Plugged In, NCSL’s State and Federal Energy Newsletter



  • Solar Passes Gas: New solar projects outpaced new natural gas plants during the first half of 2014—the first time for this occurrence. The data, analyzed by GTM Research, included distributed solar projects less than one megawatt in capacity.
  • Garbage Fines: In an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce waste, Seattle’s city council approved a new fine for residents who throw away too many compostable food scraps. The mandatory composting ordinance will now fine residents $1 every time they fill more than 10 percent of their garbage containers with food waste. Seattle joins San Francisco as the only U.S. cities to require composting.
  • Tech Savvy: Scientists in Quebec have developed a chin strap mechanism that uses the kinetic energy produced from chewing and talking to help power small devices, such as hearing aids. Meanwhile in London, several of the iconic red telephone booths are being converted to free, solar-powered charging stations for electronics.


EPA Regulations

A bill in Pennsylvania concerning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed regulations for power plant emissions has passed both chambers. The legislation would require the Department of Environmental Protection to receive approval from the General Assembly for a state plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions for existing stationary sources prior to submitting the plan to EPA for approval. The bill requires each chamber to submit a resolution approving the implementation plan; if a plan is not submitted, federal intervention may result. The Environment and Energy Study Institute recently released a timeline of actions related to these regulations.

Soft Solar

solar panelsLegislation enacted in California reduces the “soft costs” of residential rooftop solar installations, including permitting, inspection and interconnection. These costs now comprise the majority of solar energy expenses, compared to the hardware cost of a physical photovoltaic system. The legislation requires that cities and counties adopt an ordinance creating an expedited and streamlined permitting process for residential rooftop solar installations less than 10 kilowatts in size before October 2015. The legislation also includes several provisions related to expediting application reviews, inspections and permitting.

Taxing Alternative Fuel Vehicles

New Jersey is the latest state to consider a tax on certain alternative fuel vehicles—such as those using electricity, natural gas or hydrogen—in an effort to replenish the state transportation trust fund, which is primarily financed through state gasoline taxes. New Jersey’s bill, A.B. 3816, introduced this month, would provide sales tax revenues from these alternative fuel vehicles to help pay for transportation infrastructure. Colorado, Nebraska, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington have already adopted special fees for electric vehicles and several more states have considered legislation in 2014. Additionally, Oregon has agreed to a 5,000-vehicle opt-in program that allows drivers to pay a fee based on miles driven rather than gallons of fuel purchased. Proponents of this system say that it will separate transportation revenues from gasoline consumption.

Efficient Update

Legislation in Hawaii established an Energy Systems Development Special Fund to develop an integrated approach to and management of renewable energy and energy efficiency technology projects to reduce the state's dependence on imported oil and other imported energy resources. A Kansas bill authorized the state corporation commission to permit public utilities to implement commission-approved demand-side programs and cost recovery mechanisms. It also stated that the public utility and the commission both have the independent authority to accept or reject any proposed establishment, continuation or modification of a demand-side program, portfolio of programs or associated cost-recovery or incentive mechanisms. Rhode Island passed companion House and Senate bills to establish a process for working with energy officials throughout the New England area to identify cost effective energy infrastructure projects that have the potential to lower consumer energy costs, improve system reliability and advance clean energy mandates.

Reducing Gas Leaks

The California legislature also recently passed a bill, S.B. 1371, directing the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) to develop a comprehensive natural gas pipeline leak reduction strategy. Methane, the main component of natural gas, escapes into the atmosphere through leaks in drilling operations and pipeline delivery. The legislation also requires companies to submit a report with the state PUC that includes a list of methane leaks, a schedule of when these leaks will be repaired and an estimate of gas loss due to the leaks.

Reaching Capacity

A New Jersey bill introduced last month would raise the state’s net metering capacity limit to four percent of peak demand. Currently, utilities are allowed to stop offering net metering to customers when net metering capacity reaches 2.5 percent of peak electricity demand. Capacity limits can be determined by a kilowatt-based limit or a percentage limit. Of the 43 states that have authorized net metering only Arizona and New Jersey have percentage based capacity limits and Ohio has no capacity limit. The bill has currently passed its first committee.

RPS Repeal Introduced

A bill introduced this month in Michigan would repeal the state’s renewable energy standard. The state currently has a requirement to have 10 percent of energy derived from renewable sources by 2015. The state is currently on track to meet this requirement and a Senate working group has been exploring next steps, including extending the mandate beyond 2015.


New Proposed Regulations for Hydraulic Fracturing

oil drilling rigThe California agency responsible for regulating hydraulic fracturing in the state recently released a new version of proposed regulations covering hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation treatments. This is the third version of proposed regulations since the California legislature passed S.B. 4 last year. The new proposal increases the 20-day deadline for residents to request water quality testing before any well stimulation can begin. It also allows oil and gas operators to apply for hydraulic fracturing and water permits at the same time, which proponents say will help streamline the permitting process. The rules must be completed by January 2015 and will take effect on July 1, 2015.

States Bonding

In September, Massachusetts sold $350 million dollars of municipal “green” bonds to investors. Municipalities pledge to use proceeds from the bonds for projects related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, land conservation, or air and water quality improvements. This year’s sale is more than triple the previous sale. Meanwhile the New York Comptroller proposed a sale of $30 million in municipal bonds for environmental infrastructure projects linked to post-Super storm Sandy water and building efficiency projects. Additionally, the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency released a proposal for a $5 billion Clean Energy Fund funded by electric bill surcharges over the next 10 years. This fund would replace the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy mandates, which are set to expire in 2015 (a natural gas efficiency provision will expire in 2020).

Canada Commences Commercial Carbon-Capture

Canada recently switched on the world's first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage project at a coal-fired power plant. The carbon-capture unit, located in Saskatchewan at the Boundary Dam power plant is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent by trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) underground. The captured CO2 will be sold primarily to an oil and gas company for enhanced oil recovery. Several projects are ongoing in the U.S., including Mississippi’s Kemper County Energy Facility as well as projects in Texas and Illinois.

West Virginia Efficiency

Appalachian Power announced two new energy efficiency programs for commercial customers. One program, the Custom Commercial and Industrial Program, offers customers flexible projects for energy efficiency combined with financial incentives. The second program, the Custom Commercial and Industrial New Construction Program, offers incentives for new construction or renovation projects that exceed the state code’s baseline energy savings by 10 percent.

That’s a Big Battery

Southern California Edison unveiled a 32-megawatt-hour, lithium-ion battery last month. The battery—which is the largest in North America—will store energy generated from the Tehachapi wind resource area near Mojave, Calif. The battery is paired to store and dispense energy generation from wind turbines as the majority of their generation is during nighttime hours when energy demand is low. Last year the California Public Utilities Commission set a state requirement for 1.325 gigawatts of energy storage capacity by 2020.


Going Nuclear

nuclear plantThe Department of Energy (DOE) issued a draft solicitation to provide $12.6 billion in loan guarantees for advanced nuclear energy projects. The loans, if finalized, would support “construction of innovative nuclear energy and front-end nuclear energy projects to reduce or sequester” greenhouse gas emissions. The draft solicitation outlined four areas that DOE would like to see submitted projects in: advanced nuclear reactors, small modular reactors, upgrades at existing facilities and front-end nuclear projects. The solicitation will be open for public comment until Oct. 30. Additionally, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently announced that it will review license applications to build and operate small modular reactors.

Fueling Along

EPA announced in its annual fuel economy report that model year 2013 vehicles averaged 24.1 mpg, a record high and 5 mpg higher than 10 years ago. The report also showed a drop in carbon dioxide emissions had reached a record low. Also in the report, the automaker Nissan is credited with showing the greatest improvement in fuel efficiency and emissions.

Admitting Emissions

EPA released annual data from its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program that showed greenhouse gas emissions from power plants rising last year, while emissions from hydraulic fracturing declined. The data shows there was an increase in coal used for generating electricity last year, hence the rise in power plant emissions. Overall emissions from large facilities across all industrial and economic sectors rose .6 percent.

REAPing the Benefits

The White House announced it will award $68 million to over 500 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP was reauthorized in the 2013 Farm Bill and is responsible for supporting more than 8,800 renewable and energy efficiency projects nationwide. The 540 projects awarded this time are expected to reduce energy consumption, reduce existing carbon pollution by 300 million metric tons, and save businesses nearly $45 billion on energy bills, according to President Obama.

Powering Up

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $1.4 billion in USDA loan guarantees to improve electric power infrastructure in rural areas across 21 states. Of that money, $109 million will go specifically to smart grid technology projects and renewable energy programs. The bulk of the money will go to building or improving transmission and distribution lines.

WOTUS Update

The independent Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) made an assessment of the agency’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) proposal. The 52-member panel concluded that the proposed WOTUS standards, defining which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, is supported by the available science. The SAB is still finalizing a separate review that is looking at the connections between water bodies, which was the basis for the proposed rule. The SAB noted in their final conclusion of the rules that “there is strong scientific evidence” to support an even broader definition of tributaries than what is currently in the proposal, a hotly debated topic within industry and state and local communities. Additionally, EPA has extended its comment period for the proposed rule until Nov.14

Defense Department and Climate Adaption

The Department of Defense released a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap this month, outlining climate change as an “immediate risk” to national security and identified broad adaptation goals. Goals include: identify and assess the effects of climate change on the department; integrate climate change considerations across the department and manage associated risks; and collaborate with internal and external stakeholders on climate change challenges. The foundation for the roadmap was the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review by the Secretary of Defense, which recognized climate change as a threat to national security. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled the plan at the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas in Lima, Peru.


NCSL Forum

2014 fall forumJoin us in Washington, DC for NCSL’s Forum taking place Dec. 9-12. This year’s Forum will include visits for all state legislators to meet with their congressional delegations to discuss important state-federal issues. Additionally, NCSL’s Task Force on Energy Supply will be meeting offsite on Dec. 8. The meeting will explore a range of issues including EPA’s 111(d) regulations, new developments in coal technologies, transporting crude oil by rail, and more. If you would like to attend the Task Force meeting, please contact Kristy Hartman for more information.

Lessons from North Dakota’s Oil Boom

A bipartisan delegation of state legislators—representing eight states—traveled to North Dakota in June to see first-hand how the state is using a range of modern technologies to extract fossil resources. Read NCSL’s blog post to learn more about the sites that legislators visited.