The Department of Energy on July 7 formally proposed additional changes to a 2020 "process rule" for setting equipment efficiency standards that would drop what the agency called "extra procedural steps" not required by the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act.

DOE proposed revisions "to allow for a more expedited rulemaking process" in some cases, "particularly in light of the significant number of legal deadlines confronting the appliance standards program."

The Appliance Standards Awareness Project said DOE "has a legal obligation to review and consider updating about 50 standards by the end of 2024."

Andrew deLaski, the group's executive director, called DOE's proposal "a positive step."

"We're looking for the Biden administration to begin proposing updates for overdue standards soon," he said.

Under the proposal, DOE would eliminate a requirement for a "separate early assessment" request for information on efficiency standards. In addition, DOE proposed removing a 75-day comment period for pre-rulemaking documents, "as it is not compelled by" the 1975 law "or other applicable law."

On April 1, DOE announced a proposed rule to drop the 2020 regulation's energy savings threshold for establishing or updating standards. Under the 2020 rule, DOE will not propose a new or revised standard unless projected energy savings total 0.3 quad over 30 years or deliver a 10-percent improvement over existing standards over the same period.

The earlier proposal has not yet been finalized.

In the latest proposal, DOE is seeking to eliminate a requirement that the department must complete a "coverage determination" that equipment falls under the law's requirements before starting a rulemaking to establish a standard or test procedure for measuring compliance.

In addition, DOE proposed dropping the current requirement for a 180-day waiting period between completion of a coverage determination and publication of a test procedure.

DOE will take comments on the latest proposal until Aug. 23.

Biden Pushes Energy Tax Credit Proposals

President Joe Biden on July 7 continued his push for infrastructure legislation, calling on Congress to pass tax incentives for renewable energy and electric vehicles.

In a speech at McHenry County College in Illinois, Biden said, "I want to provide tax cuts for businesses and consumers who invest in clean energy technologies like renewables, battery storage, next-generation aviation fuels, electric vehicles. I want to set the clean electricity standard that moves us to a fully clean and reliable grid."

Energy tax incentives could be part of infrastructure legislation that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to move under filibuster-exempt budget reconciliation rules. Schumer on June 24 reiterated that he plans to push infrastructure legislation on two tracks: one to pass a bill based on the infrastructure package negotiated by a bipartisan Senate group and another—which would include Biden's energy-incentive, health and education proposals—under reconciliation rules.

The Edison Electric Institute on July 7 released a statement backing the bipartisan package, which includes $73 billion for power system infrastructure and $7.5 billion for EV charging. It also includes $20 billion for a "financing authority" to build out energy and EV infrastructure, as well as road, rail and water projects.

The bipartisan Senate package totals an estimated $973 billion in baseline and new spending over five years.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said July 8 that the administration's understanding "is that the process could begin as early as the week of July 19, given that committees are still finalizing legislative text for both the budget resolution and the bipartisan bill." She added, however, that "it would be a mistake to think of July 19 as anything more than the opening of a window—not a deadline."

Meanwhile, an amendment authorizing $36.6 billion over five years to accelerate funding of EV manufacturing and expand deployment of charging facilities was added June 30 to a surface transportation and water bill that the House approved July 1.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the underlying bill, HR 3684, would "supercharge our electric-vehicle infrastructure." The underlying bill, before approval of amendments on the House floor, included $4 billion for EV charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure on designated corridors.

House passage of the amended bill adds another element to infrastructure legislation negotiations involving the Biden administration and both houses of Congress.

The White House on June 28 indicated it supports HR 3684, and Biden said he also supports the infrastructure package negotiated by the bipartisan Senate group. In a statement of administration policy, the White House said the House bill "aligns with the administration's goals," including reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on May 26 reported out a $303.5 billion surface transportation bill authorizing $2.5 billion in grants for EV charging and other alternative-fuel infrastructure.

Amendments to the House bill would increase authorized spending by an additional $44 billion above the $715 billion authorized in the draft reported out of committee, according to the transportation committee.

The EV amendment would authorize $12.5 billion for domestic EV manufacturing over the next five years, with priority for retooling production plants "that have recently ceased operation or would otherwise cease operation in the near future."

Another $22.5 billion would be authorized for transportation-electrification projects, including deployment of charging stations, charging equipment at ports and for heavy-duty vehicles, and battery recycling.

The amendment would authorize $500 million in rebates over five years for state, local and tribal governments to install EV charging stations. Hydrogen fueling stations also would be eligible for the rebates.

In addition, $480 million would be authorized to deploy charging equipment in underserved communities.

The amendment was offered by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Energy Subcommittee. The text includes much of Rush's EV legislation, HR 2852, which he introduced April 27.

Schumer said June 24 the Senate will hold a floor vote on the bipartisan package this month. "Senators also should be prepared to consider a budget resolution that will clear the way for the budget reconciliation bill as soon as possible," he said. "The bottom line is that both tracks need to make progress concurrently."

NERC Sees 'High' Reliability Risk in California

NERC on June 30 said California is at "high risk" of a summer electricity supply emergency, while the rest of the West faces an "elevated risk."

NERC said the Western Electricity Coordinating Council subregion that includes California faces high risk because supplies elsewhere in the West "may be limited" for import into California during late afternoons, when demand peaks and solar generation falls.

NERC said WECC's Northwest and Southwest subregions "have enough resources to meet electricity demand under normal peak summer demand conditions, but they are at elevated risk of electricity shortfalls if demand is higher."

In the Electric Reliability Council of Texas region, "extreme summer heat could result in supply shortages that lead to an electricity emergency," NERC said.

California Hydro Generation Down

Hydroelectric power generation in California is expected to decrease 19 percent this year from the 2020 level as a result of intense drought conditions, the Energy Information Administration said July 7.

As of June 22, the entire state was experiencing drought, with about one-third of the state classified as under "exceptional" drought, the most severe drought classification, EIA said.

California's hydro generation is expected to fall from 16,800 GWh in 2020 to 13,600 GWh this year, EIA said.

As a result of below-normal snowpack and absorption of snowmelt by parched soils and streams, California reservoirs are at low levels, EIA said. Shasta Lake is at 48 percent of average capacity and Lake Oroville is at 40 percent, according to EIA figures.

"Lake Oroville's water level is expected to fall even lower, which will likely force the Edward Hyatt Power Plant to shut down for the first time since it opened in 1967," EIA said.

Biden Meets With Top Officials on Ransomware

Biden met with top intelligence and security officials on July 7 to review options for countering ransomware, following the attack on the Kaseya network management company earlier this month.

Meanwhile, FERC staff and the Electricity Information and Analysis Sharing Center on July 6 issued a joint report urging the electricity industry to probe networks for "indicators of compromise" and consider adopting mitigation measures that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recommended in connection with the cyberattack on SolarWinds' network management software.

The SolarWinds attack, which came to light on Dec. 13, compromised systems of nearly 18,000 of the software company's customers, the report said.

"Because of SolarWinds' wide use and the adversarial tactics used, even entities that did not install SolarWinds [software] on their networks could still be impacted," since suppliers might use the product, the report added.

The report noted CISA's warning that "operating even the updated version of SolarWinds may carry some risk," explaining that vulnerabilities in SolarWinds code unrelated to the inserted malware could survive the malware's removal.

"We are continuing to gather details on if this [Kaseya] incident occurred with the knowledge or approval of the Russian government," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on July 8. "That's what we're really digging into at this point in time. And while the intelligence community has not yet attributed the attack and we still don't have new information on the attribution as of today, the [cybersecurity] community agrees that the criminal group, REvil, that we've talked about a bit in here operates out of Russia with affiliates around the world."

Psaki added that "if the Russian government cannot or will not act against criminal actors residing in Russia, we will act."

Following his June 16 summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden said he warned Putin that energy and 15 other infrastructure sectors "should be off limits to attack—period—by cyber or any other means."

In statements, Kaseya said "a very small number of on-premises customers" were affected by the attack.

DOE Funds Wave Projects at Oregon Test Site

DOE made $27 million available on July 6 for wave energy research and development projects at the PacWave South test facility off the Oregon coast.

Funding includes up to $15 million to research wave energy converter technologies for remote and microgrid use and up to $5 million to study converter designs. In addition, up to $7 million is available for research projects covering advanced converter systems, components, environmental monitoring, instrumentation and wave measurement.

Concept papers are due Aug. 13 and full applications are due by Oct. 5, DOE said.

31 Hydrogen Projects Get DOE Funding

DOE on July 7 said 31 projects to research hydrogen technologies will receive $52.5 million in federal funding.

DOE said the funding "will focus on bridging technical gaps in hydrogen production, storage, distribution and utilization technologies, including fuel cells."

Funding awards included:

  • $5 million to Cummins in Milpitas, Calif., to study automation of solid-oxide electrolyzer cells and stack assemblies.
  • $4.5 million for Solar Turbines in San Diego to develop gas turbine combustion systems for 100-percent hydrogen and hydrogen/gas blends.
  • $2.7 million to Czero in Fort Collins Colo., for research on compression systems for medium- and heavy-duty transportation.
  • $2 million to Nikola in Phoenix for research on autonomous fueling systems for heavy-duty fuel cell trucks.
  • $999,913 to the University of California, San Diego, to demonstrate solid-oxide electrolysis cell technology for hydrogen production.
  • $999,526 to OxEon Energy in North Salt Lake, Utah, to develop stable solid-oxide electrolysis cells.

Barrasso Calls for Withdrawal of BLM Nominee

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on June 28 called on Biden to withdraw his nomination of Tracy Stone-Manning to head the Bureau of Land Management, accusing her of giving false information to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in connection with a 1989 Idaho tree-spiking case that took place while she was enrolled in the University of Montana's environmental studies graduate program.

"Tracy Stone-Manning lied to the [committee] by claiming the tree spiking was 'alleged' and that she was never investigated. Now, we have confirmation that neither of those things is true," Barrasso, the committee's ranking Republican, said.

In a statement, Barrasso's office said Stone-Manning's responses to a committee questionnaire indicated she was never the subject of a criminal investigation in connection with the tree-spiking case.

"In court testimony obtained by the committee, Stone-Manning admitted that she edited, retyped, and sent a threatening letter to the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of the eco-terrorists," the statement alleges. "Years later, she received immunity in order to testify against the individuals who had spiked the trees. The court documents also confirm that hundreds of trees were spiked."

Stone-Manning testified at a 1993 trial in the case that she agreed to a request by defendants to send the letter in order to warn loggers. Two men, John Blount and Jeffrey Fairchild, were convicted in the case.

The committee has not yet acted on Stone-Manning's nomination. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the committee chairman, has not stated his position on the nomination.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has defended Stone-Manning's confirmation. At her June 8 confirmation hearing before the committee, Tester said, "Tracy is a proven leader with a track record of working across the aisle to get things done. She is honest, she is driven by facts, not political ideology. She is adept at managing the needs of diverse interests, and I know she's a perfect choice to run the BLM."

Stone-Manning currently is a senior advisor at the National Wildlife Federation. Previously, she served as chief of staff to former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; as director of Montana's Department of Environmental Quality; and as regional director, acting state staff director and senior advisor for Tester.

NRC Down to Three Members

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on July 1 fell to three members after the term of Commissioner Annie Caputo expired the previous day.

Caputo joined the commission in 2018. Then-President Donald Trump nominated her in 2017 to fill out the remainder of former Commissioner William Ostendorff's five-year term.

Another commission seat has been vacant since Jan. 20 when Kristine Svinicki resigned.

The White House has not yet indicated when Biden will send nominations for new commissioners to the Senate.

EIA: Fossil Energy Use Down 9 Percent in 2020

Fossil energy use in the U.S. decreased 9 percent in 2020, falling to its lowest level since 1991, the Energy Information Administration said July 6.

Consumption of natural gas, coal and petroleum fell to 72.9 quads, with the electric power sector totaling 20.4 quads.

"Last year marked the largest annual decrease in U.S. fossil fuel consumption in both absolute and percentage terms since at least 1949, the earliest year in our annual data series," the EIA said.

The agency attributed the plunge to the economic contraction linked to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, warmer weather last year cut demand for heating fuels.

Gas' share of fossil energy usage last year was 43 percent, the highest on record, with the power sector taking 38 percent of gas consumption, EIA figures show. Coal's share of fossil energy demand was 13 percent, the lowest level since 1949, the EIA said.

DOE Announces Commercialization Funds

DOE on June 24 announced $65 million for 68 projects aimed at speeding up commercialization of energy technologies.

The funding includes $30 million from the agency and a $35 million match from private funds.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory received just over $5 million for technology projects that include thin films for solar modules; hybrid power plants; bioproducts; offshore wind turbines; electric aviation systems; grid resilience; "superinsulation"; wind energy; hydrogen-based power plant support; efficient heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems; distributed energy management; bio-based insecticides; and processes for scrubbing carbon dioxide out of waste gas.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory received $4.8 million, including funding for cybersecurity in control rooms and optimization of hydropower and marine kinetic energy facilities.

Funding also included $4.72 million for Los Alamos National Laboratory to accelerate a range of technologies, including remote monitoring of transmission lines, renewable production of hydrogen and manufacturing of carbon composites.

Senate Passes Farm Climate Bill

The Senate on June 24 passed bipartisan legislation, S. 1251, that would authorize the Department of Agriculture to establish a third-party certification and technical assistance program for farmers to sell carbon credits in voluntary markets.

The legislation, which passed 92-8, would set standards for certification programs for farmers to generate verifiable credits for on-farm energy generation; reducing emissions through sequestering carbon in soils; reducing livestock emissions through feed and manure management practices; and forest, wetland and grassland restoration.

"Farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners are eager to explore emerging voluntary markets that will compensate them for reducing their environmental footprint," Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), the Senate Agriculture Committee's ranking Republican, said, adding that S. 1251 "seeks to remove barriers that stand in their way."

The bill next goes to the House for consideration.

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