Clean energy momentum shifts to states, businesses

States seize the baton of clean energy initiative

Arizona’s Renewable Portfolio Standard would double to 30 percent by 2030 under a proposal from the Corporation Commission’s chair, while the state’s consumer advocate is pushing a novel twist: a Clean Peak Standard that would require the same proportion of renewable power be supplied during peak periods, in order to save ratepayers money while also reducing climate pollution. Massachusetts is developing a new formula to take the place of net metering for the state’s next 1,600 MW of rooftop solar, with payment for excess solar power starting at 30 cents per kilowatt-hour to capture the full value of solar to the grid. California is gearing up for the specific policies it will take to meet its goal of a 40 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which will serve as a test of what it takes to achieve those deep cuts and whether they are politically palatable. In the aftermath of last week’s passage of an omnibus energy bill for Illinois, Vox dissects the underlying horse-trading while Utility Dive contemplates whether it could serve as a template for other states to resolve their energy issues.  

Execs focus on green energy despite White House

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a coterie of 21 other wealthy entrepreneurs launched the $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures investment fund Monday to fight climate change with clean technology. The fund will bring patient capital to bear on the problem thanks to its 20-year duration, investing in early and later stage companies, and bringing promising technologies out of the laboratory. Down in the trenches, the Connecticut Green Bank—funded with a statewide utility surcharge—has catalyzed more than $1 billion in new investment to energy efficiency in the last five years. By 2017, Google will purchase enough renewable energy (from 2.6 gigawatts of wind and solar farms) to power all its operations worldwide, making it the first mega-company to reach this milestone. Other big companies are raising their renewable energy targets, and are sticking to their clean energy plans regardless of Trump’s election, executives told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s a long-term strategy,” said a spokeswoman for American Electric Power.

Canadians nearly united on paying for carbon, eh?

Canadians will pay a national minimum carbon price of C$10 per metric ton (about US$7.50) starting in 2018, rising to C$50 per ton in 2022, according to an agreement hammered out Friday between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers of eight of Canada’s 10 provinces. The agreement covers 93 percent of the Canadian population, notwithstanding hold-outs Manitoba and Saskatchewan, whose premier harped on fears that with a pro-fossil-fuel US president, carbon pricing will erode Canada’s competitiveness. The carbon price—which Trudeau will impose federally on any hold-out provinces—is part of Canada’s scheme to meet its Paris commitment to cut climate pollution 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Another arrow in its quiver: a nationwide Clean Fuels Standard announced late last month.

Warmer air, less ice, more ocean

Satellite data for November showed that the planet has again experienced record warmth, with temperatures in the lower atmosphere 0.8˚C above the late 20th century average. In the Arctic, conditions were so unusual that for several days, the sea ice actually shrank despite the polar night and ended the month 750,000 square miles below the 30-year average. With a new study showing the Greenland ice sheet is less stable than previously thought, it’s only a matter of time before the market begins to account for the implications to low-lying coastal property. These impacts can be hastened by feedback loops, such as the tendency of warmth to liberate soil carbon as CO2—which will add 17 percent to direct anthropogenic emissions by 2050, according to a new study in Nature. To get a view of planetary changes, there’s nothing like Timelapse on Google’s Earth Engine—with some choice animations also captured here (scroll all the way down).  

Meet the new boss, quite different from the old boss

The Trump transition team rattled Department of Energy employees last week when it presented a list of 74 questions, some of which ask the department to identify the specific employees and contractors who have been involved in international climate negotiations and in determining the social cost of carbon. The questionnaire also hints at the incoming administration’s priorities (nuclear power), bêtes-noires (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy), and hobby horses (whether fossil-fueled generating stations are needed as back-up for wind and solar power). At the Environmental Protection Agency, officials tried to predict how much momentum the agency’s 15,000 career employees could maintain as they enforce existing rules, and pondered which parts of the Obama legacy the incoming administration could easily undo.

Trump plays coy on climate, but appoints deniers

President-elect Trump continued his climate bamboozling on Fox News Sunday, stating that “nobody really knows” whether human activity is changing the climate. But even as he professed his ignorance, he appointed people to top positions last week who are quite sure where they stand, and it isn’t on the side of climate action. His pick to head the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has repeatedly sued to block the agency’s rules, including President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. His choice for Secretary of the Interior was initially reported to be Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a climate denier and an advocate of oil and gas drilling on public lands, but Trump ultimately said he’d nominate Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, who earned a 3 percent voting record from the League of Conservation Voters despite his opposition to privatizing public land. And one of the leading contenders for Secretary of State is the CEO of Exxon Mobil, whose $500 billion Arctic exploration deal with Russia was blocked by US sanctions, and who would be in charge of US climate diplomacy if ultimately appointed to the position.

In brief: human-powered trips and energy prices

Want to watch something uplifting, but tired of cute cat videos? Check out this 8-minute video on Vancouver’s success at getting people out of their cars to make more than half their trips by bike, on foot, or on transit. Not only does it make Vancouver look plenty livable, they achieved their goal five years early. If geek click-bait is more your speed, check out this map of which new kind of new power plant is cheapest to build in each county across the US. Spoiler alert: almost nowhere is it coal, unless you tweak the sliders so that natural gas prices nearly double and coal plants go on sale for 25 percent off.

Image: Maldives Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr. Ibrahim Didi signs a decree during an underwater cabinet meeting held in 2009 to dramatize the danger that sea level rise poses to their island nation. Photo by Mohamed Seeneen.

Updates: This article was updated Dec. 15 with news of Rep. Zinke’s nomination to be Secretary of the Interior. 

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).