(Photo by Gidzy via Creative Commons)
While the number of bird deaths caused by wind turbines is small compared to other threats like cars and power lines, the wind industry’s impact on wildlife remains under scrutiny.
The latest example came last month, when an Associated Press investigation concluded that the Obama administration is giving a pass to the wind industry by not prosecuting wind farms when eagles are killed in collisions with their turbines. (Oil and power companies have been charged.)
In the future, the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) hopes to be able to provide better, more precise information about how birds and other wildlife interact with wind farms. For now, though, much of that data is spread out and under wraps.
That’s why AWWI, a five-year-old alliance between 22 wind companies and nine conservation groups, has launched a new project to collect and analyze previously confidential surveys and studies prepared by wind farm operators across the country.
(Photo by pirate johnny via Creative Commons)
When it comes to energy efficiency, a kilowatt-hour saved is more than a penny earned.
Spending money on energy conservation has been a better investment for most utility ratepayers than building new power plants and transmission lines.
In Minnesota, utility conservation programs have returned an average of 8 cents per kWh for every 1.5 cents spent, according to the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE), a nonprofit that promotes efficiency.
Yet the two are rarely compared head-to-head in planning discussions. Savings are generally seen as an accounting adjustment to be made before decisions about how much and what kind of new generation to add to the system.
A subtle change to a state statute this spring seeks to change that by making Minnesota’s “energy efficiency power plant” a part of future energy planning debates.
A train hauls frac sand outside Serena, Illinois in March 2013. (Photo © Matt Lastovich, used with permission)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Blake Sobczak
Mountains of smooth, yellowish sand have built up around rail terminals in the Midwest, en route to U.S. shale oil and gas plays. The chalky “frac sand” keeps crude flowing smoothly during hydraulic fracturing, making it one of the most sought-after commodities in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The budding frac sand industry’s future hinges on the survival of the U.S. shale oil and gas boom. But frac sand’s fate is also tied down to the web of freight railroads that criss-cross the Midwest.
“Rail is really integral to the whole [frac sand] industry,” said Thomas Woletz, senior manager at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “If there is a bottleneck right now, it’s from the transport infrastructure, not the lack of sand or mines. It’s the lack of ability to get it out.”
Home buyers in Minnesota can now get a peek under the siding. (Photo by Amy Doran via Creative Commons)
Like an MPG sticker in new car windows, a new home energy efficiency rating is about to start showing up on real estate listings in the Twin Cities.
NorthstarMLS, whose database lists home sales for Minnesota and western Wisconsin, introduced a new field this month for sellers to add a home energy efficiency score.
Home Energy Ratings System, or HERS scores, have become an industry standard for measuring a home’s efficiency, from the furnace to attic insulation.
The new feature will let Realtors, and eventually the public, search and sort home listings based on their efficiency rating. It also added a field to note other green certifications.
The listings service says the move is in response to growing awareness about energy costs, which for an average U.S. homeowner exceed property taxes and homeowners insurance.
The LaSalle nuclear plant in Illinois. (Photo via NRC)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Hannah Northey
Exelon Corp. is scrapping expansion plans at nuclear plants in Illinois and Pennsylvania because of waning demand for electricity and competition with subsidized wind generators.
The country’s largest owner of nuclear reactors announced Wednesday it would sideline plans to add capacity to its LaSalle nuclear plant 75 miles southwest of Chicago and its Limerick plant 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Exelon has added about 1,400 megawatts of power to the grid by conducting “extended power uprates” at its nuclear plants, a process that involves installing larger pumps and valves with greater capacity to increase a reactor’s output by up to 20 percent.
That process at the LaSalle and Limerick plants, however, was derailed by market conditions and cheap wind, and Exelon has instead decided to take a $100 million hit in the second quarter, according to the filing.
A solar powered livestock watering system in Wyoming. Systems such as this one have been eligible for funding under the REAP program. (Photo by eXtension Farm Energy via Creative Commons)
The Senate passed the Farm Bill Monday night by a vote of 66 to 27 with wide bipartisan support.
Now a big question is whether mandatory funding for clean and renewable energy programs will continue at reduced levels or disappear.
The answer depends on what happens later this summer in the House of Representatives and in conference committee.
Running more than 1,100 pages long, the Senate bill amends a comprehensive law covering food stamps, crop insurance, conservation, and more. Almost 80 percent of the Senate bill’s $955 billion is for the federal food stamp program. Programs for clean and renewable energy get less than 1 percent.
The Senate bill that passed on Monday provides $900 million in mandatory funding over five years for the Rural Energy Assistance Program (REAP), the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), and related programs.
On an annual basis, that comes to $180 million–31 percent less per year than under the 2008 Farm Bill. The 2008 law expired last year but was extended until September 30 as part of January’s fiscal-cliff compromise.
(Photo by Ken Colwell via Creative Commons)
Results of a recent capacity auction show northern Ohio consumers will save millions of dollars in coming years, thanks to the state’s energy efficiency requirements.
However, those benefits could be jeopardized if FirstEnergy succeeds in efforts to weaken the law.
An Ohio administrative order in March required FirstEnergy to bid roughly five times as much energy efficiency into this year’s PJM Interconnection capacity auction as it would otherwise have done.
Together with shifts towards natural gas and greater competition, energy efficiency helped bring northern Ohio’s capacity costs for 2016-2017 way down from last year’s auction. The price for 2016-2017 will be $114.23 per megawatt-day (MW-day), versus last year’s auction price of $357.
Without the order, FirstEnergy’s energy efficiency bids would only have included savings it has already achieved. The PUCO order required FirstEnergy also to bid in 75 percent of the projected savings under the approved energy efficiency plan for 2013 through 2015.
That additional amount was about 160 MW, said FirstEnergy spokesman Doug Colafella. The utility plans to achieve that amount—plus more—before the 2016-2017 period covered by the latest auction.
Those savings represent about 82 percent of PJM’s net gain in energy efficiency in the latest auction. PJM procured a total of 1,117 MW of energy efficiency, which was 21 percent more than it bought in last year’s auction.
(Photo by Melanie Cook via Creative Commons)
Utility customers who own solar panels are doing society a favor, helping to cut carbon emissions and ease transmission line congestion, among other benefits.
Or, they’re power-grid freeloaders, lowering their own electric bills but sticking everyone else with a bigger share of costs for infrastructure they still depend on after dark.
These two competing views of solar power have led to rising tensions in recent years over policies for connecting customer-owned solar arrays to the grid.
Minnesota’s new solar law could help shed some light on that debate.
As part of a broader solar energy bill signed last month by Gov. Mark Dayton, the Gopher State will soon give utilities an alternative to paying customers the retail electricity rate for their unused solar power. Instead, utilities will be able to pay a different rate based on the “value of solar” to their system, including cost-savings to other ratepayers and broader environmental benefits.
The state’s energy office will come up with guidelines for utilities that want to calculate a value-of-solar tariff, and the utilities’ studies will need to be approved by utility regulators.
(Photo by hitchhacking via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Peter Behr
The vast Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota and Montana, a cornerstone of hopes for North American energy production, will need costly, advanced oil recovery strategies in order to tap its full potential over the next few decades, researchers and industry officials say.
Primary oil recovery methods centered on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing will leave 90 to 95 percent of the Bakken and underlying Three Forks oil resource in the ground, said Albert Yost II, manager of exploration and production technology at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown, W.Va.
“We’re only going to get 2 to 10 percent of the barrel out of Bakken with primary recovery,” Yost said in an interview — and results so far are at the lower end of that range.
Producing the rest of the available Bakken resources will require enhanced recovery, most likely through injection of carbon dioxide or raw shale gas underground to increase subsurface pressures and force oil through dense, “tight” rock layers to oil wells, researchers say. “Enhanced oil recovery is going to be a most critical function of the Bakken resource,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
“There is still some effort at delineating the Bakken. But we’re past the gold rush phase of finding out the heart of play,” said Steven Ilkay, a Toronto-based energy consultant. “You’re going to have to use secondary methods.”
(Photo by Kate Ausburn via Creative Commons)
As the population grows, the economy improves and the climate warms in its service territory, Xcel Energy projects rising demand for electricity on hot summer days before the end of the decade.
On April 15, the Minnesota utility proposed meeting that new peak demand by building three 215-megawatt natural gas power plants — one in the Twin Cities and another two in North Dakota.
Six weeks later, though, Xcel and other investor-owned utilities in Minnesota were presented with a new legislative mandate to generate 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar by 2020.
The state’s new solar standard is expected to spur development of an estimated 450 megawatts of solar power over the next six and a half years, which raises the question: does Xcel still need all three of those gas peaking plants?