New EPA Ozone Regs Expected

According to a report from The Hill, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could release a new surface-level ozone rule as early as next week. Currently at 75 parts per billion, the new standard is likely to range from 65 to 70 parts per billion. A lower standard would place hundreds of communities nationwide in danger of ozone non-attainment.

Ozone Figure2 New Regulations

After several changes of course on ozone, the Obama administration now appears to be moving forward with the new standard, which the administration says will help the environment and improve public health. However, groups such as National Association of Manufacturers say the new standard could represent the “most expensive regulation ever” with a price tag of more than one trillion dollars.

Local officials nationwide are concerned that a lower ozone standard could hamper economic development and endanger jobs. For example, Commissioner Tucker Dorsey of Baldwin County, Alabama, wrote in a guest blog last year that endangering new air permits in counties like his would mean “hitting the pause button on an already sputtering economy.”

In a letter sent to EPA this March, eleven U.S. governors also expressed their concern about lowering the ozone standard, calling a potential new standard “onerous” and “job-crushing.”

“The proposed [ozone rule] is so extreme that even some of our pristine national parks may not be able to satisfy it. It goes without saying that most cities and counties have no chance of attaining this standard,” wrote the governors. “Indeed, many areas of our states have background levels of ozone at or near the levels you are proposing. According to an estimate by the Congressional Research Service, EPA’s power-grab could plunge anywhere from 76% to 96% of the counties currently monitored for ozone into non-attainment.”

As the letter points out, even some national parks could fail to meet a lower national ozone standard. In fact, the National Association of Manufacturers made that the focus of a recent video campaign highlighting the absurdity of EPA’s rule-making.

Although EPA attempts to link a new ozone standard to reducing asthma, the science remains muddy at best. As one report points out, “While average levels of ozone have decreased 33 percent since 1980, the number of asthma patients has increased over that time. The Global Asthma Report for 2014 lists environmental factors which lead to asthma, but never mentions smog or ozone. The National Institutes of Health does not list climate change or ozone as a cause of asthma mainly because the exact causes are unknown.”

“Community leaders should watch EPA’s action in ozone very closely,” says PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “Lowering the standard is likely to have widespread impact on counties from coast and coast and represent yet another regulatory hurdle standing in the way of economic recovery.”


Greentech: Are Rooftop Solar Companies Doing Enough to Protect Customers?

A September 24th article by Greentech Media senior writer Julia Pyper sheds light on concerns that rooftop solar companies might not be doing enough to protect their customers. Excerpts from that article are re-printed below.

Read the Full Article Here

Solar Panel

How much will I save each month by putting solar panels on my roof? What’s the payback period for my system? How long is my lease? These are questions even the greenest consumers are likely to ask, and they are at the core of new efforts to enhance consumer protections in the solar industry.

The industry has been grappling with the issue since last year, when a group of lawmakers from Texas and Arizona sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) claiming that solar leasing companies may be engaged in deceptive sales tactics that merit federal investigation.

“As a very new industry with a limited track record and little regulator oversight, the solar leasing market may pose a considerable risk to the increasingly large numbers of American consumers that commit to the leasing product (not to mention the American taxpayer, who heavily subsidizes each rooftop solar project),” reads one of the letters.

The letters claim that multiple customers have signed zero-down solar leases without fully understanding the terms of their 20- to 30-year lease commitment, and are now having trouble selling their homes. They also reference class-action lawsuits brought against solar companies in California and Louisiana. The solar industry has called foul.

These allegations completely overlook the steps the industry has already taken to self-regulate, according to Chet McGensy, regulatory counsel at SolarCity, the nation’s leading residential solar installer. And where customers have had bad experiences, relevant government agencies have stepped in and taken action under existing laws and regulations.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released the Solar Business Code last week at the industry’s largest trade show. The code covers several aspects of the standard solar transaction, including guidance on system production calculations, consumer privacy, terms of solar contracts, and compliance with existing laws.

All SEIA members are expected to abide by the code immediately, according to Nicholas Mack, general counsel for Clean Power Finance and a member of SEIA’s Consumer Protection Committee. At the same time, the committee is moving forward on rigorous enforcement mechanisms for the rules, which should be in place by the new year. These new measures are part of an ongoing debate around consumer protection in the solar industry.

In February, Arizona State Sen. Debbie Lesko took action and filed legislation (SB 1465) to impose new rules on the solar industry. Lesko said that she and another legislator have received nearly 50 letters and dozens of phone calls this year from consumers who have complaints about their solar leases. The bill passed in July, and will come into effect on January 1, 2016.

The law requires solar companies to disclose the total cost of the solar array over the lifetime of the contract, which could be 20 years or more. It requires companies to identify all tax incentives and subsidies associated with the agreement. It also allows consumers to rescind the sale or lease within three days of signing a contract, among other things. The legislatures in Nevada, Louisiana, Indiana and Washington state considered solar consumer protection bills this year, but none of the measures passed.

Today, the solar industry continues to engage with the FTC and CFPB as SEIA’s Consumer Protection Committee shifts its focus to creating enforcement mechanisms. If serious transgressions emerge as the solar industry continues to grow, oversight groups could decide to take further action.


Clinton’s Energy Ambition Has a Price Tag

In recent weeks, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has begun to offer details of energy policies she plans to pursue if elected. As expected, those plans are heavy on policies that promote renewable energy sources. Specifically, Mrs. Clinton wants renewables to supply 33% of America’s electricity by 2027. According to her campaign, that would be enough to power every home in America.


But what will that cost? And is it doable?

Today, all renewable sources combined supply about 13% of America’s power. Hydropower accounts for nearly half of that amount (6%), with wind power providing 4.4% and solar contributing just 0.5%. Other renewables such as biomass and geothermal constitute the remainder. The numbers paint a picture far different than what many voters likely believe; solar power, despite massive public subsidy and government favor, remains a marginal source of American power.

At current rates of deployment, renewable energy technologies are forecasted to provide as much as 16% of American power by 2027. Add in the effects of EPA’s carbon mandate, dubbed the Clean Power Plan, and that amount could be as high as 25% by 2027. Keep in mind that reports have placed the cost of EPA’s plan in the range of $41 billion to $73 billion. In other words, just obtaining a quarter of American power from renewables is going to be massively expensive.

Clinton’s ambitious target, which calls for a third of American power to come from renewables, will cost even more. Under her plan, installed solar capacity would increase from roughly 20 gigawatts today to 140 gigawatts by 2020. That is a seven-fold increase in installed solar capacity. For context, 2014 saw the installation of about 6.2 gigawatts of solar. Clinton proposes to raise that number to around 30 gigawatts per year during her administration. Assuming the cost of installed solar capacity remains flat and subsidies continue, Clinton’s goal of 140 GW goal could have a price tag of close to $250 billion. If demand places upward pressure on solar prices, the cost could be even higher.

There is nothing wrong with thinking big, but voters deserve an understanding of just how much massive energy proposals could cost. They also need to know that deploying that much renewable energy will have significant effects on the operation of the U.S. grid, requiring even more money from electricity ratepayers and government coffers to upgrade our grid.

In the meantime, another Democratic presidential nominee, Martin O’Malley, has called for the U.S. to obtain all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. Let’s hope reasonable voters and the media aren’t so mystified by the ambition of these plans that they forget to ask what these proposals cost. After all, we can only have the future we can afford.