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Biden Administration Advances California Offshore Wind Development

On May 25, 2021, the Biden Administration announced an agreement to lease almost 400 miles off California’s northern and central coasts for offshore wind development. The announcement expands on the recent approval of the first major offshore wind project in US waters. In an effort to decarbonize US power generation, the administration noted, “These initial areas for offshore wind development in the Pacific Ocean could bring up to 4.6 gigawatts of clean energy to the grid, enough to power 1.6 million American homes.”

Furthering the Biden Administration’s “whole-of-government approach” to clean energy, the US Department of Interior in connection with the US Department of Defense identified an area northwest of Morro Bay that will support three gigawatts of offshore wind. The Humboldt Call Area is also being considered as a potential offshore wind location, which would bring 4.6 gigawatts of energy to California. The Department of Defense played a significant role in identifying areas for offshore wind development, as they take part in significant training and operations off the coast of California that are essential to national security. Both the Department of Defense and Department of Interior plan to work closely together to ensure protection of military operations while pursuing new domestic clean energy resources.

To support this development in the deep Pacific Coast waters, new floating offshore wind technology will be deployed. The US Department of Energy (DOE) has invested more than $100 million in researching, developing and demonstrating floating offshore wind technology. Floating turbine technology will likely be a prime candidate for DOE Loan Programs Office support because it is (1) large enough in scale, (2) has a long lead time to develop and (3) is not commercially scalable in the same way as offshore technology that utilizes bottom anchoring. Lenders will have questions about the technology and having that guaranty could significantly aid project financing.

Ahead of yesterday’s announcement, California invested millions into its budget for environmental needs, including funding port upgrades and power lines that will carry electricity to California homes. We expect further developments in California from a legislative perspective to further offshore development.




Biden Administration Takes Aim at Advancing Gender Equity and Equality – Complementing Several Renewable Energy Private Sector Initiatives

On International Women’s Day, US President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order establishing the White House Gender Policy Council. The council, which was formerly called the White House Council on Women and Girls under the Obama administration, seeks to advance the equality of opportunity while simultaneously combating systematic biases and discrimination against women. The council plans to do this by coordinating federal government efforts to increase economic support, promote gender equity in leadership, prevent all forms of gender-based violence and bolster initiatives to empower women, both domestically and internationally. Although the election of Kamala Harris as the first female vice president in American history disrupted gender norms, the revival of this council serves as a salient reminder that there is still much to do to combat systemic biases and advance gender equality.

The federal government is not alone in its endeavor to combating gender inequity. Renewable energy has proven to be an industry where there is significant potential to break institutional biases. The renewable energy workforce, for example, comprises 32% women, whereas the larger energy sector workforce only employs 22% women. Although this is a notable start, these numbers illustrate that there is still progress to be made in achieving gender equality across industries and that these goals should be prioritized moving forward.

The renewable energy industry has several initiatives prioritizing gender equality that should continue to be lauded and supported. One such program is the Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) program, which supports the educational, professional development and advancement of women in the renewable energy sector with the aspiration of combating systemic inequities. The Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE) Network is a network of women working in renewable energy and combating existing structural gender inequities that could be exacerbated by the consequences of climate change. The Clean Energy Council’s Women in Renewables initiative serves as a platform to champion women working in renewable energy as they advance to become leaders of industry. Other notable programs and initiatives include:

  • Powered by Women, which consults with renewable energy companies on how they can sustainably build growth and close gender gaps at their respective organizations.
  • The Clean Energy Trust, a nonprofit supporting female or minority-owned startups aspiring to innovate in the realm of clean energy and sustainability.
  • The American Solar Energy Society, which is recognizing women who have contributed extraordinary developments to the technological developments or wide-spread advancement of solar energy.
  • The Department of Energy, which has sought to recruit more women into the clean energy field and recognize accomplished women for their contributions and leadership through the US Clean Energy Education & Empowerment (C3E) Initiative.
  • The Solar Energy Industries Association, which has developed the Diversity Best Practices Guide for the Solar Industry, aims to build a diverse workforce by providing guidance to companies as they navigate diversity and inclusion efforts.

The establishment of the Gender Policy Council displays a commitment by the United States to ensure that [...]

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Granholm Confirmed as Energy Secretary

Today, Jennifer Granholm was confirmed as secretary of energy, winning US Senate approval by a 64–35 vote. Granholm’s confirmation serves as another boost to President Joe Biden’s plan to tackle climate change and develop clean energy across the United States. Granholm, who is an advocate for electric vehicles and other low-carbon technologies, will join Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, as a member of President Biden’s cabinet selected to further a green economy and green infrastructure.

Granholm, who served two terms as the governor of Michigan, worked with the automotive industry during her term to obtain more than $1 billion in federal funding for Michigan companies to manufacture electric vehicles and batteries. Under Granholm’s leadership, Michigan also adopted standards requiring utilities to utilize renewable energy sources. Granholm promoted the use of wind and solar technology during her confirmation hearing by telling senators, “We can buy electric car batteries from Asia or we can make them in America. We can install wind turbines from Denmark or we can make them in America.” She believes investing in renewable energy technologies will create more American jobs and boost the US economy.

Granholm’s confirmation will likely serve as encouragement for developers, lenders and investors in the renewable energy industry, as this will create more opportunities for renewable energy projects across the country and amplify the need for clean energy.




Five Takeaways: The Energy Market in 2021 – From Crisis to Opportunity

The energy market has undergone significant change in the past 12 months, with even more on the horizon. Our webinar series explores how these changes have shaped—and will continue to impact—the energy industry, including discussions of what’s to come.

Our latest webinar featured Greg Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).


Below are key takeaways from this week’s webinar:

  • The renewable energy industry continued to grow throughout the Trump administration; 2020 was a banner year with 28.5 GW of new wind and solar (the previous record, in 2016, was just below 23 GW).
  • The renewable industry is likely to receive its first legislative action as part of the infrastructure bill (likely through the budget reconciliation process); however, it will likely not occur until after impeachment proceedings and a COVID-19 relief bill have been completed.
  • It is not clear that a clean energy standard could be passed through the budget-oriented reconciliation process or that carbon pricing would have sufficient votes to even pass the reconciliation process, so the best current option may be to continue and expand tax incentives for renewable energy.
  • The Biden administration has committed to a “whole of government” approach to clean energy, which is expected to include an aggressive Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) policy once a third commissioner is appointed in June; sweeping executive orders (some of which we have already seen); aggressive federal procurement targets; streamlined permitting; and broader Department of Energy guidance in innovation.
  • A refundable tax credit at 85% of the current value is very much on the table, but it remains to be seen whether there are sufficient votes in the Senate for this to make it through the reconciliation process.

To begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the webinar series, please click here.

Access past webinars in this series.




The Carbon Tax Checklist

Many stakeholders have called for the United States to adopt a carbon tax. Such a tax could raise billions of dollars in annual revenue while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Several carbon tax proposals were introduced in the last Congress (2019-2020 term), and it is likely that several more will be introduced in the new Congress. Several conservative economists have endorsed the idea, as has Janet Yellen, President Biden’s Secretary of the Treasury. But the details of a carbon tax matter—for revenue generation, emissions reductions and fairness. Because Congress is likely to consider several competing carbon tax proposals this year, this article provides a way to compare proposals with a checklist of 10 questions to ask about any specific legislative carbon tax proposal, to help understand that proposal’s design and implications.

1. What form does the tax take: Is it an emissions tax, a fuel tax or a production tax?

The point of a carbon tax is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by imposing a price on those emissions. But there is more than one way to impose that price. Critically, the range of options depends, to a very large degree, on the type of greenhouse gas the tax is trying to address.

The most ubiquitous greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2) and the largest source of CO2 emissions is the combustion of fossil fuels. Those emissions can be addressed by imposing a fee on each individual emission source or by taxing the carbon content of the fuel—because carbon content is a reliable predictor of CO2 emissions across different combustion circumstances. Most carbon tax proposals are fuel tax proposals; they impose a tax on fuel sales, corresponding to the amount of CO2 that will be emitted when the fuel is burned.

For CO2 emissions, the fuel tax approach has one significant advantage over the emissions fee approach. The fuel tax can be imposed “upstream,” rather than “downstream,” thereby reducing the total number of taxpayers and the overall administrative burdens associated with collecting the tax. A tax imposed on petroleum products as they leave the refinery, for example, is a way to address CO2 emissions from motor vehicles without the need to tax every individual owner of a gasoline-powered car. Most CO2-related carbon tax proposals work that way—they are upstream fuel taxes rather than downstream emissions taxes.

But not all greenhouse gas emissions can be addressed through a fuel tax, because not all greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuel combustion. Methane, for example, is released in significant quantities from cows, coal mines and natural gas production systems. A carbon tax directed at those emissions is likely to take the form of an emissions fee imposed on the owner or operator of the emission source. Many carbon tax proposals, however, simply ignore methane emissions or expressly exempt agricultural sources.

Fluorinated gases are yet another type of greenhouse. If they are subjected to a carbon tax, that tax is likely to take the form of a production tax, which would be imposed [...]

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$40 Billion Available through Biden’s Department of Energy’s Loan Program Office for Innovative Technologies

With Democrats taking over the White House and the Senate, many eyes are on climate change and the role that the federal government can take to combat it. A variety of proposals have been floated about the best way for Congress to enact legislation to help in the fight against climate change, but certain actions can be taken immediately. One such action is to deploy $40 billion in loan capacity that was previously allocated to the Department of Energy as part of the 2009 stimulus package. This money is already available to the Department of Energy’s Loan Program Office (the LPO”) to spend at any time as a loan or a loan guarantee for qualified projects.

Any new loans would follow $30 billion of loans and loan guarantees previously provided by the LPO under these same programs (most notably under the Obama administration and one large loan associated with a nuclear reactor project under the Trump administration). Under the Biden administration, there is strong optimism that the unallocated funds may be more readily available for qualifying projects. The LPO, recognizing some of the challenges with government credit support programs, has taken steps to better engage interested parties, including providing no-commitment preconsultations to walk potential applicants through the process to ensure that the LPO and the project will each be prepared when the LPO application process begins in earnest. Additionally, in light of the innovative projects that exist in 2021, the LPO is examining the opportunities for offshore wind and the offshore wind value chain as well as looking at vehicle solutions that might qualify under the LPO’s programs.

The $40 billion in loan capacity, including $4.5 billion for renewables alone, is available for applicants seeking financing for innovative fossil energy projects, nuclear energy projects or renewable energy and energy efficiency projects; for fuel-efficient, advanced technology vehicle manufacturers; or for Tribal energy development projects.

To qualify for the renewable energy or energy efficiency loans or loan guarantees, under Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a project must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Employ new or significantly improved technologies as compared to commercial technologies in service in the United States at the time the guarantee is issued.
  • Avoid, reduce or sequester anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Be located in the United States (foreign ownership or sponsorship of the projects is permissible as long as the projects are located in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or a US territory).
  • Provide a reasonable prospect of repayment.

Interested applicants should be aware that the timeline for LPO loan origination is typically longer than in the commercial financing market—roughly 90 days should be added to a typical project financing timeline for the LPO to diligence program eligibility and obtain internal approvals. However, for innovative projects that meet the other LPO eligibility requirements, the loans or loan guarantees available through the LPO may be a viable option. For instance, for offshore wind projects, long-duration energy storage, green [...]

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Five Takeaways: An In-Depth Look at the Federal Legislative Game Plan to Support Renewables

On Thursday May 14, McDermott was joined by Gregory Wetstone, president and chief executive officer of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) to discuss the latest market updates on the severe disruption and uncertainty brought on the renewables industry by COVID-19.

Five takeaways from this week’s webinar:

      1. There is no clear insight yet into what a congressional relief package regarding renewable energy might look like, despite the fact that congress is discussing its fifth COVID-19-related response bill.
      2. Even though the outlook was already pessimistic, clean energy job loss has been worse than expected; there has been a loss of 94,000 jobs in the renewable sector between March and April and 600,000 additional unemployment claims across the clean energy sector.
      3. Renewables have a great potential to continue to be part of the nation’s economic recovery; two of the fastest growing job categories in the nation have been wind turbine technicians and solar panel installer.
      4. Senior Department of Energy officials have reassured that the recent bulk power executive order is a continuation of existing policies regarding transmission corridors and is not targeted at renewables, which are recognized as valuable for national security. See the Office of Electricity’s Q&A and contact email for a response to President Trump’s signed Executive Order, “Securing the United States Bulk-Power System” and join McDermott on May 21 for a legal analysis of the EO.
      5. The commerce department is undertaking an investigation which could lead to the imposition of additional tariffs, particularly in regards to transformers; the timing for these tariffs (if enacted) is likely right before the election.

Listen to the full webinar.

To begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the Renewables Roundtable and Q&A Webinar Series, please click here.

To access past webinars, please click here. 




FERC Rejects Department of Energy Proposal Benefitting Coal and Nuclear

On January 8, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Proposed Rule, which would have required organized wholesale electricity markets run by independent system operators (ISOs) or regional transmission organizations (RTOs) to establish tariff mechanisms for purchasing energy from eligible “reliability and resilience resources” and mandated a recovery of costs plus a return on equity for such resources. Eligible reliability and resilience resources would have to be (1) located within an RTO/ISO, (2) able to provide essential reliability services, and (3) have a 90-day fuel supply on-site. Practically, these requirements would limit participation to coal and nuclear plants. (more…)




DOE Says Wind Power Creates Lots of Jobs!

According to the Department of Energy (DOE) renewable energy wind installations had explosive growth through 2016, and added approximately 32,000 jobs since 2015, to a total of 102,000!

In the Wind Technologies Market Report, DOE says the Production Tax Credit (PTC) is directly responsible for the expansion. Congress, however, is phasing out the PTC, which DOE believes will lead to a slowing of the wind energy industry. The PTC is incrementally being phased out over a five year period, and ends completely in 2020. Read here for more information.




IRS Rules (Again) That Taxpayers Are Not Entitled to Claimed Refined Coal Credits

In a highly-anticipated Technical Advice Memorandum (TAM) dated March 23, 2017 and released on July 21, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that two taxpayers who had invested in a Limited Liability Company that owned and operated a refined coal facility (the LLC) were not entitled to refined coal production credits they had claimed because their investment in the LLC was structured “solely to facilitate the prohibited purchase of refined coal tax credits.” This analysis marks a departure from the position staked out by the IRS in a number of recent refined coal credit cases, which focused on whether taxpayers claiming refined coal credits were partners in a partnership that owned and operated a refined coal facility.

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