Sunday, June 30, 2013

Constitutionality of Renewable Energy Mandates in Question

In a potentially crushing strike against advocates for renewable energy mandates, a federal court ruling recently raised the issue of constitutionality of major provisions of many states’ renewable energy mandates.

On June 7, 2013, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) position against the state of Michigan (and other petitioners) in a disagreement over FERC’s proposal to distribute costs for new power lines to supply millions of megawatts of wind power in the Great Lakes area.  Michigan believes that this plan would, in essence, require them to pay for expensive new power lines intended for transmitting renewable energy out of the state. Based on the law establishing Michigan’s 2008 Renewable Energy Standard, only renewable energy generated inside its state borders is qualified to fulfill Michigan’s obligation to utilize 10% of eligible renewable energy sources by 2015.

Speaking for the Court, Judge Richard Posner ruled:

“Michigan’s first argument—that its law prohibits it from crediting wind power from out of state in favor of the state’s obligated use of renewable energy by its utilities—trips over an unbreakable constitutional precedence. Michigan cannot, without violating Article I of the commerce clause of the Constitution, discriminate against out-of-state renewable energy (emphasis added).”

Thirty states, including the District of Columbia, have mandates on renewable energy that require electric companies to purchase a certain quota or percentage of renewable energy by a projected year. Just like Michigan which has a clear ban on wind produced in other states from being allowed into their mandate, other states also “discriminate” against out-of-state renewable power. When counting mandate compliance, several states count in-state power at a higher rate than out-of-state power, a practice popularly labelled as “multipliers”:

Delaware has a 300% credit multiplier for customer-sited, in-state photovoltaic (PV), a 350% multiplier for a specific offshore wind project, and a 150% multiplier for all other in-state wind projects;
Colorado applies a 1.25 multiplier for its in-state generation;
Michigan provides an extra 0.1 credit for projects that use state-available components and its local workforce;
Missouri grants a 1.25 multiplier for all in-state generation.
Kansas uses a 1.1 multiplier for all in-state resources;
Moreover, some state renewable policies have a list of renewable energy grades, where certain power sources can only be utilized to fulfill a part of the mandate.  Others have grade levels dedicated particularly to in-state power generation that may now be doubtful in view of the recent decision by the federal court:

New Mexico’s Tier V applies to customer-sited resources;
Massachusetts’ Tier IV exclusively applies to in-state PV projects;
New York’s Tier II covers customer-sited resources.
The new ruling is significant since one of the main points raised by mandate proponents is the creation of jobs in the concerned state.  Certainly, these claims merely consider the overall “green” jobs provided, while totally neglecting the loss of net jobs resulting from increased electricity rates arising from these mandates. The federal court ruling might just end up nullifying the argument for in-state green-job employment since renewable power can be imported out-of-state to comply with the mandate.

Lawmakers in these states with power mandates may now question the value of raising electricity rates on their state power consumers for the purpose of subsidizing “green” job creation in another state nearby. In the end, what this ruling has done is to unravel the problems and complexities with a market for renewables that has been created through government policies.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The State of the Nation’s Air, and Your Lungs

In most places, the quality of air in America is better than ever.

As China remains blanketed by an ever-thickening haze, we in the United States can be grateful of one thing: The air is getting cleaner in most parts. The American Lung Association reported in its State of the Air 2013 that 18 cities have lower dust pollution compared to previous years, while 16 had their lowest figures ever.

Nevertheless, the improvement is not that widespread. About 25 million Americans live in conditions of harmful levels of ozone and particle pollution. Around 131 million people (42%) live with either type of unhealthful environment. California’s busy and highly-populated metros rank badly in the rankings, consistently topping the five most-polluted metros by ozone, year-round and short-term particulate pollution. Bakersfield, the highest for particulates among 277 metros, fares worst of all although it has already improved.

In general, 119 counties have levels of ozone that affect the health of citizens with "aggravated asthma, difficulty breathing, cardiovascular harm and lower birth weight". Particulate levels in 58 counties are such that they "increase risks of heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for asthma and cardiovascular disease".

Cities, such as Salt Lake City and Fairbanks, Alaska, experience more frequent short-term spikes in pollution. Out of 25 cities that had the worst short-term problems, 14 recorded more poor days than in previous reports of the "State of the Air". According to the report, some cities experienced higher pollution arising from increased burning of wood and other fuels for heating during winter, especially with the use of highly-polluting indoor wood-stoves or outdoor wood-boilers.

Of the cleanest cities, New Mexico proudly ranks third and fifth for least particulates (Santa Fe and Farmington), Wyoming has another (Cheyenne), then Prescott, Arizona, and St. George, Utah. To help you determine your city’s ranking, the Lung Association website provides a friendly search function using the zip code.

"State of the Air" utilizes data gathered by the E.P.A. from 2009 to 2011. Its main objective is to promote continued enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Since 1970 when the Act was first amended, population and energy consumption has increased by about 50% while gross domestic product rose 212%, the report shows. Since then, emissions of the six most common pollutants have decreased by 68%. China, on the other hand, can only dream of achieving such a growth-to-pollution ratio.