Combustion Engines are Not Going Anywhere for Quite A While

The following guest blog has been written by Reg Modlin, the former director of regulatory affairs at FCA Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, where he served for more than 43 years. He is currently a senior advisor to the Ag-Auto-Ethanol Work Group, a stakeholder effort to develop strategies that will accelerate the transition of transportation fuels to higher octane/lower carbon blends for use in the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet.

Flags have gone up in recent days as a result of articles proclaiming the coming of the electric car and the resulting disruption in the automobile industry. Relax. There is nothing new in any of these articles.

Regulations governing greenhouse gases (GHG), fuel economy and fuel consumption in all of the major markets are on the same trend line and have been for years, despite the “news” implied in the articles.

The driving assumption is that 80-percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2050 is needed. With that goal observed, all new vehicles produced and sold by about 2030 would have to be full battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell powered. This is the basis for the regulatory trend lines. The big questions? Will the technology evolve to support that goal? Will the cost of technology be in line with the customer’s willingness to buy? And, most importantly, will the customer, in fact, buy the product? In the United States, in the rules adopted in 2012, these challenges were noted and the concept of a mid-term review of the proposed standards was aimed at addressing the question of consumer demand.

Electric vehicles will dominate new vehicle sales by about 2030, unless they don’t. The reasons for vast electrification to not occur are the usual hurdles of high cost and lagging consumer demand. Even if electrification does take hold, liquid-fueled internal combustion products in the legacy fleet will need fuel until well past 2050. And this only addresses light duty transportation. Yet to be considered are heavy duty vehicles, rail and air. Those are larger technology challenges.

Positions from Volvo and Daimler are particularly noteworthy.

Volvo headlines claim that they are moving out of internal combustion engines. This is not supported by the facts. They may be pursuing a marketing strategy to not deploy solely internal combustion engine equipped products. However, internal combustion engines would be included in mild-hybrid (Start/Stop), hybrid and plug-in hybrid systems. Any full electric powered products would have to be a very small percentage of their proposed fleet. The inclusion of such technologies is likely to be part of every manufacturer’s strategy. Note that Geely, a Chinese company, owns Volvo. Given that China is attempting to leap-frog to electrically powered transportation, that ownership naturally moves the premium Volvo brand into the country’s fast push toward electric powered vehicles. For Geely to set up their premium brand to represent the path toward electrification would be a natural step. This would be a strategy found in many of the world’s automobile manufacturers.

Look at Daimler. The German company announced that they were aiming at full electrification by 2030. Then, they explained how they were backing up that plan with a completely new family of internal combustion engines and applying 48-volt electrical systems to boot. Again, there is nothing new here. Germany is a strong supporter of the aforementioned goal of 80-percent reduction of GHG emissions. Daimler is on record in support of the goal. However, they are backing up their support with technology packages that will continue to improve performance of their conventional portfolio, whether or not electrification becomes successful.

Both Volvo and Daimler, among others, have gotten some attention with good headlines, even though they acknowledge they are doing what the whole industry is having to do while betting on the potential for market acceptance of electrified vehicles.

Whether electrification of light duty vehicles will dominate the market before 2050 will hold media and public interest until we see how the industry evolves. Until then, and for decades after, liquid fuel will be used in transportation throughout the world. And what automakers and policy makers must resolve is whether we will reduce carbon emissions from the fleet using more efficient internal combustion engines paired with low-carbon, high-octane fuels or will we continue to ignore the issue and continue to use current regular gasoline formulations? The challenge is to create a resounding drumbeat of “we need a better fuel for the future,” whether or not electrification becomes successful.

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Federal Climate Report Demands Action, Not Debate Over Semantics

Two events have conjoined on the national stage this week, serving to underscore the reality that climactic conditions continue to pose new challenges to agricultural and forestry producers that are working to adapt to those changes, and it has reinforced the critical role that front-line agencies like USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) play in meeting the needs of farmers, ranchers and forestland owners.

Disclosed earlier this week was a draft of a Climate Science Special Report – part of the National Climate Assessment that is mandated by Congress to be completed every four years – compiled by 13 federal agencies, including USDA, that positively asserts that the consequences of a changing climate are calamitous and are, in fact, taking a toll now on the nation and the way business is done.

While there may be some discomfort within the ag and forestry industries over the words “climate change,” the reality is that producers in the sectors will tell you that their operations are being hammered by increasingly erratic weather, drought, high nighttime temperatures, as well as the emergence of new pests and invasive species.

The farm community’s supposed aversion to climate change nomenclature gave rise to another media story this week. A newspaper website reported on emails that were sent from a politically appointed deputy director to NRCS personnel shortly after President Trump’s inauguration that suggested alternative ways of referring to climate change, citing a “shift in perspective within the executive branch.” Trump has made clear his disdain of science supporting climate change, but USDA officials this week were quick to deny any political pressure was put on agency employees to avoid the use of the term “climate change.”

But what is nothing more than a kerfuffle over bureaucratic semantics only diverts from what has been the essential message that U.S. farmers, ranchers and foresters have been telling federal officials over the past several years: help is needed, and needed now.

For generations, those who produce our nation’s food, feed and fiber have come up with innovative ways to adapt to challenges they face. But the challenges being posed today by a changing climate – inconsistent growing seasons, a wildfire season twice as long as it was 30 years ago, and an increased threat of pest outbreaks, drought and flood over the next 50 years – are more complex than ever. They threaten our food supply and impose tremendous costs on producers and rural economies. Drought alone was estimated to cost the country up to $150 billion from 2011 to 2013.

There is a critical role that still needs to be played by USDA, the NRCS and the seven research centers – or hubs – designated by the Agriculture Department three years ago to help U.S. producers of food, feed and fiber to create innovative solutions to the challenges posed by a changing climate, including support for adaptation.

Now is hardly the time for policy makers to engage in dogmatic denial of the damage that is occurring on the ground. The government agencies charged with the protection and stewardship of our natural resources, including soil and water, must be given the enabling policies and funding that allow them to do their job of supporting the nation’s landowners during these times of volatile environmental conditions and weather extremes.

Policy makers should also be reminded that farmers, ranchers and forestland owners can – and should – play a huge role in mitigating climate change. Through strategies like climate smart agriculture advocated by stakeholder-directed initiatives such as Solutions from the Land (25x’25’s parent organization), farmers, ranchers and foresters develop the tools that can increase commodity output, adapt land-use and livestock-production practices to improve their resiliency, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon. (Federal researchers reported last year that U.S. lands have been sequestering much more carbon than they emit, creating a net “carbon sink” over the last three decades. The sequestration of a net 762 million metric tons of CO2 offset 11 percent of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions in 2014.)

It’s time for policy makers in Washington, at the state level and in local governments to heed the science-based warnings contained in the latest U.S. climate science report and address the damaging consequences a changing climate is imposing now and the even greater dangers it is presenting to our future. The strategies that are needed must be implemented at all levels and scales and must recognize social, economic, security and political factors. We have just begun to make progress and conversations with stakeholders should avoid becoming bogged down due to “changing perspectives.”

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Policy Makers Need to Include Renewables in Planning for Power Needs

There is a growing debate within clean energy circles centered on some academic contentions that by 2050 this country can generate all its electricity from renewable technologies like wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and biomass.

It’s an incredibly ambitious goal, and it would require a significant reconfiguration of current energy policies at the federal, state and local levels to sufficiently accelerate the growth and development of renewable technologies to achieve success.

Until that day comes, even the most strident renewable energy advocate would concur that a diverse array of energy sources is absolutely essential to meet U.S. energy demand, at least over the next several decades. In addition to renewables – the fastest growing sector within the energy market – the range of power sources for the foreseeable future will likely include natural gas, which has grown to dominate the electricity-generation market in recent years, followed by nuclear power and, yes, for now, coal.

Some recent events and decisions have underscored the urgent need for energy diversity. Legacy energy interests have been increasingly challenged by a rapidly changing market that have been making big “baseload” power investments in new coal or nuclear plants too risky, as well as other instances where demand growth has slowed to make investments unnecessary.

One example is Georgia Power, which turned over construction of two additional reactors at the utility’s Plant Vogtle to Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Company, which also operates two existing units at the plant in Waynesboro, GA. The change comes after Toshiba Corp., the parent company of Vogtle’s previous contractor, Westinghouse Electric, declared bankruptcy, citing cost overruns and design problems with the Japanese firm’s reactors.

Meanwhile, this week Santee Cooper and SCANA Corp. said they will halt construction on two new nuclear reactors at their V.C. Summer Plant in South Carolina, citing expenses that could reach more than $25 billion due to soaring cost overruns and the design issues of the Toshiba reactor.

With the end of construction at the Summer plant, the Vogtle reactors are now the only new nuclear project being built in the United States. However, reports indicate Southern Company could well decide this month to close it down as well.

Of course, nuclear is not the only energy sector running into market negatives. As detailed in our blog last month, Mississippi Power and parent company Southern suspended what was a singular effort in this country to develop clean coal technology at their Kemper County Power Facility. Once again, cost overruns tallying in the billions of dollars prompted the firms to suspend development of the technology that sought to convert coal to a synthetic gas. They have chosen instead to fuel the plant on natural gas alone.

Even though 25x’25 is a renewable energy advocacy group, we contend that no one dedicated to our nation’s energy future should take any satisfaction in these recent legacy energy shortfalls. In fact, the leaders of these utilities should be commended for having the courage to pull the plug on ventures that eventually could not be justified.

The reconsideration of these investments does give rise to the need by utilities and state leaders to undertake a risk-versus-reward analysis before proceeding with any future, large baseload projects. Instead, stakeholders should make the case to policy makers that choosing scalable, less expensive renewable energy – whether it be residential, commercial or utility-scale generation – is the best option, as it can be distributed across states while also dispersing economic benefits to a broader base of stakeholders. (It should be noted that DOE reported this year, for the first time, renewable energy surpassed nuclear as a percentage of U.S. electricity generation.)

Cost-effective energy efficiency is another resource that utilities should take into consideration. It can yield demand savings that can displace electricity generation from fossil fuels. Energy savings from customer-funded energy efficiency programs are typically achieved at one-third the cost of new generation resources.

We urge all concerned with this nation’s energy future to make policy makers fully aware that the operators of the nation’s electricity grid are increasingly turning to more flexible resources, including efficiency, and low-cost renewable energy options like wind and solar. The transition is nullifying the notion that only “baseload” generating plants can reliably power America’s homes and businesses.

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Feds Should Support Broader U.S. Solar Industry in Trade Dispute

The solar industry has been severely distressed in recent months by a petition before federal trade officials seeking penalty tariffs on imported solar cells and panels. In the last week, the issue was thrust to an even higher profile as a coalition of industry groups and conservative policy think tanks said they were coming together to fight the pending trade case.

It is not every day that you see the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) partner with The Heritage Foundation and other conservative policy groups that have long criticized federal and state policies and tax benefits that promote solar and other renewable energy technologies, going so far as to call them “market distorting.”

But solar energy interests understand the influence high-profile conservative policy groups have on the current administration, and believe that could play a key role in resolving the case favorably.

SEIA and others in the sector are concerned that if the U.S. International Trade Council (ITC) recommends to the White House that the petition be granted, and if President Trump agrees to impose tariffs on solar product imports, the impact on the U.S. industry could be catastrophic.

The Heritage Foundation, the Koch brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the free-market promoting R Street Institute have joined SEIA and others in the Energy Trade Action Coalition (ETAC). Interestingly, the conservative groups are making an argument similar to ones they have used to oppose policies promoting clean energy: Imposing the tariffs would add another layer of federal subsidies, which free-market advocates fiercely oppose.

The coalition stands against the petition that was filed with U.S. trade officials earlier this year by solar manufacturer Suniva, arguing that the Section 201 trade petition – which seeks a tariff of 40 cents per watt on all foreign-made solar cells and a floor price of 78 cents per watt on all foreign-made panels – would double the price of solar equipment and damage the U.S. solar industry, and the 260,000 workers it supports.

A 201 petition seeks the harshest penalties the United States might impose in a trade dispute (it was last used in 2001), and ETAC says that if the remedies sought by Suniva and SolarWorld are put into effect, the U.S. solar industry would lose 88,000 jobs next year and billions of dollars in private-sector investment would be at risk. A major market analysis shows that U.S. photovoltaic (PV) demand could constrict by as much as 60 percent from 2018 through 2021 if the tarrifs are put in place.

On May 23, the ITC voted and determined the complaint was serious enough to conduct a review to determine whether there is evidence of injury. Two days after the commission vote, SolarWorld, whose German owners have declared themselves “insolvent,” joined in the Suniva, although their press release seems to indicate they may be seeking alternative restrictions on imports.

It is not a foregone conclusion that by the Sept. 22 deadline the commission will find that the U.S. manufacturers are threatened by imports. But the solar industry presumes that the ITC will rule favorably for Suniva and SolarWorld – two of the few remaining U.S. manufacturers – and will recommend specific trade barriers to President Trump by Nov. 13. The president will then have 60 days to act on the recommendation.

Trump has repeatedly said that he will work to promote U.S. manufacturers over foreign competition, protectionist rhetoric that alarms solar industry leaders who fear the president will adhere to his “America First” worldview and impose the penalties on imported solar modules, regardless of the devastating impact they will have on the solar industry here at home.

The simple truth is that foreign-made cells and panels are less expensive than those made here (most other U.S. manufacturers use imported parts), driving the cost of solar development steadily down – some 70 percent since 2010 – and significantly boosting the sector’s growth. We agree with ETAC’s position that granting the petition and imposing tariffs on cells and a floor price on panels “would slash demand for new projects and make solar less competitive with other sources of power, decimating one of America’s most promising high-tech growth industries.”

In fact, Reuters news service reports that just the anticipation of administration action has helped drive investment in major U.S. solar projects down from $3.4 bill during this year’s first quarter to $1.4 billion in the second quarter (and that compares with $1.7 billion during the second quarter of 2016). Also, solar companies are quickly buying up existing panels in anticipation of administration action, driving up prices by 20 percent.

We call on administration officials and the ITC to refute a dogmatic approach to American business, and instead recognize the incredible economic value the solar industry brings to this country. We urge you to listen to your allies in conservative policy circles, to the supporters of this country’s booming solar sector, and to U.S. consumers who are continuously demanding the move to cleaner, and often cheaper, energy alternatives.

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Military Pursuit of Clean Energy is a Logistical, Operational Necessity

For the past decade, the U.S. military has developed tactical, logistical and operational strategies with the belief that climate change is real and will be a growing source of conflict around the world. At the same time, the Pentagon has put considerable planning and resources into implementing renewable energy systems, a push in technology that has benefited the armed force’s fighting capability and flexibility, while boosting the private sector, as well.

Interestingly, the Defense Department has said that its development of renewable energy alternatives has little to do with climate change.

“The military isn’t doing this to be tree-huggers,” said a former naval commander who also served in the Navy Department’s office of Energy, Installations and Environment. It’s a matter of pragmatism. Clean energy alternatives improve mission capability. They increase the readiness and reach of U.S. forces.

However, there has been longstanding opposition in Congress to the military’s pursuit of renewable energy development from lawmakers representing oil-rich states and those who conflate the Defense Department’s clean energy focus with climate change – a topic that draws criticism from a number of lawmakers who reject the scientific consensus that global temperatures are increasing and weather patterns are growing more volatile.

The opposition to the military’s pursuit of energy innovation is mostly political, as evidenced by a recent letter to lawmakers in support of an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The proposed amendment would reverse an Obama administration executive order that calls for the reduction of each federal agency’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next decade from 2008 levels and increases the share of electricity the federal government uses from renewables to 30 percent. The NDAA is an annual measure that dictates much of the Pentagon’s policy parameters.

Because the amendment was aimed at the NDAA, the letter specifically targeted the requirements the 2015 executive order places on the U.S. military. The letter authors – Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by Koch brother-related groups; the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute; the Heartland Institute; the oil-industry supported American Energy Alliance; and the Tea Party Nation – claim that requiring the armed forces to engage in green energy programs, carbon emission reduction efforts and the placement of low- and zero-emission vehicles into the military’s fleet “undermine military readiness by diverting scarce resources.”

Military officials and planners at the Pentagon, however, know that transitioning the U.S. armed forces – one of the world’s largest consumers of energy and the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world – to sustainable, domestically produced sources of electricity and transportation fuels is an important step needed to insure the military’s readiness in times of conflict.

Despite increases in domestic production, the military’s dependence on oil to power everything from tanks to fighter jets to Humvees to generators, continues to be identified as a national security threat because of the potential threats to supply in what is a geopolitically-influenced oil market. Also, the installation of wind, solar and biomass energy systems to help power military bases increases protection against cyberattacks and other threats to the broader grid. Furthermore, military investments in energy efficiency measures are saving millions of dollars in energy costs each year, enhancing energy independence, fostering more reliability in existing energy systems, and reducing impacts to the environment.

Lawmakers must understand that these policies are driven by the military’s mission to be battle-ready through the diversification of operational energy resources and the development of distributed energy sources that can improve military installation resilience and security.

Enough did understand the military’s strategy last week – the amendment supported by the conservative groups did not make it into the NDAA passed out of the House Appropriations Committee. But the amendment’s sponsors have not ruled out an effort to try again during floor debate on the defense policy measure or other related legislation to be considered by Congress.

One source of support for the military’s green energy policies – and it is an important one – is Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine general who formerly headed the U.S. Central Command and held battlefield commands in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mattis tends to hold a different opinion of renewable energy from others in the Trump administration, arguing that the Defense Department “should explore alternate and renewable energy sources that are reliable, cost effective, and capable of relieving the dependence of deployed forces on vulnerable fuel supplies.” Mattis knows the policies are about the mission, “to increase the readiness and reach of our forces.”

The 25x’25 Alliance urges stakeholders to call on lawmakers and share with them what military leaders, including Secretary Mattis, have long known: Efforts to prevent the military from pursuing the best means to carry out its mission undermines our national security.

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Mississippi Power Underscores Role of Clean Energy on the Grid

Mississippi Power and its parent organization, Southern Company, have had what most people would generously call a “rough” couple of weeks. Under direct pressure from the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC), utility executives have determined that the Kemper County Energy Facility currently under construction, which was supposed to be fueled by “clean coal,” will now burn only natural gas.

After burning through nearly triple the plant’s $2-plus-billion budget and falling years beyond its deadline for installing gasifier technology aimed at converting locally-mined lignite coal to clean-burning synthetic gas, Mississippi Power has now suspended what was virtually a singular effort in this country to develop clean coal technology. The decision came upon the direction of the PSC, which has signaled it intends to prohibit the utility from charging ratepayers to recoup the costs associated with the lignite gasification process and related assets.

However, the utility has also been able to generate some good news in the state, when last week it brought together nearly 60 state leaders, utility representatives and clean energy supporters to dedicate Mississippi’s largest solar energy facility. Along with project partners D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments and DEPCOM Power, Mississippi Power placed itself in the vanguard of clean energy in the region, promoting a $100-million, 52-MW facility that consists of more than 215,000 panels, covers 595 acres, and produces enough energy to power nearly 8000 homes, all without generating any emissions. On top of that, the utility has another 50-MW solar facility in Mississippi coming online later this year, and it is also on track to announce a 53-MW solar project in conjunction with the U.S. Navy.

The events in Mississippi underscore what policy makers are fast understanding – clean energy technologies like wind and solar offer vast, reliable and cheaper sources of electricity to the grid, which only 10 years ago was dominated by centralized power plants that, to this day, still pose the logistical problems of high costs, persistent maintenance, high carbon emissions and ash (particularly with coal-fueled facilities); and further, in the case of nuclear power, significant waste disposal challenges.

As pointed out in a report last month authored by the Analysis Group, the current transformation of our electric power system is being driven by market forces. Rapidly falling renewable energy costs, low natural gas prices, advances in technology, greater energy efficiency adoption and relatively flat demand for electricity is putting financial pressure on older, less-economic power plants, thereby leading to their retirement.

Very simply, the evolution is being brought about by market competition. As a result, energy resources on the grid are becoming much more diverse, and they are being capably managed in a way that ensures reliable electric power.

The events in Mississippi come just as the Energy Secretary Rick Perry is set to release – likely next week – an evaluation he requested in April of the reliability and market rules of the U.S. electric power grid. Given the Trump administration’s push for increased fossil fuels, including a questionably viable effort to revive a crumbling coal industry, renewable energy advocates fear the evaluation could be used to diminish federal and state policies that have promoted the role of wind, solar and other renewables in the U.S. power system.

However, any move to stem the rapid growth of renewable energy on the grid and replace it with coal would be a major policy mistake. Furthermore, any effort to set back clean energy sources that are now in high demand from U.S. cities, states and corporations would fail because it cannot reverse coal’s downward trend amidst the rise of renewables.

Since 2010, more than 250 coal units have retired. And while most of those were older (pre-1970) and smaller plants, in recent years utilities have been announcing the closure of larger, more recently built facilities, principally due to their failure to compete with other energy technologies, including renewables. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2017 reports nearly 90 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity could be retired between 2017 and 2030.

25x’25 urges policy makers at all levels – federal, state and local – to help utilities sustain the transition to cleaner sources of power. The change is offering huge benefits: strengthening our energy security, providing economic boosts (particularly in rural areas of America), lowering energy rates and contributing to cleaner air. Renewables are now a significant part of the nation’s balanced energy portfolio, improving grid reliability, reducing transmission losses and relieving grid congestion. Those who oversee the nation’s energy system should do their utmost to ensure we all can capitalize on the renewable energy opportunities that this transition now provides.

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Note to our subscribers

In observation of the Fourth of July, we will  not be publishing our 25x’25 REsource blog next week. We wish all of you a happy and safe holiday.

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White House 'Energy Week' Should Also Support Renewables

The White House has designated this as Energy Week, which will be marked by several events where President Trump or key cabinet members will – as stated on Monday by an administration spokeswoman – speak on the administration’s commitment “to utilizing our abundant domestic energy resources both to create jobs and a growing, prosperous economy at home and to strengthen America’s global influence and leadership abroad.”

While much of the policy in recent decades has aimed at securely powering this nation’s economy with a focus on assuring our “energy independence” – a response to what had become a huge reliance on imported oil from the Middle East and the OPEC oligopoly – a common refrain coming out of the White House this week is “energy dominance,” meaning to make the United States the world’s energy superpower.

As a matter of smart policy, and good business sense, any energy strategy given the full weight of support by the White House must include clean energy and low- to no-carbon power sources, such as wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, hydropower and geothermal.

Energy dominance on the world scale is clearly an aspirational goal given that no U.S. policy maker, business leader or even ordinary citizen who has paid for a tank of gas or their monthly utility bill wants to see a return to times like the previous decade when oil surged from $25 per barrel to almost $150. It was a time when our nation was getting 60 percent of its oil from other nations, including those hostile to the United States, thus increasing U.S. energy vulnerability. Natural gas prices soared from under $2.50 per thousand cubic feet delivered to residential customers in 1998 to nearly $21 in 2008.

An explosion of U.S. exploration and extraction of domestic supplies of oil and gas that came with the advent of “fracking” technologies reversed those trends (oil is now around $45 per barrel and natural gas around $3.00 per thousand cubic feet). And while the increase in domestic supply has helped drop the cost of powering our transportation sector, our businesses, our manufacturers and our homes, advances in renewable energy technologies have put biofuels, wind, solar and other renewable energy costs at or below those of legacy energy sources, further driving down the cost of critical U.S. energy generation.

On Tuesday, at the annual conference of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Energy Secretary Rick Perry cited a report that is due to be released next month that is the culmination of a two-month “critical review of regulatory burdens” he said had been placed by Obama administration policies on power plants.

Perry said the Trump administration is looking for a mix of energy sources that are clean and affordable, while ensuring the grid is reliable. But he said nothing to reassure renewable energy advocates – a broad group that now includes significant numbers of large corporations, states and cities – that his review was anything but a means toward cutting federal and state clean energy policies and funding mechanisms that promote sustainable energy sources.

Trump, however, reasserted his support for ethanol during some appearances in Iowa last week. Unfortunately, he also mocked wind energy saying– “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factories…as the birds fall to the ground,” he told a crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Interestingly enough, Iowa produces more wind energy as a percentage of its generation mix than any state in the nation (at 37 percent) and the wind industry is a major player in the state’s economy.

Policy makers cannot be reminded enough how important renewable energy is to this country’s power supply, having grown exponentially over the past decade. For example, in February, wind made up more than 50 percent of the energy consumed in the 14-state Southwest Power Pool, and wind and solar for the first time accounted for more than 10 percent of U.S. electricity generation in March. Renewable energy continues to provide our nation with more and more economic, national security and environmental benefits.

The 25x’25 Alliance urges the Trump administration to remember the promises he made during the campaign last year to support those who live in rural America – a segment of voters that significantly helped get Trump elected. That includes supporting renewable energy, which provides jobs and money – through lease agreements and tax revenues – that support the rural economy in communities across the country that have seen hard times over the past several years.

We call on the Trump administration to make renewable energy a critical part of the policy initiatives it celebrates during Energy Week.

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Congress Must Maintain Commitments Made to a Clean Energy Future

Testimony from Energy Secretary Rick Perry before a House appropriations subcommittee Tuesday did little to ease concerns from clean energy advocates over a Trump administration budget proposal that wreaks havoc on his department’s research programs. Perry insisted that the cuts were in line with DOE policy that would now engage in only start-up research, while calling on the private sector to bring new technologies and advances to a commercial scale.

But clean energy supporters – and members of the congressional subcommittee – questioned if the spending levels for DOE research proposed by the White House are sufficient to fund even the most minimal development of energy sources.

Going all the way back to March when the administration first released its “skinny” budget proposal that called for massive cuts across the board – essentially to help pay for a similarly large boost in defense spending – lawmakers have been saying that they will be the ones to determine federal spending levels, not the White House, and they have virtually dismissed President Trump’s proposals as “dead on arrival.”

Still, the political climate under this administration is such that those who support even the most advantageous programs that generate considerable private investment at little cost to the taxpayer, fear for their future.

That’s why the nation’s major renewable energy trade groups wrote a letter to congressional leaders last week calling on lawmakers to fund programs that have helped “support job creation, economic growth and our country’s dominant technological position in electric power and renewable energy research and development.”

The trade groups and other clean energy champions specifically cite energy programs at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Advanced Research Programs Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).

Under the president’s proposed budget, EERE would see a 70-percent budget cut ($1.4 billion), including a 74-percent cut to its solar, wind, water and geothermal programs. NREL’s budget would sustain a 22-percent cut, the lab’s energy-storage research eliminated, and solar energy research would be cut by 22 percent.

ARPA-E, which nurtures innovative energy technologies aimed at boosting national security and addressing climate change, but which are too early in the development process to garner private-sector investment, would virtually be killed under the Trump proposal. Created during the President George W. Bush administration, ARPA-E would see its fiscal 2017 budget of $290 million slashed to a mere $20 million under the Trump spending plan, a 93-percent decrease. This is despite a recent assessment from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine that says ARPA-E is doing its job, and doing it well, through the generation of key studies, patents, projects and even three dozen new companies over the past six years.

The recurring message being sent by clean energy supporters is that Congress must reject the proposed cuts, which would jeopardize America’s position as a global leader in cutting-edge, clean energy technology research, and which would harm this nation’s competitiveness in a rapidly growing industry that presents a multi-trillion-dollar business opportunity.

Seven former EERE directors, who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, have said the damage would extend far beyond the clean energy arena. In a letter they sent to congressional leaders, the former DOE officials said the budget cuts would not only hurt the department’s standing as “the single largest funder of clean energy innovation in the United States.” The cuts would also hinder the U.S. position “in the global energy market,” leaving the nation “without a strategic and well-funded DOE research portfolio, including basic science, energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil energy and electricity reliability.”

Similar warnings were issued in a letter to lead congressional appropriators from former Republican officials, oil executives and business leaders, who argued that the proposed energy program cuts would have a shattering effect on national security and the economy. Joining in signing the letter were leaders from the fossil fuel, nuclear and low-carbon industries, including the chief executives at Southern Co., Exelon Corp., Shell Oil Co., PG&E, the American Gas Association and Clean Line Energy Partners, as well as the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

So, the consensus is clear: Stakeholders across the nation’s energy spectrum recognize attempts to slash DOE programs and initiatives that promote innovation will cede U.S. dominance in the global energy market to China, India, Japan, the EU and other nations that are currently on track to double their government research budgets. U.S. lawmakers must move beyond political and ideological motives, sustain research spending and meet the energy security and economic commitments incumbent upon a great nation.

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Initiative Readies Biofuels for Future High-Performance, Low-Carbon Engines

Research efforts to simultaneously transform both transportation fuels and vehicles to maximize performance and energy efficiency, while also minimizing environmental impact and accelerating widespread adoption of innovative combustion strategies, have reached a major milestone this month.

The Co-Optimization of Fuels & Engines (Co-Optima) initiative is a research and development (R&D) collaboration between DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), its nine national laboratories and industry stakeholders – including national agriculture groups – is a first-of-its-kind effort to combine previously independent areas of biofuels and engine combustion study with the goal of designing new fuels and engines that are co-optimized – designed in tandem to both maximize vehicle performance and reduce environmental impacts.

The research builds on a large body of work that has already been done on various fuel additives, such as ethanol, which is an inherently high-octane fuel additive that contains many of the benefits researchers are looking for, including commercial and economic viability.

Last week, Co-Optima completed a year-long assessment of an initial 470 blendstock compounds, and announced eight blendstocks that researchers believe are representative of those with “optimal” fuel properties that can maximize engine performance.

The eight blendstocks that made their way through the intense research gauntlet are a mixture of dimethyl and methyl furan, n-propanol, iso-propanol, diisobutylene, isobutanol, cylopentanone, a high aromatic bioreformate and ethanol.

These candidates will now undergo continued research that will refine their property measurements, while researchers simultaneously develop improved models for blending with conventional hydrocarbon blendstocks. The initiative will produce and/or procure additional amounts of the candidate blendstocks sufficient for testing and to validate engine and fuel economy performance. Researchers will then be able to characterize and compare the blendstocks’ benefits and identify challenges to their commercial introduction. The list of representative candidates may evolve as additional data becomes available.

The Co-Optima initiative has taken a three-pronged, integrated approach to identifying and developing:

1. Engines designed to run more efficiently on affordable, scalable and sustainable fuels;

2. Fuels designed to work in high-efficiency, low-emissions engines; and,

3. Marketplace strategies that can shape the success of new fuels and vehicle technologies with industry and consumers.

Those approaches aim to meet the initiative’s stated goal, “Better fuels and better engines…sooner,” and to introduce improved technologies into the market place by 2025.

In addition to choosing their eight candidate blendstocks, based on fuel properties and maximized engine performance, researchers have also been looking at how engine parameters affect efficiency. They want to know what combinations of these fuels will work with modern and future engine designs in a sustainable, affordable and scalable way. Furthermore, they are looking for which of those combinations will produce the greatest reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG).

The final co-optimized fuel-engine systems will reduce petroleum consumption and GHG emissions from the transportation sector, while stimulating the economy – that means jobs – and promoting U.S. technology leadership.

The Co-Optima initiative is supported by a variety of industry stakeholders including automakers, biofuel feedstock and producer groups, agribusiness partners, infrastructure providers and technical experts. 25x’25 has been working with many of these stakeholders to develop strategies to accelerate the transition of transportation fuels to higher octane/lower carbon blends for use in the U.S. light duty vehicle fleet. Increasing the development and use of biofuels, including conventional feedstocks like corn and second-generation feedstocks such as corn stover, will encourage additional growth in the production of cleaner-burning cars and light trucks on U.S. roads and highways. Advancements in biofuel production have helped to establish ethanol, both conventional and advanced forms, as an increasingly cost-effective, commercially viable pathway for increasing the octane of liquid transportation fuels in the near future and by the year 2025.

The internal combustion engine will continue to play a key role in our transportation mix for decades to come. Therefore, despite fuel and engine advancements in recent years that have made vehicles cleaner and more fuel efficient, there is a continued need to improve vehicle efficiency and reduce the greenhouse gases they emit. The 25x’25 Alliance urges policy makers and industry partners to insure work like the Co-Optima research initiative continues. Additionally, regulators should take a closer look at the rapidly growing scientific evidence around the GHG emission-reduction benefits of biofuels, and acknowledge that they are a smart choice for meeting clean energy targets, while also supporting the U.S. economy.

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