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PERRY SAYS PROPOSAL TO BOOST COAL, NUKE POWER ‘JUST A FIRST STEP’: Energy Secretary Rick Perry told House lawmakers Thursday that his controversial proposal to prop up coal and nuclear plants “is just a first step” in his efforts to ensure the reliability of the power grid.
Perry last week suggested he meant for the proposed rule to “start a conversation.” But in his Thursday testimony to the House Energy and Commerce energy subcommittee, Perry made clear what he wanted. “I am taking and will continue to take action as needed to keep our diverse generation mix in place,” Perry said. “As secretary of energy, I will not sit idly by when I see a threat to that reliability, or a reasonable course of action that is within my authority to mitigate it.”
Coal, nuclear ‘must be revived’: “For years, our fuel-secure generation resources have been strangled by regulation and squeezed by pricing rules that undervalue grid security,” Perry said in his opening statement at the subcommittee hearing. “These resources must be revived, not reviled. This proposal is just a first step in seeking to ensure that we truly have an energy policy that first and foremost protects the interests and needs of the American people.”
What Perry proposed: Perry submitted a proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission late last month to create regulations that would change regional power market pricing to reward the "reliability and resilience attributes" of plants that have 90 days of fuel supply on site, meaning coal and nuclear.
Resiliency ‘threatened’: “The resiliency of the electric grid is threatened by the retirements of these fuel-secure traditional baseload resources, including coal and nuclear,” Perry said Thursday. “Under the proposal, FERC would direct the organized markets to fully value the grid resiliency benefits provided by traditional baseload resources with on-site fuel storage capability.”
Broad opposition: A wide swath of the energy industry, from oil and natural gas companies to solar and wind farms, oppose the proposed rule and the expedited timeline under which Perry wants FERC, which is independent, to make a decision. Critics have derided Perry's proposal for its potential to upset the last two decades of electricity generation, which have been marked by free competition and little intrusion by the government.
‘Distorting’ market: “You are distorting the market, damaging the environment, and delivering preferential treatment to favored industries,” said Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “At the end of the day, killing off competitive electricity markets just to save generation assets that are no longer economical will lead to higher prices for consumers.”
GOP chairman ‘reserves judgment’: Energy panel Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said he would ‘reserve judgment’ on Perry’s grid proposal, while adding that the secretary has stepped into a complicated debate.
“While I reserve judgment on the policy solutions, the fact that the aecretary stepped into this complicated debate reflects the current need to have a broader conversation about the functioning of the nation’s electricity markets,” Upton said in his opening statement.
BUT … PERRY REVERTS TO ‘CONVERSATION’ TALKING POINT
In response to questions from Democrats, Perry again softened what his proposed rule is intended to do.
“I hope what we can agree on, is [the proposal] is a way to kick start a national discussion about resiliency and reliability of the grid,” Perry said. “The best I can tell, we have been pretty successful in doing that. We are having a conversation we really haven’t had in this country.”
FERC WON’T SHORTEN TIMELINE ON PERRY RULE: FERC on Wednesday rejected a petition by numerous energy groups to extend the public comment period for Perry’s proposal to mandate higher payments to coal and nuclear plants.
No extension: Comments remain due Oct. 23, which industry groups say is not enough time to consider a rule of great significance. Perry gave FERC a 60-day timeline to consider the proposed rule. The agency expedited the public comment period by setting it at an unprecedented and short 21 days.
PERRY DEFENDS TRAVEL HABITS: The energy secretary also used his time on Capitol Hill to defend his flying record, name dropping United and Southwest as his airlines of choice in downplaying reports of his use of expensive private flights to Ohio.
‘Frequent flier’: Perry said may of the nation’s nuclear labs are in far-away places that may require him to use non-commercial flights.
“I am a frequent flier on Southwest and United,” Perry said. “The point is, I travel a lot to do my job. I do it in way I think is thoughtful with taxpayers in mind. And I am going to continue to do my job. I will make a commitment to you that I will try to do it in the most thoughtful and reasonable way. Time to to time, if I will be in those places in timely fashion, I may do it in a way that does expend taxpayer dollars.”
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ROMNEY SLAMS TRUMP’S FIRE RESPONSE: Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday blamed the government for the wildfires burning through California and other western states.
Romney said the inability to stop the fires from spreading into neighborhoods and towns is proof that governments, at the state and federal level, failed to invest properly in infrastructure.
Scorched earth policy: "Uncontrolled fires, loss of lives & property = failure of prime govt responsibility, underinvestment in helos, planes, personnel, systems," Romney tweeted.
Fires growing: At least 21 people are dead from the wildfires tearing through the Northern California wine country. Two dozen fires spanning hundreds of thousands of acres burned up 3,500 structures and forced 25,000 people to flee the area.
KASICH WILD ABOUT HARRY REID: Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the only Republican governor scheduled to address Friday’s National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, hosted by Harry Reid, the former Senate Democratic leader.
Remember Paris: This is the ninth summit that Reid has hosted. Two years ago, it was the venue where President Barack Obama announced the final Clean Power Plan ahead of the Paris climate talks in 2015.
This time around, Reid’s summit is held just days after the Trump administration kicked off the beginning of the end for the climate plan. But that doesn’t mean states are giving up on reducing emissions, and it looks like Kasich and the Buckeye State are fast becoming one of those.
Ohio as clean energy state: Kasich has been fast at work trying to attract big technology companies such as Facebook and Google, which demand access to renewable electricity from wind and solar. Ohio’s investments in renewables is growing and Kasich has said recently that he aims to keep it that way as an economic development tool.
California dreamin’: He will be joined at the conference by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who is leading states in a push to meet the U.S.’s commitments under the Paris Areement in the wake of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the global warming accord.
FEDS, MIT TOUT ENERGY STORAGE BREAKTHROUGHS: The Energy Department and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology seem to be on the same page on the next big thing for energy storage innovation.
The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is busy this week touting the use of microorganism to store electricity from solar and wind to make the energy available when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Energy storage is a key challenge to making renewables a 24-hour provider of electricity.
“The process relies on a heat- and gas-loving microorganism known as Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus,” which live near volcanic vents and springs, to convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen into methane gas that can be burned to produce electricity, the lab said.
Heat is key: “These bacteria prefer a hot environment; inside the bioreactor is about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Room temperature, on the other hand, would freeze them and cause the microorganism to slip into a dormant state.”
BATTERIES THAT BREATHE: Meanwhile, MIT said this week that it has developed an “air-breathing” battery that can store large amounts of electricity for long durations for a fifth of the cost of current technologies.
“The battery could be used to make sporadic renewable power a more reliable source of electricity for the grid,” MIT said Wednesday.
The battery takes in oxygen that flows into its cathode to cause the anode to discharge electrons to an external circuit. Oxygen flowing out sends electrons back to the anode, recharging the battery. So, it really does seem to breathe.
Inhale, exhale: “This battery literally inhales and exhales air, but it doesn’t exhale carbon dioxide, like humans — it exhales oxygen,” says Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT.
Chiang co-authored a paper describing the battery that was published Wednesday in the journal Joule.
HOUSE PANEL ADVANCES BILL TO LIMIT ANTIQUITIES ACT: The House Natural Resources Committee advanced legislation Wednesday that would limit the power of presidents to designate public land as national monuments. The National Monument Creation and Protection Act, moved by a 23-17 vote, would overhaul the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president unilateral power to protect structures of "historic and scientific interest."
“Overreach” prompts action: "Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally dictate the manner in which all Americans may enjoy enormous swaths of our nation's public lands," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the committee chairman who authored the legislation. “Unfortunately, overreach in recent administrations has brought us to this point and it is Congress' duty to clarify the law and end the abuse." Republicans have been eager to change the monument designation process because they believe former President Barack Obama abused the authority by protecting increasingly larger swaths of land.
Democrats say bill would ‘destroy’ law: Democrats endorsed the designation and expansion of monuments, and said it provides needed protection to some of the nation's pristine landscapes, culturally important places and threatened animal and plant habitats. "The Antiquities Act allows a president who values natural and cultural resources to protect them for future generations, at least until Congress can come along and provide legislative solutions," said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the committee's top Democrat. "Rather than consider those specific legislative solutions, the majority seeks to destroy the Antiquities Act itself.
The bill’s reforms: Bishop's bill would subject monument designations made by presidents to increasingly stringent rules based on size, and allows for more public and local input into decisions. It also clarifies that presidents have the authority to reduce the size of monuments, as President Trump is expected to try to do.
Fight ahead: The bill will likely be fiercely fought on the House floor.
FIRST SOLAR BACKS TRADE RESTRICTIONS ON IMPORTS: First Solar, a maker of thin-film solar modules, came out Wednesday in support of an effort by two financially struggling solar companies to support trade duties on imports.
The state of play: The International Trade Commission has until November to recommend actions the Trump administration can take to remedy harm caused by imports of cheap solar panels, mostly from Asian countries.
Seeking fairness: First Solar wrote a letter to the ITC asking for a “fair and effective” remedy, but it did not explicitly endorse tariffs. First Solar manufactures mostly in Malaysia, but also produces in Ohio.
A split solar industry: By backing trade restrictions, First Solar joines solar panel manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld in seeking a remedy. The broader solar industry, represented by the trade group the Solar Energy Industries Association, opposes any potential trade remedy, arguing the move could harm the surging industry’s progress by increasing their costs, forcing them to raise prices.
EPA AND PUERTO RICO’S DESPERATE FIGHT FOR CLEAN WATER: The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday night that Puerto Rican citizens may be trying to obtain drinking water from wells at contaminated toxic waste sites, which it is strongly advising citizens not to do.
EPA warns: "There are reports of residents obtaining, or trying to obtain, drinking water from wells at hazardous waste 'Superfund' sites in Puerto Rico," the agency said in its latest hurricane response report. "EPA advises against tampering with sealed and locked wells or drinking from these wells, as it may be dangerous to people's health."
The challenge: Finding clean drinking water on the island has been a challenge for citizens in the wake of the devastation from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which wreaked havoc on the U.S. territory's infrastructure.
The EPA released a video showing how it has been collaborating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to restore safe drinking water in wells.
The relief: The agency also is coordinating drinking water relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
JUSTICE GINSBURG MAKES A MOOT POINT: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked probably the most obvious question at Wednesday's oral arguments on the Obama administration's Waters of the U.S. rule: With Trump in office, isn't the matter moot?
"May I just ask you a question about if, as seems likely, the rule, the 'waters of the United States' definitional rule is rescinded, is this case moot?" the liberal justice asked a lawyer representing industry opponents of the rule.
"Well, I think it's just too early to say when or if it will be rescinded, Justice Ginsburg," Timothy Bishop replied, explaining that the Environmental Protection Agency wrapped up the public comment period on its review of the Waters of the U.S. rule on Sept. 27. "There were thousands of [comments]. We don't know what the timetable is. We don't know what the government will do."
What is the issue? Wednesday's oral arguments were over the narrow issue of court jurisdiction for lawsuits opposing the rule. It is not clear if a lower district court should be given primacy in ruling on the water rule or if it can go straight to a federal appeals court.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals had stayed the regulation until the issue is worked out at the Supreme Court, which heard National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense on Wednesday.
Notice and comment: "But ... the notice, as I understand it, notice and comment period has concluded," Ginsburg responded.
Bishop answered that it has, but "we don't know" if the Trump administration "will rescind the rule or not." The one thing that is "clear" is that environmental groups are ready to sue immediately if the EPA decides to withdraw the rule, the lawyer added. "And I would suggest that while that challenge, doubtless with a stay request attached, is pending, then the fate of the WOTUS rule is still up in the air."
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he plans to roll back the rule.
JUDGE ALLOWS DAKOTA ACCESS TO FLOW: A federal judge decided Wednesday that crude oil can flow through the contested Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota while the Army Corps of Engineers conducts a new environmental review over a portion of the pipeline that runs below Lake Oahe.
Trump policy vindicated: The decision is a victory for the Trump administration, which expedited the pipeline's approval process through a presidential executive order soon after President Trump was inaugurated.
Review will continue: District Court Judge James Boasberg agreed with Native American groups in June that a new environmental review was necessary for the portion of the pipeline that goes under Lake Oahe, which the Standing Rock Sioux and others have argued threatens their water supply.
In issuing the June order, Boasberg said he would consider stopping the shipment of oil while the Army conducted its review, which would take months. The pipeline has been operating since the beginning of June.
"The dispute over the Dakota Access Pipeline has now taken nearly as many twists and turns as the 1,200-mile pipeline itself," Boasberg wrote in Wednesday's decision.
Washington Post New research shows the ocean is cutting through a key Antarctic ice shelf
Reuters Paris to ban all fossil-fueled power cars by 2030
Wall Street Journal France’s largest bank to stop financing shale and oil sands projects
Bloomberg Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, will measure carbon emissions in making business decisions
The Guardian Theresa May, British prime minister, introduces plan to cap energy bills of two-thirds of households
Associated Press Russian prime minister strikes energy deals in Morocco
FRIDAY, OCT. 13
All day, Las Vegas. National Clean Energy Summit 9.0, hosted by former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada at the Bellagio Resort and Casino. Speakers include Al Gore and John Kasich, among others.
Noon, Harvard University, Gina McCarthy, former chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, addresses Reuters climate change conference at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
MONDAY, OCT. 15
All day, Sacramento, Calif., The American Council For An Energy-Efficient Economy holds the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference Oct. 15-18 at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento in Sacramento.
TUESDAY, OCT. 16
All day, Denver, the Electric Utility Consultants Inc. holds the Renewable Energy PPAs conference, Oct. 16-17, at The Curtis. The conference will cover areas such as development process, basics of project finance, project risks, financeability issues in ppas, project structure.