By: Peter Sopher, policy analyst, clean energy, and Sarah Ryan, clean energy consultant
Over the past century, the electric grid in the United States has experienced only minor changes. There is evidence, however, the power sector is changing. We are moving away from traditional coal generation and toward alternative, cleaner energy sources. And despite our state being primarily known for oil and gas, Texas is no exception.
In fact, Texas’ electricity sector has been trending cleaner over the past decades, driven by deregulation of the electricity market, the development of the massive highway of transmission lines built to carry West Texas wind to cities throughout the state – the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ), and technological progress. Basically, once the market was opened up to competition, the more economic options – which also happen to be cleaner – began to gain a foothold. And there’s no stopping this train.
Where we are and where we’re going
To start, the declining use of fossil fuels to power our lives is perhaps the most significant change in Texas. As shown in Figure 1 below, fossil fuels’ (coal and gas’) proportion of the state’s electricity generation mix shrunk from 88 percent in 2002 to 82 percent in 2013. Read More
At the start of the 2015 Illinois legislative session, a diverse coalition came together to introduce and support the Illinois Clean Jobs bill – legislation which would strengthen Illinois’ energy efficiency policies, as well as update and extend the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The bill would also create a market-based strategy to meet new federal carbon regulations to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants, otherwise known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP).
So now that the regular legislative session has ended, where does the Clean Jobs bill stand?
A victory for the little guy
Initially, the Clean Jobs bill was far from the energy legislation spotlight. Two deep-pocketed companies also introduced bills. Exelon proposed a bailout for three of its uneconomic nuclear reactors. And Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) wanted to restructure its rates to ensure a profit because efficiency and clean energy had reduced the demand for power.
Most political observers felt Exelon and ComEd – which employ teams of lobbyists and enjoy substantial political clout – would quickly obtain what they asked for. Yet neither went anywhere, and it was actually the Clean Jobs legislation that obtained more co-sponsors than the Exelon and ComEd bills – combined. Read More
Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz recently met in a meeting with Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell to discuss how they could sabotage the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed (CPP). The CPP would place the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants – the rules for which are expected to be finalized this summer.
The reason for the meeting is simple: Sen. McConnell is currently touting a “just say no” approach to EPA’s regulations, advocating states refuse to create a compliance plan, which is clearly to protect his coal-producing state. He also supports legislation to let states opt-out of the pollution reduction program. After the closed-door meeting, Governor Abbott announced he is siding with the Senator from Kentucky on the CPP.
What the press release didn’t say: By aligning himself with Sen. McConnell, Governor Abbott is hurting Texas. Read More
How does 15 percent measure up?
If you’re talking about a baseball batting average, 15 percent puts you on the first fast and joyless train to Mudville. If you’re talking about return on savings with today’s interest rates, 15 percent has you laughing all the way to the bank.
If, however, you’re talking about America’s share of a $1.3 trillion global clean energy market, as Advanced Energy Economy recently reported, that 15-percent figure, while not too shabby, merits further consideration about how we got here – and where we should be heading.
Advanced energy market grew a whopping 14%
Sure, the “advanced energy market” is a broad term, but that’s because it’s a broad market.
Earlier this week, I testified at a hearing of the Texas House Committee on Environmental Regulation, specifically on how Texas will respond to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP), the nation’s first-ever limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants. But before I went to the Capitol, my three-year-old daughter asked me where I was going. I told her I was going to work, and she asked me, “Mommy, what are you going to save?” I replied that I was going to save water, and she said, “Good job, Mommy.”
That’s exactly what the CPP could do for Texas: save millions of gallons of water each year by encouraging the state to switch from polluting power sources (like coal plants) to non-polluting sources (such as wind and solar farms) and increase no-water solutions like energy efficiency.
It’s no secret that Texas is currently in the midst of a multi-year drought – yet the vast majority of our electricity comes from sources that contribute to this prolonged drought, namely coal, nuclear, and natural gas. All of these energy sources require copious amounts of water to produce electricity. Read More
If reducing climate pollution from power plants were a football game, the U.S. team would be halfway to the goal line while fans were still singing the national anthem.
That is, we have already gotten about halfway to the expected goals of the Clean Power Plan – before the rule is even final.
The Clean Power Plan is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) historic effort to place the first-ever limits on climate pollution from our country’s existing fleet of fossil fuel-fired power plants. When it’s finalized this summer, it’s expected to call for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels — but U.S. power plant emissions have already fallen 15 percent compared to 2005 levels.
That’s because renewable energy, energy efficiency resources, and natural gas generation have been steadily deployed and growing for years. Even conservative estimates forecast continued growth of these resources — which makes last week’s report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) seem really strange.
NERC’s report about the Clean Power Plan’s impacts on electric grid reliability makes predictions that starkly contrast from the progress we’re already seeing.
How did this departure from reality happen? Read More