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POLITICO New York Energy: ESCO reforms; building codes changes

By David Giambusso and Scott Waldman

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AMID LEGAL BATTLE, REGULATORS TALK REFORM OF ESCOs — POLITICO New York’s Scott Waldman: The state is grappling with how best to ensure tighter enforcement of energy service companies, or ESCOs, without crippling the industry, even as the Cuomo administration moves quickly to reform it. At a joint meeting Tuesday to determine how to remove the dishonest companies without harming the honest ones, discussion by state officials and company representatives centered on whether ESCOs should have to post performance bonds or otherwise demonstrate their financial capability in order to protect consumers. The meeting was cordial and largely procedural — especially considering the intense battles both sides are still fighting in court on a number of fronts.

URBAN GREEN COUNCIL URGES CHANGE IN BUILDING CODES — Politico New York’s David Giambusso: Mayor Bill de Blasio's buildings working group is about two months late with recommendations it was supposed to make on cutting building emissions, but one of the biggest players in the group has released a report detailing ideas for reducing carbon emissions in city buildings. The Urban Green Council examined five cities around the world and how they approach cutting building emissions. The group, which routinely counsels New York on building efficiency, praised the city for its ambition, but suggested New York's codes could be significantly improved to help reach de Blasio's stated goal of cutting building emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

STATE ADOPTS NEW LIMITS FOR ROOF SOLAR PANELS — Poughkeepsie Journal’s John Ferro: “The state has adopted new limits on roof space for solar panels. But the new rules are less restrictive than originally proposed and will not undermine the value of solar for most homeowners, according to industry officials. The state had proposed building codes requiring solar panels be placed at least 3 feet from the edge of any part of a roof in order to facilitate access for firefighters. The regulations adopted Wednesday by the state Fire Prevention and Building Code Council call for a 3-foot border on an opposing roof slope — often a north-facing side where panels typically are not installed — so long as that side has adequate access points.”

ACTIVISTS DEMAND ACTION AGAINST INDUSTRIAL CHEMICAL IN WATER — The Associated Press’ Mary Esch: “Prized for its ability to make things super-slick, it was used for decades in the manufacture of Teflon pans, Gore-Tex jackets, ski wax, carpets and the linings of pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags. Now, with the suspected cancer-causing chemical PFOA being phased out in the U.S., it is still very much around, turning up in the water in factory towns across the country — most recently in upstate New York and Vermont — where it is blamed by residents for cancers and other maladies. The latest cases have brought renewed demands that the Environmental Protection Agency regulate PFOA the way it does arsenic, lead and dozens of other contaminants, and set stringent, enforceable limits on how much of the substance can be in drinking water.”

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--Environmentalists don’t necessarily see success in New York after federal regulators issued a rare rejection of a natural gas pipeline on the West Coast.

--More than 400 properties across Massachusetts face eminent domain fights as a result of the proposed Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline.

--Mark Dunlea argues in CityLimits that U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer is wrong in his contention that there is not enough replacement power to shut down Indian Point.

GOOD WEDNESDAY MORNING: Let us know anytime if you have tips, story ideas or life advice. We're always here at and And if you like this letter, please tell a friend and/or loved one. Here’s a handy sign-up link:

ATLANTIC DRILLING OFF THE TABLE — The New York Times’ Coral Davenport: “When the Obama administration unveiled a proposal last January to open the southeastern Atlantic coast to oil and gas drilling for the first time, environmental advocates were shocked and enraged — and the oil industry was delighted. The emotions were the same, just on opposite sides of the energy-environmental divide, when the Interior Department announced Tuesday that the administration was yanking Atlantic drilling off the table. And almost everyone was shocked. In the balance between business demands and environmental conservation, President Obama has shown clearly where he wants his legacy to lean. He has killed the Keystone XL pipeline, announced a moratorium on coal extraction from federal lands, and now, after first signaling that he would approve East Coast oil drilling, he has opted to keep the oil under the sea.”

SOLARCITY RAISING MILLIONS — Bloomberg’s Brian Eckhouse: “SolarCity Corp., the biggest U.S. rooftop solar company, has raised more in the asset-backed securities market this year than the industry completed in all of 2015, and developers are poised to exceed the record set in 2014. SolarCity sold $235 million of solar-power bonds in two deals this year, according to a report Monday by Marathon Capital LLC. That’s more than the $234 million total for last year, when the company was joined by Sunrun Inc. SolarCity raised in 2014 about $272 million in debt backed by long-term receivables from rooftop leases and installment financing.”

SHALE COMPANIES UNABLE TO RAMP UP OIL OUTPUT — The Wall Street Journal’s Alison Sider, Chester Dawson, Erin Ailworth: “The U.S. was supposed to be the world’s new swing oil producer, able to nimbly open and close the taps in response to market forces, thanks to its bounty of shale fields. But as oil prices show some signs of stabilizing, American producers and oilfield-services companies are warning that they may not be able to jump-start drilling. The reason: Many independent companies are too financially strapped, have let go too many workers, or have idled too much equipment to immediately ramp up again. ‘The balance sheets of these shale-only producers have to be repaired for them to get back to drilling,’ said John Hess, the chief executive of Hess Corp. ‘That’s going to curb any recovery.’”

WHITE PETROLEUM AND BATTERIES — Reuters’ Rosalba O’Brien and Rod Nickel: “Far from the soy and cattle that dominate its vast fertile pampas, Argentina harbors another valuable commodity that is rocketing in price and demand and luring newly welcomed foreign investors. Lithium, the so-called "white petroleum", drives much of the modern world. It forms a small but essentially irreplaceable component of rechargeable batteries, used in consumer devices like mobile phones and electric cars. It also has pharmaceutical and other applications. Over half of the earth's identified resources of the mineral are found in South America's ‘lithium triangle,’ an otherworldly landscape of high-altitude lakes and bright white salt flats that straddles Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.”

HATCH LAUNCHES GREEN GRANT PROBE — The Wall Street Journal: “A senior U.S. senator has begun an initial inquiry into a federal stimulus plan that has distributed roughly $25 billion in cash grants to solar companies and other “green energy” firms during the Obama administration. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) sent a letter [Tuesday] to the administration questioning how the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service have overseen the grant program and asking for detailed information about how grant money was awarded. Letters from lawmakers such as Mr. Hatch, who is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, often lead to formal investigations by Congress.”

DESPERATE ENERGY COMPANIES TURN TO HEDGE FUNDS — Reuters: “U.S. energy companies facing a likely cut in their bank loans are seeking a costly alternative — borrowing from private equity firms at hefty interest rates to stay alive for longer. In a sign of the times, U.S. oil and gas producer Clayton Williams Energy Inc said this month it was borrowing $350 million from private equity firm Ares Management LP to replace an equivalent loan from a group of banks. The loan from Ares is the first publicly-known deal of its kind, and does not come cheap. Ares will charge interest rates more than triple that collected by banks, win the rights to buy up to 18.5 percent of outstanding Clayton shares and can appoint two directors to Clayton's board. Crucially, it could also give Ares control over Clayton's assets if it should fall into bankruptcy.”

EFFICIENT TELEVISION — The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney: “Some Americans watch way more [television] than others, and therein lies a potential opportunity to save energy. Such is the finding of a new study in Energy Policy, by Ashok Sekar and two colleagues from the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which proposes an intriguing way to lower the nation’s overall home energy use. Namely, it suggests that power companies should create incentives for the purchase of new and highly efficient TVs among that select group of people who spend the most time each day in front of the television.”

GETTING SOLAR TO LOW-INCOME RESIDENTS — Greentech Media’s Julia Pyper: “There are 6 million affordable housing units and 22 million households defined as low-income in the United States. Bringing solar to these homes stands to benefit many Americans — but experts say it isn’t easy. The falling cost of solar equipment and increased scale of the industry have created opportunities for solar to provide financial relief, stable employment, and improved environmental health in underserved communities. But these communities also face a unique set of challenges, according a new report from Grid Alternatives, Vote Solar and the Center for Social Inclusion.”

THE LANGUAGE WE USE — Bloomberg: “The term ‘global warming,’ which describes an increase in the Earth's average temperature surface due to greenhouse gas emissions, is widely believed to have been coined in 1975 by Columbia University geochemist Wallace Broecker, according to NASA. Meanwhile, ‘climate change,’ which describes a long-term change in the Earth's climate, appeared a few years later in a 1979 National Academy of Science study on carbon dioxide. A May 2014 Yale University study found that while ‘climate change’ appears to be preferred by scientists, ‘global warming’ can evoke stronger emotions and issue engagement for some groups of people. While those mentions in the professional media tracked by Bloomberg show a clear trend, the general public is pretty evenly split.”


--Oil drops on oversupply: Oil fell again Tuesday on continued oversupply, The Wall Street Journal’s Tim Puko reports.

“Light, sweet crude for April delivery settled down 84 cents, or 2.3%, to $36.34 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent, the global benchmark, fell 79 cents, or 2%, to $38.74 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.”

--Natural gas rallies on little more than vague hopes, the Journal reports.

“Futures for April delivery settled up 3.2 cents, or 1.8%, at $1.851 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It is the highest settlement since Feb. 18.”

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