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Category Archives: ‘Fossil Fuels & Nuclear’


Renewables Generated More Power Than Nuclear in March and April 

Utility-scale renewable electricity generation surpassed nuclear for the first time since Reagan was president.
by Eric Wesoff
July 07, 2017

Solar farms planted on an abandoned nuclear plant site or powering a coal museum or atop a strip mine offer stark images of the ascendance of renewables.   
But forget metaphorical images -- utility-scale renewable electricity generation in March and April actually surpassed nuclear for the first time since July 1984. (Ronald Reagan was president, and "When Doves Cry" was the No. 1 hit on the radio.)
Recent months have seen record generation from wind and solar, as well as increases in hydroelectric power because of 2017's wet winter (note that these numbers, from the Energy Information Administration, do not include distributed solar). Most of the time, conventional hydroelectric generation is still the primary source of renewable electricity.
But one of the takeaways from this data set is the emergence of wind in the last decade as a material slice of the energy mix. The U.S. wind industry installed more than 8 gigawatts in 2015 and did it again in 2016. The country now has over 84 gigawatts of installed wind capacity.
Another takeaway is the relatively diminutive contribution from solar, which falls between geothermal and biomass in its annual contribution. The U.S. installed 14.5 gigawatts of solar last year, up 95 percent over 2015. 
And still, more than 60 percent of all utility-scale electricity generating capacity that came on-line in 2016 was from wind and solar technologies, according to EIA.

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Power restored to thousands in San Fernando Valley after DWP facility explosion

Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters battled a major fire at the DWP plaint in Reseda on Saturday, July 9, 2017. The huge circuit breaker unit exploded and burned for hours. LAFD used foam rigs to put out the fire. As of 10 P.M., more than 140,000 people were without power. (Photo by Gene Blevins, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Photos: 140,000 without power after DWP transformer explosion, fire

By Matthew Carey, Correspondent
POSTED: 07/09/17, 8:48 AM PDT |

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power crews work to clean up the aftermath Sunday morning of an explosion and fire at a Northridge utility station. Photo by Gene Blevins

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said Sunday crews worked through the night to restore electricity to some 94,000 San Fernando Valley homes and businesses that remained powerless following an explosion and billowing fire at a Northridge utility station Saturday night.
In a 5:30 a.m. news release, DWP said many remained without electricity. But by 8:46 a.m., the utility tweeted that the power was back on after around-the-clock efforts.
“All the customers are restored; we feel great about it,” DWP spokesman Michael Ventre said by phone Sunday. “We’re sorry for the inconvenience for people who were out of power, but our guys worked extremely hard all night in difficult conditions to restore power as safely and as quickly as possible.”

Fire and DWP officials attributed the cause of the fire at DWP’s transmission site, known as Receiving Station J, to an accidental “mechanical malfunction,” but no further details were offered Sunday.
The station at Wilbur Avenue and Parthenia Street turns high voltage power into lower voltage power to distribute to customers.
“While efforts to make permanent repairs are the primary focus of all involved, a full investigation into the cause of the fire that occurred Saturday evening will also be conducted and reported publicly,” DWP said Sunday in a statement.

• Related Story: DWP crews work Sunday to restore power to 94,000 in Valley as another hot day looms
The event plunged much of the San Fernando Valley into darkness Saturday night, affecting street lights and traffic signals, causing businesses to close early and prompting residents to find ways to try to deal with the unusually oppressive heat.
With the power restored Sunday, fans were again blowing inside a workshop across the street from the DWP facility. Ernesto Córtez, 44, works there painting cabinets. He said he spent Saturday night inside the workshop where he often sleeps, but without power the temperature soared.

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Trump administration may let California keep emissions standards

By Carolyn Lochhead
July 9, 2017 Updated: July 9, 2017 9:17pm

Photo: Noah Berger, Special To The Chronicle

California’s auto emissions rules set the standard for automakers. The Trump administration appears likely to back off on challenging them.

The Trump administration may be quietly conceding defeat to California on car tailpipe emissions, the biggest battleground in the state’s showdown with President Trump over climate change.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt backed away last month from his threats to challenge California’s unique legal authority, known as a waiver, to set aggressive limits on vehicle emissions, including greenhouse gases.

Although Pruitt left the door open to a future challenge, experts said he is running out of time to stop California from dictating national pollution standards on cars, the nation’s primary source of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The auto manufacturers aren’t going to make two different kinds of cars, California and non-California, so by default they’re really required to make cars to the California standards,” said Michael Steel, a lawyer in the San Francisco office of the Morrison Foerster firm who advises companies on environmental compliance.
Because of the long lead time needed to design cars, Steel said, “It’s kind of too late” for the administration to block California’s rules. “There’s a timing issue in terms of whether you can effectively turn the clock back any later than now.”
California is the nation’s largest car market, and a dozen other states, comprising more than 40 percent of the U.S. population, have adopted California’s emissions standards.
Last week’s decisions by Chinese-owned Volvo to put electric engines in all its new cars, and by France to phase out gasoline and diesel cars by 2040, only strengthened California’s hand.
“I don’t want to attribute any one automaker’s statements to our regs,” said Joshua Cunningham, head of the California Air Resources Board’s clean cars branch, which develops the state’s car pollution standards. “But given the broad momentum of California’s regulations and what’s happening in Europe and in China, I think the industry sees some pretty consistent signals from a lot of governments that long-term emissions requirements are going to continue to get more strict.”

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As Trump moves to grow oil and gas, House considers curbing environmental suits

By James Osborne Updated 7:42 am, Friday, June 30, 2017

WASHINGTON – When it comes to expanding U.S. oil and gas production, President Donald Trump has few greater hurdles than litigation from environmental groups that can tie up companies and federal agencies for years.
Now Republicans in Congress are examining ways by which to reduce the delays such litigation can bring to drilling and mining projects on federal lands.
"In reality a legal subindustry has thrived from endless environmental litigation," Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louis., said at a hearing in the House Committee on Natural Resources this week. "Our legal system is an important avenue for citizens seeking redress of wrongs perpetuated by the federal government... however special interests repeatedly exploit our legal system to further their own agendas."

So far House Republicans have not introduced any legislation or made specific recommendations on how the Department of Interior might go about speeding up the legal process. But members of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations heard testimony this week from an attorney that has frequently represented the oil and gas industry and Caroline Lobdell, head of the Western Resources Legal Center, which trains law students for careers representing mining, timber, oil and gas and ranching interests.
Lobdell recommended a series of administrative changes at the Department of Interior, including moves to reduce environmental groups ability to recover attorneys' fees and reducing the practice of putting strict requirements on companies operating on federal lands.

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Rick Perry promises new age of American ‘energy dominance’

By James Osborne Updated 8:01 pm, Monday, June 26, 2017

Photo: Erik Schelzig, STF

FILE - In this May 22, 2017 file photo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry speaks at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)

WASHINGTON – Energy Secretary Rick Perry described a new U.S. energy age Monday, one in which the nation increases domestic energy production across the board, including fossil fuels, not only to reduce reliance on foreign oil, but also to become energy supplier to the world.
"For years, Washington stood in the way of our energy dominance, and that changes now," Perry said during a White House briefing Monday. "An energy-dominant America means a self-reliant, a secure nation, free from geopolitical turmoil of other nations who seek to use energy as an economic weapon."

In what were his most forceful statements since taking over the Energy Department earlier this year, Perry echoed President Trump's "America First" message in describing a national energy policy that would not allow environmental interests to outweigh economic ones while using the nation's "abundant domestic energy resources for good, both here at home and abroad."

That is sure to play well in the oil fields of Texas and other parts of the United States where crackdowns on greenhouse gas emissions have raised drilling costs and drawn sharp rebuke from oil industry lobbyists. It is just as sure to be welcomed along the Gulf Coast, where energy companies are spending billions to build pipelines, storage terminals and export facilities to ship West Texas crude and natural gas to foreign markets.
The commitment to fossil fuels stands in sharp contrast to the policies of the Obama administration and political leaders across most of the developed world, who advocate for decreasing the world's reliance on fossil fuels in favor of cleaner forms of energy to slow the effects of climate change.

Perry spoke to the administration's "commitment to clean energy," urging the development of technology that captures carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions and the need to secure the country's ailing nuclear power industry. But he did so as part of an "all of the above strategy," in which fossil fuels, including coal, nuclear energy and renewable sources like wind and solar all compete in a free market to reduce U.S. energy costs.
Growing domestic fossil fuels even as efforts to curtail their use gain momentum around the world is likely to pose a serious challenge for Trump and his administration. Trump has made reviving coal a particular focus, but the outlook for that industry is particularly daunting, considering the competition from cheaper and cleaner natural gas, said Bud Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University.
"I don't know how realistic [Trump] is," he said. "He's catering to a constituency that got him elected."

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Canadian oil sands industry faces innovation or bust

With high costs of extraction and an exodus of large oil companies, the Canadian oil sands industry demands innovation to succeed. Can determined entrepreneurs find new, cheaper methods to keep up with the US shale industry? 

JUNE 20, 2017 CALGARY—In the boreal forests and on the remote prairies of Alberta, Canada, a handful of firms are running pilot projects they hope will end a two-decade drought in innovation and stem the exodus of top global energy firms from Canada's oil sands.
They are searching for a breakthrough that will cut the cost of pumping the tar-like oil from the country's vast underground bitumen reservoirs and better compete with the booming shale industry in the United States.
If they fail, a bigger chunk of the world's third-largest oil reserves will stay in the ground. Canada's oil sands sector has become one of the biggest victims of the global oil price crash that began in 2014 when top OPEC producer Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap crude to drive out high cost competitors.

This year alone, oil majors have sold over $22.5 billion of assets in Canada's energy industry, and been lured south to invest in the higher returns of US shale.
Joseph Kuhach is among the entrepreneurs in Canada hoping they can turn the tide. He runs a small Calgary-based firm, Nsolv, that is testing the use of solvents to liquefy the bitumen buried in the sands and make it flow as oil.
Mr. Kuhach says using solvents can cut 20 to 40 percent from the cost of producing the oil. The technique currently used is to use steam to heat the sands underground to extract the oil.
It's a hard sell, he said, to Canadian producers struggling with low oil prices. They are reluctant to invest in a multi-million dollar technology that is unproven on a commercial scale, he said.
"The comment I hear so often when I am talking to companies is, 'We want to be the very first in line to be second'," said Kuhach. "It's easier to go after incremental improvements that they can back away from with no great cost and no great risk."

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As Oil and Gas Faces a ‘Last Cycle,’ a Generational Divide Emerges Over Its Future 

Ernst & Young’s poll of U.S. energy industry perceptions finds a generational disconnect. Except over renewable energy—nearly everyone loves renewables.
by Jeff St. John
June 26, 2017

The oil and gas industry is facing its “last cycle,” according to consultancy Ernst & Young.
What does that mean? It's a “time when energy abundance, driven by technology, creates a permanent oversupply that not only keeps prices low but also allows consumers to make new choices about their energy usage."
In this new world, consumer perceptions are critical, writes E&Y in a new report. While most Americans still see fossil fuels playing an important role for decades to come, only about one in three trust the fossil industry -- and the younger the generation, the higher the distrust of the industry.
Those are some of the top-level findings laid out in the report, the first in a series to explore U.S. consumer attitudes toward the oil and gas industries. It's based on polling of consumers of all ages, as well as oil and gas executives, starting in early 2017. And like its subject, the findings are filled with seeming contradictions. 
About four-fifths of adults and three out of four teenagers say the fossil industry is important to the national economy, for example. But only 37 percent of adults and 33 percent of teens “trust the industry to do the right thing.”
And not surprisingly, few people want oil and gas industries to set up shop in their neighborhoods or communities. 
“Energy’s perception rating is respectable but precarious. Its value to consumers is based largely on necessity, a weak attribute for long-term appreciation and support,” the report noted. And “overall, consumers believe the industry is good for society, though they still see it as a problem causer, not a problem solver.”

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Exxon’s support for a carbon tax is the first step in big oil’s long, negotiated surrender

The industry sees the writing on the wall.
Updated by David Jun 27, 2017, 8:20am EDT

What are they up to? (Shutterstock)
It made news last week when ExxonMobil, along with a slate of other big companies, including other oil giants, backed a plan for a substantial, rising US carbon tax.

The plan was put forward by the Climate Leadership Council, a new group that is seeking a bipartisan path forward on climate policy. The tax would start at $40 a ton; the revenue would be returned as per-capita dividends to all US citizens.
The Council includes some (retired) Republicans like James Baker III and George Schulz, along with a few centrist favorites like Michael Bloomberg and former Energy Secretary Steven Chu. (For some reason, Stephen Hawking is also a fan.) And among its “corporate founders,” are GM and Unilever, along with ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Total.
Why would Exxon back a carbon tax that would raise the price of its products?

There’s more to it than you might think. Exxon’s motives on this are complicated — some are short-term and greenwash-y, but others are longer-term and have to do with the industry’s health over coming decades. It’s all a useful lens through which to view the oil industry’s place in warming world.

Big oil has more to worry about than lawsuits
In the near-term, Exxon is embroiled in a messy legal and PR fight, which is why environmentalists were quick to dismiss its gambit as greenwashing.
Critics pointed to a provision within the plan that would shield oil companies from legal exposure to climate-based lawsuits, which is of particular interest to Exxon, as the company is currently being sued by a group of state attorneys general. The lawsuit alleges that the company knew about the risks of climate change long before it revealed those risks to investors, and even when it did, instituting an internal carbon price, it secretly used a much lower price in actual business decisions.

In January, a Massachusetts judge issued Exxon a setback when it ordered the company to turn over 40 years of climate research, based on an investigation by state Attorney General Maura Healey. In May, a Texas judge (Exxon’s home field) dealt the company another blow by transferring the case to New York, where it will be led by dogged NY AG Eric Schneiderman.

MARCH 21: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks beside the Gowanus Canal, which is a designated federal Superfund site, in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn on March 21, 2017 in New York City. Schneiderman joined area residents, city">
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Greens also pointed out that the plan would repeal a range of environmental regulations targeted at greenhouse gases, something oil and gas companies would very much like to see.
They pointed out that tax is, in the words of’s Jamie Henn, “dead-on-arrival.” There is no chance this Republican Congress will pass it and very few Republicans are willing to speak up in even tepid support.

And they pointed out that Exxon has lied about climate change for years and lobbied against other carbon tax bills, which casts its motivations in some doubt.
All of this is true, and all of it has likely informed Exxon’s effort to position itself as a constructive partner on climate policy.
But there are also bigger, longer-term trends at work, which are pushing all the oil majors to the table on climate.
The oil industry faces enormous risk if the world takes climate change seriously

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Opinion: Electricity from natural gas still needed to cool California

By Tom Dalzell
June 26, 2017

Tom Dalzell is the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, which represents thousands of gas and electrical workers across California.

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

According to the California Independent System Operator, the primary agency responsible for managing the grid, energy demand peaked at roughly 47,000 megawatts.

Last week was a scorcher across California. It didn’t matter where you were — Sacramento, Fresno, Palm Springs, San Francisco and Oakland all set new daily high temperature records. San Diego County even broke its all-time high temperature at 124 degrees.
The oppressive heat grounded airplanes, stoked wildfires, buckled some roads and even led to deaths — a reminder that our Mediterranean climate sometimes turns hostile. Climate change will only make this worse.

As you might expect, Californians’ demand for electricity increased dramatically as we relied on air conditioning to combat the heat. According to the California Independent System Operator, the primary agency responsible for managing the grid, energy demand was projected to peak at roughly 47,000 megawatts — the fourth highest in the past 20 years.
In the face of this tremendous demand, California’s electrical grid performed amazingly well. This is somewhat of a marvel, given the complexity of the grid and our dynamic demand for power.
The grid’s performance was also a reminder of the continued importance of natural gas in meeting California’s needs, even as the state transitions to more renewable sources.
For example, despite the growth of solar power, available solar energy on the grid peaked at roughly 10,000 megawatts last week — roughly 22 percent of the needed peak supply — while natural gas provided roughly 50 percent.
Solar power will likely be able to meet a greater percentage of demand as incentives boost its development, but even then there is an issue of matching supply and demand. For example, as the heat lasted well into the night, so did Californians’ demand for electricity. However, electricity generated from solar had dropped to 60 percent of its peak by 6 p.m. and was completely offline by 8:30 p.m. Solar was meeting only 7 percent of California’s demand at 7 p.m. and zero percent by 8:30 p.m. each day.
In the future, storage may play a role in saving solar and wind power for later use. However, power storage technology is still very expensive. We still need natural gas power and will for some time.

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ANALYSIS: OPEC looks bewildered by global oil market

Julian Lee, Bloomberg Published 2:00 am, Sunday, June 25, 2017

Photo: Ronald Zak, STR

Russia's Alexander Novak and Saudi Arabia's Khalid Al-Falih at a reent OPEC news conference

It may be too soon to write OPEC's obituary, but the oil producer club appears in urgent need of late-life care. It shows little understanding of where it is, how it got there or where it's going. While it still manages to collect new members here and there, its core group looks more fragile than at any point in nearly 30 years.
The historic output agreements, put together so painstakingly last year, are failing. Nearly 12 months of shuttle diplomacy culminated in two deals that would see 22 countries cut production by nearly 1.8 million barrels a day. Implementation has been better than for any previous output cut, with compliance put at 106 percent in May. A resounding success? Hardly.

We're now in the final month of those deals and oil prices are lower than when they were agreed. Not only have producers sacrificed volume, but they earn less for each barrel they do produce.

The recent extension of the deals just leaves output restraint in place for another nine months, the best response OPEC could muster. Deeper cuts were barely mentioned. Assertions to do "whatever it takes" ring hollow.
Indeed, there's no appetite for the big cuts that would demand real sacrifices in countries such as Russia, where normal seasonal factors helped it lower production in the first half of the year. Just sticking to current output levels could be difficult for the rest of 2017: early maintenance work has helped several OPEC members meet their targets but that can't continue. Then there's the problem of recovering output from Libya and Nigeria, both exempt from the cuts.

The malaise runs much deeper, though. Beneath a veneer of unity, rifts are developing among core Middle East members. The Saudi-led confrontation with Qatar could create the most serious split since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. As I wrote last week, Iraq might be in Mohammed bin Salman's sights next, as Iran's influence there grows and Baghdad lags the rest in implementing output cuts.

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Coastal panel spawned by 1930s oil scandal is now a player in California governor’s race 

Ho, Lawrence K. –– – 096410.FI.0421.DRILL.2.LKH Oil platforms off the Southern California Coast in the Santa Barbara Channel. Pic. shows surfers at Sea Cliff with silohuette of oil platforms in the background.


June 22, 2017, 12:05 a.m.

When John Chiang joined the State Lands Commission, it quickly became a platform to showcase his environmental record, starting with his 2007 vote to block construction of a shipping terminal for liquefied natural gas in Ventura County.
The commission has served the same purpose for Gavin Newsom, who often uses his seat on the panel to remind Californians that he opposes offshore oil drilling.
Now that both Chiang and Newsom are running for governor, they are drawing rare attention to the little-known but powerful State Lands Commission.
It oversees 4 million acres of land beneath California waters: the state’s entire Pacific coast and its lakes, rivers and inlets, along with the harbors of San Diego, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco.
Shipping, fishing, oil and gas wells, waterfront real estate development — it all falls under the State Lands Commission.
State Treasurer John Chiang, campaigning for governor near the Golden Gate Bridge on June 7, has promoted his environmental record during his eight years on the State Lands Commission as state controller. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

By law, the commission is composed of two elected officials — the state controller and lieutenant governor — and the state finance director.
What does the commission do?
It oversees the land beneath the public waterways that California acquired when it became a state in 1850, including the ocean, up to three miles from shore.
The commission manages these “sovereign lands” as a public trust for the benefit of all Californians. Fishing, boating, commerce, recreation and ecological preservation are the main legal uses.
In places where landfill has extended the shoreline since 1850, such as San Francisco’s Embarcadero, the State Lands Commission maintains control over the added land.
Why was it created?
In the 1930s, state Finance Department officials were accused of taking bribes in return for coastal oil leases.
That and other irregularities led California lawmakers to create the State Lands Commission in 1938.
“The necessity of an independent commission that makes its decisions in public was made apparent by the behavior of these individuals,” the commission says on its website.
Does it make its decisions in public now?
Not always. In a closed meeting in 2014, the commission voted to sue San Francisco to overturn a city ballot measure that restricted the height of waterfront buildings.
Once the suit was made public, the commissioners refused to say which of the three voted to authorize it, citing “attorney-client privilege.”
“It’s confidential information, because it was a vote taken in closed session,” said Jennifer Lucchesi, the commission’s executive officer.
The commissioners also do not disclose their private meetings with paid lobbyists who try to influence their votes.
On May 8, for instance, Newsom, the lieutenant governor, and Betty Yee, Chiang’s successor as state controller, met separately with Barbara Boxer, who was representing Poseidon Water LLC, a water treatment company.
Boxer, a former U.S. senator, urged them to approve Poseidon’s plan to build a seawater desalination plant in Huntington Beach, a project that some environmentalists oppose.
Newsom and Yee, who are likely to vote on the project at the State Lands Commission’s Aug. 17 meeting, disclosed their conversations with Boxer only in response to questions from The Times. Neither has met privately with opponents of the plant.
Sunrise on the Gaviota Coast north of Santa Barbara on Feb. 10, 2016. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
How does the State Lands Commission differ from the Coastal Commission?
Unlike the Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission is in effect a giant landlord, issuing leases and contracts for use of its vast properties, from kayak piers on Lake Tahoe to oil tanker terminals in San Francisco Bay.

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Saudi Prince Has the Throne in His Sights. Now for the Hard Part

By Marc Champion
June 21, 2017 4:01:00 PM PDT

Mohammed bin Salman facing tough challenges at home and abroad
Whatever setbacks are in store, the buck now stops with ‘MBS’

Saudi Arabia's Shake-Up
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman just consolidated his position and power. Now he’ll need all the help he can get.
Shortly after dawn on Wednesday, King Salman announced that his 31-year-old son, widely known as MBS, was now heir to the throne. His older cousin, former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, had been pushed aside to make way.
The move, if not the timing, was expected. Yet bin Nayef also lost his post as interior minister, a powerful role in which he oversaw the nation’s domestic security forces and counter-terrorism efforts. Those areas will now be in the hands of a close MBS ally. The prince already has substantial control over defense, economic and foreign policy.
Power on that scale comes with a catch.

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Bay Area to cap refineries’ greenhouse gases — and greens are mad

By David R. Baker
June 20, 2017 Updated: June 20, 2017 5:04pm

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

The Shell refinery in Martinez is one of five oil refineries in the Bay Area that under a proposal would get firm limits placed on greenhouse gas emissions, the first such caps in the nation.

On Wednesday, Bay Area regulators are expected to approve the nation’s first firm limits on greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries.
And some of the environmentalists who spent years pushing for the caps are furious.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is scheduled Wednesday morning to vote on the proposal, which would set specific annual limits on the amount of greenhouse gases each of the region’s five refineries could produce.

The problem lies in how those limits are set.
As originally proposed, the caps reflected the average annual emissions from each plant, plus a little room on top to account for year-to-year variability. The idea was not to cut emissions, but rather, to keep them from rising substantially.

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

The Valero refinery in Bencia,Ca., as seen on Tuesday June 20, 2017. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District on Wednesday is expected to approve the nation's first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries.
But, under changes proposed by district staff late last week, the cap at each refinery would be raised to account for upgrade or expansion projects that the district has already approved but that have not yet been built or started operations.
“It’s a matter of not only fairness but also legal necessity,” said Eric Stevenson, the district’s director of meteorology, measurement and rules. “We still expect to be sued by the industry. But because of that, we want to make sure we have the most legally defensible rule possible.”
As a result, however, the emissions from individual refineries could rise 25 percent or more above their current levels, according to the district’s staff report. Environmental groups call that the equivalent of building another refinery.

The new caps, they say, also won’t achieve one of their key goals — making sure Bay Area refineries don’t start using heavy petroleum from Canada’s tar sands. That oil takes more energy to refine and produces more greenhouse gas emissions as a result. And the critics argue that the last-minute changes amount to giving the oil industry a “right to pollute” whenever an expansion or upgrade project wins approval.
“At the 11th hour, the staff turned this thing on its head,” said Greg Karras, senior scientist with Communities for a Better Environment. “Think about how big that problem is — if there’s a vested right to pollute, goodbye EPA.”
The refiners, for their part, consider the new rule overkill.
California, they note, already has regulations and tools — including its cap-and-trade system — to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. The Western States Petroleum Association, the oil industry’s main lobbying group in Sacramento, also complained that the last-minute changes made analyzing the proposal’s impact difficult.

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Utilities in hot water: Realizing the benefits of grid-integrated water heaters

Water heaters offer storage capabilities at a fraction of the cost of batteries. The challenge is getting everyone a piece of the returns.
Herman K. Trabish
June 20, 2017
Utilities have always tried to stay out of hot water with their customers. But now, they're itching to get into it. 
A wave of interest is building in grid-integrated water heating (GIWH) as a path to system flexibility at a fraction of the cost of battery energy storage. At last count, 53.6 million of the 118.2 million U.S. water heaters were electric. Each could act as a battery for load shifting, peak shaving, or to integrate renewables, according to a Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) paper.
Hot water is used largely by residential utility customers in morning and evening hours, wrote RAP Sr. Advisor Jim Lazar. But it can be heated “when power is most available.”

The stored hot water could then be used during the morning and evening without increasing system burden, Lazar wrote. And, to optimize the use of variable renewables, it could be heated at night to take advantage of high wind production and at midday to take advantage of abundant solar production.
Effective utility control of residential water heating could integrate “up to 100,000 MW of additional variable wind and solar energy in the U.S.,” Lazar wrote.
Transforming the U.S. electric water heater fleet to 100% GIWH represents a $3.6 billion per year market, according to think tank Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). And “utilities, GIWH manufacturers, installers, solar companies, aggregators, and customers themselves can all capture a piece of this prize.”
Utilities across the country are catching on. There are GIWH pilots at Portland General Electric (PGE), Arizona Public Service (APS), and Green Mountain Power (GMP) in Vermont. PJM has introduced GIWH for frequency regulation and the California Energy Commission is discussing GIWH, according to Brattle Principal Ryan Hledik, co-author of a recent paper describing the GIWH opportunity
In the next 12 months to 18 months, Hledik said, it is likely there will be a utility-led “new wave of grid interactive water heating pilot programs.” The challenge, however, remains in spreading the benefits to all parties involved.

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Judge upholds California’s low-carbon fuel standards

By Bob Egelko
June 20, 2017 Updated: June 20, 2017 3:33pm

Photo: Anne Cusack, MCT

Ethanol is pumped into a truck for transport as ethanol production is coming back and Pacific Ethanol, Inc., in Stockton, California, has weathered bankruptcy and is cashing in on the current boon. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

A federal judge has upheld most of California’s pioneering low-carbon fuel standard but allowed oil companies and other fuel suppliers to challenge rules that may favor California ethanol producers over their Midwest competitors.
The standard, part of a 2006 state law intended to reduce air pollution that causes global warming, requires suppliers of transportation fuel sold in California to achieve a 10 percent reduction by 2020 in the amount of carbon released from their products.

Ruling in lawsuits originally filed in 2009 by oil refiners and ethanol producers, U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill of Fresno rejected their broadest arguments: that the California rules conflicted with milder federal clean-air laws and were an unconstitutional attempt to shield the state’s energy producers from competition.
Federal law expressly “preserves the right of the states to enact their own legislation that is more restrictive,” O’Neill said in a 48-page decision Thursday.
In 2011, O’Neill had blocked enforcement of the low-carbon standard, saying it appeared to establish a preference for California-produced biofuels. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco quickly allowed the state to resume enforcement of the rules and later overturned O’Neill’s decision, in language he quoted in his latest ruling.
“There was no protectionist purpose, no aim to insulate California from out-of-state competition,” he said, citing the appeals court’s findings.
But he said ethanol companies in the Midwest, where nearly all of the nation’s supplies of the fuel are produced, could proceed with their claim that the California rules, though neutral in purpose, had a discriminatory effect.

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