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Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) advocates have worked diligently to expand the worldwide application of good climate science to agricultural production and ecosystem support practices. So, here in the United States, it is exceptionally gratifying to see California take a leading role in the CSA movement, as evidenced by recent initiatives laid out by the head of the state's Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Secretary Karen Ross' CSA activism is especially significant, given that California's GDP alone has consistently ranked among the 10 biggest in the world – driven in large part by the nation's biggest agriculture sector with 76,400 farms, producing more than 400 commodities generating a farm-gate value of $54 billion. California is among a number of states where CSA initiatives are taking hold because, as Ross put it in a recent editorial posted on the CDFA's website, promoting and protecting agriculture is "a complex job – and one that is getting more complex as the climate changes."

News of Note

Study: Renewable Energy Development Drops 50 GW without CPP

A global economics research firm issued a report last week that says renewable energy will continue to grow in the United States even if the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) is not implemented. But that growth, which got a boost when Congress in December extended a number of production and investment tax credits for wind and solar, would only grow half as fast as it would with the CPP in place.

"The tax extenders alone provide a bigger medium-term boost to renewables than just the CPP, but not as big as with both policies in place," the report from Rhodium Group says. "With just the tax extenders, utility-scale wind and solar generation outpaces the reference case forecast, but about half as fast as with the CPP and tax extenders combined."

The report says that without the carbon constraint of the CPP to shift dispatch, renewables largely displace natural gas generation rather than coal.

"Without the tax extenders, the CPP would have driven 60 GW (gigawatts) worth of new utility-scale wind and solar between 2016 and 2025," the researchers say. "If the CPP is struck down, we now expect 92 GW as a result of having the tax extenders in place. If the CPP is upheld that grows to 142 GW."

The 50 GW-difference is enough to power more than 10 million American homes.

The Rhodium researchers said that the past couple months have had some ups and downs for the renewables industry, noting that just before Christmas, Congress extended the Production and Investment Tax Credits (PTC and ITC) for renewable energy. After years of inconsistent one-year extensions, the multi-year packages (phasing out the PTC by 2020 and phasing down the ITC through 2021) finally provided some predictability to renewable energy companies and investors. It also seemed to cement a bridge for renewables to ensure their role in the early years of CPP compliance.

The renewables industry did not have long to celebrate, however, as a surprise SCOTUS decision Feb. 9 threw even greater uncertainty into the mix. The high court overturned a lower court ruling and ordered a stay on EPA enforcement of the CPP until the legal challenges to the rule work their way through the courts.

The CPP calls on states to develop their own respective plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing power plants, ultimately lowering total U.S. emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Although it was always likely that the CPP would end up before the Supreme Court, the decision to stay enforcement until that time creates additional uncertainty about the timing of implementation – if it is ultimately upheld, the authors state, adding that they believe a Supreme Court ruling on the CPP is not likely until the middle of 2018, coming close to the final deadline for the submission of State Implementation Plans (SIPs).

The report says that if the rule is upheld, the deadline will probably be pushed back to give states extra time to submit their plans."If the rule is struck down in whole or in part, EPA will have to go back to the drawing board," it says.

In an earlier report issued last month, Rhodium showed that the ITC and PTC extension give renewables a big boost under the CPP. Without the tax extenders the least-cost CPP compliance pathway is a shift in power generation from coal to natural gas combined cycle (NGCC).

The tax extenders change this story dramatically: wind and solar generation become the least-cost compliance option, with an annual increase of about 300 terawatt hours (TWh) of renewable generation above the Energy Information Administration's (EIA's) most recent Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) reference case starting in 2022.

"But what if the CPP is overturned?" the report asks rhetorically. "The tax extenders alone provide a bigger medium-term boost to renewables than just the CPP, but not as big as with both policies in place. With just the tax extenders, utility-scale wind and solar generation outpaces the reference case forecast, but about half as fast as with the CPP and tax extenders combined. Without the carbon constraint of the CPP to shift dispatch, renewables largely displace NGCC generation rather than coal."

Rhodium officials concede that market uncertainty remains when assessing their findings, noting that lower natural gas prices or cheaper clean energy technology could alter the projections going forward, driving even more renewable energy development.

U.S. Number One in the World in Wind Energy Production

The United States continues to lead the world in wind energy production, according to recently released data by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Domestically, more than 31 percent of Iowa's in-state electricity generation came from wind last year – marking another major milestone. It's the first time wind has supplied a state with more than 30 percent of its annual electricity. Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota all generated more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind in 2015.

"The U.S. is blessed with world-class wind resources," said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. "We're tapping into this homegrown resource more than ever thanks to American innovation and U.S. workers building some of the most productive wind turbines in the world. Now more than ever, low-cost, stably-priced, zero-emission wind energy is keeping our air clean and cutting costs for consumers. American wind power is well on its way to supplying 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030."

"We are proud of Iowa's leadership in wind energy," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who also serves as Chairman of the Governor's Wind and Solar Energy Coalition. "We've seen exponential growth in wind energy and the data released today reinforces what we've been seeing in every corner of our state. With potential to jump above 40 percent in the next five years, we are committed to building an even greener Iowa future that will provide our Iowa families with cleaner, renewable energy and job opportunities."

Wind produced over 190 million megawatt-hours (MWh) in the United States last year, enough electricity for about 17.5 million typical U.S. homes. China is close behind the U.S. at 185.1 million MWh and followed by third-place Germany at 84.6 MWh. Although China has nearly double the installed wind power capacity as the U.S., strong wind resources and production-based U.S. policy have helped build some of the most productive wind farms in the world, AWEA says. Upgraded transmission infrastructure in the United States also helps relieve congestion and bring more low-cost wind energy to the most densely populated parts of the country.

Wind energy supplied 4.7 percent of the total electricity generated in the United States in 2015, enough electricity to supply the equivalent of all electricity demand in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Solar energy, including utility-scale and distributed solar, generated 0.94 percent of all U.S. electricity in 2015.

Texas, Maine and Vermont for the first time generated 10 percent or more of their electricity from wind, joining Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Minnesota, Idaho, Colorado, and Oregon in the 10 percent and up club. In total, eight states generated 15 percent or more of their electricity supply from wind in 2015, and 20 states generated more than 5 percent of their electricity from wind.

As the United States increasingly has generated more of its electricity from renewable energy, electricity rates across the country remained 5.5 percent lower than they were in 2009 according to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance's recently released fourth annual Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.

U.S. power sector emissions fell to their lowest annual level since 1995 last year, according to the Factbook, which also reported that the United States is home to "one of the most attractive markets in the world for companies whose operations entail significant energy-related costs. At 7.1 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), the retail price of electricity for the industrial sector in the U.S. is lower than that in other major economies, such as Germany, China and India."

"As states plan for low-cost solutions to cut carbon emissions, real-world evidence shows wind energy helps to reliably keep the lights on for American homes and businesses throughout the country," said Kiernan.

Across the U.S., wind power generated more electricity in 2015 than the combined generation from all sources in Georgia and Colorado.

AWEA says wind power supports 73,000 well jobs across all 50 states. Nearly 20,000 American workers at over 500 factories across 43 states now build wind turbine parts and materials. The DOE's Wind Vision report says growing wind energy to supply 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030 could support 380,000 jobs.

The trade group says American wind power's high productivity illustrates the success of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), noting the PTC has attracted more than $128 billion in private investment to the U.S. economy over the last 10 years. Late last year a bipartisan vote by Congress secured a multi-year extension of the PTC, supplying long-term certainty for the U.S. wind energy industry.

Official Numbers Confirm Record U.S. Ethanol Production and Use

Data released this week by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) confirms that new records were set in 2015 for U.S. ethanol production and blending.

According to the EIA data, U.S. ethanol producers churned out 14.81 billion gallons of ethanol in 2015, while refiners and blenders integrated an unprecedented 13.69 billion gallons into the U.S. gasoline supply. The industry's monthly average output in December 2015 also crested the 1 million-barrel-per-day mark for the first time in history.

Meanwhile, recent EPA data show that historic output levels of corn ethanol were primarily responsible for the generation of a record 14.83 billion renewable fuel RIN credits, which are used to oil companies to demonstrate compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

While the record numbers are impressive, says Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President and CEO Bob Dinneen, the American ethanol industry was prepared to do even more. But he says "mismanagement" of the RFS program and the oil industry's "intransigence to adopt higher-level ethanol blends like E15 kept the ethanol industry from realizing its full potential."

EPA set the 2015 blending obligation for renewable fuel at just 14.05 billion gallons, rather than the 15 billion gallon level established by Congress.

"The U.S. ethanol industry had an incredible year in 2015, but the failure of the White House and EPA to enforce the RFS as designed by Congress means our nation missed a huge opportunity to provide consumers with even larger volumes of domestically produced, low-carbon, high-octane biofuels," Dinneen said. "There is no doubt that the ethanol industry could have produced even more renewable fuel if the Administration had stood firm on implementation of the statutory RFS volumes, rather than caving to the oil industry's 'blend wall' narrative."

RFA noted that the record December output rate of 1.002 million barrels per day would result in 15.36 billion gallons if maintained for an entire year, well above the 15 billion gallon blending requirement originally stipulated by Congress for 2015 and beyond.

"By eclipsing the 1 million-barrel-per-day mark in December, ethanol producers have proven once again that they are more than capable of delivering the volumes necessary to meet the RFS blending requirements established by Congress," Dinneen said. "The industry just needs to be set free to achieve the laudable goals set forth by Congress, which are as important today as they were nearly a decade ago when the RFS was expanded."

Even though RFS requirements for 2015 weren't finalized until November, Dinneen said the data from EIA and EPA show the volume requirement established by Congress could have been easily met by oil companies.

"When the 14.83 billion new renewable fuel RIN credits generated in 2015 are combined with the existing surplus of 1.8 billion RINs that resulted from past over-compliance with the RFS, it becomes quite obvious that we had more than enough supply to meet the 2015 statutory renewable fuel volume of 15 billion gallons," he said.

The EIA data also revealed that total U.S. gasoline consumption hit in 140.4 billion gallons in 2015, the third-highest on record and well above the projections used by EPA to establish 2015 blending obligations.

The EPA blending requirements for the RFS are the subject of several lawsuits pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and filed by biofuel industry groups, oil companies and others.

New Way to Reduce Plant Lignin Could Lead to Cheaper Biofuels

Scientists from DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have shown for the first time that an enzyme can be tweaked to reduce lignin in plants. The technique could help lower the cost of converting biomass into carbon-neutral fuels to power your car and other sustainably developed bio-products.

Lignin is a polymer that's important to a plant's health and structure. But lignin also permeates plant cell walls and surrounds the sugars trapped inside. This poses a major challenge in efforts to use microbes to ferment the sugar into useful chemicals and fuels. That's because lignin must be chemically broken down in a costly pretreatment step before the sugar is fermented. The less lignin there is in a plant, the cheaper this pretreatment step becomes, which is a major goal of the bioenergy industry.

Now, as reported in the journal Plant & Cell Physiology, Berkeley Lab scientists are taking on this challenge in an entirely new way.

Supported by DOE's Office of Science, the researchers focused on an enzyme called HCT that plays a key role synthesizing lignin in plants. Ordinarily, the enzyme binds with a particular molecule as part of the lignin-production process. The scientists explored whether HCT binds with several other molecules that have similar structures to the original molecule, and they found HCT is pretty indiscriminate with what it accepts.

With that in mind, the researchers introduced another molecule to the enzyme that occupies the binding site usually occupied by the lignin-producing molecule. This swap inhibits the enzyme's ability to support lignin production.

Initial tests in a model plant show this approach decreases lignin content by 30 percent while upping sugar production. What's more, the technique promises to be much more "tunable" than the current way of reducing plant lignin, in which lignin-producing genes are silenced. This decreases lignin everywhere in a plant and throughout its lifespan, resulting in a weakened plant and a lower sugar yield.

"Our goal is to tune the process so that lignin is reduced in a plant where we want it reduced, such as in tissues that produce thick cell walls, and when we want it reduced, such as later in a plant's development," says Dominique Loque, a plant biologist with the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a DOE Bioenergy Research Center led by Berkeley Lab, which pursues breakthroughs in the production of cellulosic biofuels. "This would result in robust bioenergy crops with more sugar and less lignin, and dramatically cheaper pretreatment cost."

Elsewhere, researchers at the University of California at Santa Clara says anaerobic gut fungi found in animals could hold the key to breaking down plant material and unlocking sugars that can be processed into compounds used in a variety of applications, including biofuels.

"We've gotten a global view into how these really old fungi work," said chemical engineer Michelle O'Malley, corresponding author of a paper that appears this week in the journal Science.

Found in the digestive tracts of large herbivores, the primitive fungi have evolved to break through lignin, helping the animal derive energy from even the toughest of plant parts.

The large repertoire of unique enzymes secreted by these fungi can also convert cellulose and hemicellulose into sugars, and directly ferment those sugars into biochemicals that include biofuels. Surprisingly, these natural enzymes have comparable activity to those that have been highly optimized for industrial use.

Because of the difficulty in isolating and growing the fungi, however, relatively little is known about them. O'Malley and her team integrated new sequencing tools to capture different strains of fungi to dynamically tune their enzyme machinery to match challenges from their environment.

The researchers were able to genetically sequence representative fungal strains, and molecularly sequence their large repertoire of novel enzymes. By analyzing and matching the enzyme sequences, the team was also able to gain insight into the genetic mechanisms that control these enzymes, knowledge that can be used in the future to adjust what compounds may be produced from the cellulose extracted from the plants.

The potential applications of the research are significant, the team says. Currently, the biofuel industry relies primarily on food crops, which are easier to process for sugars to convert into ethanol. This creates a competition for space between crops grown for food and crops grown for fuel. Not only would efficient access to cellulose and hemicellulose in non-food parts of plants open up another source of renewable energy, it would also address the need for space.

Additionally, the new understanding of how the enzymes secreted by the fungi are controlled could pave the way for bioprocessing techniques that could result in the efficient production of advanced pharmaceuticals and other new chemicals derived from sugars.

Research Offers Paths to Significant Improvement in Solar Cells

Researchers at MIT say they have demonstrated a technology that can generate the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced. They concede that it may take years to develop into a commercial product, but the researchers say the laboratory proof-of-concept shows a new approach to making solar cells that could help power the next generation of portable electronic devices.

Meanwhile, another research team led by DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in collaboration with Washington State University and the University of Tennessee, say they have improved the maximum voltage available from a cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cell, overcoming a practical limit that has been pursued for six decades and is key to improving its efficiency.

The MIT team says the process they have developed could lead to solar cells so thin, flexible and lightweight that they could be placed on almost any material or surface, including hats, shirts, smartphones – or even on a sheet of paper or a helium balloon.

The new process is described in a paper by MIT professor Vladimir Bulović, research scientist Annie Wang and doctoral student Joel Jean, in the journal Organic Electronics.

Bulović says the key to the new approach is to make the solar cell, the substrate that supports it, and a protective overcoating to shield it from the environment, all in one process. The substrate is made in place and never needs to be handled, cleaned, or removed from the vacuum during fabrication, thus minimizing exposure to dust or other contaminants that could degrade the cell's performance.

"The innovative step is the realization that you can grow the substrate at the same time as you grow the device," Bulović says.

In the initial proof-of-concept experiment, the MIT team used a common flexible polymer called parylene as both the substrate and the overcoating, and an organic material called DBP as the primary light-absorbing layer. Parylene is a commercially available plastic coating used widely to protect implanted biomedical devices and printed circuit boards from environmental damage.

The entire process takes place in a vacuum chamber at room temperature and without the use of any solvents, unlike conventional solar-cell manufacturing, which requires high temperatures and harsh chemicals. In this case, both the substrate and the solar cell are "grown" using established vapor deposition techniques.

The team emphasizes that the choices of materials used for the demonstration were just examples, and that it is the in-line substrate manufacturing process that is the key innovation. Different materials could be used for the substrate and encapsulation layers, and different types of thin-film solar cell materials, including quantum dots or perovskites, could be substituted for the organic layers used in initial tests.

The researchers involved with the NREL collaboration say Silicon solar cells currently represent 90 percent of the solar cell market, but it will be difficult to significantly reduce their manufacturing costs. CdTe solar cells, they say, offer a low-cost alternative, offering the lowest carbon footprint of any other solar technology and perform better than silicon in real world conditions, including in hot, humid weather and under low light. However, until recently, CdTe cells haven't been as efficient as silicon-based cells.

One key area where CdTe has underperformed was in the maximum voltage available from the solar cell, called open-circuit voltage. Limited by the quality of CdTe materials, researchers for the past 60 years were not able to get more than 900 millivolts out of the material, which was considered its practical limit.

The research team improved cell voltage by shifting away from a standard processing step using cadmium chloride. Instead, they placed a small number of phosphorus atoms on tellurium lattice sites and then carefully formed ideal interfaces between materials with different atomic spacing to complete the solar cell. This approach improved the CdTe conductivity and carrier lifetime each by orders of magnitude, thereby enabling the fabrication of CdTe solar cells with an open-circuit voltage breaking the 1-volt barrier for the first time.

The innovation establishes new research paths for solar cells to become more efficient and provide electricity at lower cost than fossil fuels, the researchers say.

UT, Genera Harvest Hybrid Poplar: Call it Next Step to 'Biobased Economy'

A small stand of poplar trees harvested from a University of Tennessee AgResearch Center is set to help scientists progress further down the path toward low-cost, high-quality biomass and a bioeconomy, researchers say.

Located on UT's East Tennessee AgResearch Center in Blount County, the 10-acre plot of hybrid poplars was planted just over four years ago and the now 30-ft trees are expected to produce some 60-100 tons of woody biomass – a crop Tennessee and other Southeastern farmers could potentially sell to biorefineries for conversion into advanced fuels or other biobased products.

The harvest is part of a five-year $15 million multi-disciplinary research and development effort funded by USDA to reduce barriers to the development of the Southeastern bioeconomy. UT's CRC, located within the UT Institute for Agriculture, leads the effort, which is called the Southeastern Partnership for Integrated Biomass Solutions, or IBSS. Partners in the broad-based effort include Auburn University, North Carolina State University, the University of Georgia, ArborGen, and Genera Energy Inc.

Tim Rials, director of the CRC, says the goal of the IBSS partnership "is to demonstrate the production of advanced biofuels from sustainable sources of lignocellulosic biomass, that is, biomass made from designed herbaceous and woody crops."

IBSS has focused on perennial switchgrass and short-rotation woody crops like eucalyptus, pine and hybrid poplar.

"It's important for the industry and producers to have a portfolio of crops that can supply the cellulosic biomass for the biorefineries," Rials said. "Very little information is available on the performance of hybrid poplar in the Southeast. This project is designed to identify the effect of both genetic differences and management practices on the growth and yield of this potentially important energy crop. The data should provide the basis for future productivity improvements."

The harvest included plots of several hybrid poplar varieties, called clones. Although genetic differences clearly impacted the overall yield, research has shown little difference in the chemical composition of the different hybrid poplar clones.

"This information provides valuable guidance for continued enhancement of this new energy crop," Rials said.

Similar field trials, some with the same varieties, are also underway in Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina to evaluate environmental impacts on biomass yield.

IBSS partner Genera Energy, a biomass supply company based in Tennessee, led the harvesting effort for the poplars, using a standard self-propelled forage harvester attached with a unique harvesting head. Only two of these woody harvesting heads exist in the world, and proving new harvesting technologies and logistics are at the core of improving the biomass supply chain for woody crops. In addition to the Knoxville harvest, Genera Energy also conducted additional harvesting of poplars in Mississippi with IBSS and Greenwood Resources.

Reducing the risk of supplying lignocellulosic feedstock and ensuring a sustainable, predictable supply of feedstocks with desirable properties for optimal performance during industrial processing is a challenge that must be confronted to make the Southeast a more attractive location for a new industry, Rials says.

"The IBSS Partnership is working with that end in mind," he says.

A portion of the harvest from the UT AgResearch poplar stand, along with similar samples from the harvests at other sites, will be sent to different partner labs at the CRC, Auburn University and North Carolina State University for physical property analyses such as moisture content analyses and specific gravity examinations – important measurements to gauge the materials' usefulness for industry. Scientists with the CRC will also use NIR (near infrared) technology to examine the chemistry of the wood with an eye toward the development of future bio-based products.

The IBSS partners are working to match the economic and environmental performance of each feedstock with a preferred conversion platform so that the ultimate product, whether it's a biofuel or chemicals derived from the distillation of the biomass into its component parts, will be reliable, available and affordable.

While the feedstock needed for biorefineries to produce biofuels and other biobased industrial products is currently readily available in the Southeast because abundant supplies of forest and agricultural residues, dedicated bioenergy crops will be needed to meet industry requirements for a sustainable industry to develop, researchers say.

"The beauty of the poplars we are harvesting is that they will regenerate and continue to grow," said Rials. "In just two or three years they could be harvested again as a biomass crop. This makes them attractive to both producers and industry."

Research: EVs to be 35% Of Global New Car Sales by 2040

The electric vehicle revolution could turn out to be more dramatic than governments and oil companies have yet realized. New research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) suggests that further, big reductions in battery prices lie ahead, and that during the 2020s EVs will become a more economic option than gasoline or diesel cars in most countries.

The study, published this week, forecasts that sales of electric vehicles will hit 41 million by 2040, representing 35 percent of new light duty vehicle sales, a total almost 90 times the equivalent figure for 2015, when EV sales are estimated to have been 462,000, some 60 percent up on 2014.

This projected change between now and 2040 will have implications beyond the car market. The research estimates that the growth of EVs will mean they represent a quarter of the cars on the road by that date, displacing 13 million barrels per day of crude oil but using 1,900TWh of electricity. This would be equivalent to nearly 8% of global electricity demand in 2015.

"At the core of this forecast is the work we have done on EV battery prices," said Colin McKerracher, BNEF's lead advanced transportation analyst. "Lithium-ion battery costs have already dropped by 65 percent since 2010, reaching $350 per kWh last year. We expect EV battery costs to be well below $120 per kWh by 2030, and to fall further after that as new chemistries come in."

Salim Morsy, senior analyst and author of the study, said BNEF's central forecast is based on the crude oil price recovering to $50, and then trending back up to $70-a-barrel or higher by 2040, which is in line with the price trajectory projected by DOE's Energy Information Administration in its Annual Energy Outlook 2015.

"Interestingly, if the oil price were to fall to $20 and stick there, this would only delay mass adoption of EVs to the early 2030s," Morsy said.

The electric vehicle market at present is heavily dependent on "early adopters" keen to try out new technology or reduce their emissions, and on government incentives offered in markets such as China, Netherlands and Norway. Although some 1.3 million EVs have now been sold worldwide and 2015 saw strong growth, they still represented less than 1 percent of light duty vehicle sales last year.

EVs come in two categories – battery electric vehicles, or BEVs, that rely entirely on their batteries to provide power; and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, that have batteries that can be recharged but have conventional engines as back-up. The best-selling BEV over the last six years has been the Nissan Leaf, and the best-selling PHEV the Chevrolet Volt.

The study's calculations on total cost of ownership show BEVs becoming cheaper on an unsubsidized basis than internal combustion engine cars by the mid-2020s, even if the latter continue to improve their average mileage per gallon by 3.5 percent per year. It assumes that a BEV with a 60kWh battery will travel 200 miles between charges. The first generation of these long-range, mid-priced BEVs is set to hit the market in the next 18 months with the launch of the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3.

"In the next few years, the total-cost-of-ownership advantage will continue to lie with conventional cars, and we therefore do not expect EVs to exceed 5 percent of light duty vehicle sales in most markets – except where subsidies make up the difference," Morsy said. "However, that cost comparison is set to change radically in the 2020s."

Headlines of Note

News of interest to our 25x'25 Partners and advocates for a clean energy future:

Connecticut Program Makes Solar Affordable for Low-Income Families

Ethanol Keeps Gasoline Prices Down (letter to the editor)

FERC Chairman: Energy Storage Potential 'Game Changer'

For The First Time, Solar Will Be the Top New Source of Energy This Year

Growing Spotlight on Rooftop Solar Battles Is a Boon for the Industry

Jewell Pushes U.S. Interior Budget that Stresses Renewable Energy

Lawmakers Question EPA Air Administrator on Fate of RFS Post-2022

MT-SD Utilities Drops Demand Charge Push after Deal with Solar Advocates

Oregon Bill to Curb Coal, Set 50% RPS Heads to Governor After Senate Passage

Over Half of Installed US Utility-Scale Solar in 2016 Will Be Above RPS Demands

Report: Consumer Appetite for Solar, Storage, Bundled Services Grows

Revolution in Utility Power Mix Already Underway: Utility Dive Survey

Rural Electric Co-Ops, Traditionally Bastions of Coal, Are Getting Into Solar

Solar Energy is Poised for an Unforgettable Year

The Recovery Act and Clean Energy

U.S. Agency Said to Reach 'Holy Grail' of Battery Storage

Vilsack Defends Biofuels, Bioenergy During House Hearing

Wind Power Will Soon Surpass Hydro as Largest Source of Clean Energy in U.S.

Upcoming Events

2016 National Renewable Energy Policy Forum:

Driving Growth in a New Policy Landscape

The American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) is staging a policy forum March 16-17 in Washington, D.C.

25x'25 is a supporting organization for the forum.

ACORE leaders say the forum is taking place just as seismic developments in national and global policies are reshaping the renewable energy marketplace.

In December, Congress enacted a major new tax package offering long-sought stability to the wind and solar power industries. Just two weeks earlier, 129 nations at the COP21 meetings in Paris reached agreement on an unprecedented global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Taken together, these developments are a source of immense promise for the future of renewable energy in the U.S. and around the world.

But important challenges remain. Other renewable technologies, including geothermal, hydro and biomass, secured a tax credit extension only through 2016, and will need quick action from Congress to keep their incentives in place.

Meanwhile, the Clean Power Plan moves to the critical implementation stage, with states working on their compliance plans even as legal challenges work their way through the courts. With tax credits phasing down just as the deadlines for most ambitious emission reductions come into force, the Clean Energy Incentive Program, a promising but uncertain new element of the Clean Power Plan, may have a critical role to play.

Moreover, a whole new set of issues are moving towards center stage, and organizers say this year's forum will provide in-depth analyses of these and other important policies and address the critical challenges that lie ahead, including the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the achievement of the nation's COP21 commitments, and the policy signals and business models needed to drive continued market evolution and expansion.

Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, will offer the morning keynote address on Thursday, March 17. Making the mid-morning keynote address later that day will be Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and long-time champion for renewable energy. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), another Finance Committee member, who also represents the leading biofuel and wind energy producing state in the nation, will offer the afternoon keynote remarks.

Other featured speakers during the forum include Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association; Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association; Mars Hanna, Principal, Energy and Global Infrastructure, Google; Kathy Weiss, Vice President, Federal Government Affairs, First Solar; Joseph Goffman, Associate Assistant Administrator and Senior Counsel, EPA; Jonathan Weisgall, Vice President, Legislative Affairs, Berkshire Hathaway Energy; Melanie Nakagawa, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Transformation, State Department; and Ethan Zindler, Head of Policy, Head of Americas, Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

For more information, including the forum program, speakers and hotel accommodations, click HERE.

To register, click HERE. A 20-percent discount is available on registration fees by using the code SPT20TXT.

Webinar Series on Bioenergy's Role

In State Clean Power Plans Continues

A webinar series designed to provide guidance, information from cutting-edge research, and expert perspectives on the role biomass can play in state plans designed to meet Clean Power Plan (CPP) requirements, will continue next week.

On Tuesday, March 8, at 1 p.m., Greg Latta, of Oregon State University, will talk about incorporating traditional forest product markets in CPP biomass evaluations.

The webinars are to be hosted by Sarah Wurzbacher (sjw246@psu.edu), with the Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium (NEWBio) Extension, a multi-university initiative based at Penn State.

The series is one of seven regional integrated Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAPs) funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and focuses on sustainable production of advanced biofuels, industrial chemicals and biobased products to enhance existing agricultural systems, create rural jobs, and achieve other goals related to energy security and sustainability.

The Clean Power Plan was announced by President Obama and the EPA last August and provides the first-ever national standards that address carbon pollution from power plants. The final rule takes into account over 4.3 million stakeholder and public comments to ease its implementation, with individual states, tribes, and territories building their own plans to meet mandated carbon reduction goals specific to each planning entity. The goals are set for the year 2030, providing 15 years for full implementation of emission reduction measures, whose efficacy will be assessed between 2022 and 2029.

The proposed state plans outlining how this will be achieved must be submitted in September of this year and contain specific steps for each tool in a portfolio of methods used to meet state-level goals: emissions trading, increasing energy efficiency on both supply and demand sides, shifting coal generation to natural gas generation, and/or increasing renewable power generation.

The last category leaves room for biomass energy, but stakeholders in the bioeconomy still seek clarification on exactly how biomass could or should fit in to a state plan. The webinar series begins to tackle that question and is aimed at state policy makers, state regulatory agencies, stakeholders in industry, economic development and the environment; researchers of the bioeconomy, carbon markets and energy; students of policy, science and technology, business and agriculture; and those simply seeking to be informed citizens.

The first webinar was held Jan. 12, featuring Jessie Stolark and Laura Small, policy associates with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), covering the history and precedence for the Clean Power Plan, how EPA expects states to comply with the rule, opportunities for biomass stakeholders to engage with EPA and state air regulators on the rule, and the potential implications to the U.S. biomass industry. The second, held Feb. 9, featured Peter Woodbury, of Cornell University, who discussed the opportunities and challenges of counting carbon in bioenergy systems. On Feb. 23, : Emily McGlynn, Earth Partners Director of Strategy and Policy, discussed bioenergy emissions accounting under the CPP.

All of the presentations are available on the webinar series web page.

On April 19, at 1 p.m. EST, Carrie Annand, vice president of external affairs with the Biomass Power Association, will discuss bioelectricity under the CPP.

All presentations are free of charge and do not require pre-registration.

Subscribe to the "EWBio listserv (visit http://www.newbio.psu.edu/ and click "Subscribe to the NEWBio E-News") to receive email reminders for each presentation, or bookmark the series webpage to check for updates, connect with speakers, find log-in information, and review recordings of past presentations.