Xcel Energy does not have to share ownership of a planned Twin Cities-to-La Crosse transmission line with a Wisconsin competitor, federal regulators ruled earlier this week.
American Transmission Company (ATC) had argued it was entitled to own part of the $490 million project in a complaint to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
On Monday, FERC denied ATC’s complaint and said MISO, the Midwest’s electricity grid operator, was correct to distribute ownership of the transmission project as it did.
(Photo by zman z28 via Creative Commons)
Minneapolis is poised to become the first city in the Midwest to adopt an energy benchmarking and disclosure rule for commercial buildings.
The City Council’s energy and environment committee unanimously passed a proposal Monday (video) to require large commercial building owners to annually measure and report energy consumption data. (UPDATE: The full city council approved the proposal on Feb. 8.)
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who proposed the ordinance, said it’s about using market forces to capitalize on the “untapped potential” of commercial building energy savings.
“The intent of this ordinance is to use market force — not performance or design mandates — to increase energy efficiency in existing commercial and city-owned buildings,” said Brendon Slotterback, the city’s sustainability program coordinator. “It’s also intended to provide consistent, transparent reporting on energy and water use data, not just to owners and managers, but to tenants, potential tenants and the public at large.”
It’s also designed to promote green job growth. Slotterback said energy service companies in cities with similar ordinances have seen up to 30 percent increases in activity as building owners sought to improve their scores.
The hills above Grand Marais, Minnesota, with Lake Superior in the background. (Photo by Andy Tinkham via Creative Commons)
Cheap natural gas prices have pushed many biomass projects to the back burner in recent years, but it’s a different story in rural communities without access to pipelines.
In northern Minnesota, two towns are considering their next steps after preliminary studies showed that small, wood-burning district heating systems could have economic and environmental benefits — if they can find a way to finance the up-front construction costs.
Grand Marais, on the north shore of Lake Superior, and Ely, on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, currently rely on fuel oil or propane for heat.
“Up here, there’s no natural gas because there’s no pipeline. We live on solid rock, so everything is trucked into the community,” says Paul Nelson, chairman of the Cook County Biomass Working Group in Grand Marais.
Meanwhile, both towns are surrounded by aging forests that could provide more than enough sustainably harvested wood to power a community-scale district heating plant, according to an analysis by Dovetail Partners, a Minneapolis environmental nonprofit.
A solar array at a farm in central Minnesota. (Photo by CERTs via Creative Commons)
This could be the year major solar legislation sees the light of day in Minnesota.
A Democratic sweep in November has clean energy advocates optimistic about their causes following two years of legislative control by conservative Republicans.
The top priority on their agenda: a bill that would require Minnesota utilities to generate a tenth of their electricity from solar by the year 2030.
“Our top energy priority is the 10 percent solar standard,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a coalition of more than 75 environmental and conservation groups.
“We have a tremendous untapped resource, and we have the stars aligned to make major headway in ramping up our solar distributed generation here in the state,” Morse said.
The Prairie Island nuclear plant in Minnesota. (Photo via NRC)
Minnesota’s Prairie Island Indian Community says it’s time for nuclear regulators to get real about the likely amount and duration of spent fuel storage at a dry-cask facility in the tribe’s backyard.
An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hear arguments today in St. Paul over whether the tribe can intervene in re-licensing proceedings for Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island nuclear waste storage facility in Red Wing, Minnesota.
“All we’re saying is let’s be realistic about this,” said Phil Mahowald, the tribe’s general counsel.
The 20-year-old Prairie Island facility was originally built and licensed as temporary storage until the federal government built a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
But with Yucca Mountain plans officially abandoned under the Obama administration, the Prairie Island Indian Community says regulators need to assume whatever storage they approve may exist on the site for centuries rather than decades.
Minnesota utility regulators have given Xcel Energy a July 2013 deadline for studying the cost of upgrading versus retiring its largest coal-fired power plant.
Environmental groups have been calling for Xcel to retire its aging Sherco plant, the largest source of electricity — and air pollution — in Minnesota.
The study requested Thursday by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will need to compare the costs of upgrading the plant’s older 1 and 2 units with modern pollution controls versus shutting down the units and replacing them with other generation sources.
As energy market forces continue to shift, Minnesota’s largest utility now foresees meeting modestly growing electricity needs primarily with natural gas and hydropower imported from Canada.
Xcel Energy, which serves about 1.4 million customers in Minnesota, has filed major revisions to its latest long-range plan twice since 2010. The picture changed again this week when the utility said it no longer thinks proposed nuclear plant upgrades are beneficial.
A taconite plant in Silver Bay, Minnesota. (Photo by anthonylibrarian via Creative Commons)
©2012 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Manuel Quinones
Minnesota Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack is pushing for legislation to roll back the EPA’s ability to promulgate federal air visibility guidelines.
Cravaack’s H.R. 6507 would compel the agency to approve Minnesota Pollution Control Agency plans for dealing with regional haze. The agency would also temporarily be prohibited from pre-empting state standards.
The legislation focuses on processing facilities for taconite, a certain type of iron deposit that helps fuel the economy in Cravaack’s northeastern Minnesota district. In August, EPA proposed rules targeting emissions from those facilities.
The agency said best available retrofit technology, or BART, “is a requirement of EPA’s regional haze rule which has not been satisfied by Minnesota or Michigan for its subject taconite plants.”
University of Minnesota researchers say bacteria trapped inside these microbeads can break down harmful chemicals in fracking wastewater. (Photo courtesy University of Minnesota)
A new biotechnology developed by a team of University of Minnesota scientists could help clean up wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, preventing contamination of rivers, streams, lakes, and even drinking water with toxic chemicals from coal and shale beds.
The new method employs chemical-eating bacteria encased in a silica gel. The contaminants from the fracking wastewater slip inside the gel, where they are destroyed by enzymes in the bacteria. The bacteria remain encapsulated and do not contaminate the wastewater themselves, said Larry Wackett, a professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics at the University of Minnesota who led the effort.
The research has attracted a $600,000 grant from a National Science Foundation program that pairs academic researchers developing innovative technologies with companies that can commercialize them. When their technology is ready to be scaled up, the University of Minnesota team plans to license it to Tundra Companies of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, which would manufacture it.
The same biotechnology could also be used to encapsulate other types of bacteria that help recover natural gas from depleted coal beds. Luca Technologies of Boulder, Colorado, would license it for that purpose.
For the NSF grant, “we were supposed to make partnerships with small companies whereby if we developed technology platform, the company could scale this up and make it a business,” Wackett said.
Drought-stressed corn in western Kentucky. (Photo by CraneStation via Creative Commons)
After receiving letters from poultry and livestock producers as well as six governors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has formally opened the debate on whether it should relax the federal ethanol mandate. The meat industry and its political supporters want the EPA to issue a temporary waiver on the Renewable Fuels Standard so more of the drought-withered corn harvest can be used for animal feed.
We asked an ethanol producer, a turkey farmer and a biosystems professor to weigh in on the issue:
The Ethanol Producer
Randy Doyal is CEO of Al-Corn Clean Fuel, a farmer-owned cooperative in Claremont, Minnesota. Its ethanol plant produces up to 50 million gallons of corn-based fuel each year.
“We’re being affected like everybody else who depends on corn as a commodity,” says Doyal. “It’s no fun if you’re the one buying the corn.”