Senate Democrats and 22 Attorneys General Deliver a One-Two Punch to the Net Neutrality Ban

Marching On

The United States Senate is just a single vote shy of passing a resolution that would override the Federal Communications Commission’s December vote to rescind net neutrality rules. All 49 of the upper congressional chambers’ Democrats are being joined by a single Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, in support of the resolution.

However, 50 votes are not enough to pass the bill as the tied vote will trigger a breaking vote from the President of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence. Even more, if Democrats were able to flip another Republican vote the legislation would face two more daunting obstacles in the form of a much larger Republican majority in the House, as well the veto power of the President, who voice significant support for the decision.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “With full caucus support, it’s clear that Democrats are committed to fighting to keep the Internet from becoming the Wild West where ISPs are free to offer premium service to only the wealthiest customers while average consumers are left with far inferior options.” The bill was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and attracted more than 30 cosponsors. According to Senate rules established in the Congressional Review Act, this guarantees the bill must be brought up for a vote.

Senate Democrats are taking an opportunity to force Republicans to be on the record with a position on this divisive topic. This could put some senators in vulnerable seats in a tough place as more than 80 percent of voters oppose the FCC’s ruling on net neutrality, according to a poll from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation.

Flanking with the Courts

At the same time, the Attorneys General of 22 states have now officially filed a lawsuit challenging the FCC’s controversial ruling. In a statement announcing the move, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “An open internet — and the free exchange of ideas it allows – is critical to our democratic process. The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers – allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online.”

Several other lawsuits are expected to be incoming from public interest groups which argue that the order was done too quickly and without adequate public input.

Saving net neutrality through the courts is a much more arduous process than congress coming together to pass meaningful legislation that a great majority of the country is in favor of, if not adamantly calling for. A definitive decision could remain elusive for years as the case winds its way through courts and appeals, leaving consumers in limbo throughout the process.

Internet activists stress the importance to stay vocal in defending the momentarily defeated rules governing a free and open internet. The Senate vote will make it clear where each senator stands on this issue, and the November elections will be a chance for the electorate to weigh in at the ballot box.

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Can Molten Salt Make 24-Hour Solar Energy Possible?

Producing Energy With Molten Salt

Alongside solar and wind power, clean energy companies are also looking into using salt to generate electricity — molten salt, to be precise. SolarReserve is just one of several companies trying to prove that molten salt can generate electricity just as effectively as solar and wind.

In 2015, the company brought its 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes solar energy facility in Nevada online, bringing with it 1,100 megawatt-hours of energy storage and the ability to power 75,000 homes in Nevada. Similar concentrated solar power (CSP) projects are planned for South Australia, Africa, Chilé, and more countries around the world.

You see, unlike solar and wind power, which can reduce the need for fossil fuel energy when the sun’s out or when it’s windy, facilities that utilize molten salt can operate at any time of day and store energy for up to 10 hours. This form of power comes about quite simply: sunshine concentrated onto a tower by a field of mirrors heats molten salt within the tower to over 1,000 degrees Farenheit, which can then be used to generate steam and turn a turbine.

Molten salt facilities are also cheaper. According to Inside Climate News, the Crescent Dunes plant can generate power for $ 0.06 per kilowatt hour. If a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is anything to go by, prices are expected to become even cheaper.

The Need for Energy Storage

Even by its own standards, however, SolarReserve is falling a little behind. The Crescent Dunes plant is supposed to generate 500,000 MWh of electricity per year, but Inside Climate News reports it has yet to reach that goal.

Meanwhile, Spanish engineering company Sener has two projects for Ouarzazate, Morocco in the works that use molten salt. The price of the two projects isn’t quite low enough yet, but the expected price drop could put the company in a prime position to push their CSP projects. Even Google has plans to store renewable energy in molten salt, but it still needs to test its own system to see if it can be used commercially.

SolarReserve's Redstone molten salt project in Africa, an immense field of mirrors arranged in a circle on reddish dirt.
SolarReserve’s Redstone project in Africa. Image Credit: SolarReserve

Before molten salt CSPs can truly begin paving the way to 24-hour solar energy, though, utility officials and energy policymakers need to understand the importance of energy storage, and when renewable energy is needed most. Kevin Smith, CEO of SolarReserve, told Inside Climate News that U.S. utilities “just wanted kilowatt-hours. They didn’t care about when they got them.” In other words, they were less concerned about what time of day the renewable energy would be available to use.

Smith went on to explain that things are changing, with places like California having an excess of renewable energy generated during certain hours of the day. This is something that can only be addressed when the conversation with officials shifts to what to do with this excess energy, and what to do for their power grids as a whole.

“We believe now is the rebirth of the CSP market. And it’s all about storage,” said Smith.

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The Czech Republic May Be Getting Serious About Climate Change

Rate of Reduction

The Czech Republic’s journey towards a clean energy transition is a tortuous one, full of complications and setbacks. Still heavily reliant on coal, which provides the 55 percent of its energy, the country faces similar challenges to neighboring nations such as Poland, where coal provides 80 percent of the total energy mix.

But with its long term climate strategy released by the Ministry of the Environment under the Paris Agreement, the Czech government suggests it can meet new ambitious climate targets. Breaking free from coal and other harmful fossil fuels is a big deal in eastern and northern Europe. As much as they like to promote flashy innovations, European countries still depend on fossil fuels more than they care to admit.

For the Czech Republic, the new plan is an attempt to kickstart a systemic change which should lead to a significant and sustained reduction of its emissions.

By 2020, the country aims to reduce its national emissions by at least 32 Metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-eq) in comparison to those recorded in 2005. By 2030, it hopes to have recorded a drop of at least at least 44 Mt CO2-eq.

Emission Mission

Greenhouse gas emissions in the Czech Republic have dropped significantly over the past thirty years. In 2014 they were 36.7 percent lower than those recorded in 1990 – and over the same time period, emissions across the 28 member countries of the European Union only fell by around 19 percent.

Of course, there’s still plenty of work to do in order to reach the goals set by this new document. Fuel combustion across transport, household use, and services accounts for a large proportion of this activity, over 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and removals in the Czech Republic during 2014.

Personal transport makes up for a sizable amount of these emissions, thanks in no small part to the fact that the amount of private motor vehicles and road freight have increased since 1990. The government’s strategies for reducing this impact is based around alternative fuels and the electrification of the nation’s railways, as well as reducing the amount of road freight in favor of transport by rail.

The country’s industry makes up 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the Czech Republic. For comparison, the sector is responsible for just 7 percent of the E.U. emissions as a whole. To address this, the government has implemented  the State Environmental Policy (SEP) of the Czech Republic 2012–2020, which seeks to improve energy management through audits among other measures.

The challenge here is to balance the importance of climate change targets with the immediate economic and social needs of the population, which would be more easily met through fossil fuels. But with the E.U. funding for struggling coal mines running out in December, a transition to cleaner forms of energy is even more urgent.

The Czech Republic’s goals are informed by the Paris Agreement, and reflect a global effort to address our unsustainable environmental activity. The country stands alongside many others who are enforcing new policies to enact tangible change.

From bans on gas- and diesel-powered cars, to new laws about acceptable limits for greenhouse gas emissions, many of the world’s governments are coming together to take action. The question is, are we doing enough – or is it already too late to turn things around?

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Fracking Is Among the Most Harmful Forms of Energy Production, Study Finds

Low Sustainability

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial process in which highly pressurized water, sand, and chemicals are injected into tight rock formations to open up cracks so that oil and/or natural gas can be extracted.

To determine the potential impact of fracking in the U.K., a group of Manchester scientists ranked it and other energy sources, such as coal, wind, and solar, after considering environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Of the nine energy sources examined, the scientists found that fracking ranked seventh in sustainability.

Their study has been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

To make fracking as sustainable as energy sources higher up on the list, such as wind and solar, there would need to be a staggering 329-fold reduction in environmental impact, according to the researchers.

The team also considered the sustainability of various future scenarios and determined that a scenario in which fracking comprised one percent of the U.K.’s total electricity production was more sustainable than one in which it comprised eight percent.

Fracking in Context

According to the team’s study, most research on fracking focuses on the environmental aspects of the process and largely only in the U.S. They claim the socio-economic aspects are largely overlooked and that theirs is the first study to consider the environmental, economic, and social aspects.

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
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“This enables us to evaluate its overall sustainability rather than focusing on single issues, such as water pollution, traffic, and noise, which have dominated the debate on shale gas so far,” Adisa Azapagic, a professor at the University of Manchester and a corresponding author of the study, told The Independent.

Some nations have banned fracking, and currently, the U.S. is the only country using it on a major scale. Perhaps this U.K. study will prompt a similar study in the U.S., and if the energy source ranks as low Stateside as it did in the U.K., it could encourage proponents to consider more sustainable alternatives.

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China Is the New World Leader in Renewable Energy

Made in China

China continues to be an unstoppable force in the realm of renewable energy. A new report released by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) delves deep into the country’s efforts to lead the world in laying an international foundation for renewable energy generation. The report states that in 2017, China’s total investment in clean-energy projects represented more than $ 44 billion in investment — a significant growth from 2016’s $ 32 billion.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons/WiNG
Image source: Wikimedia Commons/WiNG

According to the report’s lead author, Tim Buckley, IEEFA’s Director of Energy Finance Studies, the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement was an important catalyst for China’s growing renewable energy dominance. “Although China isn’t necessarily intending to fill the climate leadership void left by the U.S. withdrawal from Paris, it will certainly be very comfortable providing technology leadership and financial capacity so as to dominate fast-growing sectors such as solar energy, electric vehicles, and batteries.”

Pushing Coal Out

While the commitment to renewables is impressive, China has not completely divested from its ties to fossil fuels. The country still relies on coal to meet part of its massive energy needs. Still, the nation’s energy portfolio is rapidly expanding beyond fossil fuels as the nation embraces a variety of renewable resources, such as hydro, wind, solar, bioenergy, and other renewables.

China has experienced some serious growth in the past few decades, making it an industrial powerhouse — but with that has come a reputation for dangerous levels of pollution. In recent years, the Chinese government has made significant strides in changing that tide, even going so far as to shut down 40 percent of its factories for not abiding by emissions regulations.

Experts from the International Energy Agency (IEA) are projecting that China’s reliance on coal will continue to decline and its investment in renewable energy projects around the world will continue to grow. With many nations around the world stepping up to more fully embrace renewable energy, the U.S. will have a lot of catching up to do if it hopes to be a force in the renewable energy revolution.

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