Plugged In | NCSL’s State and Federal Energy Newsletter


Vol. 4 Issue 2 | February/March 2016



  • Coal Loses, Gas Gains: Coal’s share of total electricity generation fell in 2015, primarily due to low natural gas prices and mounting environmental regulations. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, coal-generated electricity fell to 29 percent in November, its lowest level since 1970. In July 2015, coal-generated electricity accounted for 35 percent of the electricity generation in the U.S.
  • Burp by Burp: Cows’ burps account for 26 percent of the United States’ total methane emissions. However, a new study aims to reduce methane emissions from dairy cows by mixing oregano in cow feed.
  • 45 Percent Windy: The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) set a new record in mid-February when 45 percent of the system’s load—more than 14 GW—was served by wind energy. In a similar time period, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator and the Southwest Power Pool also reached new wind energy generation records.


Nuclear Ban Abolished

The Wisconsin state legislature sent a bill to the governor (A.B. 384) which, if signed, will end the ban on building new nuclear reactors in the state. According to a 1983 law, the state Public Service Commission cannot approve new nuclear plants until a federal waste storage facility exists that is capable of disposing of all high-level nuclear waste produced in the state. The Kewaunee nuclear power plant was the last plant approved for construction in the state in 1974. The plant closed in 2013, leaving the Point Beach plant as the only operational nuclear power plant in Wisconsin. Similarly, Illinois is considering H.B. 4542, which would remove the current moratorium on the construction of new nuclear facilities. Additionally, Kentucky introduced H.B. 103 this session, which would allow for construction of a nuclear facility on or within 50 miles of a site previously used for the manufacturing of nuclear products. 

Recycling Solar Panels

SOLAR PANELSA Washington House resolution and bill address the end-of-life of solar photovoltaic panels. Solar panels generate electricity for decades but several states, including California and Washington, have begun to address disposal of panels that are no longer effective. The bill, which has moved to the Senate, would require manufacturers to develop and receive state approval of stewardship plans for end-of-life solar panels, among other provisions. Manufacturers not in compliance by 2020 would be barred from selling solar panels in the state. The resolution—which has been adopted—would complete a stakeholder process to develop recommendations for the takeback and recycling of solar photovoltaics sold by manufacturers that are no longer solvent or doing business in the state at the end of a module’s lifetime. 

Coal Controversy Continues

The Colstrip Coal Generation Station is once again sparking debate across Montana and Washington state lines. Washington has introduced two measures—S.B. 6248 and H.B. 2525—that aim to create a fund to pay for the possible shutdown of two units at the Colstrip station. Although the measures do not require the units to shut down or impose a schedule, opponents fear that may happen. They have raised concerns that closing the units would hurt jobs tied to the plant as well as the economic revenue for the town of Colstrip and the state of Montana. Last session, Montana state Senator Duane Ankney sponsored S.B. 402, which would have placed an impact fee on any public utility trying to retire a Montana coal-fired power plant. However, the bill failed to pass the House and the Montana Legislature does not meet in regular session in 2016.

Fees on Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

ELECTRIC CARThirty-seven states offer incentives, such as tax credits and rebates, HOV-lane access and free parking, to drive electric vehicles. The widespread adoption of electric vehicles, however, could result in lower gasoline tax revenues. This has some state policymakers looking for new ways to maintain funding for transportation infrastructure projects. Georgia, Idaho, Michigan and Wyoming enacted fees on certain hybrid and electric vehicles last year, the most in one year to date. In total, 10 states have imposed fees as a way to recapture lost gas tax revenue. And 11 states have introduced bills so far in 2016 to impose or modify annual electric or hybrid vehicle fees. Kentucky S.B. 27, for example, would require a $100 annual registration fee for electric vehicles.

Maryland in Action

Two bills are working their way through the Maryland General Assembly. The first, S.B. 323, has cleared the first chamber and would extend the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal from 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2020 to 40 percent by 2030. The new goal was proposed by the state Climate Change Commission. The second bill, H.B. 440, would expedite the process for connecting new photovoltaic solar systems to the electric grid. The bill would require electric companies to complete the process for connecting new systems in 20 business days— current average connection rates in the state range from 15 to 76 days.

Methane Madness!

Southern California Gas Co. announced in February that it had connected a relief well to temporarily stop the methane leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility—the largest natural gas storage site on the West Coast. In response to the leak—which began last October—the California legislature announced a package of bills related to emergency management and regulations related to methane. S.B. 380 and S.B. 886, for example, would put an immediate moratorium on injections of natural gas into any wells located at the Aliso Canyon storage facility until certain conditions are met. This includes testing of all 115 active injection wells at the site as well as holding public meetings and receiving approvals from multiple regulatory agencies before operations can resume. S.B. 887 would require that the state inspect all active natural gas storage wells, prescribe standards for wells, and ensure that wells are brought into compliance or phased out. Two bills would result in studies. A.B. 1903 would mandate a health impact study regarding the Aliso Canyon leak, while A.B. 1905 would result in an independent scientific study on natural gas injection and storage practices and facilities, with an emphasis on evaluating the hazards and risks that these pose to natural resources and public, occupational and environmental health and safety.

Stirring the Fuel Mix in Oregon

Legislation in Oregon—including H.B. 4036 and S.B. 1574—would make several significant changes to the state’s energy portfolio in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A Senate bill that has been sent to the governor's desk includes stricter emissions reductions and establishes a state cap and invest program. Included in the House measure is the doubling of the state’s renewable energy mandate to 50 percent by 2040 and a provision to mandate larger utilities to phase out coal generation. In addition to legislation, there is a proposed November ballot measure that would require strict emissions reduction requirements.

How Do You Cyber-Secure Life?

CYBER CRIMEA group of eight state senators in New York have introduced a comprehensive bill (S.B. 3407) which aims to beef up cybersecurity in nearly all aspects of life—from the electric grid to personal computers. The bill would create three separate entities—an advisory board, a partnership program, and an information-sharing program. The advisory board would advise the governor and state legislature on the protection of the state’s critical infrastructure and information systems. Meanwhile, the partnership program would bring representatives of the business community and citizens into the discussion, while the information-sharing program would be tasked with disseminating cyber-threat information to public and private sectors. Finally, the bill would commission a state cybersecurity report which assesses the risks to critical infrastructure. California already has a cybersecurity task force, and other states—Georgia, Oregon and Washington—are considering the creation of similar bodies.


Green Traffic Jams in California’s Future

While it won’t help with traffic, California’s congested roadways may become greener as the state takes steps away from gasoline-powered vehicles. The state Public Utilities Commission approved a $22-million pilot program to bring up to 1,500 more electric vehicle charging stations to the state. Southern California Edison’s newly approved plan will be funded through increased rates for customers. Two other utilities have proposed similar plans, with Edison’s simply the first to receive PUC approval. The state is pushing to add 1.5 million clean cars by 2025—a tenfold increase from the current number. In addition, Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent budget proposal would use around $1 billion from the state’s cap-and-trade funds to finance public transit and electric vehicles, all in an aim to cut oil use in the state by 50 percent by 2030.

Governors Pledge Grid Modernization

A bipartisan group of governors from 17 U.S. states signed a “Governor’s Accord for a New Energy Future.” The pledge commits governors to “deploying renewable, cleaner and more efficient energy solutions” that will “make our economy more productive and resilient.” The pledge called for grid modernization and pollution reductions, and lays out a shared vision which includes diversifying energy generation portfolios, modernizing infrastructure, encouraging clean transportation, and collaborating to support these changes.

The Renewable Grid

GTM Research recently released findings that residential solar energy has reached grid parity—when the lifetime costs of a solar system are equal to or lower than electricity rates—in 20 states and is expected to reach parity in 42 states by 2016. Factors for grid parity include hardware, installation and permitting costs, as well as incentives and policies like net metering and tax credits. Additionally, Hawaiian Electric Co. Inc. and the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $4.8 million project to test photovoltaic and energy storage integration in a high renewable environment. Hawaii’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires 100 percent of electricity to be from renewable sources by 2045

Shifting Solar

The Arizona Corporation Commission approved a pilot program proposed by Arizona Public Service Co. to explore using energy storage to shift the peak of electricity from residential solar generation. Solar energy generally peaks in the midday and afternoon, when electricity use and prices are lower than in the early evening when use and prices are higher. The pilot program is intended to allow customers to use more of the electricity their systems generate and could benefit utilities by better aligning electricity dispatch with peak periods. 

Illinois Wins Efficiently

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced their 2015 Top 10 States for LEED Green Buildings. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is available for new construction and retrofits for all building types and designations, with four levels of certification. The USGBC awarded Illinois first place for the third year in a row; the state has the highest building-per-capita ranking of any state. Additionally, Illinois updated its commercial building energy codes to the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, five states have the most recent version of the IECC or comparable code for commercial buildings. 


Keep it Clean

oil drillingPresident Obama released his Fiscal Year 2017 budget request. Within the budget was a proposal to double spending on clean energy research and development over the next five years to a total of $12.8 billion. The proposal also provides $2 billion for a program to increase resiliency efforts for coastal communities, paid for by repealing offshore oil and gas revenue sharing payments to states.

Sun Shining

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released energy use data for November 2015. The data showed that the U.S. had just over 20,000 MW of solar capacity, making up nearly 1.9 percent of total electricity generating capacity nationwide. Almost half of that solar capacity (9,976 MW) is located in California.  

Stayin’ Alive

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay halting implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP) until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rules on the CPP’s legality. The stay means that for now, the requirement for states to submit a final or initial compliance plan with a request for an extension by Sept. 6, 2016, is on hold. It remains unclear how the stay will impact the Court of Appeals’ ruling on the case itself. For more information see NCSL’s Info Alert. 

Congress Weighs In 

capitolThirty-four U.S. Senators and 171 members of the U.S. House of Representatives submitted an amicus brief to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the petitions filed by 27 states to overturn EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The congressmen argue that EPA has overexerted its authority by requiring power plants to regulate greenhouse gases, as power plants are already regulated under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act. Oral arguments in the case will begin on June 2. 

But What About the Leg Room? 

The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) released a proposed rule that would mandate all large commercial aircraft to reduce their cruising fuel consumption by an average of 4 percent by 2028 (compared with 2016 levels.) Overall reductions range from 0 to 11 percent depending on the size of the aircraft. This draft rule would represent the first ever standards for greenhouse gas emissions from aircrafts. In the U.S., the EPA is expected to finalize a scientific endangerment finding on aircraft emissions later this year.

We Consent!

NCSL submitted comments to the Department of Energy on the design of a consent-based siting process for nuclear waste storage and disposal facilities. NCSL stressed the importance of state legislatures in the consent-based siting process and urged that language be included to involve all levels of state government, including the legislatures, in state consultations.


Updated! States’ Reactions to EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards

With the start of the 2016 legislative session, states responded to the EPA's Clean Power Plan regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from future and existing power plants through legislation and public comments. View this updated resource to see 2016 legislative action, states’ legal actions and for more information on the Supreme Court’s stay. Due to the volume of state action, 2014 and 2015 legislative activity have been moved to separate web pages.

Webinar: State Forestry Policies for Carbon Benefits

FORESTThe nation’s forests are vital for humans and the ecosystem, providing rural jobs and a multitude of useful forest products, as well as flood protection and water, soil and air quality improvements. Covering more than one-third of the country’s total land area, forests annually remove and store almost 15 percent of the total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. A number of states have developed policies to promote forest health, protect forestland and increase carbon sequestration. This webinar will explore the current landscape of forests, the role of forests in sequestering carbon and highlight policy opportunities and state action. Register for this webinar here.

Webinar: Recording: Making Renewables Work

webinar logoAs states push to reach even higher levels of renewable energy, they are working to address the challenges created by the variable nature of wind and solar energy. Do high amounts of renewables threaten reliability? How are states addressing the rapid rise of renewable energy on the grid? Are there ways in which renewables can improve reliability? View the presentations and recording where experts discussed these important questions during NCSL’s Feb. 4 webinar. 

Power Shift: Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

Today’s electric grid is undergoing a major transformation, driven by the availability of new technologies, low-priced natural gas and government regulations. EPA’s Clean Power Plan could accelerate these changes, but meeting the rule’s requirements–which are currently on hold due to a February Supreme Court decision–may not be easy for many states. Read NCSL’s February issue of State Legislatures magazine to learn more.


Grid Security: A Fact Sheet on GMDs and EMPs

Deliberate acts of terrorism such as attacks using electromagnetic pulse (EMP) devises have the potential to damage critical infrastructure, but natural events such as severe storms and geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) could also cause significant infrastructure damage. This fact sheet highlights the differences between GMDs and EMPs as well as industry efforts to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Guides for States: Energy Efficiency as a Least-Cost Strategy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY BUILDINGThis report from the State and Local Energy Efficiency Action Network (SEE Action) presents established policy and program “pathways” to advance demand-side energy efficiency including ratepayer-funded energy efficiency, building energy codes, local government-led efforts, state-led efforts, and commercial and industrial private sector approaches. The guide includes a number of case studies with sources for more information, resources to understand the range of expected savings from energy efficiency and common protocols for documenting savings. View the report here.

The Hidden Battery: Opportunities in Electric Water Heating

The Brattle Group examined two types of electric water heaters—electric resistance water heaters and heat pump water heaters—for their potential to shift demand and store electricity for utilities. The analysis found water heaters have the potential to provide significant ancillary services, better control load curves and may save consumers up to $200 annually. View the report here.

Solar Reports 

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released an analysis of the characteristics of low-priced solar photovoltaic systems in January, finding higher concentration of low-priced system in Delaware, Florida, Maine and New Hampshire. Additionally, the Solar Foundation released a 2015 Solar Jobs Census and highlights the industry’s growth as 12 times greater than the national economy’s growth. The solar industry currently employs more than 208,000 workers. Lastly, Bloomberg New Energy Finance released a Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, finding that renewable energy accounted for 68 percent of new capacity in 2015.