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Businesses And States Are United On Clean Energy



You may not know it from the headlines, but Washington is not the only energy game that matters these days. Companies that buy massive amounts of energy and states that set the policies that shape the energy mix of their economies – whether with clean energy or climate-warming fossil fuels – also play a major role.

Corporate and state efforts are driving the country’s extraordinary progress in growing the economy while reducing carbon pollution. Since 2000, according to the Brookings Institute, the U.S. GDP has grown by 30 percent while carbon pollution has fallen 10 percent.

And, judging from business and state actions in recent weeks, interest in using more renewable energy and energy efficiency is getting stronger and shows no sign of abating.

From Mars Inc.’s pledge to expand wind energy to Smithfield Food’s goal to slash its carbon pollution to Google powering all of your map and email requests with emissions-free energy, we have seen a steady drumbeat of new and strengthened green commitments by iconic American businesses. Many of them have announced plans to power 100 percent of their operations with wind and solar. Others are greening their global supply chains with renewables and more efficient water use.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough was Google’s announcement last week that it will power all 100 percent of its global operations with renewables by 2017. That’s 2,600 megawatts of wind and solar energy from one company alone – enough power for all of San Francisco.

And further adding to this momentum are state lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – who are enacting critical state policies that will accelerate these clean energy gains, while adding thousands of new jobs.

Just last week in Michigan, the legislature approved a bipartisan law that strengthens energy efficiency efforts and boosts the state’s renewable portfolio standard. The new law, backed by major giants like General Mills and Nestle, increases the state’s renewable energy goal from 10 to 15 percent and removes artificial caps on efficiency investments – meaning utilities can now do more to help consumers save money on their electricity bills. “Our energy will be more affordable, more reliable and more green,” said Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich.) of the new law.

Even before passing the new law, the state’s old renewable energy standard had generated $3 billion in new investments while the efficiency provisions have saved ratepayers $1 billion on their electric bills.


DOE Releases Second Annual National Energy Employment Analysis


WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Energy today released the agency’s second annual analysis of how changes in America’s energy profile are affecting national employment in key sectors of the economy. By administering a new supplemental survey to over 30,000 energy sector employers, the Department’s 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) tracked dramatic growth in several key sectors of the U.S. economy in 2016.

“This report verifies the dynamic role that our energy technologies and infrastructure play in a 21st century economy,” said DOE Senior Advisor on Industrial and Economic Policy David Foster. “Whether producing natural gas or solar power at increasingly lower prices or reducing our consumption of energy through smart grids and fuel efficient vehicles, energy innovation is proving itself as the important driver of economic growth in America, producing 14% of the new jobs in 2016.”

Some key findings of the report include:

  • 6.4 million Americans now work in the Traditional Energy and Energy Efficiency industries which added over 300,000 net new jobs in 2016, 14% of the nation’s job growth
  • Energy efficiency jobs increased by 133,000 jobs for a total of 2.2 million
  • Investments in energy transmission, distribution and storage (our energy infrastructure) generated 65,000 new jobs
  • Solar industry employment jumped by over 73,000 jobs or 25%
  • Wind industry employment added 25,000 new jobs to land at 102,000

Read the full report, here. 


Study: State renewable policies create benefits we all want


Stronger state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) were a common trend in 2016, with state lawmakers from Rhode Island to Oregon voting to increase their states’ share of renewable energy.

There’s a good reason why so of them are choosing these policies: they create large net consumer, employment, health, and environmental benefits, according to a new study this week from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL).

Building on last years’ study of historical benefits, researchers explored the future costs, benefits and other impacts of renewable energy that will be used to meet RPSs between 2015 and 2050. They examined the future impacts of both existing RPS policies and a high renewable energy scenario in which almost all states adopt ambitious RPS targets, compared to a baseline scenario of no RPS policies.

RPSs mean jobs, clean air and consumer savings

As shown below, researchers find existing RPS policies will create 4.7 million job-years of employment. The study also found $258 billion in health and environmental benefits from reduced air pollution and a four percent reduction in energy-related water consumption. Each 1000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of renewable energy (roughly the amount of electricity used by a typical home in a month) saves 290 gallons of water. These benefits result from state policies driving renewables’ share of the U.S. electricity mix from 34 percent to 40 percent in the year 2050.

Best of all, in most cases these benefits can be achieved at no net cost, and in some cases electricity prices could be reduced by up to 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour.


RPS Policies provide large net benefits

The report translates the benefits of wind and other renewable energy into per-kWh increments, showing that they provide a large bang-for-the-buck that greatly outweighs any potential costs.

Specifically, the study found each kWh of renewable energy provides around 3.9 cents/kWh in economic value from reducing carbon pollution and 2.4 cents/kWh from cutting other forms of air pollution. Overall air pollution benefits total around 6.3 cents/kWh.

Benefits far outweigh costs

These benefits are much greater than any potential RPS policy costs. The effect of using more renewable energy to meet state electricity demand has a minimal impact on, and in many cases reduces, electricity prices.

Across all renewable cost and fuel price scenarios, the maximum electricity price impact is estimated at just 1¢ per kWh, while in other scenarios consumers could see a price decrease of 2.4¢ per kWh. The New England and Pacific regions are the only areas expected to have a noticeable increase in their electricity prices. Meanwhile, electricity prices are estimated to fall in the Mountain West, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions as these states add more renewables to their systems.

The report’s results also highlight wind’s role in helping to stabilize electricity prices and protect families and businesses against energy price spikes. Much of the uncertainty range in electricity price estimates on impacts from RPS policies is actually caused by uncertainty about future fossil fuel prices, which determine the competitiveness of renewable energy relative to fossil fuels.

Wind energy reduces this fuel price risk as wind’s fuel cost will always be zero. The Department of Energy’s Wind Vision report confirms that adding more wind energy to the grid limits consumers’ exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices. The findings show existing RPS policies save natural gas consumers $78 billion by reducing the price of natural gas, which benefits everyone from homeowners with natural gas furnaces to factories that use gas to farmers who use fertilizer produced from natural gas.

Expanding RPSs to all states

NREL and LBNL also considered a hypothetical scenario in which all states adopt aggressive renewable requirements. Unsurprisingly, this case realizes stronger environmental, economic and employment benefits compared to existing RPS targets.

This scenario projects renewables will increase to 49 percent of U.S. electricity generation by 2050. In such a world, air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are each reduced by 29 percent compared to a no-RPS scenario. This leads to $558 billion in health and environmental benefits. CO2 emissions decrease by 23 percent, or 18.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, creating $599 billion in benefits. Water consumption decreases by 18 percent.

Renewable energy employment would also see a huge boost, increasing by 47 percent for a total of 11.5 million full-time job-years.

The substantial benefits of state renewable standards more than offset any electricity cost increases. In most regions, the renewable policies are a win-win-win – providing economic value from both pollution reduction and lower electricity prices while creating jobs. So it’s no wonder we’re likely to see more lawmakers turning to RPSs again in 2017.


Wind power and wildlife thrive together


National Bird Day is today and it offers a good chance to share the positive story about wind energy and birds.

Cleaner air, healthier habitats

What do some of America’s most respected conservation groups think about wind power?

“Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threats posed to birds and people by climate change,” the group says on its webpage.

“Responsibly developed wind energy offers a substantial, economically feasible, and wildlife-friendly energy opportunity for America,” according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Here’s why they offer such strong endorsements.

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that excess carbon pollution threatens birds across the globe. This looms particularly large in North America, where the National Audobon Society finds CO2 pollution could cause 314 different bird species to lose up to 50 percent of their habitats in the coming decades.

Fortunately, wind power remains the biggest, fastest, and cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution, cutting 28 million cars’ worth every year. Wind also contributes to a cleaner environment for America’s birds by eliminating pollutants like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide that create smog.

Working proactively to keep impacts low

The U.S. wind industry works closely with conservation organizations and government officials to understand and minimize the impacts it does have to the greatest degree possible. Here’s one example of groundbreaking research on ways to do this:

How else do wind developers ensure conservation happens? Some examples of the different methods they use include:

  • Investing in offsite habitat restoration.
  • Thorough site monitoring to notice any unexpected impacts.
  • Creating wildlife preserves.
  • Partnering to create the American Wind Wildlife Institute to tackle wind and wildlife issues, identifying areas that need research and then making sure it happens.
  • Performing extensive pre-construction surveys to minimize impacts, and following best practices to maintain small effects during project operations.

Factors like this contributed to the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority’s finding that wind has the lowest impact on wildlife and their habitats of any way to generate electricity.

It is true that wind does have some impact on bird populations, and the U.S. wind industry takes that very seriously. However, this should also be put into context: wind causes less than 0.01 percent of all human-related bird deaths.

The reality is no human activity is completely impact-free. With decades of siting experience and comprehensive environmental impact assessments done before construction, wind greatly lessens the effects it does have.

And because wind power directly combats the greatest threat to birds, helps create a cleaner environment and preserves habitats through its small footprint, it creates a future where birds of all kinds can continue to flourish.

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