With the 2012 merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy, the largest electric utility in the United States was created: Duke Energy Corporation (Duke). Now with more than 7 million customers, 57,000 megawatts (MW) of owned generating capacity, and over 205,000,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of retail electric sales, Duke was able to make nearly $3 billion in profits last year. Even though Duke is the largest U.S. utility it was ranked 19th out of 32 investor-owned utility companies for total renewable energy sales by the non-profit organization Ceres.
But recently, Duke announced it will expand its solar generating capacity in North Carolina by acquiring, constructing, and signing power-purchase agreements for solar projects totaling 278 MW.
Currently, Duke Energy’s 2014 power generation portfolio in both the regulated and unregulated markets is significantly dominated with coal and natural gas.
Duke does own solar in its regulated portfolio, but only 4 MW - which turns out to be 0.00008% of the combined 49,452 MW.
The solar capacity owned in Duke Energy’s commercial portfolio is 111 MW of the combined 7,839 MW.
Almost half of Duke's 115 MW of solar is generated in North Carolina, while the remaining facilities are located in Arizona, California, and Florida. Some of this solar was required to be purchased due to an arcane, complex federal law called the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA).
Adding 278 MW in North Carolina seems like a good commitment on the surface. However, this is not the case. The utility company has been and continues to restrict the growth of solar energy in the Tar Heel State.
Today, the American Energy Alliance (AEA) released a poll regarding the EPA’s plan to cut carbon emissions, and federal tax credits for clean energy like the wind Production Tax Credit.
The poll was an effort to show that Americans disapprove of EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the federal tax credit for wind energy. AEA president Thomas Pyle said in the press release, “The survey makes clear that Americans are growing weary of the blatant cronyism that runs rampant through our political system, and the failed federal policies that stifle innovation and increase the cost of the reliable energy we need to move America forward.”
Ironically, results from the poll show that a majority of respondents favor the tax credit to increase wind energy. They also support states that require a certain amount of their electricity to come from renewable sources.
Although the poll is presented as objective, the validity of the poll is questionable because a close look at AEA’s connections and supporters shows they are far from objective.
AEA is the advocacy arm of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), a pro-fossil fuel and anti-clean energy think tank that has received funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers. Documents obtained by Republic Report last month revealed, for the first time, that IER was founded by Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries. Reports revealed that IER and AEA have received grants from Koch family foundations, and its leadership includes several individuals who have at times worked for Koch or Koch-related interests. But, as Lee Fang writes, “[T]his is the first time it has been revealed that Charles personally founded the organization.”
AEA is organized as a 501(c)(4) non-profit and is run by Thomas Pyle, who previously lobbied on behalf of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and Koch Industries.
The organization hired MWR Strategies to conduct the survey. Data from OpenSecrets.org shows that MWR Strategies has been retained by Koch Industries; Southern Company, which is the second largest utility company in the country; Dow Chemical; Competitive Power Ventures; GDF Suez, which is Europe’s largest liquefied natural gas importer; Public Service Enterprise Group; and Tampa Electric Company; for a combined lobbying revenue of $320,000 in 2014.
MWR Strategies has collected a total of $1,120,000 from Koch Industries and Southern Company since 2007. American Electric Power, the country’s largest generating utility, also retained MWR Strategies between at least 2004 and 2012, spending $570,000 for the company’s services.
American Electric Power and Southern Company are both members of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These front groups are used to drum up opposition to the EPA’s power plant standards, as well as pro-renewable energy policies such as the Production Tax Credit.
Koch Industries uses their web of front groups and think tanks including IER and AEA, as well as ALEC to also fight EPA standards and restrict renewable energy development.
The story of the rise and fall of Bihar may seem unbelievable. Through the ages, the region was once the seat of power of mighty kingdoms, a source of intellectual thought, and leading industrial growth.
In the recent past, decades of corruption, lack of law and order and dwindling investment have allowed the state’s infrastructure to collapse. It’s not that the village of Dharnai in Makhdumdpur block of Jehanabad district in Bihar never had electricity. Until thirty years ago, the village had transformers and proper transmission lines providing access to electricity to every home.
Today one can see this past legacy in the form of a few remaining rusted poles and bits of metal junk that people did not manage to sell off for money. A few non-functional solar street lights still standing in the village that were installed by the government 4-5 years ago tell a different story — one of a public good that had no effective management system in place.
My journeys in search of solar technologies deployed in energy-starved India have taken me from Ladakh to Kerala and from Rajasthan to the Sundarban forests in West Bengal. I have seen all manner of business models and technologies. My most recent trip took me back to my own ancestral village of Jakkan, 100 kilometers west of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. There amidst the sand dunes, my relatives talked of how much easier their lives had gotten due to near-permanent electricity access having finally arrived at their doorsteps — a full 30 years after they had hoped and paid for it. Meanwhile, Lord Surya’s promise had managed to provide little bits of electricity through off-grid solar products in the form of solar home lighting systems and lanterns.
Discourses on energy access have coalesced around “incremental” and “genuine” energy access. The former supposedly delivered by smaller off-grid products and the latter through the promise of microgrids powered by a variety renewable energy technologies. It is assumed that microgrids provide the near complete level of energy security that a community can hope for in the absence of a reliable grid network — and depending on the size of the microgrid, this may be true.
Furthermore, grid-ready microgrids (those that could be plugged into a nearby centralized grid network at a future date) would allow for increases in supply of electricity as the demand of the community rises. Policies clarifying the long-term fate of microgrids as the government embarks on its national electrification mission could allow more entrepreneurs to enter the market for expanding energy access rather than simply leaving it to the already struggling public sector utilities.
Last month, a report called “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA” was released by Senator David Vitter (R-LA). Sen. Vitter is the ranking minority member on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.
Vitter’s “Green Billionaires Club” report tracks donations from environmental foundations to various non-profits in an attempt to highlight the policy agendas of these organizations. Policy agendas such as combating global warming and reducing cancer-causing pollutants from the air and water.
But as Jesse Coleman writes, “Rather than a tool for open government, Vitter’s Billionaire’s Club report seems more like a distraction from the real billionaires in politics, major corporations and industrialists, with whose agenda David Vitter is strongly aligned.”
Indeed. At a Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works hearing in July, Sen. Vitter voiced his opinion on EPA’s proposed rule to limit carbon dioxide emissions saying, “EPA’s proposed rule seeks to turn states into either hostages or unwilling accomplices in its effort to impoverish families and businesses and communities.”
It was reported shortly after the “Green Billionaires Club” report was released that Sen. Vitter owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks in polluting companies like Wisconsin Energy Corporation, an electric utility that owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisconsin and Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.
Financial disclosure forms obtained by DeSmogBlog also show Sen. Vitter owns stock in other polluting companies that stand to benefit from lax environmental standards such as: Chevron, ExxonMobil, Emerson Electric, General Electric, and NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Light & Power.
Furthermore, Sen. Vitter received more money from the oil and gas sector than any other sector in his last election campaign, and half of all the donations to his Super PAC have also come from the oil and gas sector.
In addition to the oil and gas sector making up the largest share of donators, an Energy & Policy Institute analysis finds that many companies contributing to Sen. Vitter’s campaign committee and Super PAC are also against the EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule, or the EPA itself.
Alpha Natural Resources, Koch Industries, Murray Energy, and Southern Company are some of the highest contributors in the 2013-2014 cycle to Sen. Vitter. Koch Industries and Murray Energy were also some of the top contributors to Sen. Vitter between 2007-2012.
There’s an enduring myth related to wind energy and nuclear energy that needs to be put to bed. That myth is that only nuclear can be scaled to sufficient capacity to reduce the impacts of global warming, and that wind energy is much less scalable so it should be ignored.
Most recently, this appeared as a broad generalization without any supporting evidence in a pro-carbon capture series by a CCS researcher on the Siemens-sponsored Energy Collective, which features this particular myth regularly, being a bit of an echo chamber for it. Of course the nuclear industry’s PR professionals love this line as well.
And there’s another myth related to carbon capture and sequestration being more significant than renewables that has to be assessed as well.
China is the true test bed for maximum scalability of nuclear vs wind. It has a tremendous gap between demand and generation. It can mostly ignore lack of social license for nuclear. It is building both wind and nuclear as rapidly as possible. It has been on a crash course for both for about the same period of time. It has bypassed most of the regulatory red tape for nuclear which sensibly exists elsewhere given concerns about economic fallout of Fukushima-scale disasters, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. And in four years it has built significantly less nuclear generation capacity than it built of wind generation capacity in 2013 alone.
What is the reality of nuclear vs wind built out?
- China turned on justover 16 GW of nameplate capacity of wind generation in 2013 according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
- Over the four years of 2010 to 2014 China managed to put 4.7 GW of nuclear into operation. This is not their stated plan for nuclear which is much higher, but the actual generation capacity put into production.
- Modern wind turbines have a median 40.35% capacity factor and exceed 50% in the best wind resources according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) who track the actuals on this sort of thing.
- Taking similarly sourced numbers for nuclear capacity factor from the Nuclear Energy Institute, we see 90.9% capacity factors for nuclear reactors. These are apples-to-apples statistics from the same country.
Running the math, that’s about 6.5 GW of real capacity of wind energy in one year vs 4.3 GW of real capacity for nuclear over four years. That’s roughly six times more real wind energy capacity than nuclear per year. 2014 might be better than average as perhaps 2 GW have been made operational this year. We’ll see what reality brings as wind energy is being expanded rapidly as well.