News Update: Monday, September 8 – Sunday, September 14

Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability & Business Risks. WRI Report.

In a recently released report, the World Resources Institute (WRI) discusses some of the water-stress issues that shale-rich nations will face in the years ahead. Shale gas extraction — principally through a process called hydraulic fracturing — is highly water-intensive, the report notes, and furthermore, many of the world’s shale deposits are not located close to freshwater, and often compete with other industries, such as agriculture, for water use. According to WRI’s report:

  • 38 percent of shale resources are in areas that are either arid or under high to extremely high levels of water stress;
  • 19 percent are in areas of high or extremely high seasonal variability; and
  • 15 percent are in locations exposed to high or extremely high drought severity.

US has sufficient resources, technology to support over 54 GW of offshore wind. Electric Light & Power.

After a three-year investigation by a team of leading energy organziations and experts, the Department of Energy-funded “National Offshore Wind Energy Grid Interconnection Study” (NOWEGIS) was released recently, with encouraging results. The study examined the technical challenges and opportunities for high levels of offshore wind energy production along the U.S. coastlines. Among the study’s findings are:

  • The U.S. has sufficient offshore wind energy resources to consider having at least 54 GW of offshore wind. Although the NOWEGIS focused on the ability to integrate up to 54 GW of offshore wind into the U.S. grid by 2030, the study concluded that resources are available for significantly larger amounts of offshore wind.
  • Appropriate technologies exist for the interconnection of large amounts of wind energy to the U.S. grid. Multiple technologies for both high-voltage AC and high-voltage DC systems exist and can be used to bring offshore wind generated electricity to the onshore grid. Some technologies also might help alleviate troublesome congestion in the onshore system.
  • At a regional or national level, offshore wind energy might provide significant value. The NOWEGIS estimated that the 54 GW of offshore wind could reduce the national annual electricity production costs by some $7.68 billion, which corresponds to some $41 per megawatt-hour of offshore wind added to the grid. This savings can help justify the high initial investment costs.
  • Reductions in the federal permitting and siting process are critical for offshore wind deployment to achieve gigawatt-scale in the next decade.
  • Research and development promise to help reduce initial capital investment.

FERC Order 1000 drives changes in competitive landscape of transmission owners. Electric Light & Power.

According to a recent study released by Moody’s, FERC Order 1000 is making the electric transmission sector more competitive. One of the drivers has been the Order’s repeal of the Right of First Refusal, which allowed incumbent transmission owners the ability to be the first, and often the only, entity bidding for a transmission project. Eliminating this incumbent-favoring policy has opened up the market for more competition and, according to the report, many utilities are creating transmission-only (transcos) subsidiaries as a means to bid for new transmission projects and take advantage of higher FERC-regulated returns.

5 Key Proposals for New York’s Grid Transformation. Greentech Media

New York’s Public Service Commission has provided some of the first details of how it plans to transform the state’s electric grid and energy markets, with proposals to turn the state’s utilities into distributed system platform providers, identify use cases for replacing grid upgrades with distributed generation, and create open markets for third-party competition.

Those are some of the highlights of the straw proposal (PDF) for New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative, released late last month. The 81-page report is the first big step in a process launched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April to create distribution grid planning, utility ratemaking and competitive energy markets that brings distributed energy resources to the forefront.

Opower Enters Rare Partnership With FirstFuel to Expand Into Commercial Building Efficiency. Greentech Media

Study Says Existing State Policies Can Be Used to Comply With Power Plant Rules. Bloomberg BNA – Energy & Climate Report

On September 11, Stanford University released a new report detailing 12 state clean energy policies that other states could adopt as means of achieving the carbon reductions that will be required when the EPA releases its final rule on existing power plants later this year. In June, the EPA issued a proposed rule which would set carbon emission limits in each state, pursuant to Clean Air Act section 111(d), a move that could reduce existing power plant carbon carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. Under the proposed rule, states would be free to set whatever policies necessary to achieve the emissions reductions. The report released by Stanford University, “The State Clean Energy Cookbook: A Dozen Recipes for State Action on Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,” sets out numerous recommendations and policy suggestions that are already being implemented in other states.

 

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News Update: Monday, September 1 – Sunday, September 7

So, getting back in the saddle again! Hopefully I’ll be able to get out more regular updates.

Monday, September 1 – Sunday, September 7

“Slow down on renewables!” pleads Austin Energy. “Don’t turn us into Germany!” SmartGridNews

The municipal utility, Austin Energy, is starting to voice concerns about increasing renewable electricity grid integration. According to local reporting, Austin Energy is becoming leery in response to the city council’s new renewable energy goals, which — as Germany has amply illustrated lately — could hoist higher rates on customers when the utility has to buy costly power from the statewide grid to supplement its own supply on cloudy or windless days. Concerns over the intermittent nature of renewable energy has been a hot topic, but this represents one of the first times that a progressive, renewable-friendly, utility like Austin Energy has started showing signs of slowing down.

NRG, Green Mountain team up to design ‘energy city of the future.’ E&E Energywire.

This week, NRG Energy Inc. and Green Mountain Power announced their partnership to undertake an extensive migrogrid laboratory to advance renewable energy use in Rutland, Vermont, and eventually the whole state. GMP will use NRG technologies and strategies to bring greater customer-choice and energy management to the city. According to GMP, the project’s goal is to move Rutland “beyond the legacy grid system” with a more distributed grid system based on NRG capabilities.

A Smarter Power Grid for U.S. Utilities. Bloomberg Business Week

Since 1984, power outages in the United States have risen more than 285%, costing the economy about $150 billion every year.

Rate Design For the Distribution Edge. Rocky Mountain Institute

Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Institute recently published a white paper detailing various ratemaking designs that could help the electric utility sector regain some of its vitality and reinvent its role in the modern electric industry.

U.S. solar installations have almost tripled in 3 years — study. GreenTechMedia

U.S. solar photovoltaic installations continued at a brisk pace in the second quarter of 2014, with 1,133 megawatts of new capacity coming online in the utility, commercial and residential sectors, according to data released Friday by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. In a statement, SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch said that currently “the solar industry employs 143,000 Americans and pumps nearly $15 billion a year into our economy. This remarkable growth is due in large part to smart and effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), net energy metering (NEM) and renewable portfolio standards (RPS).”

 

Oregon Natural Desert Association v. Jewell, No. 3:12-CV-00596, __ F. Supp. 2d __, 2013 WL 5101338 (D. Or. Sep. 11, 2013).

Reprinted with permission from the October 2013 Case Notes edition of the Oregon State Bar’s Environmental & Natural Resources Section.

These case summaries are prepared for the benefit for the full bar, and therefore provide more of an overview of the case and underlying laws than might otherwise be necessary for environmental law practitioners.  

Oregon Natural Desert Association v. Jewell, No. 3:12-CV-00596, __ F. Supp. 2d __, 2013 WL  5101338 (D. Or. Sep. 11, 2013). 
Adrienne Thompson, Judicial Clerk to the Hon. Jack L. Landau

Plaintiffs, the Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Audubon Society of Portland (collectively, “ONDA”) sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Secretary of the Interior (collectively, “BLM”) alleging that BLM did not adequately comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq. when the agency granted a right-of-way for the North Steens 230-kv Transmission Line associated with the Echanis Wind Energy Project in eastern Oregon. ONDA argues that the agency’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (“FEIS”) and Record of Decision (“ROD”) should be overturned on account of, among other things, BLM’s failure to consider and mitigate the project’s impact on sage-grouse and golden eagle populations.
The Echanis Wind Energy Project is a 104MW wind farm being developed on the north side of Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon. The project developer, Columbia Energy Partners, LLC, (“CEP”) signed a longer-term power purchase agreement to deliver the project’s power output to Southern California Edison customers. To bring this power to market, however, will require a 44-mile, 230-kV transmission line, 12 miles of which would run through BLM-administered land. CEP applied for this 12-mile right-of-way back in 2008, initiating a multi-year NEPA analysis that concluded with the agency’s FEIS and ROD that granted CEP’s application, and ultimately prompted ONDA to bring the present litigation in the U.S. District Court of Oregon.

NEPA is a procedural statute that requires federal agencies to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) whenever they undertake any “major federal action[] significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” 42 U.S.C. § 4332(C). So long as an agency takes a “hard look” at the environmental effects of its actions, Marsh v. Or. Natural Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360, 374 (1989), no particular substantive result is required by the statute.

ONDA’s concerns revolve around the important and high-quality sage-grouse and golden eagle habitats in and around Steens Mountain that could be threatened by the Echanis Project and the associated new transmission line. ONDA challenged BLM’s FEIS and ROD under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 701-708. CEP and Harney County intervened in support of BLM. All parties moved for summary judgment. In support of its motion and its overarching argument that BLM failed to comply with NEPA, ONDA claimed in particular that:

  1. BLM failed to consider the impact of the project on fragmentation and connectivity of sage-grouse habitat.
  2. BLM failed to follow its own policies relating to sage-grouse and golden eagles.
  3. The FEIS contained inadequate information about the impacts of the project on sage-grouse and golden eagles.
  4. BLM failed to consider and respond to other agencies’ critical comments.
  5. BLM failed to specify required mitigation measures and relied on the assumption that Harney County would require mitigation for the impacts to private land.
  6. BLM failed to analyze the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation measures.
  7. BLM failed to allow public comment on the wholesale changes it made between the Draft and Final EIS.
The court denied ONDA’s motion for summary judgment, rejecting the organization’s arguments on each of the seven issues raised in its motion. On the first issue, the court found that BLM adequately considered the project’s impacts on fragmentation and connectivity. On the second issue, the court found that BLM did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in following its own policies. On the third and fourth issues, the court found that BLM’s surveys and data were adequate, and that the agency sufficiently considered and responded to other agency comments. The court also found that BLM was not required to specify mitigation obligations for the project developer, but instead, was permitted to rely on Harney County’s imposed mitigation measures–measures that the court additionally found BLM to have sufficiently assessed. Lastly, the court found that BLM was not required to solicit public comment on its FEIS.
As a result, the court found that BLM’s decision to issue its FEIS and ROD was not arbitrary and capricious, and granted the motions for summary judgment raised by BLM, CEP, and Harney County.

 

News

News Roundup for the Week of
Monday, September 16 – Sunday, September 22

Carbon limits: Obama’s EPA sets terms for tomorrow’s cleaner energy industry.

The Guardian. An opinion piece that discusses EPA’s new carbon emission regulations for new power plants under the Clean Air Act. To Read EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s prepared comments on climate change and the new CAA standards, click here.

Oregon’s energy hub on the Willamette River a catastrophic risk when a megaquake hits.

The Oregonian. A state report warns of that catastrophe and more — including pipe breaks that could cripple Portland International Airport and create a statewide gasoline shortage. The report pinpoints the “critical infrastructure energy hub” between Sauvie Island and the Fremont Bridge crammed with tank farms, transmission towers, bridges, pipelines and electrical substations. The hub is a six-mile stretch near downtown Portland that could become Oregon’s Achilles heel when the Big One comes.

Wind Project Wins in Court But Delay is Costly

Capital Press. Environmental groups have failed to block a power transmission line that enables the construction of a major wind energy project in eastern Oregon. However, economic shifts in the energy industry are now posing another threat to the project, backers say. While litigation has delayed the project, natural gas has become cheaper due to new extraction technology…

More FERC uproar: Nominee for chairman stirs controversy

Smart Grid News. Ron Binz is the former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. his nomination as FERC chairman has brought out vocal supporters and detractors….

ViZn Energy Systems Launches Large Scale Flow Battery for Micro-Grid Market

Green Energy News. The Z20 160 kWh battery offers a scalable storage system for the growing micro-grid markets and renewable integration. With more than fifteen years of research and intense product development cycles behind it, ViZn’s patented flow-battery technology breaks the cost/benefit threshold that is currently limiting widespread adoption of storage…

More Wind Means Less Baseload Generation

GreenTech Media. In a big chunk of the country, the rise of wind power is reducing the need for baseload generation from coal and nuclear…

News Roundup for the Week of Monday, July 22 – Sunday, July 28

News Roundup for the Week of Monday, July 22 – Sunday, July 28

Edison Electric Institute (EEI) Urges Federal Energy Regulatory Commission …

The National Law Review

On June 6, 2013, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) issued a white paper urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to reevaluate the method it uses to establish returns on equity (ROEs) for transmission investments. EEI urges FERC to reaffirm its commitment to transmission investment by making necessary adjustments in its approach to setting a just and reasonable ROE for transmission investment. EEI’s white paper is certain to be controversial, since customer groups have been arguing for lower ROEs for many months.

FERC approves changes in ancillary service sales, reporting

HydroWorld

FERC said its final rules (RM11-24) are to enhance the ability of ancillary services providers to compete for sale of services to public utility transmission providers. FERC said its final rules (RM11-24) are to enhance the ability of ancillary services providers to compete for sale of services to public utility transmission providers.

Innovation Leader: MISO Uses Real-Time Synchrophasor …

Sacramento Bee

MISO recently became one of the first grid operators across the country to utilize new synchrophasor technology in MISO’s Real-Time System Operations for grid monitoring and analysis.

Renewable energy transmission projects create tension among greens

High Country News (blog)

You’ve got your grid-oriented greens on the one hand, who believe that the only way to slow or reverse climate change is by attacking it on a large scale, with big wind farms, big solar plants and big power lines to ship it across long distances. And on the other, the grassroots groups who feel that sacrificing local ecosystems to fight climate change isn’t the answer.

BLM unveils preferred power line routes through Utah

Salt Lake Tribune

The BLM this week identified its preferred alignment for PacifiCorp’s proposed Gateway South transmission line, connecting Wyoming renewable energy sources to a future substation in Juab County. Earlier this month the BLM released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the right of way for the project. This line would move up to 1,500 megawatts more than 400 miles from the planned Aeolus Substation in south central Wyoming to the planned Clover Substation near Mona.

NARUC Says FERC Rules Unfairly Snub State Authority

Law360

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners approved a resolution Wednesday strongly criticizing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, saying the agency’s implementation of a rule governing transmission planning “inappropriately infringes” on states’ authority over the electric grid.

Unneeded Power Line Would Scar New Hampshire

Hartford Courant

The Northern Pass Transmission Project — a proposed $1.4 billion electricity transmission project that would bring 1,200 megawatts of energy from Hydro-Quebec’s hydroelectric plants in Canada to southern New England — is one of the hottest issues this summer here in New Hampshire.

The five most important names in renewable energy that you’ve never heard of

Grist

Despite the well-documented value that transmission investments deliver to ratepayers and the environment, FERC has been hearing complaints recently that ROEs for transmission projects are too high, and that ratepayers need relief. These complaints are misguided, and their timing could not be worse. Never in our history has so much depended on expanding and modernizing our electric transmission system.

DOE Releases Report on U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities

As the summer sets in around the country, many Americans are cranking up their fans and air conditioning units to escape the record-high heat. Especially in the West, rising temperatures are increasing electricity demand to the point where some experts argue that by 2050, 34 gigawatts of new generating capacity will be required — the equivalent of 100 power plants and a $40 billion bill for consumers. According to a new report from the Department of Energy (DOE) released yesterday, this is just one example of the many vulnerabilities facing the nation’s energy sector as a result of climate change.

The DOE report catalogs the various threats facing America’s energy infrastructure due to rising average annual temperatures, which have increased approximately 1.5°F (0.8°C) since the start of the 20th century. In particular, the energy sector will have to confront:

  • “Increasing air and water temperatures,
  • Decreasing water availability in some regions and seasons, and
  • Increasing intensity and frequency of storm events, flooding, and sea level rise.”

These climate trends have already had a devastating ripple effect throughout our country: the Southwest suffered through a record-setting drought, the West endured nearly unparalleled wildfires, and Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East coast, causing billions of dollars in damage and one of the worst blackouts in history. And that was just in 2012.

A snapshot of 10 years worth of vulnerabilities in the nation’s energy sector. To read more about these events, click on the picture and you should be directed to an interactive version of this map on DOEs website. (credit: Department of Energy)

These trends are expected to intensify in the years to come, which will adversely affect the stability of the U.S. energy sector. For instance, rising air and water temperatures will continue to increase power demand for air conditioning while simultaneously reducing the rainfall and mountain snowpack levels necessary to produce adequate hydropower in California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southeast. Drought-induced water scarcity will also limit opportunities for continued hydraulic fracturing natural gas development. Sea level rise and intensifying storms will put more energy assets and infrastructure at risk, especially along the coastlines. In addition, any disruptions in the electricity system — through flooding and wildfires, for example — could compound these problems further by making entire regions vulnerable to blackouts and brownouts.

Due to our hundred-year history of carbon emissions, most of these climate trends are inevitable, at least in the short-term. However, the DOE report points out some promising technology and policy opportunities to help the energy sector mitigate these harsh realities. For instance, commercially available condensing technology would allow steam-electric power generating stations (running on nuclear, natural gas, or concentrated solar power, etc.) to dramatically cut their fresh water usage by converting steam back into water for a closed-loop process. Structural improvements, especially for the energy assets along the East and Gulf Coasts, could make this infrastructure more storm-resilient. Governments at all levels could also institute more energy efficiency policies. New York City, for example, has cut energy consumption by 2-3% in some parts of the city by planting more trees and installing green roofs on many buildings. One study cited by the DOE report projected that retrofitting 80% of the country’s conditioned commercial buildings could realize savings of $735 million per year.

In a final call to action reminiscent of the adaptation measures outlined in President Obama’s recent Climate Action Plan, the DOE report calls for a “comprehensive and accelerated approach” to implementing adaptation and mitigation efforts. From instituting improved technologies, initiating prudent policymaking, and engaging with stakeholders, building greater climate resilience in our energy sector will ultimately require a host of solutions working in concert together. DOE officials hope that this report will be used as a starting point for such problem-solving.
For more reporting on this issue see:

TransWest Project Inches Closer to Construction

Late last week, federal agencies announced the long-awaited arrival of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the TransWest Express Transmission Project — a major multi-state transmission  project aimed at increasing grid integrity and  renewable energy integration in Wyoming and the Southwest.

Co-authored by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Western Area Power Administration (Western), the draft EIS represents the culmination of several years of environmental analyses, public comments, and inter-agency planning. Once completed, the project is expected to transmit about 3,000 MW (enough to power almost 1 million homes), cost about $3 billion, and stretch 725 miles through Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. From now through September, BLM and Western will hold stakeholder meetings throughout the project area, and solicit comments or suggestions to include in the final EIS prior to beginning the year-long construction process sometime in 2014.

TransWest Map

Although the final project path will not be determined until the completion of the EIS process, the dotted line represents the current proposed route for the TransWest project.

A main project objective is to connect Wyoming’s wind energy resources — such as the 1,000 turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project currently under construction — to Las Vegas and Southern California energy consumers. In addition, proponents point out that having the extra grid capacity will alleviate congestion constraints all across the West’s transmission system. However, environmentalists are concerned that the proposed route would run right through important habitats for the sage grouse in Wyoming and Utah, and the desert tortoise in Nevada. To be sure, although the TransWest project is ambitious in both its size, capacity, and jurisdictional cross-over,  most of the planning process has been devoted to the kinds of environmental analyses and alternatives considerations that would address these wildlife concerns. 

Time will tell when construction will  commence, and what the ultimate transmission route will look like, but one thing is clear, with the Draft EIS out of the way, TransWest cleared its most significant and cumbersome hurdle.

For more info:

U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, TransWest Express Transmission Line Project, http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/NEPA/documents/hdd/transwest.html

The Winderness Society, TransWest Express Transmission, wilderness.org/article/transwest-express-transmission

http://www.transwestexpress.net/