Illinois native Sandra Steingraber has taken her fracking fight to New York. Photo by Dale Willman.
High-profile environmental activist, biologist and writer Sandra Steingraber – whom Rolling Stone dubbed the “Toxic Avenger” – gained her love of science and ecology in the Midwest, growing up in central Illinois and studying English and biology in Illinois before earning a biology doctorate at the University of Michigan.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring motivated Steingraber to “leave the lab,” as she says, and become an environmental activist and watchdog, as well as an author and poet. She survived bladder cancer — which she suspects was linked to water pollution — and gained international acclaim for her book Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, overlaying cancer data and federal toxic release statistics.
In 2011 Steingraber won the prestigious Heinz Award. By then she was living in upstate New York, where high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for natural gas had exploded on the scene. Steingraber used the $100,000 prize to start the grassroots organization New Yorkers Against Fracking, a movement that soon spread to other states and launched her as an international leader on the issue.
Steingraber has spoken out against the controversial fracking regulations in her home state of Illinois, and traveled to Europe to meet with people dealing with drilling in their communities.
She spent a few days in late June at Carnegie Mellon University with a delegation of reporters convened by the Society of Environmental Journalists. The group heard from industry sources, academics, scientists, landowners and activists about the ways fracking has played out in the Marcellus shale, and what the future may hold.
Wind turbines planned for Lake Erie will share engineering technology with wind farms in the North Sea. (Photo by Martin Pettitt via Creative Commons)
Developers of an Ohio offshore wind energy project say it will proceed despite losing out last month on one of three $47-million 4-year grants from the Department of Energy (DOE).
The money would have let Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) build its 18-MW Icebreaker pilot project and have it in operation by 2018.
Nonetheless, DOE has agreed to give LEEDCo at least $3 million to complete engineering and other studies. The funds are in addition to approximately $4 million awarded by DOE in 2012.
“The most important thing is that we’re still moving forward,” says LEEDCo president Lorry Wagner.
Blue Creek Wind Farm in Ohio. (Courtesy Iberdrola Renewables)
With little discussion or fanfare, Ohio legislators have essentially put a stop to new wind farms in the state, industry experts say.
Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 483 on Monday, just days after signing another bill that freezes and alters Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. HB 483 includes revised setback provisions that will likely make new projects economically unfeasible.
The bill “basically zones new wind projects out of Ohio,” says Eric Thumma, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs for Iberdrola Renewables, Inc.
Iberdrola’s Ohio wind farm projects include the 304 MW Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert and Paulding County. About ten of its Ohio projects are fully permitted, but not yet constructed. The new law lets already-permitted projects continue, but only if no amendments to the permit become necessary.
FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse nuclear plant on the shore of Lake Erie. (Photo by Jeff Reutter via Creative Commons)
Two Ohio utilities are pursuing state and federal regulatory actions to help make their coal and nuclear plants more competitive.
FirstEnergy has filed a complaint asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to void May’s capacity auction by grid operator PJM Interconnection to the extent that it includes demand response. Demand response satisfies electricity needs at peak periods as a result of certain users agreeing to temporary cutbacks.
Meanwhile, American Electric Power (AEP) is asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to let it charge consumers for some of the costs for certain coal-fired power plants.
If they succeed, the utilities could get more money for power plants that presumably could not otherwise compete as well against other resources in the electric capacity market.
(Photo by Carlos Lowry via Creative Commons)
While energy-saving efforts have been keeping costs down for Ohio ratepayers, a legislative “freeze” to the state’s efficiency standard raises questions about whether that will continue, particularly with new EPA carbon regulations on the horizon.
The capacity portion of Ohioans’ electric bills will go up for June 2017 through May 2018 as a result of May’s auction by grid operator PJM Interconnection. If it weren’t for energy efficiency, though, experts say the closing price of $120 per megawatt-day (MW-day) for Ohio and various other parts of PJM’s territory would have been even higher.
Last week’s passage of Ohio Senate Bill 310 raises doubts about how much energy efficiency can help Ohio consumers in future auctions.
A pipeline failure caused an explosion in Fairport Harbor, Ohio in 2011. AP Photo/The News Herald, Michael Allen Blair. (click to enlarge)
Despite ongoing safety concerns and the urging of state regulators, the Ohio legislature has so far passed up an opportunity to impose tougher penalties on those who break safety rules for natural gas pipelines.
Ohio House Bill 483 had a provision to double penalties for safety violations when it was introduced in March. However, the version passed by the Ohio House of Representatives last month eliminated that section.
While fines for violations are rare, resource-strapped regulators say they provide a critical incentive for compliance with safety rules.
HB 483 is part of the Ohio’s Mid-Biennium Budget Review. The Ohio Senate Finance Committee reported the bill out this week, and the Senate passed it on Wednesday. Any differences between the House and Senate versions will require resolution by a conference committee.
Although most of HB 483 addresses other subjects, proposed and deleted energy issues touch on public safety and other concerns.
Ford employee John Wooten assembles an EcoBoost V-6 engine at a plant in Lima, Ohio. Photo via Ford Motor Company. (Click to enlarge)
With the help of the U.S. Department of Energy, Ford Motor Co. now boasts that since 2009 — through expanding production of fuel-efficient vehicles — it has avoided 2.38 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and saved 268 million gallons of gasoline.
The company reached a milestone in early May when it sold its 500,000th F-150 pickup truck equipped with a fuel-efficient EcoBoost engine. Ford credits the V-6 truck engine for nearly one-fifth of the fuel savings it attributes to the EcoBoost fleet, which also includes four- and three-cylinder engines used in smaller cars.
Driving that progress was a $5.9 billion loan from the federal government to transform 13 factories across six states into state-of-the-art assembly plants.
(Photo via Department of Energy)
Bill Whittenberger co-founded his Ohio-based company Catacel Corp. in 2001 upon recognizing a niche for catalysts that manage heat and chemical reactions.
It wasn’t long before the fledgling entrepreneur heard about another potential power source that was creating buzz at the time.
“There was all this talk in Ohio about fuel cells,” said Whittenberger. “We were looking for something else to do, and we thought we could help with that.”
Thirteen years after Catacel’s inception, the company is now supplying more than $2 million worth of fuel cells and related components each year to an industry escalating nationwide.
“Without fuel cells, we’d be dead,” he said.
The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. (Photo by Mike King via Creative Commons)
Critics showed up in force this week as Ohio’s House of Representatives began hearings on a bill that would dramatically alter the state’s clean energy laws.
The Public Utilities Committee for the Ohio House could vote on the bill as early as next week. If Senate Bill 310 becomes law, it could hurt both consumers and businesses, say opponents.
As passed by the state Senate last week, SB 310 would freeze Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards for two years, pushing final targets from 2025 to 2027. Meanwhile, a study commission would review the law’s mandates.
However, last-minute changes made to the bill would also dramatically change both standards.
“They essentially gutted the standards, so that when they do come back they’ll be essentially meaningless,” says Ted Ford, president of Ohio Advanced Energy Economy.
(Photo by Peggy Riley via Creative Commons)
The debate over Ohio’s energy laws took another turn Tuesday, as Republican lawmakers introduced a substitute bill that threatens to destroy a compromise plan developed over the past few days.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, who chairs the Senate Public Utilities Committee released a substitute bill late Tuesday afternoon that would impose a three-year freeze, eliminate in-state requirements for renewable energy, and make other changes to the state’s energy law.
The bill would undo the work done by legislators, consumer, business, and environmental groups on a proposed compromise that would have preserved the state’s efficiency and renewable energy standards, but with significant changes.