Energy Brief: FERC Rejects Perry’s Proposal to Prop Up Coal, Nuclear Power Plants


Government Brief

  • Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to bail out struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The defeat is a setback for the Trump administration’s efforts to revive the coal industry. (Bloomberg)
  • President Donald Trump renominated Kathleen Hartnett White to lead the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality when he sent more than 80 nominations to the Senate on Monday. Democrats had sent back Hartnett White’s nomination at the end of the legislative session in December following allegations that she rejects basic science and is an unqualified candidate. (HuffPost)
  • David Jonas, Trump’s nominee to be the Energy Department’s general counsel, withdrew from consideration, according to a message on his personal LinkedIn page. Jonas, an attorney at Fluet Huber + Hoang PLLC who has served as general counsel of two federal agencies, co-wrote an opinion piece in 1993 objecting to gay people serving in the military. (The Hill)

Business Brief

  • Luxury automobile designer Henrik Fisker plans to unveil the Fisker EMotion at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, positioning the vehicle to compete with Tesla Inc.’s Model S. The EMotion will initially have 400-mile-range lithium-ion batteries, although Fisker said he is looking to develop a proprietary flexible solid-state battery technology that would increase the car’s range and safety while lowering its recharging times. (USA Today)
  • General Motors Co. Chief Executive Mary Barra’s promise to investors that the automaker would make a profit selling electric vehicles by 2021 can be achieved through GM’s proprietary battery technology, according to industry experts and current and former executives from GM and its suppliers. Sources said a key part of GM’s strategy to cut the cost of battery cells is to reduce the amount of cobalt, the costliest ingredient, in the new battery system. (Reuters)
  • Exxon Mobil Corp. launched a counterattack against San Francisco and six other California cities and counties seeking damages for climate change, with the oil giant alleging the jurisdictions conspired to vilify and taunt the oil industry. The company seeks permission to question community leaders and obtain documents from them, and it’s planning a lawsuit of its own. (The San Francisco Chronicle)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Tuesday
House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on DOE modernization 10 a.m.
House Natural Resources subcommittee legislative hearing on bill to create the first national monument managed by tribes 10 a.m.
Woodrow Wilson Center holds discussion on Taiwan energy issues 10 a.m.
New York attorney general holds Clean Power Plan hearing for EPA comments 2:30 p.m.
WCEE’s reception on lessons learned from political appointees in energy and environment 6 p.m.
Sustainable Transport Award Ceremony 2018 6 p.m.
Wednesday
World Resources Institute hosts event on environment and international development stories to watch in 2018 8:30 a.m.
Chamber of Commerce annual address on the state of American business 9:30 a.m.
House Natural Resources Committee marks up six bills 10 a.m.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on national water infrastructure 10 a.m.
Thursday
EPA webinar on applying for a P3 grant 2 p.m.
CSIS discussion with former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz 4 p.m.
Friday
No events scheduled

2017 Brands in Review

Last year, Morning Consult conducted nearly 1 million survey interviews on nearly 1,000 brands. Get a never-before-seen look at how public perception changed for the world’s biggest brands.

General

Donald Trump Renominates Environmental Pick Democrats Called ‘Extreme’ And ‘Embarrassing’
Nick Visser, HuffPost

President Donald Trump resubmitted Hartnett White’s name among a barrage of nominations sent to the Senate on Monday, just weeks after Democrats waged a last-minute effort to derail her nomination at the end of the legislative session in December. Her previous testimony during a confirmation hearing was disastrous, prompting some senators to call her unqualified and lob allegations that she rejects basic science after struggling to answer questions about the mass bleaching of coral reefs and the scientific consensus surrounding climate change.

Energy nominee who wrote controversial op-ed on gay troops withdraws
Timothy Cama, The Hill

A Department of Energy nominee who co-wrote a piece in 1993 objecting to gay people serving in the military withdrew from consideration on Sunday. David Jonas, who President Trump tapped last year to be the Energy Department’s general counsel, wrote on his personal LinkedIn page that he was withdrawing his name from consideration.

Interior puts grants to nonprofits, universities through political-appointee review
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

The Interior Department has adopted a new screening process for the discretionary grants it makes to outside groups, instructing staff to ensure those awards “promote the priorities” of the Trump administration. The Dec. 28 directive, obtained by The Washington Post, represents the latest attempt by Trump political appointees to put their mark on government spending.

Tech’s Enormous Scale: Samsung Now Outspends Exxon and Shell Combined
Timothy W. Martin, The Wall Street Journal

The South Korean tech giant invested $44 billion to build or expand new facilities making semiconductors, displays and other products, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence estimates. That’s more than what Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp. , traditionally two of the largest investors, spent combined last year—and about 50% more than the next biggest spender, PetroChina Co.’s $29 billion.

Oil hits highest since May 2015 above $68 on tighter market
Alex Lawler, Reuters

Oil rose further above $68 a barrel briefly on Tuesday, touching its highest since May 2015, supported by OPEC-led production cuts and expectations U.S. crude inventories fell for an eighth week. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up 9 cents at $67.87 a barrel at 1111 GMT and earlier touched $68.29, its highest since May 2015.

Oil and Natural Gas

Lawyers behind oil and gas bans smacked with court sanctions
Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E News

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on Friday reprimanded two lawyers associated with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), ruling that they acted in bad faith and pushed “implausible” legal theories to defend a local ban on oil and gas wastewater disposal. The decision is a deep blow to the “local control” approach championed by CELDF and others that want communities to have veto power over hydraulic fracturing, injection wells and other development within their borders.

Oil and gas heavyweight joins defense of BLM’s methane rollback
Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E News

The American Petroleum Institute on Friday moved to intervene in litigation from states and environmental groups that say the Interior Department illegally rolled back the Bureau of Land Management’s methane venting and flaring rule. The lawsuit is in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which has previously sided with California, New Mexico and an environmental coalition in a dispute over earlier Trump administration efforts to freeze the regulation.

OPEC Doesn’t Want Brent Over $60 a Barrel, Says Iran’s Oil Minister
Anthony Dipaola and Ladane Nasseri, Bloomberg

A key OPEC minister has warned that the group risks overheating the oil market as crude prices head toward $70 a barrel. While the view isn’t universally held among OPEC ministers, the comments show concerns among some countries that keeping production curbs in place as a strengthening global economy drives demand could spur more output from shale producers in the U.S.

Recharged Shale Boom in 2018 Still Faces Shortage of Frackers
Meenal Vamburkarm, Bloomberg

A recharged U.S. shale boom will grow in 2018, with diversified companies such as Concho Resources Inc. and Devon Energy Corp. gaining an edge in overcoming a lack of completion crews for drillers. In its outlook for the coming year, JP Morgan Chase & Co. says it expects U.S. shale production to continue rising if West Texas Intermediate crude prices hold steady above $60 a barrel.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Perry Plan to Help Coal, Nuclear Plants Rejected by Regulators
Ari Natter and Catherine Traywick, Bloomberg

Federal regulators rejected U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan to bail out struggling coal and nuclear plants, instead asking grid operators to suggest their own ways to ensure reliable power supplies. In an order Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission terminated a proceeding that had begun in response to Perry’s September directive that suggested power plants should be rewarded for having 90 days of fuel on site.

More equipment, crews head to Puerto Rico for power boost
Danica Coto, The Associated Press

Federal officials said Monday that efforts to fully restore power to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria should get a boost with more work crews and more supplies in upcoming weeks. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is getting its own barge to ship items and that materials it requested several months ago have been manufactured and are finally on their way to the U.S. territory.

Why Did New England Gas Prices Jump Nearly 90%? Blame Severe Storm
Stephanie Yang, The Wall Street Journal

A major winter storm pounding the East Coast is driving up heating demand and energy prices, as the eastern half of the U.S. grapples with a stretch of extreme cold not seen in years. The storm, referred to by some meteorologists as a “bomb cyclone”, which occurs when there is a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure, is leading to a surge in demand for commodities used for heating, such as natural gas and fuel oil.

Tax overhaul has consumers, utilities jockeying for billions
Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News

Corporations across the country will benefit from a tax rate reduction from 35 percent to 21 percent. For utilities, it’s energy consumers who will expect to see the rate cut in the form of lower electric bills.

Lawmakers propose ban on political contributions from utilities in South Carolina
Andrew Brown, The Post and Courier

Lawmakers in the S.C. House and Senate introduced legislation in the past two months that would block political contributions from utility companies like Duke Power and SCANA — the majority owner of the failed reactors in Fairfield County. If passed, the bills would end the flow of cash from some of the most politically-influential businesses in the state.

Greens divided on promised FERC review
Sam Mintz, E&E News

A big policy announcement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has split environmental groups down the middle. New FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre said at his first public meeting in charge of the agency that he wants to lead a review of FERC’s nearly 20-year-old policy guidelines for issuing pipeline certificates.

Paul Fenn Wants to Give Your Electric Company the Boot
Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg

Paul Fenn is a little-known consultant with an academic bent, but he may be the utility industry’s enemy No. 1. For more than 25 years he’s been pushing the idea that local communities ought to be able to set up their own power agencies to compete with established utilities.

Renewables

Fisker’s first all-electric car takes on Tesla: Exclusive details
Marco della Cava, USA Today

The heralded automobile designer of the iconic BMW Z8 and a gaggle of Aston Martins is back in the car game with the electric Fisker EMotion, which he plans to unveil Tuesday at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Although the EMotion initially will come with traditional lithium-ion batteries, Fisker says he is further looking to distinguish his product through the development of proprietary flexible solid-state battery technology, which would improve range, increase safety and speed up recharging times.

GM races to build a formula for profitable electric cars
Paul Lienert and Joseph White, Reuters

eneral Motors Co Chief Executive Mary Barra has made a bold promise to investors that the Detroit automaker will make money selling electric cars by 2021. The answer is a big bet on combining proprietary battery technology, a low-cost, flexible vehicle design and high-volume production mainly in China, according to six current and former GM and supplier executives and six industry experts interviewed by Reuters.

Coal

Insurers go cold on coal industry
Oliver Ralph, Financial Times

A range of investors, including insurance companies and pension funds have cut or eliminated holdings in companies that make money from coal. Now, there is a new effort to remove the insurance cover that enables plants to be built at all.

Utah’s top coal producer is fighting to reverse a California city’s ban on exporting coal and open new markets for local mines
Brian Maffly, The Salt Lake Tribune

A proposed Oakland export terminal once promised an economic lift for distressed portions of California’s prosperous East Bay — and a new conduit for Utah’s coal to reach Asian markets. Initial arguments start Wednesday in a federal lawsuit backed by Bowie Resource Partners to reverse Oakland’s coal ban — and potentially open new markets for Utah mines.

Nuclear

Pilgrim remains off line amid post-storm power crunch
The Patriot Ledger

During Thursday’s so-called bomb cyclone storm, an important piece of power equipment known as a static line crashed on Route 6 in Sandwich, bringing down a 345,000-kilovolt Eversource transmission line that serves the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. While electric grid operators are hungry for power to meet demand during this extended cold period, Pilgrim remained offline Monday, with workers performing preventative maintenance.

S. Carolina House GOP Focusing on Nukes, Retirement Reform
Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press

House Majority Leader Gary Simrill told The Associated Press on Monday that GOP lawmakers are focusing on bills that lower utility rates and prevent consumers from paying more toward the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. Last year, lawmakers took testimony from executives from project co-owners SCANA Corp. and Santee Cooper, as well as ratepayers angry that they’d been stuck with billions of dollars in SCANA’s debt payments on the abandoned reactors.

Climate

Oil giant ExxonMobil counters climate-change suits by SF, other governments
Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle

Oil giant ExxonMobil has launched a counterpunch to the lawsuits filed by San Francisco and other communities that seek damages for climate change, alleging that the California jurisdictions conspired to vilify and taunt the oil industry. In a court filing submitted Monday, the Texas-based company said the California communities quietly met in La Jolla (San Diego County) six years ago to concoct plans to use government investigations and legal action to force oil producers to respond to climate change.

Order scrapping climate plans could hurt national parks
Brittany Patterson, E&E News

The federal agency in charge of managing more than 500 million acres of public lands, including the treasured National Park System, no longer has a climate change policy on the books. In a secretarial order signed by Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt days before Christmas, the Interior Department rescinded a key chapter in its departmental manual.

Agency reassigns Clean Power Plan author
Arianna Skibell, E&E News

Lorie Schmidt, EPA associate general counsel, had a significant role drafting former President Obama’s signature climate regulation, the Clean Power Plan, which Administrator Scott Pruitt has initiated the process to repeal. As of today, Deputy Associate General Counsel Gautam Srinivasan will serve as acting associate general counsel, said an email from EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson obtained by E&E News.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Mr. Zinke’s Risky Venture into Deep Water
Editorial board, The New York Times

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposes to open up vast areas of America’s offshore federal waters to oil drilling, much of them in coastal waters that President Barack Obama, for good reasons, ruled off limits. At the same time, Mr. Zinke proposes to roll back safety regulations for offshore drilling rigs put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, an extraordinary act of corporate misconduct that not only fouled the Gulf of Mexico but also eventually cost BP a tidy $61 billion in cleanup costs, federal penalties and reparations to individuals and businesses.

With new offshore drilling push, it’s time to hold industry liable for spills
R.J. Lehmann, The Tampa Bay Times

Last week’s announcement by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of a plan to open nearly the entire U.S. outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling — including a dozen lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico — was notable in the degree to which it immediately engendered bipartisan pushback. Whether the benefits of increased offshore drilling exceed the potential costs is a complex question.

Trump picks another official with potential conflicts of interest for powerful regulatory role
Mark Hand, ThinkProgress

By choosing a longtime corporate attorney to head the nation’s top energy regulatory agency, President Donald Trump stuck to his practice of nominating officials riddled with potential conflicts of interest to high-ranking roles in the U.S. government. As a partner with Jones Day, a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, Kevin McIntyre’s ties to energy companies that fall under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) jurisdiction were so numerous and ran so deep that his swearing-in as chairman of the agency was delayed to give him more time to sever the relationships.

Saving the world with carbon dioxide removal
Peter Wadhams, The Washington Post

If we want to survive climate change, we must double down in research manpower and dollars to find and improve technology to remove carbon dioxide — or at least reduce its effects on the climate. We now emit 41 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Research Reports

Green Energy Barometer 2017
Edelman Institute, Orsted

For the first time in history, green energy is now cheaper than black energy. Surveying 26,000 people across 13 countries, the Barometer is the largest ever study of attitudes to the green transition, relevant to all stakeholders that take part in the national  and international energy debate, including politicians, regulators, NGOs, institutions, media, analysts and investors.

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