Climate Change, the U.S. Military and Renewable Fuels and Energy

A bipartisan group of retired military officers and national security officials last week issued a rather pointed statement that climate change poses a major security risk both in the United States. and abroad, and that a wide-ranging policy must be adopted to address the pending hazard.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense is ramping up its development of no- and low-emission renewable resources – including wind and solar facilities, as well as biofuels – to ensure the military’s energy security. In addition, this week President Obama ordered 20 federal agencies with national security-related missions to consider the impact of climate change in their planning, amid warnings from scientists that rising temperatures could destabilize regions across the globe.

Combined, these developments show strong leadership from the U.S. military and national security interests, which is sending a clear message: U.S. policy makers have an obligation to meet the growing threats posed by climate change using all tools available, including laws, regulations, funding mechanisms, tax credits and other steps that can accelerate the development of cleaner, domestically produced energy sources.

“We the undersigned members of the U.S. national security community conclude that the effects of climate change present a strategically significant risk to U.S. national security and international security, and that the United States must advance a comprehensive policy for addressing this risk,” says the statement from the Climate and Security Consensus Project.

The project is an initiative from the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington-based think tank, and the statement was signed by some of the foremost experts in the military and national security arenas, including retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of the U.S. Central Command, and retired Adm. Samuel Locklear, who stepped down as head of the Pacific Command just last year.

The statement lists eight “determinations” that prompted their call for a comprehensive policy, including the stress that climate change will put on water, food and energy security here and around the world, and the likelihood that those stresses will result in major conflicts, state failures and mass migration. These experts say that climate change will severely impact U.S. military readiness and pose risks to critical U.S. energy and military infrastructure, as well as populations of coastal and water-stressed regions, economic hubs on the coasts and inland, and essential agricultural lands.

What’s important to understand is that the statement from the consensus project is only the latest warning from both retired and active military and national security experts, who, for years, have been adamant in their calls for strong U.S. policy leadership in the face of the growing threats emanating from a changing climate.

The absolutely critical need to maintain military readiness is the principal reason behind the Pentagon’s efforts to reduce fossil fuel use, and power installations with renewables like wind and solar, as well as fuel planes, ships and vehicles with biofuels.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and his forward-thinking push for biofuels to power his fleet and aircraft have for years served as prime examples of the kind of policy leadership needed to incorporate alternative fuels into operation supplies, increasing mission capability and flexibility, while reducing fossil-fuel emissions.

In addition to the highly touted “Great Green Fleet” – which demonstrated in exercises earlier this year the capabilities of a carrier strike group to use 50-50 biofuel blends – the Navy this month successfully test flew an EA-18G “Green Growler” on 100-percent advanced biofuel, demonstrating not only energy innovation, but a commitment to cleaner power operations.

In a world in which the United States has four percent of the population, but uses 25 percent of the world’s oil, our military – by far the biggest U.S. consumer of oil, at nearly 80 percent of the total federal government use – is showing our nation that the path to a clean energy future is not only viable, but absolutely necessary.

Earlier this month, the leak in an Alabama gasoline pipeline has underscored how consumers’ dependence on petroleum-based transportation fuel infrastructure can cause price and supply shocks. In many ways, the military is also restrained by aging infrastructure and vulnerability to energy supply disruptions that can affect their mission capability. The vulnerability of our energy production and distribution system means policy makers should stop creating roadblocks that impede the further development of renewable energy, including the production of advanced biofuels and the equipment optimized to utilize them. The military needs and wants them, but inconsistent policy signals from Washington have caused uncertainty in the investment and production sectors. Stakeholders are urged to reach out to their elected officials and call on them to take the steps needed to give consumers and the armed forces access to cleaner, more secure transportation fuels, as well as other reliable renewable energy resources.

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Study Says Influx of Dead Trees Can Be Handled Through Co-Burning

Researchers at the University of Wyoming say a vast number of trees killed by a bark beetle population that is rapidly expanding due to higher temperatures could be sustainably co-fired in coal plants.

It’s an important finding, especially as Congress undertakes conference committee work on House and Senate versions of energy legislation that includes in the Senate version a provision that deems biomass “carbon neutral.”

The language in the Senate provision would recognize that sustainably produced and managed biomass can offer valuable clean energy contributions and important carbon sequestration services to mitigate climate change. Currently 13 different definitions of biomass exist in various laws and regulations, and the bill’s sponsors hope that they can all be harmonized in a way that allows for the full potential for bioenergy solutions to be realized.

Erica Belmont and Emily Beagle, professors of mechanical engineering at the University of Wyoming, say in their report, which was published by the journal Science Direct, the “widespread mortality of forests in the western United States due to a bark beetle epidemic provides a source of biomass for power generation.”

The researchers assessed the availability and economics of co-firing beetle-kill biomass with coal in power plants in the western United States and concluded that “[s]ince biomass may be considered carbon neutral under careful management, co-combustion of biomass with coal provides power plants a way to meet emission reduction requirements, such as those in the EPA Clean Power Plan (CPP).”

They note that cost has been a barrier to co-firing, “but the economics are altered by emission reduction requirements,” such as the guidelines proposed under the Clean Power Plan, which is currently on hold pending resolution of a lawsuit, probably later next year.

Furthermore, they say co-firing reduces the need for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to manage beetle-kill trees, noting the mitigated treatment costs from the reduced risk of wildfire were considered as an effective subsidy of co-firing. In fact, they say policymakers should look at the “novel” approach of using USFS funding to subsidize co-firing, given the burning of beetle-kill biomass is “among the most economical ways to meet emission reduction requirements.”

In June, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, citing USFS aerial surveys, said there were more than 66 million dead trees across the state (up from 29 million in 2015), killed by drought and bark beetles since 2010 and prompting “continued concern for California’s forest health and wildfire danger.”

The California estimate shows the voraciousness with which the tree mortality epidemic is gripping the region, killing trees in numbers hard to imagine. But open-pile burning in the forest – the most commonly used method of disposing of woody biomass waste – is hardly an option, given the emissions of air pollutants, greenhouse gases (GHGs) and air toxics open burning produces.

While there will always be questions over the costs of transporting dead trees to power plants, the Wyoming researchers make the case that given the tough regulations aimed at reducing climate emissions that coal-fired plants are facing, obtaining and co-burning the biomass might be the more economical alternative.

They also point out that disposing of the biomass will release emissions anyway, so it could be better used by co-firing it in coal plants and helping to offset some of the heavier emissions that come from burning coal. And though only a small fraction in number when compared to coal-fired plants, biomass-only generating plants could also use the dead trees as fuel.

Another study published in July by researchers with the USFS, a number of California universities and others seems to underscore the Wyoming findings, by discussing the use of forest wastes from fuel hazard reduction projects as a means of electricity production. It makes the case for policies that monetize the reductions in emissions as a way of making the use of dead trees for energy production more economically viable. The state legislature ultimately passed a bill that would allow dead trees to be used as a power feedstock.

It’s an approach that policy makers intent on addressing climate change should consider. Start by harmonizing the legal and regulatory definitions of biomass to ensure that properly managed forests – both private and public – can make meaningful and significant contributions to our nation’s energy strategy, while also reducing the considerable hardships and risks associated with forest fires. Let’s not hinder our access to cleaner and more sustainable resources that can power this nation forward.

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Candidates for Office Would Do Well to Heed the Certainty of a Clean Energy Future

With the election campaign heading into the home stretch, recent developments in the renewable energy sector serve as reminders of the certainty of the significant role clean energy will play in our future, and all candidates for public office – be it for the White House, Congress, the statehouse or city hall – are urged to accept this inevitability.

And those still holding their seats on Capitol Hill have an opportunity over the next few months to demonstrate their grasp of the significance of renewables this fall when they take on a major energy bill that calls for infrastructure changes to better accommodate wind, solar and other clean power sources, as well as give biomass an equal footing in our nation’s energy strategy.

Those in Congress seeking re-election, as well as all others seeking voter support, understand that most elections focus critically on the state of the economy, which, in turn, means jobs. And the economic/jobs news from the renewable energy sector has been consistently good this campaign season.

Earlier this year The Solar Foundation (TSF), an independent nonprofit research and education organization, released state-by-state data from its annual National Solar Jobs Census series via the State Solar Jobs Census Map. The census shows that one out of every 80 jobs created since the financial crisis of 2008-09 came in the solar sector alone. If you account for new jobs also created in the wind, energy efficiency and other arenas, clean energy generated one out of 33 new jobs since the recession.

Driven by growth in wind and solar, renewable energy employment in the United States increased by 6 percent in 2015 to reach 769,000 jobs, according to data gathered by the International Renewable Energy Association.

Solar employment in the country continued its rapid expansion – growing by almost 22 percent to reach 209,000 in 2015, expanding about 12 times as fast as overall job creation in the U.S. economy, which had its second best year of job growth since 1999. It’s also important to note that solar installers are making an average of $21 per hour, up 5 percent in 2014 and twice the national average, according to The Solar Foundation. Given the congressional extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit through 2021, continued fast growth in the sector is expected.

The extension of the Production Tax Credit also should ensure continued growth of the wind energy industry over the next five years. The congressional move to push the PTC to 2020 came at the close of a year in which the wind sector registered a 21-percent gain in employment, to 88,00 jobs. American Wind Energy Association data shows component manufacturing employed 21,000 people; construction, project development and transportation accounted for 38,000 jobs; and operation and maintenance for 29,000 jobs.

A closer look at clean energy employment at the state level shows a similar trend of growth. For example, the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) earlier this year issued its latest census, covering 2015, which showed the renewable energy sector has been a rapidly growing part of the state’s economy since the first version of the report in 2008. Now numbering approximately 1,000 firms, the sector provides more than 26,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the state (3,000 more than the number reported in 2014), and generates almost $7 billion in annual gross revenues, a $2-billion hike over 2014.

A quick look at the biofuel industry shows the federal Renewable Fuel Standard has driven the creation of nearly 360,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs nationwide, resulting in nearly $24 billion in wages in the ethanol sector. In addition, the economic activities of the ethanol industry have generated nearly $44 billion in incremental economic productivity and contributed nearly $4.8 billion in federal tax revenue and $3.9 billion in state and local government tax contributions.

Biodiesel production has created more than 62,000 jobs, $2.6 billion in wages and supported a total economic impact of $16.8 billion in 2013.

Policy makers, and those who are seeking to be policy makers, would also be well served to see who those jobs are going to. Nearly 10 percent of all who work in the solar industry – more than 13,000 people – are veterans. And programs like the one launched in Colorado this summer by Solar Energy Industries to train displaced coal and oil workers are sprouting up in areas of the nation where energy sourcing is undergoing transition.

Those seeking office should recognize that renewable energy is here to stay and will only continue to grow exponentially over the next several decades. The fact that a conservative bedrock like Iowa currently gets nearly a third of its power from renewable resources shows the expansion is taking place all across the nation. Voters understand that renewable energy is bringing with it cheaper, cleaner and more secure power, as well as a boost to the national and local economies with expanding job growth. It’s a good issue on which candidates for political office can take a stand.

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California Lawmakers Offer Clean Energy Strategy that Looks to the Future

The California legislature has sent to Gov. Jerry Brown a measure that will serve as a significant driver of the move toward cleaner transportation fuels, including biofuels. It’s a policy step that could likely serve as a template for policy makers in other states seeking to reach a clean energy future.

Senate Bill 32 sets a hugely aggressive target for reducing climate-altering emissions. The state is already looking at dropping emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. SB32 would hike that target to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Among the tools available to meet that ambitious goal is a state Renewable Energy Portfolio adopted by policy makers last year that requires retail sellers and publicly owned utilities to obtain at least 50 percent of their electricity from eligible renewable energy resources by 2030. It’s a commitment that Brown said calls for “groundbreaking steps to increase the efficiency of our cars, buildings and appliances, and provide ever more renewable energy.”

Another tool is the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), a regulatory requirement that calls for a 10-percent drop in the carbon intensity of the state’s transportation fuels by 2030. Media reports out of California indicate the LCFS weathered plans by some in the legislature to weaken or eliminate the LCFS in exchange for maintaining a cap-and-trade program that would be reinforced by SB32. But not only did the LCFS survive, the California Air Resources Board is expected to increase the standard’s carbon intensity reductions beyond 2030 to as much as 30 percent.

Of course, critical to meeting the LCFS targets will continue to be the role of biofuels, which reduce emissions anywhere from 35 to 85 percent when compared to gasoline or diesel, depending upon the type of alternative fuel used.

While some other states have recently set high RPS targets (Hawaii, New York and Massachusetts, among them), California has long been recognized as the most aggressive in its pursuit of policies – including the LCFS ‑ that sustain and boost clean energy as a means of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and help stem the changes in climate that scientists say are resulting in increasing atmospheric and ocean temperatures, volatile weather patterns (including extensive drought and flooding) and disruptions in crop and livestock production.

California, which readily utilizes policy in a way leaders around world are likely to emulate to address changing climate conditions in their own countries and regions, values the role of biofuels in its strategy aimed at achieving its climate change goals. And by extension, it underscores the part that biofuels can play on a national level as the Obama administration mounts its own efforts to address climate change.

Unfortunately, the White House is still falling short in its purported commitment to biofuels, continuing to propose biofuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that fall short of the levels set when the RFS was reauthorized and expanded nine years ago.

And news this week from USDA on projections for farm income this year – it’s expected to fall to its lowest level since 2009 – give even greater urgency to the need to fully implement the RFS biofuel blending requirements set in the 2007 law.

The drop in income is driven in large part by a decline in prices for a wide range of commodities, including biofuel feedstocks corn and soybeans, which are both expected to set production records this year. Reducing the requirements for biofuels and creating a subsequent drop in the domestic market for corn and soybeans not only impacts federal efforts to address climate change, it also hurts farmers.

As Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association, recently told The Wall Street Journal, “Rural America needs help.” Low commodity prices, he said, “will result in fewer family farms, fewer jobs and economic hardship.”

Policy makers everywhere serious about efforts to reverse rising temperatures and the corresponding damages that come with climate change should look to the future and – like California lawmakers and regulators – implement the strategies that deal with the challenges to come. That means using all of the policy tools available to them, including those that boost the production and use of biofuels.

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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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