The Interior Department plans to sell seven offshore wind leases by 2025, including two off the West Coast, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Oct. 13.

In a speech to the American Clean Power Association detailing a leasing road map, Haaland said lease sales could be held off California by September of next year and off the Oregon coast by the third quarter of 2023. Interior hopes to designate wind leasing areas off California this year and off Oregon in 2022.

"This timetable provides two crucial ingredients for success: increased certainty and transparency," Haaland said.

Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has proposed Wind Energy Areas that could be available for lease sales off Morro Bay on California's Central Coast and Humboldt County off the North Coast. Interior has estimated the two areas could support development of 4.6 GW of wind capacity.

Economic and siting issues would have to be addressed for offshore wind to move forward off California's coast, according to a 2020 California Energy Commission report. The commission estimated that 96 percent of the state's offshore wind potential lies in waters deeper than 60 meters, which would necessitate use of floating technology that is costlier than turbines attached directly to the seafloor.

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Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S.

The report said barriers include "lack of technical history and maturity of offshore systems, deep coastal waters, high technology costs, sensitive habitats and untested permitting processes for offshore energy generation."

For Oregon, BOEM and state officials are gathering data to identify "call areas" for potential leasing.

Other areas in Interior's leasing road map include the New York Bight, Carolina Long Bay, the Central Atlantic, the Gulf of Maine and the Gulf of Mexico.

In a related development, the Department of Energy on Oct. 13 announced $13.5 million in four grants to research environmental and wildlife issues associated with offshore wind development. Grant recipients include Oregon State University, which received $2 million for visual surveys and acoustic monitoring of marine mammals and seabirds in potential West Coast development areas.

The Biden administration earlier this year announced a goal to deploy 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, with an interim goal of permitting at least 25 GW by 2025.

Currently, two wind projects are operating in U.S. waters: the 30-MW Block Island project off Rhode Island and the 12-MW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project. The Interior and Commerce departments on May 11 approved the 800-MW Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts.

Interior said BOEM is reviewing nine construction and operation plans for proposed offshore wind projects and plans to finish review of six additional proposals by 2025, totaling 19 GW.

EIA Sees High Gas Prices Through Winter

Natural gas prices will remain high through the first quarter of 2022 as a result of below-average storage levels and strong demand for liquefied natural gas exports, the Energy Information Administration reported Oct. 14.

Prices at the benchmark Henry Hub are expected to average $5.67/MMBtu between now and March 2022, "the highest winter price since 2007-2008," the EIA said, adding that Henry Hub prices are expected to fall to $4.01/MMBtu after the first quarter of next year "as production growth outpaces growth in LNG exports."

The EIA estimated that gas in storage on Nov. 1 will total 3.572 Tcf, 4.8 percent below the five-year average. "Lower U.S. inventories could contribute to more natural gas price volatility, particularly if any area in the United States experiences a severe cold snap, which makes the price outlook for this winter very uncertain," the agency said.

The EIA on Oct. 13 said average household spending on heating fuels is expected to rise sharply this winter because of higher costs and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projections of a 3-percent increase in degree days during the upcoming winter compared with last winter. The EIA estimates that average natural gas costs for households could increase 30 percent over last winter and residential propane costs could go up 54 percent.

Domestic gas production was flat through most of this year, but production rose slightly during the second half of September compared with the month's first half, the American Gas Association said in its most recent market indicators report, released Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, AGA said, the U.S. is exporting LNG at near capacity as shippers chase high prices in Europe.

"While U.S. LNG exports represent less than 7 percent of total gas consumption in Europe, extremely high prices make European markets an attractive place to sell gas despite increasing prices at home," the AGA report says.

Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a trade group, in a Sept. 17 letter asked Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to order a reduction in exports so gas in storage could be increased to the five-year average. IECA called current LNG export volumes "inflationary."

DOE Awards $61 Million for Smart-Building Pilots

The Department of Energy on Oct. 13 awarded $61 million for 10 pilot projects deploying grid-connected technologies for improving efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.

Five of the projects are in the West.

Under the Connected Communities project, interactive buildings will use controls, sensors and data analytics to communicate with the grid and reduce peak demand.

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Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

"These projects will help universalize technology that can maximize the efficiency and sustainability of America's nearly 130 million buildings," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said.

Grant recipients include Portland General Electric, which received $6.65 million to renovate more than 500 buildings in North Portland's Overlook and Arbor Lodge neighborhoods to reduce energy use in low-income housing. Plans include installation of efficiency measures and grid-connected devices, including smart thermostats and water heaters.

PGE will work with the Energy Trust of Oregon, Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Community Energy Project, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Open Systems International Inc. to carry out the project, DOE said.

The Electric Power Research Institute was awarded $5.27 million for retrofitting multifamily buildings in Seattle, San Diego and New York City with more than 2,000 dwellings. "By implementing efficiency, flexibility, storage and distributed generation, the project team will demonstrate different decarbonization pathways, reduce energy cost burden, improve system resilience and provide distribution and bulk grid services," DOE said.

EPRI's partners on the project include Seattle City Light, the Gas Technology Institute, Community Roots Housing, Vistar Energy and Sentient Buildings.

PacifiCorp was awarded $6.42 million for a distributed energy control program that, according to DOE, "integrates diverse building types with a range of flexible loads to optimize grid services and improve building energy efficiency" in three Utah communities—Salt Lake City, North Logan and Herriman.

All-electric buildings in the PacifiCorp project are to be equipped with heat pump-based HVAC and domestic hot water systems, adaptive building envelopes and advanced lighting to aim toward a 30-percent energy savings target, DOE said. Buildings involved in the project include an apartment complex, mixed-use retail and apartment buildings, a Utah State University laboratory and office building with a microgrid, a transit operating center, a manufacturing plant and a residential home.

SunPower of San Jose received $6.65 million to develop two test beds with new residential buildings that meet DOE's Zero Energy Ready Homes guidelines, as part of two housing development projects in Menifee, California, in western Riverside County, DOE said. The all-electric communities will have photovoltaic systems and home energy management systems, with projected efficiency improvements estimated at 38 to 57 percent, DOE said.

SunPower's partners include KB Home; the University of California, Irvine; Southern California Edison; and Schneider Electric, according to DOE.

Spokane Edo LLC was awarded $6.65 million to upgrade 125 residential and commercial buildings in Spokane to provide up to 2.25 MW in flexible-load and grid benefits. The company will work with Avista Utilities, McKinstry, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Urbanova on the project.

Flood Standards Revision in the Works

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Oct. 12 kicked off revision of floodplain management standards that could lead to tighter requirements for communities to qualify for participation in the national flood insurance program.

FEMA responded to a Jan. 5 petition from the Association of State Floodplain Managers and the Natural Resources Defense Council urging revisions. The petition said half of the total $69 billion in flood insurance claims since 1973 was paid in the last 12 years, and warned that climate change would likely increase flood risks.

FEMA opened a request for information on updating floodplain standards that communities must adopt as an eligibility condition for federally subsidized flood insurance. The agency said the standards have not been updated since 1976.

Currently, more than 22,500 communities have adopted management standards to meet minimum flood insurance plan requirements. The standards apply to designated hazard areas at risk of 100-year floods in any year.

FEMA said it is seeking information that "aligns the program with the improved understanding of flood risk and flood risk reduction approaches."

On Oct. 1, FEMA began phasing in updates to the insurance program's pricing methodology, which the agency said had not been updated in 50 years. FEMA said that under the old methodology, policyholders with lower-valued homes "are paying more than their fair share of the risk while policyholders with higher-valued homes are paying less than their fair share of the risk."

FEMA estimated that 77 percent of policyholders would see premium increases, with 4 percent receiving hikes exceeding $20 per month, while 23 percent would see reductions of $86 per month.

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A flooded road in Davenport, Iowa, in 2017.

EPA Grants Petitions to Restrict HFCs

The Environmental Protection Agency on Oct. 8 granted in full 10 petitions to restrict use of hydrofluorocarbons for refrigeration, air conditioning, aerosol and foam applications.

EPA partially granted an 11th petition.

The agency has two years to finalize rulemakings on the petitions.

The petitions were submitted under legislation enacted last year to phase down use of HFCs 85 percent by 2036. HFCs, introduced as a substitute for ozone-depleting chemicals, are powerful greenhouse gases. The law authorizes EPA to restrict use of HFCs fully or partially.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Sept. 23 finalized a rule to establish an allowance allocation and trading program to meet the 85-percent reduction goal.

Cybersecurity Reporting Bill Advances

A Senate committee on Oct. 6 reported out bipartisan legislation requiring critical-infrastructure owners and operators to report major cyberattacks within 72 hours.

S. 2875, reported out by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, would require reporting of attacks to the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. In addition, the bill would require businesses, nonprofit organizations and state and local governments to report making ransomware payments within 24 hours.

CISA would be authorized to subpoena entities that fail to report, and noncompliance with subpoenas could result in entities being barred from contracts with the federal government.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, said reports to CISA would help Congress and federal agencies develop a strategy for combating cybercrime.

DeFazio Calls for Another Look at Corps Permits

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) on Oct. 13 urged the Biden administration to reexamine 16 nationwide permits for oil and gas pipelines that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued in the Trump administration's waning days under National Environmental Policy Act rules that are undergoing review.

"Allowing those 16 permits to remain in place despite this dubious reliance on the Trump administration's NEPA provisions is a perilous approach to the protection of water resources nationwide," DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a letter to President Joe Biden. Joining DeFazio in signing the letter was Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

The Corps on Jan. 13 reissued 12 permits and issued four newly established permits. The Corps reissued Nationwide Permit 12, limiting it to oil and gas pipelines, and established Permit 57 for electric and telecommunications lines and Permit 58 for water and wastewater lines.

DOE Sets Community Solar Target

The Department of Energy on Oct. 8 set a target of developing enough community solar energy systems to power 5 million homes by 2025 and save $1 billion in energy costs.

Achieving the target would require expanding community solar by a factor of more than seven, DOE said, estimating that the community solar currently installed could power 600,000 households.

DOE said it would offer free technical assistance on demand to organizations planning to develop community solar.

The department said $1 million for technical assistance has been disbursed by the National Community Solar Partnership, a coalition of state, local and tribal governments, solar developers and community organizations. The partnership hopes to provide an additional $2 million in the coming year, DOE said.

Lawmakers Seek National Coal Council Renewal

Twenty-seven Republican lawmakers on Oct. 12 called on Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to renew the National Coal Council.

The council's charter as a federal advisory committee expires Nov. 20. The council advises the energy secretary on policies affecting production, use and marketing of coal; strategies to manage coal's impacts; and scientific and engineering issues with coal technologies.

Senate and House lawmakers said the council "provides [DOE] with the tools and information it needs to ensure America's carbon management technologies are cutting edge and are deployed around the world." They warned that "denying newly mined coal a position in the domestic energy and manufacturing mix will come at a serious cost."

Signatories to the letter included Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, along with Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah.). House members signing included Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), John Curtis (R-Utah) and Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).

Two Dozen Countries Join Methane Pledge

Two dozen countries will join the U.S.-European Union pledge to cut worldwide methane emissions 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said Oct. 11.

The new pledges bring to 30 the countries that have joined, the State Department said.

Nine of the top 20 methane emitters have joined the pledge, representing about 30 percent of global emissions, the department added.

In addition, 20 grantmaking nonprofit organizations announced plans to fund more than $223 million in methane-reduction projects.

Meanwhile, an Oct. 7 International Energy Agency report said reducing methane emissions from fossil fuel production would have "immediate impacts" on slowing climate change.

IEA's report lays out a blueprint for reducing emissions 75 percent by 2030. Much of the methane emitted from fossil operations results from leaks in production systems, the agency said.

"It is inexcusable that massive amounts of methane continue to be allowed to just seep into the air from fossil fuel operations," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said. "These emissions are avoidable, the solutions are proven and even profitable in many cases."

The agency estimates that 45 percent of emissions could be eliminated at no net cost because of the value of captured gas.

IEA estimated that fossil energy operations accounted for 120 million metric tons of methane emissions in 2020, one-third of the total tied to human activities.

Policy tools that the report recommends include leak detection and repair requirements and prohibitions on non-emergency venting and flaring from oil and gas wells.

EPA plans to propose rules for reducing methane emissions from new and existing upstream oil and gas production facilities. A 2020 federal court ruling voided a Bureau of Land Management rule limiting venting and flaring from wells on federal lands.

The House version of the 10-year budget bill would impose royalties on methane vented and flared from wells on federal lands, while the Senate-passed infrastructure package pending in the House includes $16 billion for cleaning up orphaned oil and gas wells and abandoned mines.

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A horse investigates an oil rig near Half Moon Bay in California.

IEA Sees Shortfall in Reaching Net-Zero Target

Renewable resources are growing rapidly, electric-vehicle sales are setting records and clean-energy financing is expected to double over the next decade, but cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are projected to fall short of levels needed to reach net-zero by 2050, IEA said in its World Energy Outlook 2021, released Oct. 13.

"At the moment, every data point showing the speed of change in energy can be countered by another showing the stubbornness of the status quo," IEA said in the report, which the agency characterized as a handbook for leaders who will meet Oct. 31 through Nov. 12 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

"Public spending on sustainable energy in economic recovery packages has only mobilized around one-third of the investment required to jolt the energy system onto a new set of rails, with the largest shortfall in developing economies that continue to face a pressing public health crisis," the report says.

If all emissions-reduction pledges that countries have made to reach net-zero targets are fulfilled, IEA estimates, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions would fall 40 percent by 2050, holding the increase in global average temperatures to 2.1 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

IEA added, however, that "a lot more needs to be done by governments to fully deliver on their announced pledges."

The agency said that "four key measures" are needed in the next 10 years to "close the gap between today's pledges" and keeping the increase in global average temperatures at 1.5 C above preindustrial levels. The measures include "a massive additional push for clean electrification"; more than doubling the rate of efficiency improvements; reducing methane emissions from fossil energy operations; and boosting commercialization of technologies currently in the prototype or demonstration stage that could reduce emissions from heavy industry, including iron, steel and cement production.

EIA Sees Global CO2 Rise to 2050

Energy consumption and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will increase worldwide through 2050 as populations and economies grow, the EIA projected in its latest International Energy Outlook, released Oct. 6.

Global energy use in the EIA's reference scenario, assuming current laws and policies in place as of May 2021, is projected to increase nearly 50 percent from the 2020 level, largely as a result of population and economic growth in Asia.

Worldwide, energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to increase in the reference scenario, driven by growth in developing countries outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a policy institution whose members include the U.S. and 37 other developed countries. By 2050, emissions from non-OECD countries are projected to be 35 percent higher than the 2020 level, "compared with 5 percent emissions growth in OECD countries," the outlook says.

"The average carbon intensity across non-OECD countries remains higher than that of OECD countries through 2050, mainly because of a higher retention of fossil fuels—particularly coal," the outlook says. Coal's share of power generation across non-OECD countries is more than twice that of OECD members.

The report says renewables are likely to be the leading source of new power generation, with renewable energy generation more than doubling between 2020 and 2050 to 27 percent of the total, but energy systems are expected to rely on natural gas, coal and batteries to meet supply-demand imbalances and to support grid reliability.

The outlook projects increasing electrification across all sectors, including transportation.

"Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), which include both battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles, are the fastest-growing light-duty passenger fleet" across both developed and developing economies, the EIA said. "By 2050, PEVs make up almost a third of light-duty stock. Electricity use grows to account for 5 percent of global transportation energy consumption by 2050 in the reference case."

Biden Signs Debt Limit Increase Into Law

Biden on Oct. 14 signed into law legislation, S. 1301, that increases the federal debt limit by $480 billion, averting until early December the threat of an unprecedented federal default.

The House on Oct. 12 voted to approve Senate-passed legislation along party lines, with 219 Democrats voting in favor and 206 Republicans opposed.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned earlier that if Congress did not raise or suspend the ceiling, the federal government would run out of cash to pay all current bills by Oct. 18.

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