Innovative Efficiency Program Proposal another Step to 25x'25

October 5th, 2012

The key to reaching a new clean energy future in this country has and will continue to be innovation. Advances in technologies, management practices and resource development continue to be critical to overcoming challenges and exploiting opportunities that come with making the necessary transition from a fossil-fuel dependent society to one that can take the greatest advantage of sustainable energy sources.

The United States has seen a wide variety of creative policy development as well. And it’s in that spirit of innovation that the 25x’25 Alliance readily supports a proposal that makes federal funds available through local rural utilities in the form of loans to ratepayers to help their homes and businesses use energy more efficiently.

The public comment period closed last week on a proposal that would allow USDA, through its Rural Utilities Service (RUS), to set up an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program. The proposed program will create jobs in the energy efficiency industry, and build upon USDA efforts to provide funding that supports the improvement of energy efficiency of single and multi-family housing, businesses and farms, as well as the utility companies themselves.

Over the years, this blog has often stated that energy efficiency is the option of first choice in a 25x’25 energy future. Why? Because increasing the efficiency of how America uses and produces energy will reduce overall energy demand. Becoming more energy efficient lowers energy bills and improves the country’s competitiveness; enhances national security by reducing demand for oil; stabilizes energy prices; reduces the need to construct new power plants and other generation capacity; enhances electric and natural gas system reliability; and it reduces air pollutants and emissions.

And, it makes it easier to meet the goal of meeting 25 percent of the country’s energy needs from renewable sources produced by our farms, ranches and forestlands by the year 2025.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, which has seen success on a pilot level in a few states, is an innovative way to help boost rural economic development across  America by creating jobs and helping homeowners and businesses save money. And it benefits the environment by reducing emissions associated with the production of energy.

There is now a wide availability of increasingly less expensive technologies that can be deployed to more efficiently generate and consume energy in a variety of industries, and reduce energy demand.

An estimated 96 percent of rural electric cooperatives have some form of energy efficiency program in place. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program would provide access to new capital that should greatly accelerate the expansion of local programs that allow homeowners and rural businesses to make affordable, cost-effective energy efficiency improvements.

Also, rural electric cooperatives will have the ability to upgrade electric distribution, transmission and generation facilities through the program. And the program would give rural electric cooperatives additional financing flexibility that allows for the recovery of the internal costs while delivering on the promise of maximizing energy efficiency gains and participation.

The initial maximum funding level of $250 million to support the program is an excellent starting point. But that amount will likely grow with higher participation and as the scale of the projects grow.

With the status of a new farm bill in flux, and with the possible loss of energy efficiency programs contained in the now-expired 2008 Farm Bill, the demand on local energy efficiency programs from agriculture and rural small business could grow significantly. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan program can serve as an excellent tool in meeting some of that gap and serve to reinforce the need to make more efficient use of our energy resources a cornerstone of U.S. energy policy. The Alliance supports the program’s adoption.

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U.S. Needs to Encourage Renewable Energy

October 1st, 2012

The following guest blog by Dave Tenny, President and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO), first appeared on the NAFO Web site Sept. 21, and is reprinted with permission from NAFO.

EPA has an opportunity to advance the Obama administration’s “all-of-the-above” approach to future energy needs in the United States. Think forests and renewable energy.

The forest products industry is the leading producer and user of renewable biomass energy and produces more renewable energy from biomass than all the energy produced from solar, wind and geothermal sources combined. Biomass combustion produces enough energy to power nearly 3 million homes and should be encouraged as part of our country’s approach to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

But, in 2010, the EPA made a sudden shift from its past policy and announced in Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations, commonly known as the “Tailoring Rule,” that it would regulate biogenic carbon emissions from stationary sources in the same manner as fossil fuel emissions. This was a radical departure from how biogenic emissions had been regulated in the past both in the United States and the international community and ignored the scientific fact that biomass energy merely recycles carbon in the atmosphere while fossil fuels add to it.

NAFO petitioned EPA to correct this flaw. In response to NAFO’s petition, EPA sensibly deferred until 2014 its decision to regulate biogenic emissions from stationary sources and commissioned a panel under the auspices of its Science Advisory Board (SAB) to conduct a science and technical review of EPA’s Accounting Framework for Biogenic CO2 Emissions from Stationary Sources. The SAB panel reviewed the draft framework for nine months and prepared a report and recommendations for final SAB review and transmission to EPA.

The SAB panel report confuses rather than clarifies the path forward. On the one hand, the panel finds that EPA’s draft accounting framework is seriously flawed and needlessly complex. On the other hand, the panel’s recommendations introduce so much new complexity that they would discourage the use of biomass as an alternative to fossil fuels. The SAB has provisionally approved the report and will likely deliver the final version to the EPA Administrator this fall.

Ultimately, EPA must develop an accounting framework and carbon emissions policy capable of implementation. The agency could accomplish this using readily available U.S. Forest Service (USFS) data collected for decades, rather than developing overly complex and uncertain models that attempt to predict the potential carbon impacts of biomass energy decades into the future as recommended by the SAB panel.  USFS data show:

The U.S. grows more trees than it harvests for all purposes, including energy production. USFS reports that the standing inventory (volume of growing trees) in U.S. forests has grown by 63% between 1953 and 2011.[1]

Carbon storage in U.S. forests continues to increase, sequestering more than 800 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually.[2]

The bottom line is that, so long as forest carbon stocks overall are stable or increasing as verified by ongoing data collection, renewable energy from these forests does not increase overall carbon in the atmosphere.

NAFO is urging EPA to return to where it started, and use the data it has and continues to collect to support a policy that excludes forest biomass energy emissions in its greenhouse gas regulatory program so long as forest carbon stocks in the U.S. are stable or increasing. This approach is supported by more than 100 notable scientists who have written to Congress urging the appropriate treatment of wood biomass carbon in national energy policy, stating that: ” . . . the carbon dioxide released from the combustion or decay of woody biomass is part of the global cycle of biogenic carbon and does not increase the amount of carbon in circulation . . . ” and ” . . . the regeneration of the forest [where] the volume of removals [is] no greater than new growth less mortality results in stable levels of carbon in the forest and sustainable removals as a carbon neutral source for energy.”[3]

EPA has concluded that there is “scientific consensus . . . that the carbon dioxide emitted from burning biomass will not increase CO2 in the air if it is done on a sustainable basis.”[4] This position is supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Energy Information Administration, the World Resources Institute and other credible scientific bodies.

The EPA has an opportunity to reaffirm the scientifically sound and internationally accepted policy that wood biomass energy emissions do not increase CO2 in the air so long as the data show that the overall carbon in our forests remains stable. By doing so the EPA will encourage – rather than discourage – biomass as a viable renewable energy as part of an “all-of-the-above” plan for U.S. energy independence.

[1] U.S. Forest Information Service.
[2] EPA Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2010.
[3] Bruce Lippke et al., Letter to Congress (July 20, 2010).
[4] U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Combined Heat and Power Partnership. Biomass Combined Heat and Power Catalog of Technologies, 96 (Sept. 2007) available at www.epa.gov/chp/documents/biomass_chp_catalog.pdf.

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German Tour, Alliance Initiative Aims to Bring Light to Distributed Energy Policies

September 28th, 2012

german tour cropped and compressedThe 25x’25 Alliance, made up of nearly 1,000 organizations, has as its principal goal the meeting of 25 percent of our nation’s energy needs with renewable energy from America’s farms, ranches and forestlands by the year 2025. Towards that end, the alliance is pursuing an initiative, partnering with a small, select group of rural utilities, to explore how incentive-based rate mechanisms might be employed to accelerate the generation of clean, distributed energy.

Rural areas have immense renewable energy potential and many countries throughout the world have sought to realize this potential by utilizing polices such as incentive-based rate mechanisms to accelerate renewable energy production.

For example, by offering distributed energy producers – community wind farms and anaerobic digesters, among others – access to the grid and standard, long-term contracts based on the actual cost of producing renewable energy, these mechanisms have enabled more than 200,000 farmers in Germany to become energy producers, making their country a world leader in renewable energy manufacturing and generation. Currently, more than 20 percent of that nation’s energy comes from renewable sources.

It’s in that light that the 25x’25 Alliance has sent a team of rural energy leaders to Germany this week to gain firsthand knowledge of the country’s energy programs and policies that have enabled the kind of renewable energy production from German farms that 25x’25 envisions here in the United States.

As part of the tour, participants have met with farmers, businesses, non-profit organizations, renewable energy trade associations, and members of parliament to gain various perspectives on the potential benefits and concerns related to the county’s energy policy. They have also toured farms that have taken advantage of renewable energy incentives to install a wide range of technologies, including solar, wind, and biogas.

The study tour is part of a larger 25x’25 distributed energy initiative that is exploring with U.S. rural electric utilities new ways of delivering renewable energy. The Work Group will use the information garnered from the tour in Germany and other study efforts to develop a “Distributed Energy Policy Roadmap” document summarizing its findings.

Rural electric utilities, which serve more than 40 million rural residents in 47 states, face a growing number of new challenges in meeting energy demand. The cost of building new, large-scale power plants has more than doubled over the past decade, and the fluctuating price of traditional energy sources continue to create uncertainty.

But opportunities are present as well. Many rural utilities fall under state mandates that require a portion of their electricity to come from renewable sources and, in fact, many consumers are now expressing interest in receiving power from renewable sources. The various incentive tools under review by 25x’25 may provide the solution to any impediments to meeting increased energy demand by accelerating renewable energy development, which can offer new opportunities for economic development in rural communities.

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Why We Need Biofuels

September 24th, 2012

The following guest blog is a response to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial that criticized U.S. biofuel policy. The authors of this rebuttal are from Gale Buchanan, a former USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary; S.Z. Li, a bioenergy professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing; James R. Fischer, a consultant and former member of the board of directors of the DOE’s Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Agency; and Joshua Yean, assistant professor of plant biotech at Texas A&M University.

Biofuels will be a part of the future energy needs of this planet. Renewable energy is a key component to achieve the reality of a future that is sustainable for human development. The world’s population topped 7 billion in October 2011 and is poised to reach 9 billion well before mid-century. All of these people need energy for a fruitful life.

Is there a silver lining to this challenge? Absolutely. Most non-OPEC countries have either reached peak oil or will very soon. However, technology once again comes to the rescue of the U.S. consumer of petroleum products. Employing newer drilling technology will undoubtedly extend the availability of oil in the United States. Technology gives the United States a grace period to develop alternative energy sources. Why should we capitalize on this “grace period”? Because of one simple reason: All fossil energy is a finite resource.

Given that scenario, we suggest that we start now to plan for when fossil fuels are no longer available. We must move to a more sustainable future. Energy possibilities such as wind, hydro, nuclear, geothermal, ocean tides and river currents, are real and must be explored. While each of these possibilities have merit, our energy future must rely on a primary, permanent energy source – the sun.

The critical question for us today is how do we capture the sun’s energy in a useful form? Research has focused on three primary solar energy research areas: electricity through photovoltaic cells, thermal energy thru solar heaters and concentrated solar power, and biomass through green plant photosynthesis.

The biomass accumulated from photosynthesis using the sun’s energy can be a generator of liquid fuels. Biomass is important because of the immense amount of energy captured from the sun by photosynthesis – approximately 100 trillion watts per year, about six times the energy needed by all humans on the planet.

The crucial question for our countries as well as all countries of the world is: How do we make the transition from the comfortable fossil-energy supported world we live in today to a future world that is supported by sustainable energy?

The first step is recognizing the seriousness of the problem. Next is developing and securing “buy in” of an approach to achieving sustainable energy security. We have fossil energy companies extolling the virtues of their solutions – saying they can supply our energy for 50, 100 or even 200 years. Is that supposed to be comforting? Most energy companies are focused on the “bottom line,” while governments too often take a short term view.

However, for the sake of our civilization, we must take a long-term view. We need a vision and the plan to execute that vision. What is comforting is the fact we still have available supplies of fossil energy that provides time for a deliberate move to a more sustainable energy future. To fail to take advantage of this is irresponsible. Since there is a need for much research to seek more efficient ways of extracting fossil energy in the future, it would be far wiser to invest in research to enhance sustainable energy production including improving biofuel technology.

For example, the Chinese government supports scientists there in their effort to develop novel technology to cost-effectively refine sweet sorghum stems to ethanol and rumen animal feed, since sweet sorghum has high tolerance to drought and can provide not only grain, but also clean fuel and cattle feed without adversely impacting existing food crops. Facing heavy drought, farmers can divert corn to sorghum or sweet sorghum to produce food and feed and increase income.

And dozens of pilot and demonstration cellulosic ethanol plants are being built in both the United States and China. Here, the DOE recently launched a program to focus on improving photosynthesis efficiency to produce hydrocarbon fuel similar to petroleum through its dynamic funding agency of ARPA-E.

However, the investment is still limited and long-term commitments are still needed. More importantly, more countries and parties need to be engaged for this and other challenging tasks to channel the energy of sunlight into sustainable fuels and chemicals for the generations to come.

Now is the time for all countries to work together to develop the most efficient means of capturing the readily available sun’s energy. Biofuel must be a part of our future energy mix.

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