Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 31, 2015

Power Grid Faces Constant Stream of Attacks

A USA Today investigation finds that “More often than once a week, the physical and computerized security mechanisms intended to protect Americans from widespread power outages are affected by attacks, with less severe cyberattacks happening even more often.”

“Between 2011 and 2014, electric utilities reported 362 physical and cyberattacks that caused outages or other power disturbances to the U.S. Department of Energy. Of those, 14 were cyberattacks and the rest were physical in nature… Often, such incidents are shrugged off by the local police who initially investigate.”

“While the Department of Energy received only 14 reports of cyberattacks from utilities over the past four years, other reporting systems show rising cyberthreats. The branch of the Department of Homeland Security that monitors cyberthreats received reports of 151 ‘cyber incidents’ related to the energy industry in 2013—up from 111 in 2012 and 31 in 2011. It is uncertain whether the increase is due to more incidents or an increase in reporting.”

Is Climate Change to Blame for Colder Winters?

While some have pointed the finger at climate change to explain the bitterly cold winters of late, Neal Colgrass looks at a recent paper in the Journal of Climate that “extreme cold snaps will become rarer as the climate continues to warm.”

“The argument goes like this: The Arctic has been warming for decades, and temperatures in mid-latitudes (or temperate zones, where most of us live) vary less often when there’s less temperature difference between the tropics and the poles. Think of it this way: If air masses were all the same, there would theoretically be no fluctuation. So, less difference, less fluctuation.”

Chart of the Day

— This chart from the Los Angeles Times highlights one of the greatest challenges to implementing clean energy: “Peak demand for electricity rarely coincides with the brightest sunshine or the strongest winds, so finding a way to store clean power and deliver it when needed will be critical as California relies more on renewable energy.”

“Companies are experimenting with supersized batteries and tanks of compressed air in the hunt for the best way to hold an electrical charge and respond quickly to shifts in power supply and demand… There’s more than one way to deal with an excess. For example, officials are working to boost cooperation among grid operators throughout the West so electricity can be sold where and when it’s needed, reducing the need to burn dirtier fuels around the region.”

Fight Continues to Save State Renewable Energy Policies

“There was a series of attempts in 2013 and 2014 to repeal or weaken state laws that set targets for increasing the use of renewable energy. States across the country—including Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas and North Carolina, among others—faced campaigns against their renewable energy standards. All of those attempts were unsuccessful except in the case of Ohio,” EcoWatch reports.

“Passed in 2008 with nearly unanimous support from both Republican and Democratic legislators, Ohio’s energy standards required utilities to meet 12.5 percent of electricity demand with renewable energy and to decrease energy use by more than 22 percent by 2025, with interim targets each year beforehand. The standards also required half of the renewable energy to come from in-state facilities.”


Greenhouse Gas Emissions Stalled in 2014

New data from the International Energy Agency  “indicate that global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn.”

Said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol: “This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today.”

“Global emissions of carbon dioxide stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year. The preliminary IEA data suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought.”

U.S. Drillers Working to Push Back OPEC Threat

The Associated Press reports that “OPEC and lower global oil prices delivered a one-two punch to the drillers in North Dakota and Texas who brought the U.S. one of the biggest booms in the history of the global oil industry.”

“Now they are fighting back.”

“Companies are leaning on new techniques and technology to get more oil out of every well they drill, and furiously cutting costs in an effort to keep U.S. oil competitive with much lower-cost oil flowing out of the Middle East, Russia and elsewhere.”

Energy Moves Businesses Employ to Drive Sustainability

The Business Roundtable provides an interesting infographic that shows various energy-related tactics businesses employ to improve sustainability.


Forecast: North Dakota Oil Tax Revenue Drops $1 Billion

The Jamestown Sun reports that “North Dakota’s oil tax revenues took another nearly $1 billion hit in the latest revenue forecast released Wednesday, but the picture for general fund revenues was nearly $131 million rosier than in January, leaving some lawmakers scratching their heads as they pointed to slumping oil prices and a drop in drilling activity.

“The forecast, prepared by the Office of Management and Budget with consultant Moody’s Analytics, is the first since a Jan. 29 forecast from Legislative Council predicted the state would collect $4.3 billion in oil and gas revenues next biennium — $4 billion less than the December forecast used in Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s budget proposal.”

“Wednesday’s forecast drops oil tax collections by another $870 million in 2015-17, to $3.4 billion, and by $108 million in the current biennium. That assumes the state’s ‘small trigger’ oil extraction tax exemption will last through June and the “big trigger” exemption will be in effect for 11 months of the next biennium.”

Nuclear Deal Could Release Iranian Oil

Bloomberg reports that “World powers have offered to suspend U.S. and European oil sanctions against Iran within months of signing an agreement if the Islamic Republic adopts strict limits verified by intrusive inspections of its nuclear program for at least a decade, according to U.S. and European officials.

“Limits on Iran’s oil exports would be suspended after Iran complies with an initial set of restrictions, such as disconnecting the majority of its centrifuges and submitting them for verification, according to the officials who spoke to Bloomberg News on condition of anonymity to describe the private negotiations under way in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“Negotiating teams from six powers — the U.S., U.K,, France, Germany, China and Russia — are working toward a self-imposed March 31 goal to reach the framework of a nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Republicans Highlight Objections to Climate Rule

Senate Republicans used a hearing “on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) landmark climate rule to highlight the objections from states that oppose the rule,” The Hill reports.

“The GOP brought in officials from Indiana, Wyoming and Wisconsin — each of which has Republican governors and Republican majorities in both legislative chambers — to outline how they find the rule unreasonable, irresponsible and illegal.”

“Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee brought in officials from New York and California — whose governors are Democrats — to support the regulation, which aims to slash the power sector’s carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030. It was the second hearing in as many months that the panel has held on the rule, to which Republicans strongly object and have sought to scuttle or change significantly.”

Finally, a Reason to Worry About Climate Change: It Threatens Coffee

The Hill: “The morning coffee that so many depend on to get through the day is at risk due to climate change, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency warned Wednesday.”

“The coffee plant is just one of the numerous staples that a change in climate could threaten if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, Gina McCarthy said.”

“’Now, coffee’s a temperature-sensitive crop,’ McCarthy said Wednesday at a speech hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘Climate change puts the world’s coffee-growing regions at risk.’”

“Starbucks Coffee is among more than 200 companies that have endorsed the EPA’s proposed rule to slash carbon emissions from power plants. The companies argue that climate change threatens their operations.”

Global Warming Set to Accelerate

The Guardian: “New evidence suggests the rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere could be 0.25C per decade by 2020 – a level not seen for at least 1,000 years.”

“The analysis, based on a combination of data from more than two dozen climate simulation models from around the world, looked at the rate of change in 40-year long time spans.”

“Over the 900 years preceding the 20th century, 40-year warming trends rarely showed an average rate much higher than 0.1C per decade, the study found. But by 2020 the rate was expected to have risen to an average of 0.25C per decade, give or take 0.05C.”

Average C temperature rise per decade

“The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.”

The Cost of Battling EPA’s Clean Power Plan

Inside Climate News: “Since the Obama administration announced its plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions and combat climate change last year, many states have been on the offensive. Some have sued the Environmental Protection Agency, arguing that the agency has overstepped its authority. Republican leaders in Congress have vowed to dismantle carbon emission regulations. And state legislatures have set up numerous blockades to delay the Clean Power Plan.”

Obama's Climate Rule Under Attack

“Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA’s administrator has the authority to devise a plan if a state fails to do so. But there’s a catch.”

“The EPA likely has authority to enforce only one, or, according to the agency, two of four [emissions reduction] building blocks … The act, as it stands now, allows the EPA to restrict emissions from plants but does not give it the authority to increase power generation from plants or order states to set up more renewable energy sources.”

“If a state doesn’t submit a plan, or submits one that doesn’t meet the EPA’s requirements, the agency will formulate a federal plan for the state.”

“A federal plan is going to be bad news for customers. Reducing emissions at coal plants is a lot more expensive than, say, increasing customer energy efficiency. It’s fairly certain that a federal plan will result in higher electricity prices than a state plan would.”

Has Fracking Peaked?

Fuel Fix: “The U.S. shale boom may finally be slowing down, according to projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.”

“Oil production from the six largest shale plays in the U.S. will hit 5.6 million barrels per day in April, an increase of less than 300 barrels per day over March, the EIA said in its monthly drilling productivity report on Monday. The increase would be the smallest since February 2011.”

“If the EIA’s projection holds, April’s production would be a drastic decrease from a record-breaking surge in 2014; in 10 of the last 16 months, U.S. oil production gained at least 100,000 barrels per day.”

production vs oil price

Natural Gas to Fund New Energy Projects in PA

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that “Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget includes new funding for an array of energy projects fueled by both traditional and renewable resources, and it relies heavily on one energy source — natural gas — to pay for it.”

“The Democratic governor is proposing to issue a $675 million bond to pay for economic development initiatives, with $225 million of it slated for a package of alternative energy, natural gas and energy efficiency projects.”

“The estimated $55 million annual debt service for the bond would be paid from a severance tax that Mr. Wolf wants to put on the volume and value of gas extracted from the Marcellus and Utica shales.”

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