In Florida, Buzz Words Drowning Out the Real Debate

What happens when the merits of an argument fail? Change the subject. Blame someone. Or simply deflect attention from the possibility that maybe your approach isn’t the best one out there.

Those seem to be the preferred strategies of renewable energy blogger Brian Holton Henderson in a recent opinion piece in the Huffington Post. Unhappy with the pace of his vision for Florida, Henderson blames the usual suspects: the big utilities, regulators, and vague notions of cronyism. The most obvious explanation, of course, is that the vision of Henderson’s environmental left is bad for most customers. That explanation also happens to be true.

In his piece, Henderson laments that more Floridians have not installed rooftop solar panels, arguing that state government should do more to help cultivate Florida’s residential solar market. More government policy and greater public subsidy for solar are needed, says Henderson. Maybe even a renewable portfolio standard to strong arm utilities into procuring more solar power.

Rather than consider that such policies aren’t in the best interest of customers, Henderson alleges that “utilities have launched an unfolding offensive against the burgeoning renewable energy industry.” The article he uses to demonstrate that point? It doesn’t mention a utility effort at all, but a nationwide campaign by the American Legislative Exchange Council to point out that state policies on rooftop solar power often place additional burden on the backs of non-solar customers. PACE argued the same in an August 2013 white paper on Arizona’s net metering policy. A representative of NAACP just recently echoed that argument in a July 21st Florida Public Service Commission hearing on solar rebates and energy efficiency.

What Henderson calls an “unfolding offensive” is, in truth, a chorus of voices describing the built-in inequity of the sorts of solar policies Henderson admires. The message is simple. Customers who can’t afford to install expensive solar panels shouldn’t be forced to pay more to subsidize a select few customers who can. The real offensive being launched is by the acolytes of the solar movement, who seem to care little about confronting the faulty economics that underpin their preferred industry. There are sensible ways to deploy more solar power, of course, but voices like Henderson are far more focused on the speed of solar’s expansion, not whether it creates casualties in the form of low- and middle-income power customers.

While Henderson is free to scream cronyism and wrap himself in the banner of transparency, his approach to creating better energy policy in Florida would benefit from acknowledging a simple reality: the adoption of rooftop solar in Florida is modest because those systems are expensive. Without subsidies from utilities and other unwitting power customers, rooftop solar is a far less attractive bargain. It is a lesson that governments in Germany, Spain, and a handful of other European nations have learned the hard way. Everyone wants solar when someone else is helping to pay for it.

Pinning blame on big corporations and taking shots at regulators is easy. What is more difficult, but ultimately more fruitful, is to work through the political process toward solutions that work for everyone in the long run. That approach might not make great headlines, but it does yield good policy. And in the end, it might not make Florida number one in solar, but it will ensure its Public Service Commission doesn’t choose what is best for a small vanguard of pro-solar activists over what is best for most of the people who call it home.


Kemper County Plant Passes Important Milestones

In recent months, PACE has continued to monitor developments at a new power plant in Kemper County, Mississippi, that will use state-of-the-art technology to convert native lignite coal into synthetic gas . The Kemper County Energy Facility, which represents an important step in the future of coal-fired power generation, has now achieved two major milestones, according to information released recently by Mississippi Power.

According to the company, plant officials completed the pneumatic tests on the gasifiers used to convert lignite to synthetic gas. This technology allows the plant’s emission footprint to resemble that of a natural gas plant. Officials also successfully tested the combined cycle unit responsible for generating electricity. Combined cycle technology has proven to be among the most efficient ways to generate electricity on a commercial scale.

The pneumatic tests ensure the gasifiers – a centerpiece of the new technology – can hold pressure. The gasifiers process the lignite coal from the adjacent mine and convert it to synthetic gas, using a chemical process as opposed to the more typical combustion. This chemical conversion renders the fuel for the combined cycle unit.

“The Kemper plant has moved one step closer to demonstrating that we can use homegrown, American ingenuity to meet our domestic energy needs,” said PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “Hopefully the naysayers who have frowned on this innovative technology will take note.”

Once online, the plant will capture 65 percent of carbon emissions produced by the plant, making the Kemper County Energy Facility one of the first examples globally of a large-scale power plant capable of capturing carbon dioxide. Much of the carbon dioxide captured at Kemper will be used to enhance the extraction of oil from wells in the region.

“At the same time the anti-coal movement is heralding the end of coal, projects like the one in Kemper County are helping to show that investments in technology can be  a win for power customers and the environment,” Brown said.  “If we believe in a secure energy future for our country, we should continue to look for new ways to turn our vast energy resources into low-cost, reliable power.”


EPA Extends Carbon Rule Hearings

Last month, PACE reported that EPA will hold public hearings in four locations (Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.) from July 29th to 31st to allow public input into the agency’s new carbon rule. Members of the public who wish to comment on the proposed rule governing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants can register and do so. PACE, for example, will speak at the Atlanta session on July 29th.

Register to Speak Here

In response to high interest from the public and interested organizations, EPA has added an extra day to each of its four hearing locations. The Atlanta, Denver, and D.C. hearings will now take place on July 29th and 30th, with the Pittsburgh hearing being held on July 31st and August 1st. EPA’s website shows its D.C. hearing schedule completely filled, although speaking slots are still shown as available for the other three locations.

“Because of the overwhelming response to the previously announced public hearings, the EPA will hold four additional public hearings,” the agency explained. “The hearings will provide interested parties the opportunity to present data, views or arguments concerning the proposed actions.”

All comments from the hearings will be entered into EPA’s official docket of input, which it must consider before it finalizes the rule in June 2015. EPA is also accepting written comments until Oct. 16.

In the past, turnout at these public hearings has been dominated by environmental groups that are regularly in contact with EPA. In response to the new carbon rule, however, it appears that a broader group of respondents, including energy consumers and those in the business community at large, might be offering comments to EPA. While a complete reversal of the rule would be highly unlikely, an outpouring of opposition to the rule would certainly force the agency to take note.

PACE encourages everyone to register and speak at one of the hearings. Let EPA know that whatever environmental impact emerges from the rule, if any, pales in comparison to the high cost to electricity customers and the American economy.