Recover High-GWP Refrigerants, Favor Low-GWP Refrigerants to Limit Climate Damage

By Will Driscoll

To limit climate damage from refrigerants with a high global warming potential:

  • States may require leak testing and leak repair of equipment using refrigerants, as California now requires for large equipment (see section 5 below).
  • States may also have authority to require that when equipment using refrigerant will no longer be used, that its refrigerant be recovered and either destroyed or reclaimed (recycled). A financial incentive or a refundable deposit could boost voluntary compliance.
  • Environmental groups may encourage people to choose equipment with low-GWP (global warming potential) refrigerants, such as R-1234, which has a GWP of 4 to 6 (see table below). This equipment includes vehicles, heat pumps, air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers, and dehumidifiers.

The following sections first describe various refrigerants, and then review refrigerant management policy at the global, U.S., and E.U. levels, and in California.

  1. Selected Refrigerants: Phased Out, In Use, and Under Consideration
Refrigerant Global Warming Potential (GWP)*,** Status
CFCs   Phased out under the Montreal Protocol
HCFCs   Being phased out
HFCs   Widely used
HFC: R507 3300 US: Were to be phased out via EPA’s 2015 and 2016 rules.*** A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the 2015 rule.  That ruling has been appealed to the full en banc panel of the same appeals court.
HFC: R404A 3260
HFC: R410A 1725 US: Was to be partially phased out via EPA’s 2015 and 2016 rules;*** see above.
HFC: R407 1525
HFC: (R)134a 1430 US: Was to be phased out in light-duty vehicles via EPA’s 2015 rule, which is now in the courts—see above.
HFC: 152a (R152a)   124  
HFO 1234 (R-1234)       4 Now used in some vehicle air conditioners
“Natural refrigerants”: CO2 (R744) and ammonia (NH3) CO2: 1 Daimler and Volkswagen are evaluating CO2 for vehicle air conditioners.****

Note: The “R” refrigerants are a blend of two different HFC compounds, except for R744 (CO2).

* http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg3/index.php?idp=144

** https://www.epa.gov/mvac/refrigerant-transition-environmental-impacts

*** https://www.chemours.com/Refrigerants/en_US/assets/downloads/opteon-refrigerants-us-epa-snap-regulations.pdf

**** https://refrigeranthq.com/epa-announces-phaseouts-of-hfc-refrigerants/

  1. Global Policy

The Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment of 2016, which requires a global phasedown of HFCs, will enter into force on January 1, 2019: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/news/eu-countries-trigger-entry-force-kigali-amendment-montreal-protocol_en.  “Under the amendment, developed countries will reduce HFC consumption beginning in 2019”: https://www.epa.gov/ozone-layer-protection/recent-international-developments-under-montreal-protocol.  The amendment apparently does not address HFC recovery and destruction: http://ozone.unep.org/sites/ozone/files/pdfs/FAQs_Kigali-Amendment.pdf.

  1. U.S. Policy

EPA issued two HFC phase-out regulations in 2015 and 2016.****  The “Final Rule Revising the Section 608 Refrigerant Management Regulations” made “changes to the existing requirements under Section 608 [including] … 1) Extends the requirements of the Refrigerant Management Program to cover substitute refrigerants, such as HFCs”: https://www.epa.gov/section608/revised-section-608-refrigerant-management-regulations.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled on August 8, 2017 that the U.S. EPA does not have authority under Clean Air Act Section 612 to regulate HFCs.  Refrigerant manufacturers and the NRDC have appealed for a rehearing of the case by a panel of all the appeals court judges of the DC Circuit (an “en banc” panel).

Prior EPA regulations require recovery of ozone-depleting refrigerants when existing equipment is removed, with the refrigerants sent out for destruction or reclamation (recycling): https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/ConstrAndDemo_EquipDisposal.pdf.

The amounts recovered each year from 2000-2016 are shown here: https://www.epa.gov/section608/summary-refrigerant-reclamation.

EPA-certified refrigerant reclaimers are shown on this list: https://www.epa.gov/section608/epa-certified-refrigerant-reclaimers.

  1. E.U. Policy

The E.U. adopted a regulation in 2014 to phase out HFCs, and encourage refrigerant recovery and destruction at the end of a unit’s service life. (EU regulation 517/2014).  “Member States shall encourage the development of producer responsibility schemes for the recovery of fluorinated greenhouse gases and their recycling, reclamation or destruction.” http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32014R0517&from=EN

  1. California Policy

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) Refrigerant Management Program requires commercial and industrial facilities with a refrigeration system using more than 50 pounds of a high-GWP refrigerant (including HFCs) to register with CARB, to test for leaks, and if a leak is detected, to repair, retrofit or retire the equipment.  The program apparently does not address refrigerant recovery and destruction.  https://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/rmp/RMP_Program_FAQ.pdf

 

Wind Power Could Accelerate to Meet Half the World’s Energy Needs in 24 Years

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 3.50.36 PM

By Will Driscoll

Increasing global wind power installations by 20 percent each year would yield six terawatts of wind power globally by 2030.  Then, maintaining global wind installations at the 2030 level for 12 more years would yield 18 terawatts of wind installed by 2042.  (This growth trajectory is modeled on an analysis of solar power’s potential trajectory, published in Science magazine* and discussed here.) Eighteen terawatts of wind power in 2042 would be enough to meet half the world’s energy needs for current uses of electricity, plus transportation and heating.**  If solar power provided the other half, we could have 100 percent renewable energy for all energy needs by 2042—twenty-four years from now.

Increasing wind power installations at 20 percent per year through 2030 would be a midway point between a potential 29 percent annual increase in solar installations through 2030, deemed “challenging but feasible” in the Science magazine analysis, and a potential 12 percent annual increase in wind installations through 2030 projected by the Global Wind Energy Council.

The wind industry’s increasing scale (see bar chart) has already yielded cost reductions that buyers find attractive; indeed, low-income China is a major market. And history shows that the wind industry can scale up at a 20 percent rate through 2030.  As related in MIT’s report The Future of Solar Energy, “military aircraft production in the U.S. grew by one-to-two orders of magnitude between 1939 and 1944, highlighting the tremendous level of growth that is possible for commodity-based goods.”  Moreover, the wind industry uses automated manufacturing techniques not available in the 1940s.

The feasibility of a 20 percent annual growth rate also makes intuitive sense.  For every five factories a wind turbine manufacturer owned, next year it would need to build and equip another factory—that would be a 20 percent growth rate.

The wind industry needs more than the technical potential to grow at this rate, however.  It also needs a growing backlog of orders for wind turbines, to give manufacturers confidence that if they build wind turbine factories, the customers will come.  In the solar industry, for example, First Solar pointed to 2017 orders of three times its shipments to justify its plan to double its solar panel manufacturing capacity over the next three years (which represents a compound growth rate of about 29 percent per year).  Conversely Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine maker, reporteda stable backlog and no plans to increase its manufacturing capacity.

To persuade the wind industry as a whole to plan for ever-increasing additions to manufacturing capacity through 2030, we need to keep modernizing the electric grid so that more and more wind farms may be interconnected, and the electricity they produce can be transmitted to end users.  Indeed, we need to show the wind industry that we are committed to this grid modernization process over the next 24 years.  After all, U.S. military aircraft manufacturers in the 1940s had a ready buyer: the U.S. Government.  Low-cost wind turbines will keep finding ready buyers only if those buyers have a way to connect to the grid, and transmit, distribute and sell their wind-powered electricity.  The extent of grid modernization required represents a major infrastructure transition, and so we will need many more people to become educated, trained, and employed in this field.

Since many electric utilities are dragging their feet on wind power, and are not being guided by their state regulatory agencies to take advantage of wind power’s low and still-falling costs, we need to keep up the pressure on electric utilities and their regulators in order to achieve wind power’s promise.

Here is one possible sequence of overlapping steps:

  • “Unblock” wind power:  Eliminate groundless regulations and pricing structures that prevent or penalize wind generation.
  • Institute variable time-of-day pricing for electricity to encourage the use of electricity when the wind is strongest, to facilitate the use of all wind power generated.
  • Enact energy-efficient building codes so that new buildings use cost-effective energy-conserving construction materials and techniques.
  • Promote distributed storage of electricity, to enable existing transmission lines to deliver power to distribution-level electricity storage when generation is high, and enable the distributed storage to help meet local electricity demand at periods of peak demand.
  • Stop investing in fossil infrastructure.  This includes pipelines, fossil-fired electric generating units, fracking wells, and new gasoline-powered cars, buses, and trucks.  Use the money instead to modernize the electric grid; install wind and solar power; install storage; and buy battery-powered vehicles, as well as electric heat pumps instead of fossil-fired furnaces.
  • Price carbon.  Eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and institute a carbon tax equal to the health and global warming costs of fossil fuels; this would level the playing field between wind power and fossil-generated electricity.
  • Build an electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to accommodate long-distance travel by electric vehicles.
  • Build more transmission lines as needed, possibly along existing rights-of-way, to bring wind and solar power from rural to urban areas.
  • Develop cost-effective means to store heat, e.g., in rocks held in insulated underground structures, for use in winter-time heating.

The Global Wind Energy Council also made policy prescriptions, which are more narrowly focused on removing barriers to corporate purchases of wind power:

  • “Where there are direct prohibitions on third party PPAs [power purchase agreements], or prohibitions from purchasing power from anyone other than the centralized (usually state-owned) utility, they should be removed.
  • Corporate PPAs and direct sourcing should be included in general electricity market regulatory schemes.
  • Transmission system wheeling (and banking, if appropriate) should be facilitated at reasonable prices, rather than being made too difficult and expensive.
  • Governments could/should take an active role and encourage corporate buyers to assist in meeting government RE [renewable energy] and emissions reduction targets.
  • Competition regulators should engage and issue guidance to corporates seeking to enter the market, creating rules which support these efforts, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the market.
  • Some governments have stepped up and created renewable power purchase procurements for themselves, and governments are often significant purchasers of power; more should be encouraged to do so.
  • Finally, as is always the case, policy stability is critical. Power sector investments are long term, and the policies that support them must be as well.”

The Science Magazine article had 21 co-authors: seven from the U.S National Renewable Energy Laboratory, four from the comparable German agency Fraunhofer ISE, three from Japan’s comparable National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, two from solar manufacturers, two from solar certification or research firms, and two from universities.

For those seeking to obtain the article at a university library or by inter-library loan (to avoid the $40 Science Magazine subscription fee), the article is “Terawatt-Scale Photovoltaics: Trajectories and Challenges,” Science 356 (6334), April 14, 2017, pp. 141-143.

** Here’s the calculation:  Wind turbines generated 4 percent of the world’s electricity in 2016.  For wind to provide 50 percent of current electricity needs, we would need (50/4) = 12.5 times as much wind power as we had in 2016.  At year-end 2016, the world had 487 gigawatts of installed wind power. Twelve and a half times that amount is about 6,000 gigawatts, or 6 terawatts.  If the global installed base of wind power grew by 20 percent per year, starting at 487 gigawatts in 2016, we would reach 6 terawatts of wind power by 2030 (you can check that result in Excel, or with a calculator).  That would meet half of current needs for electricity.  To electrify 50 percent of transportation (with electric vehicles) and heating (with heat pumps) would each require about the same amount of electricity—for a total need of about 18 terawatts of wind power, to meet half the world’s total energy needs.

Image: REN 21: Renewables 2017 Global Status Report

Solar Power Can Accelerate to Meet Half the World’s Energy Needs in 20 Years, Say Scientists

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 3.54.23 PM

By Will Driscoll

Increasing global solar installations at 29 percent per year is a “challenging but feasible” rate that would yield 10 terawatts of solar installed by 2030.  Then, maintaining global production at the 2030 level for eight more years would yield 30 terawatts of solar installed by 2038.  That’s according to an analysis published in Science magazine*; it would be enough solar power to meet half the world’s energy needs for current uses of electricity, plus transportation and heating.**  If wind power provided the other half, we could have 100 percent renewable energy for all energy needs by 2038—twenty years from now.

The solar industry’s dramatic growth (see bar chart) has already yielded cost reductions that are attracting more buyers each year; indeed, low-income China and India have become major markets. And history shows that the solar industry can scale up at a 29 percent rate through 2030.  As related in MIT’s report The Future of Solar Energy, “military aircraft production in the U.S. grew by one-to-two orders of magnitude between 1939 and 1944, highlighting the tremendous level of growth that is possible for commodity-based goods.”  Moreover, the solar industry uses automated manufacturing techniques not available in the 1940s.

A 29 percent annual growth rate also makes intuitive sense.  For every three factories a solar panel manufacturer owned, next year it would need to build and equip another factory—that would be a 33 percent growth rate, or a few points better than 29 percent.

The solar industry needs more than the technical potential to grow at this rate, however.  It also needs a growing backlog of orders for solar panels, to give manufacturers confidence that if they build solar panel factories, the customers will come.  First Solar, for example, pointed to 2017 orders of three times its shipments to justify its plan to double its solar panel manufacturing capacity over the next three years (which represents a compound growth rate of about 29 percent per year).

To persuade the solar industry as a whole to plan for ever-increasing additions to manufacturing capacity through 2030, we need to keep modernizing the electric grid so that more and more solar farms may be interconnected, and the electricity they produce can be transmitted to end users.  Indeed, we need to show the solar industry that we are committed to this grid modernization process over the next 20 years.  After all, military aircraft manufacturers in the 1940s had a ready buyer: the U.S. Government.  Low-cost solar panels will keep finding ready buyers only if those buyers have a way to connect to the grid, and transmit, distribute and sell their solar electricity.  The extent of grid modernization required represents a major infrastructure transition, and so we will need many more people to become educated, trained, and employed in this field.

Since so many electric utilities are dragging their feet on solar, and are not being guided by their state regulatory agencies to take advantage of solar’s plunging costs, we need to keep up the pressure on electric utilities and their regulators in order to achieve solar’s promise.

Here is one possible sequence of overlapping steps:

  • “Unblock” solar:  Eliminate groundless regulations and pricing structures that prevent or penalize solar installations.
  • Institute time-of-day pricing to encourage the use of electricity when the sun is shining, to facilitate the use of all solar power generated.
  • Enact energy efficient building codes so that new buildings use cost-effective energy-conserving construction materials and techniques.
  • Promote distributed storage of electricity, to enable existing transmission lines to deliver power to distribution-level electricity storage when generation is high, and enable the distributed storage to help meet local electricity demand at periods of peak demand.
  • Stop investing in fossil infrastructure.  This includes pipelines, fossil-fired electric generating units, fracking wells, and new gasoline-powered cars, buses, and trucks.  Use the money instead to modernize the electric grid; install solar and wind power; install storage; and buy battery-powered vehicles, as well as electric heat pumps instead of fossil-fired furnaces.
  • Price carbon.  Eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and institute a carbon tax equal to the health and global warming costs of fossil fuels; this would level the playing field between solar and fossil fuels.
  • Build an electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to accommodate long-distance travel by electric vehicles.
  • Build more transmission lines as needed, possibly along existing rights-of-way, to bring solar and wind power from rural to urban areas.
  • Develop cost-effective means to store heat, e.g., in rocks held in insulated underground structures, for use in winter-time heating.

These overlapping steps are broadly consistent with the view of the U.S./German/Japanese solar research consortium GA-SERI, which was largely responsible for the Science magazine analysis.  As GA-SERI stated in a press releaseaccompanying the article:

“GA-SERI’s experts predict 5-10 terawatts of PV capacity could be in place by 2030 if these challenges can be overcome:

  • A continued reduction in the cost of PV while also improving the performance of solar modules
  • A drop in the cost of and time required to expand manufacturing and installation capacity
  • A move to more flexible grids that can handle high levels of PV through increased load shifting, energy storage, or transmission
  • An increase in demand for electricity by using more for transportation and heating or cooling
  • Continued progress in storage for energy generated by solar power.”

The Science Magazine article had 21 co-authors: seven from the U.S National Renewable Energy Laboratory, four from the comparable German agency Fraunhofer ISE, three from Japan’s comparable National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, two from solar manufacturers, two from solar certification or research firms, and two from universities.

For those seeking to obtain the article at a university library or by inter-library loan (to avoid the $40 Science Magazine subscription fee), the article is “Terawatt-Scale Photovoltaics: Trajectories and Challenges,” Science 356 (6334), April 14, 2017, pp. 141-143.

** Here’s the calculation:  Solar generated 1.3 percent of the world’s electricity in 2016.  For solar to provide 50 percent of current electricity needs, we would need (50/1.3) = 40 times as much solar power as we had in 2016.  At the mid-point of 2016, the world had about 250 gigawatts of installed solar (see bar chart above).  Forty times that amount is about 10,000 gigawatts, or 10 terawatts.  That would meet half of current needs for electricity.  To electrify 50 percent of transportation (with electric vehicles) and heating (with heat pumps) would each require about the same amount of electricity—for a total need of 30 terawatts of solar, to meet half the world’s total energy needs.

Image: REN 21: Renewables 2017 Global Status Report

Arlington to Add Solar on Five Schools, For Largest Such Procurement in Virginia

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By Will Driscoll

Arlington has solicited bids to add rooftop solar panel systems on at least five schools by 2020, for the largest solar-on-schools procurement to date in Virginia. School system staff designed the solicitation to achieve a competitive price for solar, and to avoid financial headaches such as roof repairs down the road.

The solicitation is structured to attract competition among bidders, yielding a competitive price, by:

• Specifying a larger project size of five schools (with an option for more), rather than the two schools initially envisioned; and

• Reducing the cost of bidding, by providing bidders with ready access to structural and electrical system information for each of the five schools, as well as each roof’s age, type, and warranty information.

The resulting bids will be easy to compare on price, because each bidder must set a fixed price at which it will sell solar electricity to the school system over a period of 15 to 25 years. This contrasts with many existing solar power purchase agreements that specify a starting price and an annual price increase—a more complex approach that is harder to compare across bids.*

The solar-on-schools project has been de-risked in several ways:

• Firms or teams are only eligible to bid if: 1) they have installed at least five similarly-sized projects; 2) they have operated and maintained at least five projects; and 3) they have appropriate contractor and electrical licenses.

• A bidder must state its plan for financing all stages of the project, and provide audited financial statements for the firm (which will be kept confidential).

• The selected contractor must operate and maintain the solar panel systems. (This provision is self-enforcing, since the contractor will only receive payment for the electricity that each system generates.)

• The contractor must specify a method for determining a buy-out price in case the school system chooses to terminate the contract “for convenience.”

Additional provisions address potential roof and durability issues:

• Ballasted systems are preferred, to eliminate roof penetrations that could leak.

• The use of ferrous metals, wood or plastic (e.g., in the solar panel racking system) is not permitted.

• The selected contractor must work with the obligor under any roof warranty to ensure that the warranty remains in effect.

• The contractor must repair any damage to the school caused by the system, including moisture damage.

• In the event that roof repair is needed due to aging of the existing roof, the contractor must remove the solar panel system and then replace it once the repair is completed, at no extra charge; the contractor’s price must account for this possibility.

Arlington’s solar solicitation follows an amendment to the school system’s purchasing resolution, unanimously approved by Arlington’s school board last spring, to permit the use of power purchase agreements under the requirements of Virginia’s Public-Private Educational Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002. (Members of Arlington 350 advocated for this resolution.)

Proposals are due from bidders in March, 2018. The school system’s purchasing resolution calls for APS to hire “qualified professionals” from outside the APS staff to review all solicited proposals. These professionals may include an architect, professional engineer, or certified public accountant.

Any rooftop solar offer recommended by the selection committee will be presented at a public hearing, and must be approved by the school board before a contract is signed, per the school system’s purchasing resolution.

Solar installations are to be completed within two years of contract award. The school system may arrange with the selected offeror for solar on additional schools. (A draft timeline from last April anticipated the installation of solar PV systems on two schools in summer 2018.)

Statewide, Virginia could produce 32 percent of its electricity from rooftop solar, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratories report. Given the increase in solar panel efficiency, from 16 percent assumed in the report to about 20 percent now, the current opportunity is correspondingly higher: we could get 40 percent of our electricity from rooftop solar. Virginia’s approximately 2,100 public schools, with unshaded roofs ideal for low-cost commercial scale solar, represent a promising component of that potential.

Credit is due to Arlington school system staff—in the facilities engineering, purchasing, and legal departments—for their work on the 113-page solicitation, and the amendment to the purchasing resolution that preceded it.

Climate-aware citizens in other communities may find Arlington’s solicitation to be a useful model for their own solar-on-schools initiatives.

*An Arlington bidder may additionally offer, as an alternative to its fixed price, an initial price and an annual price increase, which the school system may select at its discretion.

(Photo: Arlington’s Discovery Elementary School, showing the 497-kilowatt rooftop solar system in a satellite view.  Source: Google Maps.)

If Huck Finn and Jim Were Alive Today, They’d Build Rafts for Polar Bears

Huck_and_jim_on_raft

Jim and Huck, who once rescued themselves, now rescue polar bears. 

By Will Driscoll

If Huck Finn and Jim were alive today, one day Jim would say “Huck, we know how to help those polar bears that are drowning because their ice floes are disappearing.”  And Huck would say “Sure, Jim, a raft!  With GoPro so we can watch them hunt!”  And they’d get to work.

Nowadays Jim and Huck, who always loved building things, would naturally be engineers.  In a snap they’d calculate the size of a raft needed to support polar bears.  They’d direct skeptical friends to a video of walruses sunning themselves on rafts anchored near San Francisco’s Pier 39.  They’d choose softwood logs over hardwood, for superior flotation even when waterlogged.

Being creative types, Huck and Jim could imagine lots of different ways to tie softwood logs together into a raft.  Rope—tried and true since their Mississippi River days—might still be the best choice.  Or maybe hefty bolts, u-bolts, or rebar through holes drilled in the logs.  They’d consider whether to anchor their polar bear raft, or keep it in place with a solar-powered electric motor and a GPS guidance system.

With a raft design in hand, Jim and Huck would make their pitch to angel investors to finance a “proof of concept” raft.  Of course, as the world’s most famous raft-builders, they’d get lots of meetings in Silicon Valley.

In every pitch meeting, skeptics, as if on Shark Tank, would hammer away at the difficulty of monetizing a raft.  “Did you ever consider that polar bears don’t have money?”—they heard that a lot.  Their answer was to monetize the video.

Huck and Jim would tell the investors of their talks with potential marketing partners for the video: The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the Center for Biological Diversity, the World Wildlife Fund.  So far, all of them had told Huck and Jim they were interested.  “But,” said the investors, “that doesn’t get the job done.”

So Jim and Huck would bootstrap and kick-start their raft concept.  They’d sell individual logs to people who bought into their concept, and buy the logs from a mill in Canada.  GoPro would donate a camera, Google would donate a device to transmit video to the Internet, and Tesla would donate solar cells and scratch-proof armor glass to defend the equipment from curious polar bears.  An Inuit village on the Arctic Ocean would give approval to launch the raft, sharing video rights for the launch with Ice Road Truckers, which would transport the logs.  The villagers and truckers, along with Huck and Jim, would assemble and launch the raft.

And that, girls and boys in this time-traveling tale, is why you’re now able to watch video of a polar bear hunting from a raft.  And in order to finance a lot more rafts, we just need a carbon tax on private jets.

Image: Project Gutenberg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=700846

How Activate Virginia Persuaded 76 Candidates to Sign the “No Dominion $” Pledge—A Model for Other States

By Will Driscoll

Virginia’s election of 13 legislators who pledged never to accept Dominion campaign funds—a tremendous result for a new political strategy—can be an inspiration for citizens everywhere. Here’s an account of the hard work of many groups and 76 Democratic Party candidates behind that achievement, told by Josh Stanfield of Activate Virginia—a state PAC he launched with two other Bernie Sanders delegates. This account is an abridged version of an interview conducted by West Virginia State Senate candidate Mary Ann Claytor, edited to start with the discussion of the pledge itself.

Mary Ann Claytor: Talk a little bit about the pledge that you had people sign.

Josh Stanfield: We looked at the campaign finance system in Virginia and it was so straightforwardly corrupt. The top corporate donor for Democrats and Republicans in Virginia is Dominion Energy, which is our electric utility. We thought, we’re going to have to start changing the political culture in Virginia. We’re going to have to make it politically unacceptable to take this money. That meant somehow entering into the mainstream narrative the idea that this is corrupt—why do Democrats take this money?

A lot of grassroots entities recruited so many candidates, and the vast majority of them were not recruited by the state Democratic Party. We thought, if we get them to just sign on to a statement of what we know is right and what they know is right, they’re not likely to have the party telling them not to do it, because they didn’t come from the party recruiting arm.

So we went to the candidates and said, will you pledge never—no matter what you run for—never to take money from Dominion Energy or Appalachian Power? We made the case to the candidates about why, and so many of them during the primary—76 candidates including two out of the three lieutenant governor candidates—signed on.

By getting that many people on board, then I had a story. Then I went to the reporters, putting this story out, and they started calling because it’s a big deal. Now we’ve entered the narrative, now we have a front page story in the Washington Post, front page in the Richmond Times. We had these stories out there; it became a thing.

Most people suspect, if a big corporation gives a politician money, they’re going to get something for it. No one gives you a bunch of money not expecting something in return. Then it became, oh my gosh, 76 candidates are saying this too, and they’re saying if they get into office they’re not going to take the money—okay, this sounds good.

That was our first step towards changing the political culture in Virginia where it becomes unacceptable—it becomes shameful—to take this money if you’re a Democrat.

We’re lucky in Virginia that we have a common villain with Dominion Energy. Dominion is trying to build the Atlantic Coast pipeline, so we have a lot of pipeline fighters who hate Dominion for that. They buy out our legislature; a lot of people hate that. They’ve got coal ash all over Virginia; everyone hates that. It was so easy to build a coalition against them.

Mary Ann Claytor: What were some of the challenges that you had in your recruiting process?

Josh Stanfield: Not just us—there were a lot of grassroots entities involved. First, the Democratic Party leadership was opposed to recruiting candidates across the state. Then finding people to run in places where you don’t have strong Democratic Party networks was a real challenge, as well as finding people who thought they could run a credible campaign. Then, to compete against an incumbent in the House of Delegates, the common knowledge is that you need at least 200 grand—so you’ve got to start streamlining, running really frugal campaigns.

People run for different reasons. Some know they will not win, if they’re running somewhere where Hillary Clinton got 21 percent. But while they might lose, people will respect the way they run, people will like what they said, and they’re going to run again. It might be for school board, or board of supervisors, and in some cases, it might be for their local Democratic Party committee chair.

Mary Ann Claytor: What did you do to get your message off the ground, because we have a lot of different organizations popping up all over West Virginia, and I always wonder what we can do to get the message moving and get the energy behind it.

Josh Stanfield: We have a network of dozens of Bernie Sanders national delegates around Virginia who were on board with the philosophy that we were pushing, and who knew us as individuals and were willing to take what we said seriously. So I could call someone in Roanoke and ask who are the labor leaders there, and these people know them and now I’ve got a phone number and I’m connected.

After the Women’s March, there was an incredible number of pop-up groups in Virginia. In January, February, March I drove all around the state visiting as many of these groups that would have me, and explaining our reform platform: competing in all elections, combatting gerrymandering, and combatting the corrupt campaign finance system. The way I put it was, “Let’s look for a synergy.”

Mary Ann Claytor: Are there any takeaways that you want to sum up for us?

Josh Stanfield: Yes—become friendly with your local and state reporters. If you have a story, don’t send a press release and expect them to care. Follow up with a phone call and leave a voicemail. A lot of journalists know about some of the dirty stuff going on, but no one’s ever paid attention when they write about it, so they don’t write about it much. If you make it clear to them that people are talking about this, people are organizing around these issues, you might find that you just start getting covered; you don’t have to have some organization with a bunch of money.

* * *
Given the tremendous success of this pledge initiative, in just one election cycle, citizens in other states may consider following the same strategy to restore government by the people, not by investor-owned monopolies.

Thirteen “Dominion $ Deniers” to Serve in the State Legislature, Countering Climate Deniers

By Will Driscoll, Arlington 350 Core Group member

In a big win for anti-corruption and clean energy advocates, 13 elected House of Delegates members have pledged not to accept campaign contributions from Dominion Energy or Appalachian Power.  (Dominion has blocked clean energy progress for years by funding campaigns of candidates in both parties.)

Tom Perriello made the pledge famous last summer when he signed it during his campaign for governor.  Around that time, 13 House of Delegates candidates who have now been elected—or one-quarter of next session’s Democratic delegation—also signed the pledge, according to Activate Virginia, the pledge tracker.

This pledge approach could become a model for progress in other states that also face corruption and foot-dragging on clean energy, such as the ten states flagged in a report by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The 13 “Dominion $ Deniers” who will help outweigh the legislature’s climate deniers include Delegates Sam Rasoul and 12 newcomers:

  • Jennifer Foy (HD 2)
  • Wendy Gooditis (HD 10)
  • Danica Roem (HD 13)
  • Kelly Fowler (HD 21)
  • Elizabeth Guzman (HD 31)
  • Kathy Tran (HD 42)
  • Lee Carter (HD 50)
  • Hala Ayala (HD 51)
  • Dawn Adams (HD 68)
  • Schuyler Van Valkenburg (HD 72)
  • Debra Rodman (HD 73)
  • Cheryl Turpin (HD 85).

Of the newcomers, all but Cheryl Turpin ran in districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Three of these candidates—Wendy Gooditis, Kathy Tran and Dawn Adams—went beyond signing the pledge to campaign on the issue of clean renewable energy.

Activate Virginia has published a short bill introduced by State Senator Chap Petersen this year that would prohibit state legislators from accepting campaign contributions from state-regulated utilities.  That bill has been supported by incumbent State Senators Creigh Deeds and Jeremy McPike, plus Delegates Sam Rasoul and Mark Levine and newly elected Delegates Danica Roem, Kelly Fowler, Elizabeth Guzman, Lee Carter, and Debra Rodman.

How Would Tesla Get Paid To Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Electrical Grid?

By Will Driscoll

Oct. 9, 2017 2:02 PM ET

Tesla has an opening to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, possibly starting with a pilot project in the island municipality of Vieques (population 9,300 in 2010), according to USA Today.

Tesla has the technology—solar and storage—but how can they get paid? Unlike Kauai, where the electric utility is buying electricity from Tesla’s solar-plus-storage project, or South Australia, whose government is buying Tesla’s batteries, Puerto Rico has no solvent counterparty to purchase either electricity or hardware from Tesla. Puerto Rico’s government-owned utility, and the government itself, have both filed for bankruptcy.

Perhaps Tesla could provide solar plus storage to just the 9,300 people of Vieques at a loss, without putting a wrinkle in its financials. But the big prize is restoring the grid for all of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million people, and that would require earning profits. So it’s worth exploring the endgame.

Who Should Own the Grid?

Let’s start from first principles. Any firm seeking to install lots of solar in Puerto Rico would need capital. To obtain capital at a reasonable cost, there must be confidence that the customers for the solar power will pay for it. Given that Puerto Rico’s electric utility has filed for bankruptcy, this is a salient concern. A Reuters analysis concluded that the utility’s “poor collection of utility bills” contributed to deferred maintenance, which led to the collapse of the grid with Hurricane Maria.

The best way to ensure that customers pay for electricity is to have the ability to shut off power for non-payment, subject to legal protections. Because Puerto Rico’s government-owned utility did not manage that process well, it’s time for Puerto Rico to try letting an investor-owned utility run the grid.

As Tesla negotiates a potential pilot project to repower Vieques, Tesla could request the authority to create an independent utility on Vieques, which could shut off power to customers for nonpayment. In return, Tesla could purchase the existing distribution grid assets on Vieques—such as they are—and pledge to deliver electricity on Vieques for a specified price for the next 20 years. If Tesla’s price were well under Puerto Rico’s current 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, how could the government of Puerto Rico, or the residents of Vieques, say no?

The Size of the Prize

Puerto Rico’s electric utility had revenues of $4.5 billion in fiscal 2014 (the most recent year available). That amount would significantly boost Tesla’s revenues, which were $7 billion in 2016. Yet because regulators limit utilities to a modest rate of return on equity—ranging from about 9 percent to 14 percent—Tesla would become a much slower-growth company if it used its access to capital to take over Puerto Rico’s grid. Tesla may instead hope that some other firm gets Puerto Rico’s grid up and running, and then buys Tesla’s high-margin batteries and solar farms.

If Puerto Rico’s Governor Rosselló is Smart, He’s Starting a Race

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló, whose Twitter conversation with Elon Musk got this ball rolling, may be hoping for a similar outcome.

Mr. Rosselló, by showing the world that he’s open to new options for rebuilding Puerto Rico’s grid, may be hoping to start a race among firms in the electric utility business to compete for that job. Here are some firms that appear to be qualified to launch an investor-owned utility in Puerto Rico, hopefully with a focus on renewables that will cost less than generation with imported fossil fuels:

  • NextEra Energy, a utility conglomerate based in Florida, with $16 billion in annual revenues and a large portfolio of wind and solar assets;
  • AES, an engineering firm that runs seven electric utilities serving major metropolitan areas, and that manufactures utility-scale batteries; and
  • Avangrid, a utility conglomerate with 3.1 million customers and a focus on renewables.

Conclusion

Puerto Rico could be the next high-profile customer for Tesla’s energy solutions, although Tesla would do well to structure any deal in a way that helps ensure payment for the electricity it will generate. Other firms appear to be better suited to restore Puerto Rico’s grid, yet they too could become customers for Tesla’s solar and storage offerings.

These Six House of Delegates Candidates Have Declared Independence from Dominion—And They’re Campaigning on Clean Energy

By Will Driscoll, Arlington 350 Core Group member

When 60 non-incumbent Democrats running for the House of Delegates joined candidate for governor Tom Perriello in pledging not to accept campaign funds from Dominion Energy, Virginia’s clean energy advocates took heart.  That’s because Dominion has raced to build large fossil generating units while taking tiny steps on solar and wind power, and has kept the state legislature from demanding more action on clean energy by donating money broadly to candidates of both major parties.

Now after the primaries, 38 of those pledging not to accept Dominion funds remain in House of Delegates races—including 10 candidates in districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.  These 38 candidates thus remain free to serve the interests of their constituents, which often differ from the interests of shareholders who own $48 billion of Dominion stock.

Several of the 38 candidates would, if elected, be more likely to lead on clean energy issues in the House of Delegates, because they are making clean energy an issue in their campaigns—whether by promoting jobs in Virginia’s solar industry, opposing proposed natural gas pipelines in Virginia, or calling out Dominion’s toxic coal ash polluting our rivers and drinking water supplies.

Here’s a short list of these candidates, with links to their clean energy statements:

  • Joshua Cole, running in District 28 (in the Fredericksburg area) favors wind and solar as well as solar jobs, takes Dominion to task for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Dominion’s toxic coal ash, and would support a ban on fracking.
  • Kathy Tran, running in District 42 (a Hillary district in southern Fairfax County), opposes fracking, the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, offshore drilling, uranium mining, toxic coal ash dumping, mountaintop removal mining, and new coal-fired power plants.
  • Wendy Gooditis, running in District 10 (a Hillary district primarily in Loudoun County), seeks to make “solar panels and wind energy more accessible and affordable.”
  • Dawn Adams, running in District 68 (a Hillary district primarily in Chesterfield County and Richmond), promotes “renewable energy resources to protect our planet.”
  • Angela Lynn, running in District 25 (northwest of Charlottesville), seeks to “prioritize energy that’s sustainable” and “ensure that property rights are respected” in the face of eminent domain “land grabs by private companies for corporate gain.”
  • Katie Sponsler, running in District 66 (south of Richmond) seeks to “increase use of renewable energy and decrease dependence on fossil fuels,” make “Virginia a place where renewable energy companies will want to do business and create jobs,” and “oppose legislation designed to allow fracking anywhere in Virginia that could negatively affect water quality.”

These six candidates, and others who have pledged not to accept Dominion funding, are forgoing thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars from Dominion in each campaign cycle. For example, Katie Sponsler’s opponent, Delegate Kirk Cox, at last count had received a lifetime total of $90,799 in Dominion campaign contributions.  Beyond forgoing an easy source of campaign funds, these candidates also risk the wrath of wealthy fossil fuel interests (e.g., the Kochs) who can attack them through anonymous PAC contributions.

The courage of these candidates contributes greatly to the health of our democracy.  Yet there may not yet be any dedicated funding to support Democrats running on clean energy in Virginia House races (the author knows of no such funding).  The Win VirginiaPAC, led by Tom Perriello, is designed to help Democrats across all Virginia House races.  The state Democratic Party supports Democrats in races up and down the ballot.  A dedicated fund to support clean energy candidates would be a welcome addition to these efforts.

A note on the reporting technique: the author contacted only campaigns with a website shown on Activate Virginia’s list, where the campaign website listed an email address or provided a website contact form.  If additional candidates have published information showing their support for clean energy, a follow-up article may be merited.

Dominion May Lose Influence Over Its Virginia Utility Regulators

 By Will Driscoll

  • Dominion’s influence over Virginia utility regulators and the Virginia legislature has protected growth and profits at its Dominion Virginia Power operating segment.
  • A candidate for Virginia governor and 57 candidates for the Virginia legislature have pledged not to accept campaign contributions from Dominion.
  • Depending on the election outcome, Dominion’s political influence could wane.

Dominion’s influence over Virginia utility regulators and the Virginia legislature has protected the growth and profits of its operating segment Dominion Virginia Power. The state legislature has passed legislation favorable to the utility. Meanwhile, the utility’s regulator, the State Corporation Commission, whose members are appointed by the legislature, has permitted the utility to favor new utility-owned fossil generating units over solar power, which customers could own as easily as the utility. (Dominion Virginia Power, one of Dominion’s three operating segments, produced about 18 percent of the company’s earnings in 2016, per the company’s annual report.)

Dominion’s campaign contributions to state legislators have cemented this cozy dynamic, as politicians of both parties have routinely accepted campaign contributions from Dominion and have passed legislation and appointed regulators favorable to the utility.

This dynamic could soon change.

A strong candidate in the Virginia governor’s race, Tom Perriello, pledged in February not to accept contributions from Dominion, and recently, 57 candidates for the state legislature joined in that pledge. Perriello then tweeted “Dominion has too much influence. In Richmond, the quality of the idea should win out over the size of the campaign check. Glad to see this.” (These politicians’ pledges also apply to Appalachian Power, Virginia’s other electric utility, which is a subsidiary of American Electric Power.)

These pledges to refuse Dominion campaign contributions tap into a long-simmering resentment among many Virginians of the monopoly utility’s costly and environmentally damaging construction plans and its coal ash ponds that pollute drinking water supplies.

The construction plans include the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines to transport fracked gas and a proposed $19 billion North Anna 3 nuclear reactor, which would be the most expensive nuclear reactor ever built. Perriello has opposed the pipelines, calling instead for “next generation solutions” that will create more jobs for Virginians.

Most recently, Tom Perriello wrote that as governor, he would take several actions to protect the environment. Two of these pledges, if met, could eat into Dominion’s profits by promoting renewable energy, which, in the case of solar, could be installed by customers. Perriello said he would:

Call for reforming state laws that have deliberately held back development of solar and wind energy and push for reforms that embrace net metering, third-party power purchase agreements, and true community solar.

Explore executive actions to cap carbon emissions, including supporting a mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard in Virginia.

One Perriello pledge could reduce Dominion’s profits by requiring the utility to protect drinking water; he said he would:

Push to continue the moratorium on the dumping of coal ash into our lakes and rivers and require that polluters pay for the removal or recycling of this ash.

Perriello’s pipeline pledge could prevent an increase in Dominion’s capital stock, on which it hopes to earn a return on investment. He said he would:

Use all available powers to prevent the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipeline projects from proceeding. These pipelines pose immediate harm as well as serious risks to communities across Virginia. The construction process will require seizing private property through eminent domain for corporate gain, and the pipeline will leave 21 counties vulnerable to devastating leaks.

In contrast, Perriello’s final environmental pledge could earn Dominion money, especially given the tremendous cost declines for mega-sized wind turbines. He said he would:

Press Dominion to make productive use of its offshore wind lease.

All of this is significant only because Perriello has a decent chance to become Virginia’s governor. (The chances for the 57 state legislative candidates who shared his pledge are not known.) The polling website FiveThirtyEight.com reports that:

Recent polling in the race shows Democrats in the lead overall; a Quinnipiac poll of the race [April 11] showed both Perriello and Northam leading Gillespie by double-digit margins in head-to-head matchups. While Gillespie is the presumed Republican candidate, things are still tight in the Democratic primary, though the Quinnipiac poll showed Perriello leading Northam 25 percent to 20 percent.