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EPA power rules may bring carbon trading to Midwest

Power pools consider carbon trading to meet new rules

Grid operators covering a broad swath of the Midwest are considering a carbon trading plan to comply with the EPA’s new Clean Power rules, according to comments made to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Even before those rules go into effect, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts the retirement of 23 GW of U.S. coal plants this year because of new mercury pollution standards, an influx of renewables, and a shift to natural gas, including 6 GW that will retire by the end of next month. The political winds are blowing against coal die-hards, too: ClimateWire reports that lawmakers in Arizona, Arkansas, and North Dakota rejected model bills offered by ALEC that could have created new hurdles to meeting the Clean Power requirements.

Pilot project to turn solar into hydrogen, renewable gas

A southern California utility will convert renewably generated electricity into hydrogen to power fuel-cell vehicles and synthesize into natural gas, in a bid to soak up the variability in solar and wind generation. The project will produce enough hydrogen to run five or six cars at its initial 200 kW scale, rising to 1 MW a year later. Taking a different approach, a Pullman, WA, factory this month dedicated a 1-MW vanadium flow battery to supply backup power and smooth out spikes in electricity demand. In Germany, renewables already make up 28 percent of the power supply, but grid operators find they can accommodate it with careful management.

Saudis cut prices to boost usage, delay Peak Demand

What if you owned a vast reservoir of oil and worried you might not be able to sell it before it became obsolete? That’s the concern which drove the Saudis to let the world price of oil nosedive, according to an in-depth Bloomberg Markets analysis that cites leaked diplomatic cables describing a long-standing Saudi preoccupation with “security of demand,” which they hope to ensure by keeping oil cheap and more attractive than emerging alternatives. Despite that surplus, some oil operators in Alberta are positioning themselves to go after deposits known as bitumen carbonates that are even harder to extract than tar sands. 

Which candidate would be best for the climate?

While Hillary Clinton’s views on climate change do not appear to differ significantly from President Obama’s, her campaign chairman named climate and clean energy as top agenda items in a tweet that was largely ignored by the media. Clinton’s unambiguous support for Obama’s Clean Power Plan is encouraging to climate hawks, but other possible Democratic contenders have much more warmly embraced clean energy, as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio did in 2007, when he touted the economic benefits of combatting global warming and dependence on foreign oil. Not so much now as a Republican presidential candidate, when Rubio is for fossil fuel extraction, against carbon pricing, and denies anthropogenic global warming.

Vancouver aims to be carbon-free by 2050

Vancouver, BC, will derive all of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, according to a goal announced last week at an international conference in Seoul after it was approved late last month by the city council. Although the city begins with a leg up, thanks to its 90 percent renewable supply of electricity, its energy diet is only 32 percent renewable when heating, cooling, and transportation are taken into account. Vancouver joins Salish Sea neighbor Seattle in the goal of mid-century carbon neutrality. Republican-led Fort Collins, CO, adopted the same goal last month, even though it faces a bigger challenge with coal representing three-quarters of its power supply.  

Feds reviewing Arctic drilling ahead of Shell’s arrival

Half a dozen Greenpeace activists last weekend abandoned Shell Oil’s leased drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, after occupying it for six days during its voyage toward the Arctic. The protestors had boarded the rig without resistance in the open Pacific some 750 miles northwest of Hawaii, and cited rough weather as the reason for disembarking. The same day, an Alaskan court granted Shell a temporary restraining order requiring Greenpeace to keep its distance from the firm’s exploration vessels. Shell’s exploration plans for this summer are under review by the Obama administration, which has until May 10 to rule on them.

Utilities need new model as PV, battery costs drop

Even before falling costs for battery storage cause rate-payers to defect from the electric grid, utilities will lose billions in sales as their customers make as much as half of their own power, according to a new report by Rocky Mountain Institute. But a complementary study—also from RMI—suggests how clever regulatory shifts could allow solar to benefit both utilities and customers (along with the climate, of course). On a smaller scale, SolarCity announced a plan to equip 10,000 customers with Nest automated thermostats that would dial back air-conditioning when the grid is stressed and cool more intensely when solar power is abundant, thus helping meld PVs into the grid.

Support for nukes fading, solar and wind widely backed

Public opinion has shifted away from nuclear power, with the atom clinging to a bare 51 percent support in a new Gallup poll, which also found wide bipartisan support for greater emphasis on wind and solar power. But when it comes to climate, a new Yale polling analysis shows sharp divisions across states, counties and congressional districts, helping to explain the political constituency for climate denial. Nevertheless, conservative lobbying group ALEC is going to great lengths to disavow the label of climate denier, even as liberal philanthropist Tom Steyer gears up to make climate an issue in the 2016 campaigns.  

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On the Climate Solutions blog: Joelle Robinson questions whether Washington taxpayers should pay $85 million for a coal export terminal in Longview, WA, which the current Washington Transportation Package would enable, and calls for Washingtonians to tell their legislators to remove this funding from the final transportation plan.

Seth Zuckerman's picture

Editor, ClimateCast

, Climate Solutions

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).