Sage Grouse Pot0103

A female sage grouse in flight.

A 2.2-percent reduction in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions for the year just ended was forecast Dec. 30 by the Energy Information Administration.

The EIA attributed the forecast reduction in large part to emissions from coal falling by 169 million metric tons over the previous year, "the largest decrease in CO2 emissions from coal since 2015," the agency reported.

On the other hand, the EIA forecast natural gas-related emissions would increase by 53 million metric tons in 2019 from the 2018 level. "Both changes are largely due to forecast changes in the electricity generation mix as natural gas continues to grow as the most prevalent electricity generation fuel," the EIA said.

Energy-related CO2 emissions in 2018 totaled 5.3 billion metric tons, down from a high of 6 billion metric tons in 2007, according to EIA figures.

NERC Sees Adequate Margins

Reserve margins are projected to be adequate for meeting peak demand in most of the U.S. and Canada throughout the 2020s, including in the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, even with an estimated installation of more than 330 GW of solar and wind capacity during the decade, NERC said in its 2019 Long-Term Reliability Assessment, released Dec. 19.

NERC, the reliability organization designated by FERC, pointed to "significant and rapid change" in the bulk power system, including projected retirement of more than 46 GW of coal, natural gas and nuclear generation between 2019 and 2029, growth of variable renewables, and increased development of distributed energy resources and storage.

NERC recommended development of "flexible resources needed to meet increasing ramping and variability requirements." While ramping issues are "largely confined to California" today, increased solar development in the state and elsewhere in North America will require planning for offsetting variability and fuel uncertainty with "sufficient flexibility," NERC said.

The assessment also recommended that bulk power system operators plan for increased development of distributed energy resources for "load forecasting, coordinated system protection and real-time situational awareness." NERC projected 35 GW of distributed solar photovoltaic and 8 GW of energy storage would be deployed by 2024.

Between 2019 and 2029, installed U.S. and Canadian wind and solar capacity is projected to increase from 15 percent to 26 percent of total capacity.

In the WECC region, planned installations of solar capacity are projected to total 15,250 MW through 2029. Planned installations of wind capacity in the Western region are projected to total 10,283 MW in the decade.

The planned installation figures include Tier 1 through Tier 3 resources, ranging from completed plants not yet in commercial operation to proposed projects.

The assessment reported "an emerging risk of energy deficiencies" during off-peak hours in the WECC region.

The report noted that reserve margins are projected to fall below reference margin levels in Texas and Ontario in the first half of the decade, but added that planned resources in Texas and "market mechanisms" bringing on new capacity in Ontario are expected to make up the shortfalls.

Efficiency Groups Pan DOE Lighting Action

Energy-efficiency advocates on Dec. 20 blasted the Department of Energy's rejection of tighter efficiency standards for general-service incandescent lighting.

The groups, including the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Appliance Standards Awareness Project and Natural Resources Defense Council, said DOE's determination violated the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. They estimated DOE's determination would increase consumer energy bills by up to $14 billion per year.

Under a "backstop" provision in the 2007 act, light bulbs that failed to meet an efficiency standard of 45 lumens per watt could not be sold in the U.S. beginning Jan. 1.

DOE has argued that the backstop provision was not triggered, a stance disputed by efficiency advocates and by a group of 16 state attorneys general, including the top legal officers of California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

DOE's action in effect allows continued sale of incandescent Type A lamps unable to meet the 45-lumens-per-watt standard.

Clay Nesler, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said energy-efficient bulbs are less available in low-income communities. "The standards set to take effect would have ensured that the most efficient and economical models would have filled store shelves," Nesler said in a statement.

DOE said tightening standards would cost consumers more than 300 percent of the price of Type A incandescent bulbs available today. "This increase is not economically justified because the bulbs do not last long enough for the energy savings to surpass the higher upfront price," DOE said.

In addition, DOE said LEDs are commanding an increasing share of the lighting market, pointing to a recent department report estimating that LEDs will make up 84 percent of all lighting by 2035, up from 19 percent in 2017.

The report said that as a result of falling costs and technological improvements, LEDs are pushing incandescent and compact fluorescent lighting out of the general-purpose lighting market. The report projected that LEDs' share will rise from 39 percent of the general-purpose market in 2020 to 85 percent in 2035.

EPA Proposes Coal Ash Permitting Program

The Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 19 proposed electronic permitting as part of what it called a "streamlined, efficient" program for authorizing disposal of coal ash in surface impoundments and landfills.

The proposal stems from 2016 legislation that set standards for managing coal-combustion residuals and authorized states to run their own permitting programs that meet the standards. The EPA proposal, if finalized, would apply to tribes and to states that don't have coal ash disposal permitting.

In a related matter, EPA on Dec. 2 opened for public comment its proposal to set an Aug. 31 deadline for unlined ponds to stop receiving waste. The deadline also would apply to clay-lined impoundments and impoundments that don't meet a minimum depth-to-aquifer standard.

The proposal would give plant owners until 2023 to begin closure if they don't have enough capacity for disposing of waste in approved alternative storage sites, such as composite-lined surface impoundments or conversion to "dry handling" of the material.

EPA's proposal was in response to a 2018 federal appeals court ruling that threw out provisions of the 2015 rule allowing unlined impoundments to continue receiving coal-combustion residuals unless they leak and classifying clay-lined impoundments as lined.

The comment deadline is Jan. 31.

Energy Research Bills Advance

A House subcommittee on Dec. 19 waved through three bills that would direct DOE to carry out grid-scale energy storage, geothermal and grid-modernization research programs.

The bills reported out by the House Science Committee's Energy Subcommittee include:

  • HR 5428, sponsored by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), directing DOE to carry out smart-grid regional demonstration projects, including sensing, communications, power flow control, dynamic line rating and renewables integration.
  • HR 5374, sponsored by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), directing DOE to research advanced geothermal technologies, including tools for discovering hydrothermal resources, siting and exploratory drilling, and direct use of geothermal energy for building space heating and industrial heat.
  • HR 2986, sponsored by Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), directing DOE to draft a strategic plan for energy storage research, including studies of storage systems that could store and generate at least six hours per day, long-duration systems capable of 10 to 100 hours of generation, and systems that could balance seasonal supply and demand.

Interior Appeals Sage Grouse Injunction

The Interior Department on Dec. 16 appealed a federal court decision imposing a preliminary injunction on the Bureau of Land Management's easing of development restrictions on federal lands, including fossil-energy production, aimed at protecting sage grouse.

Joining Interior in filing an appeal were the states of Idaho, Utah and Wyoming; the Petroleum Association of Wyoming; and the Western Energy Alliance, a trade organization of oil and gas producers.

The administration is appealing the decision of U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the Idaho District. Winmill blocked BLM's land-use plan amendments for northeastern California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Winmill ruled for plaintiffs challenging BLM's action, including the Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Prairie Hills Audubon Society.

BLM's plan amendments eliminated approximately 10 million acres of sage grouse "focal areas" proposed for withdrawal from mineral development under 2015 plans. In 2017, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke canceled the proposed withdrawal.

In addition, the plans eased restrictions on oil and gas leasing inside "priority habitat management areas" that total 29 million acres across the seven states.

FERC Order Angers Renewables, Nuclear Groups

Renewable-energy and nuclear trade organizations blasted FERC for its decision to impose minimum offer price requirements for state-subsidized energy resources selling into the PJM capacity market.

In a 2-1 decision Dec. 19, FERC ordered PJM to expand its minimum offer price rule to any "new or existing resource that receives, or is entitled to receive, a state subsidy," unless an exemption applies, a FERC statement said.

Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee, joined by Commissioner Bernard McNamee, voted for the order, while Commissioner Richard Glick opposed it.

Chatterjee said FERC is "affirming our obligation to safeguard the competitiveness of the PJM capacity market." Glick, however, argued that the order was "carefully calibrated to give existing resources a leg up over new entrants."

Gregory Wetstone, CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, accused FERC of overstepping its authority in adopting a rule he said "directly conflicts with state policies designed to accelerate the transition to pollution-free, renewable power."

Nuclear Energy Institute CEO Maria Korsnick said her group is "disappointed that FERC's effort to ensure a competitive capacity market does not also value the important contributions that nuclear energy provides to PJM and the entire nation."

PJM is a regional transmission organization serving 13 states in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest areas.

Gas Production Hit Record in 2018

Natural gas production hit a record high in 2018, with gross withdrawals hitting an average of 101.3 billion cubic feet per day, up 11 percent from 2017, the EIA reported Dec. 26.

Marketed production and dry gas production also set records, hitting 89.6 Bcfd and 83.4 Bcfd, respectively, the EIA said. Marketed production subtracts gas vented, flared and used to repressurize wells, and nonhydrocarbon gases removed during treatment or processing. Dry natural gas is consumer-grade gas minus extraction losses, the EIA said.

Gas exports by pipeline and liquefied natural gas shipments rose for the fourth straight year in 2018, to 9.9 Bcfd, the EIA reported.

The Appalachian region, spurred by production growth in the Marcellus and Utica/Point Pleasant shales, was the largest producing area in the U.S., with gross withdrawals totaling 28.5 Bcfd, the EIA said.