Congressional Briefs: Back from Recess

Congress has returned from its summer break. As the House prepares to vote on its Upton-Stearns "No More Solyndras Act," lawmakers also expect to focus on a bill that could prohibit finalization of any Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power plant rules that curb greenhouse gas emissions while carbon capture and storage technology is commercially unavailable. House Democrats, meanwhile, called for hearings to examine the impacts of climate change on the nation’s generators.

No More Solyndras Act

The House is expected to vote on the "No More Solyndras Act," a bill authored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). The legislation "draws on lessons learned" from the committee’s investigation into the Department of Energy’s $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, the California solar panel manufacturer that ultimately went bankrupt last summer.

The bill essentially seeks to phase out the DOE’s loan guarantee program under Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 by prohibiting the DOE from issuing any loan guarantees under Title XVII for applications submitted after December 31, 2011. Title XVII provides broad authority for the DOE to guarantee loans that support early commercial use of advanced technologies.

The bill’s authors say it would protect taxpayers from being "stuck paying hundreds of millions of dollars because of the Obama administration’s or any future president’s risky bets." The bill would hold the DOE and other executive branch officials and policymakers accountable for their "actions" by imposing penalties, including removal from office, suspension without pay, and fines up to $50,000, for violations of the law.

Opponents of the bill have said that consequences of this bill are damaging to business and may go beyond reasonable reforms. "Solar power grew by more than 100% last year, and major investors have credited the Loan Guarantee Program with making private investment in solar more ‘bankable,’" said president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) in an opinion in The Hill.

"Additionally, 35% of all new electricity on the grid since 2007 came from wind power. With billions of dollars in private capital being invested in renewables this year alone, thousands of new jobs are being created in clean energy construction, manufacturing, shipping and research every day."

Curbing GHG Regulations While CCS Is Commercially Unavailable

On Sept. 14, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power is expected to continue a hearing on "The American Energy Initiative." The hearing’s focus will be on H.R. 6172—a bill that prohibits the EPA from finalizing any standards of performance for carbon dioxide emissions from existing or new fossil fuel–fired power plants until carbon capture and storage (CCS) is found to be technologically and economically feasible.

The hearing will discuss the EPA’s March-proposed New Source Performance Standards for power plants, which would require new coal-fired power plants to install CCS technology. "The result of such stringent new standards is a de facto ban on the construction of any new coal-fired power plants," House Republicans say on the subcommittee’s website. Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) introduced H.R. 6172.

House Democrats Call for Hearing on Climate Change Effect on Generators

In a letter to the chairs of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its Energy and Power subcommittee, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) on Monday called for a hearing to examine the impacts of climate change on the nation’s power generators.

The House Democrats cited a Washington Post article that surveyed how record-breaking heat and drought conditions are forcing power plant operators to operate hydroelectric projects and cool fossil fuel–fired and nuclear power plants with less water. The newspaper reported that both Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs on the Colorado River feeding Hoover and Glen Canyon dams are at half their capacity this year, and that lower levels in the Mississippi River have made it harder to transport coal to coal plants in the Midwest.

Examples of climate-stricken generators have been especially prominent this summer, the lawmakers said. Dominion Power was forced to shut down one unit at its Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Connecticut owing to warmer-than-average waters this August, while Exelon Corp. had to receive special permission from federal regulators to continue to operate its Braidwood reactors in Illinois when the units’ cooling water pond’s temperature reached 102 degrees in July. During the summers of 2011 and 2010, the Tennessee Valley Authority had to curtail the output of its Browns Ferry nuclear reactors in Alabama because the temperature of the river used for their cooling water became too warm, the lawmakers said.

The warming problem is expected to worsen, the lawmakers claimed. "The impacts of climate change on our nation’s power plants are real and are happening now. They are imposing costs and logistical challenges today."

Sources: POWERnews, House Energy and Commerce Committee, Washington Post

—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)

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