Weekly Resource for December 23, 2011
A Look Back at 2011 Brings With It a Commitment to 2012
With the close of the year fast approaching, the leadership of the 25x’25 Alliance is taking this time to look back and share with endorsing and funding partners the many alliance accomplishments that could only have been achieved with the time and support of the various agricultural, energy, environmental, labor, science, business, civic and government organizations that make 25x’25 possible. In a primary effort to shape public policy, the alliance equipped and mobilized all of our partners to proactively advocate for enabling policies that will accelerate the nation’s transition to a cleaner and more secure energy future. And with any celebration of accomplishments from a year gone by, it’s also important to look ahead.
Going forward, the Alliance is committed to maintaining the strength and diversity of a base of support that now includes nearly 1,000 endorsing partners and a highly respected group of national and state leaders. Efforts will continue next year to mobilize the 25x’25 leadership and partner networks to reframe energy conversations and build grassroots political support for clean energy solutions from farms, ranches and forests that will drive economic recovery and development, improve national security and provide invaluable ecosystem services. Read more…

News of Note

No Renewable Energy Tax Credit Extensions Appear in 11th Hour Legislation

Congress today approved a two-month renewal of payroll tax cuts for 160 million workers and unemployment benefits for millions, but offers none of the extensions of tax incentives said by renewable energy advocates to be critical to the sector. House Republicans accepted a compromise measure that would extend payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits while requiring the White House to act on a proposed transcontinental pipeline from the Canadian plains south to Texas. But the measure to be voted on later today will likely not carry.

The bill, which forces an administration decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, does not carry an extension of the $1-per-gallon production tax credit sought by the biodiesel industry before the credit expires Dec. 31. When the credit lapsed in 2010, dozens of plants failed and thousands lost jobs before Congress renewed the measure in late 2010. As a direct result of the credit, industry officials say, a record 800-plus million gallons of biodiesel have been produced in the United States in 2011. Industry leaders fear a lengthy lapse of the credit next year will result in losses similar to those sustained in 2010.

The measure also fails to extend other tax benefits that expire at the end of next year, including a $1.01-per-gallon credit for advanced biofuels and a production tax credit for wind facilities put in service by the end of 2012. Similar production credits for solar energy plants, geothermal facilities and similar projects placed in service by the end of 2013 are also set to expire. Sector leaders say the credits should be extended long-term to promote stability and encourage investment in the growing technologies.

Meanwhile, President Obama signed into law last weekend an omnibus bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year and appears to have spared many DOE energy programs supported by renewable energy stakeholders. Cuts to the Office of Science, which runs the department's four Bioenergy Research Institutes around the country and the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program, were minimal. Though EPA funding was reduced significantly, the legislation did not contain some of the more controversial riders that had been proposed, such as restricting the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions. Fiscal 2012 funding for agriculture, including farm energy programs created under the 2008 Farm Bill, was adopted through an earlier “minibus” spending bill.

The energy appropriations did include language eliminating funding for the enforcement of new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs which were originally passed in 2007 and set to take effect next month. It also eliminates new funding for DOE’s Section 1705 loan guarantee program, which provided renewable energy loan support to start up companies. One of those firms, Solyndra, a maker of solar panels, failed, leading to criticism of government policies funding new technologies. Solyndra’s failure has led many conservatives to question the value of the loan program and even the concept of federal support for energy. The program continues to be staffed as by federal employees administering 28 projects in a portfolio of some $16 billion in loan guarantees.

Elsewhere, a separate 2012 defense authorization bill signed by the president pushes for stronger energy efficiency standards on military bases as well as on the battlefield through training and stipulations, requiring the consideration of lifetime costs when making purchases. It also endorses the military’s transition to biofuels, offering funding for the Navy's effort to grow the advanced biofuels market. The measure also allows the Defense Department to enter into long-term contracts for advanced fuels, helping to resolve a problem often cited by biofuel producers.

RFA: USDA Report Shows Ethanol Boom is Not Reducing Grassland, Forestland Acreage
A USDA analysis released this week shows total cropland decreased by 34 million acres from 2002 to 2007, the lowest level since USDA began collecting this data in 65 years, but also shows major increases in forestland, grassland and rangeland during the same period. The Renewable Fuels Association said the report adds to mounting evidence proving that increased ethanol production has not resulted in expansion of total U.S. cropland or a decline in grassland and forest.

"This report from USDA shows yet again that U.S. cropland is not expanding in response to increased ethanol demand," said RFA Vice President Geoff Cooper. "The report also shows that forest and grassland increased dramatically during a period when ethanol production more than tripled. This is more proof that the wild predictions of ethanol causing cropland expansion and conversion of forest and grassland are just plain wrong."

The analysis shows land dedicated to urban areas and special-use areas, including roads, industrial areas, rural residences and others, increased dramatically.

"It is ironic that the land use debate has fixated on biofuels, when the actual culprit of land conversion has clearly been urban and suburban sprawl," Cooper said. "Subdivisions full of mini-mansions, big box stores, shopping malls, and parking lots are encroaching on productive farmland across the country."

DOE Analysis Seeks Better Integration of Wind Energy into Grid
The DOE this week released a report that officials say will help better integrate wind energy into the electrical grid. The report provides first-hand perspectives on the effects of variable energy sources, including wind power plants, on grid operations. It also supplies grid operators with tools and information to help them take on the challenge of integrating more renewable energy resources into the nation's power grid, the DOE said.

Wind energy production has increased worldwide in the past two decades, growing from roughly 2 gigawatts in 1990 to almost 200 gigawatts in 2010   enough to serve about 50 million U.S. homes. The DOE says accelerating the use of renewables will help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and support job creation. But for systems operators, integrating large proportions of variable energy sources like wind power   which can vary with weather and season   into electricity grids presents technical challenges.

In preparing the report, which was funded by DOE through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, AREVA Federal Services and Alstom Grid Inc. interviewed 33 grid operators in 18 countries who, together, are responsible for integrating 72 percent of all wind energy harnessed for electricity worldwide. The report describes nine decision support tools, which help grid operators determine how much transmission and generation are needed and when. It also shares best practices to improve situational awareness, training, wind power forecasting and processes and procedures currently in use by grid operators.

The report, which the DOE says is the first of its kind, offers several conclusions, including:
  • Wind power forecasting is a vital element in successful wind power integration.
  • Decision support tools leveraging wind power forecasts are essential to optimize the flow of wind energy into the electrical grid.
  • Existing decision support tools need to evolve further to meet a scenario of 20% wind energy by 2030 in the United States.
  • Wind power generation has only a marginal effect on the need for additional system reserves.
  • Smart grid technologies can aid wind integration.
  • Successful integration of wind power also relies on effective operating policies, standards and regulations supported at the local, state, national and international levels.

The report offers several recommendations for short-term and medium-term actions for utilities to successfully integrate wind energy into control room operations, and identifies topics for future research. Alstom presented the report's findings in an October 2011 webinar. The final report and executive summary provide more insight into the challenges, solutions and successes of integrating variable wind energy into the grid, officials say.

Former E3 Biofuels Plant Set to Reopen this Spring under New Ownership
A closed-loop, Nebraska biofuel plant touted as the first of its kind before shuttering in the wake of bankruptcy appears to be getting a new life. The former E3 plant was constructed next to a 30,000-head cattle feedlot near Mead, NE, and was designed to produce ethanol. The plant would be powered by an anaerobic digester converting methane drawn off the feedlot, while also producing dried distillers grain for cattle feed.

The idea for the $25 million venture was to feed the grain byproducts from ethanol production to 30,000 cattle in an adjoining feedlot, and then to use their manure and methane digesters as an energy source to operate the plant.

The plant was hailed in 2006 by then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson as a model for future sustainable energy production in the agriculture sector. But a boiler explosion, fluctuating corn prices and some technology issues forced the E3 Biofuels into bankruptcy. Kansas City-based
Spectrum Business Ventures, operating as AltEn Opportunities I, purchased the plant at auction last year and announced plans to reopen the facility. Spectrum officials say construction is expected to be finished and production underway by the end of this coming spring.

The plant, which is designed to produce 25 million gallons per year, could employ as many as 75 people. Company officials say the technology planned for the plant has yet to be used elsewhere, setting the facility up still as the first of its kind.

Headlines of Note for the Week Ending December 23, 2011
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