A new study says drilling activity, like this well pad in North Dakota, has claimed millions of acres across the U.S. and Canada. (Photo by Chris Boyer, Kestrel Aerial Services / NPCA via Creative Commons)
Drilling for oil and gas, which has increased substantially in many parts of the country over the past decade, has impacted millions of acres of agricultural and range land, according to researchers.
A study published today in the journal Science found that between 2000 and 2012, about 7 million acres – the rough equivalent of three Yellowstone National Parks – was given over to well pads and related roads. About half of the acreage was rangeland, and roughly another 40 percent was cropland and 10 percent forestland. A very small amount was wetland.
The researchers calculated that crop production lost due to drilling amounted to 130 million bushels of wheat, about 6 percent of the wheat produced in 2013 in the region under study. →
Michigan Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to double the state’s efficiency and renewable energy standards by 2022.
The “Powering Michigan’s Future” bill package, announced by a bicameral group of Democratic lawmakers in Lansing, heads to committee in both Republican-controlled chambers where it faces an uncertain future.
Michigan Republicans are looking to abandon the renewable energy standard (PA 295) that passed with bipartisan support in 2008.
When the 10 percent renewable energy standard levels off at the end of the year, both Republican chairs of energy committees want to move to an Integrated Resource Plan process, saying that could drive utilities to pursue renewable and efficiency efforts if it makes sense financially and to comply with federal emission regulations.
Clean-energy advocates have said the IRP process isn’t an effective substitute for standards, which they say provide a clearer market signal to utilities and developers. →
Over the past decade, Michigan communities have been hit with a one-two financial punch. One from declining property values and the subsequent loss of tax revenue, the other from steady declines in statutorily shared revenue from the state.
So it hasn’t exactly been easy for municipalities to pursue meaningful energy efficiency upgrades intended to save taxpayer money in the long run.
“When it comes to political willingness to do energy efficiency projects, that is a very low bar. Most communities want to make their buildings and their systems more energy efficient and when you talk to them about it, you don’t come across people who say we want to waste more energy,” said Conan Smith, executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, which helps facilitate projects through the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office. Smith is also a county commissioner in southeast Michigan who represents Ann Arbor.
“Where the challenge arises is the financing structure. The way municipal financing structures work, it’s not likely they’re going to have a lot of excess revenue in the next decade. The question becomes: How do you get money to capitalize on these kinds of projects?” →
While Minnesota has made considerable strides in recent years toward adopting cleaner energy, an ad campaign starting today will target two of the state’s utilities for their reliance on coal.
The Sierra Club will begin airing two television commercials on 23 cable stations calling for Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power to reduce their use of coal over the next 15 years.
Both ads charges that Minnesotans pay $420 million a for out-of-state coal, based on government and Union of Concerned Scientists data, for electricity instead of using renewable resources such as wind and solar. →
Illinois officials searching for answers about the spike in generation capacity prices in the southern half of the state went straight to the source during a legislative hearing Monday.
Melissa Seymour, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s central region executive, appeared before an Illinois Senate committee Monday afternoon. The topic of the hearing was supposed to be overview of regional transmission and wholesale power markets. But questions quickly zeroed in on MISO’s recent auction.
Seymour told committee members that the tenfold increase in capacity prices from last year was driven by the fact that more capacity was procured through the auction instead of private negotiations.
Capacity auction results were “not a result of a lack of supply here in Illinois,” she said, noting there was more than 11,000 megawatts of generation bid in to supply 10,000 MW of demand. “It was a function of how load-serving entities will be meeting their obligations.” →
An interactive map developed by EcoEngineers and Iowa State University maps the state’s ag waste potential.
Iowa, already one of the nation’s two leading producers of both corn ethanol and biodiesel, may be about to plunge into the production of renewable fuels made from animal manure, municipal waste and other organic byproducts of farming and manufacturing.
The shift is in part because of an obscure change made last summer in the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), which has enhanced the value of biogas in the fuel marketplace.
The change added biogas to the list of advanced cellulosic biofuels that refiners are required to either produce or purchase credits for. Between now and 2022, the fuel standard is projected to require at least a fourfold increase in the amount of cellulosic fuels that must be blended with gasoline. As a result, renewable fuels are fetching a higher price.
Amanda Bilek, government affairs manager for the Great Plains Institute in Minneapolis, estimates the “price premium” now enjoyed by this group of renewable fuels at between 40 and 60 cents per gallon, which she said should defray some of added expense of making natural gas from organic waste. →
Activists protest a coal plant in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood in 2011. New reports highlight benefits to low-income residents from carbon reductions. (Photo by Rainforest Action Network via Creative Commons)
Low-income residents’ health and pocketbooks are disproportionately affected by burning fossil fuels, and they stand to benefit the most as states comply with federal carbon regulations, according to two new reports released last week.
Those findings run counter to coal industry campaigns suggesting the opposite — that low-income residents are facing rate increases as states and utilities comply with the Clean Power Plan, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Clean energy really benefits everyone — this is a pocketbook and a public health issue for these people,” said Katharine McCormick, NRDC’s Midwest advocate and author of the group’s latest report “Bridging the Clean Energy Divide.”
The NRDC is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.
The NRDC presented its report in Lansing last week at a panel discussion sponsored by the Michigan League for Public Policy, a nonpartisan policy group for economic equality that also released a similar Michigan-focused report. →
Franz Litz (Photo by U.S. Embassy New Zealand via Creative Commons)
Despite a promise by congressional Republicans to kill federal carbon regulations being finalized this summer, the author of a new report says that most states have begun planning to comply with them.
Even as some legislators and regulators work to kill the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, most state governments have quietly started meeting with stakeholders and asked for input from bordering states, according to Franz Litz, a program consultant for the Great Plains Institute and co-author of a new report that offers a series of policy approaches for states.
“By our estimate, 41 of the 50 states are looking at multi-state collaboration while they also consider implementing as single states,” Litz said.
The Clean Power Plan offers each state carbon reduction targets but largely leaves the details of how to achieve those goals to local utilities and regulators. Written with Jennifer Macedonia, a senior advisor for the Bipartisan Policy Center, the report details how states can form what the EPA calls 111(d) plans — essentially the document that will guide them toward meeting EPA goals. →
The Consumers Energy headquarters in Jackson, Michigan. (Photo by Lane Montgomery via Creative Commons)
Michigan’s first proposed large-scale community solar program is coming under fire from clean-energy advocates who say it would prevent independent third parties from developing their own programs.
Within the next month, the Michigan Public Service Commission is expected to rule on Consumers Energy’s proposed 10 MW community solar pilot program, which would be the first program of its kind from one of the two major investor-owned utilities here. Smaller-scale projects are underway or in development elsewhere in the state.
But a group of clean-energy advocacy groups have intervened in the case before the MPSC, claiming that Consumers’ proposal would “monopolize” the community solar market, as the utility seeks to prevent independent third parties from developing projects within its service territory. →
Utility rate cases have become a major battleground over the future of distributed solar generation and the evolving structure of the nation’s electricity system.
In the Midwest, Wisconsin has been ground zero, with state regulators last year approving three rate cases that made solar much less viable through several mechanisms, including a drastic increase in the fixed monthly charges for all ratepayers, regardless of how much electricity they use.
The next major development on that front will be a case that Xcel Energy is expected to file in late spring or summer. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has made it clear that it welcomes requests for increased fixed charges and related measures, as RENEW Wisconsin program and policy director Michael Vickerman and other energy experts see it.
But a March 26 decision by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on an Xcel rate case in that state could mean Xcel is unlikely to request the type of fixed rate increase that other utilities in Wisconsin have been granted. →
USGS links thousands of earthquakes to oil and gas activity • Michigan regulators OK Wisconsin Energy/Integrys merger • Iowa farmers discuss benefits of solar power • Dynegy warns of job cuts if Exelon bill is approved