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A HUGE PROBLEM FOR DECARBONIZING POWER SECTOR: NIMBYism notched another victory in Maine yesterday after a judge declined to block a recent ballot initiative from taking effect that will block a major hydropower transmission project — one which supporters insist is critical if the power sector is to decarbonize.
The developers behind the embattled New England Clean Energy Connect had asked District Judge Michael Duddy to preliminarily enjoin the new law from going into effect on Sunday so they could recommence construction, which is well underway, while awaiting a decision on their challenge to the initiative’s legality.
The judge declined.
“The public interest in participatory democracy is paramount and would be adversely affected by blocking the Initiative,” Duddy wrote, having decided that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate likelihood of success on the merits of their arguments asserting that the law violates their vested rights to build the project, as well as the separation of powers principle and contracts clause of the Maine and U.S. Constitutions.
Maine voters approved the referendum in question to block high-impact transmission projects in the forested Upper Kennebec Region and to require the state legislature to approve similar projects throughout the state retroactively with strong margins last month (59% for to 41% against).
But Duddy said that this was “by no means the last word” on the fate of the project, as did Avangrid, the utility behind the NECEC.
“We remain confident that the full legal process will ultimately conclude that question one is unconstitutional,” Avangrid said in a statement, framing the entire situation in light of New England’s precarious energy outlook and the need for “greater fuel diversity and baseload generation.”
While NECEC’s supporters still have gas in the legal tank, and some reason to hope the project may be greenlit again, Duddy’s ruling is another definite setback for the 1,200 megawatt hydro project.
Moreover, it illustrates further that climate-motivated, grid-altering energy goals and greenhouse gas reduction targets are much more easily unveiled than realized. That remains true not only for New England, where each state has defined emissions targets, but for President Joe Biden’s entire energy and climate agenda, which Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has said hinges on the expansion of all forms of carbon-free power generation.
New transmission line projects connecting renewable resource-heavy regions to those with less abundant wind, solar, and hydro capacity — like the NECEC would do — will have to be a major part of the equation, with the nonprofit Energy Systems Integration Group assessing need for a two- to three-fold increase in scale of the the U.S. transmission system to meet Biden’s targets.
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UYGHUR FORCED LABOR BILL HEADED TO BIDEN: The Senate unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act yesterday, which would prohibit the importation of goods made in China’s Xinjiang region unless it can be proven they weren’t made with forced labor, the Washington Examiner’s Emily Brooks reports. The White House has signaled that Biden intends to sign it.
The bill has big implications for the solar energy industry, as about half of China’s 80% share of global polysilicon supply last year came from Xinjiang, per Bloomberg NEF.
On the other hand, the Solar Energy Industries Association, a top U.S. trade group representing about 1,000 firms ranging from panel installers to module manufacturers, told Jeremy last week that the industry is less reliant on products from the Xinjiang region today than it was a year ago.
SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said further in a statement yesterday the group “has been calling on solar companies to move their supply chains out of Xinjiang.” A number of companies have told the group they’ve done just that, while some also are submitting to audits to verify that their products have no connection to forced labor or Xinjiang, Hopper added.
EU ENERGY MEETING YIELDS NO DEAL: European Union leaders failed to come up with an agreement yesterday during tense negotiations over how to respond to record high energy prices, Bloomberg reports.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said participating leaders “nearly came to blows” over what to do about sky-high natural gas, power, and carbon prices.
“The Czechs, Poles, Slovaks and us Hungarians were adamant that we had to stop the rise in energy prices, be it electricity or gas,” Orban said. “We have to remove speculators from the system.”
Natural gas futures on the European benchmark TTF have shot up steeply in the last two weeks, going from about 90 euros per megawatt hour on Dec. 5 to bursting records and closing at nearly 143 euros on Wednesday.
NUSCALE TO EXPLORE BRINGING SMR TO KAZAKHSTAN: Oregon-based NuScale Power is collaborating with a Kazakh nuclear plant builder to explore potential for deployment of its small modular reactor technology.
NuScale announced this week that it signed a memorandum of understanding with Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plants LLP, saying it will assist KNPP with engineering, construction, design, and maintenance components associated with its VOYGR SMR plant technology.
NuScale asserted its technology “continues to prove itself as a best-fit, climate contender” for the central Asian country, which has a net-zero target of 2060.
IEA: RECORD COAL POWER THREATENS NET-ZERO GOALS: Recovery from the economic fallout associated with COVID-19 is driving coal power generation to a new record this year and demonstrates that nations must be more aggressive in curbing the fuel’s use in order to meet emissions targets, a new International Energy Agency report warns.
IEA estimates that global power generation from coal will increase 9% this year over last and reach an all-time high of 10,350 terawatt hours, with Asia’s two heavyweights playing a major role in the growth. Coal-fired power generation is projected to be up 9% in China and 12% in India this year.
“The pledges to reach net zero emissions made by many countries, including China and India, should have very strong implications for coal – but these are not yet visible in our near-term forecast, reflecting the major gap between ambitions and action,” said Keisuke Sadamori, IEA’s director of energy markets and security.
CARBON REMOVAL STARTUP GETS GATES FUNDING: A North Carolina-based direct air capture startup has raised $10 million in funding, with contributions from climate funds backed by Bill Gates and billionaire investor Jeremy Grantham, Bloomberg reports.
Sustaera, Inc. uses alkali-based material to absorb carbon dioxide, and its systems are able to rely entirely on renewable electricity.
Associated Press EU faces nuclear rift in decision on energy funds, future
Wall Street Journal US faces pressure to sanction Myanmar’s lucrative energy industry
WEDNESDAY | JAN. 12
10 a.m. The American Petroleum Institute and Energy Citizens hosts the 13th annual 2022 “State of Energy” forum.