#RFANEC Biofuels Policy Panel

nec16-policyThe future of U.S. biofuels policy was the topic of a panel at the 2016 National Ethanol Conference this week in New Orleans.

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen moderated the panel, which included industry and government stakeholders, but no representative from the Environmental Protection Agency, even though they were invited to participate. “They had expressed some real enthusiasm for talking about this with us,” said Dinneen. “On December 8th, when we filed a lawsuit (against EPA over the RFS volume obligations), the enthusiasm waned a bit.”

Alicia Lindauer with the U.S. Department of Energy did join the panel, representing the government. “Quite frankly, the Department of Energy is doing far more in terms of the analysis and work on future fuel and technology,” Dinneen said.

Also on the panel was Fuels Institute Executive Director John Eichberger and Jan Koninckx, Global Business Director for Advanced Biofuels with DuPont Industrial Biosciences. Listen to their conversation here: NEC Biofuels Policy Panel

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Energy in the Budget Proposal

2017-budgetAs promised, energy was a focus of President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal, officially unveiled on Tuesday, with a promise to “move our economy away from energy sources that fuel climate change.”

The budget provides for $7.7 billion in discretionary funding for clean energy research and development across 12 agencies, including $106 million for USDA to “support development of biobased energy sources that range from sustainable and economical forest systems and farm products to increased production of biofuels.”

According to USDA, the budget proposal includes a $25 million increase in competitive research funding to support development of biobased energy sources and earmarks $450 million for the Rural Energy for America Program to assist agricultural producers and rural small businesses in developing renewable energy systems, energy efficiency improvements, and renewable energy development through loans and grants.
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Budget Expected to Double Clean Energy Funding

The president’s budget to be released today would double funding for clean energy research and development by 2020, according to President Obama’s weekly address made on Saturday.

obama-address-2-6“This will include new investments to help the private sector create more jobs faster, lower the cost of clean energy faster, and help clean, renewable power outcompete dirty fuels in every state,” said Obama. “And while Republicans in Congress are still considering their position on climate change, many of them realize that clean energy is an incredible source of good-paying jobs for their constituents. That’s why we were able to boost clean energy research and development in last year’s budget agreement. And I hope they support my plan to double that kind of investment.”

The president also plans on proposing a $10-a-barrel tax on oil to fund clean energy initiatives.

McConnell Urges Senate to Move Energy Bill

mcconnellSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor on Monday to urge his colleagues to move the bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act forward after Democrats blocked the bill and the amendment process last week over an impasse on including aid to address the Flint, Michigan water crisis.

“The Energy Policy Modernization Act is the product of a year’s worth of constructive and collaborative work,” said McConnell. “In the Energy Committee, it passed overwhelmingly with the support of both parties…(and) more than 30 amendments from both Democrats and Republicans have been adopted already.”

McConnell encouraged Democrats to reconsider actions taken last week. “The Energy Policy Modernization Act is broad, bipartisan legislation designed to help Americans produce more energy, pay less for energy, and save energy — all while helping strengthen our long-term national security,” he said. “I’m asking colleagues to take ‘yes’ for an answer and allow the open amendment process to continue — so we can pass it, which is so important to helping our country prepare for the energy demands of today and the energy opportunities of tomorrow.”

Huckabee Talks Energy During Debate

debate-huckabeeThe CNN Republican Presidential Candidates debate from Las Vegas this week was focused entirely on national security issues, but the word biofuels was actually uttered by one of the candidates who put forth the idea of using energy as a weapon.

“We ought to be challenging not only Russia, but the Iranians and the Saudis, on the point of energy,” said former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee during the first debate panel. “We ought to be drilling every bit of oil, getting all the coal out, we need to be going after our natural gas and biofuels, and become the energy exporter of the world.”

Huckabee argued that such an approach would “destabilize” the enemies of the United States. “We need to take an offensive approach by using our energy, the one weapon we have,” he said. “Let’s use it as an offensive weapon to change the dynamics of the entire globe and especially change the dynamics of the Middle East.”

Listen to Huckabee’s comments here: Huckabee energy comments during CNN debate

Tax Extenders Package Includes Renewables

The broad spending and tax legislation compromise unveiled by House Republicans Tuesday night includes federal tax incentive extensions for renewable energy, including biodiesel, wind and solar.

nBBThe National Biodiesel Board (NBB) commended congressional leaders for reinstating the expired biodiesel tax incentive in the tax and spending proposal released late Tuesday but continued pressing to reform the incentive as a domestic production credit

“Restoring this tax incentive will create jobs and economic activity at biodiesel plants across the country, so we want to thank leaders in the House and Senate for proposing this extension,” says NBB Vice President of Federal Affairs Anne Steckel. “Unfortunately the impact would be muted because this proposal would continue allowing foreign biodiesel to qualify for the tax incentive. This not only costs taxpayers more money but it paves the way for foreign fuels that already receive incentives in their home countries to undercut US production.”

Under the current blender’s tax credit, biodiesel produced overseas that is blended with diesel in the US qualifies for the $1-per-gallon tax credit. This has caused imports to rise sharply in recent years. In 2012, the US imported fewer than 100 million gallons of biodiesel. This year, imports will exceed 650 million gallons, and the Energy Information Agency recently estimated that volume will grow to more than 700 million gallons in 2016. Most of the imports are coming from companies in Argentina, Asia and Europe.

rfalogo1Bob Dinneen, CEO and President of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) said of the package, ““By including these important tax incentives in the spending bill, congressional lawmakers sent a strong signal that they are interested in ensuring and encouraging the continued growth and innovation of our nation’s biofuels industry” said Dinneen. “These incentives are crucial for leveling the playing field in a tax code that is, unfortunately, overwhelmingly tilted toward the oil and gas industry. Oil companies have long benefited from billions in accelerated depreciation, intangible drilling expenses, and countless other tax breaks that are permanently imbedded in the tax code. Fundamental tax reform is critical to correct this imbalance.”

Extensions for wind energy’s $0.023/kWh production tax credit (PTC) and solar energy’s 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC) are also part of the package. The wind PTC would be extended through 2020 and would decline in value each year after December 2016 until it is phased out entirely. The solar ITC would be drawn down gradually through 2022. Continue reading

USDA Awards $71M for REAP Projects

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding more funds to help rural businesses reduce energy costs in every U.S. state including the Virgin Islands, the Western Pacific and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The USDA is providing $102 million in loan guarantees and $71 million in grants for 1,114 projects financed through the Rural Energy for American Program (REAP), and the funding is for energy efficiency improvements and/or renewable energy systems.

USDA logo“More rural business owners and ag producers are incorporating energy-saving measures into their business plans,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These actions improve an operation’s bottom line and help reduce its carbon footprint. This funding will help incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology and reduce energy costs. But beyond the local benefits seen by a company saving energy costs and the global benefits of reducing carbon emissions, this funding will also create American jobs by supporting energy production and efficiency installations that are made in rural America.”

Among the projects, nearly $6 million is being awarded for 17 anaerobic digesters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington. In total, these projects are expected to generate and/or save 906 million kilowatt hours (KWh) of energy – enough to power more than 83,675 homes for a year and cut carbon pollution by an estimated 455,000 metric tons. That is the equivalent of taking more than 131,500 cars off the road for a year.

Rethink Energy NJ Launched

A new poll has found that nearly 80 percent of New Jerseyans believe the state should invest in developing more renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Majority support was found across all political parties and all demographic groups. However, the poll reported that 62 percent of New Jerseyans think the pace at which the state is developing and adopting renewable alternatives is too slow. The poll was conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s (FDU) PublicMind for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

rethink-rectangle-600x240_without_URLIn tandem with the poll results, a new campaign has been launched called “Rethink Energy NJ”. The goal of the initiative is to inform citizens about the need for a swift transition to clean energy and a move away from fossil fuel reliance. Campaign supporters include the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association and Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

“Investing in renewable energy is a win-win for both our environment and economy,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Rethink Energy NJ. “Developing clean energy sources like solar and wind will reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and threaten our health, while creating jobs. This is a better path forward for New Jersey than the multitude of fossil fuel pipelines proposed that threaten preserved lands, our air and water, and our communities.”

The poll indicates that 77 percent of respondents are very or somewhat concerned with climate change in New Jersey. Eighty percent favor setting a goal of having 30 percent of the state’s energy coming from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2020. That is higher than the State’s current 22 percent target. Similarly, 78 percent favor a bill requiring a target of 80 percent by 2050.

The poll also explored public opinion on proposed fossil fuel projects affecting New Jersey. One finding: New Jerseyans favor renewable energy investment over natural gas pipeline investment by a nearly two to one margin. In addition, most respondents are very or somewhat concerned with the impact of pipelines in the state.

Former Gov. Tom Kean said of the findings, “I am pleased to see the launch of this important new campaign, Rethink Energy NJ, to help educate the public and decision makers regarding the need for much greater scrutiny of new pipelines or fossil fuel infrastructure, and the urgent need to move forward with clean, renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency.”

Will Steger Wilderness Center Renewable Showcase

Will Steger, a globally renowned climate expert, has announced a major milestone toward the completion of the Will Steger Wilderness Center, that will be used as a leadership retreat center. The facility now features a stand-alone, carbon free power system that will provide electricity to buildings and workshops throughout the site located outside of Ely, Minnesota near the protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The renewable power system is an extension of the Center’s focus on clean energy and the use of renewable materials and sustainable processes throughout its operation.

Photo Credit: John Ratzloff

Photo Credit: John Ratzloff

The island-mode power grid will also serve as a demonstration project intended to be a model for other off-grid power systems in remote locations.  With the completion of Phase I of this power grid, the system is now capable of providing up to 20 kilowatts of power from a combination of solar and battery sources with solar providing more than half of the energy. The system includes automated demand management capability to provide power for mission-critical functions along with a backup diesel genset for emergencies. It is designed to provide power for multiple buildings on the site and power for the construction finalization of the main retreat center building. The first pilot leadership team is expected to use the center by the fall of 2016.

A launch event will take place October 7, 2015 at the Will Steger Wilderness Center and will include a ceremonial flip of the switch to ‘power-on’ the system by key participants who have provided both technical and material resources. Cummins Power Generation provided the genset and helped in the technical design and feasibility study in the early stages of the project. Other partners include Jon Kramer, CEO of Sundial Solar; Dr. Greg Mowry, associate professor in the School of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas; tenKsolar; and BAE Batteries. Participants in the demonstration project have donated the vast majority of the material and labor for the system.

“This is an exciting time for all those who have worked to demonstrate that it is possible to have a community working with modern technology in a remote wilderness area using only self-contained and renewable energy sources,” said Will Steger, executive director of the Will Steger Wilderness Center. “The completion of the power grid is also a leap forward toward our goal of bringing leaders to a fully functioning wilderness retreat center to work on complex issues such as climate change and sustainability. We’re grateful to all of the contributors to this project who are demonstrating that it is possible to live and work on real-world problems using sustainable practices that will not deplete scarce resources.”

In addition to its future purpose as a leadership retreat center, the Will Steger Wilderness Center has been the base for more than a dozen significant expeditions including the 3,471 mile International Trans-Antarctic expedition, the first unsupported dogsled expedition to the North Pole and many other expeditions that have brought back some of the earliest eyewitness accounts of climate change in remote arctic regions.

BNEF: Wind, Solar Competing with Fossil Fuels

According to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), this year has seen a shift in the generating cost comparison between renewable energy and fossil fuels. The report, “Levelised Cost of Electricity Update,” for the second half of 2015 based on extensive data and global projects shows that onshore wind and crystalline silicon photovoltaics – the two most widespread technologies- have both seen significantly reduced costs while costs have gone up for gas-fired and coal-fired generation.

The BNEF study shows finds that the global average levelised cost of electricity, or LCOE, for onshore wind nudged downwards from $85 per megawatt-hour (MWh) in the first half of the year, to $83 in the second half of the year, while that for crystalline silicon PV solar fell from $129 to $122.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance logoIn the same period, the LCOE for coal-fired generation increased from $66 per MWh to $75 in the Americas, from $68 to $73 in Asia-Pacific, and from $82 to $105 in Europe. The LCOE for combined-cycle gas turbine generation rose from $76 to $82 in the Americas, from $85 to $93 in Asia-Pacific and from $103 to $118 in EMEA.

“Our report shows wind and solar power continuing to get cheaper in 2015, helped by cheaper technology but also by lower finance costs,” said Seb Henbest, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Meanwhile, coal and gas have got more expensive on the back of lower utilisation rates, and in Europe, higher carbon price assumptions following passage of the Market Stability Reserve reform.”

Levelised costs take into account not just the cost of generating a marginal MWh of electricity, but also the upfront capital and development expense, the cost of equity and debt finance, and operating and maintenance fees.

Among other low-carbon energy technologies, offshore wind reduced its global average LCOE from $176 per MWh, to $174, but still remains significantly more expensive than wind, solar PV, coal or gas, while biomass incineration saw its levelised cost stay steady at $134 per MWh. Nuclear, like coal and gas, has very different LCOE levels from one region of the world to another, but both the Americas and the Europe, Middle East and Africa region saw increases in levelised costs, to $261 and $158 per MWh respectively.