Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 20, 2014

The Future of Coal

The Economist reports “What more could one want? It is cheap and simple to extract, ship and burn. It is abundant: proven reserves amount to 109 years of current consumption, reckons BP, a British energy giant. They are mostly in politically stable places. There is a wide choice of dependable sellers, such as BHP Billiton (Anglo-Australian), Glencore (Anglo-Swiss), Peabody Energy and Arch Coal (both American).”

“Other fuels are beset by state interference and cartels, but in this industry consumers—in heating, power generation and metallurgy—are firmly in charge, keeping prices low. Just as this wonder-fuel once powered the industrial revolution, it now offers the best chance for poor countries wanting to get rich.”

“Such arguments are the basis of a new PR campaign launched by Peabody, the world’s largest private coal company (which unlike some rivals is profitable, thanks to its low-cost Australian mines). And coal would indeed be a boon, were it not for one small problem: it is devastatingly dirty. Mining, transport, storage and burning are fraught with mess, as well as danger. Deep mines put workers in intolerably filthy and dangerous conditions. But opencast mining, now the source of much of the world’s coal, rips away topsoil and gobbles water. Transporting coal brings a host of environmental problems.”

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IG: Criticism of U.S. Over Solar Business Loan Default

The New York Times reports that “long before the Energy Department lost $68 million on Abound Solar, a manufacturer that went bankrupt two years ago, it should have known that the company’s chance of repaying the loan it had guaranteed was deteriorating, according to a report by the department’s inspector general.”

“The damning report was issued as the Obama administration prepared to offer as much as $8 billion in additional loan guarantees.”

“The loan guarantee program has been a magnet for criticism since the failure of Solyndra in 2011; that company took $528 million in loans guaranteed by the Energy Department.”

“The new report, released on Thursday, focused on loan guarantees extended to Abound Solar, which was initially offered $400 million. When the company missed several production milestones, the department cut off the loan guarantees, limiting the loss to taxpayers.”

Surge in Clean Energy Investment May Mark a Turnaround

Bloomberg: “Clean energy investment rose by 9 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier on surging demand for rooftop solar panels from the U.S. to Japan.”

“New investment in renewable power and energy efficiency rose to $47.7 billion in the first three months of the year from $43.6 billion, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said today in an e-mailed statement.”

“The increase may mark a turnaround. Investment in low-carbon power and energy-efficiency equipment has fallen for two years as industrialized nations pared back subsidies.”

Two patterns are emerging: “the increasing share of small-scale solar in total investment, and the expansion of investment into more developing countries.”

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

U.S. Army Developing Solar Array for Energy

The U.S. Army announced ”plans to start development of a solar array that will provide about 25 percent of the annual installation electricity requirement of Fort Huachuca, Ariz.”

“‘This will be the largest solar array in the department of defense on a military installation,’ according to Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. A ground breaking is scheduled for April 25, with commercial operations commencing in late 2014.”

“‘Energy is an installation priority,’ said Maj. Gen. Robert Ashley, Fort Huachuca commanding general. ‘The project goes beyond the megawatts produced. It reflects our continued commitment to southern Arizona and energy security. The project will provide reliable access to electricity for daily operations and missions moving forward.’”

“The Fort Huachuca Renewable Energy Project is a joint effort between the U.S. Army Energy Initiatives Task Force, Fort Huachuca, The General Services Administration, Tucson Electric Power and developer E.ON Climate and Renewables.”

WY Considers Pushing Oil, Gas Ops Further from Homes, Schools

The Wyoming Star Tribune reports that “oil and gas operations might be pushed further away from homes, schools and other residential buildings under a rule change being considered by Wyoming regulators.”

“But is unclear when and how that rule would be implemented.”

“Mark Watson, the state’s interim Oil and Gas supervisor, said Tuesday in a public meeting in Casper that his agency will prioritize an examination of the minimum distance required between energy development and residences. The current distance is 350 feet.”

Report: Oil and Gas Production Falls on Federal Land

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that “oil and gas production on federal land and water is down six percent from 2009 to 2013, but a new report by the Congressional Research Service says expanded production options favored by Republicans and oil-state Democrats might not reverse that trend.”

“‘There is, however, continued interest among some in Congress to open more federal lands for oil and gas development (e.g., the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and areas offshore) and increase the speed of the permitting process,’ the report by the non-partisan research service says. ‘But having more lands accessible may not translate into higher levels of production on federal lands, as industry seeks out the most promising prospects and higher returns on more accessible non-federal lands.’”

“One reason hydraulic fracking, which is growing, primarily occurs on private land.”

“The report was released Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.”

Pew Publishes Annual Clean Energy Report

ICYMI: The Pew Charitable Trusts published its annual report “Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2013. It states:”

“For the past five years, Pew has tracked investment and finance trends in the world’s leading economies. Over that period, the clean energy industry has been buffeted by a global recession, broad changes in energy markets, and uncertainty surrounding international policies on clean energy and climate change. Despite these challenges, the clean energy sector is now an annual $250 billion component of the world economy.”

“Although global clean energy investment in renewable sources, biofuels, smart energy, and energy storage fell 11 percent in 2013, to $254 billion, a number of developments indicate a promising future for clean energy. First, the prices of leading technologies such as wind and solar have dropped steadily for decades; they are increasingly competitive with century-old and more financially volatile conventional power sources. Second, clean energy manufacturers are moving forward and have effectively weathered withering competitive pressures, consolidations, and policy changes. Investor confidence about the long-term future of renewable energy was reinforced in clean energy stock indexes in 2013, which rose sharply over the year. Third, markets in fast-growing, developing countries are prospering; these economies see distributed generation as an opportunity to avoid investments in costly transmission systems, comparable to the deployment of cellphones instead of costly landline infrastructure. Even in the contracting markets of Europe and the Americas, which have affected the overall industry, policymakers are recalibrating rather than abandoning clean energy policies.”

How U.S. Military Can Adopt Clean Energy For National Security

Forbes reports that “The military’s success in preparing for and mitigating climate change impacts will depend in large part on where it gets energy and how smartly it uses energy, especially amid budget constraints. Consider this: the Defense Department is the single largest energy consumer in the United States, despite accounting for less than one percent of total domestic use.”

“Each of the branches – Air Force, Army, Navy, and the Marine Corps – is making significant progress to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, but more must be done to meet energy goals and prepare for the global consequences of climate change. To do this, the Defense Department should:”

  • “Play a larger role in creating a smarter, more resilient U.S. electricity grid.”
  • “Increase energy efficiency.”
  • “Develop new partnerships.”
  • “Identify new ways to finance energy improvements.”

Is Fracking Really a Job Creator?

Using Pennsylvania as an example, Clare Foran questions whether fracking truly creates jobs:

“That’s the linchpin of the oil and gas industry argument for permitting the controversial drilling practice. And it’s become the industry’s trump card as the debate rages—among policymakers and scientists—over whether fracking is safe for the people and environment around it.”

“The energy boom has injected fracking—and energy jobs in general—into the [Pennsylvania] gubernatorial race, but its role in the political discussion dwarfs the sector’s actual impact on the state economy: In 2012, jobs in core industries tied to natural-gas production made up less than 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s total 5.5 million jobs.”

“‘It’s a drop in the bucket,’ said Tim Kelsey, a professor at the Pennsylvania State University and cofounder of the Center for Economic and Community Development. ‘Relative to statewide employment this is a very small number of jobs.’”

 Is Fracking Really a Job Creator?

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

Study Finds Large Emissions from Shale Gas Wells

“Researchers found higher-than-expected emissions of a potent greenhouse gas emanating from Pennsylvania wells, according to a study published Monday that adds to concerns about the environmental footprint of natural gas,” according to Fuel Fix.

“The study, conducted by Purdue and Cornell universities and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest to scrutinize methane emissions associated with natural gas development, with implications from New York to Texas.”

“Researchers used a specially equipped airplane to collect samples above the Marcellus Shale in southwestern Pennsylvania. They traced large methane emissions to seven wells that were were being drilled, a phase of operations not normally associated with such high levels. That suggests the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates, released in an annual inventory, are not capturing all the released methane.”

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

Lax EPA Regs Allow Biomass to Pollute More Than Coal

InsideClimate News: “A new study charges that government regulations for biomass plants are riddled with loopholes that allow wood-burning facilities to spew more toxic emissions in the air than coal-fired power plants.”

“The findings are refueling a controversy over whether biomass should be treated as a renewable energy fuel and able to qualify for green incentives, or as a fossil fuel like coal.”

“The study, conducted by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), found that biomass facilities release as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal plants per megawatt-hour, and as much as 100 percent more than other air pollutants.”

The loopholes include: “EPA giving biomass plants a ‘free pass’ on limiting CO2 emissions; states not requiring operators to control short-term air emissions spikes at smaller facilities; and states not mandating extra monitoring at plants that burn wood waste, which emit more toxic pollutants.”

Mary Booth, the study’s author says that “biomass should be regulated the same way as coal: ‘We’re talking about the same pollution, the same health effects, but biomass plants get to emit two and a half times as much.’”

Role, Size of Energy Taxes Differs Across Western U.S.

The Denver Post reports that “the Colorado shale oil boom is adding billions of dollars to oil company balance sheets and millions to the coffers in counties where drilling takes place — but it hasn’t amounted to much for the rest of the state.”

“While thousands of wells are being drilled in the Niobrara shale formation — mainly in Weld County — none is likely to pay state tax after three years, according to one economic analysis.”

“Those tax payments are being reduced by tax credits equal to $208 million a year, according to a Colorado Legislative Council staff analysis.”

The piece continues: “The size and role of energy taxes varies across the West, with Colorado having one of the lowest rates. Some states have raised more and turned it into a statewide benefit.”

“Wyoming collects about $1 billion a year and uses the money to fund highway and water projects and to provide grants to all cities and towns based on population.”

“A portion goes to a trust fund, now valued at $6.2 billion, whose interest, dividends and capital gains go to the Wyoming general fund.”

“Montana is using oil and gas taxes for statewide property tax relief.”

TX: ‘Railroads Filling Void as Oil Pipeline Falls Short’

The Texas Tribune reports that “in December, a new terminal in the Port of Beaumont welcomed its first customer: a train carrying 43,000 barrels of crude oil from Colorado. Workers at the terminal, the Jefferson Transload Railport, transferred the crude to a barge, which traveled down the Neches River to a nearby refinery.”

“As shale fields scattered across the Midwest and West Texas produce millions of barrels of crude oil, energy companies are finding the national pipeline network insufficient to transport their output. Railroads are increasingly picking up the slack, and Jefferson Energy Companies, based in The Woodlands, is one of several companies investing millions of dollars to help transport crude by rail, a business that was nearly nonexistent just five years ago.”

“’We never thought we competed with pipeline until four years ago when we moved our first unit train of crude by rail,’ Dean Wise, a vice president for BNSF Railway, based in Fort Worth, said at a rail conference in January. ‘Now BNSF is moving eight trains a day.’”

“In Texas, the crude-by-rail boom has led to construction of facilities to help deliver the product to Gulf Coast refineries. It has also drawn concerns about the safety of moving such volatile materials throughout the state, in light of a spate of recent accidents.”

Transportation Pollution Biggest Threat to Global Climate

Bloomberg: “Emissions from transportation may rise at the fastest rate of all major sources through 2050, the United Nations will say in a report due April 13. Heat-trapping gases from vehicles may surge 71 percent from 2010 levels, mainly from emerging economies, according to a leaked draft of the most comprehensive UN study to date on the causes of climate change.”

“Rising incomes in nations like China, India and Brazil have produced explosive demand for cars and for consumer goods that must be delivered by highway, rail, ship or air. The new pollution, measured in millions of tons of greenhouse gases, may exceed all of the savings achieved through initiatives like subsidies for public transport and fuel efficiency.”

“Global car sales will rise 4 percent to 70.2 million in 2014 from last year, and are forecast to jump 27 percent by 2020, according to IHS Inc. The researcher expects demand to peak around 100 million units.”

“A decrease in emissions may come from government policies to change driving behavior, investments in public transport, substituting oil-based fuels in cars, ships and airplanes with natural gas, biofuels or renewable electricity, and new technologies such as lightweight vehicles and electric cars.”

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

Editorial: ‘Extracting a Sane Energy Policy Around Methane’

ICYMI: The Washington Post ran an editorial on Methane on Apr. 4: “Will the United States’ energy revolution hurt the planet or help it? Will fracking for natural gas make fighting climate change harder or easier? Can the United States meet its goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020? The answer to all of these crucial questions could depend on a colorless, odorless gas that shows up all over the place.”

“The substance is methane, the primary component in natural gas. Methane rises from landfills, escapes from coal mines, exits from cows’ posteriors, seeps out of drilling sites and leaks from the pipes that transport the fuel to large power plants and countertop stoves. Burning methane produces about half the heat-trapping carbon dioxide as burning coal, the greatest climate villain of the fossil fuels. But, uncombusted, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right, a heat-trapper many times more potent than carbon dioxide. In the long term, carbon dioxide is the major worry, because methane does not linger and accumulate in the atmosphere the way carbon dioxide does. But the continuing release of large amounts of methane is still a big problem — accounting for about a tenth of the country’s greenhouse emissions, a proportion that could well rise without more effort to reduce it. Methane emissions can also foul local air, encouraging the formation of harmful ozone.”

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