The State Electricity Revolt

Health care, Wall Street, the Internet—by the time President Obama leaves office, there may not be much of the economy left for his successor to take over. The better news is electricitythat his attempt to do the same to the energy industry is meeting heavy resistance in the states.

The Environmental Protection Agency is finishing a rule—expected in June or July—that requires the states to meet carbon-reduction targets by reorganizing their “production, distribution and use of electricity,” as the EPA puts it. This is an unprecedented federal usurpation of what has been a state responsibility since the invention of the modern steam turbine in the 1880s.

States are normally allowed as much as three years to comply with EPA mandates that are far less complex than this one. But the EPA will instruct them to submit implementation plans by summer 2016 and make interim progress as soon as 2020. The rule is intended to impress the greendees of the Paris climate conference this year, so Mr. Obama can announce a global climate deal.

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EPA offices in Washington, D.C. Photo: Getty Images

The plan hangs on an obscure section of the 44-year-old Clean Air Act. That law’s section 111(d) was well understood but the EPA has published a new interpretation of these several hundred words that runs 1,200 pages. No less a dean of legal liberalism than Harvard’s Larry Tribe is stunned by this attempt to nationalize U.S. electric generation.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

States will be told to meet the targets using four “building blocks.” The first is uncontroversial: improving the efficiency of fossil-fuel power plants and installing pollution-control technology like smokestack scrubbers. But for the first time the EPA is also telling states to roam “outside the fence line” of power plants to force coal and eventually natural gas to shut down, mandate quotas for renewables like wind and solar, and impose energy conservation.

The problem is that the federal government has no legal power outside the fence line. Last year the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals slapped down the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s bid to claim authority over “demand response” on the electric grid.

Thus the EPA is trying to coerce the states into doing what it can’t do itself. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan Has a Plan: Power Plant in Space

it_s-always-sunny-in-space

JAXA, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, recently announced that it intends to stick a solar-generated power station in orbit for the first time by 2025—just over a decade.

For Vice.com, Meghan Neal writes: Japan, where the disastrous Fukushima meltdown heightened the search for safe, sustainable alternative energy, is answering that need by sending a power plant into space.

“Solar panels in space are up to 10 times more efficient than the ones we’ve got on Earth, so the potential is beyond intriguing.”

Actually, the plan to power the globe with gigantic space-based solar panels has been kicking around since the ’60s. But thanks to a perfect storm of technological advances—strong but lightweight tether materials, swarming worker robots that can self-assemble, more efficient solar panels, and cheaper payload launches—this thing is actually looking feasible.

[Also see: It’s Always Sunny in Space]

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Image: Screenshot from JAXA/YouTube

Picture this: Floating 24,000 miles above the Earth’s surface is a mammoth power plant (power satellite may be more accurate) that stretches several miles long, weighs 10,000 metric tons, and is covered with solar panels basking in the sun and storing up its powerful energy. Read the rest of this entry »