NewEnergyNews: On The Road Reading - Huge Win for California Solar: CPUC Keeps Net Energy Metering Alive; “This is a big, big win.” Net Energy Metering gets a new lease on life and a well-defined cap.

NewEnergyNews

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

The challenge: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

  • THE STUDY: THE JOBS BONANZA IN INDIA SOLAR
  • QUICK NEWS, Sept. 30: NAT GAS, SOLAR, WIND LEAD 1H 2014 NEW BUILD; COOLER PANELS COULD HEAT UP SOLAR; OFFSHORE WIND, PROMISE AND POLITICS">
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: ADDING UP THE CLIMATE CHANGE NUMBERS
  • QUICK NEWS, Sept. 29: PRES SAYS YES TO CLIMATE ACTION, SENATE STUCK; FLAWED NEW PLAN FOR NEW ENERGY IN CALIF; SOLAR PANELS GET BETTER
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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

  • Weekend Video: Obama On Climate Change At The UN
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart Heats Up Over Climate Change
  • Weekend Video: Colbert Asks If “This Changes Everything”
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-HIGH WATER RISING – EVERYWHERE
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-MOROCCO WIND BOOM COMING
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-INDIA BOOSTS ITS SOLAR BUILD
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-ABU DHABI BUYS A PIECE OF NORWAY’S STAKE IN UK OFFSHORE WIND
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, Sept. 25:

  • TTTA Thursday-THE PRIVATE SECTOR FACES CLIMATE CHANGE
  • TTTA Thursday-SOLAR WILL POWER SCHOOLS, EARN MONEY FOR TEACHERS
  • TTTA Thursday-A RIDE IN TOMORROW’S CAR
  • TTTA Thursday-A LOOK AT SEE-THROUGH SOLAR
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • THE STUDY: FREEING THE NATIONAL TREASURE IN U.S. NATIONAL LABS
  • QUICK NEWS, Sept. 24: ROCKEFELLERS DIVEST OIL FOR NEW ENERGY; BOLD $8BIL WIND BUILD-TRANSMIT-STORE PROJECT; CALIF TARGETS 1.5MIL 0-EMISSIONS CARS BY 2024
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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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    Your intrepid reporter

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  • Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    On The Road Reading - Huge Win for California Solar: CPUC Keeps Net Energy Metering Alive; “This is a big, big win.” Net Energy Metering gets a new lease on life and a well-defined cap.

    On The Road Reading - Huge Win for California Solar: CPUC Keeps Net Energy Metering Alive; “This is a big, big win.” Net Energy Metering gets a new lease on life and a well-defined cap.

    Herman K. Trabish, May 24, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    A fight over the future of net energy metering (NEM) in California was resolved by a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) May 24 decision on the arcane question of how to define the NEM cap. The definition of the cap had become a battleground over NEMpitting Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) against renewables advocates.

    Following speeches in which they noted the many economic benefits to California from renewables, the commissioners voted unanimously against the IOUs and in favor of a definition of the NEM cap that will allow for much more distributed generation (DG) going forward.

    “This is a big, big win,” said Mainstream Energy Director of Government Affairs Ben Higgins.

    Like 43 other states, California has a NEM program that allows owners of DG systems of up to one megawatt in capacity, like small wind turbines, combined heat and power systems and rooftop solar systems, to reduce their electricity bills. For the kilowatt-hours they send to the grid, system owners’ meters turn backwards as they are credited at the same retail rate they pay for the kilowatt-hours they consume.

    When California established its NEM program in 1995, it imposed a 0.1 percent cap but used the ambiguous language of “aggregate customer peak demand” to define what the total megawatts of net metered systems should be divided by to calculate the cap percentage. And that calculation remained undefined, even as the CPUC expanded the cap to today’s five percent.

    The differing methods used by the IOUs to calculate the bottom term of the cap equation, and the differing percentages thereby obtained, were recently observed by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) which, among its other activities, acts as a watchdog group on U.S. net metering programs. IREC filed a motion asking the CPUC for clarity. Commission President Michael Peevey issued a proposed decision April 5.

    He pointed out several differences in how the IOUs calculate the percentage of their NEM but noted one key commonality: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) all use “coincident” peak demand. Renewables advocates argue that “non-coincident” peak demand should be used.

    Coincident peak demand is the designated period when all sectors (residential, commercial and industrial) reach their maximum electricity consumption and the state’s consumption peaks.

    Non-coincident peak demand is the sum of the individual peaking demands of all customers in the three sectors. Residential peak is typically late afternoon, commercial peak is early midafternoon, and industrial peak can be at night. That sum of all peaks is greater than the total peak demand at any one time of the day.

    When the installed DG capacity eligible for NEM divided by the peak demand gets to five percent, the utilities are off the hook. So they want that bottom number to be smaller. Renewables advocates want just the opposite because the larger number keeps what one solar advocate called their “backbone” incentive in place.

    Peevey concluded that the legislature “did not intend ‘aggregate customer peak demand’ to mean coincident peak demand…[and] SCE, SDG&E, and PG&E should use the aggregation of customers’ non-coincident peak demands to calculate their caps on NEM participation…” The commission voted 5-0 to validate Peevey's decision.

    In comments filed by their attorneys, the IOUs disputed Peevey’s conclusions. PG&E’s filing complicated the basic dispute by suggesting a change in the way both numbers would be calculated and concluded, “PG&E recognizes that this means more net metering. However…[it] is the better measure of the impact on the grid…”

    By raising the issue of the impact of renewables on the grid, PG&E exposed the heart of the real debate between renewables advocates and the IOUs.

    The utilities pointed out that of the three parts of the standard electricity bill, only one covers the price of electricity generated. The other charges cover the costs of delivering electricity through the transmission and distribution infrastructure.

    When NEM customers’ bills are reduced by the retail rate, they escape paying their fair share of costs for infrastructure they use as much as non-NEM customers. And, the utilities argued, it shifts costs to other ratepayers.

    But the difference between the generation cost and the full retail cost of electricity is not necessarily a subsidy if the cost shifted to other ratepayers pays for benefits to them as well.

    Consulting firm Crossborder Energy principal Tom Beach did a thorough cost-benefit analysis that was based on PG&E data and included a review of two previous cost-benefit analyses. It showed that if the higher value of the power not consumed due to the use of DG is considered, the benefits to the utility are greater and the costs to the other ratepayers are offset.

    The biggest component of the benefit, Beach said, is the savings on power plant use and fossil fuel use. Such energy and capacity savings, Beach said, comprise 60 to 70 percent of the benefit to all ratepayers from the rooftop solar facilitated by NEM.

    And, Beach added, transmission and distribution system savings avoid the costs of line losses and the need for new transmission that provide another ten percent to twenty percent of the benefits from NEM.

    Beach’s calculations came to a net benefit from NEM of two cents per kilowatt-hour for commercial and industrial systems, a cost of two cents per kilowatt-hour for residential systems, and, in sum, no cost extra cost of any significance to ratepayers.

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