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We begin in Ohio, where a new law sharply reduces state standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency, and opponents are figuring out what to do next. We then look at electric vehicle sales, offshore wind in New York, and a California city trying to move away from natural gas.

I’m Dan Gearino, your guide to the clean energy economy. Send me questions, comments and news tips to dan.gearino@insideclimatenews.org, and thanks for reading.

— Dan

Making Sense of Ohio’s New Energy Law

Ohio passed an energy law in 2008 that required utilities to meet annual benchmarks for renewable energy and energy efficiency. Soon after, some energy companies and Republican lawmakers began to try to undermine those standards.

On Tuesday, those efforts largely came to fruition with a bill passed by the legislature and almost immediately signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, which
I wrote about for ICN.

I come to this debate with the background of having covered much of what led to it. From 2008 to 2018, I was the energy reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. Even with my knowledge of the people and companies behind this bill, I’m struggling to make sense of it.

The politics seem downright odd. A Republican governor and a House and Senate led by the same party are requiring residents and businesses across the state to pay for bailouts of two nuclear power plants and two coal-fired power plants that are struggling to compete against less expensive electricity sources.

At the same time, the new law reduces the renewable energy requirement so it tops out at 8.5 percent of total electricity generated by utilities, instead of the 12.5 percent that was previously in place. And, it says there will be no more annual increases in the energy efficiency standard, which means utilities will cut programs that help consumers save money.

Both major parts of the bill — the bailouts and the cuts to clean energy standards — are politically risky and seem likely to inspire for ads that challengers will run in the 2020 elections to attempt to unseat lawmakers who voted for this.

So why do it?

The best answer I can find is that the utility FirstEnergy and its allies have executed a lobbying campaign for the ages, using political donations to help elect people who could deliver the nuclear bailout. The two nuclear plants are owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, the bankrupt company that was, until recently, a subsidiary of Akron-based FirstEnergy. I explored some of this background in
a story published this March.

That brings us to what happens next. When elected officials do something unpopular, there is almost always a reckoning.

A coalition of the law’s opponents, led by owners of natural gas power plants, are planning to put a measure on the 2020 statewide ballot to overturn the law.

The group has a name, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, and it will be fascinating to watch what happens next.
 

Electric Vehicle Sales Are Soaring, But Is It Enough?

Six months into 2019, electric vehicle sales are continuing to rise, but the pace of growth looks unlikely to match the breakthrough that happened last year with the release of the Tesla Model 3.

From January to June, U.S. consumers bought 112,172 all-electric vehicles, up 61 percent from the same period last year, according to Edmunds.com.

By just about any standard, 61 percent growth is huge. But even faster growth is likely needed for the auto sector to get on track to make meaningful reductions in emissions by the 2030s, said David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

He is looking at the numbers in terms of EVs’ share of overall U.S. auto sales, which was about 2 percent last year. Ideally, this would be up to about 50 percent by the early 2030s.

To get there, annual growth needs to be eye-popping.


“We need to make sure we go from 2 percent to 4 percent to 8 percent, not 2 percent to 3 percent,” he told me.

The stakes are high. Transportation accounted for 29 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, according to the EPA. And, 59 percent of transportation emissions came from cars and light trucks.

Jeremy Acevedo, an analyst for Edmunds, expects huge sales growth for EVs, but he says it would be a stretch to expect a doubling of sales just about every year.

He notes that the blockbuster sales of 2018 — a 144 percent increase from the prior year — were largely because of the rollout of the Model 3, which was more than half of sales, and remains more than half of sales so far this year. (Note that the sales figures are for all-electric vehicles. This doesn’t include gas-electric hybrids, whose sales are less than all-electric vehicles and have been shrinking.)

This is why a discussion about EV sales often turns into one about Tesla.

“No other model coming out is likely to match the Model 3,” Acevedo said about sales in 2019.

And this is why it will be difficult for EV sales to double again this year.

The next opportunity for substantial growth is likely in 2020 when many automakers will be releasing highly anticipated electric models in a variety of segments. This likely will include an all-electric Ford F-150 pickup among many others.

“The more models there are, the more brands, the more price points and vehicle types, it will generate some inertia” for EVs as a category, Acevedo said.

The big question is what will consumers do when presented with all of these options.

Reichmuth says the answer may depend on marketing, and the extent to which automakers and dealers decide to make EVs a priority.

“Having more models is important. Having the marketing and advertising push behind them is also going to be important,” he said.

(Photos: Tesla; Ford Motors)
 

New York Enters Offshore Wind Race in a Big Way

New York has spent the year poised to be the U.S. leader in offshore wind, but it has kept quiet as other states made the big announcements.

That ended last week when Gov. Andrew Cuomo
announced that the state had selected two projects that add up to nearly 1,700 megawatts.

Now we have a good idea of the path New York will take as it seeks to meet a target of developing 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035, which is the largest such goal of any state.

New York officials are describing this as “the single largest renewable procurement by any state in U.S. history."

But neither of the two wind farms is as large as the one announced last month in New Jersey, an 1,100 megawatt behemoth off the coast of Atlantic City to be developed by Ørsted, the Danish energy company.

Here are the two New York projects, both of which would begin construction in 2022 and go online in 2024:

  • Equinor, based in Norway, will develop Empire Wind, an 816 megawatt wind farm located south of Long Island.
     
  • Ørsted will work with the utility Eversource to develop Sunrise Wind, an 880 megawatt wind farm located east of Long Island.
Cuomo announced the projects at an event in which he also signed legislation that calls for New York to move to 100 percent renewable energy.

“The environment and climate change are the most critically important policy priorities we face,” Cuomo said. “They literally will determine the future — or the lack thereof. Even in today's chaos of political pandering and hyperbole there are still facts, data and evidence — and climate change is an undeniable scientific fact. But cries for a new green movement are hollow political rhetoric if not combined with aggressive goals and a realistic plan on how to achieve them.”

With the offshore wind announcement, we now have an idea of what the next few years will look like in terms of where the big projects will be located.

We can see that Ørsted and Equinor look to be the leading developers and will be competing at just about every turn. For example, Equinor was one of the runners up in New Jersey’s development round.

While the major projects will be in several states, they won’t be far apart. This is an important consideration for parts suppliers and other companies that want to provide services to these massive projects.

Each state from Massachusetts to New Jersey would like a share of those support jobs, and are making clear that this is a key phase of the competition around offshore wind development.

New York’s announcement mentions that developers of the two wind farms “have committed to make additional investments in manufacturing and port infrastructure,” which “will unlock private supply chain capital and maximize the long-term economic benefits to the state from the regional development of offshore wind.”

Next, I want to see some specifics of what those investments look like and whether they lead to larger hubs for companies that provide goods and services for the offshore wind industry.

Also, I want to see if any other state looks at New York’s leading 9,000 megawatt target for offshore wind and tries to top it. These commitments by states are a strong signal to companies that the offshore wind market will be strong there for decades to come.

 

Moving on from Natural Gas in Berkeley

Everybody should pay attention to the growing movement to ban natural gas hookups in new construction, part of a larger push for cities to go all-electric.

My colleague Phil McKenna
wrote this week about how Berkeley, California, is banning the use of gas in new low-rise residential buildings, and how other cities are taking steps to encourage developers to make new buildings all-electric.

This is one of the big energy battles to come as cities and other governments look to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The push against gas is happening in places that are also looking to increase their use of renewable energy.


“We have a climate emergency, and we know that, at least in Berkeley, natural gas in buildings is responsible for 27 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Kate Harrison, a Berkeley City Council member who introduced the ordinance. She said the policy “will allow a significant reduction in greenhouse gas-emitting devices and systems.”

One of my big questions is how quickly this kind of policy will spread, and how Berkeley and other places deal with the inevitable pushback from residents and companies who want to continue to use gas for cooking and heating.

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