EPA Failure to Update Lifecycle Assessment Sells Ethanol Benefits Short

News out of EPA last week caught few in the biofuel sector unaware. The agency’s inspector general (IG) issued a report finding EPA had failed to comply with the statutory requirement to provide a report every 3 years to Congress on the impacts of biofuels.

EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation last provided a report to Congress in 2011, but has failed to provide any subsequent reports. Also, the IG found that the agency has not fulfilled the “anti-backsliding” requirements for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which are to analyze and address any negative air quality impacts the national biofuel blending requirement might produce.

The report notes that in 2010, EPA completed a comprehensive lifecycle analysis to determine greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction thresholds for biofuel eligibility under the RFS. Although not required to do so, EPA committed to update the analysis as lifecycle science evolves, but the agency has never developed a process to do so.

The IG’s findings underscore to some degree EPA’s seeming obliviousness to the wide and varied benefits that recent research has shown that ethanol and other biofuels offer in support of the Obama administration’s efforts to curb climate change. The agency simply hasn’t put the means in place to formally evaluate the latest research available.

Ethanol advocates have long called into question the data EPA has used in projecting the lifecycle analysis for ethanol and gasoline under the RFS, accusing the agency of consistently using outdated and inaccurate information that short sells ethanol’s performance as a cleaner, reduced-emission alternative in our nation’s transportation fuel supply.

Last April on behalf of the Energy Future Coalition, the Urban Air Institute and the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition, Boyden Gray and Associates PLLC submitted a formal Request for Correction of Information to EPA on the agency’s lifecycle analysis. The request detailed how EPA has long failed to assimilate new evidence demonstrating significant improvements that have been made in ethanol’s lifecycle GHG emissions.

The groups’ request takes on new weight, given that EPA has been called out from within the agency to update its findings. That update will reflect a wealth of evidence that shows the lifecycle GHG benefits of the RFS are much greater than predicted back in 2010, including improved economic models and newly available land-use data from periods of increasing corn ethanol production, which show significant increases in yield but no significant increases in land use change.

More recent data will also show improved agricultural practices and technologies that are substantially reducing the carbon intensity of ethanol by increasing the ability of soil to capture and retain carbon deep below ground. There is, in fact, strong evidence indicating that many corn fields are net carbon “sinks,” capturing more carbon than land-use change and corn farming releases.

The IG’s findings also come as EPA, the Department of Transportation and the California Air Resources Board are in the midst of a midterm evaluation of light-duty vehicle GHG emission standards and corporate average fuel economy standards for model years 2022-2025. The first formal step of the midterm evaluation process is the development of the Technical Assessment Report (TAR), a 1,200-plus-page document that measures the progress auto manufacturers are making in their pursuit of GHG standards targeted to meet 163 CO2 g/mi and fuel economy standards targeted to meet 54.5 mph by 2025.

A glaring omission from the TAR is any effort to consider fuel quality and octane pathways for meeting the very aggressive GHG and fuel efficiency targets that have been established since 2012. However, the IG report explains why the omission should not be that surprising, given that EPA has yet to take under consideration the work done by DOE’s national laboratories and others showing that major engine-efficiency and emission-reduction benefits can be derived from high-octane, low-carbon (HOLC) fuels, specifically blends of ethanol in the 25-40-percent range.

Somewhat encouraging are recent remarks from Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality, who said the agency will look at raising octane levels in gasoline as a pathway for achieving fuel efficiency targets. Ethanol is bound to be an element in those agency discussions. But those deliberations are not expected for several years and higher octane levels may not be put in place until after new fuel efficiency standards are established beyond 2025.

EPA and its fellow agencies are accepting comments on the TAR through Sept. 26. Meanwhile, the comment period for EPA’s proposals regarding biofuel blending levels is over, but the agency is not expected to finalize those proposals until Nov. 30.

Opportunities are there for stakeholders to make their voices heard, first by calling on EPA to accelerate its consideration of the readily available lifecycle analysis research from DOE and others before decisions are finalized on both the TAR and the RFS. 25x’25 urges renewable energy partners to reach out to lawmakers and ask them to call on EPA to comply with its due diligence obligations and consider all of the evidence that is critical to the agency’s evaluations.

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Energy Storage Critical to Meeting the 25x'25 Vision

A flurry of activity in the energy storage field – both high profile and relatively low key – could have major implications for renewable energy by giving constancy to the otherwise intermittent nature of sources like wind and solar, and making renewables more attractive to policy makers seeking to diversify our energy options.

The “friendly acquisition” of SolarCity – a major rooftop panel installer – proposed by Tesla – an electric vehicle manufacturer and builder of high-capability, long-term batteries – is the most recent development. And while the implications of the merger have yet to emerge, Tesla founder Elon Musk says that in five years, the solar-plus-battery dynamic will prove to be a boon to homeowners with panels installed who are seeing a potential future of fading net metering compensation.

Similar in scope is the $1.1-billion acquisition this past spring of Saft – a prominent battery manufacturer – by the French oil company, Total. The purchase follows the European oil and gas giant’s announcement last fall that it plans to spend at least $500 million annually in renewable energy such as solar and biofuel. Total spent $1.4 billion in 2011 to acquire a majority stake in SunPower Inc., a major U.S. solar panel manufacturer.

The French company’s move into the battery market, which will have the added advantage of boosting storage research, shows that even legacy energy powers understand the changing energy horizon and recognize the growing value of storage in an approaching era where clean renewable energy will replace fossil fuels in powering our homes and automobiles.

The growth of the storage market in the United States is accelerating rapidly. The Energy Storage Association says system installations grew more than 250 percent in 2015 and are continuing to trend upward this year. Costs for lithium-ion batteries have declined more than 70 percent in the last 18 months alone. Globally, installed energy storage capacity is projected to double in 2016 and grow more than tenfold by 2025. And the management consulting firm McKinsey and Company says the market will grow a hundredfold – to $90 billion – by 2025.

That growth is being driven by research like that underway in labs across the country where experts are seeking ways to enhance storage technology and drive down costs. The DOE is funding 75 projects, developing electricity storage, marshalling research teams at Harvard, MIT and Stanford, as well as at the Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

According to the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the technologies under study range from hydrogen bromide, zinc-air batteries, molten glass storage and new flywheel designs. DOE officials say the work can result in a drop in storage costs of up to 90 percent, reaching an industry goal of $100 per kilowatt hour within five years.

Earlier this year, the Brattle Group released a report commissioned by the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council that spoke to the viability of residential water heaters serving, essentially, as pre-installed thermal batteries that, otherwise, are sitting idle in homes across the United States. The report says that by heating the water in the tank to store thermal energy, water heaters can be controlled in real-time to shift electricity consumption from higher-priced hours when less efficient generating units are operating on the margin to lower-priced hours when less costly generation is operating.

Energy storage is expected to play an increasingly important role in reaching the nation’s climate and clean energy goals in the years ahead, and the growth of the technology is good reason for lawmakers to incentivize that development through policy mechanisms like a comprehensive investment tax credit (ITC).

Under IRS rules, some storage applications can qualify for a credit under existing ITC standards, but eligibility is decided on a case-by-case basis and the rules are ambiguous. Legislation has recently been introduced in both the House (H.R. 5350) and Senate (S. 3159) that would implement a clearly defined 30-percent ITC for energy storage similar to the tax credit for solar power that was extended through 2022 in a measure passed last December.

Stakeholders should call on their lawmakers to support the legislation and other federally supported research efforts that can boost the expanded development of inexpensive energy storage, which, in turn, will play a major role in implementing the renewable energy technology that can help us meet the 25x’25 Vision.

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DOE Labs Report Touts Role of Mid-Level Ethanol Blends in Fighting Climate Change

A recent report released by three of the DOE national laboratories citing numerous benefits of using high-octane, mid-level ethanol blends in future engines is a welcome development for biofuel advocates and those of us in pursuit of the 25x’25 Vision.

The analysis issued last month by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory – “Summary of High Octane, Mid-Level Ethanol Blends Study” – cites increased vehicle efficiency, increased acceleration and significant reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions among the demonstrated benefits of mid-level blend fuels, such as E25 and E40.

With the report coming from the nation’s leading biofuel research facilities, it reinforces the fact that more ethanol in gasoline can save consumers money and reduce the emissions from the transportation sector, which represents about 26 percent of the country’s total GHG emissions.

The timing of the report is fortuitous, given that EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) are currently undertaking their mid-term analysis of proposed fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and light trucks. It is hoped that these agencies will give serious consideration to the multi-lab report that shows high-octane, mid-level ethanol blends will significantly contribute to meeting future GHG and fuel economy standards.

As we have often pointed out in this space, if the Obama administration wants to maximize its efforts to combat climate change, biofuels that can reduce the amount of carbon that vehicles emit into the atmosphere must be fully supported through low-hanging fruit solutions like recognition in the federal fuel economy standards and a fully realized Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The report bolsters the argument of advocates who want to see biofuel blending requirements under the RFS returned to levels established when the program was expanded and reauthorized in 2007 by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). It is critical that government support for biofuel development be optimized through policy mechanisms like the RFS, which, when fully sustained, can generate necessary investment in research that will create biofuels that are even lower in emissions than those we have today.

The role of the RFS in reducing emissions was made explicitly clear by a letter this week from six members of the California delegation in the House of Representatives to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy regarding the need to restore the blending requirements to their statutory levels. California is one of the most active states that pursue policies aimed at reversing climate change, including state standards that impose limits on emissions from various fuels.

“The RFS is one of the few tools we have now to reduce transportation emissions, and a strong RFS is vital to implementing our state’s low carbon fuel standard,” the lawmakers from California wrote.

The report and its implied support of the RFS also comes at a time when the oil industry is once again launching a major campaign to discredit ethanol, and seek to either weaken or downright repeal the standard.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) is using multi-state television and online advertising to retread the long-discredited fables that more ethanol will result in damaged engines and raise the price of gasoline, despite reams of high profile and well supported research from the most credible of scientists, analysts and research institutions disproving the oil industry’s claims.

Renewable energy advocates need to step up and take advantage of opportunities provided by developments such as the national labs’ report, using the information that is readily available to counter and disprove specious claims made by those who simply want to exert their monopolistic hold on the fuel market. Share this research with policy makers, and let’s get biofuels back on the track towards our country’s clean energy future.

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Upcoming Elections Bear Heavily on Progress to 25x'25 Goal

With the Democratic and Republican conventions behind us and the presidential campaign seriously underway, the job now before us as renewable energy advocates is to continue to advocate for the 25x’25 goal and the enabling polices needed to achieve, and in fact, exceed it.

As we reported in our Weekly REsource in April, the progress being made toward the goal is undeniable, demonstrated by data provided by DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) showing the rise in net electrical generation from utility-scale renewable energy sources from about 13.2 percent of total U.S. output in 2014 to 14.3 percent at the end of last year.

That renewable electricity output should get an even bigger boost with the passage late last year of long-term extensions to various production and investment tax credits, mechanisms that are expected to significantly expand the future development and implementation of wind and solar power in particular.

While electricity makes up the largest portion of U.S. energy output, some 28 percent comes from the transportation sector, where the production and use of biofuels continues to trend higher. That uptick comes despite policy uncertainty stemming from EPA delays in setting biofuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard and their use of waivers to avoid following congressionally-established blending level mandates.

Industry data show year-over-year increases in biofuel production and consumption. The amount of U.S. ethanol (14.81 billion gallons) and biodiesel (1.26 billion gallons) produced in 2015 reflects a longstanding trend upward, coming in above the combined 15.51 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel produced in 2014. That growth is expected to continue, given the wider availability of higher ethanol blends, like E15. Greater ethanol use, especially E85, is spurred by the nearly 18 million flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road today.

Giving further evidence of renewable energy growth is EIA’s report issued this week that shows the electricity generated from clean, renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal will rise to at least 23 percent in 2025.

However, the EIA and industry analysts agree that this number is likely to be overly conservative. The agency tends to assume that renewable energy development will drop off once tax credits begin to phase out in 2020 – an approach analysts say ignores the dynamic nature of the market where the price of wind, solar and other renewable technologies is falling dramatically.

So what are the prospects for policies that can sustain this momentum driving renewable energy development in the years ahead? Much of that remains to be seen as voters will head to the polls in November to elect their next president, a new House of Representatives and a third of the Senate – along with an assortment of state legislators and governors.

While positions on renewable energy differ between the candidates and parties, it is clear that energy production and utilization will be a major theme in the forthcoming election. However, regardless of political ideology it is critical for politicians to realize the benefits that can be derived from the whole suite of renewable energy sources available.

It will also be critical for voters to sort through the political platforms to understand where each candidate stands, and urge their party to embrace the momentum that we have seen for renewable energy. America’s farms, forests, and other working lands remain a considerable landscape that is widely untapped for its renewable energy potential. Farmers and foresters across America as well as our rural communities stand to realize considerable economic and environmental benefits from the development of renewable energy in their fields, forests and pastures.

The upcoming 2016 elections are critical to this country’s energy future. We urge all renewable energy advocates to call on candidates at all levels to affirm their support for a 25x’25 future, and embrace policy positions that will accelerate its attainment. The 25x’25 Vision is in sight and the forward progress this nation is making toward becoming the world’s leading clean energy economy must be sustained.

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Renewable Energy-Boosting PACE Financing on Verge of Big Breakthrough

Since its inception, 25x’25 has been dedicated to promoting a renewable energy future that is furthered through advancements in energy efficiency as well as new renewable energy developments. Recent announcements from two federal agencies may launch a major acceleration of residential renewable energy and energy efficiency, further contributing to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase grid resiliency and save consumers money.

Among the executive actions listed last week by the White House to carry out the Clean Energy Savings for All Initiative is a scale up of Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing. According to PACENation (an advocacy group) through PACE, home owners work with local contractors to decide which renewable energy, energy efficiency or water conservation measures make sense for their homes. Funding is provided by private sector investors and repaid by each participating home owner as a charge on their property tax bill. PACE is completely voluntary and only impacts home owners who choose to participate.

It’s a funding mechanism that offers homeowners the opportunity to finance solar and energy efficiency improvements at no upfront cost. PACE financing allows homeowners to benefit from energy improvements immediately and pay back the cost over time through their property tax payments. And, by the way, it’s an instrument that Scientific American identifies as one of the top 20 “world changing” ideas of all time.

PACE originated in California more than a decade ago. Since then, PACE-enabling legislation has been passed in 30 states and the District of Columbia, allowing localities to establish PACE financing programs across the country. But most of the PACE projects in those states have been commercial properties.

Securing residential mortgage insurance on PACE properties had for years been nearly impossible because of restrictions on covering property with any mortgage liens other than those held by mortgage lenders. The fear has been that because PACE financing places a lien on the property, those liens could have first repayment priority in case of foreclosure, likely costing taxpayers’ money. The lack of federally backed mortgage insurance has severely stifled the growth of PACE financing.

More than a dozen states have tried to overcome the roadblocks set up by federal insurers. California has proven to be the most successful, setting up a $10 million fund in 2013 that would cover any losses sustained by lenders to properties with PACE liens. However, the surge in foreclosures that federal officials feared would occur with PACE properties never happened. The California fund has not been touched. Meanwhile, according to PACE lender Renovate America, since 2012 California has seen more than 66,000 homeowners make more than $1.5 billion in efficiency improvements through PACE financing, creating more than 13,500 local jobs and generating more than $2.7 billion in local economic activity.

Earlier this month, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs ‑ working within with White House’s climate change efforts and now also recognizing the viability of PACE financing for emission reducing solutions like home improvements in efficiency or no-carbon solar power ‑ changed their rules. Given the strong performance of the program to date, the agencies are now backing mortgages for PACE properties, determining that mortgage lenders will retain top repayment priority in the event of a foreclosure. Furthermore, the agencies’ guidance also allows PACE assessments to transfer from one property owner to the next, including those who obtain the property through a foreclosure sale.

Here’s what’s at stake: An economic impact analysis, conducted by the consulting firm ECONorthwest, found that $4 million in PACE funding generates $10 million in gross revenue; $1 million in combined federal, state, and local tax revenue; and 60 clean, green jobs.

Adding to the federal government’s show of support last week for PACE financing, DOE officials released best practice guidelines that will enable more states and communities to adopt and implement residential PACE programs.

Unfortunately, the federal acceptance of PACE financing does not extend entirely across the board. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which guarantees many home mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, still holds to the argument that a PACE lender would have first claim in the event of a foreclosure and won’t back a mortgage on PACE properties.

Given the momentum now at work at the policy level, renewable energy stakeholders are urged to reach out to lawmakers at the federal level and ask them to convince the FHFA to update its approach and back mortgages on PACE properties. Policy leaders in states that still don’t have PACE financing must be called upon to adopt PACE-enabling legislation. And the governing bodies of local jurisdictions in eligible states can be reminded that the adoption of resolution is all that is needed to make their cities and counties eligible for PACE financing. PACE is an idea whose time has come. Help us to embrace its benefits.

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Draft TAR is Important Step in Emission Reduction Efforts, But Omits HOLC Discussion

The federal Department of Transportation, EPA and the California Air Resource Board (CARB) this week released the highly anticipated draft Technical Assessment Report (TAR), a 1,200-plus page document that is essentially a report card on the progress auto manufacturers are making in their pursuit of fuel economy standards that average 54.5 mph by 2025 for light duty cars and trucks.

The TAR is part of a “mid-term evaluation” – an assessment that is an important marker in the Obama administration’s effort to strengthen fuel economy standards, reduce emissions from the transportation sector and meet climate change goals laid out in the global agreement reached in Paris last December.

By releasing the draft report, EPA and DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fulfill a commitment made back in 2012 as part of the rulemaking process that established the “National Program” for fuel economy standards, improved vehicle efficiency and emission reductions. The draft TAR released this week covers model years 2022-2025. A final determination on whether or not the 2022-2025 standards set four years ago are appropriate is expected by April 1, 2018.

The incredible depth of the report is a challenge that stakeholders must dive through in analyzing exactly what it says.

Still, a cursory run through the massive document makes it clear that the low price of gasoline, which is expected to continue for some time to come, is skewing the auto consumer market back toward bigger, less efficient vehicles, like pick-up trucks, vans and SUVs. And that trend has some in the auto industry telling the federal agencies that it will make it more difficult to meet the 2025 fuel efficiency goals set back in 2012.

But the draft TAR also shows that automotive manufacturers are innovating and bringing new technology to market at a pace much more rapid and cost-effective than originally thought. That ‑ says the TAR’s authors ‑ means manufacturers will be able to meet the model year 2022-2025 standards established four years ago. The report also shows that manufacturers will be able to meet the stricter standards at similar or even a lower cost than was anticipated in the 2012 rulemaking, with substantial savings on fuel costs for consumers.

The TAR is heavy on technology, including aerodynamics, drivetrains, engine tech and hybridization, as well as addressing at length consumer experience and habits. Not surprisingly, the TAR contains a number of assumptions that will likely be the subject of much debate.

For example, the agencies’ assessment is that ‑ as was concluded in the 2012 rule ‑ high penetration levels of alternative fueled vehicles will not be needed to meet the MY2025 standards, with the exception of a very small percentage of passenger electric vehicles. The report also claims cost savings on fuel will offset increased technology/production costs, and that compliance can be met with advanced gasoline engine technology.

However, a glaring omission from the report is any effort to address and consider fuel quality and octane pathways for meeting the very aggressive GHG and fuel efficiency targets that have been established since 2012. This is surprising, given the fact that DOE’s national laboratories have been reporting extensively over the past two years that major engine-efficiency and emission-reduction benefits can be derived from high-octane, low-carbon (HOLC) fuels, specifically blends of ethanol in the 25-30-percent range. And recent studies by the Ford Motor Company and others show ethanol blends of up to 30 percent (E30) gasoline would increase fuel efficiency and reduce tailpipe carbon emissions by seven percent each.

A 60-day comment period on the draft TAR will commence once a formal notification is published in the Federal Register. We will have more to report once we complete our review. Meanwhile, 25x’25 partners – in fact, all stakeholders – are urged to do their own analysis of the report. It is crucial that all stakeholders comment and stress to EPA the importance of including a detailed discussion of high-octane, low-carbon fuels in the midterm review. These mid-level ethanol blends can be a critical tool in meeting this nation’s climate change goals, a pursuit at the heart of the fuel efficiency effort.

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DOE Billion-Ton Update Makes Clear the Role of Biomass in U.S. Energy Strategy

After much anticipation within the biomass community, the latest update of the DOE’s Billion-Ton report reaffirms that the United States by the year 2040 has the potential to sustainably produce at least one billion tons of nonfood biomass resources that could be used for low- and no-carbon biofuel and biopower, as well as other bioproducts.

Released this week, the report, 2016 Billion-Ton Report: Advancing Domestic Resources for a Thriving Bioeconomy, is the latest in a series of assessments that have calculated the potential supply of biomass in the United States. The report makes the case that the United States could produce enough biomass to support a bioeconomy, including renewable resources that could be used for energy and a vast array of products, all while providing economic, environmental, social and national security benefits.

The report concludes that the United States has the potential in the next 25 years to produce up to four times the amount of biomass resources (composed of agricultural, forestry, waste, and algal materials) that are harvested today, all without adversely affecting the environment.

Furthermore, the amount of biomass that could be available could be used to produce enough biofuel, biopower and bioproducts to displace approximately 30 percent of 2005 U.S. petroleum consumption, and this offset would not negatively affect the production of food or other agricultural products.

The latest assessment, led by DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with contributions from 65 experts from other federal agencies, including USDA, EPA, the U.S. Forest Service, other national laboratories, universities and private companies, builds on research first published in 2005 and updated in 2011.

The document released Tuesday is actually the first of two volumes. The second volume is set for release later this year, and will consist of a collection of analyses on the potential environmental sustainability effects ‑ water quality and quantity, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, soil organic carbon, and biodiversity ‑ of a subset of agricultural and forestry biomass production scenarios laid out in the volume released this week. Volume 2 will also discuss land use and land management changes, as well as strategies to enhance environmental and algal sustainability.

The report released this week extends the biomass outlook period to 2040, up from 2030 as set out in the 2011 document. Also new in this assessment are the potential energy resources that could be harvested from dedicated energy crops (miscanthus, energy cane and eucalyptus, among others), as well as from algae and municipal waste. And for the first time, the report also considers how the cost of pre-processing and transporting biomass to the biorefinery may impact feedstock availability.

The assessment details a high yield scenario that shows the nation’s biomass usage has the real potential to increase to 1.57 billion tons each year, as compared to the 400 million tons currently harvested annually.

“Increasing production and use of biofuel, biopower and bioproducts would substantially decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the utility and transportation sectors, and reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil as the domestic bioeconomy grows,” the report states.

The findings underscore the 25x’25 Vision that biomass – from currently available logging and crop residues, to future dedicated energy crops – is one of the essential elements needed to forge a clean energy future.

Although Volume 1 released this week does not address the carbon neutrality of biomass, it comes at an opportune time by offering members of Congress, who are on track to hammer out energy legislation this fall, evidence of the value of the benefits biomass can offer in reducing carbon emissions. The Senate version of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 contains a provision that deems biomass carbon neutral, an important step in bringing some harmony to federal laws and regulations that currently have 13 different definitions of biomass.

As the analysts say in a fact sheet accompanying the report, the aim of the assessment is to inform national bioenergy and biofuels policies, as well as research, development, and deployment strategies. All renewable energy stakeholders are urged to reach out to lawmakers and encourage them to look at this report, then support the Senate version of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 and its provisions that help promote the widespread development of sustainable agricultural and forestry resources to produce clean-renewable energy.

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EIA, Ceres Analyses Add More Evidence of Significant Role of Renewables

It is our mission in this space to pass along meaningful information that can be used to take to policy makers the arguments for the 25x’25 vision of a clean energy future. Given the inevitability we believe the major role renewable energy will play in that future, the information we pass along can often be seen as redundant, distinctive only by its source.

That’s why a recent analysis from the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) offers significant credibility to the argument that renewables are a critical part of this nation’s energy future.

The EIA, which only in recent years has begun devoting any attention of weight to renewable energy’s contributions to the U.S. energy market, says in its analysis that extending tax credits and efficiency standards, as well as strengthening the Clean Power Plan (CPP) beyond 2030, would not only boost renewable energy production, but also significantly reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

In EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016 (AEO2016) reference case projection, which generally assumes current laws and policies, electricity generation from solar and wind sources across all sectors increases from 227 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2015 to 950 billion kWh in 2040.

In the Extended Policies case, which perpetuates policies such as production and incentive tax credits for renewable energy projects, beyond their legislated expiration, solar and wind generation grow to 1,236 billion kWh in 2040, or 30 percent more than the reference case level.

In their Extended Policies case, the EIA analysts also push beyond their statutory shelf life federal policies that encourage the adoption of efficient appliances and equipment in the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors. Reductions in transportation energy use in the Extended Policies case are driven by and extension of fuel economy requirements that further decrease energy consumption in light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles, the EIA says. (Energy efficiency is the option of first choice under the 25x’25 Vision.)

While the fact that these findings are coming from a source as authoritative as the EIA is gratifying, it should be noted that many private sector analysts find the agency’s projections as far too conservative – a complaint long maintained by the renewable energy industry and somewhat admitted to by the agency earlier this year (though EIA says it continues to improve the accuracy of its projections).

Christopher Arcus writes on the Clean Technica website this week that in its latest analysis, the EIA assumes that renewable energy growth will lag once government subsidies diminish or end, beginning in 2020.

“The EIA just doesn’t seem to get that the market is dynamic and interactive,” Arcus says. “[EIA’s] approach is too static, and it seems to ignore trends like the falling prices of solar and wind compared to other sources.”

The take-away from the EIA report, nonetheless, is that by maintaining and strengthening enabling policies, less energy will be consumed and what is consumed will be cleaner.

Reinforcing those benefits is another analysis, this one from Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization, finding that many of the nation’s largest electric utilities and their local subsidiaries are moving toward cleaner, lower carbon fuel sources, driven by ambitious state policies and strong corporate demand for renewable energy.

Co-authored by Clean Edge, a clean-tech research and advisory firm, the study ranks the 30 largest electric utility holding companies and their 119 subsidiary companies, which collectively account for about 60 percent of U.S. retail electricity sales. The results show overall advances on renewable energy and energy efficiency in 2014, the latest year for which data is available, with some utilities producing 25 to 35 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewables.

That the Ceres report cites the forward thinking leadership on renewables being demonstrated by states and many of the nation’s largest businesses should serve notice to federal lawmakers that there is a consensus that the time is now to accelerate the development of renewable energy. The timely enactment of policies that promote renewables allows this country to begin reaping as widely as possible the vast environmental, economic and public health benefits clean energy offers.

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North American Clean Energy Pact Latest Manifestation of 25x'25 Partner Efforts

Editor’s note: This version of the blog has been updated to correct the status of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in California, which is due to be shut down by 2025.

The North American Climate, Energy and Environment Partnership was announced this week in Ottawa by the leaders of the three signatory nations, marking a huge commitment to renewable energy. This groundbreaking pact can be attributed in large part to the efforts over the past decade of the nearly 1,000 organizations, trade groups, businesses and other advocates that have endorsed the 25x’25 vision.

Announced Wednesday by President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the agreement sets a North American goal of achieving 50-percent clean, no-carbon power generation by 2025. The regional goal can be achieved, the three leaders say, through actions undertaken by each country individually in accordance with their own conditions, specific legal frameworks and clean energy national goals.

While the pact does include nuclear power, as well as carbon capture and storage technologies, much of the development – and investment – will focus on renewable energy, including wind, solar, hydropower and geothermal. Another route to the goal is a reduction in demand energy efficiency – the option of first choice under the 25x’25 vision.

To support the goal of 50 percent clean power generation, the White House says, the three countries plan a range of initiatives, including cutting power waste by aligning ten appliance efficiency standards or test procedures by 2019; 5,000 megawatts of cross-border transmission projects to facilitate deployment of clean power; a joint study of the opportunities and impacts of adding more renewables to the electric grid on a continental basis; and the conversion of government operations to 100 percent clean energy by 2025.

While the agreement focuses on no-carbon power sources, we believe that efforts by the three nations to further expand clean power development should also embrace low-carbon biopower solution sets and reap the multiple benefits that these technologies that utilize sustainably harvested biomass feedstocks can provide. In many cases, biopower serves as a baseload resource and sources materials locally in support of rural economies. Also, the power generated from sustainable biomass is essentially carbon-neutral and can yield climate benefits according to our own EPA. We must not focus so narrowly on non-emitting power sources that we disallow the energy, environmental and climate benefits that bioenergy provides.

The three nations collectively average 37 percent of their power production coming from renewables and nuclear energy. Canada has the largest share coming from clean energy sources – more than 80 percent, including some 60 percent from hydropower. Mexico has the steepest challenge, currently averaging about 20 percent of its power production from clean sources, most of that from hydropower. The United States gets about a third of its power from non-carbon sources, including 20 percent from nuclear and 13 percent from renewables.

But the U.S. numbers for nuclear and renewable are trending in opposite directions. California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced last week its plans to close the state’s last operating nuclear power plant by 2025, the latest among several shutdowns taking place (two in Illinois are scheduled to be closed over the next two years) or already having occurred across the country (four between 2012 and 2014).

While some no-carbon advocates propose changes in plant design to smaller, more modular operations, which could help resuscitate nuclear energy as a clean and sustainable power source, analysts say safety issues will always plague the sector, given the collective memory of Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island and Fukushima. Nuclear energy has also been taking a beating in costs compared to relatively cheap renewable energy and natural gas.

Non-carbon renewable energy continues to grow at an incredibly rapid rate. Sharply dropping production costs, federal tax credits and multiple state policies have resulted in a forecast from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – a 25x’25 partner – that 14.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar power will be installed this year, nearly doubling last year’s record of 7.5 GW. Another 25x’25 partner, the American Wind Energy Association, says that increasing cost-competitiveness, pushed in part by government policies, brought more wind power online (8.6 GW) in the United States than any other source of new electricity in 2015, putting it on track to quadruple in size by 2030 and generate 20 percent of the country’s electricity.

The trilateral agreement announced Wednesday is just the latest manifestation of the effort put in by 25x’25 partners at the federal, state and local levels to encourage policy makers to take the actions that are making a clean energy future an inevitability. Our partners have consistently reminded our elected leaders and regulators of the huge economic and health benefits that come with renewable energy, especially for rural America, and of the negative impacts if action is not taken quickly.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that a failure to quickly develop clean energy sources, resulting in a delay in reduced carbon emissions, could lead to the subsequent rise in global temperatures above the 2 degrees Celsius threshold called for by the Paris agreement, and could cost the world at least $160 billion annually in lost output. Furthermore, a better developed clean energy sector, an increase in energy efficiency and the development of new transmission facilities will increase jobs from the current level of 700,000 today to more than a million by 2025.

We applaud our renewable energy champions whose work on behalf of the 25x’25 vision has resulted in a groundbreaking agreement reached by the United States and its neighbors this week. But we also urge all clean energy advocates to use the agreement as motivation to spark renewed efforts in reaching out and convincing policy makers of the absolute need to move forward now.

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Clarification

In this space last week, we examined the role that agriculture is playing in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), or strategies, submitted by dozens of nations seeking to meet the emissions-reduction goals called for in the Paris climate agreement reached last December. We also cited the development and use of biofuels promoted by those countries as a means to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We took serious issue with the Obama administration’s failure to fully endorse and promote biofuels as a tool in U.S. efforts to combat climate change.

However, we mischaracterized the administration’s INDC proposal for meeting the Paris-based emission reduction goals by saying it failed to include biofuel development as a tool in the fight against climate change.

USDA’s Climate Change Program Office tells us that the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which sets biofuel-blending levels in the nation’s transportation fuel supply, was included as a “Major Federal Action on Mitigation” and one of the “Policies Driving Substantial Progress toward Our Targets” in a report submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which facilitates the implementation of the Paris agreement.

As detailed by the report, the RFS is expected by 2020 to achieve a reduction of 138.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (for perspective, USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program is expected to get 39.8 million metric tons in 2020).

While 25x’25 is grateful that the RFS does, in fact, carry significant weight in the formal commitments to reducing emissions made by the United States, we continue to believe the administration is undermining its own efforts by adopting last year RFS blending levels for 2014, 2015 and 2016 (and for biodiesel for 2017) that fall far below those set when the standard was reauthorized and strengthened by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. And EPA is ready to compound the problems by continuing to propose lower blending levels for next year.

We urge the administration to return the RFS blending targets to their full statutory levels and put an even greater emphasis on the production of biofuels and the emission reductions they represent.

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