Originally published on August 25, 2015 2:53 pm New oil development is driving a huge demand for power in western North Dakota. The report is full of charts that paint a fascinating picture of the energy industry's greatest challenges.
The natural gas boom increased North Dakota electricity demand by more than a quarter as the rest of the nation dug out from the recession. But while electricity sales were holding steady or decreasing throughout the nation, utilities in some states had little in the way of policy and regulation to keep them financially whole and encourage further investment in energy efficiency.
Making low demand growth more challenging, utilities are increasingly facing these challenges with an aging workforce. Utilities have increased their investment in transmission markedly since 1997, the report finds.
Constraints in gas pipeline infrastructure has caused problems for many utilities recently, especially during last year's Polart Vortex.
The increasing age of gas infrastructure is one of the factors behind pipeline malfunctions, which cause hundreds of injuries and deaths each year. Gas pipeline incidents are on the decline, but are still above levels safety advocates want. Old pipeline infrastructure can be leaky, which poses both safety and environmental concerns. After a pipeline explosion in the 1980s, Indianapolis embarked on a citywide program outlined in the QER to identify and fix gas leaks. Replacing old pipeline is essential to stop leaks and mitigate further greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States remains the world's second biggest carbon producer, and President Obama has made greenhouse gas reduction a focus of his second term.
Experts expect climate change to increase the frequency and severity of precipitation events globally, but those changes will be highly variable based on region. If sea levels rise due to climactic changes throughout this century, electricity infrastructure near the coasts will be at increased risk, especially during severe weather events. That's only a small sample of the insightful information available in the entire report, especially if you are curious about a more detailed analysis of America's natural gas infrastructure. On Tuesday, when temperatures inland soared despite a cooling breeze on the coast, the figure recorded by Iberdrola was 31,569 Megawatt-hours, surpassing the previous Murcia record of 30,425 MW•h which dated back to 29th June 2012.
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Drafting and passing effective public policies is a tricky business that often ends with unexpected and potentially counterproductive results. The examples are plenty in energy and environmental policy where the systems policy interfaces with (utilities, ecosystems, climate, etc.) are particularly complicated and touch nearly every part of human life.
There are two main strategies promoted for tackling emissions and the environmental impact of electricity. From a mixture of policy and market influences, energy efficiency gains in appliances, equipment, and buildings, annual growth in electricity demand decreased significantly in the second half of the twentieth century. In Minnesota, total electricity consumption rose from just over 47,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) in 1990 to about 68,000 in 2012. This reduction in demand growth has implications for energy security (think avoided energy imports), economic growth (think avoided energy costs), and emissions.
On the supply side, greening our electricity system means shifting away from traditional fossil fuel-based generation to renewable and clean generation.
Together, demand and supply side efforts are often seen as a complete, two-pronged policy package for greening electricity. Though this is a sizable piece of the pie, as needed capacity additions decreases, that 24% translates into a smaller and smaller total amount of generating capacity added. That’s not to say that there are other factors that influence or limit the growth of renewable energy. In a study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, coal plants nationwide were analyzed based on their efficiency, generation costs, pollution controls and updates needed.
The state is already looking into the feasibility of upping the Renewable Energy Standard to 40% and is consistently reevaluating energy efficiency programming. Utilities have been scrambling to keep up with this demand, and with new government restrictions on carbon emissions, they’re doing it without new coal generation. Gas drilling mostly accounted for the boom in electricity demand in North and South Dakota, while demand growth in Texas and Louisiana can be attributed mostly to the regions' continued economic growth.
Many are rushing to pull together recruitment plans for younger workers to replace those nearing retirement.
The QER makes it easy to see one reason why — nearly half of the nation's gas pipelines were built in the 1950s or 1960s. Compared to a city like Boston, which had no program until recently, the difference is stunning. Under the administration's proposed Clean Power Plan, DOE forecasts emissions would fall to nearly 30% below 2005 levels by 2025. DOE modeled a variety of flooding scenarios throughout the century for the heavily industrialized Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana.
Sometimes this is a reflection of our lack of understanding of the causes of specific human, environmental, or economic behavior that we seek to alter. On the demand side, energy efficiency and conservation reduce the total amount of energy consumed and the rate of energy demand growth even as the economy and population grows over time.
Like the nation as a whole, the annual rate of increase in GWh consumed has trended down slightly, as shown by the red trend line in the graph below.

A report from McKinsey and Company estimates that 1.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gasses could be avoided if energy efficiency measures were fully deployed.
Though this can include coal with carbon capture and sequestration and, depending on point of view, nuclear energy, policy intervention generally has taken this to mean increasing the proportion of electricity generated by solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass technology. Based on current policy, Minnesota is on track to have 27.4% of total electricity sales generated from renewable resources by 2025.
Indeed, in Minnesota, emissions dropped 3% between 2005 and 2010 and are poised to continue on a downward trend thanks to efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Transmission issues, congestion, variability, cost, and resource availability all effect long term planning and moment to moment dispatch decisions as well. However, given the large proportion coal constitutes in Minnesota’s portfolio, making room for renewables and low carbon alternatives will have to mean taking a closer look at replacing coal.
However, more emphasis, especially in light of new EPA existing power plant emission rules set to be finalized next year, should be given to developing a three-pronged approach to reducing electricity emissions by scaling up energy efficiency and renewable energy and carving out a bigger space for cleaner generation technologies by accelerating the retirement of old, fossil fuel-based plants.
Reporter Emily Guerin of Here & Now contributor Inside Energy takes a look about how this region may be a test case for how to generate more power without coal. Coastal utilities in particular are looking for ways to harden and weather-proof their grids, especially after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Northeast utilities are currently working to harden their grids to prepare for future climate change. Home to countless oil and gas refineries, as well as port facilities for Mississippi River shipping, the Gulf Coast has seen significant economic growth lately, resulting in more electricity demand growth in Texas and Louisiana than many other regions. In Minnesota, the broadest energy efficiency policies are the 1.5% retail sales savings goal and Conservation Improvement Program (CIP). Renewable energy capacity is expected to increase by 69% by 2040 with a more than 140% increase in non-hydro renewable generation.
This does not include the new 1.5% solar mandate and, depending on the political atmosphere and results of a feasibility study, could increase substantially if the RES goal is adjusted up to 40%. As a result, the total amount of capacity added per year is actually down significantly (though expected to tick back up sometime in the next decade). The report concluded that between 16.4 and 59 GW of coal-fired generation capacity is ripe for retirement now, 680 MW of which is located in Minnesota. At the same time, the public is becoming more opposed to coal-fired plants, most notably the Sherco power plant, the 21st biggest polluter in the nation.
Read more on this story via Inside Energy Reporter Emily Guerin, reporter for Inside Energy, based in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Though frustrating, these unexpected outcomes provide the empirical data to better understand and improve policymaking and illuminate how sometimes disparate processes or parts of human society interact. Of what capacity additions are forecasted to come online in the coming years, 73% will likely be natural gas power plants with renewables making up 24%.

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