If you like clean water, we’ve got good news. This week the EPA finalized an important Clean Water Act rule that cements commonsense protections for water resources. EPA’s new technology-based categorical pretreatment standard prevents unconventional oil and gas operators from delivering salty, toxic wastewater to publicly owned water treatment facilities — also known as POTWs. These facilities are designed to handle residential sewage, not industrial waste, and often are unable to treat the types of pollutants common in unconventional oil and gas wastewater.
Since 1979, the Clean Water Act has prohibited onshore oil and gas operators in the eastern U.S. from directly discharging oil and gas wastewater to surface waters, like streams and lakes. But until now, there were no rules that applied to the wastewater that is disposed of at separate treatment facilities, or “indirect discharges.”
The final POTW pretreatment rule is consistent with current industry practice, but this wasn’t always the case. Prior to 2011, oil and gas operators in Pennsylvania delivered wastewater to POTWs for treatment and disposal with terrible results. These POTWs struggled to treat unconventional oil and gas wastewater due to elevated levels of halides, heavy metals, organic compounds, radionuclides and salts. High and fluctuating TDS (salt) levels in wastewater interfered with the biological treatment processes reducing treatment efficiency. Bromides that went through POTW disinfection processes were transformed into toxic disinfection by-products and released into receiving waters. Read More
Across the country, signs of a cleaner, more efficient, and more affordable U.S. energy system are emerging. But we can’t reach the clean energy future without updating the way utilities make money. Today, utilities earn revenue based on how much electricity they deliver. Companies earn less when they sell less electricity, so they have little incentive to provide energy efficiency programs for their customers.
To address this issue, the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission is considering changing how utilities are paid for the electricity they sell. The goal – determining whether new rate plans could eliminate the barriers to energy efficiency programs – is an admirable step toward the clean energy future. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has a number of ideas on how to design a more efficient grid, which we filed in comments today:
- Performance-based regulation – Utilities have few incentives to help people adopt solar panels or energy efficiency, so the Commission should implement performance-based regulation plans. Rather than encouraging the sale of more electricity, a performance-based framework would reward utilities for meeting goals that benefit customers and the environment, like encouraging the use of rooftop solar or increasing the use of energy efficiency programs.
Imagine a utility receives $57 million from the Department of Energy and a matching amount from its customers, then uses that money to demonstrate how new technologies could save millions more. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? Not if you’re FirstEnergy, whose business model doesn’t call for saving money.
FirstEnergy – serving several states in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Ohio where the power company is currently requesting a $4 billion bailout of its uneconomical power plants – recently filed a long-term infrastructure-improvement plan in Pennsylvania, setting out its strategy for modernizing the grid. And despite having seen the benefits firsthand, the utility didn’t include voltage optimization – or using technology to “right-size” the amount of voltage customers receive – in its plan.
Since utilities likely won’t modernize the grid on their own, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) often intervenes before state public utility commissions. And in this case, EDF recommends the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) should not approve FirstEnergy’s grid modernization plan unless it includes voltage optimization. Read More
Each month, the Energy Exchange rounds up a list of top clean energy conferences around the country. Our list includes conferences at which experts from the EDF Clean Energy Program will be speaking, plus additional events that we think our readers may benefit from marking on their calendars.
Top clean energy conferences featuring EDF experts in March:
March 9: Clean Power Plan or What Next? Symposium & Workshop (Houston, TX)
Speaker: John Hall, Texas State Director, Clean Energy
- Join a group of high level executives for a discussion on the issues arising from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan and its regional impact.
March 16-17: California’s Distributed Energy Future 2016 (San Francisco, CA)
Speaker: Jamie Fine, Senior Economist, U.S. Climate and Energy
- As distributed energy gains steam in California, state regulators, policymakers, utilities, and distributed energy resource providers are shaping the rules, regulations, and markets that will ensure the transition is speedy and smooth. Greentech Media is partnering with More Than Smart to host actionable conversations on the future of electricity in an innovative state.
March 16: 2016 Building Energy Summit® (Washington, DC)
Speaker: Ellen Bell, Manager, Midwest Clean Energy
- Building owners, energy experts, and technology pioneers will come together at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC to address the business and social drivers for more energy efficient buildings. Ellen will participate in a discussion on how to analyze portfolio data for energy saving opportunities, how to prioritize initiatives based on payback, and how to align your efforts with a corporate environmental policy. Read More
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John Quigley, Secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environment Protection, joins Cindy Dunn, Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf at a Facebook town hall event Jan. 19 to announce plans to regulate methane emissions from the state's oil and gas industry.
Pennsylvania leaders have a duty to protect Keystone residents from oil and gas pollution. Fortunately, Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection took an important step in that direction this week when they released a blueprint for cutting methane pollution from the natural gas industry.
“The goal here is to cover not only new sources of methane and VOC emissions [from oil and gas facilities], but also existing sources over time,” DEP Secretary John Quigley told hundreds of viewers during a live Facebook town hall event yesterday. “We want to have a comprehensive emissions program that is nation-leading. I think it’s the strongest set of provisions in the country, and I think the number two natural gas producing state in the nation should have the best regulations. That’s what we’re going to have in Pennsylvania.”
That’s a bold and laudable commitment – one that deserves our support to help make sure the promise becomes reality. Read More
Just in time for the holidays, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) quietly gave the gift of more affordable electricity to millions of Pennsylvanians.
PECO Energy Company, a leading Pennsylvania utility, had requested a significant distribution rate increase – meaning higher bills for its approximately 1.6 million electric customers. After months of discussion, last week the PUC approved a settlement with a lower rate increase and a directive for PECO to hold a series of collaborative meetings with all interested parties on revenue decoupling, or separating a utility's profits from its sales. Decoupling suggests a system in which utilities are rewarded based on the overall service they provide, rather than the amount of electricity they sell.
The PUC’s decision represents a win for grid modernization and distributed energy resources like energy efficiency, energy storage, and rooftop solar in the Keystone State. Read More