Top Seven Clean Energy Actions in 2017 — Ringing Out the Old Year and into 2018

2017 was a whirlwind of energy market records, policies, and reports. And here’s my list of the big seven areas of note:

No. 1 The U.S. Market — The U.S. set a new renewable energy milestone in March 2017, where, for the first time, wind and solar accounted for 10 percent of all electricity generation, with wind comprising 8 percent and solar coming in at 2 percent. The report was published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Note that according to the latest issue of the EIA Electric Power Monthly report (with data through Aug. 31, 2017), U.S. electrical generation from renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar — including distributed solar, wind) rose by 14.63 percent during the first two-thirds of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. Simultaneously, fossil fuel generation fell by 6.67 percent and nuclear power declined by 2.08 percent, as compiled Oct. 26 by Ken Bossong of SUNDAY.

No. 2 Global Markets —The global investments necessary to provide electricity for the entire world population is less than two percent of total energy investments, according to an October 2017 report from the International Energy Agency, which found that providing universal access to electricity within 13 years would require an investment of $31 billion per year. REN 21 reported: REN 21’s 2017 Global Status report released this year looked backward at the global markets: “Renewable power generating capacity saw its largest annual increase ever in 2016, with an estimated 161 GW of capacity added. Total global capacity was up nearly 9 percent compared to 2015, to almost 2,017 GW at year’s end. The world continued to add more renewable power capacity annually than it added (net) capacity from all fossil fuels combined. In 2016, renewables accounted for an estimated nearly 62 percent of net additions to global power generating capacity.

No. 3 Storage — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill (AB 6571) in December 2017 directing the state’s Public Service Commission to develop an Energy Storage Deployment Program, including a storage procurement target for 2030. New York now becomes the fourth U.S. state to have energy storage targets/mandates. California and Oregon have a mandate in place, while Massachusetts has set a law that dictates a target to be finalized shortly. South Australia turned on the world’s largest lithium ion battery bank (100 MW), and a solar and battery system to a children’s hospital in San Juan in October 2017, and Tesla has installed six more similar systems to help power the hurricane-wrecked islands of Vieques and Culebra in Puerto Rico.

No. 4 Tariffs — In November 2017, the U.S. International Trade Commission made an affirmative injury determination pursuant to section 202(b) of the Trade Act of 1974. The Commission was required to make certain additional findings under the implementing statutes of certain free trade agreements (FTA) or under statutory provisions related to certain preferential trade programs. The Commission further found that imports of crystalline silicon PV (CSPV) products from Korea are a substantial cause of threat of serious injury.

For U.S. imports of cells that exceed the 0.5 GW volume level, Chairman Schmidtlein recommended a tariff rate of 30 percent ad valorem. She recommended that this tariff‐rate quota be implemented for four years and that the in‐quota level be incrementally raised and the tariff rate be incrementally reduced during the remedy period. With regard to CSPV modules, she recommended an ad valorem tariff rate of 35 percent to be incrementally reduced during the four‐year remedy period. (Publication USITC 479: Investigation No. TA-201-75). While every conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., has opposed the tariff, in December, media reports are that The White House is preparing to announce the solar tariff as a sign to China on our resolve.

No. 5 Records — Case in point: back in May 2017, California exceeded another renewable energy record, with its largest grid getting 67.2 percent of its energy from renewables — and when you throw in hydropower, the total went higher to 80 percent. Internationally, records for clean energy are being broken for all the renewable resources.

Renewable Energy World reported that on May 26, 2017, on what was expected to be one of the hottest days of the year, solar PV in the U.K. generated a record amount of power, enough to meet almost 25 percent of demand. Costa Rica’s electricity has been produced entirely using renewable energy for 300 days since the start of January 2017. With more than a month of 2017 to go, the Central American country was set to smash its own annual record of green energy use. In 2015, the nation went 299 days using only renewables. And finally, in December 2017, Clean Energy Wire reported that renewables would account for 33 percent of Germany’s total electricity usage, up 29 percent from 2016, once all the numbers for 2017 are in.

China gets a bad rap on environmental issues a lot of the time, courtesy of its massive industrial sector and hugely populated (and smog-ridden) mega cities. But China is also one of the biggest investors in renewable energy, as evidenced by its ability to keep the lights on for 5 million citizens in Qinghai Province for a whole week in June 2017 solely on green energy.

No. 6 Climate — The energy company Luminant announced plans to retire its massive Monticello coal plant in January 2018. The plant, in the Mt. Pleasant community of Titus County, Texas, is currently one of the largest and dirtiest coal plants remaining anywhere in the U.S. Monticello becomes the 259th coal plant to retire or announce to retire in the U.S. since 2010, and means the U.S. is just three plants away from retiring or announcing to retire half of the coal plants that were operating just seven years ago. Monticello also marks the 11th coal plant retired in 2017.

A hand full of landmark climate reports were also released in 2017, and my top picks are:

Thirteen federal agencies unveiled the Fourth National Climate Assessment on Nov. 5 that says humans are the dominant cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization. Weather catastrophes from floods to hurricanes to heat waves have cost the U.S. $1.1 trillion since 1980, and the report warns that such phenomena may become common. The report said that “the frequency and intensity of extreme high temperature events are virtually certain to increase in the future as global temperature increases,” and that, “Extreme precipitation events will very likely continue to increase in frequency and intensity throughout most of the world.”

And then, members of the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon, including the U.S. Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency issued a report laying out the approach to determine social costs driven by climate changes.

In September 2017, Reuters reported another study, concluding that weather extremes and air pollution from burning fossil fuels cost the U.S. $240 billion a year in the past decade, according to findings by the nonprofit Universal Ecological Fund. Costs to human health from air pollution caused by fossil fuels averaged $188 billion a year over the past decade, it estimated, while losses from weather extremes such as droughts, heat waves and floods averaged $52 billion. The report stated that 2017 was likely to be the most expensive on record, with an estimated $300 billion in losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and a spate of wildfires in western states at the end of 2017. And, in a sign of increasing risks, there were 92 extreme weather events that caused damage exceeding $1 billion in the U.S. in the decade to 2016, against 38 in the 1990s and 21 in the 1980s. The combined cost of extreme weather and pollution from fossil fuels would climb to $360 billion a year in the next decade.

And finally yet another study concluded that of those 3 percent of scientific papers that deny climate change — a review found them all flawed reported by on Sept. 5, 2017. And of all the published scientific research on climate change, 97 percent of the papers conclude that global warming is real, problematic for the planet, and has been exacerbated by human activity.

According to a review published in the Journal of Theoretical and Applied Climatology, researchers tried to replicate the results of those 3 percent of papers — a common way to test scientific studies — and found biased, faulty results. The team of researchers looked at 38 papers published in peer-reviewed journals in the last decade that denied anthropogenic global warming and found: “Every single one of those analyses had an error—in their assumptions, methodology, or analysis—that, when corrected, brought their results into line with the scientific consensus.”

No. 7 Tax Policy — And ending 2017, the tax bill, signed on Dec. 22 by President Donald Trump, maintained the production and investment tax credits for solar and wind, phasing them down or out according to the timeline approved by Congress in 2015. The final version also removed the alternative minimum tax, which would have lowered the value of solar and wind credits. The tax credit for electric vehicles was also retained.

While the Senate version of the bill was largely favorable to clean energy, it included a provision called the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT) that’s intended to prevent corporations from making payments to overseas subsidiaries in an effort to reduce their tax liability. The provision would ultimately discourage some companies from using solar and wind tax credits to cut their tax bills, which could, in turn, discourage banks from financing renewable projects. Industry experts said the provision threatened up to $12 billion in financing.

As Renewable Energy World reported, BEAT sets up a comparison between regular tax liability and the 10 percent threshold, and if the 10 percent BEAT calculation exceeds the regular tax liability, then the greater of the two applies. When calculating that 10 percent threshold, companies can use 80 percent of their tax credits, whereas they would use 100 percent of tax credits in calculating regular tax liability.

Industry stakeholders are concerned about the effect BEAT could have on the tax equity market. So the clean energy industries dodged yet another bullet. In 2018, Congress is supposed to address the other expired tax credits for renewable energy like small wind, efficiency like combined heat and power, and geothermal heat pumps, and define treatment for energy storage and energy efficiency measures.

The Year 2017 was bullish for the entire portfolio of renewable energy, energy storage and energy efficiency. Aside from attempts by the Trump Administration to undercut incentives and regulations to use energy and water more efficiently, and enhance utilization of renewable energy and energy storage, state and local governments throughout the U.S., and all governments internationally, are going full steam ahead on clean energy options, microgrids, and community renewables. It appears 2018 will be no different — the technology change is underway. Happy New Year.

Lead image credit: CC0 Creative Commons | Pixabay

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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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