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22Aug/14Off

Can These New Small Wind Companies Finally Duplicate the Success of the Solar Industry?

While solar has exploded in the U.S., small wind has struggled to grow. Two startups are hoping to change that.

Stephen Lacey

August 20, 2014

One of the biggest changes for solar came nearly a decade ago, when Congress created the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit for the technology in a sweeping 2005 energy bill. That was the moment when Wall Street investors started taking solar seriously, eventually bringing billions in tax equity into the industry.

It was around that time when well-pressed suits became the prominent fashion at solar conferences, taking over the ponytails and Carhartt jeans that had previously reigned.

Aaron Lubowitz was one of those investment bankers who represented the new face (and clothing) of solar. As a managing director at Morgan Stanley, he had built the firm's tax equity business and saw great promise in the solar industry. His team helped structure funds to get leasing options started, becoming one of SolarCity's largest early-stage tax equity backers.

Over the years, Morgan Stanley has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in various funds to support U.S. rooftop solar projects. The solar market has changed so dramatically since that early SolarCity investment that the bank is now warning of an economic "tipping point" that will enable electricity customers with PV and batteries to leave the grid entirely.

To read the entire article go to: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/new-approaches-to-distributed-wind?utm_source=Daily&utm_medium=Headline&utm_campaign=GTMDaily

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22Aug/14Off

Inside the Beltway: Challenge to Federal Open Access Rule Fails

August 21, 2014

Elizabeth McCarthy

Original source: http://www.cacurrent.com/storyDisplay.php?sid=7747

A federal order undermining utility monopolies on transmission in favor of open access to lower consumer costs and spur investment was upheld by an appellate court Aug. 15.

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s “Order 1000”—which launched competition into high voltage line operations in October 2011—was within the agency’s statutory authority.

The agency applauded the decision by the three-judge panel.

Order 1000 “is critical to the commission’s efforts to support efficient, competitive, and cost-effective transmission,” stated Cheryl La Fleur, commission chair. “Our nation needs substantial investment in transmission infrastructure to adapt to changes in its resource mix and environmental policies,” she added.

“The industry can now move forward with its transmission planning efforts with greater certainty,” said California Independent System Operator spokesperson Steven Greenlee. None of the state grid operator’s projects are impacted by the ruling, he added.

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22Aug/14Off

Another View: Expanding geothermal power will help diversity

By Karl Gawell

Special to The Bee

Karl Gawell is executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association

Published: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 - 12:00 am

It was a rare pleasure to read about representatives of the wind and biomass industry showing concern for some existing geothermal industry jobs (“ Geothermal bill will hurt consumers, set back renewable energy efforts,” Viewpoints, Aug. 15). We appreciate their concern.

While we support legislation before the California Legislature requiring more geothermal power to be acquired, we have made it clear that the Geothermal Energy Association supports existing geothermal power facilities in California and efforts to expand geothermal power production in the state.

To protect consumers in the state, encourage economic growth and reduce carbon emissions quickly, California should not only expand new production but also protect its existing base of renewable power. This should not become a zero sum game for any renewable technology.

To read the entire article go to: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/08/22/6642679/another-view-expanding-geothermal.html

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22Aug/14Off

Lawsuit stalls power plant construction

By Morgan Lee2:49 p.m.Aug. 21, 2014Updated2:49 p.m.

Developers of a new power plant on the outskirts of San Diego have placed construction on hold in response to a lawsuit alleging that the natural gas-burning facility is unnecessary, utility and state officials said this week.

The Pio Pico Energy Center, a quick-start power plant permitted for construction in an industrial zone southeast of San Diego, has become a flash point in disputes over how to ensure adequate electricity supplies without the nuclear power once provided by San Onofre -- and whether new gas-fired plants are needed.

Pio Pico was authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission in response to the early retirement of San Onofre, which shut down in January 2012. The approval was challenged last month by a San Diego County conservation group Protect Our Communities Foundation. Its lawsuit before the state Court of Appeal in San Diego contends that the utility commission barred testimony showing there is no need for Pio Pico.

A spokeswoman for San Diego Gas & Electric said construction, once slated to begin Sept. 1, has been pushed back until the court challenge can be resolved.

The developer of the project, Apex Power Group, could not be reached. Financial backer Energy Investors Funds declined to comment.

The decision to delay construction is up to the developer, which bears financial risks if the lawsuit prevails. The delay was discussed by state energy and environmental regulators at a workshop on Wednesday, without concerns being voiced about adequate power supplies.

To read the entire article go to: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/aug/21/power-plant-construction-suspended/

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22Aug/14Off

Bay Area billionaire’s climate-change ads leave fact-checkers cold

By Josh Richman

jrichman@bayareanewsgroup.com

Posted:   08/21/2014 06:48:34 PM PDT

Bay Area billionaire Tom Steyer's blitz against candidates who are soft on climate change is underway in seven states, but some prominent fact-checking groups say he's emitting enough hot air to melt a few glaciers.

Negative reviews from watchdogs like PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and the Washington Post are dogging one of the nation's biggest political donors, a former hedge fund manager who ditched his ties to fossil fuels and presented himself as a transparent antidote to the conservative Koch brothers' semi-clandestine funding network.

Playing fast and loose with the facts is "unwise simply because you're handing a bat to your opponents to use squarely over your noggin," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "It sounds to me as if they need their own fact-checkers on staff."

Steyer, 57, of San Francisco, was unavailable for an interview this week. But Bobby Whithorne, spokesman for Steyer's NextGen Climate Action super PAC, said: "We stand by our ads."

To read the entire article go to: http://www.mercurynews.com/nation-world/ci_26382278/billionaires-climate-change-ads-leave-fact-checkers-cold?source=rss

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22Aug/14Off

One woman’s odyssey to find Michigan’s anti-fracking movement

By Heather Smith

22 Aug 2014 6:55 AM

Original source: http://grist.org/climate-energy/one-womans-odyssey-to-find-michigans-anti-fracking-movement/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Daily%2520Aug%252022&utm_campaign=daily

Until a year ago, Kate Levin was feeling pretty calm. Her friends back in her home state, Pennsylvania, kept talking about this thing called fracking. It was, they said, not great. But Levin lived far away, in Michigan. “I tried not to pay attention to it,” says Levin.

There wasn’t an obvious tipping point between paying attention and not paying attention — just a gradual and eventually overwhelming sense that not paying attention was, in Levin’s words, stupid. “I am going to find out about this,” she told herself. “I am going to find out if this is happening locally.”

It was. Michigan was a fairly typical state in that people had been drilling it for oil and gas since the 1880s. But the pickings were slim. it wasn’t that there wasn’t anything there; natural gas in particular was all over the Collingwood/Utica and Antrim shale formations. But it was at least 10,000 feet underground, which meant that getting it out was more expensive than taking it out of, say, an easy peasy rock formation like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, which maxes out at 9,000 feet deep.

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22Aug/14Off

Industry looks to develop better methane monitors

Posted on August 21, 2014 at 1:38 pm by Ryan Holeywell in Environment, Natural gas

HOUSTON — Energy companies and an environmental group are working together to develop technology that could help cut down on harmful methane emissions.

The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Defense Fund is working with seven oil and gas companies to help identify devices that can do a better job at detecting methane emissions from energy operations. The idea is that if the industry knows when methane is being released, it can do a better job of blocking it.

That task is critical. When natural gas is burned, it releases about half the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as coal, which is why it’s often touted as an environmentally-friendly alternative fuel source. But methane itself is a dangerous greenhouse gas, and if too much of it is inadvertently released into the atmosphere — from leaky pipes, unsecured valves or cracks in storage tanks —  it can undermine the environmental benefits of natural gas.

To read the entire article go to: http://fuelfix.com/blog/2014/08/21/industry-looks-to-develop-better-methane-monitors/

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22Aug/14Off

Groups try to block nuclear regulator’s vote, citing conflict of interest

By Josh Hicks August 21 at 2:40 PM

Dozens of environmental organizations and nuclear-power opponents are trying to stop a federal regulator from participating in upcoming votes scheduled to take place one week before he starts a new leadership role with an industry group.

In a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday, the Sierra Club and 33 other groups called on the panel to postpone its Aug. 26 decisions until Commissioner William Magwood moves to his new job as director of the non-government Nuclear Energy Agency on Aug. 31.

“Mr. Magwood has created a real and apparent conflict of interest by pursuing and accepting a position with an international agency whose primary purpose is to promote nuclear power, at the same time he serves on a U.S. agency that is dedicated to protection of public health and safety and the environment,” the letter said.

To read the entire article go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2014/08/21/groups-try-to-block-nuclear-regulators-vote-citing-conflict-of-interest/

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22Aug/14Off

Viewpoints: Energy commission conflict-of-interest rules need updating

By Steven Bradford

Special to The Bee

Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce and represents the 62nd Assembly District.

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 - 12:00 am

Californians have long understood the need for accountability and transparency in their state government. That is why, 40 years ago, voters approved the Political Reform Act, which established conflict-of-interest rules for elected officials and political candidates. That same year, the Legislature enacted similar rules for appointees to the California Energy Commission. These rules are vital to ensuring the fairness of our legislative and political process.

One provision of the energy commission rules prohibits any person from serving as a member if that person has worked for an electric utility in the previous two years. As the state’s primary body for energy policy, research and approval of large power plants, the CEC must maintain independence so it can make the best decisions for all Californians. And because utilities have a lot to gain or lose from CEC decisions, there must be a wall between them and the commission.

These rules worked great in the days when most of the state was served by investor-owned utilities that owned the power plants that generated the electricity we use. But when California deregulated the energy industry in the 1990s, new electricity providers, called independent power producers, became the owners of the power plants, as well as gas, wind, solar and geothermal plants, which were not covered by the old rules. This means that a person who has recently worked for one of these independent power producers with business before the CEC can be nominated by the governor to serve on the commission, simply because that producer is not a utility.

To read the entire article go to: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/08/21/6642688/viewpoints-energy-commission-conflict.html

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22Aug/14Off

Promise of a ‘clean coal’ future far from reality

By HAL BERNTON

The Seattle TimesAugust 21, 2014 Updated 16 hours ago

MEREDOSIA, Ill. — In 2003, President George W. Bush unveiled plans for the world's first zero-emissions coal plant, a project that would serve as a global showcase of America's ability to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

This FutureGen plant would be "one of the boldest steps our nation takes toward a pollution-free future," declared Spencer Abraham, Bush's energy secretary, in 2003. The knowledge we gain from the plant " ... will help turn coal from an environmentally challenging energy resource into an environmentally benign one."

More than a decade later, there has yet to be a groundbreaking for FutureGen 2.0.

The project calls for overhauling an aging coal plant on the outskirts of this sleepy river town so that its carbon emissions can be captured and stored some 4,300 feet underground. But the effort has been beset by political infighting, design changes and escalating costs that helped trigger a rebellion by the state's largest utility.

To read the entire article go to: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/08/21/237302/promise-of-a-clean-coal-future.html?sp=/99/200/260/

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22Aug/14Off

How a Koch brother is combating climate change at a coal mine


By Ben Adler

21 Aug 2014 3:17 PM

Original source: http://grist.org/business-technology/how-a-koch-brother-is-combating-climate-change-at-a-coal-mine/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Daily%2520Aug%252022&utm_campaign=daily

What do Bill Koch, the Aspen Skiing Company, and environmentalists all have in common? Nothing, right? Actually, they’re all supporting the deployment of technology that cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and produces some cheap, relatively clean energy.

Koch owns Oxbow, a coal mining company that operates Elk Creek Mine in Somerset, Colo. SkiCo, as the Aspen Skiing Company is locally known, is an investor in a fossil fuel–burning project at Elk Creek. And here’s the kicker: SkiCo is doing this because it is worried about climate change.

Natural gas tends to escape from coal mines, and most mines just worry about the health and safety risks it poses. Natural gas, which is mostly methane, is highly combustible. The phrase “canary in a coal mine” refers to the bird’s susceptibility to methane poisoning and its usefulness in warning miners of methane leakage. (Methane is odorless in nature. That rotten egg smell is chemically added to alert you to the danger of leaks.) Methane isn’t just dangerous at ground level; it’s also a highly potent greenhouse gas when it escapes into the atmosphere. When burned, though, it’s less of a climate threat, generating just half as much CO2 as burning coal. Coal mining is never good for the environment, but there’s an easy way to make it less bad: capture the natural gas and burn it.

That’s an idea hatched by Tom Vessels, a veteran of the Colorado oil and gas industry. So he partnered with SkiCo, which was looking for ways of investing in cleaner energy, and they brought the proposal to local coal mines. (SkiCo sees climate change as a threat to its business, and so it has a company-wide commitment to help build a clean-energy future.) Most mines were totally uninterested.

Elk Creek Mine, located on a mountain of coal towering over a bend in the North Fork of the Gunnison River, was the first one to bite. Its owner, Bill Koch, is sometimes called the “third Koch brother.” The most politically active Koch brothers are his siblings David and Charles, but Bill is also right-wing. (For a full rundown of the family’s fascinating history, check out Sons of Wichita, the new book by Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones.)

Elk Creek isn’t even currently producing coal. Due to a spontaneous fire last year, it had to shut down mining operations, at least temporarily. But it continues to ship out the coal that’s already been mined, moving it via long conveyer belts from the mountain to the open containers of freight trains on the tracks along the river. From there it goes to Long Beach, Calif., and on to ships bound for Japan and Mexico. Meanwhile, the methane is still seeping up from 1,200 feet below the earth’s surface and will likely continue to for another 15 years, says Auden Schendler, SkiCo’s vice president of sustainability.

For safety reasons, the mine was already capturing the methane in pipes. But then it was just releasing it out into the air. Now, ever since the methane-capture project got off the ground in October 2013, there is machinery attached to the pipes to direct roughly one-sixth of the methane over to a combustor that converts it into electricity — enough to power the adjacent town of 60 homes — and sells it to the grid. It’s essentially a mini power station. The rest of the methane is flared off, so it has no economic value, but at least it causes a lot less climate damage.

The technology here isn’t specialized, unproven, or terribly expensive. The flaring operation just requires a pipe, literally patched with fiberglass in places, leading to a burner that is basically like an oversized version of the base of the gas grill you use to cook hot dogs in the backyard. The electricity generation is only marginally more complicated. Another set of pipes carries gas to a series of turbines in sheds. The turbines suck in air from outside, mix it with the gas, and generate heat, which is turned into electricity and delivered to power lines that were already there to serve the mine. The machinery basically runs itself, just needing one employee to check on it periodically.

Elk Creek Mine is not doing this because it cares about climate change. Jim Kiger, the beefy, goateed mine employee who gave me a tour, sported a political sign on the front of his hard hat: “Stop the War on Coal: FIRE OBAMA.” Kiger shared, unprompted, his skepticism that burning coal contributes to climate change. But he was happy to show off the methane-capturing technology.

That’s because capturing stray methane isn’t just good for the environment. Turning methane into electricity that can be sold to the local power utility is good business. There’s no reason to think Bill Koch cares about climate change any more than his employees do, but he approved the project.

So why doesn’t every coal mine do this? Unfortunately, there isn’t that much money to be made. Elk Creek, for example, was generating $1 million per day from coal, versus a mere $1 million annually from the electric generation of burning methane. And for that $1 million it has to run the risk of violating one of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s myriad rules. Even Oxbow itself initially rejected the idea of collecting and flaring methane at its mines, citing MSHA rules and the risk of forest fires. And, of course, many mine owners don’t like to do anything that would implicitly admit the reality of climate science.

The federal government should be requiring methane capture at mines, either through legislation or rule-making, but getting any action out of Washington is an enormous challenge. This project, at least, is a good first step, demonstrating that the technology is effective and easy to implement.

More by Ben Adler

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22Aug/14Off

How US Territories Can Kick Their Oil Addiction

As befits an empire, the United States has a number of island territories. They run almost entirely on crude oil.

Eric Wesoff

August 21, 2014

Geopolitically and congressionally, the phrase "United States" means the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. (There are also some uninhabited atolls and islands that qualify as territories of sorts.)

Inhabitants of the territories are represented in Congress by delegates, have protections within U.S. courts, and pay some federal taxes.

The 4 million inhabitants of the territories (3.6 million of which live in Puerto Rico) also power their islands almost entirely with petroleum. And because the price of oil is relatively high, residential electricity prices in the territories are three to five times the price of mainland electricity.

One would imagine that the next step in the energy evolution of the islands would be toward renewables such as wind, solar, and geothermal.

One might be wrong.

To read the entire article go to: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/How-US-Territories-Can-Kick-Their-Oil-Addiction?utm_source=Solar&utm_medium=Picture&utm_campaign=GTMDaily

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22Aug/14Off

Here’s Why SolarCity Will Move Into Mexico

GTM Research predicts that one of the largest U.S. solar companies may soon go south of the border.

Adam James

August 21, 2014

SolarCity is pursuing an aggressive growth strategy -- and it’s been paying off. According to the GTM Research’s U.S. PV Leaderboard, SolarCity installed 29 percent of all residential solar in the first quarter of this year, three times the volume of its nearest competitor, Vivint Solar. The company has been buoyed by a string of recent successes, including three securitizations, vertically flavored acquisitions in racking (Zep) and modules (Silveo), and growing its business to the tune of 30,000 customers in a single quarter. SolarCity's stock price has been rising since mid-June, and the firm boasts the second-largest market capitalization for a U.S. solar company, behind First Solar.

But I’d be very surprised if SolarCity settled with dominance in the U.S. market, and Mexico is the obvious next step. Here are a few of the top reasons why, culled from GTM’s Latin America PV Playbook.

To read the entire article go to: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Heres-Why-SolarCity-Will-Move-into-Mexico?utm_source=Solar&utm_medium=Picture&utm_campaign=GTMDaily

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22Aug/14Off

Feds to Be Sued Over Solar Projects’ Harm to Endangered Bird

by Chris Clarke

August 21, 2014 4:58 PM

Original source: http://www.kcet.org/news/rewire/solar/photovoltaic-pv/feds-to-be-sued-over-solar-project-harm-to-endangered-bird.html

A national wildlife protection group announced today that it intends to sue two federal agencies for failing to protect the federally Endangered Yuma clapper rail from being harmed at industrial-scale solar power projects in the California desert.

The Yuma clapper rail, Rallus longirostris yumanensis, was listed as Endangered in 1967. Fewer than 1,000 of the birds, and perhaps fewer than 500, remain in the wild.

Since last July, two Yuma clapper rails have been found dead at solar power facilities in the California desert, likely as a result of mistaking those projects' photovoltaic panels for open water. As a result of those deaths, the Center for Biological Diversity announced Thursday that it will be suing the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the agencies' failure to make sure those facilities posed no threat to the rails.

One of the birds was found dead in July 2013 at the Desert Sunlight solar facility near Joshua Tree National Park. The other was subsequently found at First Solar's 150-megawatt Solar Gen 2 plant near El Centro.

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22Aug/14Off

Drought Said to Claim Trillions of Gallons

By IAN LOVETTAUG. 21, 2014

About 63 trillion gallons of groundwater have been lost across the West since the start of last year because of a severe drought, a study found. The loss is not only forcing farmers to drill deeper wells, it has caused the crust of the earth in the region to rise. A study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, found that the earth’s crust, which is normally weighed down by groundwater, had risen 0.15 inches over the last two years. The rise was most drastic in the California mountains, which have risen more than half an inch. The study was first published in the journal Science on Thursday.

To read the entire article go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/22/us/drought-said-to-claim-trillions-of-gallons.html?ref=energy-environment

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