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February 20 2014


March 07 2012


Why Congress Must Extend the PTC for Wind Power

There are dark clouds on the horizon for wind energy of Congress does not renew the PTCThe expiration of the production tax credit (PTC) at the end of this year constitutes a major obstacle for U.S. wind energy. If the PTC is not extended by Congress, tens of thousands of jobs will be lost and economic development would be stymied. As stated in a report from Ernst and Young, “Failure to extend this incentive could stop wind development in its tracks.”

The federal renewable electricity PTC is a per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources and sold by the taxpayer to an unrelated person during the taxable year. Originally enacted in 1992, the PTC has been renewed and expanded numerous times. The federal tax credit gives wind power generators 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of energy produced, but it is slated to expire at the end of 2012 unless lawmakers approve a renewal.

The PTC has fueled the proliferation of wind power installations across the U.S. Since 2005, the PTC has helped to generate 47,000 megawatts of new capacity. A total of 35 percent of the new electrical generation capacity has been developed due to the PTC over the past five years. This activity is worth $60 billion in private investment.

The best wind farms in the world already produce power as economically as coal, gas and nuclear generators. In terms of cost efficiency, rising fuel prices mean that wind power could achieve parity by 2016, but this won’t happen without the PTC.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2012, wind is one of the dominant players behind increasing U.S. renewable energy generation. Wind power now generates 3 percent of America’s electricity. Forecasts predict that wind generation will almost double between 2010 and 2035, but the growth would slow substantially if the PTC were allowed to expire.

“If Congress chooses not to renew, there is no hope for the wind industry next year,” John Graham, a BP executive, said of the tax credit. “Without it, U.S. wind projects aren’t viable.” Failure to extend the PTC would result in the loss of an estimated 40,000 jobs in the wind industry. Members of the industry supply chain are already being affected due to the uncertainty. The current PTC uncertainty has begun to cause layoffs and in the absence of an extension, further job losses and even plant closings will keep accelerating.

Despite economic headwinds, the PTC has helped the US wind market grow stronger.  In 2011 the wind market improved upon the 5 GW posted in 2010. More than 7 GW of wind capacity is expected to be installed in the US in 2012 as developers of wind energy rush to complete projects before the expiration of the PTC at the end of this year. Although the wind market will experience an acceleration of installations, especially during Q1 and Q2 of 2012, if the PTC is not extended, a major stoppage throughout the entire US wind industry can be anticipated in the second half of 2012.

Although bipartisan contingents in both the House and Senate are calling for action, the fight over the extension of the PTC continues on Capitol Hill. U.S. Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and 10 colleagues from both parties wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urging swift action on extension of the wind energy production tax credit (PTC).

In addition to Udall and Moran, the Senate letter was signed by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

As the Senators explain in their letter,

“An extension of the wind production tax credit should provide for some long-term stability while setting forth a path for how the wind industry can move towards a market-based system. While it is clear that the wind industry currently requires tax incentives like the production tax credit to compete, Congress needs to provide the wind industry with the stability and predictability to plan for the future.”

Four U.S. Representatives from the Illinois congressional delegation signed a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate calling for “a short-term Production Tax Credit extension for wind energy at the earliest opportunity in the first quarter of 2012.”

A House bill seeking to extend the PTC has 72 co-sponsors, including 18 Republicans. The bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition, (including 23 Republican and Democratic Governors from across the U.S.), and the Western Governors’ Association also support the extension. This legislation has received the endorsement of a broad coalition of more than 370 members, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Edison Electric Institute. A PTC extension even has the support of the environmentally indifferent U.S. Chamber of Commerce and staunch Republicans like Governors Terry Branstad of Iowa and Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Forbes reports that a total of 15 major companies wrote to Congressional leaders urging extension of the PTC. These companies represent some of America’s biggest brands and largest purchasers of wind energy. The list includes Starbucks, Staples, Nike, Levi Strauss & Co., Campbell Soup Co. and Yahoo!. As stated in the letter, “The PTC has enabled the wind industry to slash wind energy costs – 90 percent since 1980 – a big reason why companies like ours are buying increasing amounts of wind energy.” Wind energy is increasingly attractive because it helps companies to manage costs and reduce their emissions profile while being less reliant on the price and supply volatility of foreign oil. Unlike fossil fuels, wind can offer 20-30 year fixed prices.

Opposition comes from conservatives who oppose all federal investments in energy production including members of Congress who are affiliated with the Tea Party.

In another Forbes article, Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Power Association wrote that wind energy is “one of the fastest growing new sources of US manufacturing jobs,” she said, “the PTC has driven tremendous growth in wind’s manufacturing sector.”  The U.S. now has over 400 manufacturing facilities in 43 states involved in wind turbine manufacturing. That represents a 12-fold increase in domestic manufacturing over the last six years.

According to Bode, American wind power accounts for 75,000 American jobs, and can grow to almost 100,000 jobs four years from now. According to a Bush Administration study, wind can support 500,000 American jobs in less than 20 years. But these jobs won’t materialize in the absence of the PTC.

Bode quotes economic studies, which have demonstrated that Congressional inaction on the PTC will eliminate 37,000 American jobs, close plants and forego billions of dollars in private investment.

“Wind energy is an American success story and the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind is driving this success. But we need Congress to extend the PTC and keep taxes stable and low on wind in order to keep this success story going,” Bode said.

The PTC enables wind energy to compete with the heavily subsidized fossil fuel industry. Failure to extend the PTC will cripple wind power’s competitiveness which will undermine the economy and kill one of the greatest job creation engines in the United States.

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July 07 2011


Power Generation from Renewables Surpasses Nuclear

Renewable electrical generation surpasses nuclear power generationThe latest issue of theMonthly Energy Review published by the US Energy Information Administration, electric power generation from renewable sources has surpassed production from nuclear sources, and is now “closing in on oil,” says Ken Bossong Executive Director of the Sun Day Campaign

In the first quarter of 2011 renewable energy sources accounted for 11.73 percent of US domestic energy production. Renewable sources include solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, biomass/biofuel. As of the first quarter of 2011, energy production from these sources was 5.65 percent more than production from nuclear.

As Bossing further explains from the report, renewable sources are closing the gap with generation from oil-fired sources, with renewable source equal to 77.15 percent of total oil based generation.

For all sectors, including transportation, thermal, and electrical generation, renewable energy production grew just over 15 percent in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the first quarter of 2010, and fully 25 percent over first quarter 2009. In a break-down of renewable sources, biomass/biofuel accounted for a bit more than 48 percent, hydro for 35.41 percent, wind for nearly 13 percent, geothermal 2.45 percent, and solar at 1.16 percent.

Looking at just the electrical generation sector, renewable sources, including hydro, accounted for nearly 13 percent of net US electrical generation in the first quarter of 2011, up from 10.31 percent for the same quarter last year. Non-hydro renewable sources accounted for 4.74 percent of net US production.

Electrical power generation from renewable grew by almost 26 percent in the first quarter of 2011 over the same quarter in 2010. Solar power generation was up 104.8 percent, wind generation increased 40.3 percent, and hydro expanded by 28.7 percent. Electricity generated from biomass decreased by 4.8 percent. By comparison, natural gas generation increased by 1.8 percent, nuclear by 0.4 percent, and coal-fired electrical generation declined by 5.7 percent.

“Notwithstanding the recent nuclear accident in Japan, among many others, and the rapid growth in energy and electricity from renewable sources, congressional Republicans continue to press for more nuclear energy funding while seeking deep cuts in renewable energy investments,” said Bossong. “One has to wonder ‘what are these people thinking?’”

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May 03 2011


Enviro News Wrap: French Solar Investment; Climategate Retrospective; Japan’s Energy Future, and more…

The latest environmental news headlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

The largest oil company in France, Total, bought 60% of SunPower, one of the largest PV solar panel manufacturers in the world. As other large oil companies drift away from investments in alternative energy Total is diving right in.

There are too many types of organisms on earth to count, but some still try and they find new species all the time.

As we change how we produce and use energy our lifestyles will change too. New York Times reports on residents of New Jersey adjusting to solar panels in their neighborhood.

MotherJones revisits Climategate in a post-perspective story.

Japan has relied on nuclear power for decades. Recent events have shown a need for other energy sources. Wind power has been difficult to harvest on the island with traditional wind turbines, but newer designs are making wind power more viable.

New York City is covering old landfills with solar panels, how wonderful.

The moment has come; you can now buy a “Green” yacht. The technologies it utilizes should be used on commercial vehicles, but the vehicle itself is a floating oxymoron.

Of the many changes that climate change will bring, one of them will be decreased river flow in the Western US. With all the controversy over rivers already less water will just escalate the situation.

National Geographic covers a fuel efficiency car competition with great photo coverage.

Al Gore now has his own Global Warming Ap and a video to show it off. Check it out.

Grist shows off a Sierra Club map of coal-fired power plants in the US and asks the question, “is there one near you.”


April 26 2011


Wind Energy Production Hits New Record in California Last Week

Wind energy hits record peak in CaliforniaThe California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), the state’s grid operator, announced last Friday (Earth Day) that the state hit a record level of peak wind energy output last week of 2,432 megawatts, outpacing last year’s record of 1,915 MW. Peak refers to the amount of energy generation is available while demand is highest. Last week’s record peak comprised 5 percent of total demand.

The announcement came as part of Cal-ISO’s 2011 summer assignment. Due to what the report refers to as a “modest economic recovery,” summer peak demand is expected to increase 1.5 percent from last year’s 47,127 MW to 47,814MW.

The report credits the growth in wind energy generation to California’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard that mandates 33% total energy generation from renewables by 2020.

The state has approximately 7,300 MW of renewable energy currently online. After wind energy, geothermal is the primary source of renewable energy in California, followed by small hydro, biomass, solar, and biogas.

Most non-renewable energy generation (68 percent) comes from natural gas in California, with large hydro contributing 16 percent of total generation, and nuclear at 9 percent.

Sources and further reading:

Cal-ISO Assessment Report (pdf)
ClimateWire (subscription required)


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February 05 2010


The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: What's Missing from Obama's Clean Energy Agenda? (Hint: Wind and Solar)

Wind and solar take a back seat with Obama's energy agendaBy Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with Permission)

Nuclear power, biofuels, clean coal: These are the Obama administration's answers to climate change. The 2011 budget, released this week, promised new loans for the construction of nuclear power plants, and on Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), White House, and other departments detailed steps to encourage ethanol and clean coal production.

These initiatives may garner support from conservatives, but their ascendancy comes at a price. Support for renewable fuel sources, like wind and solar, has dwindled. President Barack Obama did encourage Senate Democrats to pass a climate change bill, but some moderates are bucking the cap-and-trade provisions that could tamp down carbon emissions. Those moderates are pushing for legislation that leaves carbon caps out entirely.

It hasn't been a good week for climate advocates. On top of the Obama administration's overtures to crusty, old energy industries, Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has had to fend off pressure to resign. The IPCC published a report with a badly sourced fact about the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are melting, and when scientists pointed out the error, Pachauri would not cop to the mistake. (If you missed the beginning of this to-do, Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard covered the controversy back in January. Ed. note, see editorials on GlobalWarmingisReal about this issue here and here.)

Given this country's weak efforts to tamp down carbon emissions, though, perhaps the IPCC's prediction that those glaciers likely will disappeared by 2035 will turn out to be accurate.

New nuclear plants—but at what cost?

Obama’s budget, as Sheppard reports at Mother Jones, is upping funding for nuclear plant development, even though previous nuclear projects have run wildly over budget. The president has always supported increased nuclear production. As an Illinois Senator, Obama had Exelon Corporation, the country’s largest nuclear operator, in his constituency. The company continued to support him as a presidential candidate. The proposed funding runs in the neighborhood of $54.5 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear projects. That's good news for an industry that’s in need of cash. As Sheppard explains, without governmental backing, these plants would have little chance of being built.

Even as public opinion toward nuclear power has warmed, projected construction costs for new plants have soared, with a single reactor now estimated to cost as much as $12 billion,” she writes. “In fact, the outlook for nuclear plants looks so dire that even Wall Street banks have balked at financing them unless the government underwrites the deal.”

The Obama administration is also backing research into nuclear waste disposal, a prerequisite for nuclear expansion. No matter how "green" nuclear energy production might be, so far there's no safe, sustainable way to deal with its by-products. Finding a long-term solution for nuclear waste disposal will not come cheaply.

Biofuels move us backwards

The administration’s support for biofuels was bigger slap in the face to environmentalists, though. Just a few years ago, ethanol made from corn or switchgrass ranked high on the list of renewable fuels that could spring America from its Middle East oil addiction. In practice, however, biofuels have proven more environmentally destructive and less efficient than advocates had hoped. With farmers in the Midwest knee-deep in corn marked for ethanol production, though, backing away from biofuels is politically dicey.

The consequences are more than political, however. At Grist, Tom Philpott argues that support for biofuels will ultimately drive global carbon emission up, rather than down.

“As ethanol factories continue sucking in more and more corn, plantation owners in places like Brazil and Argentina will put more grassland and even rainforest under the plow to make up for the shortfall, resulting in huge carbon emissions,” Philpott writes. “That dire effect of our ethanol program, known as indirect land-use change, likely nullifies any scant climate benefits from ethanol.”

It’s not just corn and switchgrass that pose a problem, either. As Gina Marie Cheeseman reports at Care2, algae farms, another potential source of biofuel, face their own challenges. Algae demands high energy input and could release more carbon dioxide emissions that it would save, according to a new report from the University of Virginia.

There’s more research to be done before writing algae energy production off, however. In January, the Department of Energy said it would sink $44 million into work on algae pools. Industry players like ExxonMobile are also underwriting research on the subject, Cheeseman writes.

No room for innovation

Moving towards energy sources like nuclear power and ethanol does take the country a step closer to responsible energy production. But right now, the Obama administration is not leaving room for new or ambitious ideas that could do more. Wind and solar, which would form the best foundation for a sustainable energy future, have few advocates in Congress. They also seem to have no role in the near-term energy plan.

Ethanol was the Midwest’s first green industry, for instance, but there are other possibilities for juicing up the region’s clean energy production. In The Nation, Lisa Margonelli lays out the case for “gray power," which is recycled energy produced by the old, dirty smokestacks that ring cities like Cleveland.

In this vision, twentieth century industry can produce twenty-first century energy. Waste energy, Margonelli argues, “can be profitably "recycled" onto the grid to create power as clean as that from solar and wind but far cheaper.”

“In fact, energy now lost as steam and gases by the region's manufacturing plants, as well as municipal and agricultural waste, could create as much energy as sixty-nine nuclear power plants, according to figures commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency,” she says. “This power could strengthen the region's electrical grid and preserve jobs by making local manufacturing plants more economically stable, while making the region a leader in greener technology.”

A project like Margonelli imagines, however, would require significant commitment and vision from the federal government, both of which are lacking right now.


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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