Featured photo from our gallery:
By Bobby Magill on 21 Apr 2015
Upgrade the power grid, or be swept away by a changing climate.
That’s the message in a new Obama administration report published Tuesday calling for billions of dollars of major investments in the nation’s energy system over the next decade. All the pipelines, power lines, railways, and the other infrastructure that bring Americans the energy they use each day will have to be modernized in the face of climate change and a renaissance in renewable energy, it says.
The report, the first Quadrennial Energy Review, is part of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and a four-year guide to modernizing and upgrading the nation’s vast energy system. The rapidly aging system needs a major upgrade in the face of global warming and the need to integrate renewables into the power grid.
In order to crank up a car, drive to work, and switch on the office lights, Americans rely on more than 2.6 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines and hundreds of thousands of miles of power lines and railways that carry fossil fuels and renewable energy to homes and offices.
Many of those things are in a tenuous spot in a changing climate. Many natural gas pipelines emit methane and other greenhouse gases as they add to climate change. At the same time, much of America’s energy infrastructure is low-lying and vulnerable to climate change as sea levels and temperatures rise, weather becomes more extreme, and permafrost melts.
“For example, severe weather is the leading source of electric grid disturbances in the United States,” the review states. “In fact, between 2003 and 2012, an estimated 679 widespread power outages occurred due to severe weather, costing the U.S. economy $18 billion to $33 billion each year between 2003 and 2013. This risk is growing; the number of Gulf Coast electricity substations exposed to inundation caused by storm surge from Category 1 storms is projected to increase from 255 to 337 by 2030 due to sea-level rise.”Share This Post
But Republicans are skeptical about providing the money.
The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed spending as much as $3.5 billion to replace aging natural gas pipelines nationwide — a move that comes just as POLITICO published a lengthy investigation of the public safety threat posed by pipelines and the numerous problems plaguing the federal agency that regulates them.
The announcement, included in a 348-page government report examining how to upgrade a vast array of the country’s energy infrastructure, is aimed at addressing the dangers to both public safety and the climate from pipelines that leak or rupture.
Story Continued Below
But the amount of money the administration is proposing is just a fraction of what it would take to replace the hundreds of thousands of miles of decades-old cast-iron and bare-steel natural gas distribution pipes — the lines that are considered most vulnerable to ruptures. A full replacement would cost $270 billion, the report says. And the whole proposal immediately ran into GOP skepticism.
The report, from a sprawling Energy Department study called the Quadrennial Energy Review, calls for creating a DOE program to offer states financial incentives to replace and repair their aging infrastructure, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions from distribution lines that carry natural gas to homes and businesses. The price tag would be $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion over 10 years.
POLITICO’s analysis of federal pipeline data found that the older lines are a major part of the problem. Since 2002, about a quarter of all reported pipeline incidents involved failed parts that had been installed before 1970, including 91 incidents in which the parts were at least 80 years old. During the past 12 years, spills, breaks and other accidents from all gas, oil and hazardous liquids pipelines caused a total of more than $5.5 billion in damage.Share This Post
After a series of deadly accidents, Congress created an office to oversee the nation’s oil and gas pipelines. A decade later, it’s become the can’t-do agency.
A massive fire roars through a mostly residential neighborhood following a natural gas pipeline rupture that killed eight people and injured more than 60 on Sept. 9, 2010, in San Bruno, California. | AP Photo
On June 10, 1999, a few days after his high school graduation, Liam Wood unexpectedly got an afternoon off work and decided to go fly-fishing on a creek near his hometown of Bellingham, Washington. About 100 miles away, operators missed the signs of a pressure spike in the 16-inch gasoline pipeline that crossed the stream in Whatcom Falls Park.
The pipe ruptured at a point where, several years before, a backhoe had accidentally struck and weakened the 50-year-old iron. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline began to spew into the creek near where Liam stood, staining the water pink.
It took an hour for control room computers to register an alert. Police began to evacuate the park, but Liam was already dead. Overcome by fumes, the 18-year-old had fallen unconscious into the water and drowned.
Then two 10-year-old boys playing in the park flicked a lighter they’d been using to set off fireworks, igniting the gasoline. The fireball set dozens of acres ablaze in a towering black cloud that could be seen in Vancouver, more than 50 miles away. The two boys died the next day, succumbing to burns over more than 80 percent of their bodies.
The ensuing public outrage revealed gaping holes in pipeline safety regulations. The pipeline company had failed — but clearly, so had federal authorities who were supposed to be keeping watch. At the time of the Bellingham disaster, pipeline operators were not required to inspect the inside of their pipes or install valves that would automatically shut after a rupture. Government auditors later found that the federal agency in charge of pipeline safety was a dismal failure at implementing more stringent regulations, in part because it deemed the rules “too costly for the pipeline industry compared with the expected benefits.”Share This Post
CASEY CHRISTI / BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN / ASSOCIATED
Emails show cozy relations between PG&E and PUC officials. Above, PG&E employees work on power lines.
BY MARC LIFSHER
April 22, 2015, 5:00 a.m.
Former Pacific Gas & Electric Co. chief lobbyist Brian Cherry was a master at schmoozing with state regulators.
A can-do political operative, Cherry always had a ready joke or a sympathetic ear for top officials and managers at the California Public Utilities Commission, who oversee just about every aspect of PG&E's operations — and its bottom line.
All that changed last fall when revelations of Cherry's persuasive powers set off a scandal over undue PG&E influence at the PUC.
After many complaints about ties between the PUC and the state's largest utility, PG&E fired Cherry, his boss and another vice president Sept. 15. The utility also released a torrent of documents that has sparked the biggest investigation of a state agency in the last decade.
http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-83355574/Share This Post
HOUSTON — North American energy security is more than just a diverse and abundant supply of oil, gas and renewables.
Instead, said Canadian Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, it’s about Mexico, the United States and Canada helping each other out in times of crisis, such as when Superstorm Sandy disrupted fuel supplies and caused blackouts in the Northeast.
“Consistent regulations and likeness in infrastructure” allow the three North American countries to collaborate in rebounding after those supply disruptions, Rickford said Wednesday, during a panel discussion with his U.S. and Mexican counterparts at IHS Energy CERAWeek.Share This Post
Christopher Helman Forbes Staff
Big Oil, Big Energy
ENERGY 4/22/2015 @ 11:30AM 1,644 views
GUEST POST WRITTEN BY
Mr. FitzGerald co-manages Windcrest Partners Public Investments, a long/short equity fund focused on small companies.
The oil and gas industry is in crisis. But while $50 oil might be good for America, is there a chance that a fever in the oil patch could cause the rest of the U.S. economy to catch a cold? It’s possible, and here’s why. Oil companies are on the hook for nearly a quarter of the overheated $1.2 trillion high-yield and leveraged loan market.Share This Post
By CORAL DAVENPORTAPRIL 22, 2015
WASHINGTON — As President Obama prepares to unveil his climate change regulations on coal-fired power plants, the nation’s electric utilities are preparing to transform the system that keeps the lights on in America. But some companies fear that in the process, the lights may go out.
This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a final set of rules aimed at forcing electric power companies — the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — to cut them 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The Obama administration has consistently used 2005 as a baseline year for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The ambitious rules hope to remake the nation’s electricity system by closing hundreds of heavily polluting coal plants while rapidly expanding the use of natural gas plants, wind and solar power. Officials at electric utilities say that as they make that transition — taking the nation’s largest but dirtiest source of electricity offline and replacing it with a mix of cleaner power sources — they may face power failures.
“If the proposed rule stands the way it is, there will be blackouts,” said Nick Akins, the chief executive of American Electric Power, an electric utility that supplies power in 11 Midwestern states.Share This Post
By ANTHONY DePALMAAPRIL 22, 2015
Bridgeport built the largest fuel-cell generating station in North America.
Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — It is no secret that Mayor Bill Finch idolizes President John F. Kennedy. He has converted a room off his office into a shrine filled with campaign buttons, banners and busts of the former president.
He says that of all President Kennedy’s accomplishments, what fired his imagination most was the challenge to send a man to the moon. “He raised our aspirations and expectations,” Mayor Finch said during an interview in the Kennedy Room, “and that’s what I’m trying to do here in Bridgeport.”
One of the first things that Mayor Finch, a tall, white-haired 59-year-old, did after becoming mayor in 2007 was to sign an executive order promoting sustainability, committing his city to a range of clean-energy policies that will reduce carbon emissions by 2020. That is a pretty tall order considering the rundown condition of the city, Connecticut’s largest, and the presence on the city’s shore of the 400-megawatt Bridgeport Harbor Generating Station, one of the last coal-fired power plants in the region.Share This Post
April 22, 2015 Updated: April 22, 2015 3:36pm
For some big universities, the campus power plant may one day become a thing of the past.
School officials recently flipped the switch on a system that uses more than 22 miles of water-filled pipes to heat and cool 155 buildings on campus, while a newly built electricity substation draws power from the grid. Next year, the school will even have its own solar power plant.
When the roughly $500 million energy upgrade is done, more than two-thirds of Stanford’s electricity will come from renewable sources. Stanford’s old power plant will soon be torn down to make room for academic buildings.Share This Post
By CLIFFORD KRAUSSAPRIL 22, 2015
HOUSTON — For the better part of the last century, crude oil prices have swung like a pendulum, pushing and pulling the fortunes of nations. More often than not, global supplies of the volatile commodity were controlled by the rulers of desert domains who would otherwise have been powerless had it not been for the oil that bubbled beneath their thrones.
That pendulum is on the move again, sending the price of oil cascading to less than $45 this winter from more than $100 a barrel last June, and it may fall further in the months ahead. On the surface, this latest oil boom gone bust may feel like history repeating itself, but there is a vital difference this time: The center of the oil world has spun from the sands of Saudi Arabia to the shale oil fields of Texas and North Dakota, a giant new oil patch some wildcatters have begun to call “Cowboyistan.”
Put another way, the United States is overtaking the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries as the vital global swing producer that determines prices. That remarkable change has been building since 2008, as American shale fields accounted for roughly half of the world’s oil production growth while American petroleum output nearly doubled. And shale production methods have proven highly adaptable to market conditions.
Not coincidentally, nearly all the advantages of the price swing are moving in Washington’s direction. Most American consumers and industries have benefited from a sharp drop in gasoline prices and other energy costs. And abroad, the economies of oil-producing adversaries like Russia and Venezuela are reeling.Share This Post
Heavily dependent on Russia for its energy needs, European trade negotiators are looking for a visible anchor to US energy supplies, writes Douglas Hengel of The German Marshall Fund of the United States.
By Douglas Hengel, The German Marshall Fund of the United States APRIL 22, 2015
- Cliff Owen/AP/File
When negotiations between the United States and the European Union began on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in 2013, a top priority for the Europeans was inclusion of a chapter specifically covering raw materials and energy. Although a separate energy chapter is not the norm in free trade agreements (FTAs), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) does contain one and the EU-Ukraine FTA agreed in June 2014 has specific energy provisions. A strong case can be made to highlight the geopolitical implications of energy in TTIP as well, consistent with language in the U.S. National Security Strategy that underlines the importance to the United States of Europe’s energy security.
While the Europeans have argued that trade in raw materials and energy is not well covered by existing international trade and investment rules, and that together we could set high standards for future negotiations, uppermost in the minds of Brussels and EU capitals was ensuring access to the rapidly increasing supplies of crude oil and natural gas being produced on this side of the Atlantic. Exports of U.S. crude oil are largely prohibited and exports of U.S. natural gas are subject to license (although automatic if the country of destination has a free trade agreement with the United States). Heavily dependent on Russia for its energy needs, and feeling vulnerable after multiple cutoffs of gas supplies by Moscow in recent years, the Europeans see a discrete TTIP energy chapter as a visible anchor to U.S. energy supplies and a tangible commitment to their energy security. To Brussels, a separate chapter would also highlight provisions on transparency and third party access to natural gas pipelines that could be used to combat discriminatory practices by Russian monopoly gas exporter Gazprom.Share This Post
By JAMES KANTERAPRIL 22, 2015
E.U. on Antitrust Case Against Gazprom
BRUSSELS — European antitrust regulators on Wednesday charged the Russian energy giant Gazprom with abusing its dominance in natural gas markets, a move amounting to a direct challenge to the authorities in Moscow.
The antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, took pains to describe the matter in terms of business markets. But the case cannot help but be a test of geopolitical wills, given the tension between Russia and the West over the Kremlin’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.
Gazprom’s immediate response seemed aimed at elevating the issue to a matter of international relations. Gazprom suggested that it was not subject to the European Union’s antitrust jurisdiction because it is a state-controlled company. It signaled it was effectively an arm of the Russian government, “empowered by the laws of the Russian Federation with special socially significant functions” and with “the status of a strategic government-controlled business entity.”Share This Post
By MARK SCOTTAPRIL 22, 2015
London Array, in the Thames Estuary off Kent, England, is a joint wind power project of Dong Energy of Denmark, E.ON of Germany and Masdar of Abu Dhabi.
Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg, via Getty Images
On the outskirts of Groningen, a medieval Dutch town near the German border, a major construction project is underway.
Miles of high-voltage cable have already been buried in the ground. Workers recently began building an electricity substation to manage the ebbs and flows of renewable energy. And this year, ships will start to ferry giant foundations and rotor blades 50 miles into the North Sea to be part of one of the world’s largest offshore wind farms.
The Dutch green energy project, which will cost roughly $3 billion to build, is expected to generate enough power for 1.5 million people when it starts producing electricity in 2017.
When completed, the venture will become the latest in a series of renewables projects that have sprouted off the coasts of Britain, Germany and Denmark, helping make Europe the global leader in producing green energy from wind farms far at sea.Share This Post
By AMY YEEAPRIL 22, 2015
An artist’s rendering of experimental buoys made by Carnegie Wave Energy. The buoys harness the motion of waves off Australia and use it to create electricity and desalinate water
Carnegie Wave Energy Limited
MELBOURNE, Australia — Off the coast of Western Australia, three big buoys floating beneath the ocean’s surface look like giant jellyfish tethered to the seafloor. The steel machines, 36 feet wide, are buffeted by the powerful waves of the Indian Ocean. By harnessing the constant motion of the waves, the buoys generate about 5 percent of the electricity used at a nearby military base on Garden Island.
The buoys are a pilot project of Carnegie Wave Energy, a company based in Perth and listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. In late February, the buoys started supplying 240 kilowatts each to the electricity grid at HMAS Stirling, Australia’s largest naval base. They also help run a desalination plant that transforms seawater into about one-third of the base’s fresh water supply.
Renewable energy is not an urgent matter in Australia, given the country’s plentiful supplies of fossil fuels, particularly coal. But Carnegie’s demonstration project is ultimately aimed at island nations that must import expensive fuel for electricity, as well as military bases looking to bolster energy and water security.
“Island nations are all looking to be sustainable,” said Michael E. Ottaviano, chief executive of Carnegie. Wave energy could be a good fit, especially for islands where tropical clouds impede solar power or where wind turbines disturb the aesthetics of tourist destinations.Share This Post
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and CORAL DAVENPORTAPRIL 22, 2015
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday will make his first visit while in office to the Florida Everglades, choosing the backyard of a former Republican governor of the state, Jeb Bush, and its Republican senator, Marco Rubio, to demand action on climate change in a critical battleground in the 2016 presidential election.
Officially, Mr. Obama will be commemorating the 45th Earth Day with a series of announcements, including the designation of a national historic landmark at the home of the environmentalist who led efforts to rescue the grassy marshes of the Everglades.
But the president’s trip is also intended to sharpen a political contrast with Republicans in ways that will help the Democratic Party in the presidential contest, especially in states like Florida, where the impact of climate change is being felt in profound ways.Share This Post