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April 16th, 2012 Archives
Monday, April 16, 2012
A company accused of artificially inflating the cost of electricity during California's deregulation debacle a decade ago is poised to become a big winner in the state's electric car-charging business - thanks to a lawsuit settlement just announced by Gov. Jerry Brown.
NRG Energy, a successor to Dynegy Inc., was one of a handful of companies accused by state regulators of overcharging Californians by almost $9 billion in 2000 and 2001 as part of the energy crisis that would fuel the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.
After years of legal wrangling, NRG agreed to a $120 million settlement with the state Public Utilities Commission.
And while NRG will refund $20 million to ratepayers, the settlement calls for the bulk of the money - nearly $100 million - to be spent setting up 200 electric car quick-charging stations around the state and wiring at least 1,000 apartment houses, hospitals and other buildings to handle plug-in chargers.
The deal also gives NRG exclusive rights to sell electricity at those sites for 18 months.
In other words, the company gets to use $100 million of the settlement for overcharging customers to go into the electric-car station business - a deal that competitors, despite being heavily subsidized by government grants, say will leave them in the dust.
"It certainly isn't fair to them, and it isn't fair to the ratepayers in the grand scheme," said Chelsea Sexton, an alternative-fuels advocate featured in the 2006 documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?"
To read the entire article go to: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/15/BANN1O33BR.DTL&feed=rss.matierandrossShare This Post
Published: Friday, April 13, 2012, 12:08 PM Updated: Friday, April 13, 2012, 12:28 PM
By Plain Dealer wire services
CHICAGO -- Batteries made in America for America and backed by America. That's how politicians hailed Ener1.
The company tapped the country's top scientists at Argonne National Lab in Illinois, and U.S. taxpayers pledged up to $118 million in federal stimulus funds and $80 million in state and local incentives to help Ener1 produce cutting-edge battery technology for electric cars and the U.S. military.
"This is about the future. And the question is which nation is going to seize the future. Some nation is going to grab it by the throat. One of the nations of the world is going to lead the world in green energy and technology," Vice President Joe Biden said in January 2011 in a speech praising federal support for Ener1 at its facility in Indiana.
That nation, in this case, is Russia.
A little more than a year after Biden's visit to Ener1's Indiana manufacturing plant, the company's technology is owned outright by Boris Zingarevich, a Russian businessman with ties to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a fact that concerns some technology experts in the U.S.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2012/04/russian_tycoons_purchase_of_us.htmlShare This Post
3 GW by 2025
Bill Opalka | Apr 15, 2012
The U.S. Department of Defense has set an ambitious goal of 3 GW of renewable energy, which it says is one of the largest commitments to renewable energy in history.Share This Post
By Neela Banerjee
8:16 AM CDT, April 14, 2012
WASHINGTON -- Energy has become a touchstone issue in the presidential race, and groups backed by oil and coal dollars have spent far more money on ads bashing the president’s record than the Obama campaign and its allies have spent defending it, according to a new analysis by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank.
Relying on the groups' own announcements and data provided to press clients by Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, the Center’s Climate Progress blog calculated that in the first 3-1/2 months of 2012, “groups including Americans for Prosperity, American Petroleum Institute, Crossroads GPS, and American Energy Alliance have spent $16,750,000 on energy attack ads.”
In comparison, the Obama campaign and an affiliated "super PAC," Priorities USA, “have spent at least $1.67 million defending the president’s energy record,” the analysis reported.
The numbers could already be out of date, and both sides have likely spent more since those announcements were made, said Elizabeth Wilner, vice president of Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ads by issue.
With the economic recovery weak, gas prices high and Mideast politics threatening to send them even higher, Obama’s opponents are battering him on energy policies they maintain have contributed to pain at the pump. The Obama campaign has rolled out ads in defense. As a result, five of seven general election commercials airing in key swing states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida are about energy, according to Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/la-pn-oil-and-coalbacked-groups-far-outpace-obama-on-energy-ads-20120413,0,452349.storyShare This Post
How many lobbyists does it take to defend billions in subsidies for one of the most profitable industries in the world? 786. That’s the size of the army that oil and gas companies maintain in Washington to strong-arm Congress into bankrolling an industry that is cutting jobs and literally fueling the climate crisis. This army is bigger than Congress itself, which has only 535 members.
Last year, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee decided to investigate Big Oil’s jobs claims — and it turns out the industry has gone on a firing spree in recent years. They discovered that despite generating $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees over that period. In 2010 alone, the top five oil companies slashed their global workforce by 4,400 employees — the same year executives paid themselves nearly $220 million. But at least those working in the industry as a whole get paid high wages, right? Turns out that 40 percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations.
With job numbers like these, it is no wonder the fossil-fuel industry needs to spend millions ensuring they are not branded as “job killers.” As Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said, “Oil companies that make record profits and then cut American jobs strain their own credibility when they claim to be huge job-creators.”
And it gets worse. In what must rank as one of the greatest boondoggles in history, Big Oil is leveraging its taxpayer subsidies to rake in profits that, in the words of The New York Times, are “being continuously recycled to win the support of pliable legislators [and] underwrite misleading advertising campaigns.”
There is also a bigger, far more insidious way that Big Oil is killing jobs and undermining our economy: The industry remains hell-bent on denying climate change and obstructing climate action.
But the planet appears to be running a campaign of its own to persuade Americans that the oil lobby is leading us ever closer to economic ruin. Over the last year alone, hurricanes, floods, and droughts have had a devastating effect on American jobs. After tornadoes hit the area around Tuscaloosa, Ala., in April of last year, more than 6,000 people applied for disaster-related unemployment benefits. In Vermont, the number of workers filing unemployment claims went from 731 before Hurricane Irene to 1,331 two weeks afterwards. For the U.S. economy as a whole, 2011 was a historic year for expensive weather-related disasters, costing taxpayers $52 billion.
Consider one of the centers of U.S. oil production: Louisiana. Economists have been studying the long-term economic effects of Hurricane Katrina [PDF] in hopes of modeling the risks for the rest of the nation’s coastal regions. They found that Katrina wiped out 129,000 jobs in the New Orleans region — about 19 percent. Three years later, in 2008, 47,000 of the jobs lost in Katrina had returned, but 82,000 had not — and that doesn’t even consider the tens of thousands of new jobs that likely would have been created had there been no Katrina.
Our nation is in desperate need of jobs. Instead of bankrolling an industry that is laying off workers and threatening our economic future, why not take the billions in subsidies going to oil companies and invest instead in a sector that both creates jobs and protects the planet? It will be money well spent: According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, investment in a green infrastructure program would create nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas.
Big Oil has spent millions positioning itself as the ultimate job creator, while branding those of us pushing to end fossil-fuel subsidies as “job killers.” But we are the ones fighting to put people back to work and ensure that we have a sustainable economy for generations to come. The oil and gas industry may have an army of 786 lobbyists, but we tally in the hundreds of thousands. This is the year we are coming to take our money back, create jobs, and protect our planet.Share This Post
Chevron was fined $350 after an employee at a Kern County field where high-pressure steam is injected into the ground was sucked underground and boiled to death last year.
By Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times
April 14, 2012, 5:50 p.m.
SACRAMENTO — California's largest oil company failed to warn employees of the dangers in an oil field where a worker was sucked underground and boiled to death last year, state authorities found — and then they fined the firm $350.
The small regulatory penalty, levied after a first investigation cleared Chevron, has angered labor leaders and reignited a debate over the risks of the extraction technique that led to the worker's death. The method, in which a rush of steam heats the ground and loosens oil deposits, yields much of California's crude.
Labor leaders said that for years workers have had safety concerns about the process, which they described as inherently dangerous because injecting steam at high pressures to coax oil from the porous earth can create a minefield of craters-in-waiting.
"They let Chevron off the hook way too easy," said Ed Crane, secretary-treasurer of United Steelworkers Local 12-6, the union that represents oil field workers. "A guy died, for God's sake. If people aren't being trained properly, how does $350 handle that? Chevron is not going to pay attention to that."
To read the entire article go to: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-oil-death-20120412,0,531022.storyShare This Post
By JOE NOCERA April 13, 2012
BP held its annual meeting on Thursday, and, all things considered, the company’s shareholders had much to be happy about. Yes, a small percentage voted against the $6.8 million pay package that the board awarded Bob Dudley, the chief executive. And there were plenty of protesters in attendance, including angry Gulf Coast residents and climate change activists.
Mainly, though, BP shareholders had to be pleased with the progress the company has made since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Two years after the spill that cost 11 lives and saw millions of gallons of crude poured into the Gulf of Mexico, the company unveiled 2011 net profits of close to $24 billion. And that’s after spending some $22 billion settling claims and paying cleanup costs. “We are fully back to work in the Gulf of Mexico,” Dudley announced.
To be sure, there are still some lawsuits to resolve, brought by several gulf states as well as the federal government. And there is also a criminal investigation, which a Justice Department representative told me was “very much ongoing.”
But not to worry. In addition to the $22 billion it has already spent, BP has another $15.2 billion set aside to cover future fines and payments. No government settlement will come close to that amount. As for the criminal investigation, it will likely result in a deal in which BP agrees to plead guilty — and pays yet more fines — while no actual human being goes to jail. Money solves everything, doesn’t it?
To read the entire article go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/14/opinion/nocera-how-to-prevent-oil-spills.html?ref=opinionShare This Post
Published: Friday, April 13, 2012, 10:16 PM Updated: Friday, April 13, 2012, 10:44 PM
By Scott Learn, The Oregonian
The Environmental Protection Agency wants a thorough review of the consequences of coal export through Northwest ports, saying the first project in the pipeline -- at Oregon's Port of Morrow -- "has the potential to significantly impact human health and the environment."
It's not a full victory for environmentalists and tribes near the Columbia River. EPA stopped short of recommending that the Army Corps of Engineers conduct a wholesale analysis of all six potential projects to export Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia through Oregon and Washington.
But it gives environmental groups more ammunition in the high-profile dispute, which could well end up in court.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2012/04/northwest_coal_export_projects.htmlShare This Post
Published: Saturday, April 14, 2012, 6:00 AM Updated: Saturday, April 14, 2012, 7:34 AM
By John Funk, The Plain Dealer
Drilling and fracturing Ohio's Utica Shale is an industrial process -- and there will be problems, former Gov. Tom Ridge warned industry experts Friday.
In a frank and plain-spoken address to more than 100 attending a forum in the downtown Cleveland law offices of McDonald Hopkins, Ridge said the industry has to deal with environmental problems as they arise -- and be transparent about them - because the economic potential is enormous.
"Things will happen because it is an industrial process," he said. "There will be spills. Somebody may use the wrong drilling rig. The industry should be self-policing."
Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor and first secretary of Homeland Security, now heads an energy and maritime consulting firm that specializes in risk management and other strategic services.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2012/04/former_pennsylvania_gov_tom_ri.htmlShare This Post
By HENRY FOUNTAIN April 15, 2012, 12:00 pm
Scientists from the United States Geological Survey have cautiously weighed in on a subject that has sparked public concern in some parts of the country: spates of small earthquakes in oil- and gas-producing areas.
In a report to be presented next week at a meeting of seismologists in San Diego, the scientists say that increases in the number of quakes in Arkansas and Oklahoma in the last few years are “almost certainly” related to oil and gas production. But in a summary of the report, they say they do not know if seismic activity is increasing because companies are taking more oil and gas from underground or because of “changes in extraction methodologies.”
One “extraction methodology” that has become increasingly popular, especially for natural gas production, is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which water and chemicals are injected into wells under pressure to create fissures in the rock and unlock the gas. A report by a state seismologist in Oklahoma suggested that two minor quakes in January, about 50 miles south of Oklahoma City, may have been directly caused by a fracking operation.
To read the entire article go to: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/more-on-the-link-between-earthquakes-and-fracking/?ref=energy-environmentShare This Post
Posted: 04/13/2012 01:00:00 AM MDT Updated: 04/13/2012 05:07:20 AM MDT
By Mark Jaffe The Denver Post
Gov. John Hickenlooper's oil-and-gas task force today adopted a plan to create a collaborative relationship between the state and local governments on regulating drilling.
But even before finishing, industry and local government representatives were predicting that the issue would still end up in the legislature and the courts.
"There are still a whole lot of unresolved issues," said Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association and a task force member.
The task force outlined a plan to increase cooperation between state regulators and local governments and to enable local inspectors for rigs and wells.
The commission did not address a range of issues that Hickenlooper outlined in his executive order, including well setbacks from homes, air quality, noise abatement and traffic management.
The task force's aim was, in six weeks, to try to resolve some of the emerging conflicts among the industry, the state and cities and counties.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_20385637Share This Post
Published: Saturday, April 14, 2012, 3:00 PM
By John Funk, The Plain Dealer
It used to be that picking up a two-pack or four-pack of light bulbs was a no-brainer.
As if by instinct, most consumers knew what wattage bulb to buy. A 40-watt bulb might go in a closet, a 75-watt could be used in a reading lamp, and a bright 100-watt might go above a workbench. But most often, consumers bought a 60-watt bulb -- pretty bright but not blinding, and not so hot that it ruined the fixture.
Much of that buying decision, though, was based on experience and marketing, including information on the package. It was all about how much power a bulb used.
"We have been conditioned to buy on watts," said Peter Soares, director of consumer marketing for Philips Lighting.
Not for long. Because of new technologies, the industry wants consumers to choose light bulbs by lumens, which measure brightness, not by watts. This will be done with fancy new packaging and a sober, federally mandated label.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2012/04/new_federal_label_for_househol.htmlShare This Post
Is it a panacea?
Ken Silverstein | Apr 15, 2012
As the world community grapples with whether to pursue nuclear energy and at what pace, a “new” paradigm is getting thrown into the mix -- one that its advocates say is abundant in nature and which does not create the near the levels of radioactive waste that uranium does.Share This Post
April 16, 2012 | Bernice Yeung
San Diego is home to more than 2,600 solar residential rooftops – more than any other California city – but in the neighboring lower-income community of National City, there are only about a dozen.
A bill [PDF] before the California Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce this month seeks to equalize renewable energy installation in the state by promoting small-scale solar rooftops in the disadvantaged communities.
The bill targets neighborhoods with high unemployment rates and those that “bear a disproportionate burden from air pollution, disease, and other impacts from the generation of electricity from the burning of fossil fuels,” the bill said.
Bill author Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Mountain View, said the legislation would create jobs and build “cleaner, safer, and healthier neighborhoods.”
“Unfortunately, California’s most vulnerable communities – those that have suffered first and worst from pollution – have not benefited much from existing renewable energy policy,” Fong said in a statement provided to California Watch.
The legislation would require the state to install enough systems to produce 375 megawatts of renewable energy – or about 1,000 small-scale projects – in disadvantaged communities between 2014 and the end of 2020. Utility companies are required by a 2011 state law to achieve a 33 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2020.
The renewable energy systems supported by Fong’s bill would take the form of rooftop solar installations on apartment complexes and commercial buildings, and each project would be limited to producing 500 kilowatts of power, a project the size of a typical Costco rooftop.
Advocates say passage of the bill could improve both the health and economy of these low-income communities.
Through a program known as "feed-in tariff," the owner of the solar panels would be able to earn revenue by selling back unused energy to the local utility company. Additionally, the bill promotes the hiring of local workers to install the solar panels.
And because reliance on carbon dioxide-emitting power plants used during periods of high energy demand – called peaker plants – could be decreased with an increase in renewable energy creation, there are health implications to the bill, said Strela Cervas of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, which sponsored the legislation.
“Peaker plants are those that are polluting our communities the most,” Cervas said. “We see (the bill) AB 1990 as the first step to address the health crisis in these communities.”
Michael S. Hindus, an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who has represented clients who developed small- and utility-scale solar projects, as well as solar rooftop owners, said he supports the expansion of rooftop solar. He believes a feed-in tariff system will make the small projects more feasible.
He said he hoped that the benefit of the easy-to-implement feed-in tariff is not offset by hard-to-implement environmental justice goals. “The uncertainty,” Hindus said, “is how to meet the social justice and environmental justice criterion which are set forth in the bill. As it goes through the legislative process, the ease of implementation will need to be balanced with the environmental justice goals."
To determine which communities would meet the environmental justice criteria, the bill sponsors point to an environmental justice screening method developed by professors at UC Berkeley, the University of Southern California and Occidental College. This screening method weighs environmental health risk factors, like air quality, and social factors, like income and age. Neighborhoods in cities like National City, Richmond in the San Francisco Bay Area, Huntington Park in southeast Los Angeles and the Central Valley’s Tulare would qualify.
Private utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric have not yet taken a position on the legislation. Spokeswomen for Southern California Edison and PG&E said they are reviewing the bill.
Although the California Municipal Utilities Association “supports the State’s goal of increasing distributed generation," the association’s spokesman, Patrick Harbison, said in a statement that the organization is concerned that the bill will result in higher bills for some customers.Share This Post
More schools install solar panels to tap California's sunshine and reduce energy costs. But among the snags are predictable complaints about aesthetics and an unexpected directional mixup.
By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times April 16, 2012
To plug in to solar energy, you need photovoltaic cells, controllers, inverters, combiner boxes and plenty of copper wiring.
Oh yes — and a compass.
Workers at Valencia High School found that out when they installed solar power arrays facing the wrong way.
The 4,815-panel project is just one of an increasing number of solar arrays springing up on campuses across the state as financially strapped school systems try to save billions in electricity costs. But tapping into the sun can be trickier than it looks, schools are discovering.
At Valencia High, a subcontractor apparently misread plans when bolting down some panels.
"They used a crane to pick them up and do a 180-degree spin," explained Gail Pinsker, spokeswoman for the William S. Hart Union High School District. "They were aimed wrong."
The repair job was free. So is the 7.3-megawatt system being installed by PsomasFMG. In exchange for use of the equipment, the Hart district is obligated to buy electricity from the private company, at a discounted rate, for 20 years.
After that, the company will remove the panels or extend the agreement. The equipment's typical lifespan is 25 years, said Paul Mikos, executive vice president of the firm.
Such buyback deals, incentive programs, zero-interest loans and direct purchases can save school systems as much as 85% of their electricity costs.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-schools-solar-20120416,0,6812503,print.storyShare This Post