A coal plant near Springfield, Illinois. FERC says the Midwest’s reliance on coal makes its electrical grid vulnerable to tougher pollution rules. (Photo by straightedge217 via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Hannah Northey
Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission warned House members Thursday that energy reserves in the Midwest could be pinched the hardest when new U.S. EPA clean air rules take effect in 2016.
FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller (R) told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power that the Midwest’s grid operator anticipates a shortfall in its power reserves in 2016 when EPA’s landmark mercury and air toxics standards take effect.
“Think about rolling blackouts the summer before a presidential election, it kind of shifts the national discussion,” Moeller said.
He said issues could also crop up in other parts of the country, including areas in the mid-Atlantic and New England. But the Midwest — a smaller system that relies heavily on coal, has transmission constraints and is undergoing a large number of retrofits — could be hit harder.
Cheryl LaFleur, a Democrat who President Obama tapped last month to lead the agency, agreed the rule could affect the Midwest.
“Over most of the country, MATS compliance is well under way,” LaFleur said. “The most significant issue will be in the Midwest.”
The Alliant Energy Tower in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo by Manzabar via Creative Commons)
Although an Iowa utility’s new five-year plan will add some potentially effective tools to its efficiency toolkit, critics worry that the target has been set low enough that the utility has little incentive to market those options. Alliant Energy, which does business in Iowa through its subsidary, Interstate Power and Light, is making some substantial additions to its suite of efficiency benefits. It will significantly expand subsidies for purchases of LED light bulbs, and will for the first time provide benefits to customers that invest in combined heat and power facilities. But since the state’s utility regulator is requiring Alliant to reduce electricity sales by only about 1.1 percent annually for the next five years, some people wonder how hard the company will strive to get customers to reduce their energy use. “What’s important is the effort” that goes into getting customers to take advantage of the new benefits, said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in Des Moines for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Goals set too low, he said, tend to result in only half-hearted outreach and marketing efforts.
(Photo by OregonDOT via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Daniel Cusick
As solar energy equipment becomes more affordable than ever, prompting millions of home and business owners to consider generating their own electricity using solar arrays, the overall cost burden of such systems is shifting decidedly toward “soft costs.”
These include financing, taxes, corporate fees, installation and other nonhardware charges, according to the Energy Department.
In two reports issued Monday, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory stressed that soft costs now account for well over half of all spending on U.S. solar projects, with the greatest proportion of soft costs coming for residential systems, followed by small commercial systems and large commercial installations.
Manitoba Hydro’s Seven Sisters Dam. (Photo by Darren Fast via Creative Commons)
Norway has been called the “battery” of northern Europe because of its huge potential to store energy in its hydro power facilities, which produce virtually all of the country’s electricity.
When generation ramps up at Danish wind farms, Norway can slow production at its hydro facilities, storing water in reservoirs to be released later when electricity is in shorter supply.
As much as 40 percent of Danish wind power is “stored” like this behind Norwegian hydro dams, according to a 2012 paper by Norwegian energy economist Johannes Mauritzen.
In northern Minnesota, an electric utility is proposing a 500 kV, cross-border transmission line that would let it tap Canadian hydropower under a similar arrangement.
Minnesota Power says the Great Northern Transmission Line would allow it to balance intermittent power from its North Dakota wind farms with dispatchable power from Manitoba hydro facilities.
“I think we here at Minnesota Power have coupled together what I like to call the holy grail of renewable resources,” said Dave McMillan, the utility’s executive vice president.
A wind farm under construction in Germany in 2009. (Photo by Windwärts Energie via Creative Commons)
Chicago energy experts who spent a week in Germany and Brussels in mid-November on a fact-finding expedition came back with a complicated take on Germany’s famous Energiewende, the sweeping transition to clean and renewable energy.
They were highly impressed with the fact that unlike the U.S., Germany has a cohesive national energy policy, and that it has meant rapid adoption of solar and wind power, including through substantial governmental support and subsidies.
But they also learned how Germany has in some ways been a victim of its own success, with the swift transition to solar and wind and the closure of nuclear plants raising reliability issues.
“They’ve been successful beyond their wildest dreams – there’s so much solar and wind coming on to their grid that it’s actually destabilizing their grid,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which convened the delegation along with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) – a political organization close to the center-right Christian Democratic Party. “It’s exciting, but there is too much (renewable power) coming on at times, and sometimes not enough.”
A tanker train hauling ethanol in Texas. (Photo by Kurt Haubrich via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Tiffany Stecker
The Obama administration’s recent recoil from the federal biofuels mandate is eerily familiar to Javier Garoz Neira.
Garoz, CEO of Abengoa Bioenergy, said he was reminded of a similar reversal in policy in Spain — where Abengoa began — around the promotion of solar power. The government is currently pushing policies that would tax photovoltaic panel owners and has cut subsidies for the development of concentrated solar power, after years of support for the industry.
“The other side Abengoa has already experienced: how a government can have a reverse in policy, especially in the solar sector, creating a huge damage to the thermosolar industry in Spain with irreversible consequences going forward,” said Garoz, referring to the $27.8 billion company’s solar subsidiary. “In the United States, we’re going to see the same situation.”
Wind advocates in Nebraska say Bruce Pontow, who represents rural co-ops in the state, has been a major obstacle to wind development. Pontow says his position has been misunderstood. (Image via YouTube)
Nebraska is rated third among the states for its wind-energy potential. And yet a year ago, it ranked only 26th for its actual wind-energy production.
It’s a long-debated issue that came to a head earlier this year, when neighboring Iowa’s vast wind farms helped it beat out the Cornhusker State to land a $300 million Facebook data center.
In fact, among Midwest states, only Ohio has less installed wind capacity than Nebraska.
The reason for the gap? Several people familiar with the curious dynamics of wind energy in Nebraska place much of it squarely on the doorstep of one Bruce Pontow.
Peppermint Energy’s portable solar energy systems are finding a market in developing nations. (Photo courtesy Peppermint Energy)
Brian Gramm’s goal was to build a portable solar generator so rugged that it could survive in one of America’s harshest environments: a stadium parking lot.
The sports fan and serial entrepreneur came up with a product he says can withstand spilled beer, flying footballs, even a fall from your SUV roof should your inebriated buddies accidentally knock it over.
Gramm co-founded Peppermint Energy, a Sioux Falls startup company that originally planned to market solar power to sports tailgaters who wanted to watch TV or blare stereos without risking a dead car battery.
As he shared the designs with friends and mentors, though, others pointed out that a device as simple and durable as theirs might have another purpose: helping in disaster recovery and other humanitarian missions.
“It became apparent that we had the right idea, but we were not quite solving the right problem,” Gramm said.
This massive dragline bucket was once used to mine coal in Indiana. The state’s coal production peaked in 1984. (Photo by Cindy Cornett Seigle via Creative Commons)
It has often been said that the U.S. is the “Saudi Arabia of coal.”
However, a new report drawing on copious data from government agencies challenges that concept, noting that given global economic and energy trends, the amount of U.S. coal that will be economical to extract is much smaller than previously thought.
“Warning: Faulty Reporting of U.S. Coal Reserves” was released in October by the group Clean Energy Action, working with partners including the Rainforest Action Network and the Energy Justice Network.
Author Leslie Glustrom argues that the widely-held belief that the U.S. has 200 years worth of economically recoverable coal is grossly inflated, with economical reserves possibly tapping out in just 20 years. And she warns that power and mining companies — and the workers and communities who rely on them — will suffer if they don’t plan accordingly.
Construction of an offshore wind turbine off the coast of England in 2010. (Photo by DECC via Creative Commons)
Offshore wind energy development in the Great Lakes could create thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs in the region — if lawmakers get the policy right.
A new report by an Illinois economist concludes that the economic impact of offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes greatly depends on whether the industry can grow at a steady pace.
Offshore wind developers are more likely to open regional offices and manufacturing facilities if they view the Great Lakes as an opportunity for sustained, long-term growth, it says.
But if incentives and permitting turn out to be as choppy as Lake Superior during a wind storm, those companies would probably import parts and expertise from elsewhere instead.