October 2017 has been an eventful month in US energy news.
Trump Administration Takes Steps to Repeal Clean Power Plan
On October 10, the Trump Administration’s USEPA submitted a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which mandates 32% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, undoing a signature achievement of the previous administration. The proposed change would repeal the CPP entirely, not just the portions that the Administration disagrees with. While the agency has said it will submit a future ”carbon” rule, it did not give any details of when that might be. Therefore, many think this represents repeal, but not replace, of CPP. While some commentators believe the CPP usurps the rights of states to regulate energy and would force a shift from coal, others say that CPP does provide states flexibility on how to comply with the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirements. Even USEPA Administrator Scott Pruitt acknowledges that GHGs must be regulated due to the “endangerment” rulings made by the Supreme Court in 2007 and 2014; greenhouse gases meet the legal definition of an “air pollutant”, and the Clean Air Act requires its regulation to reduce emissions.
However, the impact of a repeal of CPP, if it survives the inevitable lawusits, is hard to determine. The US has already succeeded in reducing GHG emissions by 13% in the last 9 years, mainly because of a shift from coal to natural gas and growth in renewable energy (both due to market prices). Certainly more and more companies are learning that using cleaner fuels and energy conservation result in major, multiple financial benefits. The recent major storms, some of which were acknowledged to be exacerbated by Climate Change, impact businesses. Between these two, it will be interesting to see how business interests react to the potential elimination of the CPP and disincentives toward clean and renewable power.
USDOE Directs FERC to Issue Rules Supporting Nuclear, Coal
On September 29, USDOE Secretary Rick Perry directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to undertake rulemaking to enable generation assets in regional transmission organizations and independent systems operators to receive payments for reliability and resiliency benefits viewed as uncompensated under current market rules. If adopted, the proposed rule would provide revenue to coal and nuclear generators by allowing cost-based recovery, independent of normal market forces counteracting market forces that have recently have exerted significant downward pressure on rates. Coal producers and nuclear facilities would receive payments just for being “there” in case of an emergency, even if they are not used to supply a utility with electricity. Secretary Perry considers this a security issue, as making coal and nuclear sources more viable would raise the reliability of the US’s electric grid in case of market changes and its resiliency in case of severe storms or conditions. Others feel that this is a way to support the coal and nuclear industries; pay fees for not producing electricity. The proposed rule must be implemented by FERC, not USDOE; thus, it may take some time to go into effect.
Utility-Scale Solar Costs Fell 29% Last Year
A recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report showed that utility-scale solar costs fell 29% last year to roughly $35/MWh. This continues a trend as utility-scale solar power purchase agreement (PPA) costs have dropped nearly 75% since 2009. The report can be found: https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy17osti/68925.pdf. The USDOE Laboratory based its study on 189 PPAs nationwide totaling nearly 11,800 MW. The cost decline is attributed to lower equipment component costs, improving efficiency of converting sunlight to electricity, and lower labor costs. The NREL study indicates that USDOE’s SunShot Initiative (https://energy.gov/eere/sunshot/sunshot-initiative) has already reached its 2020 cost target for utility-scale solar systems three years early. The report offered that the rate of cost reduction is declining; however, the growing flexibility given by new battery storage projects attached to utility-scale solar will only grow utility-scale solar project’s value.
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