Monthly Archives: April 2012

ANGA’s New Texas Report Serves Up A Heaping Helping Of ‘Number Salad’

The American Natural Gas Association (ANGA) released a paper in March titled “Texas Natural Gas: Fuel for Growth,” to a lot of press, and rightly so.  The paper correctly cites several benefits of using and producing natural gas in Texas: it is produced in-state, has water use and air-quality benefits when compared to coal and helps to fund state and local governments through taxes. 

Unfortunately, the paper also makes some claims that are difficult to take seriously; perhaps the first warning sign should be that while the paper was presented as an economic analysis, the authors have no economic credentials.  Dr. Michael J. Economides, a chemical and biomolecular professor at the University of Houston, and petroleum engineering consultant Philip E. Lewis spend little time worrying about the details in this report, serving up a heaping helping of “number salad.”

For instance, the $7.7 billion “loss” is calculated by projecting the potential use of gas in Texas, if it had followed the national trend, against the actual use.  But in looking at the data, it’s not clear that the Texas fuel mix ever tracked the national fuel mix.  Even more importantly, looking at the authors’ own slides, Texas uses 20% more natural gas in its fuel mix than the nation.  If anything, the national fuel mix is following the trend set long ago by Texas —adding more natural gas and wind, while decreasing coal output.

What might shock the authors is that natural gas consumption in the electric power sector has increased by around 5,000 one thousand cubic feet of gas (MCF) since 2006, 800 MCF in transportation and nearly 10,000 MCF in the industrial sector. 

There are so many misleading statistics and inaccuracies that we could practically write a report on the report, but instead I’ll just focus on one aspect that stands out in particular. 

When it comes to comparing natural gas to coal power, the authors are quick to cite the many local benefits of using natural gas energy produced in Texas: it’s cleaner than coal and creates local jobs and a local tax base.  Wind energy has largely produced the same benefits: local wind power has brought jobs and a growing tax base and population to rural Texas counties that “had seen consistent, significant population losses since 1950.”  On top of the economic development benefits, where natural gas beats coal in reducing pollution, wind energy beats both by reducing pollution basically to zero.  But when it comes to discussing any of these benefits from wind energy in the report, the silence is deafening. 

Natural gas is reshaping our energy landscape.  And, done right—with the proper, mandatory environmental safeguards in place and reduced methane leakage rates—compared to coal plants, natural gas power plants offer other distinct air quality benefits.  It emits less greenhouse gases than coal when combusted and avoids mercury and other dangerous air pollutants that come from coal.

However, the same – and more – can be said about wind energy and Texas’ potential clean energy resources, including solar and geothermal power, among others.  Rather than pitting our local clean energy resources against each other as this report does, we should seek to expand and diversify our clean energy mix, reaping health, environmental, economic and security benefits.

Posted in Natural Gas, Renewable Energy, Texas / Read 1 Response

On-Bill Repayment: Two Big Developments In California

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF California Dream 2.0 Blog.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently released a Proposed Decision that included rulings on energy efficiency financing.  One ruling directs the state’s three largest utilities–PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric–to develop an On-Bill Repayment (OBR) program for commercial properties that is based on a proposal developed by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The Proposed Decision notes that the agency lacks the full necessary legal authority to implement an OBR program for residential customers. To address that, EDF is sponsoring legislation introduced by California Senator Kevin de Leon that would provide the CPUC with the necessary authority.

Senator de Leon and EDF have been working together to assemble a broad coalition of supporters including labor, contractors, building owners, banks and other investors, solar installers, energy efficiency project developers, environmental advocacy and environmental justice groups. 

We are excited to report that yesterday the bill passed the California Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee. While we have a long way to go, this is another key step toward establishing a program that can invest billions of dollars of private capital in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in California at no cost to taxpayers or ratepayers.

EDF will continue working with a broad range of stakeholders to successfully create the nation’s first statewide OBR program that is entirely financed by third parties. This landmark approach will enable project developers and building owners to use both conventional and innovative financing options to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.   

The CPUC is expected to vote on its proposed decision on May 10, 2012. The bill will continue being heard and voted on over the coming months. Once the final votes are in, California aims to have the commercial OBR program up and running by January 2013.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, On-bill repayment / Tagged | Comments are closed

California Low Carbon Fuels Appellate Court Ruling is a Win on Many Levels

Late yesterday, a three-judge panel in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted an important stay motion in favor of California and its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The court’s decision allows the state to move forward with vital protections for human health and the environment that will strengthen California’s clean energy economy and improve our energy security.

The LCFS is one of California’s most ambitious and innovative climate change regulations to date. It is among 70 measures adopted under AB 32 (the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) that will be used to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The standard calls for reducing the carbon content of fuels by 10 percent by 2020, which is expected to reduce 15 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution per year by 2020. Some of the cuts will come from improvements in the way traditional oil and ethanol feedstocks are produced, processed and delivered to consumers. Other cuts will come from advancements in breakthrough technologies such as electric cars and renewable fuels that dramatically cut toxic air contaminants and further diversify our fuel supply with locally generated energy sources.

How LCFS Works

The standard creates a flexible system that allows fuel suppliers to comply by either documenting reduced emissions in their fuel production pathways (using a science-based lifecycle emissions model) or by purchasing credits from suppliers that have reduced emissions below a predetermined threshold. This approach rewards innovative solutions that cut emissions as quickly, cheaply and extensively as possible, using a scientifically credible emissions reporting and trading platform.

How LCFS Provides Energy Security and Protection from Fuel Price Surges

California drivers burn about 16 billion gallons of gasoline and 4 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year and emit, in aggregate, approximately 170 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Much of this fuel is sourced from California oil fields (approximately 200 million barrels per year), though more than 50 percent is imported from the Middle East, South America and Alaska. These imports make our economy vulnerable to price swings and shortages driven by production changes and politics.

There is perhaps no greater embodiment of our state’s vulnerability to imported fossil fuel than dramatic and sustained “price shocks.” These periods of elevated prices impact drivers’ pocket books and transfer huge amounts of money from California’s economy to foreign countries, many of which are hostile to our country.

Since 1995, California has experienced 15 such fuel price shocks, including the current one that has increased fuel prices by about 40 percent above the 24-month moving average. California’s LCFS, an important clean energy policy, is going to break this trend.

The LCFS Incentive to Diversify the Transportation Fuel Mix

California’s LCFS is a scientifically-based standard that provides incentives for fuels that cause less climate change pollution throughout their entire lifecycle. At the same time, the LCFS allows for traditional fuel producers to continue operating as long as they turn in sufficient compliance credits. Fuel sources producing credits include electricity (powering electric vehicles), natural gas, advanced biofuels and some traditional biofuels that emit less carbon than gasoline and diesel. These fuels are typically produced or grown in the Western United States rather than imported from abroad. This results in a more diversified fuel mix that is less vulnerable to fuel price shocks.

Positive Signal for States Looking to Follow California’s Lead

Though the Court of Appeals has yet to hear the case on the merits, yesterday’s ruling is a positive signal that this standard has a strong legal foundation that will likely be upheld on appeal and can be adopted by other states. We trust this is music to the ears of Oregon, which just last week announced a Clean Fuels Program similar to California’s.

Without a federal policy in place to regulate the carbon pollution in fuels, it is critically important that California and other states have the ability to carry out smart, science-based policies such as this standard to cut pollution, reward innovation, and build a stronger, more efficient economy.

EDF will continue pursuing the matter on appeal until a final resolution, an outcome that looks suddenly brighter for California consumers, innovative fuel producers and the environment.





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Energy Innovation Series Feature #3: Smart Grid Consortium From Pecan Street Inc.

Throughout 2012, EDF’s Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on Pecan Street Inc.

The last few years have been somewhat of a blur for most of the people involved in Austin-based Pecan Street Inc. (Pecan Street).

“In 2008, this was an idea on a napkin in a coffee shop,” says Brewster McCracken, the holder of the napkin and now executive director of Pecan Street. “In 2010 we secured funding to launch a smart grid demonstration project. In 2011 we established the most robust collection of consumer energy use data on the planet. We want to see how people interact with new technology options. What works, what people like, what impact it has on their energy use and the grid itself.”

The organization strives to ‘re-imagine’ how we make, move and use energy on our existing system rather than reinvent the system itself. It has been tagged by the smart grid industry press as one of the hottest efforts in the country.

Pecan Street, which was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2009, is an research and development consortium headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin. Its team consists of nearly a dozen staff and a web of researchers from the University of Texas and more than 10 member companies like Best Buy, Sony, Intel, Oncor, Texas Gas Service and Whirlpool Corporation. The Pecan Street board is comprised of members from the City of Austin, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the University of Texas, the UT Clean Energy Incubator, Austin Energy and Environmental Defense Fund.

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

The deployment of 100 Volts in one square mile will be among the densest concentrations of plug-in vehicles in the country.

Pecan Street was initially funded through a $10 million grant from the Department of Energy, which was matched locally with another $14 million to conduct detailed research on the consumer energy usage and the smart grid. The organization also received funding by the Doris Duke Foundation to collect “energy lifestyle” data at 15-second intervals on a disaggregated level (measures 6 circuits) on 200 homes.

Its test bed is the Mueller community, a green-built redevelopment of the city’s former airport. Just two miles from downtown Austin, Mueller is one of the hottest zip codes in town for people looking for clean, green urban living. Over the course of the five-year demonstration project, Pecan Street will deploy smart grid technology — home energy management systems, solar panels, electric vehicles, new pricing models and more — in up to 1,000 homes in and around Mueller. And did we mention that Pecan Street is the world’s largest LEED-ND certified community?

So far, Pecan Street has loaded up Mueller with some remarkable smart grid stats: a third of the homes have solar panels and, by this summer, 100 Chevy Volts will be tooling around town and parking (and recharging) within Mueller’s one-square-mile radius.

Greentech Media calls Pecan Street “the most ambitious EV-solar-smart-grid integration project in the United States.”

And this spring, the organization broke ground on the country’s first smart grid commercialization lab, located among the homes and retail in Mueller, that will serve as a testing facility with nationally unique opportunities for commercialization, research and education.

Posted in Energy Innovation, General / Tagged | Comments are closed

Guest Blog: The Devil In The Design – Energy And Climate Policy Design Matters More Than You Might Think

By: Guest Blogger Joe Indvik, ICF International

Policy design matters. But all too often, this notion is ignored by political pundits and belittled by policymakers in favor of flashy claims about the morality of a policy type. Like the latest sports car, a policy is usually touted as either a gem or a dud based on its superficial image, with only marginal public interest in looking at what’s actually under the hood. On the contrary, data-driven analysis of the inner workings of policy design will be the key to smart solutions on the road ahead for climate and energy policy the U.S.

The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill of 2009 is a prime example. Claims about this former centerpiece of the American climate policy debate ran the gamut of dramatic generalization. They ranged from accusations of a job-killing socialist scheme that “would hurt families, business and farmers—basically anyone who drives a car and flips a light switch” to claims from hopeful environmentalists that any cap would be better than nothing.  Discussion on the actual design of the bill was all but absent from the limelight.  Energy policy discourse is often dominated by these combative back-and-forths, which focus on oversimplified notions of whether a policy would be good for the country while glossing over the practical nuances that make all the difference. Read More »

Posted in Climate, Renewable Energy / Tagged , , , , , , , | Read 4 Responses

More Good News to Celebrate this Earth Day

We blogged yesterday about the latest Next 10 report that analyzes the economic impacts of policies designed to help California reduce its climate pollution. It notes California’s record-breaking pace on clean energy funding and innovation, while reducing pollution and growing its economy. Since 1990, California’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 16 percent while carbon emissions per capita fell.

Today, a new report released by Environment America finds that the 10 Northeastern states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) have seen similar results. The states cut per capita carbon emissions 20 percent faster than the rest of the nation from 2000-2009 while regional per capital GDP grew 87 percent faster.

Add this good news to the findings of a report released last November—which estimated that investments made by RGGI states in its first three years of operation added economic value worth more than $1.6 billion (nearly $33 per person) and 16,000 jobs—and you have further proof that strong environmental policies deliver economic benefits to states that lead on climate change. That is worth celebrating on Earth Day.

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