News & Notes

by Chris Shreve

James R. Schlesinger dies at 85; Served as First Secretary of Energy


James Schlesinger opens the newly minted Department of Energy in 1977. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy

Dr. James R. Schlesinger, the first head of the Department of Energy, passed away on March 27 in Baltimore. He was 85.

When Jimmy Carter became president, he named Schlesinger, a Republican, as his top energy policy advisor. Schlesinger’s first task was to organize dozens of small energy agencies, field offices, and research centers into the new, cabinet-level Department of Energy.

The DOE opened its doors on October 1, 1977. At the time, Schlesinger spoke about the ongoing energy crisis and how the new department would implement an ambitious agenda to meet the country’s energy needs. Simultaneously, the DOE would bring under its roof all of the federal government’s nuclear energy activities and related programs, a challenge almost as big as the energy crisis itself.

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz praised Schlesinger’s distinguished career, citing a litany of accomplishments. “As the nation’s first Secretary of Energy, Dr. Schlesinger was tasked with unifying the various energy entities throughout the government, but he did much more than that. Dr.Schlesinger took the helm of the new DOE when U.S. and global energy markets were undergoing a radical change. He navigated the nation’s energy policy in the difficult post-Arab oil embargo world. He was here for the passage and evolution of some of our most fundamental environmental laws, many of which affected how we produce and consume energy. He established the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve; he supported the programs in his tenure that helped enable the growth of the U.S. solar industry and oil and gas boom we are seeing today—we are still reaping the many benefits from his leadership of the Department.”

After leaving the DOE in 1979, Schlesinger worked as a consultant for financial services firm Lehman Brothers, and also served as chairman of the MITRE Corporation, a nonprofit that operates research and development centers sponsored by the federal government.

Today, the highest honor the DOE gives to an employee is the Schlesinger Award.

California Launches Nation’s Largest PACE Program

This summer, California will launch the nation’s largest Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, with the goal of making energy and water efficiency projects more accessible to millions of homeowners. The program, to be offered in 17 counties, will allow homeowners to repay loans through a special property tax assessment over a maximum period of 20 years.

Known as CaliforniaFIRST, the program will be operated under the auspices of the California Statewide Communities Development Authority (CSCDA) and will allow homeowners to choose a contractor and install a custom clean energy project.

Paving the way for the new program was a March announcement from California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer that the state would fund a mortgage loss reserve program. It makes PACE more attractive to mortgage holders because it would refund losses associated with a PACE lien on a property.

In announcing the reserve program, Governor Brown said, “PACE enables homeowners to buy solar panels, install low-flow toilets, and make other smart investments that save energy and water without breaking the bank. As California confronts a severe drought and a rapidly changing climate, this program gives homeowners another opportunity to do their part.”

The residential PACE financing mechanism was pioneered by the city of Berkeley, California, in 2008 and has since spread to more than 30 states.

Minnesota Puts a Value on Rooftop Solar


Should the social cost of carbon be
included in solar valuation?

What is the value of solar power generation? According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, it’s 14.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. The figure is a result of the first state-level application of the so-called value of solar approach, which sets a price based on the net benefits of distributed solar generation.

Minnesota’s formula, affirmed by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in March, found that rooftop solar is actually worth more than the current retail power price—by more than 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Those 3 cents are tied to Minnesota’s decision to adopt the EPA’s value for avoided carbon emissions, also known as the social cost of carbon. At $37 per metric ton of carbon, every kilowatt-hour of natural-gas-fired generation displaced by rooftop solar power is worth 3 cents, according to a preliminary analysis of the PUC’s formula by Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility.

Xcel and other investor-owned utilities in Minnesota will now have the option to use the value-of-solar calculation instead of the retail rate when crediting rooftop solar customers.

Obama Proposes Climate Resiliency Fund

President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget, released in April, includes a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund. The fund has a number of objectives, such as researching the impacts of climate change, helping communities prepare for those impacts, and funding resilient infrastructure and “breakthrough” technologies.

The president proposed the fund at a February 14 speech in drought-stricken Fresno, California. “One thing that is undeniable is that changing temperatures influence drought. We have to be clear: a changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods are potentially going to be costlier and harsher.”

The fund is part of a laundry list of actions the president announced to help respond to drought conditions in several western states, including $100 million in livestock disaster assistance and $60 million for food banks in California to help families impacted by the drought.

The Climate Resilience Fund is separate from the president’s Climate Action Plan announced last June and would need approval from Congress to move forward.

DOE Proposes New Lamp Standards

In an April 11 notice, the DOE proposed new energy conservation standards for two types of lightbulbs: general service fluorescent lamps (GSFLs) and incandescent reflector lamps (IRLs).

The new rule would increase efficiency by between 1.2% and 12.9%, depending on the bulb. According to the document, the impact on manufacturing would be minimal if the GSFL standard were adopted, with no plant closings or significant job losses. But manufacturers indicated the IRL standard could lead to both plant closures and job losses.

USGS Releases Interactive Map of Onshore Wind Turbines


The U.S. Geological Survey’s tool could help plan wind projects on federal lands. Source: U.S. Geological Survey

In February, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released the first publicly available interactive map showing the locations of more than 47,000 onshore wind turbines in the United States. The new tool is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. It will be useful in the planning of renewable energy projects on public lands, as well as improve scientists’ ability to study the effects of wind development, including its impact on wildlife.

The map, available on the USGS website, includes turbines installed as of July 2013. It was created using a
combination of publicly available data sets from the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as well as other federal, state, and local sources. The location of each turbine was verified to within 10 meters, and the technical specifications were assigned based on each turbine’s make and model.

“In addition to informing siting decisions for future wind energy projects, this fundamental, nationwide data will support research on wind generation efficiency, economic impacts, and applied science for reducing wildlife impacts,” said Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of the Interior, which oversees the USGS. “Just as we need basic information about stream flows to support good water administration decisions, we must have accurate data on wind generation to better understand and support this important source of renewable energy.”

The president’s Climate Action Plan directs the Department of the Interior to permit 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2020, or enough to power more than 6 million homes.

WHEEL Launches with $100 Million in Seed Funds

Homeowners across the country will soon be able to secure low-cost loans to make energy upgrades. The Warehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans (WHEEL), which launched in April with $100 million in funding from Citigroup, will lend money to consumers to install energy efficiency or renewable energy projects in their homes.

Developed in partnership with the Energy Programs Consortium and the National Association of State Energy Officials, WHEEL targets an underserved market. Previously, homeowners wishing to make energy improvements had a choice between a home equity loan and a high-interest credit card. WHEEL bridges the gap by offering 5-, 7-, and 10-year loans at low interest rates.

WHEEL is able to offer lower rates by bundling its consumer loans and reselling them to large institutional investors, such as pension funds. An expansion of Pennsylvania’s successful Keystone HELP loan program, WHEEL begins with home improvement contractors, who offer loans directly to their customers. Next, Renewable Funding, a company that designs green energy financing programs, purchases the loans with credit from Citigroup and the Pennsylvania Treasury. Then the loans are bundled, securitized, and sold as bonds to large investors. Money from those sales is returned to WHEEL to be loaned to more consumers.

“WHEEL is designed to serve a $200 billion unmet need for financing in the home energy efficiency market,” said Cisco DeVries, CEO of Renewable Funding and an architect of WHEEL. “Now, we are making it easier for consumers and contractors to utilize affordable loans, supported by their state or utility, to make energy efficiency improvements.”

Initially available in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, DeVries expects the program to expand to several more states this year before going nationwide in 2015. For more information on WHEEL, visit wheel.renewfund.com.

Energy Efficiency Resource Standards Take a Hit in Indiana and Ohio

State legislatures in Ohio and Indiana have both passed bills that would repeal energy efficiency resource standards and end efficiency programs that have been in place for several years.

In late March, Indiana’s bill made it to Governor Mike Pence, who neither signed nor vetoed it. Under Indiana law, the bill becomes law.

“I could not sign this bill because it does away with a worthwhile energy efficiency program,” said Pence. “I could not veto this bill because doing so would increase the cost of utilities for Hoosier ratepayers and make Indiana less competitive by denying relief to large electricity consumers, including our state’s manufacturing base.”

The governor’s inaction means the end of the two-year-old Energizing Indiana Program, which charges utility customers $2 a month to conduct energy audits and weatherization, and offers rebates on energy-efficient appliances. According to the program’s website, Indiana has saved enough energy in two years to power nearly 78,000 homes.

The new law also prohibits the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission from requiring utilities to meet energy- savings goals. It marks the first time any state has reduced, frozen, or repealed its energy efficiency resource standards.

Ohio has also been busy dismantling its energy efficiency programs. Senate Bill 310, introduced on March 28, would freeze the state’s renewable and alternative energy requirements at 2014 levels. Current law calls for Ohio to get 25% of its energy from renewable or “advanced” sources by 2025 (it is one-tenth of the way to this target). According to an analysis from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Ohio’s energy efficiency targets for utilities—in place since 2008—would save customers almost $5.6 billion in avoided expenditure and reduced prices through 2020.

The Ohio bill would also repeal the energy efficiency part of the current law, which says utilities by 2025 must help customers make improvements that add up to 22% of what their electricity use would have been without the improvements.

Another recent report by ACEEE found that programs across the country aimed at reducing energy waste cost utilities less than 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, whereas generating the same amount of electricity from sources such as fossil fuels can cost 2 to 3 times more.