Archive for May, 2012

Terry McAuliffe on “The cost of an incoherent energy policy”

Posted By Lowell F. on May 31st, 2012

Terry McAuliffe, a cleantech leader (“founder and chairman of GreenTech Automotive and a partner with Franklin Pellets“) in addition to his political activities, has written a strong op-ed in support of clean energy and a “coherent national energy policy.” Here’s an excerpt that focuses on McAuliffe’s state of Virginia, but could apply just about anywhere.

If and when Congress moves forward with energy policies that support renewables, states with strong renewable policies will quickly become leaders in this sector. Unfortunately, Virginia is not going to be one of those states if we do not strengthen our renewable energy policies soon.

A good first step would be upgrading Virginia’s voluntary Renewable Portfolio Standard to a mandatory standard competitive with other states.

Virginia is the only state in the mid-Atlantic that does not require power companies to generate a portion of their energy from renewable sources. Making renewable energy a required part of the mix for all power companies would send an encouraging sign to investors who are considering developing green energy sources in Virginia. By setting mandatory targets for in-state renewable energy production, Virginia could attract talent and capital that is currently going overseas.


What better way to diversify Virginia’s economy than with renewable energy design and production, which would leverage the highly skilled work force built around defense contracting? Domestic renewable energy can also create new jobs for service men and women who are returning from overseas and transitioning to the private sector.

It is time to get serious about the future of our economy. We owe it to our children to ensure that the next 50 years are as prosperous as the half-century that preceded them.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (5/31/12)

Posted By Lowell F. on May 31st, 2012

Here are five recommended reads for today (5/31/12)

  1. Brendan DeMelle of DeSmogBlog has an interesting analysis of “What Chesapeake Energy’s Financial Scandals Mean For The Rest of Us.”
  2. Renewable Energy World reports on “A Gust of Wind Energy Mergers,” including Western Wind Energy acquiring “the entire 4,000-MW wind energy development pipeline of private Champlin/GEI Wind Holdings,” and Alterra Power announcing “a deal to buy four sites in British Colombia from private sellers led by English Bay Ltd.”
  3. Media Matters debunks “myths propagated by the conservative media” about wind power. To the contrary from what Fox News and others say, Media Matters concludes that “wind power is safe, increasingly affordable, and has the potential to significantly reduce pollution and U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.”
  4. Greentechmedia reports, “Six states got 10 percent or more of their power from wind, solar and geothermal power in 2011. That’s double the number from just a year ago. Not bad for a down year.”
  5. According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News: “State regulators with the California Energy Commission are expected to approve stringent energy efficiency standards for new residential and commercial buildings Thursday…the proposed standards also require new homes and commercial buildings to have ‘solar ready roofs’ — a mandatory requirement that will be a boon for the state’s growing rooftop solar industry.”
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Natural Gas “Fracker” Evaluates Own Operations For Important EPA Study, Concludes that All Is Well

Posted By Lowell F. on May 30th, 2012

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in the midst of conducting an important, potentially decisive study on the safety of natural gas “fracking” in the United States. When completed, this study is likely to play a major role in determining the future course of federal policy with regard to this entire natural gas “fracking” industry. In a paper outlining its plan for the study, EPA provides important context and background:

…As the use of hydraulic fracturing has increased, so have concerns about its potential impact on human health and the environment, especially with regard to possible effects on drinking water resources. These concerns have intensified as hydraulic fracturing has spread from the southern and western regions of the US to other settings, such as the Marcellus Shale, which extends from the southern tier of New York through parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, eastern Ohio, and western Maryland…

In response to escalating public concerns and the anticipated growth in oil and natural gas exploration and production, the US Congress directed EPA in fiscal year 2010 to conduct research to examine the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources

In addition, EPA promises that, in conducting its research, it will employ “the best available science, independent sources of information, and a transparent, peer-reviewed process that will ensure the validity and accuracy of the results.” EPA also pledges to “work in consultation with other federal agencies, state and interstate regulatory agencies, industry, non-governmental organizations, and others in the private and public sector in carrying out this study,” including  “work with industry and other stakeholders to conduct two prospective case studies in different regions of the US.”

Theoretically, this approach could work out alright, but as the saying goes, “the devil’s in the details.” Specifically, our question – and, frankly, our serious concern – relates to how much sway the natural gas “fracking” industry itself will end up having over the sources of information feeding into this study, as well as over the analysis of that information.  Ideally, the answer to this question should be “very little influence,” given that the industry has a major financial stake in the outcome and significant influence with policymakers in Congress and elsewhere. In practice, however, at least according to this story by PennEnergy, it sounds like the natural gas industry’s level of influence might be much greater than it should be.  As the PennEnergy story explains:

In a collaborative effort, Chesapeake Energy Corporation consultants collected split samples with the EPA from 15 individual drinking water sources for analysis by accredited laboratories. Chesapeake then commissioned WESTON Solutions, Inc. to critically evaluate the results and compare them with more than 4,000 historic and baseline groundwater samples in the area. Approximately 310 of these samples came from the United States Geologic Survey’s public databases and predate any Marcellus Shale natural gas development activity in the area. Based on the data evaluated, WESTON has concluded these drinking water sources have not been impacted by Marcellus Shale natural gas development activity – including hydraulic fracturing.

So, based on this story at least, it appears that one powerful, wealthy natural gas fracking company – Chesapeake Energy (a company which is currently embroiled in controversy and potential wrongdoing)  – was able to collect its own data, then hire its own consultant to analyze that data they themselves had collected. The result, not coincidentally it would appear, was exactly what Chesapeake Energy would want it to be, namely that “drinking water sources have not been impacted by Marcellus Shale natural gas development activity – including hydraulic fracturing.”

The question is whether the public interest is best served in this way – allowing a major natural gas company, one with a strong vested interest in the results, to collect and test water pollution most likely caused by its own operations, for use in a potentially decisive EPA study regarding future regulation of that company’s own industry. It certainly raises caution flags for us.

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Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (5/30/12)

Posted By Lowell F. on May 30th, 2012

Here are five recommended reads for today (5/30/12)

  1. The New York Times reports, “Across the United States, the [coal] industry is under siege, threatened by new regulations from Washington, environmentalists fortified by money from Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York City, and natural gas companies intent on capturing much of the nation’s energy market.”
  2. According to ClimateProgress, with the decision by auto-parts company LKO, which “had been a major contributor to the Heartland Institute,” to “end their association with climate denial, the “Heartland Institute has now lost over $1 million in expected corporate support for 2012 from 19 different corporations.”
  3. CleanTechnica reports, “While US tariffs on solar products coming from China may cut imports nearly in half, a new study from IHS shows that the impact on total solar system costs is likely to be negligible.“
  4. New statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicate that U.S. solar power generation in the first quarter of 2012 was up 82% over 2011, while wind power generation was up 29% over the same period.
  5. Reuters reports, “Chinese oil and gas company United Energy Group Ltd said on Wednesday it plans to invest $3 billion in a wind farm project in energy-starved Pakistan and is in talks to buy equipment from mainland suppliers.”
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Grist: Clean Energy “Inexpensive, reliable, and inexhaustible”

Posted By Lowell F. on May 30th, 2012

The other day, we wrote about a new study by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., which found that cranking up wind power transmission capacity in the Midwest would save customers billions of dollars a year.  We thought this was an intriguing study, and apparently so did others. For instance, over at Grist, Bill White, who manages the National Clean Energy Transmission Initiative for the Energy Future Coalition, gives us his take:

America has far more than enough renewable energy resources to meet its entire electric demand. World-class renewable resources from wind in the Great Plains to solar in the Southwest could power the whole country more than a dozen times over. The fuel for these power plants, wind and sunlight, are unlimited and will always be free. State renewable energy standards once considered ambitious at 10 to 40 percent now look modest in light of recent growth. Given our current understanding of renewable energy resources, technology, cost, and integration, it’s now realistic to envision a future where renewable resources provide far higher shares of America’s electric generation needs — 80 to 90 percent or more.

The only remaining barriers to achieving such massive increases in renewable energy use are a lack of understanding and a lack of political will. We are overcoming the former as we discover the truth about renewable energy. It’s inexpensive, reliable, abundant, all-American — and yes, it’s still clean.

And keep in mind, clean energy doesn’t come with the negative “externalities” – pollution, damage to peoples’ health, adverse national security consequences, the enormous cost of imported oil – associated with fossil fuels. This means that wind, solar, and other  renewable energy sources are actually even more competitive than reports like the one by Synapse Energy Economics find them to be.  Now, as Bill White argues, all we need is “understanding” and “political will,” and the already-rapid growth of clean energy will only accelerate further.

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