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This has been an eventful year so far for the clean energy economy, with many states taking big steps forward on renewable energy — although my own state of Ohio is a glaring counterexample.

I’ll be taking a break for August, for vacation and then some work-related travel. This newsletter will be back in September. In the meantime, you can reach me at dan.gearino@insideclimatenews.org.

Before I go, here is a look at the emerging campaign to overturn Ohio’s coal and nuclear bailout law, some news about a big wind-solar-storage project in Oklahoma and research into public opinion on transmission lines.

Thanks for reading!

— Dan

Push to Overturn Ohio Energy Law Takes Shape

Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill that subsidizes coal-fired and nuclear power plants and reduces state support for renewable energy and energy efficiency — a measure widely opposed by environmental groups, natural gas interests and consumer advocates, among others.

Even before the signing, some opponents talked about the possibility of organizing a petition that would give voters the chance to overturn the law.

Now we know more about a new campaign that aims to do just that.

A group called Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts said on Monday that it has submitted the paperwork to begin the process of placing a referendum on the November 2020 ballot.

The group needs approval from the Ohio Attorney General and the Ohio Secretary of State that its proposal is in line with state law for ballot issues. The next step would be to gather more than 260,000 signatures from voters by Oct. 21, which is the deadline for measures that would appear on the 2020 ballot. (Here is more background on Ohio’s referendum process.)

The campaign spokesman is Gene Pierce, who runs a marketing and public relations firm in Columbus and is well-known in state and local policy and political circles. His clients have included Columbus’ public school district, opponents of a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, and Republican candidates such as Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

“Bailing out a multi-billion- dollar corporation and gutting Ohio's renewable standards is bad public policy and will cost the state tens of thousands of jobs,” Pierce said in a statement. He said the formation of the referendum campaign “is the first step in rolling back this corporate bailout and reinstating Ohio's renewable standards.”

I asked Pierce who else is involved in the campaign and who is financing it. At this point, he isn’t identifying who he represents.


“Right now we want to focus our message on the billion-dollar bailout and gutting of renewable energy standards, not our members,” he said in an email.

One of my big questions in assessing the likelihood of the group’s success is who’s backing it. I know from covering this legislative debate that the supporters likely include natural gas interests that oppose the new law because they see it as giving an unfair advantage to other power sources.

For this campaign to have a decent chance of success, I think it will need a broad base that includes some environmental groups. So far, I haven’t seen evidence that this base exists, but, to be fair, the group is just getting started.

(Photo: FirstEnergy)
 

Clean Energy Hybrids Go Super Size in Oklahoma

In February, I wrote about a hybrid renewable energy project in Oregon that would be one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country to combine wind, solar and battery storage.

Now, one of the developers of that project is going even bigger in Oklahoma.

NextEra Energy Resources announced plans last week for a 250-megawatt wind farm, a 200-megawatt solar array, and a battery storage system that could operate at 200 megawatts for four hours.


The company is doing the project with Western Farmers Electric Cooperative. The cooperative provides electricity generation and transmission service for rural electric cooperative utilities, mainly in Oklahoma and New Mexico.

“With the price of wind and solar energy lower than ever, we are now able to pair it with battery storage to make more affordable, renewable energy available to customers for more hours of the day — even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining,” said Gary Roulet, CEO of Western Farmers Electric, in a statement.

The project would be spread across Garfield, Alfalfa and Major counties, which are north and northwest of Oklahoma City. The wind farm portion had already been announced and will likely go online late this year. The solar array and storage facility are new, and they would go online in 2023.

I have had a great interest in clean energy hybrid projects since writing about them last fall. Hybrids can combine wind, solar and storage to deliver a steady flow of electricity that acts a lot like a fossil fuel plant. Wind tends to blow the most at night, while solar hits its peak during the day; storage collects electricity from both for later use.

While U.S. companies have been slow to develop these kinds of projects, countries including Australia and India have taken steps to encourage them on a larger scale.

So far, no developer in the U.S. has completed a wind-solar-storage project on a large scale, so it remains largely theoretical how it would perform. The Oregon project is a big step toward changing this, and the Oklahoma one is an even bigger step.

The Oregon project, developed by NextEra in partnership with the utility Portland General Electric, would be a 300-megawatt wind farm, a 50 megawatt solar array and a 30 megawatt battery storage facility. A PGE spokeswoman told me this week that the project remains on schedule, with the aim of breaking ground by the end of this year and going online by 2021.

NextEra Energy Resources, the Florida company that is the country’s leading developer of renewable energy projects, seems to be getting the hang of how to put together wind, solar and storage, and that’s an encouraging sign that these types of announcements will become more frequent, from NextEra and from others who want to follow suit.
 

Tesla Says Its New Battery System Could Replace Gas Peaker Plants

I admit to suffering some fatigue when looking at news from Tesla. The company is a big part of the clean energy economy, but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between Tesla’s marketing hype and plans that are likely to come to fruition.

That said, the company made an announcement this week that could be huge.

In a blog post, Tesla introduced the Megapack battery system for use in utility-scale energy storage.

Megapack is designed to be easy to install and operate, which would help to make it less expensive than competing systems. And, it is more efficient than the company’s existing Powerpack batteries. The blog post says the system will be used in Tesla’s portion of the Moss Landing project in California, a set of four energy storage projects being developed in partnership with Pacific Gas & Electric.


“Using Megapack, Tesla can deploy an emissions-free 250 MW, 1 GWh power plant in less than three months on a three-acre footprint — four times faster than a traditional fossil fuel power plant of that size,” the company said.

This would be ideal for performing the functions now being handled by natural gas “peaker” plants, which are used by grid operators for short stretches when the demand for electricity is getting close to exceeding the supply. Peakers are expensive and major emitters of greenhouse gases.

It is too early to say how big a deal Megapack may be. We don’t know pricing or how the systems will perform in real world conditions. At this point, I would rate this news as “potentially huge.”
 

Researchers Find Not All Transmission Line Projects Are Created Equal

One of the most vexing challenges in developing renewable energy is opposition to transmission lines, the large power lines that serve as superhighways for moving electricity.

Proposals to build the lines can get bogged down for years by litigation and stall tactics, slowing the progress of the transition to clean energy.

Researchers have published survey results that provide some insight into this opposition. The main finding is that people are less fervent if they know the lines will be transporting renewable energy.


“There is a message you can communicate to people: We are building this line so we can facilitate this new wind project,” said Sanya Carley, a co-author of the report and a professor of public affairs at the University of Indiana Bloomington.

Carley and her colleagues commissioned a survey in which 2,000 people were asked about a hypothetical transmission line project in their community, and they rated their support for the project on a scale from 1 to 5. The results were part of a paper published by the journal PLOS One.

The average response was 3 for people who were told the line would be delivering power generated from coal. That moved up to 3.33 for people told the power would come from natural gas. (Both are below the average response of 3.45 for people who weren’t told where the power would come from.)

When people were told the power would come from wind or solar, the average response was higher: 3.69.

“It changes in a really large way what’s people’s reaction is,” Carley said.

The key point for project developers is that it makes a measurable difference to emphasize that a line will carry renewable energy, Carley said. Many developers already do emphasize that point, but they might not realize how influential that information could be.

That difference could be enough to matter in debates that are closely fought, Carley said.

One way or another, transmission lines need to get built. They are the arteries that deliver power to the population centers that need it, and they will be needed as the grid shifts to using more renewable energy generated in rural areas.

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