Week of January 25, 2016
This was a big week in eco news for congressional cooperation, the FERC, the DOI and the OEHHA. In tech news, electronics company Kyocera began construction on a large renewable energy project in Japan.
Comprehensive energy legislation hasn’t been passed by the Senate since 2007. This is in part because oil, natural gas and renewables are partisan topics and, like any bill, those regarding energy policy must pass through a Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic President. However, since 2007, the US has achieved greater degree of energy independence through increased natural gas and oil reserves, and a rapidly expanding renewable energy sector. This means updates to energy efficiency and infrastructure policy are urgent and beneficial to both parties. On Wednesday, debate began on a proposed bill that address these issues. The legislation was co-sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R. Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D. Washington), and is supported by the both the majority and minority leaders in the Senate. The opportunity for mutual benefit will ideally provide for honest, meaningful debate. (NYT)
Demand response is a tool that the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has proposed to encourage reduced electricity use by large public and private energy consumers. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of this strategy, which creates price breaks for entities like schools and shopping complexes when they use less electricity during hours of peak demand. Decreasing this significant factor of demand means more consistent demand overall, which saves electricity producers the high costs involved with spiked production. However, utility companies profit from the high prices that accompany those high costs, and have challenged the ruling, claiming the regulation oversteps FERC’s authority. Their argument concerned whether the regulation affected wholesale energy pricing, which the FERC can regulate, or retail energy pricing, the regulation of which is a gray area. (Department of the Interior)
In step with the recent moratorium on coal mining leases on federal land, the Department of the Interior proposed changes to long-standing regulation in order to limit wasteful releases of methane. The proposal, put forward by the Bureau of Land Management, entails new rules regarding gas leak prevention, required recovery practices, limits on flaring at natural gas facilities and increased royalties on drilling operations. These rules will only apply to projects on land leased by the federal government, which account for approximately 11 percent of the US natural gas supply. The proposal sites a study that found the amount of natural gas lost to leaking, flaring and venting between 2009 and 2014 was enough to power 5 million homes for a year. Besides promoting more efficient use of resources, the proposed regulations would also reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. (Reuters)
Glyphosate, an ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, has been labeled a carcinogen by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). The compound was labeled possibly carcinogenic by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March of last year. This motivated the OEHHA to label it as such this past September. Last Friday, Monsanto, the producer of the herbicide, filed a lawsuit against the OEHHA and its director. They are suing on the grounds of the previous labeling of the ingredient as safe in 2007, and also argue that the new categorization is based on information from a non-domestic, non-regulated entity. The categorization of the compound will require Roundup to provide warnings on products containing the herbicide, which Monsanto argues is a violation of their first amendment rights. (Reuters)
On January 21, electronics manufacturer Kyocera, in a joint venture with Century Tokyo Leasing Company, announced that they have begun construction on a 13.7 MW floating solar array, the largest of its kind. The utility-scale project is located on the Yakamura Dam reservoir outside Tokyo, consists of 51,000 solar cells and will generate enough electricity to power nearly 5,000 homes, beginning in 2018. The mountainous, heavily forested Japanese landscape complicates utility-scale solar projects, but floating arrays provide another option. By absorbing sunlight, the solar cells also decrease evaporation and conserve water resources. Kyocera has three floating solar plants in operation, though the largest is only 1/7 the size of the Yakamura Dam project. Though the country is still largely reliant on imported fossil fuel power, this is one of many steps Japan is taking to achieve energy independence. (Kyocera)
Photo Credit: Flickr/Matt Churchill, Flickr/Ed G, Flickr/USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Flickr/Mike Mozart, Kyocera Solar Press Release