Sustainable Finance News Roundup: Cleantech Projects Get Funding from Federal and NY Governments

A wide range of cleantech and renewable energy projects are set to receive funding from the New York state government and from a perhaps more surprising source: the federal government.

In New York, the Cuomo administration announced $1.4 billion to fund 26 renewable energy projects. It’s the most any state has ever committed to renewable energy, the administration says.

New York has been progressive in terms of renewable energy and other sustainable projects. Decidedly less progressive is the Trump administration. Yet the federal government is committing billions of dollars to green energy and related projects in its new spending plan, which Congress passed and the president grudgingly signed into law last week.

Although Trump has been swinging the axe at Department of Energy programs like the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Congress instead approved in those programs. Among the appropriations, as detailed by Axios:

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–       $2.3 billion for the energy efficiency office, rather than the two-thirds cut in the office’s budget that Trump had proposed.

–       A $48 million increase in ARPA’s budget, to $353 million. The White House had tried to end the program entirely.

–       For the Office of Science, an $868 million increase to nearly $6.3 billion; Trump was seeking a 15% cut.

Axios, in its analysis, cautions that, given the current administration, advocates for cleantech spending shouldn’t get their hopes up for a long-term, sustained push for cleantech, in spite of this year’s spending.

Things are more optimistic in New York State, which is earmarking nearly a billion-and-a-half dollars for more than two dozen projects. Slated for funding are  22 utility-scale solar farms, three wind farms and one hydroelectric project. Together, the projects will generated some 1,400 MW of clean electricity.

One of the wind projects will include an energy storage component, the first wind farm in the state to have that feature.

Companies winning funding include Invenergy, Calpine Corp., NextEra Energy and Northbrook Lyons Falls. All of the projects are scheduled to be online by 2022; groundbreakings for several of them are slated for next month.

The awards come not long after the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) released a master plan to develop the state’s offshore wind industry, saying it wants to see 2,400 MW of offshore wind power by 2030. New York’s goal is to get 50% of its total electricity from renewables by that year.

Corporate Sustainability News:

Microsoft: The company is buying 315 MW of electricity from two solar projects in Virginia in what Microsoft says is the largest corporate purchase of solar energy in the country. It means Microsoft has met its goal of powering 50% of its data centers with green energy by this year, and also moves it toward its goal of powering 60% of its overall operations from renewables by 2020. The company earlier this month announced it’s buying solar energy from Singapore’s Sunseap to power its data centers in that country, and has announced similar renewable power purchases in Ireland, the Netherlands and Wyoming.

Duke Energy: The utility says it will spend $11 billion over the next 8 years on wind, solar and natural gas-fired electricity generation. It’s part of the company’s goal to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2030. Duke says it has already reduced its CO2 emissions by 31% since that baseline year.

Anheuser-Busch InBev: The beer giant says it will produce all of its beers using 100% renewable energy by 2025, and starting next month, beers that are already brewed using clean energy will have a special logo on the can to signify its green credentials. The company is also taking steps to align its operations with the UN’s sustainable development goals, in areas such as water usage and the agriculture that provides the raw materials for the company’s beer.

Corporates and Technology:

General Electric has launched a new battery platform, called GE Reservoir, as it attempts to catch up to its rivals in the field of large-scale electricity storage. Each Reservoir unit will be a 1.2 MW lithium-ion battery; GE says it already has a customer lined up and will start delivering the batteries early next year.  Analysts note that GE has tried its hand at energy storage in the past, but those efforts didn’t work out.

Nissan and E.ON are teaming up on a joint venture that seeks to supply a wide range of consumers’ electric needs. The Japanese carmaker and the German utility will work together on electric vehicle charging, vehicle-to-grid services, grid integration, distributed energy generation and energy storage. The two firms are “on a mission to break down every barrier to EV ownership,” says Paul Wilcox, the chairman of Nissan Europe. E.ON has moved entirely away from fossil fuels and works exclusively in renewables now. The company said this month it’s acquiring renewable utility Innogy from fellow German utility RWE, a deal that’s expected to radically transform the German utility market as it continues to rapidly shift to renewable energy.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Up; Renewables Rise Too:

Energy-related CO2 emissions increased 1.4% globally last year, to a historic high of 32.5 gigatons, after remaining flat for three years. The increase came from higher energy demand and a slowdown in energy efficiency improvements, according to the International Energy Agency.

More than 70% of new global energy demand in 2017 was met by fossil fuels. That was a  departure from recent years, when the majority of new energy demand was met by renewable energy. Natural gas demand increased the most last year, reaching a record share of 22% in total energy demand.

Despite the global increase, greenhouse gas emissions actually fell in the U.S. last year by 0.5%, driven by higher deployment of renewables. Other countries with CO2 declines included the U.K., Japan and Mexico.

Renewables saw the highest growth rate of any energy source in 2017, meeting a quarter of global energy demand growth, led by the U.S. and China, which contributed 50% of the increase in renewables, the IEA says.

This trend is supported by the 2017 edition of Lazard’s annual Levelized Cost of Electricity study, which found that renewable energy is now cheaper than traditional energy sources. That should force plants using older energy sources, such as coal and nuclear, into retirement, and lead to ongoing and significant deployment of renewable energy capacity. However, it will be more pronounced outside the U.S., where electricity costs are higher and thus the economics of renewable energy look even more attractive.

Although natural gas remains the top fuel source in the U.S., there is a growing drive for renewable energy to replace existing and proposed natural gas plants due to increasing carbon reduction goals in states, says the WSJ. States where natural gas faces an uphill climb include Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Michigan.

Natural gas generated 32% of all electricity in the U.S. last year, up from 22% in 2007. Coal produced 30% in 2017, down from 49% a decade ago. Wind and solar made up 8% in 2017, from less than 1% in 2007. Natural gas is expected to continue to be the top generator for the long term, but its growth may be slowed by growing interest in renewables.

Despite the rising proportion of natural gas, the actual amount of gas used for electricity in the U.S. actually fell last year by 7.7 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, generation from utility-scale clean energy, excluding hydro, grew by 13.4% last year.


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