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Policy Solution

We helped broker a fuel-efficiency deal that will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half and save drivers $90 billion a year at the pump.

Policy Solution

We're pushing for biofuels that are sustainably grown, protect sensitive landscapes, and lower carbon pollution.

Policy Solution

Electric cars require no gas and release no tailpipe emissions. That’s why we're working to get more of them on the road.

Policy Solution

As China’s electric vehicle market is growing rapidly, we're helping the country prepare its electric grid to power EVs with clean, renewable energy.

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Your Guide to Going Electric

Considering making the switch? Here's everything you need to know about driving electric cars and hybrids.

How smog, soot, greenhouse gases, and other top air pollutants are affecting the planet—and your health

Experts & Resources

FERC Should Remove Barriers to DER & Storage in Markets
Jennifer Chen

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—the agency tasked by Congress to remove barriers to competition in the wholesale electricity markets—has proposed a rule seeking to remove several such obstacles to electric storage and distributed energy resources (DERs), such as electric vehicles plugged into the grid and rooftop solar panels. But opponents are trying to slow-walk parts of the rule, which will only delay modernization of the grid and result in inefficient use of existing resources and unnecessarily higher prices to customers.

Comments on FERC’s proposed rule are in, and the consensus—among transmission grid operators, utilities providing power to customers, state public utility commissions, university researchers, think tanks, public interest groups, trade associations, companies supplying these resources, and others—is that storage and DERs benefit the power system and that FERC should remove barriers to their ability to contribute these benefits. Despite these documented benefits and barriers—which no one can reasonably deny—a couple of lone commenters representing companies that would face competition from these new resources are seeking to slow-walk parts of the rule. Hopefully, FERC will see past the delay tactic and finalize the rule in a timely manner.

Electric storage and distributed energy resources (DERs)

Newer DERs and storage resources tend to be smaller and more nimble than traditional fuel-burning power plants and have the added advantage of being sited close to where electricity is consumed (reducing the amount of energy lost in transport and the risk of transmission failing along the way). DERs and storage can also help smooth out the variability in wind and solar generation by absorbing electricity when there is abundant wind and sunshine for later use, when electricity generation is more expensive.

As FERC recognized in the proposed rule, DERs and storage can provide multiple services to customers, the high-voltage transmission grid, and the lower-voltage distribution grid. For example, grid-enabled water heaters can heat water at times when electricity prices are lowest for end-use customers, avoid costly distribution grid infrastructure enhancements by reducing electricity demand at peak times, and provide transmission grid stabilization services (known as “frequency regulation”). Grid-connected electric vehicles (which have built-in batteries) can do much of the same—charge when electricity prices are lowest but also provide distribution and transmission grid services on the side.

In the regions where DERs are allowed to provide grid services for compensation, customers investing in DERs can earn extra cash, while the grid benefits from low-cost services. As these and other technologies increase their presence on the grid, it makes sense to tap into their potential for low-cost grid services while they would otherwise be sitting idle.

Barriers

The problem is that only some regional grid operators allow for some of these resources to compete to provide some of their services to the transmission system. (But there is no rationale for this inconsistency in limiting or barring DER and storage participation in the markets.) For example, California’s grid operator is the only one that explicitly enables DERs to participate in its markets through aggregators (typically businesses that put together portfolios of smaller resources to participate at wholesale as a single resource). The grid operator for the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest allows aggregated water heaters and other storage devices to provide frequency regulation. But even in the regions where DERs and storage can offer their services into the market, they may not be able to contribute their full value because the market rules were designed around traditional power plants and consumers. For example, storage or electric vehicles that could flexibly toggle between providing similar benefits as electricity generators and as customers sponging up surplus electricity from renewables (that would otherwise be wasted) don’t have the right channels through which to fully participate.

DER and storage resources are also smaller relative to traditional generation and may not meet minimum size requirements to participate in the wholesale electricity markets. These requirements, which vary by region, as well as the relatively high transaction costs (navigating complex regulatory requirements and paying market entry fees) that smaller resources face also prevent these resources from offering their services in FERC-regulated markets.

FERC’s proposed framework

FERC’s proposed rule helps eliminate barriers to storage and DERs competing to provide services in the wholesale electricity markets in two ways: (1) require FERC-regulated grid operators to fashion market participation rules taking into account characteristics of storage; and (2) enable DERs to aggregate to participate in the wholesale electricity markets. FERC’s proposed aggregation rule is critical to DERs in overcoming barriers associated with being small and is similar to FERC’s existing rules on demand response and the California grid operator’s DER rule.

Timing

FERC’s proposed rule sets up a basic framework, minimum requirements, and a timeline for the regional grid operators and their stakeholders to develop region-specific rules and implementation schedules. After FERC finalizes the proposed rule, the regional grid operators and their stakeholders have a specified period of time to work out issues and develop their rules—this period and the effective date for implementation could be extended if necessary.

Commenters trying to delay finalizing the rules attempt to raise issues that are actually best dealt with during the regional stakeholder processes, such as resolving potential coordination issues between transmission grid operators and distribution control centers. They also argue that the part of the rule enabling aggregation of DER resources should be severed from the rest of the rule and go through processes beyond what is required for federal agency rulemaking procedures (amounting to unnecessary red tape in this case). Those procedures include a comment period to develop the administrative record, and now that the comments are in, the record evidence solidly supports FERC’s proposal to enable DERs to aggregate to compete in the markets.

In fact, FERC’s proposal to allow DERs to aggregate follows logically from a long arc of FERC study and activity: FERC as early as 2007 recognized the transmission system benefits of distributed generation and some of the regulatory obstacles impeding its growth, and in 2008 FERC finalized a rule enabling demand response (a class of DERs) to participate in the markets through aggregators. FERC-regulated entities as early as 2011 have recognized the need for transmission grid operators to better account for DERs, and in 2016, FERC approved California’s rule to enable DERs to aggregate to compete in its markets.

Asking FERC to jump through additional, unnecessary administrative hoops is simply foot-dragging at this point and would get in the way of FERC satisfying its mandate to ensure that its regulated markets are open to competition—which is why some are attempting to stall the rule. Hopefully, FERC will see through this and take the next step in opening its markets to competition from a newer generation of nimble, flexible, reliable, and cost-effective resources.

Southeast Dispatch
Funds for More Electric Car Charging Stations Are Coming Down the Pike
Will Georgia be able to get its share?

Katherine Welles/iStock

Georgians adore their electric cars. With more than 26,000 plug-ins quietly cruising its roads, the Peach State holds the title for the nation’s second-largest fleet. Most are found in Atlanta, whose 500 charging stations make driving on electricity easy, practical, and of course free of tailpipe emissions. Hitting the open the road outside the city, however, proves more difficult.

To leave Atlanta, drivers usually take Interstate 75 or 85. The two highways converge in the heart of the city and extend like a giant X to the outer suburbs before carrying on to Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida. But electric drivers embarking on a 250-mile trip to, say, Charlotte, North Carolina, would notice that fast-charging stations peter out about 50 miles from the city, leaving motorists out of luck and power.

Experts cite “range anxiety,” or the fear of being stranded, as the biggest impediment to electric vehicle adoption. The average plug-in can go about 100 miles before needing to power up, and a lack of charging infrastructure across the Southeast and beyond remains a challenge for the industry.

What’s needed to boost EVs is the rapid expansion of a network of charging stations, especially DC fast chargers, says Tom Ashley, senior director of government relations for Greenlots, an EV software company. While the most common “level 2” chargers take an hour to load a car with enough power to go 10 to 30 miles, DC fast chargers can provide about 40 miles in just 10 minutes.

In the Southeast, level 2 chargers are most prevalent in Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia, where utilities like Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy, and Georgia Power have initiated programs to deploy charging stations. (In comparison, Alabama and South Carolina are EV deserts.) 

These utilities see EVs as a way to make money while doing good. Not only do the cars serve as a new market for electricity sales, but they help the utility companies incorporate more renewables in their energy portfolios, take advantage of excess generation in states with new nuclear reactors (like Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina), and minimize their reliance on peaking power plants, which run only during times of high energy demand.

“It’s a good environmental story, and we also see that EV charging at night, when the electric load drops, is a benefit to the utility,” says Randy Wheeless, a spokesperson for Duke Energy. Duke plans to install 200 public EV charging stations this year as part of a settlement over the company’s violation of the Clean Air Act. 

More money for more chargers is needed for EVs to compete with the mainstream car market. And thanks to another settlement, this one involving Volkswagen’s 2015 emissions scandal, a whole heap of cash is coming from the German auto company to promote electric vehicles. Over the next decade, Volkswagen, with oversight from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board, will funnel $2 billion into EV education and charging stations. The funds would work out to $6 million per state per year if divvied up evenly (though they won’t be). One of the ways cities can get a piece of this action is by submitting project proposals via the Electrify America website, which lays out Volkswagen’s plan. Regardless of who gets what, the goal is to install 300 charging stations, both level 2 and the DC fast variety, across 15 metropolitan areas. An additional 200 fast chargers are slated to connect the coasts.

An extra $2.7 billion will go into an Environmental Mitigation Trust to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, which will be managed state by state. Fifteen percent of each state’s allocated NOx funds can be designated for zero-emissions vehicle deployment. That means there’s a possibility that Georgia could get $10 million more to spend on EV infrastructure.

“The [VW] funds could help if our governor decides that the full 15 percent be given to EV charging,” says Don Francis, executive director for Partnership for Clean Transportation in Atlanta, adding that the money could begin filling in the existing gaps along the I-75 and I-85 corridors.

An EVgo fast-charging station

Courtesy Nissan

The remaining funds will be used to reduce NOx through various means such as public transportation. Many cities may choose to convert their bus fleets to compressed natural gas, which emits less NOx than diesel, but other are opting for plug-in electric busses.

“I believe strongly that the heavy duty transportation space will be the first to go battery electric,” says Matt Horton, chief commercial officer for Proterra, an electric bus company with a manufacturing plant in Greenville, South Carolina, and another in City of Industry, California. “We’re replacing them with energy-efficient vehicles that have 22 miles per gallon versus 4.” His company has sold about 100 buses thus far. In the next 18 months, he says, that fleet will more than double. “It’s an industry that uses a tremendous amount of diesel fuel. Switching to electric can save a lot of money.”

Two years ago, the city of Seneca, South Carolina, established the world’s first all-electric municipal bus fleet, and other southern cities have been taking note. Miami is in the process of purchasing 75 electric buses, and Proterra has been speaking to MARTA, the mass-transit system in Atlanta.

At the height of EV sales in Georgia in 2014, about 3 percent of all car purchases were electric, well above the national average. One year earlier, Nissan shifted the production of its Leaf from Japan to Tennessee and also incentivized its zero-emissions vehicle lease program by dropping prices to as low as $199 per month for 24 months. Coupled with Georgia’s $5,000 tax credit, customers were able to walk out of a dealership with the keys to a leased car after paying only a couple thousand dollars. EV sales in Georgia increased by a factor of five from 2012 to 2013, and then doubled again in 2014. But then in 2015, Georgia’s legislature ended the tax credit to find savings for a transportation bill. Instead of a tax break, the state began requiring a $200 annual registration fee. The move caused EV sales in the state to free-fall 90 percent.

Consumer rebates have been doing their part to help EVs merge with mainstream car culture, but those EVs need a reliable and ubiquitous charging network first and foremost. Only then will an Atlantan be able to putter around the city in a clean, green automobile and then cruise over to Charlotte without a second thought.

Stop Trump and Pruitt’s escalated anti-environment assault

Robynne Boyd
onEarth Story

Everybody’s excited about the coming EV revolution. But without the right infrastructure, it’ll never go anywhere.

Explainer

Considering making the switch? Here's everything you need to know about driving electric cars and hybrids.

onEarth Story

It appears that 325,000 revved-up Tesla fans did—and they may represent just the tip of the iceberg.

Southeast Dispatch

As small-scale solar starts to shine in the Southeast, some residents are getting a first taste of energy independence.

Southeast Dispatch

An 18-mile stretch in Georgia says yes. Will President Trump give the clean energy project a push? Eh, probably not.

Southeast Dispatch

Thanks to advances in turbine tech, the first commercial-scale wind farm in the Southeast is about to get whirring.

onEarth Story

Putting roadways on “diets” can make biking and driving safer at the same time.

Victory

How NRDC spearheaded the solution to an “impossible” environmental problem and protected the health of millions of children.

NRDC in Action

In the race to promote fuel efficiency and lower vehicle pollution, Roland Hwang is firmly in the lead.

Southeast Dispatch

Infrastructure woes and marathon commutes plague Hotlanta. But as Georgia’s capital city grows, Atlantans are getting smarter (and out of their cars).

California’s Fuel Standard a Critical Tool in Climate Fight
Simon Mui

By getting more aggressive about expanding its supply of low-carbon fuels, California will be better positioned to meet its 2030 climate goals and air quality requirements. New research confirms that the state’s carbon market also work far better in tandem with a stronger Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) than it would alone. The results give further proof that the LCFS, which requires suppliers to phase-in cleaner fuels, is a critical tool in the state’s arsenal to combat dangerous climate change.

The transportation sector is California’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions by a wide margin, contributing 37 percent—or as much as half, if you include refinery emissions. The state has already started taking action on that pollution by requiring the fuels industry to cut the carbon-intensity of fuels by 10 percent by 2020 under the LCFS. Meeting the goal will also deliver significant additional benefits in terms of reduced smog and cancer-causing soot together with increased energy security, according to research by ICF.

Source: ICF International. Powerpoint presentation.

Despite those additional benefits, the oil industry has argued that California should simply drop its complementary, sector-specific programs in favor of cap-and-trade. The latter establishes a  statewide limit on carbon pollution and provides an important backstop against even greater amounts of pollution as the state’s economy and population continue to grow. But while arguing over which is more important—a strong offense or a strong defense—can make for great academic debate, winning this war means doing well on all fronts (see my Capital Weekly op-ed). As the just-released ICF analysis shows, the state’s fuel program provides cap-and-trade a critical assist.

The ICF report shows that by setting a 20 percent carbon-intensity requirement for 2030 under a LCFS, California would help ensure the transportation sector does its fair share of emission reductions. By reducing the burden on other sectors, the LCFS will also halve the projected costs under cap-and-trade and induce longer-term investments needed to develop fossil fuels alternatives.

Interestingly, the state would also be diversifying its fuel mix far more than simply having cap-and-trade alone. With our transportation fuel mix still 92% dependent on a single-energy source—namely oil—additional diversification would reduce the state’s vulnerability to refinery outages and global price shocks. As I blogged on previously, in 2015 a single explosion at a refinery in Torrance, CA (then owned by ExxonMobil) sent state gasoline prices skyrocketing—a spike that cost drivers an additional $6 billion over a 14-month period. Under a 20% LCFS target in 2030, the state would need 26 percent less oil compared to the current standards according to the ICF report.

We already know the LCFS is working. In addition to expanding the use of alternative fuels since implementation began in 2011, the standard has helped reduce GHG emissions by 20 million metric ton—the equivalent of avoiding the emissions of 4.2 million passenger vehicles on the road for a year—while also creating nearly $1.1 billion in additional investments in low-carbon fuels.

Together with other complementary policies like California’s clean car standards and the Sustainable Communities Act, which is aimed at expanding more transit-friendly developments, the state’s LCFS will spur action from a sector that has become paramount in the effort to cut greenhouse gases.

Now the ICF report confirms that strengthening the LCFS will be complementary with a cap-and-trade program. Regardless of what happens on the national stage, as the Trump administration attempts to dismantle essential climate policies, California has the chance to expand fuel choices for drivers and set its course for a cleaner future.

Baseless Threats to California's Clean Car Waiver
Irene Gutierrez David Pettit

California, long a land of pioneers, leads the nation in developing emissions standards to reduce pollution from cars and trucks. These standards have cleaned up the Golden State’s air, and have benefited other states following California’s lead.

Changes brewing in Washington could threaten these gains. Scott Pruitt’s statements during his confirmation hearing to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and automakers’ recent request to reconsider Obama-era carbon pollution standards signal the first stabs at killing the progress made through California’s clean cars program.         

But EPA and automakers will face an uphill battle in any attempts to undermine California’s clean cars program.

The Clean Air Act Gives California Independent Authority to Set Its Own Standards

As recently as the 1970s, heavy smog blanketed California, including downtown Los Angeles, sickening schoolchildren and stunting cash crops. In the 1950s, years before federal regulators took action, California regulators pioneered state standards to curb the emissions from cars and trucks that create smog pollution and drive climate change.

Starting in 1967, U.S. Congress recognized California’s unique role as the nation’s leader in setting pollution standards for motor vehicles, codifying that role in the Clean Air Act.

Ordinarily, EPA has prime authority to set pollution standards for motor vehicles. Section 209 of the Clean Air Act empowers California to set its own emission standards for new motor vehicles, subject only to a waiver from the federal EPA that can be denied only in the most extraordinary circumstances. Section 177 of the Act allows other states to choose California’s car standards over federal ones, moving together with California to clean up their air. More than a dozen states have adopted California’s standards. California standards usually lead federal standards by a few years, until the national government catches up with the Golden State.

Thanks to these actions, millions of Americans breathe easier and the nation’s climate pollution is in decline.

Automakers lobbied and litigated against California’s clean car standards for decades. In 2009, a historic clean cars peace treaty was brokered between automakers, federal regulators, California, and environmental organizations like NRDC. The parties agreed on a National Program providing automakers uniform standards for carbon pollution from automobiles and trucks, and providing states and the environmental community assurances of substantial pollution reductions and fuel savings. The deal ended years of failed lawsuits by automakers. A core principle of the deal is that California preserves its authority to enforce its own standards if the federal standards are not sufficiently strong enough to meet state requirements for carbon reductions.

Progress in cleaning up air quality and limiting climate pollution is still vitally needed, especially in California. Six of the most polluted U.S. cities in terms of smog are located in California, according to the American Lung Association. And more than 32 million Californians (84 percent) live in counties affected by unhealthy air. Californians are already suffering from the effects of climate change, which include record-breaking heatwaves, a diminished snowpack, and an intense drought.

Can EPA Simply Revoke California’s Waiver Overnight?

EPA granted California’s waiver for its motor vehicle carbon pollution standards in January 2013, approving the state’s package of emissions requirements through 2025. In January 2017, EPA issued a final determination to keep existing federal carbon pollution standards in place through 2025, ensuring consistency between federal and California motor vehicle carbon pollution standards.   

Automakers have asked to unravel that final determination, and could seek to weaken federal standards through 2025. If EPA caves to pressure from automakers and weakens federal standards, it could also take the unprecedented step of reneging on California’s authority to craft its own standards.     

Scott Pruitt cracked open a Pandora’s box in his confirmation hearings by suggesting that EPA might revisit California’s waiver. When California Senator Kamala Harris questioned Pruitt during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing, he said, “Administrators in the past have not granted the waiver and have granted the waiver…[t]hat is a review process that will be conducted.” 

No. Revoking a Waiver Would Be Unprecedented.

Undoing California’s waiver would disrupt the carefully brokered clean car peace treaty. And there is no easy road to revoking the waiver.

EPA would need to go through a rulemaking process to undo it. Public notice-and-comment rulemaking, which usually takes one to three years, would almost certainly be followed by a challenge in court. EPA would need to contradict the extensive evidence in the record supporting California’s current waiver, a difficult feat, and one likely to be rejected in court. Courts look with skepticism on agency policy reversals contradicting earlier factual findings.

EPA has never revoked a California waiver for automobile carbon pollution standards. If Pruitt were to revoke it, he would upend well-established statutory protections for California residents, and depart from decades of EPA practice. He would also be blocking the rights of other states that can adopt California’s stricter standards to help address their air quality concerns.

Denying Any Future Waiver Goes Against Statute and EPA’s Past Practice.

California’s carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks sold in 2026 or later could require another waiver. If EPA denies a future waiver, it would undoubtedly be challenged, based on long-standing law which allows reversal of EPA rules that are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law....” Given the Clean Air Act’s great deference to California’s authority to set state automobile standards, denial of a factually well-supported waiver has very high odds of being tossed out in court. 

Section 209 says the waiver must be granted if California’s standards are “at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.” EPA can deny a waiver in a narrow set of circumstances but of the more than 100 waivers the agency considered since the 1970s, only one was denied and that decision was later reversed by EPA.

Congress specifically designed Section 209 to give California great latitude in addressing its serious air quality problems (a result of local geography and high rates of car usage), stating “standards on automobile emissions which may, from time to time, need to be more stringent than national standards.” In further amendments, “Congress consciously chose to permit California to blaze its own trail with a minimum of federal oversight.” 

In granting the most recent waiver to California, EPA stated that Section 209 was designed to “ensure that the federal government did not second-guess state policy choices,” and repeated language from past waivers affirming California’s independence and stating that “waiver requests cannot be denied...” except where limited statutory circumstances are present, and that the waiver must be granted where California requirements are “more stringent than applicable Federal requirements...[and] may result in some further reduction in air pollution in California.”   

We’re Ready

The specific threats Scott Pruitt’s EPA could pose to California clean car standards are still speculative. But it is clear that California and other states are ready to fight for their rights to clean up air quality and combat climate change. In his recent state of the state speech, Governor Jerry Brown affirmed his commitment to press forward with curbing climate change: “[w]e cannot fall back and give in to the climate change deniers. The science is clear. The danger is real. We can do much on our own and we can join with others—other states and provinces and even countries, to stop the dangerous rise in climate pollution. And we will.”    

Environmental advocates like NRDC stand ready to join the fight. If Pruitt, or any other potential EPA administrator, seeks to undo California’s clean car standards, we’ll be waiting to fight back.

DOE Program Propels Thriving Clean Energy Economy Industries
Amanda Levin

There is no doubt that the clean energy economy made massive gains in 2016. Wind surpassed hydro as the top renewable energy source, highly efficient LED lightbulb installations have more than doubled, and 1 in every 50 new jobs created in the United States was in the solar industry. The progress is clear and undeniable, but what might be less clear is how the federal government supported America’s economic and environmental success.

Tomorrow the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy is scheduled to hold a hearing entitled “Risky Business: The DOE Loan Guarantee Program.” But this U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program is anything but risky.

In fact, it has a strong track record of delivering critical industry support—providing the federal government with billions in new revenue, creating tens of thousands of direct jobs across a diverse portfolio of projects, and offering the essential support to lower the risks on projects that can make cleaner and cheaper energy a reality.

The DOE Loan Program Office has a clear mission that contributes to our national clean energy objectives through guaranteeing loans to innovative energy and technology projects. The significant clean energy progress we’ve made has been supported through this program in a number of ways.  

Supporting a diverse portfolio of projects  

The first commercial (“at-scale”) projects for new technologies often face substantial barriers to obtaining loans and financing—potentially preventing new, innovative, and improved technologies from becoming widespread. This is also known as the “valley of death” between research and development (R&D) and commercial operation and success. The hurdles new technologies face can prevent innovative and improved technologies from even making it out of the labs. The Loan Guarantee Program, through Title XVII, helps these projects get off the ground by providing loans and technical help across a diverse set of eligible energy resources, including advanced fossil energy, new and advanced nuclear, and renewable energy & energy efficiency projects.

DOE Loan Program Office

In the last decade, the DOE’s Loan Program Office has provided around $22.5 billion in loans to 25 projects through Title XVII. Another $8 billion has been provided to 5 additional projects through the office’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program. The law that established the program requires approved projects to obtain at least 20 percent private funding. In addition to the $30 billion provided in loans and conditional guarantees across the entire loan program office, $20 billion has been invested privately in projects spanning from everything from transmission infrastructure to batteries and energy storage; utility-scale solar PV (photovoltaics) to advanced nuclear; and new technologies to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles.

An economic and environmental success

Twenty of the 25 projects receiving loans through the Title XVII Loan Guarantee Program are already operating and paying off their loans (with interest!), creating employment and cutting carbon pollution. They:

  • Have created 12,900 construction jobs and are expected to create an additional 1,500 permanent jobs;
  • Will produce almost 29 million megawatt-hours of clean electricity annually—or enough to power 2.65 million homes a year and;
  • Helped avoid almost 16.7 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, which is close to the combined 2015 CO2emissions from the electric sectors in Alaska, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Idaho, and Vermont.

DOE Loan Program Office

While most generate clean electricity, three of the projects provide energy storage and transmission services, helping to integrate renewable energy into the electricity system and maintain grid reliability. Of the five non-operating projects, three are still under construction. The two discontinued projects, Solyndra and Abound Solar, garnered considerable press, but they are by no means representative of the program’s success or failure.

As of December 2016, revenue from interest payments from DOE’s full loan guarantee program have already hit almost $1.8 billion, with expectations to grow to $5 billion by the end of current loans.

This far exceeds the combined losses of $810 million from discontinued Title XVII and ATVM projects. Losses only represent around 2.23 percent of loan guarantee amounts and are substantially less than the $10 billion that Congress authorized for losses. Further, almost all of the other projects have long-term contracts with private buyers—helping ensure that these projects will succeed and pay off the outstanding loans.

Thanks to the Loan Guarantee Program, America’s clean energy economy is booming

One of the program’s biggest success stories is the rise of solar power. At the start of 2009, the nation only had 22 megawatts (MW) of installed utility-scale PV solar. The Loan Guarantee Program provided loans to the country’s first five utility-scale solar projects larger than 100 MW (100 MW of solar can power about 18,000 homes annually). All five of these initial “at-scale” plants are operating—helping prove the viability of large-scale solar in the U.S. and eliminating barriers to commercial lending for future projects. Thanks to the success of these first projects, another 45 large-scale projects, all privately financed, came online by September 2016 and three more have come online between September 2016 and January 2017. Another 83 privately funded solar farms greater than 100 MW are planned, representing over 20 gigawatts of new utility-scale solar (or enough to power over 3.6 million homes). These large projects have cropped up across the country, from California and Utah to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa to Mississippi, North Carolina, and Georgia. These represent billions in new investments and tens of thousands of new jobs all over the United States.

DOE Loan Program Office

For some additional context, the government forecasted in 2009 that solar would only grow to reach 140 MW by the end of 2015. Instead, the solar industry added around 14,000 MW of new solar energy in 2016, alone—a tenfold increase over the government projection. Federal and state policies supporting clean energy and the extension of the investment tax credit (ITC) that Congress passed at the end of 2015 are expected to drive even more builds in each of the next five years. 

Loan guarantees supported by DOE have helped America become a clean energy powerhouse—both domestically and globally. Without the loan guarantees, this might never have happened at such scale. The extremely successful program supports projects that have created tens of thousands of jobs, generated enough clean power to support millions of U.S. households, and will bring in billions in new revenue for American taxpayers. Let’s not risk that kind of success by closing down a thriving program.

A Jobs and Infrastructure Program to Arrest Climate Change
David B. Goldstein

Job creation was a decisive factor in the recent election. But the question of how to create jobs rarely has been answered well.

Republicans and Democrats both value job creation and retention. If broad new programs were known they could have been implemented any time since the recession of 2007-9 (or even earlier when job creation tanked in the years 2000-2007 and manufacturing jobs were disappearing at their fastest rate ever [or since]). The fact that they mostly were not shows that good ideas were lacking.

Energy efficiency policies are much narrower in scope than the ideas that most economic policy analysts have considered to create employment. But they have the potential to produce new jobs at scale. I published a paper in Electricity Policy that sets forth new policy initiatives for infrastructure investment that will increase economic growth and reduce costs, especially for middle-class working households and for the poor. I wrote the paper with the goal of limiting climate change to a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yet this suite of policies is also the most effective economic development proposal that has been set forward.

The first step is to continue and accelerate clean energy investment policies that are working well: energy efficiency policies that already are responsible for over 2 million jobs, and renewable energy promotion policies that have already produced 400,000 jobs. And efficiency policies have produced over $5 trillion in net savings.

The next step described in the paper is to adopt six new programs for enhanced energy efficiency and reducing of emissions of other greenhouse gases:

  • Fast, deep energy retrofits of all buildings
  • Smart growth and shared mobility
  • Strategic Energy Management in industry
  • Saving emissions in the supply chain
  • Improving forestry
  • Reducing methane leaks

The first efficiency policy alone is capable of generating some 500,000 new permanent jobs, focusing on the weakest sector of the American economy—construction.

Other new policies are designed to improve manufacturing competitiveness, helping us increase manufacturing jobs by accelerating the deployment of  new technologies in manufacturing that reduce costs and increase productivity while cutting pollution. This sort of increase in manufacturing competitiveness leads to expansions of manufacturing as well as keeping existing plants open.

I grew up in what we now call the Rust Belt so I witnessed, beginning in the 1970s, the shuttering of manufacturing plants that for decades had employed thousands at high wages. The reason for the closings was evident even to a teenager: the plants suffered from obsolete technology that had not been updated for at least 40 years. They had become increasingly uncompetitive over the years, all the while polluting the air so badly that I could never see things farther than a few miles away. We used to joke then that it was a shame American industry wasn’t bombed into oblivion like German and Japanese factories so that we could have rebuilt them with cleaner and more productive technology.

Increasing energy efficiency through better management systems and new technology, along with better operations, could have preserved the steel and oil refining and car manufacturing jobs that were the mainstay of the local economy in the 50s, while cutting costs and pollution. They could have done this by requiring the plants to improve their operations continually, investing in efficiency of energy use as well as overall efficiency of production.

Now we have the opportunity to do this on an economy-wide basis, increasing economic choices for the middle class while reducing costs.

We have the technology and know-how to rein in climate change at a profit. In so doing, we can put millions of Americans to work where they live, with good middle class jobs, while making America stronger and more competitive globally. We just need to choose to do so. And environmental motivations might be just enough to get the ball rolling. 

Why the Paris Agreement Is Good for the United States
Han Chen Jake Schmidt Brendan Guy

The Case for Tackling Climate Change: Why America, and the World, Need the Paris Agreement

Ensuring that the Paris Agreement on climate change is implemented and that countries meet their commitments is in the national interest of all countries around the world. After all, we owe our children and grandchildren the prospect of a safe place to live that is free from the damages of climate change. This agreement benefits Americans. It is in our interest to stay in the agreement and ensure that all countries live up to their commitments.

The United States’ National Climate Assessment documents the dramatic changes already occurring in the U.S. as a result of climate change. Residents of some coastal cities have seen streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. So have communities near large rivers, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. This has led to higher insurance rates as our communities become more vulnerable to climate-fueled disasters. Hotter and drier weather mean more intense wildfires that burn more acres closer to more people’s homes. Erosion could cause more communities to relocate. The historic commitments secured from all countries by the Paris Agreement are essential for reducing these and many other risks to the U.S. prosperity.

The Paris Agreement significantly lowered global projected temperature rise from 7° Fahrenheit to 5° Fahrenheit (3.9° Celsius to 2.8°Celsius). Less climate devastation will occur thanks to this agreement. While more action is needed, this agreement can further limit disastrous climate damage thanks to the climate commitments it secured.

Tackling a Global Threat

No nation can deal with the effects of climate change alone. The Paris Agreement secured commitments from nearly every nation on earth to address climate change. It is a truly global endeavor. Countries put forward their climate commitments—ensuring that all nations are doing their part to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. The commitments cover emissions from 190 countries—97 percent of global greenhouse emissions. The agreement secures, for the first time, commitments from all key emitters—including China, India, Mexico, Europe, Japan, and the US—to reduce their emissions. And since our action helps to spur others to act, we can’t protect Americans from the damages of climate change unless we act at home and help secure action from other countries.

A large majority of Americans want the United States to participate in the Paris Agreement. Americans understand that global action protects us and that American leadership is critical for securing global action.  Walking away would mean shooting ourselves in the foot.

Making Sure that Others Are Acting: Accountability and Transparency

The Paris Agreement provides the framework for transparency and clear evidence of what is happening across the globe. The Paris Agreement’s reporting and review mechanisms provide assurances that other nations are doing their part, through comprehensive guidelines to hold countries such as China, India, and Mexico accountable for their commitments.

The Paris Agreement includes an "enhanced transparency framework" that uses a common set of rules for both developed and developing countries (see here). These systems strengthen the international system by: (a) requiring that countries regularly report national emissions inventories at least every two years; (b) requiring that at least every two years countries report "information necessary to track progress made in implementing and achieving" its emissions reduction target; (c) subjecting these national reports to a "technical expert review" by a set of independent reviewers; and (d) conducting a public session where countries consider the progress countries are making towards their targets.

A powerful domestic motivation for countries to follow through on their new commitments as a part of the Paris agreement is built on the nature of these commitments—these targets are based upon delivering actions that are in their own self-interest. Politicians in these countries will need to follow through on their commitments as their citizens are demanding the actions necessary to meet the Paris Agreement since those measures meet pressing domestic needs such as air pollution, job creation, poverty alleviation, and reduced climate impacts. For example, China will continue to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as part of its strategic plan to reduce air pollution and coal consumption. And India will continue to move forward with its massive renewable energy deployment to address energy poverty, and because renewable energy is the most cost-effective option.

We can’t ensure progress is being made towards commitments of major countries if the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines and not showing leadership.  

Why Americans Support the Paris Agreement

The goal of the Paris Agreement is the same as that of the majority of Americans. The Paris Agreement is the first international climate agreement to include commitments from developed and developing nations to tackle climate change. That is why the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 71 percent of Americans surveyed (57 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Democrats) said that the US should continue participating in the Paris agreement.

The Paris Agreement calls for low emissions development and a shift to clean energy. Meeting the U.S. target as a part of this agreement will mean continuing the trend towards more wind, solar, and energy efficiency—in line with the majority of Americans who support renewable portfolio standards and clean energy use, according to a 2016 post-election poll for the Conservative Energy Network. This is consistent with other polls about the need to transition toward a cleaner, more energy-efficient economy and the economic, security, and health benefits provided by clean energy.

Good for American Jobs and Good for Business

The Paris Agreement has spurred momentum and investments in clean energy, a rapidly growing area for American jobs and businesses. Environmental Entrepreneurs’ analysis of clean energy and clean transportation jobs across America found that there are more than 2.5 million Americans working in clean energy in all 50 states. This includes 1.9 million jobs in energy efficiency and nearly 414,000 people in renewable energy generation, (about 300,000 in solar energy and 77,000 in wind energy), and about 170,000 in advanced hybrid and electric vehicles. This includes nearly 570,000 workers in the Midwest, over 85,000 workers in New York, and 66,000 workers in Pennsylvania, as just a few examples.

America’s innovation and leadership in clean technology can benefit from the Paris Agreement. The International Energy Agency projects that the global clean energy market  will total over $60 trillion in the next two-and-a-half decades, as countries tackle climate change. As more countries commit to low carbon development, the more opportunities there will be for America’s clean energy exports. Not taking advantage of the market for clean energy means companies and workers in other countries will dominate the market for clean energy resources and technology for the foreseeable future. China already plans to build a nationwide charging network for five million electric cars and has signaled that it will spend $360 billion on renewable energy by 2020 which will create over 13 million jobs.

Businesses know that pulling out of the Paris Agreement would hurt the US economy while opening up the country to greater risks from severe climate impacts. That’s why over 600 businesses and investors such as DuPont, Gap, General Mills, Hewlett Packard, NIKE, Mars, PG&E, and hundreds of small business issued a statement to the new administration urging it to implement the Paris Agreement.

American companies also know that failure to act on climate change implies huge financial risks as the damages take a greater toll. Some of the largest insurance companies in the world such as Liberty Mutual and USAA are already warning that not addressing climate change “needlessly exposes Americans to greater risks to life and property and results in much higher costs to the federal government.” The head of the Reinsurance Association of America has said that addressing climate change is sound public policy.

The Paris Agreement creates opportunities for U.S. companies and workers to tap into growing markets for innovative technologies and services—areas in which America can excel.

Good for Communities, Good for Cities and States

The Paris Agreement has increased ambition among cities and states across the globe to accelerate climate action. This includes city- and state-level commitments that will help us realize national commitments even faster. These are cities that recognize that climate action means more than just, clean, renewable energy. It also means more livable, healthier, and resilient cities. Dozens of American mayors—spread throughout the U.S.—sent an open letter calling on the President to continue being an active participant in the Paris Agreement. These local elected officials know that their constituents want more action on climate and that global action is needed. The 90 cities at the Global Mayor’s Climate Summit in 2016 represented a quarter of the world’s GDP—and American cities stand to benefit from working with counterparts to carry forward the Paris Agreement. States and provinces around the world also benefit from the mechanisms of cooperation that the Paris Agreement has built. State, provincial and local governments in the Under2 Coalition, led by California, have secured commitments to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050 across 165 different jurisdictions. These areas represent close to $26 trillion, or one-third of global GDP.

As local leaders closest to the citizenry, these local elected officials understand that acting on climate change is in the interest of their constituents and local business.    

Helping the Most Vulnerable and Ensuring Stability

Staying in the Paris Agreement recognizes U.S. responsibilities as the largest economy in the world and biggest historical contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. The United States from 1990 to 2012 was responsible for 18 percent of global emissions, but with less than 5 percent of the global population. Through the Paris Agreement the U.S. has worked with other wealthy nations to ramp up climate finance for the most vulnerable countries already suffering the harshest impacts from climate change.

The Paris Agreement helps the most vulnerable—the ones that have contributed the least to climate change. It helps them address the impacts of climate change that they are already feeling—and which will only get worse—if countries do not deliver on the emissions reductions enshrined in the Paris Agreement. This is one of the reasons that leading faith-based and religious organizations have supported the Paris Agreement. As these organizations recently said: Addressing the harmful impacts of climate change upon the most vulnerable peoples and the future of all God’s creation is the moral responsibility of our nation, and our sacred task as people of faith.

Security concerns, exacerbated by climate change, can make fragile situations even worse. It is in America’s interest to secure global emissions reductions through the Paris Agreement because it will reduce the threats to security abroad. Dealing with climate change and assisting nations to establish adaptation efforts helps maintain stable domestic environments. On the other hand, allowing rampant climate change will cause even greater climate disruptions. These disruptions can have potentially destabilizing impacts such as mass migration—creating more climate refugees. As one Iraq war veteran and Special Advisor on Energy to the US Army put it, the Paris Agreement “is a significant step toward increasing our national security by addressing the causes, consequences, and risks associated with climate change.

The Paris Agreement Benefits America

Sticking with the Paris Agreement and ensuring that all countries deliver upon their commitments is in America’s national interest. It protects us from the ravages of climate change that can only be minimized with global action. It creates ways to ensure that other countries are delivering on their own commitments. It is good for American workers and companies as it creates business opportunities and reduces financial risks from climate change damages. It helps the most vulnerable people and reduces security threats from unfettered climate impacts. That is why the Paris Agreement has the strong support of the American people and why the U.S. should champion the Paris Agreement.

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Trump wants to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. That would be a disaster. Here is a running tally of the thousands of people and organizations that have spoken out in support of the Paris Agreement.

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Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change is an assault on our children’s future, American companies, and all the countries in the world.

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Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement directly contradicts America’s economic interests. That’s why over 1100 companies worth well over $3 trillion dollars in revenues have supported the Agreement.

California Aims to Plug In Almost Everything That Moves
Max Baumhefner

The state’s largest investor-owned utilities are proposing to make over $1 billion in new investments to “accelerate widespread transportation electrification,” focusing on “light-duty” electric vehicles, as well as bigger, heavier, “medium and heavy-duty” vehicles, in a big way. Electrifying trucks, buses, port equipment, forklifts, and the other vehicles that move people and goods in bulk will provide substantial public health benefits by displacing dirty diesel pollution.

First new zero-emission school bus in California

The proposals were filed late last week in response to a ruling from the California Public Utilities Commission, which will ultimately decide their scope and investments, and are required by a state law authored by Senate President Kevin De León that makes it a core mission of the electric industry to replace oil as the dominant transportation fuel. These proposals will reduce dependence on oil, clean the air, increase access to clean vehicles, and slash carbon pollution.

Last year, the Commission approved programs for Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Pacific Gas & Electric, based upon widely supported agreements, which will collectively deploy at least 12,500 charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) at workplaces and multi-unit dwellings (apartments, condos, etc.) across California. Those pilot programs will inform future, scaled-up deployments also focused on “light-duty” passenger cars and trucks.

The new proposals include additional programs to accelerate the adoption of light-duty EVs, but they also go after bigger, heavier, “medium and heavy-duty” vehicles in a big way. The proposals by the state’s largest utilities, which provided about three-fourths of California’s electricity service, reflect the state’s regional differences:

Southern California Edison’s $573 million proposal aims to:

  • Install $554 million worth of “make-ready” infrastructure (all the electrical equipment from the transformer down to, but not including the actual charging station) over five years to electrify the vast network of vehicles and equipment moving goods from the Port of Long Beach (the second-largest port in the United States, after its neighbor, the Port of Los Angeles) to warehouses throughout Southern California and onto trucks and trains that traverse the nation. The program will also provide “make-ready” EV infrastructure for school and transit buses and other medium and heavy-duty vehicles not involved in moving goods, but that are also a major source of dangerous diesel pollution.
  • $19 million in pilot projects to encourage the use of EVs by Lyft and Uber drivers, provide access to charging stations for those who lack dedicated parking at home, electrify transit buses, electrify “gantry” cranes at the Port of Long Beach, and help customers install charging stations at their homes.
  • Offer commercial customers a new rate designed to lower the costs of charging EVs at locations outside of the home during hours when solar generation peaks.

Pacific Gas & Electric’s $250 million proposal aims to:

  • Install $211 million worth of “make-ready” infrastructure (all the electrical equipment from the transformer down to, but not including the actual charging station) over five years to electrify fleets of school buses, transit buses, delivery trucks, and other medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Provide $22 million in “make-ready” infrastructure to support the installation of “direct current fast-charging” stations that can fill up an EV in about the time it takes to grab a quick lunch (20-30 minutes) while you’re on the road. The utility will also provide rebates for the actual charging stations in disadvantaged communities.
  • Test one-year pilot projects that, amongst other things, aim to use the energy storage inherent in EV batteries to soak up solar and wind energy. They’re also hoping to take advantage of the creativity of the entrepreneurs in Northern and Central California, inviting innovative proposals to accelerate EV adoption in a manner that supports the grid. If you’ve got a bright idea, call PG&E.

San Diego Gas & Electric’s $244 million proposal includes:

  • A $226 million five-year program to install 90,000 charging stations at homes in the San Diego region. Participating customers will be required to sign up for a dynamic electricity rate that reflects wholesale energy prices, encouraging people to charge their cars, do their laundry, etc., when there is an abundance of solar or wind energy and electricity is cheapest. The program will provide education and technological assistance to help customers maximize their savings and help the state meet its renewable energy goals at lower cost.
  • $18 million in pilot projects to electrify airport ground support equipment, install standard and fast-charging stations at “Park-and-Ride” lots along highways in disadvantaged communities, electrify forklifts and other equipment at the Port of San Diego, install charging stations for delivery vehicles, taxis, shuttle buses, and ride-sharing vehicles, and offer incentives and education to help car dealers sell EVs. Similar to SDG&E’s approved “Vehicle Grid Integration” program, these pilots will use dynamic pricing, energy storage, and solar generation to support the electric grid.

Next the California Public Utilities Commission will initiate a public process to weigh the merits of the three proposals and determine if they are in the interest of utility customers. “Interest,” defined in this context in state law as providing benefits in the form of safer, more reliable, or less costly service (including service that is safer, more reliable, or less costly because widespread transportation electrification can spread fixed utility system costs over more electric sales, putting downward pressure on electricity rates, and because it can lower the costs of integrating wind and solar generation) and benefits in the form of greater energy efficiency, improved air quality, lower emissions of greenhouse gases, reduced dependence on oil, and increased job creation, including in disadvantaged communities.

NRDC will play an active role in that public process to ensure those benefits are realized and to help California demonstrate that we can and must continue to clean up the electric grid and use that increasingly clean energy to drive dirty and expensive oil out of our economy—cleaning our air and saving consumers and businesses money in the process.

Soup-to-Nuts Review Finds CA Clean Cars Program Working
Simon Mui

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) released a soup-to-nuts review of its Advanced Clean Car (ACC) program today. The 658-page report confirms that the popular program, which establishes smog-forming and carbon pollution limits for new cars and trucks, can be met on time, with known technologies, and at reasonable cost. Agency-experts recommend that the Board stay the course on the standards, pointing to a large body of evidence showing the auto industry is already exceeding standards and are on-track to meet 2025 targets.  

What It Means

Should the Board agree with staff’s recommendations at the hearing in March and redouble its commitment to current standards, it would mean that the new fleet of cars and trucks would get cleaner over time. By 2025, new vehicles would emit 75% less smog-forming pollutants and nearly 50% less greenhouse gas emissions versus those produced just five years ago. California, home to six of the ten most polluted cities in the country, would continue to see improvements to public health with the program helping avoid thousands of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and premature deaths attributed to vehicle emissions. 

According to the staff, the standards have also brought a bevy of more fuel-efficient cars and trucks to showrooms. In fact, in just six years automakers have introduced over 25 new electric-drive models with those numbers expected to grow to 70 models over the next five years. Consumers are also benefiting from significant fuel savings. On average, a household with a vehicle meeting the 2025 standards would save on average $4000 compared to a new vehicle today, with fuel savings exceeding the additional cost of the technology. Many households that finance or lease vehicles these days would start seeing net savings in the first month of ownership.

ARB’s findings are consistent with EPA’s recent determination that their national version of California’s standards should remain strong [see my colleague Luke Tonachel’s blog here]. Both technical reviews come on the heels of last summer’s draft “Technical Assessment Report” conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the California Air Resources Board. Together with a recent National Research Council report showing standards can be met at reasonable costs, the preponderance of technical evidence supports maintaining standards.

On the Menu: Strengthening of the Zero Emission Vehicle Program, Albeit Delayed

ARB’s report also pointed to strengthening the Zero Emission Vehicle program  while also tuning-up its overly generous crediting system, but not within the 2022 to 2025 time-frame and instead, as part of future standards starting in 2026. This past July, NRDC released a consultant report that found automakers could readily meet the “Zero Emission Vehicle” requirements with much lower sales volume of electric vehicles than originally anticipated. Similarly, ARB’s new analysis—using updated technical assumptions—found automakers would only need about 8% sales by 2025 of ZEVs and plug-in hybrids rather the 15% sales originally anticipated, resulting in about 1.1 to 1.2 million vehicles rather than the 1.5 million state target. Agency staff has flagged potentially modifying the compliance credit system—albeit in 2026 rather than 2022 as we had recommended—to better align ZEV requirements to actual vehicle sales.

California Reaffirms Continued Support of the National Program, but Warns Against Weakening  

California—as part of the National Program Agreement between the state, EPA, and automakers—allowed automakers to comply with California standards by meeting federal standards. With an eye towards anti-regulatory forces in D.C. seeking to potentially weaken federal standards, California signaled its right and obligation to revisit whether the state could still meet its unique air quality challenges and aggressive state greenhouse gas reduction goals under “substantially modified”—as in weakened—federal standards.

A collision course with states—obligated to protect public health and address carbon pollution—could begin if national clean car standards are weakened. But there’s no need for a collision if agencies and automakers maintain the current course to meet existing standards. Ultimately, playing bumper cars with pollution standards gets everyone nowhere fast—and may leave the industry with a bad case of whiplash. 

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