Oregon to end use of coal, get 50 percent clean power
Oregon lawmakers last week passed a bill setting a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2040 and ending the state’s use of coal power, making it the first state in the nation to legislate such a ban. The bill—negotiated among the state’s two investor-owned utilities, environmental groups, and consumer advocates to avoid a bruising initiative campaign—will also facilitate electric-vehicle charging and community solar projects. A companion bill also passed, providing a half-cent-per-kWh incentive for utility-scale solar installations. On the heels of the bill’s success, four of Oregon’s federal lawmakers introduced a Congressional resolution urging an even more ambitious national target of 50 percent clean power by 2030.
Solar to be top source of new utility power this year
Utility-scale solar farms will grow by 9.5 GW in the US this year, making them the largest new source of American electric capacity for the first time, the Department of Energy predicted last week. Natural gas is forecast to add 8 GW, and wind just under seven. Unlike past years, more than half of that solar power will not be needed to meet state-level renewable portfolio standards, and instead is driven by corporate clean-energy procurement and the dropping cost of solar electricity. Even as the tide turns toward solar power, a post-mortem of David Crane’s reign as CEO of NRG Energy shows how hard it is to re-cast an energy behemoth as a clean-power provider.
Coal faring poorly in China and the US
China announced a new five-year plan last week calling for an 18 percent drop in energy intensity (energy per unit of economic output) by 2020. The announcement, along with declines in coal consumption in each of the last two years, suggests that China may be ahead of schedule in peaking its energy consumption, which it has promised to do by 2030. Meanwhile, the US coal outlook worsened, as the Supreme Court rejected a stay of limits on mercury emissions from power plants. The industry’s declining fortunes have led unemployed Ohio miners to seek job training, and raised doubts about coal companies’ ability to clean up closed mines, an issue first raised by Seattle-based Sightline Institute.
Prez campaign highlights candidates’ differences
The Democratic presidential hopefuls staked out divergent positions on fracking in Sunday night’s debate, when Sen. Bernie Sanders opposed it outright and Hillary Clinton listed three prerequisites for supporting it. Even this conditional backing represented a cooling of her ardor for fracking, which she advocated as secretary of state. Curiously, Sanders’ stronger stance against coal seems not to be hurting him in West Virginia, where polling ahead of the May primary showed him with a commanding lead over Clinton. With Florida’s primary fast approaching, 21 Sunshine State mayors sent a letter to the hosts of this week’s debates, asking that they press both parties’ candidates on climate and energy policy.
Thinking about climate is all in our heads
After actor Leonardo DiCaprio used his turn on the Oscars stage to call for climate action, he drew heat on social media for simultaneously being a conspicuous consumer, but David Roberts weighs those charges and acquits DiCaprio since he called for collective, political action to change the energy system, not vows of frugality. Meanwhile, Joe Romm lambasts investor Warren Buffett for underestimating the existential nature of climate risks and continuing to pour money into tar sands. Risk assessment is different from worry, however, and Andrew Revkin urges us not to worry about climate, but rather approach it with a mixture of urgency and patience.
Canadian leaders meet to coordinate climate policies
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau huddled last week with Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial premiers to align their climate policies, resulting in the Vancouver Accord. Push-back from the oil-reliant northern territories and ideological opposition from Saskatchewan’s premier forced Trudeau to back away from his proposed minimum national price of $15 per ton of carbon, and instead form a working group on carbon pricing mechanisms. Eighty-five percent of Canadians live in provinces that already price carbon—BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. The ministers disappointed some by not improving on Canada’s commitment to cut climate pollution 30 percent by 2030, a legacy of the conservative Harper government and the least ambitious of any G7 country.
US buyers choosing bigger cars, cutting fuel economy
Auto buyers are choosing larger cars, undermining the fuel economy gains expected from the Obama administration’s CAFE standards. The new standards allow larger cars to consume more fuel—unlike the previous version, which set a fleet-average standard for each manufacturer—so the average new US car’s fuel economy has stalled with this shift in consumer preference. Cheap oil has also prompted some shippers to sail around Africa instead of paying six-figure fees to traverse the Suez Canal, adding 4,000 miles and abundant carbon pollution to the voyage. It remains to be seen whether $2 gas will dampen enthusiasm for the $35,000 Tesla electric Model 3, set to be unveiled at the end of this month. If Volkswagen had opted for electric drive, it might have avoided this parody, when a mock repairman pretended to install a cheater device on one of its models at a Geneva car show.
Image: Middle-school students touring a solar installation in the Reno area. Photo by Black Rock Solar.