This time last year, the big renewable energy issue was the Federal Wind Power Production Tax Credit (PTC), which was set to expire at the end of 2012. The subsidy, which provides owners of wind turbines with 2.2 cents in tex credits for every kilowatt-hour the turbines produce, was called critical to the survival of the American wind industry. Wind advocates said that letting the PTC expire could kill the wind industry in the U.S., taking thousands of jobs and non-carbon electrical power with it.
At the last possible minute on January 1 Congress extended the PTC for a year. That year is about to end: the PTC expires in three weeks.
And yet the voices that clamored for PTC extension a year ago are largely silent this time around. There are predictable calls to extend the credit from wind energy industry groups, but nothing like the doomsday-tinged clamor we saw this time in 2012. Why the lack of fervor?
California's grid-tied solar seems to be gearing up to ring out the old year with a bang. The state broke another record on Tuesday for the amount of solar energy flowing into the state's power grid from large solar installations, with more than 2,800 megawatts of solar electricity recorded by the state's grid operator at just before noon.
According to the California Independent System Operator (CaISO), which runs the state's grid, 2,806 megawatts of power flowed into the grid from large-scale photovoltaic power plants at 11:58 a.m. on Tuesday, along with a yet-unreported amount of power from solar thermal plants. (Solar thermal's output peaked at 109 megawatts three hours later.)
At this rate, given a bit of sunny weather, it seems likely that the total solar power flowing into CaISO's grid will top 3,000 megawatts -- that's three gigawatts -- before the end of 2013. Not bad considering the state only broke 2,000 megawatts in June.
Obama administration policy on development of renewable energy for the last six years has often been marked by intransigence against siting big solar and wind facilities on disturbed land rather than intact wildlife habitat. It's certainly been a frequent topic of our reportage here at ReWire. The Interior Department has often dismissed the notion of, for instance, including a "disturbed land alternative" in its environmental assessments of big desert solar facilities, even though Interior's colleagues at the EPA have been going to a lot of effort to catalog those very disturbed lands for potential renewable energy development.
Instead, the Administration has often seemed to pay no heed at all to the notion that all other things being equal, it's better to plunk a hundred thousand solar panels on an old landfill or pile of mine tailings than it is to bulldoze intact wildlife habitat for those solar panels, especially if the wildlife habitat is farther away from the people who need the power.
But a relatively obscure clause in a Presidential Memorandum issued last week may signal a change.
After the news broke Friday morning that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to extend the reach of wind industry permits to kill bald and golden eagles, a national wind industry trade group is lauding the move, but saying the industry needs more concessions from those charged with protecting eagles.
In a statement published Friday, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) praised the extension of "take" permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Act from five years to a maximum of 30 years, but said that "additional concerns" about the permit rule's impact on the wind industry would require more negotiation between wind companies, FWS, and AWEA's "partners in the conservation community."
"[T]his rule must only be a first step in creating a rational and effective approach to eagle permitting," AWEA said, "and we look forward to working with FWS, the Department of Interior, and our partners in the conservation community to address additional permit program concerns through future revisions to the Permit Rule."
In a long-anticipated move that has prompted howls of outrage from conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it will be extending the maximum length of the permits it's granting wind energy facility operators to injure or kill bald and golden eagles.
The permits, technically known as take permits under the federal Bald And Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA), will be extended to last up to 30 years from the current maximum of five years, according to a new rule that will be published Monday in the Federal Register.
The change in the tenure of eagle take permits, which has been in the works for more than a year, marks an historic reversal of USFWS policy in its enforcement of the nation's eagle protection laws -- and some normally moderate environmental groups are condemning it in no uncertain terms.
As we close in on the end of the year, it's customary to look back and assess the past. And when it comes to renewable energy in California, the year drawing to a close has been an epochal one. In 2013, California saw abundant installations of a number of different kinds of renewable power plants, from gigantic wind turbines to modest rooftop solar arrays, and lots of changes in the laws that regulate how we generate and use renewable energy.
We've covered many of those records here at ReWire, as recently as this week. But it's important to look at what those records actually mean in context. Record peak output from the state's solar panels and wind turbines may make for an interesting headline. What really matters in the long run, though, is how much renewables contribute to the total energy Californians use.
So ReWire just spent the last several days inputing a year's worth of daily renewable energy numbers provided by the agency that runs the state's power grid, and then crunched those numbers. They provide an interesting snapshot of the actual usefulness to Californians of renewable energy in 2013, and some of what we found out may surprise you.