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True freedom means ending the oil monopoly

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True freedom means ending the oil monopoly


I’m obsessed this week with the issue of distribution.  Distributed energy is not a new concept in the electricity sector:  small-scale solar systems on rooftops and in parking lots are becoming such a part of the landscape that the utility sector is in a panic, trying to roll back incentives for these projects all across the country. (They’re not succeeding: our sister organization AEE and other key state groups have managed to protect a groundbreaking community solar program in Minnesota from attack, along with over 50 other important state advanced energy laws and regulations.)

But what about distributed fuel?  In all the excitement over new renewable and efficient energy solutions, we sometimes forget a key fact: a huge chunk of U.S. carbon emissions come from the transportation sector, and that sector is under monopoly control.  In California, 96% of transportation fuels come from petroleum. This lack of fuel choice is problematic for obvious reasons. It makes consumers vulnerable to volatile and often increasing prices; the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that California consumers have experienced at least 30 gasoline price spikes since 2006. It limits our ability to act, both as individuals, and collectively, to address greenhouse gas emissions.

Anna Rath and Adam Monroe put it best in their column in The Hill this week, asking this simple question: “There is just one fundamental choice at the heart of the debate: do we want alternatives to oil, or not?” 

We do. But how do we get there? This week in Washington, battles are raging against the national Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).  It looks like opponents of the law don’t have enough votes to kill it, but the debate over the law has raised important questions about exactly how to achieve more fuel diversity in this country.  The RFS was written in 2005; California’s own Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) was signed into law not long after, in 2007. At the time, biofuels looked like the best available alternative to oil.  Even the oil companies were investing in alternatives to crude oil (remember BP’s $500 million investment in UC Berkeley’s biofuel research center in 2007?). 

But then came the huge unconventional shale oil boom and those companies pulled back, and in fact are some of the major opponents to the RFS and LCFS today. These companies don’t want to invest in alternative clean fuels; they want to take new dirty fuels to market, via Keystone XL for example. 

If we want to push back against the oil companies, on the RFS, LCSF, or Keystone fight, we need to weaken their power over us.  That means we need to need them less.  One way to break their hold?  Forget about liquid fuels and use electrons instead!  Electric cars are the good news story this week: BMW just released a new spiffy model; Tesla joined the Nasdaq 100, and Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt sales are way up this summer

The more electric cars, the bigger percent of our transportation emissions move over to the electricity sector, a place where we already have impressive energy diversity and distribution.  See the beginning of this post.

Why am I nattering on about all this? Because it’s time we take distributed fuel as seriously as we take distributed electricity. The RFS and LCFS are critical policies to get us out of our petroleum comfort zone and move toward greater, more sustainable fuel choices. We need to protect those policies but also think beyond them.  At Next Generation, we’re hoping to focus our California program over the next year doing just this.  Stay tuned! 



Advanced Energy Economy: Legislative Scorecard is 56 Wins, No Losses

All in all, AEE and its partners have tallied 56 legislative successes this year – defending and expanding renewable energy requirements, increasing energy efficiency efforts, and advancing transportation alternatives – including passage of 49 new bills. 
24/Jul » Advanced Energy Economy

US lawmakers seek consensus on RFS reform, see no help from oil, ethanol groups

Opponents of the US Renewable Fuel Standard do not have enough votes to force a repeal of the ethanol blending mandate, key lawmakers said Tuesday. But efforts to reform the hot-button law are not being helped by the ethanol and oil industries digging in their heels and refusing to cooperate, exasperated members of the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee said on the first day of a two-day RFS hearing.
23/Jul » Platts

California Air Resources Board signs agreement with Australian climate agency

Today California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary D. Nichols and Chair of the Australian Clean Energy Regulator, Chloe Munro, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to guide collaboration between the agencies in addressing the global issue of climate change. 
30/Jul » California Air Resources Board

Landmark California regulations under federal fire

The California Environmental Protection Agency has "identified dozens of California laws and regulations that may be at risk of preemption" under the chemicals bill, Secretary Matt Rodriquez wrote in a letter to senators. He warned that it "could jeopardize California's ability to control greenhouse gases and thereby meet the state's targets under AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006."
28/Jul » Los Angeles Times

On Rooftops, a Rival for Utilities

Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry.
26/Jul » The New York Times

Internal EPA report highlights disputes over fracking and well water

The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that "methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality." The presentation also concluded that "methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work."
27/Jul » Los Angeles Times

Growing first and second generation renewable fuels

While there is a lot of back-and-forth in Washington about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), there is just one fundamental choice at the heart of the debate: do we want alternatives to oil, or not?
26/Jul » The Hill

As new EPA chief, Gina McCarthy vows to act on climate change

The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency told an audience at Harvard Law School on Tuesday that cutting carbon pollution will “feed the economic agenda of this country,” and vowed to work with industry leaders on shaping policies aimed at curbing global warming.
28/Jul » The Washington Post

Has America's love of the automobile peaked?

Americans have had a long love affair with their vehicles, but recent social and economic shifts suggest the intensity of the romance is waning, according to a set of studies by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).
29/Jul » E&E News ClimateWire

On Keystone pipeline, President Obama may be ‘headed toward yes’

President Barack Obama’s latest critique of the Keystone XL oil pipeline still leaves a path for approving the project — but its supporters may need to make concessions to blunt its impact on the climate, analysts said Monday.
30/Jul » Politico

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