plants had to meet a Nov. 4 deadline to demonstrate how they had complied with the state’s cap and trade program this year and last, said Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, which oversees the cap-and-trade program. The power plants needed to show that they had reduced their carbon emissions by 10 percent or prove they had complied by buying pollution credits from other firms that had cut their own carbon emissions by more than 10 percent, Clegern said.

It is not clear exactly how the Ivanpah plant complied with cap and trade rules. The paperwork that plant operators submitted to the state is considered confidential, Clegern said. David Knox, a spokesman for NRG Energy, which operates the plant, said in an email that “Ivanpah complied through California carbon allowances and approved greenhouse gas offsets.”

Read full article in the Press-Enterprise

Related article: Desert plant has pollution problem – Oct. 16, 2015

Could Solar Energy Be California’s Next Cash Crop?

By Christina Nunez, National Geographic

Several years ago, Nick Rajkovich bought 1,200 acres in California’s Fresno County, planning to grow almonds for his family’s farming business. The ranch had a steady supply of water at the time. But that changed with the state’s latest, relentless drought: Federal water deliveries over the past three years dwindled to zero. “Now the almonds are dead,” Rajkovich says; and with the land bone dry and no relief in sight, “The only thing we can farm is the sun. That’s why solar is the obvious choice for us.”

Rajkovich is one of many farmers in the Central Valley and elsewhere who are turning land over to solar developers, planting photovoltaic panels instead of crops. California’s punishing drought is sparking fierce debates over water allotments for agriculture, and more than 500,000 acres will lie fallow this year. At the same time, the state is fighting climate change more aggressively than ever with a new law requiring half of all electricity to come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2030.

All of that clean energy needs real estate, and farmers have land available. Now, almost a third of California’s big solar facilities—those capable of generating one megawatt or more—stand on croplands or pastures, according to new research.

Read full article from National Geographic

Desert plant has pollution problem

By David Danelski, The Press-Enterprise

A solar power plant at the center of the Obama administration’s push to reduce America’s carbon footprint by using millions of taxpayer dollars to promote green energy has its own carbon pollution problem.

The Ivanpah plant in the Mojave Desert uses natural gas as a supplementary fuel. Data from the California Energy Commission show that the plant burned enough natural gas in 2014–its first year of operation–to emit more than 46,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nearly twice the pollution threshold for power plants or factories in California to be required to participate in the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions. The same amount of natural gas burned at a conventional power plant would have produced enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 17,000 homes–or roughly a quarter of the Ivanpah’s total electricity projection for 2014.

The plant’s operators say they are burning small amounts of natural gas in order to produce steam to jump-start the solar generating process. They said burning natural gas has always been part of the process. David Knox, a spokesman for NRG Energy, which runs the facility, said the plant still meets a state requirement that no more than 5 percent of its electricity production come from burning fossil fuel.

This rule, however, does not factor in the gas burned to heat water before enough steam is generated to produce electricity. That distinction is significant because it could affect the plant’s customers. Under state law, alternative energy plants can’t use more than 5 percent “nonrenewable” fuel for electricity generation. If a plant goes over that threshold, its electricity can’t count toward the state’s renewable energy goals.

Read full article in the Press-Enterprise

Are Solar Power Towers Doomed in California?

By Chris Clarke, Rewire

It used to be the future of solar. From the time the 10-megawatt Solar One project rose east of Barstow in 1981, renewable energy advocates imagined that California’s solar future would look a lot like Solar One, a tower with a bright white boiler on top, illuminated by sunlight reflected from more than 1,700 large mirrors arranged in concentric circles around the tower’s base.

Now, California generates more solar electricity than at any point in its history. With a new mandate that the state get half its electrical power from renewables by the end of 2030, solar’s role in California is only going to get bigger. And yet solar power tower technology seems to be languishing. Of 11,535 megawatts of solar generating capacity installed in the state by the end of last year, solar power towers account for just 397 megawatts: about three percent of the state’s solar.

Things have turned so sour for solar power tower technology that in August, the company behind the only power tower project being proposed for the state of California announced it wants to build the plant using a different technology. That means there are no new solar tower plants on the drawing board for California. How did this once-popular technology fall on such hard times? Solar generating capacity using other technologies has been burgeoning in California, with more than 4,300 megawatts worth of both photovoltaic and parabolic trough technology installed in the state in 2014 alone: more than 10 times the total amount of solar power tower capacity in California.

Read full article from Rewire

California Entering Uncharted Territory On Clean Energy

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

The Coachella Valley’s state Senator, Republican Jeff Stone, wrote a bill this year urging Congress to extend a 30 percent tax credit for solar energy. The bill sailed unanimously through the Senate, then passed the Assembly with just one dissenting vote. Stone’s resolution was largely symbolic. But its near-unanimous passage spoke volumes.

While national policymakers spin their wheels debating climate science, California is charging ahead to promote clean energy — with support from Democrats and Republicans alike. More than a quarter of the state’s electricity now comes from renewables, and last month lawmakers approved a 50 percent clean energy mandate.

Nowhere has California’s energy revolution been more visible than in the desert, which will host the SoCal Energy and Water Summit Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. But even with strong bipartisan support for clean energy, contentious political battles lie ahead. Already, the state’s clean energy policies have stirred impassioned debates about electricity costs, desert protection and the future of the utility industry.

Those arguments have pitted large-scale solar against rooftop solar, land conservation against clean energy, and utility companies against the world. Experts say California can achieve its 50 percent target, but there’s little agreement on the best way to do it. State officials will need to answer that complex policy question while navigating an increasingly thorny political landscape, knowing the rest of the world is watching to see what they decide.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

California’s desert deserves permanent protection

The Times Editorial Board, The Los Angeles Times

After more than six years of analysis, debate and draft proposals, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is close to issuing its final plan for nearly 10 million acres that it controls in the California desert, designating sections for recreation, industry, conservation and renewable energy production. If its most recent “preferred option” prevails, this will be a strong blueprint for the future, protecting the desert’s most pristine and environmentally significant land while making good use of perhaps its best natural resource — abundant sun for solar energy. But one thing has been missing in the BLM’s plan so far: a guarantee that the conserved lands will be protected permanently, as such lands have been everywhere else in the country.

Environmentalists expect the BLM’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan to set aside about a third of its acreage for conservation — 3.5 million acres of land in seven southern California counties. This portion of the acreage is home to iconic species such as the desert tortoise and bighorn sheep, and is the site of petroglyphs and other important historical and archaeological treasures. Slightly less than a tenth of the total land — close to 1 million acres — would be zoned for energy development, largely solar. A second phase of the desert plan, being developed by county and city governments for the areas over which they have jurisdiction, is expected to provide more land for energy development.

Read full editorial in the Los Angeles Times