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.


Pope Francis' Encyclical: Clean Energy and The Moral Case for Climate Solutions

Today, Pope Francis officially released his encyclical, "Laudato Si (“Be Praised”), On the Care of Our Common Home”, calling on “every person living on this planet” to urgently address climate change, reduce the use of fossil fuels, and transition to clean energy.  

PopeFrancis.jpegAn encyclical is a message sent to all the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church to help inform Catholic teachings. But, Pope Francis made clear that this message is for “all men and women of good will” to “cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.” The Pope cited climate change as a moral crisis we must address to protect the world’s poor from the impacts of climate change such as rising seas, drought, and floods.

The Pope acknowledged that the “bulk of global warming” is caused by human activity and issued a call for our global society to rapidly address this crisis by reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

In order to answer Pope Francis’ call for sustainable development, we need solutions that can compete in the economic system and rapidly transform our relationship how we use natural resources. Fortunately, the economics of energy sector continue to move towards sustainable economic development and away from dirty energy sources.

Edison Electric Institute Elects New Leaders But Policymakers Are Unlikely To See Innovative Ideas

Nick_Akins_AEP_CEO.jpgNick Akins, president and CEO of American Electric Power, was announced as the elected chairman of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) yesterday at the association’s annual meeting in New Orleans. EEI is the national trade association representing investor-owned electric utility companies. 

Joining Akins on EEI’s leadership team as vice chairmen will be these four industry executives: Tom Fanning of Southern Company; Chris Crane of Exelon Corporation; Pat Vincent-Collawn of PNM Resources; Greg Abel of Berkshire Hathaway Energy. 

The investor-owned electric utility industry is faced with difficult questions of how to change its outdated business model because of “disruptive challenges” and regulations to limit carbon dioxide emissions. But, instead of electing leaders with visions to increase distributed generation, strengthen (or at least not lobby to repeal) renewable policies, and reduce emissions, EEI’s recent election appears to send a message that the industry will continue to drag its feet and let others dictate the path forward.

American Electric Power (AEP) is the private chair of the climate-denying American Legislative Exchange Council’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. Akins even spoke at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting on “A Smarter Approach to Improving our Environment: Addressing the Costs of Proposed EPA Regulations on Energy Affordability.” And, last year during the debate over whether or not to freeze Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standard, AEP made it clear the company was in favor of the legislation to halt the deployment of renewables. Additionally, the utility is urging the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to bailout its coal plants, and has even appealed the Public Utilities Commission decision affirming net metering is fair to ratepayers to the Ohio Supreme Court.


Carbon Budgets: What and Why

Originally posted on Clean Energy Action's blog

If you’ve been paying much attention to the climate policy discussion over the last few years, you’ve probably heard mention of carbon budgets, or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions budgets more generally. Put simply, for any given temperature target there’s a corresponding total cumulative amount of greenhouse gasses that can be released, while still having a decent chance of meeting the target. For example, the IPCC estimates that if we want a 2/3 chance of keeping warming to less than 2°C, then we can release no more than 1000Gt of CO2 between 2011 and the end of the 21st century.

The IPCC estimates that if we want a 2/3 chance of limiting warming to less than 2°C, then we can release no more than 1000Gt of CO2 equivalent between 2011 and the end of the 21st century.

The reason the IPCC and many other scientist types use carbon budgets instead of emissions rates to describe our situation is that the atmosphere’s long-term response to GHGs is almost entirely determined by our total cumulative emissions. In fact, as the figure below from the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers shows, our current understanding suggests a close to linear relationship between CO2 released, and ultimate warming… barring any wild feedbacks (which become more likely and frightening at high levels of atmospheric CO2) like climate change induced fires vaporizing our boreal and tropical forests.



What matters from the climate’s point of view isn’t when we release the GHGs or how quickly we release them, it’s the total amount we release — at least if we’re talking about normal human planning timescales of less than a couple of centuries. This is because the rate at which we’re putting these gasses into the atmosphere is much, much faster than they can be removed by natural processes — CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a long time, more than a century on average.    We’re throwing it up much faster than nature can draw it down.  This is why the concentration of atmospheric CO2 has been marching ever upward for the last couple of hundred years, finally surpassing 400ppm this year.

So regardless of whether we use the entire 1000Gt budget in 20 years or 200, the ultimate results in terms of warming will be similar — they’ll just take less or more time to manifest themselves.

Unfortunately, most actual climate policy doesn’t reflect this reality.  Instead, we tend to make long term aspirational commitments to large emissions reductions, with much less specificity about what happens in the short to medium term.  (E.g. Boulder, CO: 80% by 2030, Fort Collins, CO: 80% by 2030, the European Union: 40% by 2030).  When we acknowledge that it’s the total cumulative emissions over the next couple of centuries that determines our ultimate climate outcome, what we do in the short to medium term — a period of very, very high emissions — becomes critical.  These are big years, and they’re racing by.

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