[1THING] Blog

[ Wilderness Legislation Clears House Committee Hurdle ]

cate tanenbaum

Wilderness Society applauds House for moving beyond ‘gridlock’ but says new amendments lead legislation astray

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[ Washington, Nevada wilderness protections in House bills now under consideration ]

Two bills marked up by the House Natural Resources Committee on July 30 would protect land in Nevada’s Pine Grove Hills and Pine Forest Range and near Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Details on the bills:

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[ Q&A: The First-Ever Expedition to Turkmenistan’s “Door to Hell” ]

Go along with explorer George Kourounis as he becomes the first person known to venture into Turkmenistan’s fiery, gas-fueled Darvaza Crater.

[ The Wilderness Society supports commonsense renewable energy from federal lands ]

Neil Shader

The following statement can be attributed to Chase Huntley, senior government relation director for The Wilderness Society. Chase was invited to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on H.R. 596 and H.R. 1363.

[ Bill to speed federal-state land swaps helps conservation and education ]

Neil Shader

The first is the “Advancing Conservation and Education Act of 2014,” from Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (Oregon), which would expedite transfers of land between states and federal agencies.

[ U.S.-China Solar Fight Lurches Forward ]

If last week’s news that the U.S. Department of Commerce was imposing new duties on Chinese solar imports left you with a bad case of déjà vu, or at least wondering if the story would ever end, that’s understandable. It’s been a long-running melodrama.

Oregon-based SolarWorld Industries America, a division of the German company SolarWorld, got it all going in October 2011. Drowning in a wave of cheap Chinese solar panels, it brought allegations of illegal dumping and state subsidies to U.S. trade authorities. Many hard-to-distinguish rulings have followed, reflecting the careful, bureaucratic manner in which such trade claims proceed – as well as SolarWorld’s persistence in making duties air-tight.

Through all the machinations, one thing has remained clear: To the dismay of some in the U.S. solar industry that have thrived on falling panel prices, SolarWorld always wins.

The latest ruling focused primarily on SolarWorld’s allegation that Chinese companies were skirting duties by sending offshore production of solar cells – or even aspects of production of solar cells – to third countries, principally Taiwan. (A solar module, or panel, comprises a number of solar cells.) In June, SolarWorld won antisubsidy duties on products that included such cells; now they’ve also won antidumping duties. Even further, the new ruling extends antidumping duties to cells made in Taiwan whether or not they go into panels from China.

The ruling, like the one in June, was preliminary, but so far in these cases final imposition has taken on the feel of mere formality; plus, the duties don’t wait for a final decision – they go into effect immediately. The levels vary by company, but SolarWorld said in a news release that with the June ruling factored in, “most companies will pay combined duties of about 47 percent.”

In 2012, SolarWorld had won duties averaging 31 percent on purely Chinese-made cells and panels that used them.

While SolarWorld cheered the latest ruling, the Solar Energy Industries Association, U.S. solar’s leading trade group, put out a press release with the stark headline, “SEIA Condemns Decision to Impose New Tariffs on Solar Modules.” The reaction was in line with an SEIA statement made in January, shortly after SolarWorld filed the case, but was a world different from the neutral-sounding notes the organization tried to strike when the dispute first erupted in 2011.

In an interview, Wiley Rein lawyer Timothy Brightbill, lead counsel for SolarWorld and the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, which SolarWorld heads up, said, “SEIA has gone out of its way to take China’s side, which is very disappointing.”

SEIA’s John Smirnow, vice president of trade and competitiveness, said there’s been no shift in the organization’s essential view – that a negotiated settlement would be best for the entire industry, from supply chain, to installers, to manufacturers. “We’ve been calling for a negotiated solution for 18 months,” Smirnow said, “and we developed a solution we think represents the entire industry.”

That would be the proposal that Brightbill said “never had any leverage and has even less leverage now.” Brightbill said the ball is in China’s court.

“SolarWorld is open to any solution that addresses the unfair trade practices in the marketplace and that is enforceable,” Brightbill said. “It is unclear to us whether the government of China is serious about such a proposal.”

China might send a positive signal, Brightbill said, by seeking a “suspension agreement,” under which it would offer to set a minimum price for its products in return for a suspension of the U.S. investigations. The U.S. would most likely say no, but theoretically at least, the offer could open the door just a crack to meaningful discussions.

There does appear to be more at stake now. Solar industry watcher GTM Research has said that while the 2012 round of duties had minimal impact on the market, with the wider scope of coverage, “pricing for Chinese modules shipped to the U.S. is highly likely to increase starting in July 2014,” and “the primary competitive advantage of Chinese suppliers – lower pricing by as much as 25 percent historically – could be greatly diminished.”

Smirnow said that’s already putting the expansion of solar power in the United States in jeopardy, with “projects representing billions in investment and thousands of jobs” at stake. Brightbill said that “there are some U.S. companies whose business model is built on dumped and subsidized Chinese imports.” Too bad for them, he said, that “the law is on our side.”

With SolarWorld holding all the winning cards so far, SEIA and installers and developers in CASE, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, have been calling on the Obama administration to get behind negotiations. A big push in that direction hasn’t been evident, even after China retaliated last year with duties on imports of U.S. polysilicon, the chief material in solar cells. And the recent experience in Europe might not be the best endorsement of a settlement: The European Union and China reached a deal in 2013, but this June a group of European companies alleged “massive violation” by the Chinese.

[ Paying Back the Land: What others are saying about the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act ]

One way to do this – and increase the amount of clean, renewable energy coming from these lands is through a bill called the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act.

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[ Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act testimony from Chase Huntley ]

Jul 29, 2014

Testimony delivered by The Wilderness Society's Chase Huntley to the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources

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[ “Win-win” bill allows land swaps to benefit conservation and local economies ]

The legislation, H.R.4901, would help complete and preserve federally-protected areas by easing the process of swapping state-controlled areas within national parks and wilderness areas.

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[ Hurricane Sandy Is Ushering in a Smarter Power System ]

Written with Craig Lewis

It’s ironic that a storm whose widespread blackouts left millions of Americans in the dark is finally helping us see the light.

Hurricane Sandy brought devastation and loss to the Eastern seaboard. The storm exposed the severe vulnerability of our electricity infrastructure and made global headlines as a harbinger of nature’s impacts in a climate changed world.

Beyond the shock, New Yorkers found a silver lining in the destruction. The storm made crystal clear that the existing electricity system is not suited to address the challenges of the 21st century. In response, New York State recently released a powerful report illuminating how it plans to create a more affordable, efficient and more reliable grid.

Titled Reforming the Energy Vision, this game-changing document calls for a new approach to generating, managing, and delivering electricity throughout New York. The state proposes to replace aging infrastructure by investing nearly $30 billion over the next decade to develop a smarter electricity system. State officials, seeing the performance and cost benefits, are moving quickly to put this vision into action.

Central to the new strategy is replacing two obsolete paradigms: that the model of centralized generation combined with long-distance transmission is the most cost-effective option, and that utility customers should only consume – not produce – grid services.

When it comes to the electricity system, Sandy helped to make clear that bigger isn’t always better. To expand grid services, we have historically incentivized utilities to build large power plants and big transmission infrastructure. This has led to an inefficient and overly expensive electricity system.

States across the country have built significantly bigger systems than necessary. For example, New York’s electricity system uses just 60 percent of the electricity it is capable of generating, on average, because many power plants operate only a small number of hours each year when demand for electricity is highest. Additionally, roughly 10 percent of transmission-dependent power is lost because of inefficiencies associated with power traveling long distances. New Yorkers, as a result, pay more for electricity than they should.

Now, smart information systems, energy efficiency, and local renewables are challenging this centralized paradigm in terms of performance and costs. These distributed energy resources can provide resilient, affordable electricity services driven by private investment and innovation. Universities are often ideal demonstration sites for these new power systems:  The 38 megawatt Cornell University microgrid and the 12 megawatt facility for New York University  are both examples that are performing well and changing perceptions of the historical divide between producer and consumer of energy.

To unleash distributed energy resources in New York, officials are redefining the relationship between utilities, their customers, and the power grid. Rather than simply providing energy as a commodity, New York now sees its utilities as businesses that can be incentivized to provide electricity as a service. Moving forward utilities will manage the grid as a platform where innovative businesses compete to provide grid services. The result can be drastically improved performance of the electricity system and reduced costs for everyone.

New York is on the right track and leading the nation towards a clean, efficient and reliable electricity system. Yet, even more should be done. Smart, ‘two-way’ meters in every home allow effective demand management, while competitive rates of payment to all licensed grid service providers can drive competition and innovation, which benefits consumers.

Greater support for distributed generation will power economic growth – producing more jobs per dollar invested than traditional power plants. And deployment of local renewables can be accomplished at remarkable speed enabling a transition to a zero-carbon electricity system in as little as two decades, according to our studies.

Nationally, our electricity system is outdated – and so are the policies that continue to determine its development. Although it’s not easy to change century-old paradigms and infrastructure, New York is embracing this challenge head on. Hurricane Sandy was a devastating storm, but it is spurring a shift towards a cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable power. Hopefully, these winds of change reach well beyond New York’s borders.