Clean Energy Initiative

DOE Announces $54 Million Project Funding, Electric Grid Could Improve with Smarter Technology

The Department of Energy announced today that it would be rolling out its plan to award
over $54 million among thirteen projects. These funds are meant to " American manufacturers
dramatically increase the energy efficiency of their operations and reduce costs." The
move was part of a plan first articulated in Obama's State of the Union "blueprint," and
the hope is that it will improve both energy efficiency and competitiveness in the
manufacturing sector.

One such recipient, General Motors, will use its just over $2.5 million in funding to
develop a process for die casting magnesium, which would be used to replace steel in car
doors. The newer and more efficient process would decrease door weight by 60%, resulting
in significantly better fuel economy and carbon emission savings. The Department of
Energy hopes that the potential success of this project, along with those of the twelve
others, will help reignite strides towards greater efficiency for the manufacturing
industry as a whole.

Mike Edmonds has a great article on AOL today on reforming the grid system by creating a smarter grid.  Many existing smart grid programs emphasize advanced meters. Although advanced meters are an important component of a smart grid, they are used to gather information rather than take action in response to changes in grid conditions. That's where intelligent grid-based technologies come into play. Intelligent grid-based technologies are automation systems installed out on the power grid. They include devices that actually carry and direct the flow of electricity, and use advanced electronics, software and communications to provide an intelligent response to grid conditions. They can take action in real time to restore power following an outage. They can also improve energy efficiency, boost capacity and increase power quality.  Importantly, communities will start benefiting from the systems immediately, which is crucial to build public support for smart grid deployments over the long term.

House Committee Gives Wind PTC Consideration, Mexico Puts Together Climate Change Legislation

A Ways and Means Subcommittee panel in the House of Representatives will begin discussing expiring tax provisions today, with the likely conclusion that it will open the door for debate on the wind-energy tax credits that environmentalists and renewable-energy companies seek to extend. Several members of the Select Reveune Measures subcommittee represent states where the wind-energy has a strong foothold, so while its not guaranteed that the tax credit extension comes up, these representatives will likely push the issue. And while the credit has generally received wide bipartisan support and is crucial to wind sector development, as evidenced by past industry slumps during credit lapses, the coming election and wider debates on tax policies and other expiring tax code provisions has caused the outcome to be in question at this point in the debate.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has signed into law climate change legislation that will bind the country to significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable energies.  The law, which sets targets for emissions cuts as well as for the expansion of renewable energies, is only the second of its kind in the world after Great Britain and represents the first initiative of a developing country to commit to such targets.  Mexico is ranked 12th among the world's top carbon-emitting countries, producing 443.61 million metric tons of CO2 every year.   Of course, the world's largest carbon emitters are China and the U.S. accounting for over 40 percent of global carbon emissions.

Senator Wyden vs.Senator Bingaman Blue Ribbon Report on Nuclear Has Hearing, New Chevy Volt Gets 308 Miles

It is widely anticipated that Senator Wyden(OR) will replace retiring Jeff Bingaman (NM) as the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  POLITICO has a piece on the differences between the more courtly Senator Bingaman and Senator Wyden who has a penchant for creative deal-making with Republicans.  Altho this penchant irks the Democrats at times, Politico says perhaps this style will unleash some of the partisian backlog on energy legislation such as a clean energy mandate and revenue-sharing from offshore drilling.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will soon be diving into a report on handling waste at nuclear plants around the nation. The report, published in January by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, calls for interim storage sites, increased efforts to develop geological disposal sites, and a new federal body that will remove nuclear responsibility from the Energy Department. This hearing comes amidst the long-standing debate over the waste repository in Nevada's Yucca mountain, which the Democrats hope to close for good and the Republicans wish to revive after an NRC review.

The new 2013 Chevrolet Volt will offer a slightly higher all-electric range, up from 35 to 38 miles although the sticker price of $39,995 will not change.  Next year's Volt will also receive a higher EPA efficiency rating, from 94 to 98 MPGe, or Miles Per Gallon Equivalent--a measure of how far the vehicle can travel on electricity with the energy content of 1 gallon of gasoline.  The 2013 Volt will be fitted with a battery pack that holds slightly more energy--up from 16 to 16.5 kilowatt-hours.  The changes come courtesy of a slightly altered chemistry in the lithium-ion cells provided by LG Chem. 


Commerce Department Considers Countervailing Duties on Wind from China, EPRI Study Emphasizes Flexibility

On May 30, the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (ITA) issued an affirmative preliminary determination in its countervailing duty (CVD) investigation of utility scale wind towers from China. ITA found that China has provided countervailable subsidies for the industry ranging from 13.74% to 26%. The affirmative preliminary determination means that U.S. Customs & Border Protection will be instructed to collect a cash deposit based on these preliminary rates. ITA conducted the investigation at the request of four petitioners located in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Texas, and is expected to issue a final determination in August 2012. The U.S. International Trade Commission will make its final determination in September 2012. If both final determinations are affirmative, the Department of Commerce will issue a countervailing order; however, if either determination is negative no CVD order will be issued. 

The Electric Power Research Institute  has a new assessment which concludes that flexibility for electric utilities in installing new pollution control technology to comply with current and pending EPA rules could save approximately $100 billion in future expenditures.  The results are based on two potential pathways for compliance, one based on the “current course” and the other on an “alternative flexible path.” The analysis found that installing a suite of new emissions controls would cost the U.S. economy up to $275 billion, between 2010 and 2035 in present value terms, if the current course is followed.

Romney Hypocrisy on Solyndra, Washington Post For Carbon Tax but Opposed to PTC

Walking on thin ice ….the Massachusetts solar company to which Mitt Romney personally delivered a $1.5 million loan when he was governor has gone belly up, leaving him vulnerable to the same 'picking winners and losers' charges that he's been saying about President Obama over Solyndra.  Lowell-based Konarka Technologies, which announced Friday it had filed for bankruptcy protection with plans to lay off more than 80 workers was the firm that Governor Romney gaive 1.5 milltion. Only last week Romney made an unannounced visit to Solyndra's  headquarters in California, where he accused the Obama administration of a conflict of interest and poor judgment in approving Solyndra's $535 million DOE loan guarantee.  Can this make the Republican mantra of 'Solyndara Solyndra Solyndra' go away?  Probably not.    

The Washington Post recent editorial on Production Tax Credits (PTC) said that a carbon tax would be a better answer than a renewal of the PTC.  They state that "More clean energy is good. Achieving it with crude policy is not. Maybe wind power really is the future, or maybe it’s not. There are policies designed to allow consumers and utilities to decide, instead of Congress, and the best among them is a carbon tax."   Bottom line is green energy is good, but be fair and open about the process.


Fracking of Natural Gas Compromises Environmentalists, House Oversight Committee Goes After Administration Energy Strategy

The Wall Stree Journal had an op-ed piece yesterday about how the environmental movement, who once touted natural gas as the "bridge fuel" to renewable power future has now turned against it. It is true that the Sirerra Club has a dedicted lobby effort to oppose hydraulic fracking, but I  seriously doubt that  environmentalists are anti natural gas.  Hydraulic fracturing and shale revolution has sent gas prices down to $2.50 and indeed, natural gas is cheaper than renewable sources of energy, even if you include the costs of carbon capture and sequestration.  But I doubt the veracity of the op-ed when they say that  the "green left has decided it must do everything it can to reduce the supply of gas and keep its price as high as possible."

Energy will be a campaign issue even if somewhat under the radar, or I should say, plays to Washington DC policy makers.  Today, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is going after the Obama administration in two hearings today. The first, at 9:30 a.m. in Rayburn 2154, gives a legislative branch nod to one of Mitt Romney's favorite campaign zingers - that President Barack Obama's "all of the above" energy policy is really an "all of the above the ground" strategy (favoring solar and wind and ignoring oil, coal and natural gas). The committee put out a 13-page "myth vs. fact" document last night.

The second hearing of the committee's technology panel, looks at "federal red tape" on hydraulic fracturing operations. Not at all surprisingly, Republicans have long been unhappy with federal agencies like EPA taking a role in fracking regulations, preferring oversight to be left to the states.

Biofuels Could Be Boon to Military and Airline Industry, Economy and Solyndra Dominate Campaign Ads

The Airline Industry is pushing for the Military to take a leadership role in use of biofuels.  The aviation and aerospace industries are in a pitched battle with Congress over whether the military should buy biofuels for their vessels. Congress seems on track to deny the military funding for biofuels except under the strictest of circumstances. But for the airline industry, which lives and dies on fuel prices, having the military involved in the biofuels game is key to their future economic viability. 

Campaign strategies of Obama and Romney have shifted heavily into the battle to prove who is best suited to resurrect a limping economy. Obama’s aides have attempted to push criticism of the Solyndra failure aside in order to highlight that Romney learned the “wrong lessons” while working an investor at Bain Capital. Obama’s campaign aims to emphasize that Romney’s experiences in private equity investment prioritized earning profits for himself and his investors instead of focusing on job creation and employment during his time at Bain. On the other hand, Romney supporters try to draw attention to Obama’s inexperience in private equity investment as well as his failure in public equity investment in now-bankrupt Solyndra. While Obama’s campaign claims that green energy investments are necessary to fuel U.S. innovation and that all investments inevitably have the chance to fail, Romney and Republican super-PAC American Crossroads have fired back at Obama’s administration for numerous failed investment strategies and a poor investment track-record.


The Administration Pushes for PTC, NRDC Study on XL Keystone Pipeline Raises Questions on Price of Gas


President Obama will travel to Iowa on Thursday to put pressure on Congress to quickly extend key renewable-energy tax credits.  Obama will tout the tax credits during a speech at TPI Composites, a wind turbine blade manufacturer in Newton, Iowa.  The White House has made extending the tax credits a top policy priority, including it on Obama’s to-do list for Congress. Obama’s speech will focus on extending the production tax credit for renewables and expanding the 30 percent tax credit for clean energy manufacturing.The wind industry has launched an aggressive public relations and lobbying campaign to extend the production tax credit, which provides a credit for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced from wind.

NRDC has a new study by  Anthony Swift which says that the pipeline's impact on gasoline prices is"one of the most misunderstood issues surrounding the proposed Keystone XL," adding that when TransCanada originally proposed the pipeline, they pitched it as a way to increase the cost of oil in the United States, providing increased revenue for Canadian producers. Since then, proponents of the pipeline in the United States have pitched it as a means of decreasing U.S. gasoline prices.  Swift's study examined these two conflicting claims, and findings suggest that the former is the true one. According to Mr. Swift, "Our study has found that Keystone XL is likely to both decrease the amount of gasoline in U.S. refineries for domestic markets and increase the cost of producing it, leading to even higher prices at the pump".  The result in the immediate to short term will be a decline in gasoline production and an increase in diesel, according to the report.  Other findings in the report include that the pipeline will increase the price of crude oil in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains by over $20 a barrel, increasing the cost of Canadian tar sands by as much as $27 billion annually. These higher crude oil costs are expected to lead to deteriorating financial conditions in Rocky Mountain and Midwestern refineries, which could in turn result in decreased production. That's because if Midwestern refineries are forced to pay a higher price for oil, as East Coast refineries already do, they will be forced to respond by reducing their production and further decreasing U.S. gasoline supplies, according to the report.


FERC Advises EPA on Reliability Stemming From Air Toxics Standards, Smart Grid Roadmaps Should Look Beyond Electricity

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a Policy Statement describing how the Commission intends to advise EPA on the reliability impacts of EPA’s Utility Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (Utility MATS), which were issued in December 2011.  The Utility MATS rule requires existing electric generating units (EGUs) to come into compliance by early 2015, with the possibility of a one-year extension.  EPA has also indicated that it will allow any EGU that is critical to the reliability of the power grid to request an Administrative Order allowing it to operate for an additional year.  The Policy Statement outlines a process by which FERC will receive copies of AO requests and supporting information, review the impacts of Utility MATS on FERC-approved reliability standards, and advise EPA on individual AO requests. 

Ian Rowlnds has a interesting article in Smart Grid News on smart grid roadmaps.  Rowlands believes that these roadmaps need to look beyond the electricity sector and says many of the smart grid roadmaps being created today are prematurely limiting a broader discussion of the integration of smart grids with other resource, infrastructure and commodity systems in the future.  Viewed collectively, the roadmaps that have appeared to date point to some key defining characteristics with respect to a smart grid future:

•   Technologies to facilitate deployment of diverse electricity generation sources, including renewables, and energy storage facilities

•   Technologies to enable customer engagement with the smart grid 

•   Electrification of transportation

•   Electrification of space and water conditioning

Nuclear Industry Takes Out NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko, Washington Post Endorses Clean Energy Standard

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko is stepping down, effective upon the confirmation of his successor, according to a statement from Jaczko released today.  Effectively, the Nuclear Industry won a year long battle to oust Jaczko.  Gregory Jaczko's staunch ally Senate Majority Harry Reid plus tepid support from the Administration, was not nearly enough to stop months of  bureaucratic knife-wielding by the other four industry-backed members of the five-person panel.  The industry effort was spearheaded by Democratic Commissioner Bill Magwood. Magwood, led a similar coup against Terry Lash during the Clinton Administration at the Department of Energy before replacing Lash.  Magwood's ally at the time was Alex Flint, then a GOP Senate staffer for Senator Domenic who took the lead on nuclear policy. He's now the top lobbyist for the nuclear industry -- whose criticism of Jaczko coincided with Magwood's dramatic assault.  We just have to pray that the U.S. sees no nuclear accidents during Magwood tenure.

An editorial in the Washington Post on May 19 was  optimistic about Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman's proposed Clean Energy Standard. The proposal would require that utilities derive a defined portion of their electricity from technologies that emit fewer greenhouse emissions than coal,  Critically, any electricity technology — wind, solar, natural gas, nuclear or something entirely new — can get credit, scaled in accordance to the improvement it offers. This clean electricity mandate would ramp up over time, requiring that 54 percent of electricity in 2025 come from such sources and 84 percent in 2035. If this sounds familiar, it’s because many states have similar policies in place.  The plan would slash coal use, boosting natural gas, nuclear and renewables. Total U.S. energy- related carbon emissions would decline to 80 percent of the 2005 level by 2035, the Energy Information Administration estimates.  In spite of the costs, the Washington Post is supportive of this by sayint that a clean electricity standard could hold the most political appeal of any big approach to carbon cutting. It is harder to construe as a tax increase, and it explicitly benefits GOP favorites, such as natural gas and nuclear energy, as well as Democratic ones, such as solar and wind energy. 

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