Florida’s utility industry steered more than $26 million of its profits into a failed constitutional amendment to impose new barriers to the expansion of rooftop solar energy generation, but developers say that as the cost of installing solar panels drops, the state could quickly become a leader in private solar energy expansion no matter what the energy giants do.
MIAMI HERALD — The Florida Solar Energy Industry Association estimates that over the next five years, Florida homeowners, businesses and utilities are projected to take advantage of the falling prices and install 2,315 megawatts of solar electric capacity — 19 times more than the amount of solar installed in the last five years.
Solar energy is becoming so cheap it's a no-brainer for consumers.
“Solar prices are in free-fall, and no one knows where the bottom is,” said Chris Delp, an attorney with the Tampa law office of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.
Large companies, such as SolarCity, are offering zero down, low-interest loans, and people can also cut their expenses by deducting 30% of their costs under a federal Investment Tax Credit program that was extended last year, he said.
“The economics are just going to make these regulatory barriers irrelevant. Florida’s utilities could work with customers to roll out solar or they could work to rule it out.”
What approach will Florida’s investor-owned utilities take?
Will they encourage homeowners and businesses to install their own solar systems—as utilities in Georgia, California, New York and dozens of others states have done?
Or will they ask regulators to stifle rooftop solar expansion—as they attempted to do with Amendment 1—so that they can control the development of solar themselves and limit the hit to their bottom line?
According to the Florida Public Service Commission’s 10-year site plan, utilities plan to increase their solar generation, but solar will make up only a tiny fraction of all energy generation supplied by the regulated utilities in the next 10 years.
Florida ranks third in the nation for rooftop solar potential, according to SEIA, but is only 14th for cumulative solar capacity that is installed. That could change, Delp said, if the emerging interest in solar installation in Florida, fueled by the drops in prices, results in more people installing their own electricity generation, circumventing utilities.
Big utilities’ $26 million scheme... backfired.
“I don’t think this was their intent, but what the utilities did with Amendment 1 was bring the discussion of solar energy development in Florida to the forefront,” said Delp, who is working with a company building a 30-megawatt private solar farm in Leesburg. “It’s now a kitchen table issue. There is awareness that there is a lack of solar in Florida and that we lag behind so many other states.”
In the last year, the price of installing a solar photovoltaic system has dropped by at least 12 percent, and prices are down 66 percent from 2010, according to the independent Energy Information Institute.
Experts say that as the price of solar installation continues to plummet, the cost of installing it will drop no matter what the utilities attempt to do — unless they erect new barriers.
Amendment 1 was an attempt to do that by creating legal language intended to force regulators to change the so-called net metering law.
Under that law, every Florida electric utility is required to provide customers who have installed solar panels the opportunity to sell their excess energy back to the utility, which is known as “net metering.” The program was intended to make it easier and more affordable for customers to invest in clean renewable energy generation and lower their utility bills.
Florida’s two largest utilities, Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida, have said it’s time to change the net metering laws, as utilities have done in other states, and they have already begun asking the Public Service Commission (PSC) to address it. The changes include imposing a monthly service charge on people with solar systems or reducing the net metering rate to reflect the industry’s claim that solar users subsidize other ratepayers.
Solar advocates counter that the “subsidy” argument is based on economic studies that do not take into consideration any of the environmental or efficiency benefits from solar installation. When those are calculated, they say, private solar installation produces cost savings for non-solar users.
In Nevada last year, the state’s utility regulators changed their net metering law to split solar customers off into a separate rate class and lower the reimbursement rate for excess energy from 11 cents per kilowatt hour to 2.6 cents per kwh. After the change, applications for rooftop solar installations saw a steep drop, several solar installers left the market, and protesters rallied outside the Public Utilities Commission headquarters in Las Vegas. Regulators initially also refused to grandfather in existing solar systems, but after public push-back, they reversed it.
“You make rooftop solar power financially unattractive in one of two ways,” said Jeff Prutsman, CEO of American Solar Energy Systems. “You either get rid of net metering or you add surcharges to the electric bills of consumers who own rooftop solar power systems. Either way, you increase the number of years that it takes for a rooftop solar system to pay for itself with utility electric bill savings.”
Try as they may, utilities can't seem to stop solar expansion.
Meanwhile, as the cost of solar installation falls, Duke Energy Florida is seeing more than 100 residential and business customers a month install solar panels, said Suzanne Barr Grant, Duke Energy spokeswoman. There are now more than 3,800 business and individual customers that have installed solar power, a 400% increase in the last five years, she said.
As solar installations increase on their turf, utilities are pushing to reduce net metering rates, or kill the program entirely, to protect their deteriorating monopoly.
Empowered by the broad-based group of solar energy supporters who defeated the utility-backed amendment, it’s clear that voters won’t be happy with any delay in solar progress.
“If utilities try to do an end run on net metering through the Legislature or the PSC, we will fight that,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Thank you to Mary Ellen Klas our friends at Miami Herald for providing the original article below.
With an estimated 663 million people lacking access to safe drinking water, technology like Source could go a long way towards improving lives across the globe.
Sunlight + Air = Clean Water
When a family in Guayaquil, Ecuador turns on the tap for a glass of water, it doesn't flow from city pipes—there are no city pipes. Instead, a new type of solar panel in the backyard turns moisture in the air into clean drinking water and sends it inside the family's bamboo home.
The panels, developed by Zero Mass Water, harvest the energy required to evaporate the water to purify it. Finally, the water runs through a mineral block, which improves its taste and nutritional value.
A single panel can provide drinking and cooking water for a family of four, and businesses or hospitals can scale up with multiple panels.
The Right to Potable Water
According to the World Health Organization, 663 million people, roughly 10 percent of the world’s population, don’t have access to safe water. It’s a massive challenge brought on by poor infrastructure and difficult living conditions.
Developments like Source could address these problems by being much more flexible than city-regulated piping. Zero Mass Water reports that their tech doesn’t need to be hooked up to a home’s electrical system or a power grid and is 100 percent renewable.
The company has installed panels in pilot programs in Ecuador, Jordan, Mexico, and the U.S., and will install in more countries over the next few weeks. In 2017, they plan to scale up to larger systems.
Eventually, they're hoping the panels become ubiquitous. "When you think about solar today, what do you think about? Electricity," he says. "Everybody thinks that way. I think that in a few years when people think about solar they'll also think about water abundance.”
Perhaps in the future, when you turn on the tap to get a glass of water, it’ll be flowing straight from panels on your roof instead of pipes in the ground.
Thank you to our friends at Futurism for providing the original article below.
GREENTECH MEDIA — The measure was voted down on Tuesday night, failing to win the 60 percent support it needed to pass. The loss comes despite more than $25 million in backing from large energy companies, with an additional $3.5 million pumped into the campaign days ago. Major contributors include Florida Power and Light, the state’s largest electric utility, and Duke Energy, the second-largest utility.
The coalition opposing the measure, Floridians for Solar Choice, is made up of citizens, solar companies, environmental organizations, Tea Party groups, and elected officials.
“Today, as a coalition representing every part of Florida's political spectrum, we defeated one of the most egregious and underhanded attempts at voter manipulation in this state’s history,” said Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice and director of Conservatives for Energy Freedom, in a statement. “We won against all odds and secured a victory for energy freedom.”
The decoy ploy
Floridians for Solar Choice was the first group to launch a solar ballot initiative in Florida for the 2016 election, in which the group sought to allow for third-party solar power agreements. Currently, Florida law only allows utilities to sell electricity.
The Solar Choice amendment would have removed that monopoly, opening up the market to competition. But as support gained traction, big utilities poured millions of dollars into a new political action group, deceitfully named “Consumers for Smart Solar,” which launched Amendment 1 to counteract the Solar Choice movement.
It worked. In December 2015, the ballot initiative led by the Floridians for Solar Choice coalition was abandoned, failing to collect the necessary number of signatures in time to advance the measure
"This is a punch in the jaw"
Amendment 1 was written with language that made it seem focused on expanding solar access in the Sunshine State. But in reality, the amendment would have simply affirmed the right to own and lease solar in Florida — a right consumers already have.
If passed, Amendment 1 would have preserved the monopoly held by utilities and continued to block competitors, putting a damper on potential solar growth in the Sunshine State.
Tom Kimbis, interim president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said the Amendment 1 vote should discourage other utilities from attempting to follow Florida’s lead. “The resounding rejection of Amendment 1 should send a message across not just Florida but all states not to curtail solar choice,” he said.
The measure was overcome thanks in part to a surge of opposition following the release of leaked audio recordings, which revealed a utility-supported plan to confuse Florida voters. Editorial boards at every major newspaper in Florida opposed the ballot initiative.
“This is such a punch in the jaw to the utilities that sponsored this amendment,” said Scott Thomasson, director of new markets at Vote Solar, in an interview.
“'David and Goliath' doesn’t begin to describe it,” he added. “When you look at other solar fights around the country, the solar industry and others have brought more resources to bear than what we saw in Florida. This time it was really a lopsided fight.”
Thank you to Julia Pyper and Greentech Media for providing the original article below.
A World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report, released at COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco finds that greenhouse gas emissions raise the probability of extreme heat events as much as 10 times or more.
The report also noted that 2011-2015 was the hottest five-year period on record with 2016 on track to become the hottest year on record.
Out of 79 studies on extreme weather events that were published in an academic journal between 2011 and 2014, more than half found that human-caused climate change made the event more likely or extreme.
“We just had the hottest five-year period on record, with 2015 claiming the title of hottest individual year,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “Even that record is likely to be beaten in 2016.”
Rising ocean temperatures and ice sheets melting have been causing sea levels to rise. Average sea-surface temperatures in 2015 rose to a record, feeding into ocean expansions triggered by warming water, the WMO said.
Areas covered by Arctic sea ice over the five-year period was 28 percent below the average of the previous 29 years, the WMO reported. Sheets of white ice at the Earth’s poles have historically had a cooling effect by reflecting solar rays back into the atmosphere.
The world remains on track for 3.4 degrees Celsius of warming, according to a United Nations report last week. Countries must identify how they can make further cuts of at least 12 gigatons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to taking all of Europe’s cars off the roads for 12 years.
Thank you to our friends at Bloomberg for providing the original article below.
Whether you voted for Trump or not, I think we can all agree that we want a clean environment. The planet is warming, dangerously so, and burning more coal will make it worse.
BLOOMBERG — President-elect Donald Trump thinks man-made climate change is a hoax and he's promised to revive the US coal industry by cutting regulation.
So renewables are dead in the water, right? Maybe not.
President Trump can't tell producers which power generation technologies to buy. That decision will come down to cost in the end. Right now coal's losing that battle, while renewables are gaining.
Experts say it’s virtually certain Trump will dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan (CPP), which obliges states to cut fossil-power carbon emissions. That will likely keep more coal plants open for longer.
But, try as he might, Trump can't will the coal industry back to health. It will still struggle to compete with cheap natural gas. Coal’s share of the U.S. electricity mix has plunged to less than a third today from about half in 2008.
“Donald Trump has the courage, the passion and the commitment to get it done,” said Robert E. Murray, the industry’s most outspoken champion and CEO of Murray Energy Corp. “But I do not see an increase in the market for coal.”
Can't Keep Them Down
Even without the Clean Power Plan, renewables will continue to gain
Even without the CPP, about 60 gigawatts of coal-fired generating capacity will probably be retired by 2030. On the same basis, renewable capacity would still be expected to grow more than 4 percent a year until 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, meaning they'd have a 23 percent share of generation
The chart below outlines various scenarios for capacity additions and retirements. Without CPP, it shows slower growth for renewables, but no renaissance for coal.
Last December, U.S. lawmakers renewed tax credits for wind and solar for another five years. The measure had bipartisan support and it would be hard for Trump to try to repeal it.
States such as California are also free to continue offering incentives for renewable energy, as before. Even without tax breaks, renewables will probably win out on cost grounds. Equipment costs are falling and, once installed, producers don't have to pay to harness the wind or the sun. Onshore wind is already cost-competitive with gas in the U.S. and solar costs are falling rapidly.
Winds of Change
Wind is already cost competitive with natural gas in the US. (Note: Coal is so expensive it's literally off the chart at $139.50/MWh)
Global efforts to halt climate change will suffer from a Trump White House and U.S. carbon emissions are likely to stay higher for longer. In no way is that good. But he can't change energy economics.
Thank you to Chris Bryant and BloombergGadfly for providing the original article below.
BLOOMBERG — Not only did it strike within a mile of what is arguably one of the country's most important strategic assets—Cushing is the largest crude oil trading hub in North America, with almost 60 million barrels of stored crude—but its occurrence raises questions over the state's ability to do anything about the significant rise in earthquakes, which has been linked to oil and gas activity.
While regulations limiting the underground disposal of wastewater have succeeded in reducing the overall frequency of earthquakes, they haven't been able to stop the really big ones from happening. And when they hit close to Cushing, they suddenly become an issue of national security.
Last year, Oklahoma experienced more than 1,000 earthquakes measuring at least 3.0 in magnitude; that's up from fewer than two in 2008. The state is now the most seismically active in the continental U.S. Seismologists believe the quakes there are the result of wastewater injection wells used by the oil and gas industry.
Horizontal oil wells in Oklahoma can produce as many as nine or 10 barrels of salty, toxin-laced water for every barrel of oil, and much of that fluid is injected back underground into wastewater disposal wells. The fracking revolution resulted in an enormous increase in the disposal of wastewater underground in Oklahoma. From 2009 to 2014, disposal volumes shot up 81 percent, to more than 1 billion barrels a year. It is this wastewater, injected near faults, that many seismologists, including those at the U.S. Geological Survey, say has caused the spike in earthquakes.
After years of official skepticism over the relationship between fracking and earthquakes, Oklahoma's government finally acknowledged the link in 2015. That came as the industry was reeling from lower crude prices, and it was a big step, considering that oil and gas accounts for about a quarter of all jobs in the state. That summer, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator, began imposing restrictions aimed at cutting the amount of wastewater disposed of underground. To date, the OCC has ordered some 700 disposal wells either to shut down or reduce their volumes. That's cut disposal rates by about 800,000 barrels a day, from a high of about 2.5 million in 2014.
With the added restrictions, Oklahoma has gone from averaging more than four earthquakes a day to around two per day. The reduction, in some ways, confirms the connection between wastewater disposal and earthquakes. "It's the closest thing we have to a smoking gun," said Jeremy Boak, director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey. But it also shows the limited power of strict regulations in reducing the largest earthquakes.
The Cushing quake was the third quake with a magnitude of 5.0 or greater so far this year in Central, the 19th temblor over the past week. It hit just two months after the biggest quake in state history, a 5.8-magnitude one in Pawnee, about 25 miles south of Cushing.
That event has muted some of the enthusiasm around the OCC restrictions, said Dan McNamara, a research geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver. "For about six months, the story was that these restrictions were working, but then the 5.8 hit," said McNamara. "The small events may be trending down, but the frequency of the largest ones is going up, and that is what's troubling about this latest cluster of activity, particularly around Cushing."
Last year, McNamara co-authored a paper that studied a sequence of earthquakes around Cushing in 2014. His paper linked the quakes to the activity of four injection wells in the vicinity. It also uncovered a fault line directly beneath Cushing's enormous oil tanks that was previously unknown to geologists—the same fault that was activated on Sunday. The recent seismic activity, despite a significant reduction in disposal rates, is cause for concern, McNamara said. "It tells me that there is something else going on other than the direct injection of water underground."
Even if Oklahoma were to stop injecting wastewater tomorrow, McNamara said, the chance of large quakes will remain elevated for years to come. The pressure that fracking wastewater has added to the complex network of fault lines running beneath Oklahoma isn't going away. "We're looking at many, many years of earthquakes as that energy dissipates through the system," he said.
Even so, might the latest tremblers serve as a wake-up call to the industry that more must be done to prevent what could ultimately become a national catastrophe? "I don't think this changes anything," said Kim Hatfield, vice chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, a trade group of oil and gas producers. The industry still strongly opposes any moratorium on wastewater disposal, said Hatfield.
Although big fracking companies are exploring options on how to treat and recycle their wastewater, rather than inject it underground, the industry insists those options still aren't cost-effective and that a disposal moratorium would destroy the state's economy by shutting down oil production. "If you shut down wastewater disposal, there won't be anything left to regulate," said Hatfield. "So that is an awfully expensive science project you'd have there."
It's also an awfully risky chance to take.
Thank you to Matthew Philips and our friends at Bloomberg for providing the original article below.
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