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  • New President, New Electric Grid?

    By Dick Munson

    wire-164966_1280A new set of leaders today enter the White House. As they consider measures to enhance roads and bridges, they also should focus on America’s electricity infrastructure. By focusing on investment, efficiency, and markets as their policy foundation, the U.S. will have a world-class electricity system that will advance our economy into the 21st century.

    Electricity is a marvel, something even physicists don’t fully understand, yet it is the foundation for our entire economy. Think for a moment about how many interactions you’ve had just this morning with electric power – from your alarm clock, to your radio or television, to your hair dryer or shaver, to your computer or smart phone, and on and on.

    Moreover, electricity generation and delivery constitute our nation’s largest industry in terms of capital investment. Less flattering, electric generators are the biggest source of harmful pollution.

    U.S. electricity infrastructure is old and frayed. More than 70 percent of our grid – the lines and transformers that deliver electricity to our homes and businesses – is at least 25 years old. The average power plant in this country is 34 years old. Luckily, modern technologies are transforming the grid. And what’s more, new players are entering – and bringing innovation into – the once-monopolized and risk-adverse electricity industry. Unfortunately, its regulation is still stuck in the past. Let’s change that, starting at the federal level.

    The cost of America’s old grid

    On any given day, this old system causes half a million Americans to lose power for two or more hours. Our system, in fact, is shockingly unreliable compared to those in every other developed nation, putting the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage: We suffer some 360 minutes of outages each year, compared with just 16 minutes for Korea, 15 for Germany, and only 11 for Japan.

    One more statistic: The length of a U.S. power outage averages 120 minutes and that number is growing, while in the rest of the industrialized world it’s less than ten minutes and shrinking.

    Such unreliability is expensive. You may not care much if your lights are off for 120 minutes, but computer-based businesses lose millions and millions of dollars when the electric current flickers even a tiny amount. According to Navigant Research, we pay for twice as many power plants as we actually need – and suffer their pollution – because of “the massive inefficiencies built into this system.”

    We pay for twice as many power plants as we need.

    How technology changed the energy landscape

    Enter modern technology. Fracking and horizontal-drilling capabilities have vastly lowered the cost of natural gas. This has caused the dramatic and recent shift in how we generate electricity, from coal to natural gas – which has led to lower costs and less climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions.

    The diversity of power options, moreover, is increasing. Prices for solar power modules have fallen 70 percent in the past six years. Wind power costs have dropped 58 percent in the past five years.  Battery prices have fallen approximately 14 percent annually since 2007.

    These are remarkable advances, but arguably the most significant technological change in the electricity industry is the introduction of innovative sensors, smart meters, and advanced communication technologies. These tools are attracting hundreds of entrepreneurs and deep-pocketed players – as well as their investment and jobs – into what long has been an innovation-adverse, monopoly-dominated industry.

    All these new smart-grid technologies provide enormous quantities of data. How we utilize that data will have major impacts on consumers, the environment, and the future electricity system. The proliferation of these sensors and digital communication devices, for instance, can allow traditional generators to improve the operation of their power plants. They allow small and intermittent generators, like rooftop solar panels and wind turbines, to integrate smoothly onto and bolster the electric grid. On top of that, they’re opening the door for clever companies to help consumers better manage their energy use in ways that save money and cut pollution. Some studies have found that just the availability of real-time energy-use data leads to energy efficiency gains of 15 percent.

    The availability of real-time energy-use data leads to energy efficiency gains of 15 percent.

    Businesses are taking notice

    New players are entering energy markets. Google recently entered the electricity business by buying big blocks of renewable energy for its large data centers, and by acquiring Nest, the maker of smart thermostats and home devices. Google sees opportunity and profits in using innovative technologies to help Americans better manage their energy use. Like Google, Silicon Valley innovators Apple and Facebook are also are well on their way to meeting internal commitments to 100 percent renewable energy.

    It’s not just big tech companies who are starting to participate. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, used to buy all its power from local utilities. Last year, however, it met 26 percent of its electricity needs from its own solar panels and wind turbines. And it’s planning to increase that number to 100 percent.

    Google and Walmart are two of the big names, yet there are hundreds of new entrepreneurs and small firms bringing innovation and investment into the electricity industry. These new players are advancing modern technologies and introducing new services to consumers, all while increasing the grid’s reliability. They are transforming an industry long dominated by state-based monopoly utilities into something more diverse, vibrant, competitive, and innovative.

    In short, this combination of new technologies and new players means this ain’t your grandfather’s power grid – unfortunately, it’s just regulated that way.

    This combination of new technologies and new players means this ain’t your grandfather’s power grid.

    How can regulation catch up?

    The regulation of the electricity industry is byzantine. While most electricity companies are privately or investor owned, the federal government controls some of the largest utilities (such as TVA and BPA), while others are managed by municipal governments or rural coops. In some states, electricity generators compete in open markets, while in other states the generation of power – as well as its delivery – is controlled by a monopoly that enjoys guaranteed profits and freedom from competitors.

    Although electrons don’t care about state boundaries, state public utility commissions regulate power markets within those boundaries while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) oversees wholesale or interstate markets – and the feds and states often battle over jurisdiction. Separate agencies regulate the pollution that results from electricity generation. The complexities go on and on.

    This is why our leaders should consider the following broad themes or goals when developing energy policies:

    • Infrastructure-investment. As federal leadership considers infrastructure legislation, they should think of modernizing our frayed electricity system. This would provide some public-sector resources but, more importantly, stimulate investments from new private-sector players.
    • Efficiency. Any environmental legislation should include a focus on efficiency – or stimulate the innovative technologies that cut costly waste from the system.
    • Markets. Markets and competition – rather than bailouts and monopolies are key. We have a chance with modern technologies, the availability of massive amounts of data, and the arrival of new competitors to increase reliability, lower costs, as well as reduce pollution.

    With these three guiding principles in mind, we at Environmental Defense Fund hope the new federal administration includes a focus on modernizing our electricity infrastructure when evaluating how to meet the country’s overall infrastructure needs.

    This blog was adapted from a speech Dick Munson gave in December 2016 to the Congressional Research Service.

    Read more »
  • California requires replacement of all lead service lines – but vigilance needed on implementation

    By Tom Neltner

    Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

    In 2016, California became the first state in the country to make enforceable commitments to eliminating all lead service lines (LSLs) in the state.  These lead pipes that connect the main under the street to homes are the primary source of lead in drinking water and unpredictably release lead particulate when disturbed.  Under the leadership of Senator Connie Leyva, the state’s Senate voted unanimously, and the Assembly voted 72 to 7 to pass SB1398 to require drinking water utilities to inventory LSLs in use and then provide the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) a timeline for replacement of the lines.

    Based on a national survey of utilities, the American Water Works Association reported that California has 65,000 LSLs out of 6.1 million nationally.  Large utilities have the most with 46,000 LSLs, medium systems have 4,700 and small systems have 15,000.  However, most utilities do not have an accurate inventory of LSLs, so the true number may be much greater.

    California’s SB1398 recognized that an accurate inventory was critical and laid out a thoughtful two-step plan to accomplish the objective of full LSL replacement.  By July 1, 2018, it requires public water systems (PWS) to submit an inventory of known LSLs and a timeline for their replacement.  Two years later, PWSs must submit an updated inventory of LSLs and provide a timeline to replace any service line where it may be made of lead.  The law does not set a deadline for replacement that PWSs must meet.

    This two-step approach makes replacing known LSLs the highest priority and, by essentially presuming that a service line is lead unless known otherwise, also creates an incentive for PWSs to develop accurate inventories in the next three years.

    How the Water Board implements the law is critical. We see three key issues:

    1. What is a lead service line?

    The law applies to any “user service line,” which is defined by the Water Board to mean “the pipe, tubing, and fittings connecting a water main to an individual water meter or service connection.”  This definition seems straightforward on its surface.  If the meter is inside the home, it includes the underground pipe from the main to the home.  However, my understanding is that in California most meters are not in the home, they are near the property line.  This means that a PWS could declare a home as served by a non-lead line when, in fact, part of the line is made of lead.

    In contrast, the federal and California regulatory definitions of “lead service lines” covers the entire line from the water main to the building inlet – not the meter.  We understand that the legislature did not use the LSL definition because it would be inconsistent with the presumption that a line was an LSL if the materials were not known. In other words, it is not an LSL until it is known to have a lead pipe. As a result, California’s definition of “user service line” referenced in SB1398 could be applied in a manner that is narrower and less protective than that used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA).

    The issue is critical since replacing only the part of the line to the meter (a “partial replacement”) does not reduce lead levels and, in the short-term, may actually increase them. We hope that the Water Board will quickly revise its definition of user service line to include the entire line from the water main to the building inlet.

    Given the attention on LSLs as a result of Flint, it is difficult to imagine that a California utility would comply with the new mandate by ignoring the portion of the LSL from the meter to the home. Similarly, we hope that they will not conduct partial LSL replacements, except as a temporary measure with a protections for residents and short-term plan for full replacement.

    1. What replacement timeline is sufficient?

    The law calls for lead water pipes to be “identified and replaced as promptly as practicable” and that the work be done on “a schedule that is commensurate with the risks and costs involved.” With this guidance, the legislature leaves it to the Water Board and the PWSs to negotiate a timeline. We assume that the Water Board will issue guidance or rules to facilitate the process so the timelines proposed by the PWSs are realistic.

    1. Can the Water Board meet deadlines?

    The Water Board reports that there are 7,500 PWSs in the state.  When it receives each of the timelines from a PWS, it has 30 days to approve it or propose a revised timeline and explain its reasoning.  Then the Board and the PWS have 30 days to develop a compromise timeline. If the Water Board fails to act, the timeline is deemed approved.

    If most of the timelines are submitted close to the 2018 and 2020 deadlines, the Water Board will have a major task on its hands to review the submissions and make a decision.  If it falls behind, the replacement timeline is final.

     

    The bottom line is that California’s legislature has taken strong action to protect public health and left it to the Water Board to implement the law.  It will be critical to make sure the Water Board and PWSs use a definition of service line that means the entire line from the water main to the building inlet and not just the meters.  Otherwise, drinking water will still be flowing through lead pipes, which is what the legislature wanted to stop.

     

    Read more »
  • The Future is California – How the State is Charting a Path Forward on Clean Energy

    By Jayant Kairam

    29812927675_a0c937acac_kThe late California historian Kevin Starr once wrote, “California had long since become one of the prisms through which the American people, for better and for worse, could glimpse their future.” These words have never felt truer. Just ask Gov. Jerry Brown or the leaders of the state legislature, who are all issuing various calls to action to protect and further the state’s leading climate and energy policies.

    California is the sixth largest economy in the world and the most populous state in the nation. What’s more, we’ve shown that strong climate and energy policy is possible while building a dynamic economy. We’ve proved that clean energy creates far more jobs than fossil fuels – nationwide, more than 400,000, compared with 50,000 coal mining jobs – while protecting the natural world for all people.

    It’s no shock our leaders are fired up. There’s too much at stake. With our state’s diverse, booming yet  unequal economy, we are not unlike the rest of the nation. State-level leadership is more important than ever, and other states can and should learn from California to drive action across the U.S.

    A case study in a clean energy economy

    Business and economic growth relies, in part, on certainty and a long-term view. That’s why electric fleet-firm Proterra announced it would manufacture its buses just outside Los Angeles – it understands its market is on the West Coast. Proterra is only the most recent of a long list of firms that understand California’s environmental policies provide market opportunities.

    Silicon Valley titans like Google, Apple, and Facebook are all are well on their way to meeting internal commitments to 100 percent renewable energy. And California was recently ranked among the top five states for corporations that seek to buy or build renewable energy generation – attracting job-creating enterprises.

    Importantly, clean energy is sparking businesses of all sizes. A new report highlights how the state’s long-standing energy efficiency requirements have helped create 300,000 jobs in energy efficiency – most coming from small firms.

    What to watch in California

    These are just a few examples of how forward-thinking policy – including the state’s 2030 climate targets and 50 percent renewable portfolio standard – are shaping markets, creating jobs, and stimulating economic growth. Citizens are demanding strong policy as clean energy technologies from LEDs, to smart thermostats, to rooftop solar continue to fall in costs.

    Thus, California leadership is looking ahead to the clean energy frontier while also defending what we have. The three themes that guide where we are heading broadly center around effectively integrating cost-effective renewables, capitalizing on the potential of distributed energy resources, and making sure those advancements are accessible to all Californians. As more states make clean energy growth critical to economic and social progress, including the success of wind power in Texas, the recent bipartisan legislative victory in Illinois, and New York’s overhaul of their energy sector, it’s apparent that progress is catching on.

    Integrating renewables to shape a clean, reliable grid

    Although California is not new to enacting policies aimed at integrating renewables onto the grid, it remains paramount. Recent analysis suggests we are two years ahead of schedule in terms of hitting energy-load predictions associated with the amount and speed of California’s solar growth, illustrated by the infamous . This is, no doubt, a good problem to have. However, the growth  and cost competitiveness of renewables are making ever more pressing the challenge of meeting steep afternoon ramps in energy demand – when Californians come home and switch on their lights and appliances.

    We are two years ahead of schedule in terms of hitting energy-load predictions associated with the amount and speed of solar growth."

    The state has worked to tackle renewables integration challenges from multiple fronts. Regulators passed rules to incentivize energy storage. Successful and smart design of time-of-use rates has the potential to shift energy load, and drive customers to consume electricity when it’s cheapest and cleanest. Additionally, the push to create a western-wide electric market is in large part due to the need to find new markets for California’s cheap, wasted solar, and to bring in cost-effective renewables from other western states when Californians need it most.

    Moreover, a recent study by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) showed that large-scale solar coupled with the right set of inverter technologies can transform renewables into grid resources that meet ramping and reliability needs. First and foremost, the key will be to extend our fantastic midday solar to serve energy demand throughout the day using clean energy strategies and incentives.

    Optimizing distributed energy resources

    California leads the nation in many indicators of distributed energy resources from the most advanced meters to solar installation. However, ensuring the positive impact of these clean resources reaches the grid is where the rubber hits the road. This will include mapping out and structuring markets so distributed energy resources, like  battery storage, can provide cost-effective power where it is most beneficial to help offset the need for future generation capacity.

    Thankfully, bolstered by California’s leading clean tech industry, the state is already testing market reforms and demonstrations to prove the potential of these distributed resources. Here are a few examples:

    • This past summer, the three major utilities in the state contracted 82 MW in demand response from the Demand Response Auction Mechanism, a cutting-edge market vehicle for residential demand response.
    • Market reform is also happening through aggregation. The CAISO, which controls much of the state’s grid, received approval for a framework in which smaller distributed energy resources can meet reliability needs at the wholesale level when grouped together.
    • The Department of Defense is funding the largest “vehicle-to-grid” demonstration project in the world at the Los Angeles Air Force Base to test the potential of two-way power sources like electric vehicle batteries.  The aim is to determine whether the Defense Department’s fleet of electric vehicles can reliably provide power back to CAISO during times of peak demand.

    As we look to further capitalize on the flexibility and affordability of distributed energy resources in forums like the major utilities’ long-term procurement planning processes, it will be critical to continue to push the tools that do the following: use methods like aggregation, use resources like two-way power, take location into account, and rethink the utility business model.

    Ensuring success reaches all communities

    California, through the SB 350 Barriers Study, is also examining how clean energy can spur growth in low-income and disadvantaged communities across the state. This signals that the state realizes that in order to achieve our energy goals we need to ensure clean energy resources are accessible to all communities. Despite big economic gains, the state continues to grapple with near 20 percent poverty. In both urban and rural regions there are high percentages of renters and seniors, who may not have the financial capital or live in physical environments suitable for investing in clean energy. These barriers make solutions like rooftop solar, high efficiency appliances, and household storage just out of reach.

    The state has shown a good track record of protecting burdened communities from further environmental harm and incentivizing job-creating clean energy. However, the robust, far-ranging set of recommendations in the Barriers Study provides a source of inspiration and acknowledgement that we need to do more.

    Our state is a multi-faceted economy, built on a diversity of people, politics, and industries, and defined by wealth,  poverty, and millions of hardworking Americans –  just like the rest of the country. We invite states in regions from the Pacific Northwest to the Mississippi Delta to learn from California’s success, and the challenges.

    Read more »
  • Aliso Canyon Decisions Must Be About More Than Just Near-Term Safety

    By Tim O'Connor

    openclosedAfter months of speculation, the California agency in charge of setting standards for oil and gas operations (“DOGGR”) this week announced a pair of meetings to take public comment on the reopening of the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility.

    This development stems from legislation passed in 2016 (SB 380), and is expected to be among the final steps before Southern California Gas Corporation (SoCalGas) is allowed to restart limited use of the facility. So, while it’s critical for the state to get its decisions right for safety and near-term electric reliability related to Aliso, to fully comply with SB 380, the decisions being made also need to take into account the larger issues facing California today.

    Don’t compromise on public health and safety

    Multiple state policies – including SB 380, Governor Brown’s Aliso Canyon executive order, and upcoming DOGGR regulations — carry mandates to prevent gas storage facilities from posing a public danger and repeating the massive four-month health and safety crisis that occurred between late 2015 and early 2016.

    In parallel with those efforts, throughout 2016 DOGGR carried out a lengthy process involving numerous state agencies, experts from the national labs and oil and gas industry, and public input to create a comprehensive well inspection and facility reopening protocol. This protocol  requires all 114 wells on the Aliso Canyon site to either be fully tested and/or retrofitted, or be taken out of operation (results of all tests are available on the DOGGR webpage).

    DOGGR and the state’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) also ordered a full root cause analysis to be performed – something that commonly follows major accidents and releases. But now SoCalGas is petitioning DOGGR  to allow for reinjection into Aliso Canyon before this analysis is fully completed.

    Since that root cause analysis may yield important information on what went wrong and what health and safety protections the field should be subjected to going forward, it would be prudent for any decision DOGGR makes allowing reinjection into the facility to act only on a temporary basis until both the final analysis and permanent gas storage safety regulations are complete.

    Southern California must also focus on long-term energy reliability and climate goals

    In addition to protecting public safety, SB 380 signaled a preference for “minimizing or eliminating use of” the facility so long as the region can maintain energy and electric reliability and affordability of energy service. Therefore, if DOGGR determines that Aliso Canyon should reopen because it does not pose a safety risk, it should therefore only do so on a limited basis because this decision involves much more than near-term safety.

    There is no denying that Aliso Canyon highlighted California’s heavy reliance on natural gas for electric reliability, even if there is an active conversation on “how” reliant the region actually is on this particular facility. Case in point: Since the facility was taken offline, state agencies have developed two action plans to reduce the risk of energy outages, and SoCalGas issued an official advisory warning of potential energy shortages in December.

    But even if the reliability plans have alleviated some of the short term risk associated with limited gas availability from Aliso, they don’t address the long-term needs of the region: changing the overall direction away from dependence of natural gas for reliability purposes, or meeting energy and environmental policy goals for integration of renewables while also reducing greenhouse gases.

    One key example of the need to focus on climate and reliability goals in the context of Aliso Canyon is the most recent Integrated Resource Plan for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). While the utility is currently on the path to achieve 50% renewable energy by 2030, it also forecasts a 30-40% jump in natural gas use for power generation in 2025. As stated by LADWP, this jump in gas use is due to the need to build and operate new natural gas power plants (as old ones are taken offline) to balance the increasing volumes of renewable energy on the system.

    naturalgasusage

    LADWP Integrated Resource Plan Natural Gas Use Projections based on different renewable penetration %

    What the gas demand forecast in LADWP exemplifies is that under the current system, natural gas power plants will be needed as utilities pursue higher renewable energy targets. This is because gas and electric markets have been designed to prevent economic signals which incent the widespread investment and development of alternatives to gas for meeting reliability needs. This doesn’t mean the region should just maintain facilities like Aliso, but rather needs to shift towards a system with more diverse energy sources and fair market opportunities for cost-effective clean resources. (Notably, with the passage of a new resolution in Los Angeles to study a pathway towards 100% renewable energy and away from gas dependence, the city seems to understand the task before it.) After all, since combustion of natural gas releases greenhouse gases, this projected jump in gas use undermines the progress of the utility, which has cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 23% since 1990.

    Heavy Reliance on Natural Gas is a Statewide Issue Too

    What LADWP’s gas forecast demonstrates is that bulletproofing Aliso Canyon from future well failures won’t remedy the fundamental problem of heavy reliance on natural gas for balancing the electric system. However, looking at the Aliso Canyon situation in the larger context, it’s easy to see this isn’t just a Southern California problem.

    A piece of evidence that highlights the state’s heavy reliance on natural gas for balancing the electric system can be seen deeply embedded on page 145 of a report issued by California’s grid operator (CAISO) in 2015. On it, CAISO shows that nearly 98% of the energy availability from sources sitting in non-spinning stand-by mode in 2015 (power generators that sit in the off position but which are able to be turned on quickly) were natural gas power plants – with negligible contributions from alternatives.
    California ISO

    What the CAISO graph shows is that natural gas is a key part of managing the current power system in California, and will continue to be so as the state ramps up renewable energy generation in the years to come.

    Post Aliso Canyon: the CPUC, CAISO and other state agencies have launched new efforts to study  natural gas storage. They have also started  to study and create new market opportunities for alternatives to gas, and have started evaluating  how the energy system reliability value that gas provides can be met with alternatives. However, with over a year since the state’s largest gas leak shed light on a much larger problem, a lot of open questions remain unanswered. An important solution to this will be the conclusion of ongoing and new public rulemaking proceedings at the CPUC – however EDF will write about that topic in the future.

    What’s next?

    In complying with SB 380, DOGGR, the CPUC and the state must recognize that even if the Aliso Canyon facility has satisfied initial inspection requirements, the disaster set in motion numerous actions that evaluate the use of natural gas storage in California and the needed integration of other resources. As a result, to comply with the preference for minimizing or eliminating use of Aliso Canyon going forward, any decision to reopen the facility should only be temporary and California must work diligently to alleviate the state’s heavy reliance on natural gas. See EDF’s letter to DOGGR and the CPUC on this topic.

    Read more »
  • Getting it up front: EPA clarifies substantiation requirements for CBI claims under the new TSCA

    By Richard Denison

    Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is publishing a notice in tomorrow’s Federal Register affirming that the Lautenberg Act requires upfront substantiation of all confidential business information (CBI) claims submitted under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), except for certain claims that the law exempts from substantiation requirements.

    While EPA initially took a narrower approach on an interim basis in the flurry of activity following last June’s passage of the Lautenberg Act, today’s notice supersedes that earlier approach and clarifies the upfront substantiation requirement.

    In today’s notice, EPA notes the strong support for its clarification in the statute itself as well as in the legislative history in both Houses of Congress leading up to its final passage.

    This clarification hopefully won’t be controversial:  A broad swath of stakeholders have voiced support for the upfront substantiation requirement and have noted that it is a key reform made by the new law.

    In November the American Alliance for Innovation (AAI) sent a letter to EPA Administrator McCarthy signed by more than 60 trade associations – including the American Chemistry Council, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, the American Cleaning Institute, the American Petroleum Institute and the Consumer Specialty Products Association – noting that under the Lautenberg Act “[c]laims for CBI protection must be accompanied by an upfront substantiation.”

    And back in 2013, the American Chemistry Council provided responses to questions for the record posed by then-Congressman Henry Waxman that stated that “[i]mprovements to the CBI provisions in a modernized TSCA should include … [r]equiring upfront substantiation of the CBI claim.”  The same response letter noted that:  “The American Chemistry Council and its members support up-front substantiation of CBI claims.”

    Importantly, EPA’s notice makes clear that the substantiation requirement applies to all non-exempt CBI claims made since passage of the law last June, although EPA is providing an exceedingly generous length of time for companies to comply.

    Given the law’s 90-day deadline for EPA review of CBI claims, there are strong policy reasons for requiring upfront substantiation of CBI claims:

    • First, EPA’s own experience based on recent chemical reporting it has required demonstrates that requiring upfront substantiation reduces the number of CBI claims asserted. That means fewer claims EPA has to review and a greater likelihood that claims are only asserted for information that warrants protection.
    • Second, when those reviews are conducted, EPA will already have the information it needs to review the claim instead of having to request it from the company, wasting precious days or weeks of the 90-day review period.
    Read more »
  • Will the new President flunk the climate business test?

    By Ben Ratner

    The climate business test for TrumpFive years ago I turned in my laptop and brought my business consulting experience to Environmental Defense Fund. Some might see that move as making a break. I saw it as honoring a connection.

    Public service may be the noblest calling. But it is also among the hardest. That’s why I believe business leaders have a role in government. Strong business leaders ask questions – and care about the answers. They consult experts who know more than them – and then solve thorny problems that matter to peoples’ lives. They take accountability.

    So as a student of business, for much of my life I have casually told friends I would like to see an experienced business person in the Oval Office.

    Now we have one.

    As Donald Trump takes office, he must draw on the best skills represented in the business world.

    Trump and his administration must make an urgent commitment on the economic issue of climate change and clean energy, before a problem worsens, accountability mounts, and the U.S., as the world’s second largest pollution emitter, is seen as a deadbeat on the global stage.

    Trump’s handling of climate may well define his legacy, especially for generations of Americans to come.

    Yet Mr. Trump has called climate change a hoax, nominated a climate skeptic to head our Environmental Protection Agency, and suggested he may pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

    We will learn a lot about the administration’s economic prowess by whether it remains lashed to a special interest agenda, or studies up and seizes climate action for the economic opportunity that it is.

    The incoming administration should take a page from Gary Garfield – ex-CEO of Tennessee based Bridgestone. In an open letter to the President-Elect, Mr. Garfield observed: “A hasty decision on [leaving the Paris climate agreement], will likely isolate our nation, cede technology, innovation and jobs to China, and limit market access for our exporters.”

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. Gary Garfield notes: “A decision to stay the course on climate and institute policies harnessing American ingenuity to create truly efficient clean energy technology — akin to the effort behind the Manhattan Project — will help drive both jobs and our economy for decades to come.” Mr. Garfield should know a business opportunity when he sees one; he grew profits at Bridgestone five-fold in six years.


    Trump’s handling of climate may well define his legacy, especially for generations of Americans…
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    And he is not alone. From technology to power, and investment to oil and gas, business leaders across sectors have pinpointed the urgency of addressing climate change, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because de-carbonization is one of the great economic opportunities in the 21st century:

    • “With tens of billions of dollars of U.S. renewable energy investment in the works this year alone, and far more globally, the question for American political leadership is whether they want to harness this momentum and potential for economic growth” – Jonas Kron, Trillium Asset Management
    • “We support [California’s] vision for a clean energy future and agree that we need to take action today to meet the challenge.” – Melissa Lavinson, PG&E Corporation
    • “In Statoil, we acknowledge that there is overwhelming evidence for human-induced climate change. Climate change is happening.”
    • “Finding more renewable and low-carbon energy alternatives and reducing energy intensity lowers operating costs and can enhance operational flexibility.” – Walmart

    Low Carbon USAAnd there are scores more business leaders who recognize the data on climate change’s seriousness and recognize the responsibility – and the opportunity – their companies have to rise to the challenge. Over 600 business leaders wrote to Trump, Congress, and global leaders, to support continuation of low carbon policies, investment in the low carbon economy, and continued U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement.

    There is no question that business leaders have spoken, and will continue to speak up.

    Now the question is: Will Donald Trump have the business sense to listen and lead?


    Additional reading:

    Business won't back down on clean energy future

    With a record $1.4 trillion in sustainability assets, investors bail on fossil fuels


    Follow Ben Ratner on Twitter, @RatnerBen


     

    Read more »
  • Tell Your Senators: Oppose President-Elect Trump's EPA Pick
    While there is no proof Pruitt broke any laws, his repeated collaboration with major polluters undermines confidence in his ability to stand up for everyday Americans as EPA Administrator. C4.
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  • New Report Shows Chicago Shines on Building Energy Efficiency
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  • Super-emitters Are Real: Here Are Three Things We Know

    By Daniel Zavala-Araiza

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    As part of our landmark 16-study series and ongoing work in measuring methane emissions, we previously published a paper that compared and reconciled top-down (airborne-based measurements ) with bottom-up (emissions inventory, using ground-based measurements) emissions.

    This paper found that 1% of natural gas production sites accounted for 44% of total emissions from all sites, or 10% of sites 80% of emissions; emission estimates were based on facility-wide (site-based) measurements. Sites or equipment that produce disproportionate shares of total emissions are often called “super-emitters”. A big question that remained was what caused some sites to become a super-emitter; this remained a “black box” without additional knowledge about which components or operational conditions within a site could trigger the high-emissions.

    In a paper published today in Nature Communications, we zero-in or “open the black boxes” to understand and characterize super-emitters. We look at the emissions from all the equipment and operations present at production sites, and ask which ones could produce emissions at a magnitude and frequency indicative of the expected super-emitting behavior.

    Crucially, this new paper compares site-based emission estimates to component-by-component aggregations of sources of emissions from production sites. We find that this new component-based emissions estimate is significantly lower (one third) than the site-based estimate previously reported in the Barnett synthesis study (where this site-based estimate agreed with the flyover estimate).

    It’s important to note that while the study took place in the Barnett because of the rich data sets available, this behavior is expected across the US (and even internationally).

    By examining this discrepancy, here are three things we learned about methane waste:

    1. Component-based estimates do not explain enough high-emitting sites. From this we learn that some components or activities at production sites are causing wasteful emissions that are not accounted for in current emission inventories. The insufficient contribution from the components or operations that can produce high emission rates when operating “as designed” is indicative of the existence of abnormal process conditions (such as malfunctions or equipment issues) that create pathways for substantial unintended emissions of produced gas.
    2. Routine operating conditions do not explain high-emitting sites. We can now hypothesize that not only is gas escaping, but when and from which sites is constantly changing.
    3. And frequent, or continuous, site-level monitoring is required to help us find and reduce waste from super-emitters.

    Further Discussion

    Because our new work tells us that super-emitter sites are characterized by abnormal behavior that is unlikely to persist indefinitely, we expect that different sites will be in the high-emitting group at different points in time. Industry claims that most super-emitters are sites with liquid unloadings or tank flashing, but these routine operating conditions do not explain the number of high emitting sites at any moment in time. Our new work tells us that these emissions are coming from unintended malfunctions throughout natural gas development and production.

    Additionally, the EPA’s Inventory, which is based on component-level emissions data, is significantly lower than actual methane emissions, due to the omission of super-emitter data from production sites.

    Specific sites could be affected by abnormal conditions resulting in their being a super-emitting site at varying points in time. As a consequence, rather than looking to control emissions from a few sites, minimizing emissions requires monitoring approaches that enable efficient and timely responses to the unpredictable nature of when and where a super-emitter will be located.

    Current standards for intermittent methane leak detection and repair will continue to miss many of these super-emitting sites. We must have an effective program to continuously monitor for methane waste.

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