Limiting Carbon Pollution from Power Plants–
While Spurring Clean Energy Investments
Move over, climate change deniers. More change is coming your way.
Just days after Time’s Editor-in-Chief declared climate change deniers were having a bad day following study after study pointing out that it’s a very real and happening problem, the smart money is now moving to the other side of the aisle— finding solutions to fix the problem.
Two charitable groups will spend $48 million over the next three years to help states figure out how to reduce emissions from electricity production, an effort to seize the possibilities that are opening up as the cost of clean power falls.
It’s a relatively small amount of money for an enormous problem at hand. But it has the potential of leveraging large-scale planning towards cleaner energy, stabilizing power delivery, and reducing greenhouse emissions. The goal is for planning a regional energy infrastructure that is clean, affordable, and reliable.
The Clean Energy Initiative plan was announced this morning in New York. Half the money will come from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization set up by Michael R. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City.
The other half will come from Mark Heising and Elizabeth Simons, a California couple who have taken a strong interest in reducing the risks of climate change. The couple advances sustainable solutions in the environment, education of children, and supports groundbreaking research in science and mathematics.
“Advances in new energy technologies make it possible to achieve all three goals at once. A stronger, cleaner energy system will also pave the way for improved air quality and help fight the damaging health and economic impacts of climate change,” Michael Bloomberg said.
The Energy Plan
The Clean Energy Initiative will include analysis to determine grid optimization for different power types, potential for enhanced efficiency, and methods to make the grid more robust.
It will identify the biggest opportunities for new technologies and support regulatory strategies for reliable and affordable energy, focusing on collaborative, state-based approaches and encouraging utilities to adopt new technologies.
A key feature of the plan is it will allow states to choose the best combination of energy efficiency, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, and improvements in current power plants.
Since 2010, solar energy prices have plummeted by 80 percent, wind energy prices have been cut in half, and the cost of LED lighting has fallen by 80 percent. American consumers stand to benefit from these developments if state policymakers can work with utilities to accelerate their adoption, and the Clean Energy Initiative hopes to provide the technical assistance for the impending transition.
More than half of the grant funding will go to support more than two dozen state and local partners, including the Institute for Energy Innovation and the Respiratory Health Association. Additional funds will provide support to national organizations such as the Center for the New Energy Economy, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Obama administration is expected this summer to make final its emissions-cutting targets for the power industry. If that plan survives expected political and legal challenges, it may require extensive revamping of electricity markets that are largely regulated by the states.
The low cost of natural gas, the falling cost of renewable energy and the rise of technologies that can shave electrical demand are all putting pressure on electric utilities, especially those dependent on coal. Even without the impetus of President Obama’s plan, those factors would require adjustments in the electricity markets, energy analysts have concluded.
That’s where the smart money comes in for planning and tapping into alternative energy solutions.
Heising’s Goal: Cleaning Up the Grid and Stabilizing Power
In an interview, Mr. Heising said that state governments need to seize the moment and take full advantage of the coming possibilities for “cleaning up the grid”– and, at the same time, avoid undermining the economics of the utilities that Americans depend on for a reliable supply of electricity.
“The utility businesses are being heavily disrupted,” Mark Heising said. “That’s creating some real stress for the utilities and their revenue model. It needs to be addressed in a fair and comprehensive way.”
Heising feels climate change is the most important issue facing the world today– an impact that, if not corrected, will have devastating results for both the environment and the economy. He intends to help fix the problem. He also expects exponential results.
“This initiative is designed to accelerate solutions,” Heising said. “The science on climate change makes it abundantly clear that carbon pollution poses a deep threat to society, to agriculture, and to nature—and that early action is required to avoid these threats. New technologies ensure that the solutions to climate change can be cost-effective.”
The disruption is most evident in Europe, where utilities were slow to embrace renewable power. Ordinary citizens, responding to government incentives and falling costs, did so in droves. The stock market valuation of Germany’s big utilities fell drastically, and they’re scrambling to catch up to the changes on the grid.
American states are generally behind Europe in the rollout of renewable power. Experts say that gives them time — a few years, at most — to get ahead of the coming changes. In several states, utility companies have begun to sense the oncoming ‘green’ threat and are trying to roll back state rules favoring solar and wind power. Environmentalists are fighting back, and in the process, the utilities have had their share of disruptions, turmoil, and failed investments.
Dovetailing with the President’s Idea
President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, will most likely require most states to discourage coal-burning while encouraging the greater use of natural gas, renewable power, and efficient buildings and appliances.
States will have some leeway to design their own strategies, but any state government that fails to do so will run the risk of having a strategy imposed on it by the federal government.
Thus, even some of the states that intend to challenge Obama’s plan in court are expected to hedge their bets by coming up with a backup strategy. Currently, power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., accounting for about 38 percent of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon pollution is already causing long-term impacts on the economy, including increasing global temperatures, rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather patterns. Climate change also exacerbates health risks due to worsening smog, causing a range of respiratory illnesses.
The $48 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Heising-Simons family will not go directly to state governments: instead, the money will fund groups that can help the states with their planning. Their aim is to cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels. This approach will also have public health benefits, including reducing smog pollution by an estimated 25 percent and avoiding up to 150,000 asthma attacks each year.
The pioneering philanthropists know there is a potential to increase renewable energy production three- to four-fold by 2025, an amount of growth that could power 28 to 41 million homes a year.
Depending on state policy choices, existing efficiency programs and wise investments also have the potential to grow dramatically, with energy savings equivalent to the annual output of 35 to 60 coal-fired plants.
Heavyweights on Board and the Same Page
But the bulk of the money will go to groups with a state or regional focus.
Among the likely grantees, for example, is the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, run by a former Democratic governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter, who signed dozens of clean-energy laws during his term.
In an interview, Ritter said his group was working with both Republican- and Democratic-led states to scrutinize the Obama administration’s plans, as well as to weigh the broader issues. A crucial priority for the states will be keeping electricity costs reasonable, Ritter said.
“I think it’s fair to argue that there’s economic benefit to states that make the transition to a clean-energy economy,” Ritter said. “How do you do it so it’s not on the back of middle- and lower-income ratepayers?”
Others have also weighed in on the beneficial direction the plan takes.
“The Clean Energy Initiative taps into the spirit of entrepreneurialism unleashed by new opportunities such as distributed generation, demand response and energy efficiency programs,” said Dan Scripps, President of the Institute for Energy Innovation in Michigan. ”As states implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan over the coming years, they will be able to tap into tremendous opportunities to save consumers money while cutting carbon.”
Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, had her take.
“Climate change is here and now,” she said pointedly. “Tackling this central environmental threat of our time is an enormous task, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity. The Clean Energy Initiative will help America reinvigorate our economy and protect future generations from the dangers of climate change.”
“I’m grateful to Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Heising-Simons Foundation for their show of support,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp. ”The Clean Energy Initiative will propel smart, cost-effective reduction of carbon pollution from the biggest source: power plant smokestacks. We know how to make affordable clean energy. This initiative will speed the day when turning on a light doesn’t mean dirtier air or a legacy of dangerous climate change for our children.”
Joel Africk, President and CEO of the Respiratory Health Association in Chicago, offered an additional perspective. “The Clean Energy Initiative is a big step forward for public health,” said. ”Not only will the initiative help cut carbon and curb climate change, it will also result in fewer asthma exacerbations, heart attacks and strokes throughout the US.”
More surprising was Jim Rogers, Former Chairman and CEO of Duke Energy, also came on board. “The power sector is in an exciting period of transformation as we build out the 21st century energy grid– a time of opportunity as states and utilities write the roadmap for a smarter power system that cuts carbon pollution while providing affordable and reliable energy,” said Rogers. “The Clean Energy Initiative will help power companies get this right– and ultimately that’s good for the consumer.”
“With the price of clean power falling, and the potential costs of inaction on climate change steadily rising, the work of modernizing America’s power grid is both more feasible and urgent than ever,” Michael Bloomberg insisted.
“Pollution from power plants takes a terrible toll on public health, and it’s the biggest contributor to our carbon footprint. But smart investments can reduce it while also strengthening local economies,” said Bloomberg. “These grants will help states meet new federal clean power requirements in ways that save money and lives.”
Climate change deniers, please move towards the exits.
Your day has come and gone.
~Via Bloomberg, NYT, National Sierra Club, YouTube