Energy Brief: Senate Confirms FERC Nominees, Returning Quorum

Government Brief

  • The Senate approved two of President Donald Trump’s nominees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, returning FERC to a quorum for the first time since February. (E&E News)
  • The Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General announced a “preliminary investigation” into Secretary Ryan Zinke’s phone calls last week to Alaskan senators to force their support of the GOP health care bill or risk losing federal support for their state’s development.  (The Hill)
  • President Donald Trump praised coal at Thursday’s West Virginia rally, but continued to take credit for the rebound of the industry and to make inaccurate claims about coal, climate change and the environment. (The New York Times)

Business Brief

  • Goldman Sachs purchased a portion of a $10 billion loan issued to Saudi Aramco in 2015. The investment increases Goldman’s presence in Saudi Arabia ahead of Aramco’s initial public offering. (Reuters)
  • Sources confirmed an electric vehicle partnership between Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. rumored to involve a joint-venture assembly plant in the U.S., based on recent breakthroughs in battery technology and the rising interest in electric vehicles. (The Associated Press)
  • Finnish energy company Teollisuuden Voima Oyj announced plans for an underground facility to store nuclear waste for 100,000 years, as part of Finland’s fifth nuclear reactor, slated to begin production in 2018. (CNBC)

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Senate confirms FERC picks, giving agency quorum
Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter

The Senate this evening confirmed two new members for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, taking a key step toward returning a quorum to the agency, which has been essentially paralyzed for six months. The chamber voted by voice vote for Neil Chatterjee, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and for Robert Powelson, a Pennsylvania state regulator.

On Environment and Energy, Trump Often Picks His Own Facts
John Schwartz and Kitty Bennett, The New York Times

President Trump held a rally Thursday night with some of his favorite people: West Virginians. As he often does, he praised coal and coal miners, and claimed credit for a turnaround in the industry. He often cherry-picks facts that prove to be exaggerations when the broader context is considered.

Interior watchdog launches ‘preliminary investigation’ into Zinke calls
Devin Henry, The Hill

The Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) says it has begun a “preliminary investigation” into reports that Secretary Ryan Zinke made phone calls pushing Alaska’s senators to support a GOP healthcare bill or risk losing federal support for economic development efforts in their state.

Trump Administration Hits Snags in Effort to Halt Environmental Rules
Iulia Gheorghiu, Morning Consult

While the Trump administration has been aiming to make good on promises like rolling back clean air protections, legal pressure from conservation and public health advocates shows that hitting the brakes on existing regulations is easier said than done. Following pressure from lawsuits, the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday said it won’t be implementing a previously announced one-year delay for the agency to weigh in on smog pollution compliance.

Oil Falls as Oversupply Concerns Linger
Christopher Alessi, The Wall Street Journal

Oil prices continued to slide Friday morning, as investors again worried that OPEC was failing to rein in output and make a dent in the continuing global supply glut. Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 0.8%, to $51.62 a barrel, in London midmorning trading.

Oil and Natural Gas

Goldman Sachs buys into Aramco $10 billion loan as it seeks IPO role – sources
Tom Arnold et al., Reuters

Goldman Sachs has bought a slice of Saudi Aramco’s IPO-ARMO.SE $10 billion credit facility as it seeks a role in the historic listing of the oil company, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Goldman purchased a portion of the $10 billion revolving credit facility Aramco signed with a number of banks in 2015.

The Oil Trader Known as ‘God’ Is Closing Down His Main Hedge Fund
Nishant Kumar et al., Bloomberg

Andy Hall, the oil trader sometimes known in markets as “God,” is closing down his main hedge fund after big losses in the first half of the year, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Hall’s flagship Astenbeck Master Commodities Fund II lost almost 30 percent through June, a separate person with knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified because the details are private.

U.S. shale oil producers cannot shake impulse to keep pumping
Ernest Scheyder, Reuters

With slumping crude oil prices stuck below where they started this year, U.S. shale oil producers have cut more than $1.2 billion from their 2017 spending budgets, even as they pledge to pump more oil. That more-for-less approach highlights the shale industry’s ability to ramp up production and keep improving the process of drilling and fracking a well to increase its clout in global oil markets.

Italy passes law delaying end of regulated natural gas, power tariffs to 2019
Gianluca Baratti, Platts

Italy’s Parliament passed a decree Wednesday delaying full liberalization of gas and power markets by a further year, as part of an overall push to boost competition in the energy and other sectors. In terms of energy, the most significant act is the opening of the gas and power markets to full competition by July 1, 2019, by eliminating the regulated market.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Puerto Rico Gasport Project Stalls Over Utility Bankruptcy
Andrew Scurria, The Wall Street Journal

Excelerate Energy LP gave notice last week it had canceled contracts with Puerto Rico’s electric utility to construct a floating natural gas terminal off the island’s southern coast. The cancellations weren’t widely known until Wednesday, when local energy regulators demanded an explanation from the public utility known as Prepa.

Is the era of the utility megaproject over?
Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News

A decade ago, this trio of sprawling power projects signaled the next wave of cleaner baseload energy that would keep air conditioners and the economy humming in the fast-growing Southeast. But lingering problems faced by all three power projects and the continuing transformation of the electric power industry begs a question: Is the era of the utility megaproject over?

Dover Explores Strategic Alternatives for Most of Its Energy Business
Dana Mattioli and Dana Cimilluca, The Wall Street Journal

Dover Corp. is exploring strategic options for most of its energy business, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the options for the industrial-equipment maker are a sale, spinoff or merger for the business, the people said. The assets in consideration represent most of Dover’s energy business, which accounts for around 16% of Dover’s overall revenue, according to the people.

Domestic Coal Shipments Boost Indiana’s Ports For Start Of 2017
Annie Ropeik, WBAA Radio News

Burns Harbor, Mt. Vernon and Jeffersonville moved 19 percent more cargo in the first six months of this year than at the same time in 2016 – 5.7 million tons overall. Almost two-thirds of that went through the southwest port of Mt. Vernon, in the form of dry bulk cargoes – things like coal, ethanol, fertilizer and minerals, which get transferred from railcars to river barges.


Toyota, Mazda Plan EV Partnership, Possible US Plant
Tom Krisher and Yuri Kageyama, The Associated Press

Japanese automakers Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. are partnering in electric vehicles with a deal that may lead to setting up an assembly plant in the U.S. The Japanese Nikkei business daily reported Friday the agreement will include working toward setting up a U.S. joint-venture plant and cooperation on electric vehicle technology.

Super-Colossal Wind Turbines May Be on the Horizon
Mark Harris, NBC News

This engineering professor at the University of Virginia wants to construct a wind turbine standing more than five times higher than the Statue of Liberty, with rotor blades longer than the Washington Monument is tall. Not only that, the 1,650-foot-high mega-turbine would change along with the weather, bending its blades gracefully to cope with hurricane-strength winds.

Germany’s Siemens wins tender for Turkish wind power project
Ercan Gurses, Reuters

Turkey picked Germany’s Siemens as the winning bidder for a $1 billion wind power project on Thursday, a sign Ankara wants to keep business separate from the widening diplomatic row between the NATO allies. Ankara has sought to reassure German investors, saying their business in Turkey is not at risk. Germany was Turkey’s top export destination, buying $14 billion worth of Turkish goods in 2016, according to IMF data.

State to weigh plans for green power
Christian Wade, The Eagle-Tribune

Green energy companies have submitted dozens of bids to bring more hydropower, wind and solar to the state to help keep the lights turned on and cut carbon emissions. A law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last August requires utilities to procure up to 9.4 million megawatt hours of wind, solar, hydro or energy storage by 2022 to meet the state’s renewable energy goals.


EPA boss visits Colorado to discuss coal mining, water rules
The Associated Press

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt went to Cloud Peak Energy’s offices in the Denver suburb of Broomfield Thursday. Cloud Peak operates coal mines in Wyoming and Montana. The EPA says Pruitt spoke about the agency’s intent to promote environmental stewardship without costing coal industry jobs.

Union, feds at odds on countering surge in coal mine deaths
Dylan Lovan, San Francisco Chronicle

Deaths in U.S. coal mines this year have surged ahead of last year’s, and federal safety officials say workers who are new to a mine have been especially vulnerable to fatal accidents. Ten coal miners have died on the job so far this year, compared with a record low of eight deaths last year.


Finland wants to bury nuclear waste for 100,000 years
Anmar Frangoul, CNBC

A  site in Finland is set to use a labyrinth of underground tunnels for the storage of nuclear waste, in what could become a template for others to follow. According to the World Nuclear Association, Finland is home to four nuclear reactors which provide almost 30 percent of its electricity.

Toshiba to Build Chip Plant Without Partner Western Digital
Pavel Alpeyev and Yuki Furukawa, Bloomberg

Toshiba Corp. is moving forward with plans to build a new memory chip plant without partner Western Digital Corp., another escalation of the fight over the future of their joint venture. The electronics maker will spend 195 billion yen ($1.8 billion) on construction of Fab 6 of its Yokkaichi semiconductor facility in western Japan, the Tokyo-based company said in a statement Thursday.

More setbacks for the nuclear power industry
Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune

The nuclear energy industry has had a bad week. The two announcements come at a particularly bad time for the industry. No new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States for 30 years, the nation’s fleet of 99 reactors is getting older and 10 existing plants have announced plans to shut down in the coming years, including Diablo Canyon, the last remaining nuclear plant in California.


Senate panel to consider 3 Trump energy nominees
Timothy Cama, The Hill

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is planning to consider three of President Trump’s nominees in September. The panel on Thursday announced a Sept. 7 hearing on Joseph Balash’s nomination as assistant secretary of the Interior for land and minerals management and on Richard Glick and Kevin McIntyre to be members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Green group launches ‘Trump Forest’ to counter Trump environment
Robin Eberhardt, The Hill

Environmental activists are urging supporters to plant trees in President Trump’s name to fight back against his environmental policies. The Trump Forest campaign, called “Make Earth Great Again,” was started by a New Zealand-based group in March. The group is protesting decisions by the president that they believe will be harmful to the environment, such as pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate deal.

Pipelines and protests: Why environmentalists oppose funneling natural gas under the Potomac River
Patricia Sullivan, The Washington Post

The pipeline that TransCanada wants to build is short, 3.5 miles, cutting through the narrowest part of Maryland. It would duck briefly under the Potomac River at this 1,500-person town, bringing what business leaders say is much-needed natural gas to the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. But environmentalists say that brief stretch could jeopardize the water supply for about 6 million people, including most of the Washington-metropolitan area.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

My big problem with this part of Trump’s energy plan
Tim Echols, CNBC

I applaud President Trump’s central focuses of increasing American energy independence, protecting our national security, giving taxpayers a break and creating good-paying jobs. But intentionally weakening renewable energy policy at the state level would accomplish none of his core objectives.

Climate change and oil prices should bury Arctic drilling forever
David Super, The Hill

The demand for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the ultimate political zombie, and it is back yet again. The House Budget Resolution would require the Natural Resources Committee to achieve at least $5 billion of savings over the next 10 years.

If we keep subsidizing wind, will the cost of wind energy go down?
Eric Williams, The San Francisco Chronicle

There are high hopes for renewable energy to help society by providing a more stable climate, better energy security and less pollution. Government actions reflect these hopes through policies to promote renewable energy. In the U.S. since 1992 there’s been a federal subsidy to promote wind energy, and many states require electricity utilities to use some renewable energy. But when is the right time to stop government support for an energy technology?

Research Reports

Artificial light at night as a new threat to pollination
Eva Knop et al., Nature

Pollinators are declining worldwide and this has raised concerns for a parallel decline in the essential pollination service they provide to both crops and wild plants. Anthropogenic drivers linked to this decline include habitat changes, intensive agriculture, pesticides, invasive alien species, spread of pathogens and climate change.