What Obama's Reelection Means for Coal, Climate Change, and America's Energy Future

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

By Mary Anne Hitt

President Obama's victory yesterday was a victory for clean energy, one that gives us a fighting chance to slash coal pollution and turn the corner on climate change, in the wake of a devastating hurricane that brought global warming into sharp, painful focus for millions of Americans. 

As the Sierra Club's Michael Brune said on election night,"We did it." Fossil fuel billionaires had spent at record levels to defeat Obama in this election, and Romney had returned the favor, promising to open the floodgates on more mining and drilling if elected. But then Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern Seaboard, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Obama as the candidate most likely to lead on climate change, and Romney's dismissal of rising oceans as a laugh line in his GOP convention speech became an especially chilling out-of-touch episode, in a Republican presidential campaign that had no shortage of such moments. 

Ironically, the coal industry had pinned its hopes on Romney -- the consummate businessman -- to protect the industry from the harsh realities of the free market. Now, the coal industry will have to stop hiding behind inflammatory slogans like "the war on coal," and will have to grapple with a marketplace and an American public that are turning away from coal in favor of cleaner, cheaper sources of energy. Coal will only produce 37 percent of America's electricity this year, down from 50 percent just five years ago, and those trends show no signs of reversing.

In reality, the decline of coal and the rise of clean energy have more to do with Main Street and Wall Street than with Pennsylvania Avenue. Over the past four years, in almost every state in the nation, hundreds of thousands of people have worked together to retire polluting local coal plants, get more wind and solar power on the grid, and use energy more efficiently. Today, 125 coal plants -- out of over 500 nationwide -- are now slated for retirement. As a result, U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level in two decades, clean energy is coming on line at record levels, and tens of thousands of Americans now have clean energy jobs

The marketplace and the American people have spoken, and there is no amount of grandstanding by coal barons that will turn this tide. By the end of Obama's second term, the Beyond Coal Campaign plans to:

  • Secure the retirement of one-third of the nation's coal plants.
  • Power the nation with record amounts of clean energy and energy efficiency.
  • End mountaintop removal once and for all.
  • Close additional coal pollution loopholes, including long-overdue protections for carbon, soot, smog, coal ash, and water pollution.
  • Prevent increased coal exports overseas to places where it will be burned with fewer pollution controls and no climate safeguards.

Making this happen will require the continued energy and dedication of our Beyond Coal grassroots movement. While the coal industry did its best to paint President Obama as their sworn enemy during the election, in fact, in Obama's first term, he was a centrist when it came to energy. On one hand, his administration took historic measures to clean up some of the most dangerous pollution from coal --mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxins -- while also putting a carbon standard in place for new power plants. The Obama White House also helped jumpstart clean energy, creating tens of thousands of new wind and solar jobs and helping to ensure that America will be a lead innovator in the clean energy revolution that will power the nations and economies of the twenty-first century.

On the other hand, some of the worst abuses of the coal industry continued. Mountaintop removal mining operations are still blowing up mountains, burying streams, and causing serious health problems across Appalachia. We don't yet have carbon standards for existing power plants, which are our single biggest source of greenhouse gases. There are still no national protections for the dumping of toxic coal ash. And when it comes to clean energy and energy efficiency, this country is still far behind much of the rest of the developed world. 

No, coal's decline has less to do with President Obama and more to do with the fact that, after 100 years of heedlessly dumping air and water pollution onto the American people, the day of reckoning has come. Investors know that our fleet of coal plants is outdated, and they are putting their money into cleaner twenty-first century energy technologies like wind and solar -- not into propping up coal plants that are reaching the end of their lifespan. Meanwhile, town by town, city by city, and state by state, local leaders are making the decision to retire aging coal plants, get rid of the pollution and health problems, and ensure their communities aren't left behind in the clean energy revolution. 

I live in West Virginia, so I'm not surprised that coal mining areas of the U.S. voted overwhelmingly for Romney in this election. As coal is eclipsed by other forms of energy, people in coal country are justifiably concerned about their livelihoods and their future. Perhaps the results of this election will finally push some of our leaders to start talking honestly about the challenges we face and the need to diversify coal state economies -- in short, to provide some leadership. Our region's decision-makers would be doing a far greater service to their constituents by using their political clout to bring federal resources that will help Appalachia and other mining regions make a transition, rather than digging in their heels and refusing to acknowledge that the world is changing.

In Appalachia and beyond, one thing is certain -- President Obama's re-election means that for four more years, the marketplace and the American people will continue to move away from coal, and the coal barons won't have a crony in the White House to try and stop that inevitable shift. 

From the streets of New York ravaged by Hurricane Sandy to the mountains of Appalachia ravaged by mountaintop removal, and from the mother watching her son struggle to breathe to the grandfather watching his granddaughter sleep and worrying he is leaving her a dangerous, unstable planet, Americans are ready to move beyond coal. 

President Obama can only help lead the nation there. We are going to have to do the hard work ourselves. But his re-election means we have a fighting chance.

US Power Prices Will Continue to Increase

Source: http://energy.aol.com/

By Glenn Williams


Power prices are too low. That's what utility executives believe. They need prices to increase for their generators to return healthy earnings. Otherwise, they will have to retire plants and exit the market. 


Dominion Resources decided not to wait. They recently announced plans to retire their Wisconsin-based Kewaunee Nuclear Power Station 21 years early. Dominion concluded they would not be able to achieve any earnings for their 556-megawatt unit, they might even lose money and they could not find anyone to buy it. They had no choice but to shutter and decommission Kewaunee.

A few miles south is NextEra Energy's Point Beach Nuclear Plant. It's operating in the same power market as Kewaunee. At approximately 512-megawatts, it is roughly the same size and it's about the same age. The only difference is Point Beach has two nearly identical units, operating side-by-side.

The issue is economics. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, in 2011, the average nuclear power plant had a production cost of $21.90 per megawatt-hour. The difference between the production cost and the market price for power is the unit's gross margin. But gross margin is not profit. There are a whole lot of additional expenses beyond gross margin before a utility can book a profit.

Struggling to Make a Buck 
For many independent power producers, many times a generator's expenses exceed their revenues. Power markets frequently post market-clearing prices so low that the gross margin for the hour is upside down. In many other cases, the generator can achieve a gross margin but cannot achieve any earnings.

With average market-clearing prices trending so low, most nuclear plant owners cannot always recover their costs. A good example is the Midwest power markets; they are posting some of the lowest market-clearing prices in the nation. In many cases, market-clear prices for energy temporarily dip below zero. That's right; the generator has to pay the grid to take the power, not the other way around.

It turns out Dominion and NextEra's nuclear plants are in that market. They are both located in the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO), which manages power markets for Wisconsin and several other states.

Last February, MISO's system-wide market price for power averaged approximately $25.57. Last March it was $23.89. April it was $24.18. May it was $28.73. At these levels, Dominion cannot sustain profitable operations for long. No wonder they couldn't find a buyer for Kewaunee.

Either NextEra has a secret sauce for their Point Beach nuclear units, or they are losing money. If they are losing money, expect another early retirement announcement or ongoing drain on consolidated earnings.
The problem is spreading to other nuclear utilities. It turns out Exelon, the owner of the nation's largest fleet of nuclear power plants, is also struggling to achieve earnings. According to their website, Exelon Nuclear operates 10 power plants and 17 reactors, located in three separate power markets, and produce enough electricity to power 17 million American homes. In addition, they have ownership interests in four additional nuclear plants and six reactors. In the aggregate, Exelon Nuclear is losing money and they claim they need higher market-clearing prices to sustain their dividends.

According to their quarterly statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Exelon Generation lost $98 million in the second quarter and they made $91 million in their third quarter. But here's the rub: Exelon's third quarter is the time when peak demand and prices were expected and as such, was expected to be the best quarter of the year.

Consumers or Shareholders Left Holding the Bag
It is clear Exelon's executives are concerned. In the earnings conference call, they warned that if they cannot achieve higher revenues for their generating assets, Exelon may be forced reduce their dividends. Exelon's CEO Christopher Crane said in his November 1, 2012 conference call, "If [power prices] do not play out favorably, revisiting our dividend policy will be in the range of options for preserving our investment-grade rating that management and the board will need to consider."

Executives managing Texas' grid have a different perspective but have reached a similar conclusion. In order to attract adequate generating assets to their grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas decided to lift price caps and let market clearing-prices drift to $9,000 per megawatt-hour, or 900 cents a kilowatt-hour. And, retail consumers will pay even more to have that power delivered to their meters. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Texas Public Utility Commission said raising prices is necessary to encourage more plant construction and prevent power outages.

Power prices will go up. At the current price levels, marginal power producers, such as Kewaunee will be forced to exit the market. Shareholders will demand management pare costs by retiring economically unproductive assets and produce earnings. With capacity leaving the market, supply and demand curves will be adjusted and average wholesale prices will drift higher. The consumer will pay the difference.

Will Competition Drive the Development of Large-Scale Solar Power in Georgia?


Source: http://www.ryantaylorarchitects.com/

Tom Baxter’s recent article in the SaportaReport suggests that Georgia Power has reversed course on solar power after Georgia Solar Utilities Inc. submitted a petition to the Georgia PSC to sell 80-megawatts of solar power. It seems that it just takes the threat of competition to steer large markets and competition is starting to emerge as the cost of renewable sources like solar continue to drop.

The Georgia Public Service Commission’s (PSC) mission is “to exercise its authority and influence to ensure that consumers receive safe, reliable and reasonably priced telecommunications, electric and natural gas services from financially viable and technically competent companies.” As a result, the PSC regulates the state’s largest electricity provider: Georgia Power.

In 2001, Sentate Bill 93 was signed into Georgia law. It’s a five-page bill that notes the importance of enhancing “the continued diversification of the energy resources used in Georgia”. In effect, it creates “green pricing” so consumers can agree to pay a premium for power from renewable energy technologies. The premiums were intended as an investment in renewable energy while it was still more expensive than traditional energy sources like coal-fired power plants. That created an opportunity for Georgia Power to invest in renewable energy sources like solar and pass the additional costs to consumers who opted-into the program.

The proposal for the Georgia Solar Utilities, Inc. (GaSU) solar power plant is significant. By using  the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) numbers on the electricity used by an average American house, we figured an 80-megawatt solar plant can power approximately 9,850 houses when operating at its peak potential. To give you some sense of scale for the proposed plant,GreenTech Media reports only two of the top ten existing solar plants in the United States can generate more than 60 megawatts, both are in Arizona – GaSu’s plant would be the third largest in the US.

None of the top ten solar plants are in the southeastern United States even though there’s tremendous potential for solar energyto help off-set peak loads. The closest significant plant on the list is a 34MW facility in Texas.



Energy Jobs: Market Drives Solar Development in Georgia

U.S. Green Technology specializes in connecting those seeking to quality employers. Whether you’re looking for a specific green-collar job, or are open to opportunities at companies with sustainable practices, U.S. Green Technology provides resources for all skill levels and industries. Check out any of the popular searches above!

U.S. Green Technology | Where Main Street Meets Green Street

For assistance with your clean energy jobs search, check out the Career Builder Resource Center at U.S. Green Technology. There you can get help crafting your resume, tailoring your job hunt, and connecting with employers who will share your values and appreciate your skills.

As of 2012, Georgia is one of only 13 states that haven’t set any Renewable Portfolio Standards, which map out plans to increase green energy production in a cost-effective, administratively feasible way. Nevertheless, Georgia Power wants to increase solar production by more than three times. Their plans could increase long-term solar energy jobs with contractors, get more solar farms up, and more panels installed on residential roofs.

Georgia Power recently put in a proposal to the Georgia Public Service Commission to increase solar intake by 210 MW over the next three years. The proposal comes hot on the heels of one by Georgia Solar Utilities, which has plans to generate 2,000 MW–roughly 10 times more than Georgia Power. This would create more solar energy jobs and set the group up as a direct competitor of Georgia Power.

According to a report in the Georgia publication Savannah Now, officials at Georgia Power say their plan is “the largest solar initiative in state history.” The utility’s VP of Pricing and Planning said that if the plan is approved, Georgia Power would be on track to becoming the biggest solar provider of all “investor-owned utilities in the 13 states where renewable energy quotas aren’t mandated by law.”

Georgia Power’s proposal is encouraging, because the state hasn’t implemented any mandates regarding clean energy and associated energy jobs. Georgia Power is apparently being driven by the market, and the need to stay competitive.

Solar prices have dropped dramatically in recent years–some say as much as 75 percent. Affordability, in addition to enhanced efficiency, means solar farms could be developed in Georgia, creating hundreds of permanent energy jobs. Georgia Power also hopes to glean clean MWs from PV panels on homeowners’ roofs. This looks like a positive development for homeowners, contractors, energy jobs, and the long-term viability of the industry.

By Leslie Hedrick

For assistance with your clean energy jobs search, check out the Career Builder Resource Center at U.S. Green Technology. There you can get help crafting your resume, tailoring your job hunt, and connecting with employers who will share your values and appreciate your skills.

Sign-up for U.S. Green Technology‘s weekly newsletter to receive the latest green technology information, including the latest green jobs, blogs, news, and events.

U.S. Green Technology (http://s.tt/1qmCd)

A New Solar Energy Utility Set to Revolutionize Georgia's Electricity Industry

Source: http://www.solarsystemsusa.net/

The future of solar in Georgia seems really bright after a new green utility petitioned Georgia Public Service to be licensed to offer electricity generated exclusively from solar to consumers. If the proposal  receives the nod from state authorities, the Georgia  Solar Utilities (GaSU) will be well positioned to challenge the stranglehold that Georgia Power has had on the power utility scene in Georgia.

News of the new startup came almost simultaneously with the announcement that Georgia Power was embarking on a project that would see the utility triple the solar production capacity by 2015. While the announcement was meat with a measure of skepticism, it is an indicator that there is a paradigm shift in achieving the largely unexplored potential of Gerogia in solar production.

The supply for GaSU’s power will come from a proposed 90 MW facility, which would be three times as large as the Simon Solar Program, the state’s largest approved solar farm. The projected cost of the new farm is $320 million and is said to open up opportunity for “hundreds of jobs” during its construction.

But all this assumes it can get approval from the state to operate as a utility. But a major barrier is the 1973 Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act, which effectively gives the state’s largest utility, Georgia Power, a monopoly on utility services. Previous attempts at changing utility legislation have met strong opposition

If the law was amended and GaSU was allowed to operate in Georgia, it could open up the state’s tremendous green energy potential. Georgia Power only just brought its first large solar farm online this July with a capacity of 1 MW, enough power for about 300 homes. Georgia Power has bought into three more large solar projects that promise to provide the company with 50 MW by 2015. While this would be a significant step up from the state’s current level of 18MW of solar production, it is still a tremendous under-utilization of a resource that could meet 31% of the state’s energy needs from rooftop solar alone. Currently, about 5% of Georgia’s total energy production comes from renewables.

However, GaSU could build its solar farm without action by the legislature or the PSC, and existing federal law would require Georgia Power to buy its electricity. But it would only pay GaSU an amount equal to what it could buy from its cheapest wholesale supplier.

The start-up wants instead to sell its electricity directly to retail customers who would be billed by Georgia Power or the other existing utilities, similar to the way natural gas is sold in Georgia. GaSU would pay the utilities for the use of their wires in the electric grid and any profits would be shared with customers.