Category Archives: Environment

Latest DOE LED Report
 Illustrates Transition
 In Electric Power Sector

I was at Home Depot this weekend (so many tools, so little time) and they had a special on LED lights that caught my attention—a four pack of dimmable 60-watt replacement LEDs was selling for $9.88, or just under $2.50 a bulb. I’m not the type to track day-to-day pricing for much of anything, but the display caught my attention because I had just finished reading the Energy Department’s latest report on the status of the LED market—which found that the typical dimmable 60W replacement bulb in 2016 cost roughly $8 apiece.

This is important for two reasons. First, DOE assumes that LEDs are steadily going to account for an ever-larger percentage of the installed lighting stock in the United States, estimating that by 2035 86 percent of all the lighting in the country will be LEDs of one type or another and that these vastly more efficient lights will cut primary energy use by 3.7 quadrillion British thermal units (Btus)—that’s a lot of electricity that will no longer be needed, about 10 percent from the 2016 level, in fact, when roughly 37.5 quads were used to generate electricity in the U.S. (Paying attention out there in utility land?) But those DOE forecasts rely heavily on pricing assumptions, and if the current price of the most commonly used LED has already tumbled below $2.50, down roughly 70 percent from just a year ago, that means the nationwide take-up of LEDs almost certainly will be faster than DOE currently estimates.

Second, the sharply declining price of this lowly light bulb is a symbol of the massive changes under way in the energy industry, such as the steep declines in solar and windpower costs, the surge in corporate interest in cleaner energy and the plateauing of electricity demand. These changes are largely market-driven and, thankfully from my perspective, outside the reach of politicians on either side of the aisle.

Continue reading Latest DOE LED Report
 Illustrates Transition
 In Electric Power Sector

Trump Paris About-Face Likely To Hurt, Not Help Nuclear, Coal Sectors

President Trump, with his fossil fuel fantasists in tow, made it official Thursday, announcing that he would pull the United States from the Paris climate change accord in order to “make America great again.” The administration’s inability, as well as that of most of the Republican Party in general, to come to grips with climate change is sad, but that will have to wait for a future post. The issue at hand is the decision’s likely negative impact on the U.S.’ already-battered nuclear and coal industries.

For years the nuclear industry has been making the case that it was vital to the country’s climate change mitigation efforts because of its emissions-free generation profile. While accounting for just 20 percent of the nation’s annual electric generation, the industry noted ad infinitum, it was responsible for 60 percent of the carbon dioxide-free emissions (see chart below). In a carbon-constrained world, that would be a valuable attribute. But the Trump administration has now made it clear that it places no value on CO2-free generation sources.

That, in turn, could be a major problem for the industry, as the effort to secure nuclear subsidies—successful so far in Illinois and New York (although now tied up in court), still pending in Ohio, Connecticut and now Pennsylvania—has relied in large part on the sector’s glowing greenhouse gas attributes. In an interesting twist, just before the administration’s head-in-the-sand announcement, Chicago-based Exelon said it would close the 837-megawatt Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in late 2019 because the facility couldn’t compete in the PJM electricity market, which sprawls across 13 states and the District of Columbia. The company largely blamed the market’s structure, including its failure to reward the plant for its emissions-free generation, for its decision to shutter the plant.

Continue reading Trump Paris About-Face Likely To Hurt, Not Help Nuclear, Coal Sectors

Corporate Green Goals
 Playing A Key Role
 In Pushing Utilities
 Toward Renewables

The Trump administration’s budget proposal for the coming year threatens to do exactly what the president promised as a candidate: eviscerate federal funding for climate change programs. The Energy Department’s highly successful renewable energy office would be particularly hard hit, with the administration’s proposal calling for a roughly 70 percent cut in funding—from just over $2 billion currently to $639 million next year. While wrong-headed, the proposals won’t slow the nation’s renewable transition, which is now being powered, to a large extent, by the corporate sector.

This change, which I discussed here, was highlighted in an interview last month by Chris Beam, the new president of American Electric Power’s Appalachian Power subsidiary, which currently gets 60 percent of its electricity from not-so-clean coal. Speaking to editors and reporters at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Beam said: “At the end of the day, West Virginia may not require us to be clean, but our customers are.”

And that is exactly what is happening across the country, corporate customers are forcing utilities to expand their renewable energy offerings, whether that is to keep existing customers or to attract new companies into their service territories. As Beam added, according to the Gazette-Mail’s Ken Ward Jr.: “So if we want to bring in those jobs, and those are good jobs,…they [corporate customers] have requirements now, and we have to be mindful of what our customers want.”

Continue reading Corporate Green Goals
 Playing A Key Role
 In Pushing Utilities
 Toward Renewables

Trump Coal Obsession
 Largely Irrelevant
 To Electric Utility CEOs

The Trump administration’s obsession with the coal industry has driven many of its early energy and environmental policy initiatives—with the Energy Department’s thinly veiled baseload power plant review just the latest in a string of efforts to buttress the troubled sector. But none of these policies are going to change coal’s central problem: The utility industry, far and away its largest customer, is steadily moving away from the black rock. This transition won’t happen overnight, but the direction is clear, as a close review of recent utility executive statements and company publications clearly demonstrates.

Consider the message delivered by Allen Leverett, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, in the company’s latest annual report:

                “I also believe that some form of carbon emission regulation is ultimately inevitable. As the regulation of carbon emissions takes shape, our plan is to work with our industry partners, environmental groups and the state of Wisconsin to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

                “In 2016, about half of the electricity we delivered to our customers was derived from low- or no-carbon sources such as natural gas, nuclear fuel, wind farms and hydroelectric facilities. However, we want to continue to make progress in this area. Relatively flat electricity demand growth, coupled with natural gas and coal economics, has driven us to re-evaluate our generation portfolio. Taken as a group, I want any changes that we make to reduce costs, preserve fuel diversity and keep us on a path to reducing our carbon emissions.”

In other words, there will be no new coal generation in the WEC fleet, and the company’s reliance on the fuel, currently around 50 percent of its needs, is going to drop. In particular, the company has plans to build new natural gas-fired generation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and close its five-unit, 359 megawatt Presque Isle facility there, which now burns roughly 1.2 million tons of coal annually according to the company, whose two electric utility subsidiaries serve more than 1.5 million customers in Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan.

Or consider the comments made by Lynn Good, chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy, during the Charlotte, N.C.-based company’s annual meeting earlier this month:

                “By retiring coal plants and bringing on more natural gas and renewables, we have already reduced our carbon emissions by nearly 30 percent since 2005. Today, we are among the top five companies in terms of renewable capacity, and we are committed to doing more.

                “We have set a new goal to reduce our carbon emissions by 40 percent from the 2005 level by 2030.”

Continue reading Trump Coal Obsession
 Largely Irrelevant
 To Electric Utility CEOs

King Coal Still Rules
 In Trump Team’s
 Alternate Reality

“You’re going back to work.”

With that rhetorical flourish, President Trump signed his much-ballyhooed and loftily-titled executive order “to create energy independence.”

The president’s words—directed to a group of coal miners at the signing ceremony—may have made for great TV (and the president certainly has a knack for that), but that’s about it. The coal mining jobs aren’t coming back, and anyone willing to take a factual look at the current trends in the U.S. electric power sector knows that.

The order, essentially the new administration’s effort  to undo any and all climate change-related plans put forward by the Obama administration (the Clean Power Plan in particular), is chock-full of assertions about the U.S. energy industry that are, at best, little more than wishful thinking. Let’s take a look.

Continue reading King Coal Still Rules
 In Trump Team’s
 Alternate Reality