NewEnergyNews: Getting California to 12,000 Megawatts of Distributed Generation; “Some kinds of opposition you have to crush.”—Governor Brown

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

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YESTERDAY

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    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, July 17:

  • TTTA Thursday-THE PREMATURE EVACUATION FROM CLIMATE CHANGE EXCITEMENT
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  • TTTA Thursday-SOLAR’S COST TO UTILITIES
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    2013-11-05-Figure_ES2_FULL.jpg

    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-butterfield). Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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  • Thursday, October 25, 2012

    Getting California to 12,000 Megawatts of Distributed Generation; “Some kinds of opposition you have to crush.”—Governor Brown

    Getting California to 12,000 Megawatts of Distributed Generation; “Some kinds of opposition you have to crush.”—Governor Brown

    Herman K. Trabish, June 11, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    California Governor Jerry Brown wants 12,000 megawatts of distributed generation (DG) to be part of the 20,000-plus megawatts of renewable capacity the state’s utilities have been ordered to put in place by 2020. That's a lot of rooftop and ground-mounted solar, small and community wind, small biomass/biogas production, combined heat and power and other such local renewables.

    “There are many thousands of megawatts left to do,” explained Steven Weissman, co-author of the report California’s Transition to Local Renewable Energy: 12,000 Megawatts by 2020from U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE).

    Most of California’s DG will likely come from solar. “The good news is the California Solar Initiative [CSI] the CPUC oversees, which pertains to retrofit installations, and a comparable program the CEC oversees for new construction, should hit their 3,000-megawatt target by 2017. The bad news is it will have taken ten years. To meet the 12,000 megawatt goal, we’re going to have more than 3,000 megawatts still to make up and less than ten years to do it.”

    To create a roadmap, Brown gathered players in the solar private sector, representatives of the state’s utilities, and leaders of California trade groups, environmentalists and labor unions at UCLA last summer and charged them with finding a way to install the twelve gigawatts despite regulatory, financial and political obstacles. “Find the path through the thicket,” he told them. “On the other side, we will have our solar future.”

    The Governor’s office asked CLEE’s Weissman and Jeffrey Russell to expand on the UCLA conference stakeholder input with further research and analysis and build a comprehensive outline of how to overcome the many remaining planning, permitting, financing, construction and interconnection barriers slowing California’s DG.

    The recent loss of the state’s aging San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) that left the California Independent System Operator (ISO) scrambling to fill the resulting 2,200-megawatt gap underscores the key irony of DG development. “Developing these smaller projects to meet our energy needs,” Weissman observed, “requires extensive involvement by residential customers, government officials at every level, and business executives from companies large and small.”

    In other words, DG should be easier to site and build than it is.

    In doing the report for the Governor’s office, Weissman came to believe the building of local renewables must be effectively streamlined. “The utilities are saying they are going to be able to meet the goal just with the large facilities they are taking under contract,” Weissmann said, “but not every project for which there is a contract is going to make it.”

    He also believes the building local renewables can be effectively streamlined. “It is remarkable to see how the assumptions that went in at the start of the CSI seem to apply,” he observed. “The hope was that CSI would help promote reduction in the cost of installed photovoltaics and, though it is hard to measure cause and effect, it is undoubtedly true that the cost of installed PV is a lot lower than it was when the program started.”

    And, he added, “the hope was that by ramping down the incentive in steps, there would not be a loss of sales and, over time, sales have increased. When the CSI goes away, there is still reason to expect that the net metering program will continue to provide enough incentive, on top of federal tax credits, to get people to install.”

    At the UCLA conference, Brown set the tone for making all of California’s programs -- itsRenewable Auction Mechanism, its Feed-in Tariff and its Net Energy Metering, for instance -- as effective as the CSI. "The system has evolved tens of thousands of laws, hundreds of thousands of regulations,” Brown said, but “you have to push [because] if we let the process unfold, we’re not going to get to the goal.”

    The CLEE report describes ways the state can expedite the building of local renewable energy by pushing changes in state, county and municipal governments, at the electric utilities, and in the private sector. It recommends reforms in financing, permitting andtransmission and distribution system planning.

    “The various agencies -- the California Independent System Operator (ISO), the PUC and the California Energy Commission -- are going to be working together,” Brown promised at UCLA. “It is true when you have 38 million people,” he said, “that there’s always going to be somebody who says 'no' to change, and in our participatory system, any old fool can object to anything.” If counties, municipalities or regulators block development, he said, his office will act, because “some kinds of opposition you have to crush.”

    The Governor’s office, Weissman found, has already begun implementing interconnection reforms that will eliminate costs and delays for developers and designing permitting reforms that will make rules, fees and scheduling more uniform.

    “There is going to have to be a lot done on the utility level,” Weissman said. “The utilities have tended to close their local offices and pull back to a broader level. They tend to look at their resource needs on a service territory-wide basis. But in order to make distributed generation a significant factor and a positive contribution to the grid, there is going to have to be a renewed emphasis on local resource planning.”

    And “state and local governments [must] think of themselves as consumers of these technologies and develop as ambitious a program as possible to promote the procurement and installation of local renewables.”

    There will be a webinar covering the study’s key findings and the most current California DG capacity numbers on Thursday, June 14 at 2 p.m. Pacific, co-sponsored by the Governor’s office and CLEE.

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