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Jay Drowns

Budget bill renews federal tax credits for solar & wind

Federal tax credits extended for solar and wind power

Congress voted Friday to extend the solar and wind tax credits, ramping them down by the end of 2019 for wind and 2022 for solar, and providing clean-energy developers with the certainty they’d lobbied for. Geothermal, small hydro, landfill gas, and marine power won a one-year extension. The quid pro quo was the lifting of a 40-year ban on crude oil exports (see below). A GTM Research report predicted the credits would draw an additional $40 billion and tens of gigawatts into solar power by 2020, while Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated the credits would boost wind and solar by nearly 20 gigawatts each.

Lifting export ban opens US crude to glutted market

The compromise that lifted the U.S. crude-oil export ban in trade for clean-energy tax credits will likely reduce carbon pollution overall, according to two analyses published last week. The impact on wind and solar power is likely to be much more dramatic than the effect on US oil production, the studies showed. If American oil companies are hoping to enter Asian markets, shipping distances, prices, and refinery specs make their light sweet crude a poor match. Global oil prices hit fresh lows this week at $36.51 per barrel, a benchmark that US shale oil cannot match, in the latest limb of a trajectory explained and charted recently in The New York Times.

Echoes of Paris reverberate during the week after accord

As the dust settled after the Paris climate talks, analysts estimated the benefits of restraining global warming to 1.5˚C and examined how to get there by ratcheting down carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases. The European coal lobby steeled itself to be “hated and vilified,” and Vox’s David Roberts celebrated the agreement’s resilient voluntary approach and its ultimate goal of zero net climate pollution. The agreement highlighted the outlier nature of GOP climate denial, a position which President Obama suggested optimistically might melt away as the opportunities of carbon reduction become clearer, and psychology research predicts will moderate as clean energy development becomes the new status quo.

Seeking just transitions, from China to Carolina

Chinese coal miners are enduring layoffs that will slash one company’s work force by 40 percent as the country strives to cut coal consumption, particularly from older and less efficient mines. The 100,000 newly unemployed fared worse than miners 700 miles west of Sydney, Australia, where a 346-acre solar farm has sprouted as a hard-rock mine shut down. They benefitted from a quest for “just transitions” that enlists workers from fading industries to build the clean-energy economy—a process that might have diffused opposition to a North Carolina solar farm, whose rejection by town government was widely and unfairly pilloried in the environmental press.

Follow the Benjamins to clean-energy finance

California regulators proposed new terms for net metering that will still allow solar rooftop systems to earn retail credit for power fed to the grid. Under the plan—up for final approval next month—new PV-owners would pay a one-time connection fee of $100 or less and “non-bypassable fees” of 2 to 3 cents for every kilowatt-hour they draw from the grid, estimated to add less than $5 per month to their bills. In Kenya, a firm closed the first-ever deal to securitize off-grid solar power, selling the future revenue from 2,400 rooftop systems for half a million dollars, an approach it believes will enable it to expand sales to customers without banking histories.

Obama eats bear-kill salmon to spread climate message

President Obama demonstrated his willingness to preach his climate message from unusual platforms last week when he appeared on Running Wild with Bear Grylls, an NBC celebrity wilderness survival show. Alongside tracking grizzlies and eating morsels of their leftover salmon, Obama and Grylls found time to talk about the receding glaciers of the Kenai Peninsula; you can watch a 60-second highlight here or the whole show here. On Alaska’s North Slope, though, it was politics as usual, as an in-depth Politico report reveals how the Obama administration rolled back Clinton-era restrictions on oil drilling in the face of dogged lobbying by Big Oil.

ClimateCast will return on Monday, January 4, 2016. Happy New Year!

Image: Wind farm in the Columbia Gorge. Photo by Jay Drowns.

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).