Combined heat and power systems capture waste energy so that one fuel source can provide both heat and electricity. Courtesy of Caterpillar Inc. (Click to enlarge)
Ohio continues to have a huge untapped potential for combined heat and power, or CHP — a clean energy technology that could save customers money and improve the state’s electric security while capitalizing on the current shale gas boom.
However, a “freeze” in the state’s clean energy standards and other factors still slow down the payback period for companies and cities investing in CHP, business leaders reported at an Energy Ohio Network program in Columbus last week.
Moreover, neither state senators Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville) nor William Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who spoke at the event, offered assurances that policy incentives to help the industry grow would be back in place soon.
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.
Crews install a natural gas pipeline in southwest Michigan. The future price of gas is a critical variable in determining the cheapest way for states to meet EPA carbon rules. (Photo by Consumers Energy via Creative Commons)
Shifting natural gas prices are making it a challenge for states to place their bets on the most cost-effective and least risky ways to comply with impending carbon regulations.
Those prices could likely determine whether it makes sense to replace retiring coal generation with natural gas or renewable energy.
To help with that decision process, experts at the University of Michigan and a Lansing-based energy consulting firm have released a model to make that planning easier and more accessible to stakeholders beyond just utilities.
Specifically, the model considers the risks that would apply to ratepayers as states develop new combinations of energy sources and efficiency into their portfolios to meet requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
According to the study’s lead author, the model “changes a lot of the traditional arguments” about the costs utilities and ratepayers face for achieving compliance.
Transmission lines near Canton, Michigan. (Photo by Fred Locklear via Creative Commons)
Michigan’s Lower Peninsula faces a 3 GW electric capacity shortfall next year. But energy experts say that doesn’t mean the state needs to rush into building 3 GW worth of new generation.
Doing so, some argue, could actually put Michigan in an even worse position in the future.
The capacity shortfall — which is projected by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) to grow as coal plants are retired to meet federal emission rules — may also present opportunities for the state to restructure its energy system to encourage demand-side solutions, driving down the need for new generation.
While details about energy supply and demand may sound esoteric to average ratepayers, the issue is on the radar of lawmakers in Lansing this year. State officials say that reliability concerns in the Upper Peninsula due to uncertainty over an aging coal plant serve as a warning to the rest of the state about how average ratepayers could be impacted without proper planning for the future.
Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin.
By Michael Vickerman
Undeterred by the surfeit of generating capacity available to serve Wisconsin electricity customers, Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) is now seeking permission to build a mid-sized natural gas-fired power station, called Fox 3, and place it in service in 2019. But, if approved, how much generation would that plant actually provide?
If recent history is any guide, the answer is not much, or, more precisely, significantly less than what the utility projects in its application, which was filed in January 2015. This is especially true for power stations with higher fuel costs, such as Madison Gas & Electric’s 150-megawatt (MW) West Campus facility in Madison or We Energies’ 50 MW Rothschild biomass generator near Wausau. Both plants are of recent vintage, and each produces electricity and steam. But, as this month’s fuel reports show, 2014 was a better year for their steam hosts than it was for the electricity customers paying off the construction costs of these generators.
A $269 million station placed in service in late 2013, Rothschild generated sporadically in the first eight months of 2014 and hardly at all after Labor Day. Over the course of the year, electrical output from Rothschild totaled 15 percent of its rated capacity, considerably less than 70 percent projected by the utility in its 2010 application. Certainly, not an auspicious beginning for a baseload power plant’s operating life.
(Photo by WCN 24/7 via Creative Commons)
A Michigan township took careful steps this month to indirectly regulate oil and gas development within its borders — a legally tricky move amid growing public unrest and uncertainty over hydraulic fracturing here.
Cannon Township, about 20 minutes northwest of Grand Rapids in West Michigan, adopted a series of ordinance changes that regulate new building construction, drilling equipment and “unwholesome substances.”
While townships and counties are preempted by state law on many aspects of oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, they can focus on some ancillary activities of the practice and enforce police powers to give local residents some say.
Crews install a natural gas pipeline for Consumers Energy near Coldwater, Michigan in July. (Photo by Consumers Energy via Creative Commons)
In March, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder plans to make a major statewide energy policy announcement. While he has not publicly disclosed details of his plan, some lawmakers and clean-energy advocates are concerned about the Republican governor’s over-commitment to natural gas as aging coal plants close.
Snyder spent roughly one minute during his 49-minute State of the State speech Tuesday night talking about the “need for a long-term policy.”
“It needs to be an adaptable policy because of the lack of federal policy and the challenges of a global marketplace. It needs to focus on important things such as eliminating energy waste and the conversion of coal to natural gas — an asset of the state of Michigan — and renewables.”
Snyder reportedly said at a conference last week that Michigan is “well positioned to actually have a fair amount of that coal demand go to natural gas.” He said his plan is based on three pillars of “affordability, reliability and environmental protection.”
Michigan officials on Tuesday announced a proposed accord among multiple electric entities and private businesses to solve what some fear could turn into an energy crisis in the Upper Peninsula.
The governor’s office says the deal, which was months in the making, will provide short-term relief for ratepayers by this summer in avoiding indefinite and costly “System Support Resources” payments to keep the aging Presque Isle Power Plant online. The plan also achieves long-term goals of reliability and eliminating out-state utilities from the state’s energy future, Michigan officials said.
Also as part of the deal, a major mining company and energy consumer would discontinue its electric choice contract with an out-of-state supplier while the region would get a new natural gas cogeneration facility, tentatively planned to generate 280 MW, to partially displace Presque Isle.
A drilling rig at a Marcellus Shale site in Pennsylvania. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
The Ohio Senate began hearings this week on a bill that could let oil and gas companies skirt current laws dealing with disclosure of chemical hazards to local communities and water withdrawals from the Lake Erie watershed.
The Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 490 in November, and the Ohio Senate could vote on the bill as early as next week. If passed in its current form, the bill could face challenges under federal law.
Community right-to-know issues
HB 490 would make the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) the main storehouse for oil and gas company filings about the hazards of chemicals used in their operations.
Currently, those companies and many other industrial operations are supposed to provide the information to the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC), as well as local emergency planning committees and fire departments. The requirement stems from the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Congress passed that law in 1986 in the aftermath of the Bhopal factory disaster that killed thousands of people in India.
Natural gas operations in Broadview Heights, Ohio, take place next door to homes. (Photo courtesy of Tish O’Dell)
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is siding with two oil and gas companies in a court case challenging a Cleveland suburb’s ban on oil and gas drilling within city limits.
The November 12 motion is the latest step in a series of cases where different branches and levels of Ohio government have faced off against each other. At issue is the extent to which each can limit how and where drilling and related activities take place.
The municipality involved in the case, Broadview Heights, is among a handful of Ohio cities that oppose additional oil and gas activities within their boundaries. Earlier this month, Athens became the latest Ohio city to ban new drilling within city limits.
ODNR and the gas companies claim local governments have no authority to limit any activities relating to oil and gas. Cities say the statute on which their opponents rely conflicts with the Ohio Constitution.