U.S. Has Innovation, Determination to Return to Top of Global Clean Energy Market

Early on, the Trump administration announced with some fanfare its “America First” energy initiative, promising to take advantage of the nation’s untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands. The White House also expressed a very strong commitment to bolstering clean coal technology.

During those grand pronouncements this past spring, touting our nation’s energy prowess, little mention was made of clean and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, hydropower and others – despite the persistent growth in the sector over the past decade.

As a result, the reality is that the United States has ceded its position of global leadership in the clean energy sector; largely handing the mantel to China, which is working vigorously to move away from its dependency on coal.

China began its energy transition with several focused policies three years ago that aimed to move the country away from coal, which comprised 62 percent of the nation’s energy mix at the end of 2016, and towards renewable and clean sources of energy. Data analyzed by Greenpeace and other groups shows coal consumption has fallen the past three years in China.

Earlier this year, China’s National Energy Administration set a mandatory target to reduce coal energy consumption, while establishing a goal for clean energy to meet 20 percent of China’s energy needs by 2030. Most analysts contend that the latter target is quite modest, and will be met well before the next decade passes.

China’s surge in its standing as the lead nation in renewable energy development is not surprising, given its position as the largest energy consumer in the world. What makes its growth in the sector even more significant is the aggressiveness that the Asian giant has exhibited in pursuit of its clean energy goals.

While the Asian nation’s consumption of coal-fired power declined in recent years, clean energy consumption rose by some 25 percent in 2016 alone. In fact, power generation from hydro, wind and solar rose in China by 153 terawatt hours last year. That increase over one year approaches Germany’s entire renewable energy generation of 186 terawatt hours.

Beijing said earlier this year that it will spend more than $360 billion investing in renewable power generation from solar, wind and hydro through 2020. It’s an investment that is expected to create 10 million jobs in China, which currently boasts more than 3 million jobs in the sector – by far the most among all nations. On the other hand, the United States comes in third with a little more than 800,000 workers in the sector, falling second to the EU, which employs 1.2 million. China is also a major clean energy manufacturer, supplying more than two-thirds of the world’s solar panels, and almost half of its wind turbines.

China’s surge in the renewable energy sector over recent years, resembles the United States’ vigorous push towards a clean energy future earlier this decade. And while that ambitious approach to clean energy development has seemingly been abandoned at the federal level, the resources, innovation and determination among stakeholders is still strong, and we could easily reignite the intensity needed to meet our 21st-century energy demands.

Despite the Trump administration’s unfortunate bias towards fossil fuels (especially coal) and nuclear, this nation’s renewable energy sector continues to grow, driven by the state and local policies that encourage clean energy development, as well as through the push from successful businesses that recognize the contributions less expensive renewables make to their bottom lines, while also adopting aggressive sustainability goals.

In EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, DOE’s Energy Information Administration’s says that non-hydro renewable energy resources will gain about two percentage points, reaching 10 percent of the U.S. electricity generation market in 2018 (hydro will add another 6.5 percent). Leading the growth will be wind power, growing from 88 gigawatts (GW) this year to 96 GW (6.4 percent) in 2018.

Forward thinking policy makers at the state and local levels, as well as businesses and renewable energy advocates, are refusing to relinquish the clean energy role the United States has long played on the global stage. This country’s powers of innovation and pride are too great to settle for a “participation trophy” in the world’s clean energy market. Even with the policy indifference in Washington, the resources and determination to drive our renewable energy course abound and are ready to be put to use. China may hold the stage today, but the United States will find its way to the top again.

 

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Clean Energy Advocates: Tell Congress to Stop BEATing Up on Renewables

For all of the bipartisan goodwill that was on display at the end of 2015 when Congress reauthorized and extended multiple tax credits for renewable energy technologies, it is disappointing to now see so many lawmakers willing to renege on those agreements.

Despite the fact that the renewable energy sector agreed two years ago to a phase-out of those extended benefits, in exchange for market certainty, many in the House and Senate are now ready to impose new tax structures that will upend one of the nation’s fastest growing industries, and endanger billions of dollars of investment in projects that would diversify and strengthen our nation’s energy infrastructure and delivery.

First, the House, in an extremely narrow vote, last month approved, as part of a major tax reform bill, provisions that would shorten the terms of qualification for a production tax credit (PTC). This would define the start of a wind facility to be at construction, essentially putting a retroactive tax bite on projects already underway or in the planning stage.

The House measure would also end by 2027 a 10-percent investment tax credit (ITC) for utility-scale and commercial solar projects, which lawmakers had agreed in 2015 would be permanent.

The Senate’s version of tax reform legislation at first appeared to offer clean energy advocates some hope by leaving the PTC and ITC for renewable technologies alone.

However, in a move that some say was inadvertent, Senate tax writers inserted provisions that would seriously devalue renewable energy tax credits. The Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT) provisions aim to target “earnings strippings,” the process by which large companies with overseas operations reduce their tax bills through cross-border payments that they can then deduct from their taxes in the United States. The BEAT program is designed to circumvent that stripping with a minimum tax of 10 percent of taxable income, then up to 12.5 percent by 2026.

But clean energy groups say the BEAT program would have a devastating, if unintended, impact on wind and solar energy development, putting at least $12 billion in investments at risk and collapsing the tax equity market.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said prior to the tax reform bill’s passage that he and others would work to exempt renewable energy tax credits from BEAT provisions (just as research and development tax breaks are exempt). However, the language remained in the tax reform bill that passed out of the Senate in a 51-49 vote during the pre-dawn hours last Saturday morning and is now headed to a House-Senate conference committee.

Investors, developers, manufacturers and corporate energy consumers in the U.S. renewable energy sector know that the BEAT provisions will undermine their ability to use production and investment tax credits, which only have value if they can be monetized. Major financial institutions have indicated that a BEAT program would prevent them from participating in tax equity financing, the principle mechanism for monetizing credits. For multi-national companies covered under the BEAT provisions, the renewable tax credits would be subject to what is, essentially, a 100-percent tax.

25x’25 lauds the intent of the BEAT provision authors to promote U.S. investment and job growth. But the program would virtually punish renewable energy tax credit recipients who invest in U.S. projects, and it would severely reduce American wind and solar energy investment, which now totals nearly $50 billion annually. Job creation – solar employment last year ran 12 times that of the U.S. economy and now totals more than 260,000; wind employs more than 100,000 – would be stymied.

Navigant Consulting projects that maintaining stable investment policy through the five-year PTC phase-out will create $85 billion in economic activity and help grow another 50,000 American jobs, including 8,000 jobs at U.S. factories, through 2020.

The 25x’25 Alliance urges stakeholders and all renewable energy advocates to reach out to their elected representatives in Washington and call on them to amend the BEAT program to exempt production and investment tax credits from the calculation of the base erosion tax, just as it has done so for research and development tax credits. BEAT’s potential to harm – unintentionally, many say – what is now a vigorous and growing renewable energy sector is unacceptable.

 

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Senate Needs Assurances that CEQ Nominee Will Support Renewable Energy

The nomination of Kathleen Hartnett-White as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) comes to a critical stage in the Senate this week, and lawmakers would do well to get her commitment – before she is confirmed – to do nothing to disrupt renewable energy enabling policies that are clearly working.

The CEQ coordinates federal environmental efforts in the United States and works closely with agencies and other White House offices on the development of environmental and energy policies and initiatives.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is reportedly set to vote Wednesday on Hartnett-White’s nomination, and if she is confirmed for the job, she would be advising President Trump and supervising the implementation of his executive orders on energy and the environment. If approved by the committee, her nomination would then move to the Senate floor for a vote.

She would bring to the job a resume that includes serving as a member and chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Prior to 2001, she served as then-Gov. George W. Bush’s appointee to the Texas Water Development Board, where she sat until appointed to TCEQ.

Most recently, Hartnett-White has served since 2008 as the distinguished senior fellow-in-residence and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conserevative think tank.

A deeper look into the positions she has taken in recent years on energy and environmental issues while at the TPPF raise some serious concerns from renewable energy stakeholders, agricultural producers and rural America advocates. Many see Hartnett-White’s views as a failure to recognize the many economic and environmental contributions cleaner energy alternatives are making to farming operations and rural communities.

Just as recently as 2014, she called for the repeal of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which sets biofuel-blending requirements for our nation’s transportation fuel supply. The RFS has been a major economic driver for corn and soybean producers who gain additional value when growing and selling ethanol and biomass-based diesel feedstocks to renewable fuel producers.

Also while at the TPPF, Hartnett-White, a strong gas and oil supporter, consistently condemned the RFS, one time calling it “counterproductive and ethically dubious.” She stepped back from that criticism during her confirmation hearing before the Senate committee earlier this month. But many members of the committee, as well as biofuel advocates, question the sincerity of the nominee’s turnaround on the issue, suggesting her sudden embrace of the standard during the hearing was a ploy aimed at tamping down opposition to her nomination.

At other points during the hearing, committee members also raised concerns about her past characterizations of an ongoing – and what has proven to be an inevitable – shift away from fossil fuels like coal to clean energy power resources, including wind and solar. They pointed to some of her remarks on the transition, which she has called “green folly” and “a false hope.”

Seemingly lost on Hartnett-White is the value of biofuels and renewable energy to U.S. agriculture producers and rural economies. Since the RFS was adopted in 2005, the number of operational U.S. ethanol plants has grown from 81 in 2005 to 213 in 2016, while ethanol production has grown from 3.9 billion gallons to 15.3 billion gallons, a nearly 300-percent increase. More to the economic point, U.S. ethanol industry jobs grew 121 percent, from some 154,000 in 2005 to nearly 340,000 in 2016, most of those in rural communities. And the value of the industry’s output has quadrupled, growing from from $8.1 billion to $32.8 billion.

The U.S. renewable energy sector, like wind, solar and geothermal facilities, hold 16.3 percent of the nation’s power producing capacity and generate 14.4 percent of its electricity, with both numbers growing rapidly. The sector employs 770,000 people across the country, most in rural areas, in manufacturing, installation and other related jobs. And renewable energy has drawn more than $400 billion in capital investments since 2004, much of that going to rural areas, including hundreds of millions paid out to landowners for wind turbine siting lease payments.

Rural America and farmers have taken their economic hits over the past four years, with much of the downturn attributable to low commodity prices. Now is hardly the time to add even greater uncertainty by moving away from government policies and programs that sustain the growth of renewable energy and its benefits to the agriculture sector and rural America. Stakeholders should call on Senate committee members now, and tell them to get assurances from Hartnett-White that she will do nothing to interfere with what has been a successful and financially stable clean energy glidepath for today and the future.

 

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COP 23 Delegates Look to Agricultural Landscapes for Solutions to Climate Change

A major breakthrough occurred at the 2017 global climate talks (COP 23), which concluded in Bonn, Germany, last Saturday – approval was granted to establish an agricultural work program.

COP 23 delegates directed the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to “address issues related to agriculture.”

What this means, is that the delegates officially recognized the need to address agricultural adaptation and mitigation challenges, and to put in motion a process to establish an official agricultural work program. This is an objective that has been sought by Solutions from the Land (SfL), since COP 21 in Paris two years ago.

COP23 Parties and observers are being called upon to submit recommendations for work plan elements by March 31 of next year. Elements to be addressed include, but are not limited to:

  • Methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience;
  • Improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland as well as integrated systems, including water management;
  • Improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and resilient agricultural systems;
  • Improved livestock management systems;
  • Socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector.

While the process of developing an agricultural work plan will be long and laborious, the very intent represents a major breakthrough in positioning agricultural landscapes as a solution to climate challenges. Of particular interest will be ways agricultural landscapes can be managed to produce clean energy and sequester carbon.

To advance and scale up these win-win outcomes, SfL leaders Fred Yoder and Ernie Shea will be in Rome next month for the annual forum of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). There they will seek to build a stronger base of support for adaptive management planning and climate solutions that farmers, ranchers and foresters can deliver from the land.

COP23’s green light decision to address agricultural adaptation and mitigation challenges paves the way for North American producers and value chain partners working under the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), to scale up these high value, and often lower cost, climate smart agriculture solution pathways.

The Bonn conference makes clear that despite a limited “official” policy position, U.S. interests in combatting climate change will not go unrepresented. And because of non-governmental groups like SfL, the incredibly significant role of managing agricultural landscapes to meet a growing demand for sustainably produced food, feed and fiber, while simultaneously sinking carbon and producing renewable energy, is now at the forefront.

Political leaders at all levels around the world should embrace the efforts of those in agriculture who are working to maximize the use of their landscapes to help fight a changing climate. SfL stands ready to help policy makers develop the tools needed by these foresighted farm and grower groups to meet the growing challenges of an ever-changing future.

 

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Stakeholder Message to the White House: No New Solar Tariffs!

Recommendations for addressing a solar trade dispute are now at the White House, and it is expected that any decision President Trump might make on the case will have a profound impact on one of the more successful, strategically critical and economically important industries in this nation’s recent commercial history.

A 60-day clock started on Monday, setting a Jan. 12 deadline by which the president must either accept the recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Council (ITC), reject them, or set his own remedies. We urge other renewable energy advocates to join us and solar industry stakeholders in urging the White House to make the decision that will ensure the growth of the industry and protect tens of thousands of jobs.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) is expected to give the president its own input on the case, and will hold a public meeting Dec. 6 to discuss it. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is calling for stakeholders to submit to USTR their opposition to any tariffs or actions that could adversely affect the solar sector.

For some background on the case: Suniva, a Georgia-based firm principally owned by a Chinese company, and SolarWorld, owned by an “insolvent” German company, joined in a petition to the ITC in April, asking that penalty tariffs be levied on imported solar cells and panels. The commission determined in September that the imports were causing “serious injury” to the manufacturers and following a hearing in October, aired the recommendations it formally sent to the White House this week. (Those final recommendations are not expected to be made public until next month.)

The four ITC members each offered recommendations that varied, though three generally agreed on the imposition of tariffs over four years amounting to 30-35 percent (a price hike of about 10-11 cents), far lower than the punitive levies sought by Suniva of 25 cents per watt on all foreign-made solar cells and 32 cents per watt on all foreign-made panels. Suniva had also sought a floor price for all imported solar products of 74 cents per watt.

While SolarWorld called on the ITC to impose an import limit of at least 0.22 gigawatts for solar cells and 5.7 gigawatts for panels, before tariffs kicked in, the fourth commissioner called for a more generous quota – 8.9 gigawatts for the first year, then an increase of the duty-free limit by 1.4 gigawatts annually over the next four years. The commissioner also called for the U.S. sale of import licenses of one cent per watt, a scheme similar to one proposed by the SEIA.

The president needs to be reminded just who wins, should the ITC’s recommended remedies be imposed. With manufacturing representing a small segment of the U.S. solar industry, a vast majority of those in the sector here vehemently oppose the Suniva-SolarWorld petition, rightfully claiming that imposing any tariffs would raise the cost of solar in the United States and stymie a fast-growing economic sector.

While the petitioning firms say they’ve been harmed by imports artificially priced lower than what they can produce, others in the industry say that Suniva and SolarWorld made bad business decisions during the biggest boom in the history of American solar energy. The industry says the two companies failed to take advantage of opportunities in the burgeoning utility-scale segment of the market. Both firms, it is argued, are now being largely controlled by their creditors who are looking for a bailout.

Today, the solar component manufacturing sector has 38,000 workers making everything from sun trackers and inverters, to U.S. steel-made framing and racking systems. Those component manufacturers argue that if the tariffs are imposed, they will have to lay off workers, resulting in more jobs lost than those the tariffs might add.

That’s an important observation that needs to be brought to the president’s attention. The solar industry is an economic engine that is growing 17 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy, employing more than 280,000 American workers, and has added more than 100,000 blue-collar jobs to the economy in the last five years. Last year, the industry created 1 out of every 50 new U.S. jobs.

The solar industry has professed trepidation over what Trump may ultimately decide. The president has often dismissed renewable energy. And he has repeatedly said that he will work to promote U.S. manufacturers over foreign competition – protectionist rhetoric that alarms solar sector leaders who fear the president will adhere to his “America First” worldview and impose the penalties on imported solar modules, regardless of the impact they will have on the overall solar industry and component manufacturers here at home. Stakeholders are urged to make clear to the White House their views: No new solar tariffs!

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Latest National Assessment Shows Ag, Forestry Needed in Mitigating Climate Change

A U.S. government report released last Friday adds even more certainty to the assertion that human activities play a principle role in climate change and that damages from the growing environmental threat are happening now.

What was released Friday, is the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) which serves as Volume 1 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, and assesses the science of climate change with a focus on the United States, now and in the future. This report was authored by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee.

The report, which is the fourth in an ongoing series of assessments, and which is updated every four years, was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. It was issued last Friday by 13 federal agencies, including USDA, EPA and NASA.

The assessment makes clear that the negative impacts of climate change are occurring now, occurring as temperatures have risen in recent decades to the warmest in the history of modern civilization.

As outlined in the assessment heatwaves have become more frequent in the United States since the 1960s, while extreme cold temperatures and cold waves are less frequent. Recent record-setting hot years are projected to become common in the near future for the United States, as annual average temperatures continue to rise. The annual average temperature over the contiguous United States has increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) from 1901 through 2016. From now until 2050, annual average temperatures are expected to rise by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the average registered from 1976 through 2005, “under all plausible future climate scenarios.”

The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s and is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate changes, leading to further challenges to regional ecosystems.

Annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack are already affecting water resources in the western United States and these trends are expected to continue. As the temperatures increase, extensive drought may become a persistently recurring threat in the years ahead.

Of course, the assessment makes clear that the magnitude of climate change in the future will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) that are emitted globally.

“Without major reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature relative to preindustrial times could reach 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) or more by the end of this century,” the assessment warns, adding that with significant reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature could be limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), the absolute most, global scientists say, before permanent catastrophic impacts result.

The assessment is a call to action. Despite an administration that leans heavily toward policies favoring emission-producing fossil fuels – especially coal – hundreds of representatives from U.S. corporations, universities, state governments, clean energy advocacy groups and other stakeholder interests have joined with world leaders in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd annual “conference of the parties” (COP23) being held this week and next. Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP23 participants aim to build on the steps outlined by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In response to these challenges which combine to create a major threat multiplier to the agricultural sector, the North American Climate Smart Agricultural Alliance (NACSAA) – an initiative launched in 2015 by 25x’25’s parent organization, Solutions from the Land (SfL) – is assisting its members in advancing the three pillars of climate smart agriculture – sustainable intensification of production; actions that can be taken to build resiliency; and production systems that allow farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and simultaneously improve profitability. Adaptive management strategies that the Alliance will examine include, among others, conservation systems like reduced tillage, cover crops, gypsum, and variable rate fertilizer technologies that reduce costs and improve soil health through the creation of additional microbial activity below the surface; risk management tools; infrastructure modifications and research priorities that will help producers maintain productivity in light of changing climatic conditions.

Next month in Rome at the annual forum of the Global Alliance of Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA), representatives of nations from across the globe, including SfL Chairman Fred Yoder and SfL President Ernie Shea, will share progress being made in North America to adapt to changing climatic conditions and deliver high value mitigation services from agricultural landscapes. The sequestration of carbon in soil through conservation tillage and cover crops, the judicious use of fertilizers to improve sustainability and soil carbon retention, and the reduction of GHG emissions provided by biofuels are among the assets that the agriculture and forestry sectors deliver in mitigating climate change.

Stakeholders are urged to join NACSAA in calling on policy makers and leaders – whether it’s in Bonn at COP23 or here at home – to embrace and scale up climate smart agriculture systems and practices, so the full range of goods and services delivered from the land can be realized.

 

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Waste-to-Energy Systems Need to be Valued Fully, Fairly

In mid-October, the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission (PUC) delayed for another year the requirement that the state’s electricity providers use energy converted from poultry and pork manures to meet a very small percentage of the power they produce under the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS).

The delay in implementing the REPS carve-out is disappointing in and of itself. But even more unfortunate is the fact that last month’s decision marks the sixth year in a row that the extremely modest mandate has been put off.

The set-aside adopted back in 2012 requires only 0.07 percent of each utility’s power come from converted hog waste. Additionally, the REPS set a first-year goal of just 170,000 megawatt-hours that all utilities together must generate from converted poultry litter – the poultry portion representing a miniscule portion of the 113 million megawatt-hours of electricity generated annually from conventional resources like natural gas, coal and nuclear.

To be fair, the utilities began meeting the poultry litter requirement in 2014, though two-years late. But they have made no progress since, and the PUC has hesitated enacting the entire set-aside. Power providers are nowhere near the next required level of poultry litter-derived power: 700,000 megawatt-hours.

What continues to be lost year after year is the opportunity that the mandate provides to bring substantial social, health and environmental benefits to a state that is among the leaders in pork and poultry production, and the manure management issues the industries bring with them.

The process of anaerobic digestion is the decomposition of biodegradable materials such as manures and waste foods, producing value-added products. The recovery of biogas and plant nutrients through anaerobic digestion systems is a proven technology. However, the current compensation schedule makes this waste-source for power generation economically challenging. Renewable energy advocates contend that the technology can help meet the goals of the North Carolina REPS and similar policies. What is not there, are the incentives that would motivate livestock producers to make the expenditures to pursue these cleaner sources of energy.

The North Carolina case underscores the need for policy makers, utilities and regulators to get serious about investing in the research that will make the conversion technologies – anaerobic digestion and gasification, combustion, among others – even more efficient.

And they must fairly compensate livestock producers who generate renewable energy from their operations through rates that reflect the increased environmental and health benefits their renewable energy investments provide. The social value of reduced nutrient runoff, less odor, reduced methane (a potent greenhouse gas), sustainable land management and greater biodiversity, among other benefits, should be included in the rates paid to those who invest in these systems and projects.

Congress also has a role to play. Legislation has just been introduced in the House that will extend the renewable electricity tax credit for open- and closed-loop biomass systems and other waste-to-energy technologies, as well as for hydropower and geothermal systems. Tax incentives for biogas and anaerobic digestion technologies expired at the end of 2016, while tax credits for wind and solar electricity resources were continued. With tax reform on the table this year, lawmakers need to remedy that disparity.

The American Biogas Council says the industry has the potential to build at least 13,000 new systems, which would catalyze about $40 billion in new capital investments, create 335,000 construction jobs and 23,000 permanent jobs, all while building the infrastructure needed for recycling organic material and protecting air, water and soil.

It’s important to note that the industry itself is taking an active role in promoting renewable energy development at operations to meet not only meet environmental goals, but bottom line considerations as well. For example, Smithfield Foods Inc. has launched Smithfield Renewables, a new platform within the organization to unify, lead and accelerate the company’s carbon reduction and renewable energy efforts.

The 25x’25 Alliance calls on stakeholders across the nation to reach out to local, state and federal policy makers and regulators, and urge them to offer full and fair valuation of the environmental and health benefits of the renewable energy that the owners of waste-to-energy systems produce. Rates should reflect more than the avoided cost value of the electron produced. By including the social value of the benefits provided, policy makers not only make the fair choice, they also encourage investments in new projects, compounding the benefits that are available.

 

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GAO Report Underscores Economic Imperative in Addressing Climate Change

A Gallup poll released earlier this year showed record percentages of Americans are concerned about global warming, believe it is occurring, consider it a serious threat and say it is caused by human activity. More than 70 percent recognize the scientific consensus on climate change, and more than 60 percent say the effects of climate change are happening now.

Not surprising – especially in today’s political environment – is that Americans’ views about climate issues divide sharply along partisan lines. Some two-thirds of Democrats polled expressed a “great deal” of worry about climate change. For Republicans, less than one in five said they had great concerns.

Given that divide, a report issued this week by the General Accounting Office (GAO) – an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress – recommends the White House take action to address climate change. This is a singular development, given the bitterly partisan debate over the subject on Capitol Hill.

In issuing the recommendations, the GAO is following its mission as the “congressional watchdog” charged with investigating how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. From that oversight perspective of fiscal responsibility, the agency makes the case that without implementing measures that mitigate the impacts of climate change, which has resulted in the spending of billions of disaster assistance dollars, the federal government will only have to respond with even more spending in the future.

The report, requested by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), says that over the past decade more than $350 billion in federal money has been spent to deal with increasingly severe hurricanes, extreme droughts, volatile weather like tornadoes, and wildfires. The GAO warns that the number and intensity of extreme weather events will rise, costing taxpayers more than $1 trillion by 2039. If hurricane and wildfire seasons continue in a similar pattern to 2017, costs will exceed $6 trillion in 20 years.

So, the GAO says, the White House should use the information that is available to help identify risks posed by climate change and “craft appropriate federal responses.”

As has been made clear by 25x’25, Solutions from the Land (our parent organization) and scores of other stakeholder organizations and forward-thinking policy makers, it is imperative that the White House and Congress develop policies that promote clean energy and boost the role of agriculture and forestry in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Renewable energy technologies – wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, geothermal and hydropower – are proven, inexpensive performers that are being deployed on a wide scale, and providing low- and no-carbon solutions to the challenges of a changing climate.

Meanwhile, bioenergy is playing a critical role in meeting an expected growing energy demand in the decades to come. The sustainable management of our forests and other biomass resources supplement non-renewable fossil fuels in the transportation, building and industry sectors, while also supporting domestic industries and improving our national energy security.

America’s farmers, ranchers and forestland owners are well positioned to contribute to this transition and seize the economic opportunity that can come with helping this country meet the challenges of climate change. Not only can they produce vast amounts of clean, renewable energy, but through the pursuit of soil health goals, they can sequester carbon through the crops, grasses and trees they grow.

Federal government data shows that U.S. working lands have been sequestering much more carbon than they emit (a net “carbon sink”) for the last three decades. In 2014, the U.S. land carbon sink sequestered a net 762 million metric tons of CO2, offsetting 11 percent of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions. Those numbers can only get better with policies that help and incentivize landowners to boost soil health that can enhance carbon sequestration.

The reputation of the GAO as a nonpartisan, independent source of information serves to underscore the credibility of the warnings the agency is issuing in this latest report. Stakeholders should use this information and reach out to their elected officials, urging them to elevate adaptive management and resiliency planning and make the case to the White House that a misplaced devotion to an outdated view of our nation’s energy sector is not only extremely costly, it is also dangerous.

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Stay the Course with the RFS

There is little doubt as to the message sent to – and received by – EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and, by extension, President Trump, from a wide range of biofuel advocates from both sides of the aisle in Congress, as well as rural advocates from around the country: Fulfill your obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

In comments submitted to the EPA this week, 25x’25 provided its own defense of the RFS while urging the EPA to abandon its efforts to further reduce the total renewable fuel volume requirement for 2018 and reduce the biomass-based diesel volume requirement for 2019.

Biofuel advocates on Capitol Hill, in statehouses around the country and in small-town America say the proposed reductions represent a serious violation of the vow made by Trump during his campaign, and a number of times after his inauguration, of his full support for the RFS. It is a promise that most political analysts say helped him win the Iowa caucuses, and helped fire up support among rural voters throughout the country, earning Trump the White House.

EPA issued a proposal in July that set a blending level for advanced biofuels (those that generate at least 50 percent fewer carbon emissions than their petroleum-based equivalents) at 4.24 billion gallons, with 2.1 billion gallons allocated to biodiesel. When the advanced biofuel volume was proposed for 2018, many advocates were disappointed that it was less than the 4.28 billion gallons that were mandated for 2017. And that total proposed for next year also included a cellulosic target of 238 million gallons, down from this year’s 311 million gallons.

Those July blending proposals were already drawing heat from biofuel proponents, but then last month the agency issued a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) that indicated even greater cuts. Citing concerns over biofuel imports, EPA’s NODA proposed a drop in advanced biofuels next year to 3.77 billion gallons. That reduction includes a decrease in the earlier proposed biomass-based diesel volume for 2018 by as much as 315 million gallons. These cuts could lead to reductions in the total 2018 renewable fuel volume requirement from the 19.24 billion gallons proposed earlier this year to 18.77 billion gallons.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of 32 senators, led by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter to Pruitt, urging him to increase EPA’s proposed RFS blending levels for biodiesel (under law, biodiesel levels are set in the year ahead of the other Renewable Volume Obligations, or RVOs) to “encourage growth in the industry and diversity in the nation’s energy supply, and to abandon [EPA’s] effort to reduce biofuel production in 2018.”

The letter to Pruitt went out on the same day as a letter to Trump from four Republican governors of Midwestern states, who reminded the president of his “passionate support” of the RFS and his “explicit promises to our farmers that you would support investments in fuels like biodiesel and ethanol through the RFS.” Govs. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Eric Greitens of Missouri and Sam Brownback of Kansas say EPA’s RFS proposals “threaten the livelihood of tens of thousands of American farmers and workers.”

EPA’s justification for restraining RVOs runs contrary to the biofuels industry’s demonstrated capability to produce even greater volumes than anticipated the year before. While cellulosic ethanol continues to be produced at a fraction of what Congress anticipated when it reauthorized and strengthened the RFS in 2007, the advanced biofuel made from prairie grasses, corn plant residues and other nonfood sources continues to grow at a steady clip. And to cut biodiesel levels already set for 2018 and leave them stagnant in 2019 makes little sense when the industry can clearly generate 2.75 billion gallons.

Grassley and Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Debbie Fischer (R-NE) Ben Sasse (R-NE) and John Thune (R-SD), along with others, met with Pruitt Tuesday (Grassley had lunch with the administrator Monday). Trump and Pruitt reached out to Gov. Reynolds Wednesday offering their assurances of support for the RFS. While the ensuing public statements from lawmakers this week were diplomatic, it was clear the senators did not hear what they wanted to hear from Pruitt. As Ernst noted, Pruitt “again claimed…that he will not do anything to undermine the program. However, we have heard this before.” And Grassley told reporters Monday that he and other farm-state lawmakers were ready to hold up EPA nominations if Pruitt does not give up the rollbacks of the RFS blending requirements.

The message to the EPA administrator from members of Congress, governors, farmers, rural Americans and others over how to carry out the agency’s RFS mission is clear: Follow the course that Congress and President Trump set in their commitment to the biofuels sector. In other words, get it right.

 

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Facing Challenges in DC, Renewable Energy Stakeholders Turn to States

Renewable energy advocates and stakeholders have found the current environment in Washington, DC, to be quite challenging, as it is increasingly complicated by the Trump administration’s moves to bolster fossil fuel technologies, while simultaneously attempting to diminish the benefits of cleaner alternatives.

Action such as the formal effort to kill the Clean Power Plan (CPP), proposed rules that essentially subsidize coal and nuclear power generation, moves to reduce biofuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard, and a call for an end to tax credits benefiting renewable energy development are just some of the salvoes endured by clean energy advocates in recent weeks.

It’s little wonder that those who recognize the need for clean energy – particularly America’s corporate interests – have turned to states to provide the policy foresight that can help them meet goals of reducing their carbon footprint and improving their bottom line – all while keeping the country on track toward a clean energy future armed with 21st-century energy technologies, tools and strategies.

It came as little surprise this week when EPA head Scott Pruitt, announced the Trump administration’s formal plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Obama administration’s marquee policy for regulating carbon emissions – principally those generated by power plants – and a potential accelerant of renewable energy development.

The move to end the CPP has been in the works for months. But adding to the disappointment caused by EPA’s refusal to carry out its responsibilities to protect public health with measures like those included in the CPP is the uncertainty as to when the administration may tender a replacement plan. Legal experts say a new plan may not go into effect until after the 2020 elections, an unfortunate delay in a time of growing global greenhouse emissions that scientists say progressively alter our climate, creating increasingly volatile weather patterns that result in widespread damage, loss of life and severe challenges to agricultural production.

Another concerning development from late last month occurred when Energy Secretary Rick Perry requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider issuing new rules to ensure that power generating facilities with a 90-day fuel supply – including nuclear and coal – be compensated for the reliability they add to the grid, in addition to the power they supply.

Such an order would essentially subsidize money-losing coal and nuclear facilities at the expense of ratepayers. A DOE study requested by Perry earlier this year found that the ongoing decline in these so-called “baseload” energy sources was attributable primarily to less expensive natural gas, flatlining energy demand, significant increases in net generation capacity since 2002, and the dramatic drop in the price of installing renewables like wind and solar, which has led to wider implementation of wind turbines and solar panels across the country.

Any doubt that the administration is targeting renewables in its effort to shore up other lagging power generation technologies is quickly removed by Pruitt’s comments to a Kentucky Farm Bureau gathering, where he said he would do away with wind production tax credits and solar investment tax credits, which are being phased out over the next five years or sooner.

Acknowledging that the credits are a policy decision that can only be made by Congress, Pruitt said he would let wind and solar “stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas and other sources.” (Renewable energy advocates are quick to point out that the credits actually generate billions of dollars in added revenue and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a growing industry sector – much of it in rural America.)

As bleak as appearances may be in Washington, states are continuing to take a leadership role through Renewable Portfolio Standards, tax credits, innovative financing tools, resiliency planning and other policy mechanisms that are helping to continue to push the domestic growth of clean energy.

Much of that policy drive comes from corporate America’s significant pursuit of clean energy as businesses and industries of all sizes set their own clean energy targets, building their own renewable power sources or entering into long-term Power Purchase Agreements from clean energy providers. Some say that environmental goals motivate their choices, but they all also recognize that renewable energy is good for the bottom line. Businesses understand that wind and solar are more than just cost competitive with fossil fuels – and will continue to be – but that they also offer price stability and sustainability certainty.

Even if federal agencies are ignoring marketplace reality, states, corporations and renewable energy advocates across all geographical and political spectrums, including 25x’25, will continue to pursue clean energy policies and goals that can create jobs, boost our economy, enhance our national security and make our world a better place to live.

 

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