Clean Energy Initiative

NRC to Approve Southern Co. Nuclear Plant in GA, Lisa Jackson Signs 2 Rules on State Emissions, Oil/ Economy Interdependence

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission today will in all probability approve the first nuclear reactor construction permit in almost 35 years. The permit will allow Southern Company to kick its construction of two AP1000 reactors at its Vogtle site, southeast of Augusta, Ga., into high gear. NRC's thumbs up also means that Southern, as it also moves the utility a critical step closer to closing the deal on an $8.33 billion conditional loan guarantee from the Energy Department that has been pending since February 2010.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Tuesday signed a pair of rules revising some allocations of state emissions budgets in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Taken together, the two rules increase emission budgets in 17 states and ease limits on market-based compliance options. The rules' fates are tied to EPA's broader cross-state rule, which is designed to limit emissions that blow across state lines but is currently stayed during review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

This commentary by Murray and King in the magazine, Nature, is a concise, lucid explanation of the link between energy use and the size of the economy, together with compelling evidence that supply constraints seriously impacted oil prices starting in about 2005. The conclusion is that economic growth appears to depend on historically inexpensive energy, and energy supplies are both more expensive and becoming less available. 

FERC/Keystone Bill Passes Energy Committee, Senator Baucus Favors Keystone, Re-vitalized Waste Heat and Power Association

Legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline is headed to the House floor after the Energy and Commerce Committee cleared the measure Tuesday by a 33-20 margin. John Barrow of Georgia joined the two Democrats mentioned yesterday, Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike Ross of Arkansas to vote for the bill while Republican Charlie Bass of New Hampshire voted against it. The panel allowed just one amendment: a Republican addition clarifying that FERC must grant a permit for the pipeline "without additional conditions".

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Tuesday that he “strongly” supports Keystone Pipeline, but not in the Transportation bill during his committee’s markup of the highway bill. 

A coalition dedicated to wide-scale development of a new market based on converting waste heat to power has 're-launched' in an effort to educate decision makers and the public about the benefits of using waste heat generated in industrial applications.  The coalition will focus on the unique characteristic of Waste Heat to Power (WH2P) as both a resource for emissions free electricity  as well as a means to improve overall industrial energy efficiency and competiveness makes it a natural and integral part of all clean energy and jobs discussions.  American industry generates vast amounts of waste heat in various processes.  Capturing this resource could result in the investment $20-40 billion for new facilities, 160,000 new American jobs, and generate enough emission-free electricity annually to power 10 million American homes. 

House Energy and Commerce to Mark Up Keystone FERC Bill, Keystone as Political Football, ABB Makes Big Investment in EV

Today, the House Energy and Commerce panel will mark up legislation directing FERC to approve the Keystone XL pipeline within 30 days. Republicans have the votes they need to pass the bill from Nebraska Republican Lee Terry.  Two Democrats could also support this bill, Jim Matheson (Utah) and Mike Ross (Ark.).  The GOP plan is that once Republicans move the bill through committee, they will attach it to an energy and infrastructure package expected on the House floor next week.  Democrat Ed Markey will offer an amendment requiring the oil from the pipeline to be kept in the U.S., a measure aimed at driving home Democrats' claims that the pipeline will do little to address domestic energy needs.

The New York Times has a thought provoking editorial by Joe Nocera. His bottom line is that Canada, an ally of the United States, is initiating business with China because the Keystone XL Pipeline has become a  political football in our contry.  President Obama has delayed the decision on this pipeline to appease the environmentalists, an important democratic base in the 2012 election.  At the same time the Republicans are framing Keystone as an urgent jobs and energy project at a time of high unemployment and creeping gasoline prices during the 2012 election.

In about five-years' time the infrastructure side of the EV business will be a billion dollar business," Hans Streng, head of electrical vehicle charging infrastructure at ABB, told Reuters in an interview. The current global market is worth about $50-$100 million he said.  Pressure to cut emissions and reduce pollution in cities has led to ambitious targets for electric vehicle take-up, with some governments targeting as much as a 60 percent market share for electric vehicles over the next 20-30 years.  

Interior Gives Go-ahead for Offshore Wind, Kerry Resumes Senate Energy Mtgs, Con-Ed Signs with Siemans on Smart Grid Project

The Interior Department has completed an environmental study that gives potential Atlantic Coast wind power development a clean bill of health, bringing the department a step closer to selling leases for waters off several states.  Interior said its analysis of plans to sell leases in regions off Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey found there would be “no significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts.”

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) said January 31 that he has resumed a series of regular meetings with Democratic colleagues, including Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and 17 others, in the hope of making at least modest progress on energy legislation this year. The group is reviving a series of near-weekly meetings akin to those Senator Kerry held with Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-CA) during the climate debates, and follows a November 30 strategy session between a dozen senators and Energy Secretary Steven Chu on energy legislation ranging from bills to promote renewable energy, bolster energy efficiency, and extend expiring clean energy tax credits.

Siemens Smart Grid Division and TIBCO Software Inc.  will provide proven Smart Grid enterprise integration services to Consolidated Edison (Con Edison) for a Smart Grid demonstration project. The project is a result of Con Edison Company of New York receiving funding for the Smart Grid demonstration project from the Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus program.  Siemens and TIBCO will provide a fully integrated and secure Smart Grid solution for Con Edison using standards-based software and technologies.

Rep. Brian Bilbray (CA-50) has become the latest in a string of Republicans facing scrutiny over backing a local green energy firm's bid for DOE support and then later blasting the department's funding. Bilbray requested aid for a pair of California-based energy-efficient vehicle firms.

Weekly Clean Energy Re-Cap - Cheap Natural Gas, New FERC Commissioner and Possible Tariff on Chinese PV

This week's energy news was dominated by Natural Gas and Chinese Tariffs and a New FERC Commissioner.  

The Energy Information Agency testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that Natural Gas was going to more than double in the next year.  Given that there is now plentiful and cheap natural gas, other sources of energy are taking a big back step - especially coal and nuclear. But it the renewable industry - most especially solar and wind - that could feel this pressure the most, although Renewable Energy Standards in the states could make a difference.  

The Department of Commerce Committee is considering applying a tariff on solar PV imported to the United States from China.  Solar World in Oregon and other solar companies have led in this efforts.  But many other solar companies are not so excited about this tariff and believe it could seriously harm their ability to compete in today's market. 

Tony Clark, former head of National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners,has been appointed by President Obama as the new Commissioner for Federal Energy Regulatory Commmission.  Mr. Clark is formerlly the head of the North Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

Nuclear Blue Ribbon Appears before House Energy Committee, Cheap Natural Gas a Threat to Renewables and Nuclear and Coal

Last week the so-called Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future released a report calling for a new approach to finding a site, based on local consent rather than Congressional dictate. The two chairmen,  Lee H. Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana, and  Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser under Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush appeared before the Energy and Commerce committee’s subcommittee on environment and the economy,  But the committee chairman, John Shimkus of Illinois, did not mince words in complaining about the Obama administration, denouncing its “interference’ with an evaluation of the merits of the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert. Campaigning in 2008, President Obama promised to halt the project if elected, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, of Nevada, worked hard to cut off funds for it.

U.S. natural gas prices, are at an incredible low of about $2.50 per thousand cubic feet. Rapidly rising production of shale gas and a warm winter have created a glut and pushed supplies in storage to 21 percent above the average of the past five years.  Good news for consumers, whose gas and electric bills have declined slightly. And it is a hopeful sign for the chemical industry, which uses gas as a raw material, and for the makers of electric vehicles.

But cheap gas has also thrown energy markets into turmoil. It is impossible for almost any other source of electric power to compete, especially coal and nuclear. By trimming fuel bills, cheap gas has reduced incentives for energy conservation and efficiency thereby putting solar and wind, in spite of their own falling costs, heavily dependent on government mandates.

In fact, the EIA predicts that the United States will become a net exporter of liquefied natural gas by 2016.  But exports and gas-fueled trucks are bad news for utilities and chemical companies that prefer to keep natural gas supplies in the United States — and to keep domestic gas prices low.   Some utility executives remember back in 1992 when gas prices were at an all time low .  “We’re living through an era that we’d call the tyranny of natural gas,” said David Crane, chief executive of NRG, a major electric power company. “With all the enthusiasm for unconventional gas and low prices, the one group of people you don’t see rushing to embrace it . . . are the utility execs. We remember 1992, when everyone thought gas would be $2 forever.”


Secretary Salazar to Announce Offshore Wind Developments, House Energy Members Raise Big Money, Tony Clark New FERC Commissioner

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is holding a news conference in Baltimore to roll out the next steps in the department’s efforts to spur construction of offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Coast.  The department isn’t saying much, other than promising a “major” step towards development off the coasts of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware.  The energy news service Platts reported that Interior will announce that an environmental study shows that wind development off the mid-Atlantic coast will have “no significant impact” on the environment.  Officials will announce completion of an assessment of plans by Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to begin issuing offshore wind leases later this year, Platts reported.

FEC Fourth Quarter fundraising reports show that Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have raised substantial sums.  Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) was the fourth quarter's fundraising champ among members hoping to be reelected this year, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The Environment and Economy Subcommittee chairman raised a total of $368,218 with help from donors including BP, Koch Industries and Ohio-based coal company Murray Energy Corp., which.  Other members rounding out the E&C top five were: Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who raised $321,144 in the quarter; Greg Walden (R-Ore.), with $308,419; David McKinley (R-W.Va.), $294,998; and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), $289,408. Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) ranked seventh, with $280,305.

Tony Clark, of North Dakota, who recently completed a one-year term as President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, has been nominated by the President to serve as a Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  Clark would take the position vacated by Marc Spitzer last year.  The President also nominated Adam Sieminski, the current chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank, to serve as Administrator of the Energy Information Administration (EIA).  This position is currently being filled by Howard Gruenspect as Acting Administrator.  

Study on Solar Tariff Says No Benefit to the U.S., NASA Study Finds Clear Evidence of Greenhouse Gas

The Brattle Group has issued an economic analysis on the impact of a 100 percent tariff on PV cells imported from China. The report looked at 50 percent and 100 percent tariff scenarios. The author of the report said a 50 percent tariff will effectively shut the majority of Chinese imports out of the U.S. and result in a job loss of 15,000 to 50,000 -- even accounting for production gains in the U.S. GTM Research's Shyam Mehta has said that only about 6 percent of the world's solar panels are made in the U.S., all in highly automated factories. In other words, solar panel manufacturing is not a labor- or jobs-rich industry in this country. The jobs are created in downstream solar industries such as installation and project development.  According to The Brattle Group’s analysis, the imposition of tariffs will “slow the growth in domestic demand for photovoltaic systems by homeowners, commercial establishments and power producers, resulting in substantial job losses.”

A recent NASA study concludes that greenhouse gases generated by human activities -- not changes in solar activity -- are the primary cause of global warming. The study goes on to say that despite unusually low solar activity from 2005 to 2010, the planet continued to absorb more energy (half a watt more per square meter) than it returned to space during that time period.  "This provides unequivocal evidence that the sun is not the dominant driver of global warming," said James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who led the research released Monday.

FERC Advises on EPA Mercury Standards, Commerce to Decide on Solar Tariff, EIA Says Global Natural Gas More Than Doubled

Global dry natural gas production increased 110% between 1980 and 2010, from 53 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 1980 to 112 Tcf in 2010. The combined share of North America and the Former Soviet Union—the top two producing regions during the time period—fell from 72% in 1980 to 49% in 2010. While all regions increased natural gas production between 1980 and 2010, the Middle East grew most rapidly, increasing more than eleven-fold.  Natural gas production in the United States has grown rapidly in the past several years. Rapid increases in U.S. natural gas production from shale gas formations resulted from widespread application of two key technologies: horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.  Shale gas resources, which have recently provided a major boost to U.S. natural gas production, are also available in other regions of the world. An initial assessment of 48 shale gas basins in over 30 foreign countriesincludes 5,760 Tcf of technically recoverable shale gas resources.

The Commerce Department is scheduled to decide in a month whether Chinese solar panels should be subject to an import tariff, after fielding a complaint from domestic manufacturers that the Chinese are illegally subsidizing their solar export market. The department has not said how it will rule, but on Monday it issued a finding stating that the domestic manufacturers were facing “critical circumstances,” which means that if it does decide to favor imposing duties, they could, in theory, be retroactive to 90 days before its decision.  The domestic manufacturers, led by SolarWorld, an Oregon company, welcomed the statement, saying that the department had taken “expedited action against a massive, evasive surge of Chinese solar cell and panel imports ahead of Commerce’s first preliminary determination on duties.

According to a White Paper relased yesterday by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC plans to advise the EPA on which power plants are critical to electric grid reliability and should therefore receive a one-year extension to meet the EPA's mercury and air toxics standards for power plants. But the commission is unsure how much it should investigate power plants' reliability claims when the plants are seeking that extension, FERC says in a new white paper in response to Environmental Protection Agency's new standards on mercury issued on December 21, 2011.


House Reps Relentless on Keystone XL, GM to use Renewables to Power Chevy Volt, Cheap Nat Gas Doesn't Mean Cheap Energy

House Republicans continue their push of  Keystone Pipeline,  Currently, there are two direct pro-Keystone bills floating right now: one from Nebraska's Lee Terry that would transfer authority over the project to FERC and a separate measure from Texas Rep. Ted Poe that would approve the pipeline outright. Speaker John Boehner said this weekend in an interview with ABC's Jake Tapper that Keystone XL language will be part of the "American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act" which would expand oil and gas drilling and use the resulting revenue to shore up funding for the national highway system and other transportation networks  if the pipeline's not approved before the House moves on the measure.

General Motors is developing a feature for its OnStar navigation service that will allow Chevrolet Volt owners to better match recharging patterns for the extended-range plug-in vehicles with the availability of renewable energy.GM is working with utility company PJM Interconnection on the feature, in which OnStar users will know what percentage of a grid's power supply is coming from renewable sources such as wind. OnStar will be able to regulate the recharging activity for Volts according to peak wind time, which according to PJM is generally between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Natural Gas is in plentiful supply and is therefore a cheaper source of energy.  But does cheaper natural gas mean cheaper energy and lower electric bills.?  Maybe not.  Other factors, such as increased transmission costs, high capacity prices, and congestion on the power grid, could offset much of the savings, if not all.

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