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A climate for change: The U.S. can help drive a new round of global carbon cuts

By Editorial Board August 28 at 7:36 PM

PROBABLY THE most persuasive argument against U.S. action on global warming is China. No U.S.-only initiative can stop the planet from warming. Any effective response to climate change will require broad, international effort.

All true. But such coordination is not as out of reach as many believe. It is quite possible — if the United States does its part.

The European Union has been shrinking its carbon footprint for years, proof that the United States will not be cutting emissions alone. A 2013 study of 33 major nations found a broad move toward environmental protection in places such as Japan, Mexico and South Korea. Developed nations alone can have a noticeable effect: A Council of Economic Advisers study last month noted that the climate-change response will be a lot less expensive if developed countries start now and others catch up than if no one starts now.

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Losing Ground: Southeast Louisiana is Disappearing, Quickly

A football-field size of land is being washed away every hour, and lawsuits are being filed to hold oil and gas companies responsible for the destruction

Aug 28, 2014 |By Bob Marshall, The Lens and ProPublica

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In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.

And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.

At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater.

The effects would be felt far beyond bayou country. The region best known for its self-proclaimed motto “laissez les bons temps rouler” — let the good times roll — is one of the nation’s economic linchpins.

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Plenty of pluck left in the Marcellus, report says

Posted on August 27, 2014 at 6:13 pm by Robert Grattan in Hydraulic fracturing, Natural gas, Natural gas liquids, Production, Shale

HOUSTON — The Marcellus region is now the biggest natural gas shale play in the world, and there’s still about $90 billion to be made by tapping the area’s reserves, according to a study by energy analyst group Wood Mackenzie.

The Marcellus, which stretches from New York to West Virginia, produced about 15.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day in August, about 38 percent of total U.S. natural gas production for the month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency doesn’t expect the boom to taper off anytime soon, and several of the biggest companies are cashing in.

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Calpine to sell Florida facility to Duke Energy

Posted on August 28, 2014 at 3:19 pm by Ryan Holeywell in Deals, Electricity, General

HOUSTON — Calpine Corp. has agreed to sell a Florida power plant to Duke Energy, but the companies have not yet finalized the terms of the deal, a Calpine spokesman said.

The transaction stems from a debate playing out in Florida about whether Duke Energy should buy an existing plant or build new units to meet what it says is the need for more power supplies.

At a hearing of the Florida Public Service Commission earlier this week, the companies announced that Duke had agreed in principal to buy Houston-based Calpine’s  Osprey Energy Center, a natural gas-fired facility located about 45 miles east of Tampa. It opened in 2004.

The companies took the unusual step of announcing the deal before all the details were hammered out. That’s because Duke withdrew its request to the state for permission to build its own new peaker unit and had to explain why, said Brett Kerr, a Calpine spokesman.

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VIDEO: Tom Steyer plans to spend money on legislative races

By David Siders

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 - 6:45 pm

Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who is spending heavily on political races nationwide, said Thursday that he plans to pour $1 million into legislative contests in California this year, possibly including Democrat-versus-Democrat races.

Steyer, a former hedge fund executive, said he will focus spending on voter registration and turnout operations for Democratic candidates who support environmental causes.

“There’s nothing, you know, in our bylaws that I’ve read that says we can’t get involved in D-on-D races, and we have,” Steyer said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board.

Steyer’s remarks come at the end of a legislative session in which he pushed unsuccessfully for a tax on oil extraction and legislation requiring a two-thirds vote of the electorate in any county before hydraulic fracturing could go forward in that area.

“I don’t think we ever got close,” he said.

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Guest Juice: Evening Out Renewables – Act 2

August 28, 2014

By Edward Cazalet

—Edward G. Cazalet, Ph.D., is vice president and co-founder of MegaWatt Storage Farms Inc., and chief executive officer and founder of TeMix Inc.

California Current Staff

Original source:

As we approach the major private utilities’ December 2014 energy storage procurements under state law passed in 2010, we should reflect how this procurement standard arose and what our future storage needs now are.

A year before the storage procurement law, AB 2414, passed, in an April 17, 2009, Guest Juice titled Evening Out Renewables, I wrote “I advocate a standard of 5 percent of peak demand for fast, clean, deep and distributed new storage by 2020. This would provide about 4 GW of storage, which is a modest fraction of the variable renewables that will be in place in 2020. One GW might be installed in the San Francisco area, 2 GW in the Los Angeles area, and 1 GW in the San Diego area. Starting in about 2011, we would need to install about 500 MW per year of storage to support the 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard for 2020. At this battery demand level, manufacturers would locate battery manufacturing facilities in California and create jobs. Setting the storage goal at this level would create competition among manufacturers to lower costs and encourage new technology development.”

I further advocated in 2009 that the Legislature establish a portfolio standard for storage to complement the standards they set for renewables and demand-response.

Months later, on February 25, 2010, then-Attorney General Jerry Brown and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner introduced AB 2514 “to enable California to become a leader in clean, cost-effective energy storage.”

AB 2514 was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 29, 2010.

Three years later, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a 1.325 GW storage procurement standard by 2020 (operational by 2024) for the three investor-owned utilities.

That was less than the original 4 GW I advocated in 2009, but still a significant amount. The municipal utilities have not yet published their storage procurement plans.

Requests for offers for the first investor-owned utilities’ AB 2514 procurements are to be issued by them this coming December.

Additionally, 50 MW of storage was solicited by Southern California Edison last year prior to the finalization of the commission target. Edison’s procurement contracts for the 50 MW have not yet been announced.

Unfortunately, the commission order does not require Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Edison, to procure deep, long-duration storage.

I recommend the commission define the storage standard to be six-hour duration (storage that can both charge and discharge at its rated capacity for six hours).

Here's why:

Current studies by the respected consulting firm Energy & Environmental Economics (E3) and the California Independent System Operator point to substantial mid-day curtailment of solar energy, especially on sunny spring and fall days. This mid-day curtailment will greatly increase with a 40 to 50 percent renewables standard now being considered for post 2020. In any case, customers will continue to install rooftop solar not counted in the state renewables mandate.

Instead of curtailing and thereby wasting this clean energy, it should be stored to displace fossil fuel use in the evenings and other times. If we waste this solar energy, we will have to buy more solar capacity to meet our renewables and greenhouse gas reduction mandates.

The grid operator has identified needs for 13 GW of flexibility by 2022 and more in later years. Each GW of storage provides 2 GW of flexibility—4 GW of battery storage would provide 8 GW of flexibility, but only if it can charge and discharge for about six hours/day to flatten the net load “duck” curve. The duck curve shows net load (total customer load less total solar and wind generation) for each hour of typical days. With large amounts of solar, the curve can have a belly in the middle of the day when solar generation is highest and a head (peak) in the evening when there is no solar generation.

Long-duration battery storage will also provide the few hundred MWs of frequency regulation that renewables require, so there is no need for short-duration 15-minute batteries for frequency regulation.

Resource adequacy standards require a minimum of four hours of storage to avoid building new fossil fuel plants, transmission lines and distribution lines to replace 2.2 GW of retired San Onofre nuclear generation and many GW of retiring, once-through cooled generators.

However, in replacing fossil generators, six-hour storage will provide more tools to system operators to deal with operational uncertainties than the current minimum four-hour adequacy standard (no one can imagine the future uncertainties that grid operators will need to deal with).

Short, one- to two-hour duration storage will not support the state’s greenhouse gas and renewables integration policies and AB 2514 because it cannot flatten the grid operator’s net load “duck” curve and avoid high greenhouse gas emissions from cycling of fossil fuel plants trying to ramp and flatten this curve.

Buying more fossil fuel plants will provide far less flexibility and will further increase solar over supply and greenhouse emissions because of fossil minimum generation requirements.

Deep, distributed storage will best support the Governor’s goal of 12 GW of distributed generation.

Standardizing on six-hours simplifies the evaluation of offers from many vendors and promotes more competition.

Initial results show that the AB 2514 storage mandate is succeeding with its objectives of encouraging storage opportunity and expanding manufacturing capacity.

The grid operator was surprised in April 2014 when about 2,400 MW of storage applied for interconnection as generators. And the Edison 50 MW storage solicitation had hundreds of offers.

This shows there is vigorous competition among vendors and developers. The CAISO is now scrambling to figure out how to do the interconnection studies and operate the storage.

Battery vendors that secure a large stream of firm orders are eager to manufacture in California and thereby provide the local jobs that are a promised benefit of our greenhouse gas emission and renewables policies.

California can lead the world in storage manufacturing if we enact the right policies now. However, the current pace of the procurement process is too slow to build the storage manufacturing base we need from multiple manufacturers.

AB 2514 established a goal for California to become a leader in cost-effective storage. Manufacturing scale drives down costs.

A number of vendors are projecting quality long-life battery storage system prices below $250/kWh by 2020 and further price reductions after that, but only with manufacturing scale from firm orders.

Since California’s grid need is for long-duration storage we need to encourage $/kWh cost-reductions of all storage technologies. I believe Li-ion, sulfur, flow and other technologies can compete for a six-hour product.

I advocate that the commission clarify that 1.325 GW of six-hour storage means 8 GWH of storage deployment over the eight years from 2016 to 2024 (1 GWH/year).

I also urge the CPUC to raise the portfolio standard for storage deployment to 4 GW – 24 GWH by 2024. This requires an average of 3 GWH per year of storage deployments from 2016. Current annual Li-ion battery global production is about 35 GWH so this goal is clearly feasible. The Tesla Gigafactory would double Li-ion production.

Sodium-type battery production capacity for the grid is at least 2 GWH per year and additional capacity may be built in California with sufficient orders. There are many storage startups in California using flow battery and other long duration technologies.

We should not put all of California’s storage eggs in one technology basket. We should establish battery manufacturing and deployment of several six-hour commercial battery technologies.

Fast, clean, deep (six-hour) and distributed storage manufactured at scale in California will provide California jobs and support clean low carbon, renewable, and reliable electricity to Californians.

The CPUC should make this happen.

—Edward G. Cazalet, Ph.D., is vice president and co-founder of MegaWatt Storage Farms Inc., and chief executive officer and founder of TeMix Inc.

California Current Staff

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California Power Substation Attacked in 2013 Is Struck Again


The Silicon Valley power substation that was attacked by a sniper in April 2013 was hit by thieves early Wednesday morning, according to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, despite increased security.

The substation, near San Jose, Calif., is the source of energy for thousands of customers, and the idea that it was the target of a well-organized attack, and that it might have been disabled for an extended period, raised anxieties about the possible broader vulnerability of the grid. The attack this week did not involve gunfire, and it did not seem intended to disable the facility.

Early Wednesday, an unknown number of thieves cut through a fence and made off with power tools, a pipe bender and ground compactors used to smooth out dirt after excavations, said Keith F. Stephens, a spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric. The substation has an alarm system, but the “fence alarms that went on overnight were not reacted to or addressed in an appropriate manner,” Mr. Stephens said. He added that the problem was a result of “human error.”

The company has not determined the value of the items taken. The intruders did not appear to try to damage operating equipment, Mr. Stephens said.

Damage to the system was the intent in the 2013 incident, but the circumstances remain murky. That attack is still under investigation. The company offered a $250,000 reward around the first anniversary this year for information, but it did not receive any tips and has not paid anyone.

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Vivint Solar, Backed by Blackstone, Files for $200M IPO to Install and Finance PV

America’s No. 2 solar installer is going public. The SEC document provides some insight.

Eric Wesoff

August 27, 2014

Vivint Solar's $200 million IPO registration document appeared in the wee hours this morning and gives a little bit of background on the fast-growing solar installer and financier. Ranked second only to SolarCity as an installer, Vivint Solar could also benefit from the increased access to capital afforded by going public.

The IPO hopeful is the solar integrator and PPA financier unit within Vivint, one of the largest home-alarm system and home automation companies, which was acquired by Blackstone for more than $2 billion in September 2012. Vivint has more than 675,000 customers for its home security and automation services across the country.

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CEO Lynn Jurich on the Future of Sunrun and Residential Solar

“I think a lot of people look at an IPO as the endgame. It’s not. It’s just a financing.”

Eric Wesoff

August 27, 2014

It's a tumultuous high-growth era for residential solar in the U.S., and privately held Sunrun is in the thick of it. The company and its rooftop solar installer partners deployed about 100 megawatts of residential solar in 2013, half of what publicly traded market leader SolarCity did in the third-party ownership business -- but still ahead of SunPower and Vivint, according to GTM Research.

In February, Sunrun acquired REC Solar's Residential Division (solar sales and installation), AEE Solar (distribution) and SnapNrack (mounting systems). That made Sunrun a vertically integrated solar installer with trucks, as well as a financier with a direct sales force like SolarCity and Vivint. (Vivint's S-1 IPO registration form was disclosed today.) The REC acquisition gave Sunrun a large, established, multi-state direct-installer channel.

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Big Data highlights huge opportunity for solar energy in L.A.

Jorge Madrid / Published August 26, 2014 in ClimateEnergy

Original source:

Using groundbreaking climate data, our recently updated and expanded Los Angeles Solar & Efficiency Report, or LASER, has been tapping sophisticated GIS mapping software to show what’s happening on the ground in my city – one neighborhood at a time.

Not only will Los Angeles become a lot hotter in coming decades, we’ve found, but some of the neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to heat extremes (in addition to other forms of pollution) also have the best potential for clean energy jobs.

How do we know? Because starting in 2013, the Environmental Defense Fund partnered with a team of researchers at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation who crunched environmental, health and census data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Census Bureau, the state of California and a number of other scientific sources.

Our goal: To help community leaders and policymakers visualize climate change at the local level, and to help steer new funding from California’s successful cap-and-trade program and other sources to the neighborhoods that need it most.

Los Angeles is heating up

The new series of detailed maps we just launched [PDF] have information down to the census track, rather than zip code, to give us an even clearer and more accurate picture of what’s going on.

With climate change taking hold, Southern California will get much warmer summers and falls and be more susceptible to heat waves. Temperatures in the Los Angeles region will climb 4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, our maps show.

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EPA says California’s Delta water tunnel project could violate federal law

By Matt Weiser

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 - 7:36 pm

Last Modified: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 - 9:16 pm

The pair of giant water diversion tunnels proposed in the Delta could violate the federal Clean Water Act and increase harm to endangered fish species, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which released its formal comment on the project Thursday.

In a 43-page letter sent Tuesday to the National Marine Fisheries Service and released publicly on the EPA’s website Thursday, the EPA said its research found that by diverting freshwater from three new intakes proposed on the Sacramento River – farther upstream from existing intakes – the project is likely to increase concentrations of salinity, mercury, bromide, chloride, selenium and pesticides in the estuary.

The letter was submitted as part of the formal comment process for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a $25 billion proposal by the state of California to re-engineer water diversions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The most controversial element of the plan is a massive pair of tunnels, 40 feet in diameter and 30 miles long, that would divert a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow at three intakes proposed near Courtland, routing the water to existing diversion pumps near Tracy. The goal is to avoid reverse flows in the estuary caused by the current diversion pumps, which are one source of ecological trouble in the Delta. The new intakes also would have modern fish screens, whereas the current intakes near Tracy do not.

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Filed under: Water Comments Off

California’s Underground Water War

California has been the only western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.

Erica Gies Aug 28 2014, 12:36 PM ET

Grape vines march across wires strung along rolling hills, their little trunks improbably supporting heavy black fruit. Cindy Steinbeck’s family has been farming this land since 1920. They grow Zinfandel, Viognier, Cabernet, Merlot, and Petite Syrah grapes but are best known in this area of Central California for a blend called The Crash, named after a remarkable incident in 1956, when a B-26 crash-landed 200 yards from the family home. Four of the five Air Force men aboard survived, bailing out in the nearby fields.

Now a new crash threatens, as groundwater levels beneath the vineyards plummet. California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables, according to the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture. It is in the midst of one of the worst droughts ever recorded, with more than 80 percent of the state in extreme or exceptional drought. But so far, the Steinbeck Vineyards’ 520 acres of grapes are growing well under the hot August sun, thanks to the family’s access to all the groundwater they need: up to two acre-feet per acre per season. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to flood an acre of land one foot deep—about 326,000 gallons. The Steinbecks’ sole source of irrigation is groundwater.

However, groundwater and surface water—rivers, lakes, streams—are part of the same hydrological system. Excessive groundwater pumping can overdraft aquifers, emptying them faster than natural systems can replenish them; dry up nearby wells; allow saltwater intrusion; and draw down surface water supplies. Taking so much water out of the soil can cause the dirt to compact and the land to sink, an action called subsidence. Because land can subside as much as a foot a year in the face of aggressive pumping, it can destroy infrastructure such as irrigation canals, building foundations, roads, bridges, and pipelines.

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Yes, the stimulus worked: highway spending would have fallen 20% without it

By Matt O'Brien August 28 at 11:54 AM

Nobody wants to be defined, President Obama said, by something they prevented. Even if that something is as big as a second Great Depression.

That's why the stimulus has become such a political orphan. The Recovery Act was only big enough to stop a worse collapse, but not start a better recovery. And since we don't know how much worse it would have been otherwise, it's easy to say that it didn't do anything at all. But that, of course, isn't remotely true.

Take highway spending, for example. Between 2008 and 2011, highway spending didn't really change, as you can see above—and that's pretty impressive. See, states are required to balance their budgets, so we would have expected their highway spending to sink as their tax revenues did during the Great Recession.

But the stimulus prevented that. Its highway grants gave states the money they needed to keep spending from falling off a cliff—which, it turns out, would have been terrifyingly steep. Sylvain Deluc and Dan Wilson of the San Francisco Fed estimate that, in real terms, highway spending would have declined 20 percent if not for the stimulus. That, as the dotted line shows, would have taken spending down to 1990 levels.

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Resurgence in Oil and Gas Sector Spurs Merger Boom


August 28, 2014 10:08 amAugust 28, 2014 12:24 pm

The merger boom in the energy sector shows no signs of slowing.

As energy production in the United States rises substantially, pipeline and storage companies will look to expand capacity through acquisitions, industry analysts and investors forecast.

“Companies are lining up to take advantage of this production-growth story,” said Quinn Kiley, a manager of energy infrastructure investment portfolios for Advisory Research Inc. “Companies have huge opportunity sets in front of them.”

Figures from the federal Energy Information Administration highlight the extent of the growth. United States energy production has reversed decades of stagnant or falling output in recent years. Oil production has gained 49 percent and natural gas output has increased 28.5 percent, from their lows in the mid-2000s through 2013. Reserves that are economically viable to recover are up sharply, too, the agency’s website says, providing energy companies a greater incentive to invest.

“As technology gets better, it makes production from some formations profitable and predictable and productive over a long period of time,” Mr. Kiley said. “That leads to a changing dynamic for companies that transport and store this supply.”

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A New American Oil Bonanza


THREE RIVERS, Tex. — Whenever overseas turmoil has pushed energy prices higher in the past, John and Beth Hughes have curbed their driving by eating at home more and shopping locally. But the current crises in Ukraine and Iraq did not stop them from making the two-hour drive to San Antonio to visit the Alamo, have a chicken fried steak lunch, and buy fish for their tank before driving home to Corpus Christi.

“We were able to take a day-cation because of the lower gas prices,” said Ms. Hughes.

The reason for the improved economics of road travel can be found 10,000 feet below the ground here, where the South Texas Eagle Ford shale is providing more than a million new barrels of oil supplies to the world market every day. United States refinery production in recent weeks reached record highs and left supply depots flush, cushioning the impact of all the instability surrounding traditional global oil fields.

So oil prices — and those at the pump — are easing.With the Labor Day weekend approaching, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.43 on Thursday, according to the AAA motor club, nearly a dime lower than a month ago. Energy and travel analysts project the lowest gasoline prices this holiday weekend of any Labor Day since 2010, and the highest level of motor travel since 2008.

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