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
In Dublin, Ohio, the Community Recreation Center decided to reduce its energy waste. Rather than rely on an electric utility to burn more coal or natural gas to provide electricity, as well as its own boilers to burn more fuel to provide heat, the facility decided to install a combined heat and power (CHP) unit.
The CHP or “cogeneration” project produces both electricity – allowing the Center to keep its lights on during power outages – and heat – keeping offices and swimming pools warm. The CHP unit is financed with private capital and will allow the Center to save roughly 10 percent on its energy bills.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Patrick Smith, a co-developer of the Dublin project. “It’s a generator, and we happen to capture the heat.”
Technology of the past…
Cogeneration is not a new concept or technology. In fact, Thomas Edison’s first power plants sold both heat and electricity to nearby buildings and factories. Yet to electrify America quickly in the early 20th century, policymakers and power companies created monopoly electric utilities that were protected from competition and guaranteed profits based on how much money they spent. As a result, for many decades, utilities favored larger and larger power plants that were placed far away from the buildings and factories that could have used their wasted heat. Read More
Imagine homeowners and businesses saving millions of dollars – and cutting pollution – without needing to do anything. Magic? No, but it does require electric utilities to take advantage of new technologies that better provide customers with just the right amount of voltage to their electrical outlets.
Many appliances, including incandescent lighting, work just as effectively, yet consume less energy, when the flow of electricity to them is reduced. Put another way, higher voltages generally make individuals and businesses needlessly use more energy, driving up electricity bills and air pollution. Therefore, if voltage was “right-sized,” residents would get enough power to run their appliances efficiently, but not so much that they use more electricity than needed.
What we’ve described above is “voltage optimization,” and a new study by Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd) looking at this technology’s potential within Chicago and northern Illinois found it could reduce the need for almost 2,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity (enough to power 180,000 homes) each year at an amazingly low cost of less than two cents per kilowatt-hour – more than is achieved now from the utility’s other efficiency programs. This translates to $240 million per year in savings for ComEd’s customers, of which 90 percent could potentially benefit. The study also suggested full deployment of voltage optimization would only take about five years. Read More
Last June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first ever national carbon pollution standards for existing power plants. Fossil fuel-fired power plants account for almost 40% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, making them the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation and one of the single largest categories of greenhouse gas sources in the world.
Under the Clean Power Plan, these emissions will decline to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 – accompanied by a significant decline in other harmful pollutants from the power sector, such as sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen. The power sector is already halfway to this target, already 15% below 2005 levels.
The EPA has carefully designed the Clean Power Plan to provide extensive flexibility so that states and power companies can continue to deliver a steady flow of electricity while deploying cost-effective measures to reduce carbon pollution over the next fifteen years. Read More
Last month, I attended the Vail Global Energy Forum in Colorado. Billed as a “mini-Davos” of energy (studiously ignoring the Aspen crowd a few hours down the highway), that moniker may have felt aspirational when the conference launched three years ago. But, this year it paid off: momentum for frank dialogue and global innovation is building on the slopes of the Vail Valley.
Here’s my take on how the clean air of the mountains cuts through the hot air of energy debates to illuminate practical, actionable ideas.
Three big ideas drove the conference:
- North American energy independence
Mexico, the United States, and Canada could, together, innovate their way to an energy marketplace that weakens dependence on overseas imports, scales up clean energy solutions, and charts a path to low-carbon prosperity. At times, the discussion was framed by the rise of unconventional oil and gas exploration (yes, “fracking”), collaboration around pipelines (yes, “Keystone”), and whether these could disrupt traditional geopolitical frames. Read More
Also posted in Air Quality, California, Cap and Trade, Clean Energy, Climate, Colorado, Energy Financing, Methane, Natural Gas, New York, Utility Business Models
Editor's note: This post was updated April 9, 2015.
When the door to one power plant closes, a window to more clean energy solutions opens.
It may seem logical that once a power plant closes, another one needs to be built to replace it – after all, we need to make up for its potential energy generation with more natural gas or nuclear-powered energy, right? San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is certainly trying to convince Californians this is true. Trouble is, EDF and other environmental groups, along with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), aren’t buying it. And you shouldn’t either.
This story begins in 2013, when the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) permanently closed, shutting down a nuclear power plant with a capacity of 2,200 megawatts (MW) and sparking a debate about how to replace this lost power source. When first determining how to proceed in the wake of the SONGS closure, the CPUC decided SDG&E could buy between 500 to 800 megawatts (MW) of new energy resources by 2022. Further, at least 200 MW of this power had to – and all of it could – be met with preferred resources like energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy storage, and demand response (an energy conservation tool that pays people to save energy when the electric grid is stressed). Read More