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The Secret Network of Fossil Fuel & Utility Backed Groups Working to Stop Clean Energy

The economics of clean energy technology are rapidly changing and, as a result, fossil fuel and electric utility companies are increasingly concerned about the rise of cheap clean energy. 

In response, these industries have financed attacks on pro-clean energy policies across the country, specifically targeting renewable energy standards and net metering policies. 

Energy & Policy Institute's new report exposes the strategies, front groups, and people used by the fossil fuel and utility corporations to attack clean energy policies. 

Fossil fuel companies, such as Koch Industries and Peabody Energy, and electric utility companies, like American Electric Power and Duke Energy, have worked to delay the growth of clean energy competition. These companies want to continue selling as much coal, oil, and gas as possible. And, in their effort to roll back clean energy policies, they are spreading misinformation about clean energy and the energy market.

But why are these special interests trying so desperately to weaken renewable energy policy? Because the economics of clean technology are rapidly changing the electricity market. Cheap clean energy is transforming the electricity market at a pace similar to the rise of the automobile or mobile phones.

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The average family that installed solar panels on its home ten years ago would have spent approximately $86,000, compared to a similar system that now costs less than $26,000. Prices are expected to plummet an additional 40% by 2017 according to Deutsche Bank; and, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts $3.7 trillion in solar investment between now and 2040. The price of wind power also continues its downward cost trajectory, with the price of wind power down by more than 50% since 2009. In April 2015, wind and solar power accounted for 100% of new electric generating capacity in the U.S. and 84% of new capacity from January through April.

Solar Today - Community Solar: The Utility of the Future

Energy & Policy Institute Senior Fellow Tim Schoechle has a piece featured in the May/June 2015 edition of Solar Today Magazine. 

Read the entire story here (page 18). 

Citizens of Boulder, Colorado, in collaboration with city government, have been engaged in local climate action activities for more than a decade, and in 2014 adopted a Climate Commitment to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Screen_Shot_2015-07-16_at_4.12.05_PM.pngBoulder, Colorado, sits at the foot of the Rocky Mountains a half-hour drive northwest of Denver. It is a city, but still small enough to be a coherent community. It is the home of a major university and many government and entrepreneurial scientific, academic, and technical enterprises. The residents share an appreciation for the natural beauty of the mountains and plains environment, and many settled here for that reason.

Today, Boulder’s city government is in a major legal struggle to municipalize its electricity grid. To accomplish that, it must wrest control from the incumbent monopoly investor-owned utility, Xcel Energy of Minneapolis, Minnesota, which acquired Public Service Company of Colorado 20 years ago.

The motivation for this struggle is not reliability or the quality or cost of service, but rather decarbonization—cleaner, local energy and global climate change mitigation. Xcel runs mostly on coal and has long-term commitments to fossil fuels. The Boulder community, in collaboration with its city government, has been engaged in significant local climate action activities for more than a decade, and last year adopted a Climate Commitment to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Boulder is inventing a new model for a “utility of the future.” Although a few other small cities such as Gainesville and Winter Park, Florida, and others have formed municipal utilities in recent years, they did so for financial, service-related, or other reasons. Boulder, on the other hand, is motivated by the desire for clean energy.

Read the entire story here (page 18). 

Wisconsin Energy Corp. CEO, Gale Klappa, President of Global Warming Misinformation Campaign Earlier In His Career

Gale_Klappa.jpgThe Union of Concerned Scientists has released a new report today titled, “The Climate Deception Dossiers” which details internal fossil fuel industry memos totaling more than 330 pages and reveals the tactics used by company executives to deliberately manufacture uncertainty about the scientific evidence on global warming. Using documents collected over the years by various organizations including Greenpeace, Climate Investigations Center, and Climate Accountability Institute, this report highlights seven collections that “provides an illuminating inside look at this coordinated campaign of deception” manufactured by fossil fuel corporations around the world. 

One of the seven dossiers is titled “Coal’s ‘Information Council on the Environment’ Sham.” The Information Council on the Environment (ICE), according to the leaked documents published in the report, was created as a front group for coal and utility interests in 1991 to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact).” 

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The vice president of ICE was Fred Palmer, then CEO of the Western Fuels Association and now senior vice president of Peabody Energy – a corporation not shy from attacking the scientific consensus that climate change is real and poses a threat. 

However, not mentioned in the UCS report is the involvement of Gale Klappa, then vice president at Southern Company but now CEO of Wisconsin Energy Corporation and president of We Energies, which is a predominately coal burning electric utility company headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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In a 1991 New York Times article covering the leaked documents, Klappa said, “Those who are predicting catastrophe have been very effective at getting their message across in national media, and in so-called 'public service' announcements. But there is another viewpoint, a substantial viewpoint from a body of reputable scientists, and that viewpoint has really not been made available to a large majority."

I asked Amy Jahns, Media Relations Specialist at We Energies, how Klappa became involved with ICE and if his views on the scientific evidence of global warming had changed. Jahns said, “Gale Klappa served as president of the ICE board more than 25 years ago.  During his time as CEO, Wisconsin Energy has invested more than $9 billion to modernize our fleet of power plants and add state of the art emission controls. These investments have resulted in an 80 percent drop in overall emissions. In fact, our carbon dioxide emissions were lower in 2013 than in 2000. And we will continue to comply with any and all regulations that are set.”

Are Utility Companies Changing Their Strategy To Fight Obama Power Plan?

Duke_Energy_Gibson_County_Indiana_Plant.jpgIn a letter sent to President Obama this week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence said that the State of Indiana “will not comply” with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan unless the plan is “demonstrably and significantly improved.”

Gov. Pence also stated that Indiana will “reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented.” According to Utility Dive, Oklahoma is so far the only state to have outright stated that it will not comply with the EPA.

Indiana had joined Oklahoma and 12 other states, Peabody Energy, and the Utility Air Regulatory Group in the Murray Energy/West Virginia v. E.P.A. lawsuit, which challenged the agency’s proposed rule this past year. The lawsuit Indiana joined was unprecedented for a court to review because the rules had yet to be finalized. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit therefore dismissed it earlier this month.  But West Virginia and Murray Energy said they look forward to challenging the rule again when it is finalized. Other states have also made similar comments.

The utility industry’s strategy to contest the Clean Power Plan has been to work with Hunton & Williams’ Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) to sue the EPA claiming the Clean Power Plan is illegal. Yet this is in addition to utilities working with state agencies so that the State Implementation Plan (SIP) submitted to the EPA is to their liking – just in case their lawsuit fails. This reasoning is rooted in the belief that adhering to a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) will perhaps be less accommodating and even more costly to comply than the submitted SIP.

But Gov. Pence’s letter, along with the actions taken by Oklahoma Governor Fallin, sheds light on what may be another part of the utility industry’s plan: sue the EPA again when it begins to enforce the FIP for states that do not comply with the Clean Power Plan.

Mario Loyola, a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, wrote in The Atlantic last month about the constitutional problem with a federal plan imposed on a state, specifically the Tenth Amendment. It’s important to note that TPPF is a member of the State Policy Network and is in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which includes many utility companies as members along with their trade association - the Edison Electric Institute.

Loyola writes,

Normally, when the EPA threatens to impose a federal plan, it actually has the statutory authority to do what it’s asking the states to do. The coercion (or “encouragement” as the Supreme Court prefers to call it) occurs within a field of concurrent federal-state jurisdiction. But the Clean Power Plan is missing that essential ingredient… And the implied coercive threat of leaving states unable to meet their needs for electricity might well lead federal courts to find “a gun to the head” of state governments in the EPA’s proposal.

I reached out to the electric utility companies operating in Indiana to get their reactions to Gov. Pence’s letter to the president, and to possibly discuss whether or not they are indeed considering suing the EPA if a FIP is imposed on Indiana.

Fusion Energy Sooner and Cheaper?

This column was originally posted at the American Security Project's website.  

What would it mean to have an essentially limitless amount of energy? If we can harness fusion power, we can have energy that is clean, safe, sustainable, and secure. It will be the power of a sun on earth. The dream of fusion energy has been a scientific goal for decades, but it has remained elusive.

Scientists have struggled to master how to control fusion so that it can be a sustainable source of power: they know how to produce fusion in plasmas of more than 100 million degrees, and they know how to contain the plasma, but they cannot yet produce more energy than it takes to confine the plasma. The scientists are confident that they will be able to produce such an outcome, but they need a machine powerful enough to do so.

On Tuesday, June 16, 2015, Dr. Dennis Whyte, the Director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center showed that a series of scientific and engineering breakthroughs could  enable fusion to become a feasible a power source faster and cheaper than anyone had thought possible. These technological breakthroughs were not originally developed for fusion, but they could revolutionize the development of fusion energy.

High Temperature Superconductor Tape

As a part of New York Energy Week, Whyte presented to a group of professionals from energy, finance, and media at FTI Strategic Communications’ Wall Street office for a lunch discussion the new developments in fusion energy research. This event was sponsored by the American Security Project as part of their program on Next Generation Energy. Whyte explained that there are a series of recent and ongoing technological breakthroughs that will allow fusion to be developed.

 

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