Feb 5, 2021: TVA: time to update its core promise?

Is it time to update the TVA Act of 1933? Low energy rates and access have long been considered the priority. Nearly a century ago to enable the TVA rural customers needed to be wooed with access and low cost. Is it time to rebalance these priorities with more aggressive action to reduce carbon emissions?

Now is a good time to think about the TVA. At the Federal level there is focus on climate change policies. Also, the TVA is set to update its long-term energy plan in 2022.

TVA has cut CO2 60% from 2005 levels and has set goals to
reach 70% by 2030 and 80% by 2040. Is that enough? Fast enough? It is unlikely that it will meet the Biden administration’s clean energy goal to fully decarbonize its electricity mix by 2035.

There’s been a lot of mixed news coming out from TVA: a sweeping electric vehicle charging expansion, moving forward on a small advanced nuclear reactor at a site southwest of Knoxville, replacing shuttered fossil fuel power plants with new natural gas-fired generation in Kentucky and Alabama, and adding more solar. Sadly, the TVA does little for energy efficiency. In fact, Tennessee is the second worst state; only Alabama has a worse record on energy efficiency. It has also been noted that the TVA is allowing for customers to be charged fees for solar.



Jan 31 2021: The increasingly hollow howl of “job killing” from the fossil fuels industry

You can read it in the response to President Biden’s sweeping climate EO week. You can read it in the objections to Rep. Deb Haaland for the Department of Interior. You can read it in the Senate grilling of Department of Energy candidate Janet Granholm. The totally predictable assertion of “job killing” is being echoed by the fossil fuel industry and their cohorts.

Americans aren’t so ready to agree that our future depends on fossil fuels. In a November 2019 study Pew reported that 77% agreed that the more important energy priority should be developing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power and hydrogen technology rather than increasing U.S. production of fossil fuels.

Renewables have taken off all across the land, even in Texas. The Houston Chronicle states that “the state ranks first in wind power and third in battery storage capacity. The state is fifth in solar, but the sector is seeing explosive growth, with a $1.6 billion solar farm — the country’s largest — opening outside of Dallas in 2023. Texas is also growing its footprint in the electric vehicle market, with Tesla building a manufacturing plant near Austin.”

Those in the vangaurd recognize the pain some families will face and the need for support in retraining and other measures. Many do not support an all-or-nothing approach. For example, Janet Granholm has pointed to carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies, which essentially reduce carbon in the atmosphere, as important tools in cutting emissions without cutting jobs.

Nations fail when they don’t adapt. The horseless carriage put people out of work, too. This Administration seems determined to move us forward with as little pain as possible. Tune out the hollow men and their backward ways.



Jan 30 2021: When transparency is not necessarily a good thing

This week a Federal judge in Montana ruled against fast-tracking an EPA rule change that was positioned as being for transparency but was actually a bit of pro-polluter chicanery. The judge did not agree that it was merely procedural but would have an impact on outcomes. The rule may never come to be in the the current Administration. Another just in time event in these early days of the Biden Administration.

Why, though, would something claiming transparency, which we are generally ALL FOR, not be a good thing?

In health studies going back over time, individuals’ health records have been kept private. Many of these studies form the bulwark of anti-pollution regulations. When older rules would come up for renewal, they would have a harder time being renewed under the proposed new rule, which would show a preference for studies that had no such secrets.

Opposition from the science community has been robust.

From a letter submitted earlier last year to the EPA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society, they challenged the underlying purpose of the rule as well as dismissing the reason for it (i.e., good research demands access to raw data): “Simply put, excluding the best available science, as this proposed rule would do, puts public health and the environment at risk” and “As has been stated by the scientific community repeatedly in response to this rule and now this supplemental, there are credible procedures for testing results and verifying outcomes with methodologies that do not require access to raw data.”

This back door for polluters most likely will not be opened.





Jan 28, 2021: President Biden Puts Climate at the Core

First off, the moment we face is recognized: ” We have a narrow moment to pursue action at home and abroad in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of that crisis and to seize the opportunity that tackling climate change presents,” he White House documents states in its opening paragraph. Then goes on to say that climate will be “an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security.”

There’s a lot in here.

Ambitious goals: achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050,  a carbon pollution-free electricity sector no later than 2035, doubling offshore wind by 2030, conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.

Getting back together with the other players: Paris Agreement, Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, UN Climate Change Conference, Montreal Agreement. In addition, reinstating the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy.

Upping the leadership: John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Leaders’ Climate Summit, National Climate Task Force, Civilian Climate Corp,  Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization (Interagency Working Group), White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council (Interagency Council).

And you thought Elizabeth Warren had plans: Finance Plan due in 90 days, the Direction of National Intelligence has 120 days for a security impact plan. Likewise, the Secretary of Defense being tasked as well with Climate Risk Analysis. There’s specific asks for the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Protection for public lands: support for renewables, pause (for now) on fossil fuels

Power of the purse: to increase clean energy sector, reduce subsidizing fossil fuels

For workers: rebuilding infrastructure; advancing conservation, agriculture and reforestation, revitalizing energy communities (hard-hit by policies of extractive industries, for example)

Environmental Justice: a detailed and discreet plank including a White House council. One example of what’s in this section: “the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality shall, within 6 months of the date of this order, create a geospatial Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool and shall annually publish interactive maps highlighting disadvantaged communities.”

The fine print: “This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.” Yes, still need to figure out how to pay for all of this.

I know there’s a lot of “watch this space,” but isn’t it nice that it is being filled with plans to be based on science and staffed by professionals with an appreciation of the climate as crisis. Attention is being paid!


Jan 24 2021: Deregulators seeing(seething) red

You can expect deregulatory advocates to see red over President Biden’s executive order to “modernize regulatory review, ” which could lead to major changes in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), inside the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

This order asks OMB to develop recommendations that “should provide concrete suggestions on how the regulatory review process can promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.  The recommendations should also include proposals that would ensure that regulatory review serves as a tool to affirmatively promote regulations that advance these values.  These recommendations should be informed by public engagement with relevant stakeholders. “

Decryng that the Biden Administration will put too much emphasis on benefits and not enough costs, expect these voices to get amplified by conservative media. However, the reversals and clamp-downs on benefits was uniquely vicious in the Trump era. If anything, the Biden Adminsitration is simply righting wrongs perpetrated over the past four years.

In the Trump era cost-benefit analyses (CBA), which have long been part of regulatory review, have narrowed and chiefly leaned into the cost side of the equation. We’ve written before about how things like “co-benefits”, e.g., health benefits, were to be ignored in analyzing the benefits side. Just consider what happened in the Mercury Rule. In installing equipment to cut down on mercury, particulate matter (soot) was also reduced with significant health benefits. These, would be excluded, as they were not the intent.

With some minor tuning with each Administration, the CBA process has worked pretty well. Here’s how American Progress describes it: “…whenever an agency has proposed a new federal regulation, it has needed to quantify the costs and benefits to the greatest extent possible, including those that are indirect or ancillary, known as co-costs and co-benefits; analyze the unquantifiable costs and benefits; and put forward a recommended agency action for OIRA to review and approve.”

Nobody likes excessively burdensome regulations but neither should we like forces that inflate costs while simultaneously restricting how reaped benefits can be included.



Jan 23 2021: Utilities—time is right to modernize

“We believe tighter environmental regulations are a net positive for most utilities.” —Charles Fishman, Morningstar

Mr. Fishman goes on to say “We believe tighter environmental regulations are a net positive for most utilities. Growth investments in renewable energy, grid modernization, and electric vehicles should outweigh higher regulatory, operational, and financial risk.”

No surprise to read that renewable energy sources continue to make up a bigger piece of utilities’ sources. Here’s a chart from the US Energy Information Administration showing relative growth patterns. True, renewables are still much smaller, but growth drives investment.

Grid modernization improves reliability and resilience, both of which have grown in concern in this century. In an industry survey 88% of responding utilities say that have a grid modernization strategy.

Despite a somewhat sluggish market for electric passenger cars (can you say “charging stations”?), the market for the transportation sector continues to be positively positioned for electric vehicles.





Jan 9, 2021: 2020—new record of extreme weather events

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a report that surprise-surprise 2020, among its other worst-year-ever claims, was also the worst year for weather/climate disaster events. These are measured by dollars, as in billion-dollar events, and there were 22 of them, comprised of 13 severe storms 7 tropical cyclones, 1 wildfire and 1 drought. The average number of such events from 1980-2020 was 7 per year. The last four years more than doubled to 16.2 events per year. Geez. Think there’s something going on here?

By November 188 people died in these events. The numbers of wildlife lost in the United States is not as well reported but one does need much of an imagination to conjure tragically high numbers. According to the newly released 2020 Living Planet Report, produced by the WWF, population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians declined globally by an average of 68 percent between 1970 and 2016.




Jan 6, 2021 The quieting of “Drill Baby Drill”

Today the U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to auction off leases for oil and gas development on more than one million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), in the northeast corner of Alaska. Funny thing is that the expected herd of interested parties has diminished due to market forces.

Drilling in ANWR has been a decades-old battle and the auction today would seemed to cap the fossil fuel industry’s ultimate victory. Not so fast.

There are ongoing lawsuits, naturally. One set back is that yesterday U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason said that groups had not shown a level of harms necessary for her to grant an injunction.

But, what’s also happening is market forces are not encouraging the drillers to drill. There are good reasons for not pursuing:

—lower oil prices and the expense of drilling, exacerbated by climate changes, e.g., warming permafrost

—uncertainty about how much oil is recoverable. US Geologic Survey latest estimate is from 1998 and projects around 10 billion barrels but could be either much lower or higher than that.

—ongoing fuel economy is reducing the demand

—increases from other sources, notably fracking

—large financial institutions, including all five major US banks, have refused or are restricting financing

Ultimately, climate change has become so obvious that the call to be better global citizens encourages fossil fuel companies and their financial backers to have second thoughts and tone down the cry to “drill baby drill.”



Jan 3, 2021: The Future is Renewables

Renewable energies keep increasing, despite efforts to shore up fossil fuels. Retardation of the advance of renewables will not be the order of the day under a Biden Administration. Still the pace of change could be accelerated if markets operate logically and artificial brakes are not applied. “Leading U.S. utilities increasingly understand that renewable electricity can be a driver of rate base growth while legacy assets become a drag on cash flow.” (https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/research/the-2020-us-renewable-energy-outlook)

I was inspired to write about this by this article in Politico. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/29/trump-biden-clean-energy-451546

Pretty easy to find charts showing growth, such as this chart from a Forbes article. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2020/08/02/renewable-energy-growth-continues-at-a-blistering-pace/?sh=ea515de76b60


There’s a lot the Biden Administration can do: Allow states (e.g., CA) to impose vehicle emissions limitations, energy efficiency (starting by not complaining about shower flow), offshore wind permits (NIMBY concerns notwithstanding), policies and personnel that seriously take a look at carbon tax and more.

Here in Tennessee there’s a sense that it leads other Southeastern states, notably in hydroelectric power. But Tennessee does not have a renewables portfolio standard, so there’s a lot of variation and uncertainty. Groups exist to promote renewables here in TN, such as the Tennessee Renewable Energy & Economic Development Council (TREEDC), which is a statewide network of 101 city and county mayors and businesses working together to create a path to fast-track renewables in Tennessee. Projects listed on their website: statewide energy forums, project development/financing, legislative outreach, solar development for communities, municipal wastes to energy, biofuels for governmental fleets, compressed natural gas for fleets. Maryville is among the government partners. https://www.treedc.us/index.html

We’ll revisit this topic in 2021 because the pace of renewables adoption and standardization deserves our attention.