Vol. 8: Issue 3 | March 2020
There’s growing interest in advanced nuclear technologies, as companies like Oklo Inc. and NuScale Power invest in micro-reactor and small modular reactor (SMR) designs. Both are proposed to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) near Idaho Falls, Idaho. Support for these new technologies is also coming directly from state legislatures. Wyoming, for example, enacted HB 74, which authorizes the permitting of SMRs in the state, and would allow utilities to replace coal or natural gas-fired facilities with SMRs. In addition, Idaho’s House Concurrent Resolution 31 recognizes INL and the advanced nuclear technologies under construction at the lab. Ohio HB 104 (introduced) creates the state nuclear development authority, as well as a consortium, to position the state as a leader in the development and construction of new advanced nuclear research reactors. Lastly, Virginia Senate Joint Resolution 60, which has been adopted by both chambers, encourages the advancement of nuclear energy research and economic development opportunities related to nuclear energy.
With the Oregon Legislative Assembly unable to pass climate legislation, the governor has stepped in to implement greenhouse gas reduction requirements. The executive order directs the creation and enforcement of caps on pollution from industry and transportation fuels, aiming to reduce carbon emissions to 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below by 2050. Meanwhile, a federal court recently upheld California’s cap-and-trade program in a challenge initiated by the Trump administration, ruling that the state's cap-and-trade agreement with Quebec is constitutional and does not represent a foreign treaty. The agreement links both countries’ cap-and-trade programs to help lower the cost of emissions reductions. In Hawaii, the legislature is considering a carbon pricing policy of its own, with the Senate passing a bill that would create a carbon tax to be paid by wholesale distributors of fossil fuels. Revenue from the tax would support energy security, environmental response and other efforts.
In Virginia, the General Assembly passed a landmark clean energy bill, replacing the state’s voluntary Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) program with mandatory requirements. The new requirements commit retail energy suppliers to deliver 100% renewable energy to customers in Dominion Energy’s service territory by 2045 and in American Electric Power’s service territory by 2050. The Virginia Clean Energy Jobs Act further directs the state Air Pollution Control Board to adopt regulations to facilitate a cap-and-trade program to reduce power sector emissions necessary to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Money generated by the program will go toward energy efficiency programs for lower-income residents. The bill further establishes utility energy efficiency and storage requirements and puts in place supportive programs and requirements to expand local clean energy job markets. Under the new law, state agencies are required to consider environmental justice concerns in developing clean energy programs to ensure that lower-income and disadvantaged communities located near fossil fuel plants benefit from the state’s transitioning energy economy. Virginia also passed complementary legislation that empowers the state Corporation Commission to establish an amortization period for cost recovery associated with early retirement of coal or natural gas generation facilities by conducting an independent analysis and establishing a cost recovery schedule that “best serves ratepayers.”
Meanwhile, in Illinois, the legislature is considering a bill that would encourage utilities to permanently retire and replace coal-fired generation with solar and energy storage resources by awarding them renewable energy credits. Illinois’ Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act would further establish a Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Incentive and Plant Transition Fund to provide funding to utilities that rely on coal generation and agree to participate in the program. Rhode Island is also considering legislation that would require those seeking a license to construct fossil fuel generation to make an investment in renewable energy facilities equal to at least 20% of the estimated costs of the fossil fuel facility.
In Maryland, the General Assembly is considering a bill that would require the Maryland Transit Administration to exclusively purchase zero-emissions buses starting in fiscal year 2022. The bill would also require the authority to submit an annual report detailing a schedule for converting the state bus fleet to 100% zero-emissions buses and for deploying supportive infrastructure, as well as projecting expected emissions reductions. Massachusetts is considering similar legislation that would require all school bus operators and transit agencies to operate exclusively on electric buses by Dec. 31, 2035. Also, in Maine, Senate Paper 649 would move the state public school bus fleet toward 100% all-electric by 2040 and establish a training program to provide the skills and resources necessary to maintain and operate electric school buses.
As the number of states ramping up renewable energy mandates grows, several coal states are considering their own manner of clean energy requirements. Wyoming, in particular, has a number of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) measures under consideration this session. Built in the image of renewable portfolio standards, HB 200 establishes a low-carbon electricity standard, requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of their electricity from “dispatchable and reliable low-carbon” electric generators. In practice, that will likely translate into more coal plants being equipped with CCS technologies. The bill, which passed the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature, eliminates utility cost-recovery and earnings on the construction of new power generation that replaces coal-fired plants after 2023. It also authorizes several financial incentives for utilities that retrofit existing coal plants, including a higher return on equity on coal plant CCS projects. Another bill, SB 90 (pending), would prohibit utilities from using customer-backed securitization (refinancing) for CCS retrofit projects. Wyoming is not alone in considering such measures, as Colorado, Georgia, Maryland and West Virginia have also considered bills that would support CCS technologies during the 2020 session. Like many states, Maryland has debated whether to include CCS projects in its clean energy programs. Colorado considered a measure that would have allowed utilities to petition state regulators for permission to acquire low- and zero-emission dispatchable resources, including CCS projects, for demonstration purposes.
The Florida Public Service Commission recently approved a Florida Power & Light program to develop 20 new solar projects with a combined capacity of 1,490 megawatts over the next few years. Those interested in participating in the SolarTogether program can subscribe and earn credits. The program will be accessible not only to small businesses and families but also to lower-income residents. Under the program, 37.2 megawatts of solar energy will be allocated to customers that fall below the federal poverty line.
In an effort to tackle one of New York City’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the city council recently approved a new energy conservation code aimed at limiting heat loss and increasing efficiency requirements for lighting and heating and cooling systems. The new code further requires that all single- and two-family homes be electric vehicle charging-capable and that buildings over 25,000 feet measure specific types of energy use (natural gas, propane, steam, etc.) throughout the building. The city’s adoption of its new code comes as cities in Massachusetts and California take steps to reduce building emissions and lower their carbon footprint.
Missouri's largest investor-owned utility, Ameren, has submitted to the public utilities commission a $7.6 billion grid modernization plan that would add battery storage and nearly 700 megawatts of wind power by 2025. Missouri, with less than 1 gigawatt of wind generation, lags far behind its neighbors—Illinois (5 gigawatts), Oklahoma (8 gigawatts), Iowa (10 gigawatts) and Nebraska (2 gigawatts). The utility has also set a solar goal of 50 megawatts by 2025 and 100 megawatts by 2027 and is seeking permission to invest in solar-battery pilot projects to improve resiliency and reliability in communities served by a single transmission line.
Events over the past several years have brought renewed attention to the subject of pipeline safety. High-profile explosions in Colorado and Massachusetts that resulted in multiple fatalities and damaged properties drew the attention of federal and state policymakers and prompted the development of new rules. More recently, investigators announced record fines against owners and operators of the pipelines that caused the explosions in Firestone, Colorado in 2017 and Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts in 2018. In the case of Merrimack Valley, the U.S. attorney’s office announced a $53 million penalty against Columbia Gas, after an investigation by federal, state and local authorities found the company flouted safety procedures. It is considered the largest criminal penalty imposed under federal pipeline safety laws. In Colorado, state regulators plan to impose an $18.25 million fine against the subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. found responsible for an explosion that killed two people in a Denver suburb. The penalty is 11 times larger than the previous record for an oil field violation in the state.
Many of the nation’s largest utilities have set ambitious carbon reduction targets for their energy generation fleet. Three utilities that make up 12.4% of U.S. power sector emissions—Duke, Dominion Energy and Southern Company—are aiming for net-zero or “low-to-no” carbon emissions by 2050. But under their existing plans, which include keeping their coal plants online while aggressively building additional natural gas power plants, the utilities are not on track to meet 2030 or 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals. This is according to a report by the research firm, Synapse Energy Economics.
In its recently published final environmental analysis of an oil and gas development project located in central Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) advised oil developers Aethon Energy Management LLC and partner Burlington Resources Oil and Gas Co. to put measures in place to protect Native American women from violence. In a move Aethon’s vice president of operations described as “precedent-setting,” BLM encouraged the oil developers to adopt the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights designed to address and prevent human rights abuses in business operations. The proposed Moneta Divide project would allow for 4,250 new oil and gas wells located near the Wind River Reservation, home to members of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. BLM’s analysis acknowledges that Native Americans experience disproportionate rates of violence often carried out by non-tribal members and that Native American women are particularly vulnerable to such violent crimes. BLM formed this recommendation following public comments expressing concern over a large influx of non-local workers moving into the community. This month, the Wyoming Legislature passed a joint resolution calling on the federal government to enact and expand federal legislation to better coordinate reporting and investigation of crimes committed against missing and murdered Native Americans.
Oil prices have fallen to a near 17-year low as the coronavirus pandemic dampens the economy. Experts suggest that plummeting oil prices may be just the beginning for the oil and gas industry. Demand is likely to fall over the next 12 months, as a glut of oil remains on the market and people are traveling less. In an effort to help the oil and gas industries, President Donald Trump announced earlier this month that the U.S. would purchase enough crude oil to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) “right to the top.” The aim would be to replenish the SPR by taking advantage of low oil prices while providing some relief to the oil and gas industry. The SPR is the world’s largest supply of emergency crude oil, which has a storage capacity of 713.5 million barrels of oil, although March storage was around 635 million barrels. The oil is stored in large underground salt caverns along the Louisiana and Texas coasts and the reserve is primarily used to reduce the impact of disruptions in supplies of petroleum products. According to reports, if the government buys 77 million barrels of crude oil at recent prices, it will cost roughly $2.4 billion.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources has been focusing on advancing clean energy legislation for over a year. A last-minute amendment to the package targeting a phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), however, put a stop to progress on a bipartisan package that focuses on a range of emerging clean energy policies. These include carbon capture, nuclear power, energy storage and electric vehicles, among others. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wy.) was vocal in his opposition to the amendment, framing the move as an effort to bypass the committee vetting process. Lawmakers recently voted against a closing debate on the package, and amendment co-author John Kennedy (R-La.) has expressed concern that a vote on the amendment might be held back.
Earlier this month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a draft environmental impact statement for Holtec International’s proposed consolidated interim storage facility in southeastern New Mexico. The NRC’s preliminary recommendation is that there are no environmental impacts that would preclude the NRC from issuing a license. Holtec proposes initially storing up to 500 canisters holding approximately 8,680 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, with a license to store the waste for 40 years. The canisters would be transported by rail from operating decommissioning, and decommissioned, commercial nuclear power plants around the country. For supporters of interim storage, Holtec’s plan provides an important step forward for disposing of used nuclear fuel by providing a secure, temporary and centralized facility for storing used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste until such time that a permanent solution is available.
Filling the gaps in America’s cyber defenses will require a lot of policy work. That’s the gist of a much-anticipated report from a congressional commission comprised of lawmakers, defense officials and security experts who say that China, Russia, Iran and North Korea have been allowed to probe U.S. critical infrastructure “with impunity.” The report from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission contains roughly 80 policy recommendations to bolster critical infrastructure security. The commission addresses the inherent difficulties facing the industry, with nearly 80% of critical infrastructure owned by private entities. The recommendations include granting the president powers to address cyber emergencies and codifying the concept of “systemically important critical infrastructure,” guaranteeing entities that carry out critical functions the support of the federal government and requiring such entities to satisfy additional security requirements. It also recommends creating a research and testing center to evaluate industrial control technologies that operators rely on. The report’s publication comes weeks after a ransomware attack against a pipeline operator, which ultimately caused a section of pipeline to go out of service for two days. The attack originated on the information technology side of the business but spread to the operations technology (OT) side due to a lack of system segmentation. Once in the OT system, the malware caused a natural gas compressor station to shut down for two days.
Energy policies were front and center in state legislatures during 2019, with states considering over 3,500 energy-related measures and enacting over 500 new laws. These policies range from electric vehicle fees and incentives to energy storage, workforce development and modernizing the grid. Read the report, “2019 Legislative Energy Trends,” which highlights trends in state energy policy and topics likely to take priority in 2020 and beyond. It also serves as a resource for the many state policies and considerations state legislatures have proposed in recent years and how these policies may help inform future trends.
The energy program recently released its 2019 Energy Efficiency Legislative Update focusing on the major energy efficiency policies enacted in 2019. These include utility energy efficiency programs and planning, Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS), building and appliance efficiency, lower-income access to efficiency programs, and financing efficiency measures, among others.
If you haven’t heard, NCSL’s energy program publishes a quarterly newsletter dedicated to all things nuclear, from the latest state action related to nuclear power to timely updates on the cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex. The latest edition of The News Reactor looks at how a number of states evaluate the role of nuclear energy as they consider ambitious clean energy policies. It also provides updates on major research and cleanup projects in Idaho, New Mexico and Washington, and explores how federal policies on electricity markets and nuclear waste are likely to affect states. If you’d like to be added to the distribution list, contact Dan Shea (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting most aspects of daily life and the operation of energy systems is no exception. The Department of Energy (DOE), the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), trade organizations and utilities are implementing contingency plans to ensure that vital energy services are not curtailed, with many halting service shutoffs entirely. NERC has surveyed industry readiness and urged power companies to update business continuity plans, which prepare utilities to maintain operations with limited staffing and for shifts in energy consumption habits as a result of changes to daily work and life. In addition to NCSL’s COVID-19 resource page, NCSL’s Energy Program has rounded up a number of energy-related resources developed in response to the current public health crisis.
When fields are cleared for large solar PV projects, pollinators can lose vegetation for habitat and food. At least seven states have enacted legislation to promote pollinator-friendly solar development. A new white paper by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) provides an overview of state efforts and suggestions for what other states can do to promote solar while preserving healthy habitats for pollinators.
The Regulatory Assistance Project’s “Roadmap for Electric Transportation” offers legislators and their staff an overview of electric vehicle policy issues and options to assist in creating a plan for electrification that saves consumers money, reduces environmental impacts and meets the particular goals of each state.