It was supposed to be the largest wind farm in North America, with 1,000 turbines spinning above 320,000 acres of southern Wyoming. But after investing more than $50 million and nearly a decade seeking approval to build a wind farm on public lands, the Power Company of Wyoming’s landmark project is still tied up in required scrutiny of its environmental impact. "We understood that this is a complex process," said the company’s vice president Rocanne Perruso. "We did understand that it was going to be several years. We did not anticipate nine." The Wyoming project is hardly an outlier. Although the Obama administration has given initial approvals to 46 wind and solar projects on 216,356 acres of public lands since 2009, just 15 are in operation. Others have been abandoned, are still being built or are undergoing years of required environmental analysis.
The kinds of energy policies we'll all have to adopt in the coming decades are already on display in New England. The region barely uses any coal, and the six states there are embracing renewables like it's 2050. In 2014 Rhode Island and Vermont were the only two states in the US that didn't use any coal at all. That makes Rhode Island the most logical place for the nation's first offshore wind farm, called Block Island Wind Farm. The wind farm will generate 30 megawatts of energy — enough to power every home on Block Island. Steady, reliable winds off the coasts could provide substantially more energy than turbines located on land. While it's a first for the US, the wind farm is just the next step in Rhode Island's impressive clean energy policies. All of New England combined uses less coal than each of the 35 most coal-heavy states did on their own.
At COP21 last year, the EU committed to cutting its total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030. As part of its climate and energy plans, the EU also has set an objective to achieve at least 27 percent renewable energy use by 2030. The European Commission already has signaled that these ambitious objectives will require substantial 12 to 20 percent GHG emission reductions and 12 to 14 percent renewable sources in transport. Decarbonizing Europe’s transport sector is vital because it accounts for 25 percent of Europe’s total GHG emissions, recently becoming the largest source. With combustion engines expected to dominate still in 2030, increasing the use of ethanol blends is the most immediate and cost-effective solution to achieve these objectives. But, without a binding policy framework that promotes low carbon fuel replacements for petrol and diesel fuels used in Europe, the needed emissions reduction in transport simply will not be achieved. This is confirmed by a recent study by E4Tech that found the absence of a binding policy to decarbonize traditional transport fuels will lead to increased use of fossil fuels in transport, completely undermining Europe’s 2030 climate strategy.
The US uses an astounding amount of energy: about 97 quadrillion BTUs, or about 18% of world's total energy consumption. And demand is only going to increase over time. The majority of the energy the country generates — which powers America's homes, internet, and urban infrastructure — coems from fossil fuels, and isn't renewable or sustainable. A possible solution? Wind farms. GE and Deepwater Wind, a developer of offshore turbines, are installing five massive wind turbines in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They will make up the first offshore wind farm in North America, called the Block Island Wind Farm. Over the past several weeks, the teams have worked to install the turbines 30 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, and are expected to finish by the end of August 2016. The farm will be fully operational by November 2016.
The state committee charged with promoting transparency in government is asking lawmakers to overhaul a 2015 law that made secret information about the transportation of crude oil and other hazardous materials by railroad through Maine. The legislature’s Right to Know Advisory Committee voted to send a letter to the Judiciary Committee recommending that it reconsider the controversial law in order to ensure that the government is not keeping railroad data secret unnecessarily.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been taken to the woodshed by its Office of Inspector General, which said the agency has failed to provide legally required reports to Congress. In a report posted on the EPA's website on Thursday, OIG said EPA has not prepared reports on the environmental impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard, as required by the Energy Information and Security Act of 2007. EPA is behind on compliance with three required reports: a triennial report to Congress on the environmental and conservation impacts of the RFS, a separate anti-backsliding report on the impacts of the RFS on air quality, and a determination as to whether mitigation measures are necessary. The OIG report says EPA management admitted that they “have not prioritized compliance” with the required reports.
Rice farmer Mark Isbell changed how he nurtures rice plants on 70 acres of his Arkansas farm. Instead of flooding the rice fields for the entire growing season, he now practices what is called alternating wet and dry farming, where he allows the water to drain from the rice field for about a week mid-season. "What that impacts is the cell bacteria that typically in a flooded environment creates methane," Isbell told GreenBiz in an interview over the phone, the sound of his truck rumbling in the background. "It stops producing methane in dry periods, and when the fields are wet again it takes a while for the bacteria to produce methane." Letting the fields temporarily dry has reduced the methane released from that rice field by 50 percent, compared to an adjacent field that was flooded all through the growing season, according to measurements taken by the University of Arkansas.
One of the roundtable attendees was state Sen Chauncey "Greg" Gregory, who has sponsored significant legislation in the state to support solar power. A few years ago, Gregory visited his sister in Portland, Oregon, and saw solar panels on hundreds of rooftops. “It seemed ridiculous to me that a state that is cloudy 8 months a year had so much solar energy,” he says, “while South Carolina had so little.” He decided to try and change that. The state’s sunny neighbors - Georgia and North Carolina were making big strides in solar. But as recently as 2012 South Carolina lagged at the bottom of the list, with complicated laws, resistance from power companies, and poor tax incentives for solar energy. Today the state currently has 7 megawatts of solar installed, but plans to go to 765 over the next five years, which will move its rank from 34th to 20th.
Solar power can burn a hole in a state’s budget, but a well-designed plan can bring benefits. Demand for residential or rooftop solar power, spurred in part by state incentives, is growing rapidly. But if incentives are not well-designed, they can overwhelm a state’s budget. Regulators and utility officials in several states have been surprised – not always in a positive way – by the effects of their solar power policies. Louisiana is one of the more recent, and more dramatic, examples. In mid-July, Louisiana’s Department of Revenue said it was almost $30 million short of funds to pay already submitted claims for rooftop solar systems and that there were no funds to pay future claims, even though the program is not scheduled to end until Dec. 31, 2017. A 2015 law capped the state’s solar tax credit program at $10 million each for 2015-16 and 2016-17 and at $5 million for 2017-18. The state already has $9.3 million in approved credits and $29.6 million in estimated pending claims for 2015-16.
The industry that burns wood to produce electricity is floundering nationwide because of low power prices, and some lawmakers from heavily forested states are pushing to provide it with an extraordinary market advantage. Six times during the past two years, federal lawmakers have included language in bills in attempts to force EPA regulations to ignore climate pollution from biomass power plants. With the biomass power industry in financial tumult, its leaders are pinning hopes for revival on Congress’s potential willingness to interfere with science at a time when the EPA is rolling out flagship climate rules. The legislative language, introduced by some Republicans in the House and Senate and by a Democrat-aligned independent senator, varies slightly. But it all requires that most wood power be regulated as though it’s as clean as solar or wind energy — when it can actually be more polluting than gas or coal.