Electrification May Be Key to Saving Utilities and the Environment

by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Instructor

These are uncertain times for electric utilities. With flat load growth, increasing Straight open road to upcoming 2017 at idyllic sunsetdistributed energy, shrinking value for many large centralized power plants, and discussion around changing business models, electric utility shareholders are left wondering from where future earnings growth will come. Meanwhile, despite the current administration in Washington, utilities in many regions are feeling increasing pressure to reduce environmental impacts.

Historically, utilities have grown earnings by investing in capital facilities as loads grew. Large fossil fuel power plants were a favored source of investment. Customers were generally on board since growing loads meant costs were spread over more sales and rates did not go up much.  However, load growth now appears uncertain. As recently stated by Jim Rogers, the former CEO of Duke Energy:

“I think the demand for electricity is going to be anemic, at best. Perhaps more likely than not, the demand for electricity will actually decline.”

Without demand growth, the path for utility investment seems restricted to system upgrades.  Unfortunately, investment without load growth inevitably leads to rate increases. But, there may be a new path to load growth that will help utilities find a new wave of growth while also benefiting the environment. 

Jim Avery, Chief Development Officer at San Diego Gas & Electric, believes electric vehicles (EVs) are the solution. Says Avery: “Think I’m worried about growth? I’m worried about how the hell do I serve all of that.” 

The potential for load growth and environmental benefits was covered in a recent whitepaper from the Brattle Group, titled Electrification – Emerging Opportunities for Utility Growth. In the executive summary, the authors write that under the current prevailing paradigm, utilities struggle with weak sales and growing distributed generation (DG) while projections show that emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) will continue to exceed what is needed to meet long-term GHG reduction goals. But the authors suggest that with electrification of the transportation and heating sectors coupled with a significant reduction in GHG outputs from electric generation, a different paradigm can be achieved that offers a strong future to electric utilities. Under this scenario, electric utility sales could nearly double by 2050 while energy sector GHG emissions would decrease by 70%. 

To make this happen, the authors suggest that electric utilities could strive to shift loads to electricity from fossil fuels. The benefits could be achieved by addressing two key sectors:

  1. Transport
  • Light duty vehicles including passenger vehicles such as the cars we all drive
  • Commercial light trucks
  • Freight trucks

For this sector, current liquid fossil fuels would be replaced with battery electric vehicles.

  1. Residential and commercial loads:
  • Water heating
  • Space heating
  • Cooking

Here, current demand fueled by natural gas, propane, and fuel oil would gradually be replaced by heat pumps, electric water heaters, and electric ranges. 

The result according to the Brattle Group could be a 96% growth in electric load coupled with a 72% decrease in U.S. energy-related GHG emissions.


How can utilities move toward this more positive future? Brattle Group suggests the following:

  • Regulatory outreach to communicate the potential benefits and to overcome barriers
  • Infrastructure deployment to build vehicle charging facilities
  • Rate reform to remove barriers to electricification and to account for the characteristics of the new end-use technologies
  • Program development including pilot projects and financial incentives to promote adoption
  • Resource planning including enhanced load shape forecasting and analysis of cost trajectories and adoption rates

While utilities currently struggle with the risks of slow load growth and potential competition from distributed resources, the Brattle Group presents a vision of an alternate future that could prove lucrative for utility investors. 

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Can Carbon Capture and Storage Do for Coal What President Trump Can’t?

by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Instructor

A key promise of Trump’s presidential campaign was revitalization of the coal industry to Smoking power plantmaintain coal-related jobs in the U.S. But as we pointed out in our Energy Insider article  “The Election Is Over: What’s In Store for the Energy Industry Under the Next Administration?”, it is unlikely that administration policies will do much to help a coal industry reeling from low natural gas prices combined with local and international energy policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Indeed, since the inauguration, U.S. utilities have announced planned closures of the largest coal unit in the West and two large coal units in the Midwest[1]. And China, with its current fleet of more than 50% of the world’s coal capacity and more under construction, seems to be serious about reducing coal emissions[2].

But perhaps for the longer term, the coal industry saw a hint of light at the beginning of 2017 with the completion of the Petra Nova carbon capture plant southwest of Houston, Texas. Unlike other recent carbon capture generation units, the Petra Nova plant was completed essentially on time and on budget. The unit will capture 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO2, which is a key GHG) emitted from 240 MW of generation and will then pump the carbon through a pipeline for injection into a nearby oil field. The injection of the carbon will help producers capture more oil by stimulating flows, and the producers will pay Petra Nova for the CO2, thus creating a revenue stream for the power plant owners.

What is carbon capture and storage?

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of removing carbon from a fossil fuel stream, either pre- or post-combustion, and then storing the carbon in a location where it cannot leak into the atmosphere. If CCS can become feasible and economic, it can greatly prolong the use of fossil fuels in power generation since their GHG emissions would be significantly reduced. While CCS works in laboratories and demonstration projects, it has yet to be demonstrated in wide-scale commercial operation. Initial projects have struggled to get the technology to work well and to get projects built and running without wildly exceeding estimated costs.

So, the coal industry is celebrating as the new Petra Nova project comes online on time and on budget. This project is jointly owned by NRG and JX Nippon Oil and Gas, and it was installed on NRG’s existing WA Parrish generation station. In the new CCS plant, the exhaust waste from the electric generating station is run through a vessel containing a solvent called amine. Amine captures the CO2. The amine/CO2 mixture is then removed from the stream, the CO2 is separated by heating, and then pumped into a pipeline. The pipeline delivers the CO2 to a nearby oil field for use in a common process called enhanced oil recovery, which stimulates oil production. Since the process will result in oil production that was otherwise not possible, NRG estimates that at an oil price of at least $50/barrel, the process will prove economic[3].

Here’s a visual representation of how the process works as reported by U.S. News and illustrated by NRG:

source: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/09/17/carbon-captures-moment-in-the-sun

Does CCS have the opportunity to significantly reduce GHG emissions?

The role CCS plays as a widespread tool in reducing GHG emissions will depend on proving that the technology will work well in the field and in bringing down costs. Initial installations of any technology are always expensive. NRG estimates they can bring down costs for the next installation by 15%, but this likely isn’t enough to lead to many installations; costs will have to come down more substantially.

A recent study by the International Energy Agency, however, suggested that about a third of China’s existing 900 MW fleet of coal units could meet basic criteria for being suitable for a retrofit[4].  So although applications for CCS must still be proven, there is the possibility that use of CCS could become widespread through retrofits on existing coal plants.  In addition many in the industry believe that CCS may be a solution for reducing GHG emissions from natural gas units that provide needed flexibility to grids with large amounts of renewable power. Given these factors, there is strong industry interest in developing the technology, and initial projects will be closely watched to help determine whether CCS can become a part of our future.


[1] See ‘Utilities vote to close 2,250 MW Navajo plant, largest coal generator in western US’ at http://www.utilitydive.com/news/utilities-vote-to-close-2250-mw-navajo-plant-largest-coal-generator-in-we/436222/ and ‘DPL settlement to close two power plants, shift to green energy’ at http://www.bizjournals.com/dayton/news/2017/01/31/dpl-settlement-to-close-two-power-plants-shift-to.html

[2] See ‘China’s war on coal continues – the country just cancelled 104 new coal plants’ at  http://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/1/17/14294906/china-cancels-coal-plants

[3] For more detail on how the process works, see the video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGnGZ6pLzLU

[4] See ‘The potential for carbon capture and storage in China’ at https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2017/january/the-potential-for-carbon-capture-and-storage-in-china.html

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Renewable Natural Gas: A Viable Fuel for Power Generation and Transportation

by Christina Nagy-McKenna, Enerdynamics Instructor

Most of us think of natural gas as a reliable, plentiful fossil fuel. Less discussed is its renewable equivalent: biomethane, a biogas that is the result of the decomposition of organic matter. Once processed, this biogas can be a substitute for pipeline-quality gas and gas used for transportation fuel either as compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). By reclaiming methane from landfills, livestock operations, and waste water treatment plants, renewable natural gas (RNG) is being used to produce electricity and to fuel large trash and recycling vehicles. Use of RNG in the clean transportation section has strong potential to help states meet their federal and state fuel standards for reduced petroleum product use.

There are three major sources of biogas in the United States:

  • Landfills: At landfill sites, methane is extracted, collected, and then processed until it is clean enough for use.

  • Livestock operations: At livestock facilities like dairies and pig farms, farmers may collect manure and place it in an anaerobic digester that produces methane, or they may maintain a lagoon that contains manure, which they then cover to capture the methane.
  • Wastewater treatment plants: At these treatment plants, biogas is recovered during the digestion of solid materials that are removed from wastewater treatment. Once biogas is recovered at such facilities, it is processed until water, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other impurities are removed.

Depending on whether the gas goes directly to a power plant, a pipeline, or if it will be made into a transportation fuel, it is cleaned to the appropriate specifications.

While it is helpful that RNG can be used as a substitute for traditional natural gas, it is also valuable because it meets the requirements as an Advanced Biofuel under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS was authorized by Congress as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and then expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Its goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a more robust renewable fuel sector while reducing U.S. reliance on imported oil.

One of the most successful RNG projects in the U.S. can be found at the Waste Management Inc. Altamont Landfill in Livermore, Calif. A joint venture between WMI and Linde BOC, the project can consume more than 2,600 standard cubic feet per minute (scfm) of landfill gas and has an operational capacity of 13,000 LNG gallons per day. This LNG displaces more than 2.8 million gallons of diesel fuel per year.[1] According to Waste Management, the project achieved a capture rate of 93 percent; it produces enough LNG to fuel 300 of its 491 LNG vehicles, which collect waste and recycling.

The Altamont project gives us a glimpse into what is possible in recovering landfill gasses and processing them into RNG. As of March 2015, there were close to 645 operational projects at landfills around the country. Most, however, convert biogas into electricity rather than using it as transportation fuel. As of January 2015, there were also 247 anaerobic digesters operating at commercial livestock facilities nationwide. Lastly, there are approximately 1,500 anaerobic digesters being used in the U.S. at 16,000 wastewater treatment plants.[2]

 Thus, the potential for improvement and expansion is great. The time has come to acknowledge RNG as a viable form of natural gas and transportation fuel that may be well-suited to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet renewable fuel standards goals.

Footnotes and references:

[1] Altamont Landfill Gas Purification, Testing, and Monitoring, Gas Technology Institute for the California Energy Commission, October 2013, page 2.

[2] Renewable Natural Gas (Biomethane) Production, U.S. Department of Energy – Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alternatives Fuels Data Center, May 10, 2016, page 1.

Altamont Landfill Gas Purification, Testing and Monitoring, Final Project Report, Gas Technology Institute for the California Energy Commission, October 2013.

“Biogas/Biomethane for Use as a Transportation Fuel,” European Biofuel Technology Platform web site www.biofuelstp.eu, September 9, 2016.

“Biomass Explained,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, November 12, 2015.

Biomethane, NGV America web site www.ngvamerica.org., 2014 Inc., 2011.

“Case study: Altamont Landfill and Resource Recovery Facility,” Waste Management Inc. website,www.wm.com.

Jaffe, Amy Meyers, The Feasibility of Renewable Natural Gas as a Large Scale, Low Carbon Substitute, UC Davis Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways, Institute of Transportation Studies for the California Air Resources Board and the California Environmental Protection Agency, June 2016.     

Renewable Natural Gas (Biomethane) Production, U.S. Department of Energy – Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alternatives Fuels Data Center, May 10, 2016.

Resources – Education, The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas website, www.rngcoalition.com.

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From Where Will the Next Wave of Energy Research and Development Come?

by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Instructor

Energy is fundamental to modern life. Yet according to the International Energy Agency, more than 1.2 billion people live without access to electricity, and more than 2.7 billion are without clean cooking facilities. All desire to have access to ubiquitous and low-cost energy.

As Microsoft founder Bill Gates notes in the video Energy Innovation, modern lifestyles require huge amounts of energy. And given that “the energy miracle that has allowed modern civilization” is primarily based on fossil fuels, raising billions of people’s access to energy-consuming lifestyles will inevitably have severe environmental impacts unless we change our means of energy production.Teamwork and brainstorming concept

Many technologies that reduce environmental degradation already exist. In the power sector these include:

  • replacing coal generation with nuclear or gas-fired generation;
  • replacing coal and gas generation with renewable electricity;
  • and reducing end-use consumption through energy efficiency.

In the transport sector, these include replacing gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles with natural gas vehicles and replacing all fossil-fuel vehicles with electric vehicles (as long as the source of electricity is clean). But there is debate as to whether our current set of technologies is robust enough to provide ubiquitous, clean, low-cost, and reliable energy.

Gates and others believe that fundamental research is needed to create the next wave of transformational technology. Yet, the U.S. government currently provides surprisingly little budget support for energy:


So where will future research come from? The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is a partnership of business leaders “committed to broad investment in new energy technologies from public and private sources.”

Partners include familiar names such as Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg LP), Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Jack Ma (Alibaba), Meg Whitman (HP), and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) among others. The coalition is working with a group of 20 countries worldwide (called Mission Innovation) to foster government/private partnerships with a goal of moving from basic research to breakthrough technologies in the marketplace.

To further their goals, some members of the coalition have formed Breakthrough Energy Ventures and have committed $1 billion to invest in early-stage companies committed to developing new energy technologies.


The vision is that initial government funding will support basic research that will ultimately lead to innovations in the marketplace. Key potential areas of investment include electricity generation, transmission, and storage; carbon capture and sequestration; and transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings.

Will this propel society to a new level of energy access? That remains to be seen. But in an era of shrinking government budgets and industry turmoil that discourages energy companies from spending money on R&D, it is encouraging to see some of the most successful and brilliant minds in the world working together on a solution.


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Do Your Employees Understand Wholesale Power Markets?

by Enerdynascreen_marketsmics Staff

Do your employees understand the electric services that are bought and sold in wholesale markets? Do they know which services are traded in bilateral, exchange, and centralized ISO markets? Can they explain to coworkers and customers how these markets work and how prices are determined? Are they able to analyze business opportunities and risks in the various wholesale markets? If not, Enerdynamics’ newest online course, Wholesale Power Markets, can help.

The course is actually a major update/upgrade to an existing course. Recently released, Wholesale Power Markets focuses on the electric services bought and sold in wholesale markets and replaces Electric Market Dynamics. Power markets have become increasingly important in recent years with the growth of gas-fired generation owned by independent power producers, the increase in renewables, and the expansion of ISO market areas. As a result, a clear understanding of how markets are organized as well as how services are traded is essential to many in the industry.

This updated course provides the most current information on power markets to keep your employees informed of what’s happening now in this fast-paced industry. Frequent updates also allow your employees to receive the benefits of technology evolution — Wholesale Power Markets is now available for viewing on all platforms including desktops, tablets, and even mobile phones.

Wholesale Power Markets comprises the following modules:

  • Introduction to Wholesale Power Markets
  • Power Market Structures and Participants
  • Electric Supply and Demand
  • Power Services and Markets
  • How Power Markets Work

As with all of Enerdynamics’ online courses, Wholesale Power Markets includes quality audio and graphics, interactive exercises and quizzes, and valuable material downloads. It can be viewed continuously or in small increments as an employee has time. View a short demo of Wholesale Power Markets or get more details on the course and its content.

The full-length course can be purchased or licensed on its own, or the modules are also available on a stand-alone basis. For more information and bulk pricing options, please contact John Ferrare at 866-765-5432 ext. 700 or info@enerdynamics.com.

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What Can the Energy Industry Expect Under the Trump Administration? Part II

by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator

Last week we looked at how the incoming Trump administration may or may not significantly impact What's next on the chalk board and US flagthe energy industry, particularly the natural gas and coal sectors. This week we continue the discussion but are examining how a Trump presidency may impact renewables, energy efficiency, and electric transmission/distribution sectors.


Possible Trump policies impacting the renewable energy business:

  • Support for fossil fuel development
  • Reduced support by federal agencies for renewables and reduced funds for research and grants
  • Possible reversal of environmental regulations and international agreements that foster renewables development, especially the CPP and the Paris Agreement
  • Reduction in corporate tax rates
  • Support for infrastructure development

Possible impacts on markets:

  • For utility markets, the current development is driven by two factors: state level renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and economics (in cases where renewables are chosen for economic reasons in the Integrated Resource Planning). It does not appear that federal policies will impact existing state RPSs. As long as the Production Tax Credit stays in place, federal policies will not adversely affect the economic attractiveness of renewables.
  • Many renewable projects are being driven by corporate buyers (numerous big corporations now have significant goals to buy renewable power for economic or business policy reasons). It does not appear that federal policy will impact these goals.
  • Full implementation of the CPP could mean states that do not strongly support renewables must move to renewables to achieve CPP requirements. If the Trump administration fails to implement or enforce the CPP, we may see reduced growth in states implementing new RPS requirements.
  • Reduction in research, grants, and federal agency support for renewables may restrict future growth that otherwise may have occurred.
  • Reduction in tax rates improves the economics of large capital projects such as renewables development.
  • If Trump’s support for infrastructure includes federal policies to stimulate modernization of electric transmission and distribution this could further the capability of the grid to economically absorb more renewables.

Net impacts on renewables:

The negative impact on renewables may be less than it appears on the surface. Since initial growth in renewables has been stimulated by market developements, support by states, cost reductions, and Obama administration polices, future federal policy may not be a big factor. And paradoxically, some policies such as lower tax rates and infrastructure support may provide a boost to renewables. Also, it’s important to remember that much of Trump’s support came from Midwestern states that have been successful in profiting from development of wind power resources. So repeal of the Production Tax Credit appears unlikely.


Energy Efficiency

Possible Trump policies impacting energy efficiency:

  • Support for fossil fuel growth, reduction in regulations, and “getting government out of the way” would appear to foreshadow a lack of support for energy efficiency initiatives (though Trump has been very silent on the topic of energy efficiency).

Possible impacts on markets:

  • Reduced federal regulations such as appliance standards that foster energy efficiency may result in reduced growth in energy efficiency.
  • Reduced federal agency support could result in less government spending on energy efficiency.

Net impacts on energy efficiency:

Possible reduction in emphasis on and support for energy efficiency initiatives.


Electric Transmission and Distribution

Possible Trump policies impacting electric T&D:

  • Reduction in tax rates
  • Support for infrastructure development

Possible impacts on markets:

  • Reduction in tax rates would improve project economics.
  • If Trump includes the electric system in his apparent push for infrastructure development, policies could help stimulate growth and modernization of T&D systems.

Net impacts on electric T&D:

The potential impacts are uncertain, but we could see a boost in T&D modernization.

So, in conclusion, what can we say about a Trump administration’s impact on energy markets? In this case, it appears that markets trump (sorry for the pun) presidential politics. While the new administration may seem like an extreme departure from Obama’s policies, it appears that when actual market impacts are considered, the change may prove to be not much at all.

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What Can the Energy Industry Expect Under the Trump Administration?

by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator

President Obama took office eight years ago determined to address the United States’ emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). The President was unsuccessful in getting Congress to take much action other than extending renewable production tax credits. And when Obama attempted to use regulation instead of Congressional action to address greenhouse gases, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) became tied up in court.

But interestingly, market forces aided by actions of federal agencies have surprisingly helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently reported that U.S. energy-related greenhouse gases for the first six months of 2016 are the lowest since 1991. Federal policies fostered by the DOE, Defense Department, FERC, and other agencies helped stimulate growth of green technologies including renewables, storage, and smart grids. Increases in energy efficiency kept electric loads from growing even as the economy rebounded. The Obama administration also supported natural gas development — U.S. natural gas production grew by 33% since Obama took office, and U.S. exports of natural gas grew by 117%. So now as we transition to the Trump administration, what changes can we expect?

It’s hard to predict as there seems to be a significant gulf between Trump’s campaign statements and his statements as president-elect. But looking at what we know, it appears that while regulatory direction and other policies will change, the ultimate market direction will surprisingly be no different than under Obama. This means we can anticipate more growth of natural gas and renewables, ongoing decline in coal, and more reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

This week, let’s look at how a new administration may impact the natural gas and coal industries. Next week we’ll conclude with a look at the renewables, energy efficiency, and electric transmission/distribution sectors.

Natural gas

Possible Trump policies impacting the gas business:

  • Ease in restrictions concerning drilling on federal lands
  • Reduction of federal environmental regulations of gas production
  • Strong federal support for hydraulic fracturing
  • Quickened approvals on new pipeline projects
  • Support for growth in gas exports
  • Support for growth of U.S.-based manufacturing
  • Support for coal

Possible impacts on market:

  • Costs of production may slightly decline due to cheaper land availability and less money spent on environmental protection.
  • But, given that we are already in a supply glut, this may not change dynamics much as producers don’t have the market for any new supplies they could theoretically access.
  • New pipeline projects could help move gas from regions with excess supply to markets, but currently the barriers to new pipeline development generally are either economic or due to local opposition, so this may not have much impact.
  • In theory, growth in gas exports and growth in U.S. manufacturing could boost demand for natural gas and thus help support price. Petrochemical development in the Northeast could help boost demand there. As for exports, there is already a global glut of LNG supply, so in the short term it appears that exports to Mexico are the primary growth engine. Trump has talked extensively about the negative aspects of trade with Mexico, which may impede this scenario.
  • If coal makes a comeback, it will primarily reduce gas-fired electric generation.  We don’t believe this will occur much (see coal section of this article), but if it does, it will offset any demand growth from manufacturing.

Net impacts on natural gas:

Not a significant change; perhaps lower overall natural gas prices and slightly more demand.


Possible Trump policies impacting the coal business:

  • Ease in restrictions on coal development on federal lands
  • Ease in environmental rules (or maybe ease in enforcement of current rules) on coal-fired generation
  • Maybe other federal policies concerning tax benefits or subsidies to try to maintain employment in coal industry
  • Desire to foster coal exports

Possible impacts on markets:

  • Trump policies may extend the life of some coal-fired power plants that are currently marginal since plant owners may not be required to install emissions technologies. But many of these units have been retired already or are uneconomic compared to alternatives.
  • And, given that it appears that Trump’s policies may reduce natural gas prices, coal will be less competitive vis-à-vis gas.
  • Paradoxically for units owned by utilities, older depreciated assets that do not require new capital investment become less attractive since capital investment is what generates utilities’ earnings. In some cases, this may reduce a utility’s interest in keeping older units open.
  • Possible ongoing growth in renewables mixed with low gas prices will reduce potential revenue for coal units in competitive markets.
  • Exports could grow, but federal policy is not likely the issue currently limiting exports. Most incremental global demand for coal is from Asia, whereas current U.S. export capability is on the East Coast. Recent attempts to expand port facilities in Washington and Northern California to foster coal shipping have met extreme local opposition that the federal government may be unable to overcome.

Net impacts on coal:

Not much impact, although the life of certain marginal electric generation units may be extended.

As mentioned, next week we’ll examine how renewables, energy efficiency, and electric transmission/distribution may be impacted.

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