Saturday, April 30, 2011

73.9 Million More Chinese and $4 Gasoline

Since 2000, China's population increased 5.8% or 73.9 million people, reaching 1.34 billion, raising demand for oil and other commodities.

The 5.8% growth rate was the slowest in 50 years but, when it is applied to the base population of 1.26 billion of 10 years ago, the result is still a lot more people.

Indeed 73.9 million people is close to 25% of the USA population and more than all the people in Prince William's and Kate's kingdom.

Look no further than rising populations in China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies plus rising living standards that are being powered by burning primarily coal and oil for why gasoline is $4.  Demand for oil is increasing and pushing oil prices up, up, and up again.

$4 gasoline will likely be replaced by much higher prices over the next 10 years.  The USA economic growth will be cut substantially if we remain addicted to oil.

Fortunately, electricity, biodiesel, and natural gas are all good substitutes for gasoline.

Back to Poverty!

In the early 1960's, about 30% of seniors lived in poverty.  The combination of Social Security and Medicare cut by more than half the seniors' poverty rate.

Today 56% of Americans have savings of less than $25,000.  Median-income families are straining to pay to fill gas tanks and tuition bills.

Turning medicare into a voucher that year by year becomes more and more inadequate to pay the cost of insuring someone over 65 years of age is a guaranteed recipe for going back 50 years, prior to Medicare, when nearly one out of three seniors were poor.

Sometimes reform ideas are dangerous junk.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shale Gas Saves Consumers Up To $1500 Per Year

Time flies. Memories are short.  In July 2008, gasoline, electricity, and natural gas prices were all skyrocketing.  Gasoline cost over $4; electricity in the PJM wholesale market was over 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (just generation cost); and natural gas was $13 for a thousand cubic feet.

Less than 3 years later, gasoline is once more around $4, causing real pain for low and median income families, but natural gas and electricity bills have not skyrocketed.  Natural gas prices are down about 70% since July 2008.  Yesterday Constellation Energy in Maryland filed to lower by 17% its default electric rate.

Why are natural gas prices and electric bills not doing what oil has done?

America's shale gas supplies doubled in 2010 to 837 trillion cubic feet. These supplies and near record production of natural gas in 2010 keeps natural gas prices around $4.30, despite a growing economy.  Low natural gas prices means natural gas bills plus electricity bills are controlled.

If natural gas was now priced at $13 for a thousand cubic feet, as was the case the last time gasoline cost $4, residential natural gas consumers would have paid $800 more to heat their homes and $500 more for electricity.  Natural gas is used to generate 24% of our power, and natural gas plants are often on the margin of the wholesale market, setting the entire market price.

When you sum it all up, shale gas has saved up to $1500 for many consumers in the last year.

Why has electricity and gas moved down, while oil and gasoline have gone sharply up in price?  Doesn't the economy and not shale gas explain these price movements?

Growth in the US and world economy does explain mainly the increase in oil prices, but the economy does not explain fully or mainly the pricing of electricity and especially natural gas. 

The US economy has grown now for 7 quarters since July 2009. 1.6 million new jobs have been created since January 2010.  The stock market has boomed.  But natural gas prices have fallen substantially since July 2008.

The fundamental reason why natural gas prices are lower, even though economic growth has driven oil higher, is that shale gas supplies have doubled and US gas production is near record levels.

Oil Shock Slows Economy But Shale Gas Prevents a Double Dip Recession

Looking at the first quarter GDP numbers shows that shale gas and the much lower natural gas prices resulting from it prevented the economy from going into a recession in the first quarter.  Consumers are straining to pay an additional $750 per year for gasoline, and that strain slowed the economy. 

Yet, but for shale gas, many consumeers would have faced as much as another $1500 in additional natural gas heating costs and electricity costs.  Another $1500 of energy costs would have tipped us into recession.

First quarter GDP numbers show the American economy growing in the first quarter of 2011 but at a slower rate than in the 4th quarter of 2010.  Growth decreased to 1.7%.

Budget cuts, bad weather, and oil price increases  all slowed economic growth in the first quarter.

But how much worse would the economy be if shale gas supplies had not driven down the price of natural gas?

If consumers were paying the July 2008 natural gas price of $13 for a thousand cubic feet, the 51% of consumers who heat with natural gas would have paid about $800 more in natural gas bills this last year.

Electricity prices would also be much higher as 24% of electricity is made from gas, and natural gas is often the marginal price fuel setting the price for the wholesale market. 

Conservatively, if natural gas prices were at $13 for a thousand cubic feet, residential electricity consumers would be paying another 5 cents per kilowatt-hour or another $500 per year.

But for shale gas up to another $1500 of additional energy costs would have been piled on the additional $750 of higher gasoline costs.  And we would be seeing a shrinking economy and rising unemployment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stunning Fact: Women Now 57% of College Students

Or men are 43% of college students. 

Women are studying more and better and will soon reach 60% of college students given current trends.

Student Loan Debt Hits Record

Total student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion.  Students owe more to repay school loans than consumers owe in credit card debt.  Amazing.

The average student loan debt is now $24,000.

Yet in Pennsylvania we are debating cutting by 52% funding to public universities.  Also amazing.

Slashed funding will mean tuition hikes which will mean higher student debts and some not going to school.  That is a cycle that devours individual hopes and Pennsylvania's future.  It must be broken.

PA Solar Power Costs 60% Less Than Grid Power

Residential solar systems in Pennsylvania have a lifetime cost of about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour compared to about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour on average that residential customers pay for electricity from the grid. 

Don't believe it?

Take a look at these numbers.  Assume that the cost of a kilowatt of residential solar is $5.50 per watt installed or $5,500 per kilowatt.  Assume that the federal tax credit of 30% is applied, reducing the customer cost to $3.85 per watt or $3,850 per watt. Assume that the kilowatt generates 1,100 kilowatt-hours per year or 27,500 over the life of the system.

After the federal tax credit is applied the cost per kilowatt-hour over the life of the system is about 14 cents or a bit more than today's 12 cents grid power.  What will grid power cost 5 years or 10 years from now?  The probability is high that the cost will be more than today's on average 12 cents.  And so investing in solar could make sense if the analysis stops here.

But most importantly the solar cost to the consumer is not 14 cents, because that assumes the solar installation creates no new value for the home. Zero is a false assumption.

In fact installing solar increases the value of an existing home by about $5 per watt according to the new and important Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study of solar's impact on home values.

If one is cautious about the increased value of a home after solar is installed and assumes just 50% of the LBL study number or $2.50 per watt, then the per watt cost of solar in Pennsylvania declines from $3.85 per watt after the federal tax credit to $1.35 per watt.

With just the federal tax credit and 50% of the LBL home value increase, solar in Pennsylvania costs about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour or 60% less than the average residential grid rate.

Residential solar for an existing home is a very attractive investment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Will Drilling Wastewater Discharge Volumes Fall Below Pre-Marcellus Boom Levels on May 19th?

On May 19th drilling wastewater discharges untreated for Total Dissolved Solids to Pennsylvania's waters could be less than before the first Marcellus well was drilled in Pennsylvania. Achieving that milestone would be a genuine accomplishment for which state and federal regulators, the gas industry, environmental organizations, media, and water treatment companies like Eureka should be congratulated.  Will it happen? 

Secretary Krancer has called for the last 15 facilities that are still discharging drilling wastewater untreated for TDS and had been historically doing so prior to the August 2010 new TDS rule to stop doing so by May 19th.

If the 15 facilities honor the Secretary's request or DEP orders them to stop if the request is not honored, the volumes of drilling waste untreated for TDS going into rivers in Pennsylvania will be lower than prior to the Marcellus boom and close to zero.  That will be a triumph for all involved. 

Achieving the milestone will also demonstrate that the Marcellus development can with sound regulation and innovation by the industry bring positive change to Pennsylvania and our environment.  When gas drilling was out of sight and mind in Pennsylvania, old industry practices and weak rules had been standard for many years. 

Now 4 new, strong regulatory packages adopted from 2008 to 2011 are in effect.  Old practices are being replaced by new technologies like recycling technology or treatment systems such as Eureka's that can clean frac water to the Safe Drinking Water standard.  More companies are committing to practices that exceed regulatory requirements and amount to excellence. The work is not finished by any means, but important progress is being made in areas like water withdrawal and now drilling wastewater disposal.

Few thought that it possible that drilling wastewater would have less impact on our rivers and streams post- Marcellus than pre-Marcellus, but Pennsylvania is getting as close as May 19th to possibly achieving that success.

Volt & Leaf Get Top Safety Rating Plus Low Fuel Costs

Electric cars cost about 3 cents per mile to operate compared to 16 cents per mile for a gasoline car that gets 25 miles per gallon when gasoline costs $4 per gallon.  3 cents is much better than 16 cents to state the painfully obvious.

But some wonder, are electric cars safe?  What happens if they have a crash?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf its top safety rating, after extensive testing.  Both the Volt and Leaf can run on only electricity, using batteries to provide power.  The Volt also has a gasoline engine that runs when the battery empties and needs recharging.

The Insurance Institute found that both the Volt and Leaf high voltage electric systems posed no hazards to emergency responders and others after crashes.

So the Volt and Leaf are top safety performers and much cheaper to operate. But how much do they cost to buy?

The Volt is listed at $41,000 and the Leaf at $33,600.  Federal and state tax incentives are available, including in Pennsylvania.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gas Replacing Coal Even in Kentucky

When replacing coal power plants with gas takes place in Kentucky, you know that it can happen anywhere.

Louisville Gas and Electric Company and Kentucky Utilities filed documents with the Kentucky Public Service Commission indicating that they will close by 2016 3 coal plants providing 979 megawatts of power and replace them with natural gas power plants.

The coal plants have drawn major opposition from residents living near them and have been significant sources of air pollution.

Coal plants are responsible for 90% of the toxic pollution from the power sector and toxic power plant pollution causes 17,000 premature deaths per year.  Not a misprint. 

Solar Makes Financial Sense Right Now In Pennsylvania and Anywhere in America

Perhaps nothing that a family can do is better for the environment than installing solar.  My sister put 5 kilowatts of solar on her Maryland home last June.  And another neighboring family has followed her example.  Solar is happening in part because many people know installing solar is a powerful way of lessening their environmental footprint and increasingly financially viable.

How much you pay for electricity from the grid as well as the cost of solar to you largely determines solar's financial viability. 

Maryland's average residential electric rate is about 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, but rates are already much higher than that in New York, Connecticut, and Hawaii.  In those states average residential electricity rates are 18, 19, and 29 cents respectively. 

So putting aside any concern for the environment and health, let's ask, would it make financial sense to invest in solar in  New York, Connecticut, and Hawaii? 

If one assumes that solar systems in New York and Connecticut can generate annually 1,000 kilowatt-hours per kilowatt and 1,800 kilowatt-hours per kilowatt in Hawaii; an installed cost of $6 per watt; and 25 years of operation; each solar kilowatt-hour would cost 24 cents in New York and Connecticut, while just 13 cents in Hawaii (due to the greater production).

This first-cut calculation would indicate that it makes great financial sense to go solar in Hawaii and probably not just yet in New York and Connecticut. 

But even in New York and Connecticut a couple other factors move the calculation toward solar making financial sense.

First, the Laurence Berkeley National Lab study documenting increased value of homes that install solar changes powerfully the financial sense of solar.  LBL found existing homes in California that installed solar increased the homes value by the equivalent of $5.50 per watt.  Even if one assumes a boost to home values of just half of the LBL number in New York and Connecticut, the cost of solar falls to about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour there or well below the grid rate of 18 and 19 cents respectively.

Second, the US tax code provides a 30% tax credit for solar installation so the $6 installed cost is an after-tax cost of $4.20.  Assuming a $6 per watt installed cost, the after tax per kilowatt-hour cost of solar in Hawaii is just 9.3 cents compared to 29 cents grid power.  In New York and Connecticut, the after tax solar cost is 16.8 cents per kilowatt-hour or less than the 18 and 19 cent grid power.

Bottom line is that solar makes financial sense in New York, Connecticut, and Hawaii with either the federal tax credit or 50% of the LBL home value increase. 

If one were to apply both the 50% of the LBL home value increase and the federal tax credit, the cost of solar falls to about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour or well below the national average residential electricity rate of 9.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. 

At a solar cost of 6 cents, solar makes financial sense in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and just about anywhere in America.

California Has Big Wind and Solar Production on Earth Day

Wind and solar production is growing around the country and indeed setting short-lived records that soon get beaten.

On Earth Day wind and solar power provided 9% of California's peak electricity needs, according to the California grid operator. California gets about 55% of its electricity supply from natural gas plants and just 2% from coal plants.

By comparison, wind alone has provided as much as 4% of Pennsylvania's electricity for a very short period. 

Wind in Iowa provides now about 20% of its annual needs and 7% of Texas' yearly power demand.

Wind and solar power are becoming mainstream and continue to grow rapidly.

Job Numbers Everyone Should Know

The last 11 years have been brutal for anyone looking for a job or seeking a better one. These numbers document why.

In January 2000 America had 130.781 million jobs and had sputtering, weak job growth until December 2007.  Then job seeking became a nightmare.

The Great Recession began in December 2007 and became a near depression in September 2008, wiping out 8.8 million jobs by December 2009.

Job losses from October 2008 to April 2009 were extraordinary, with monthly job losses of 500,000 to 750,000 during that time.

Job losses were reduced to zero by January 2010 and job growth resumed.  From January 2010 to March 2011, 1.6 million jobs have been created.

Those 1.6 million new jobs mean that as of March 2011, the nation had 130.738 million jobs or 43,000 less than eleven years ago.

Jobs are now being created but the hole is deep, the economy fragile, and high gasoline prices themselves are a considerable threat to job creation. 

America needs to rethink job creation and understand that global competition often means a competing national government that is supporting, investing in, or promoting its companies.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

$4.53 gasoline and 29 cents per kilowatt-hour electricity lessons

Relying on oil for transportation has pushed gasoline prices over $4 in 6 states plus DC and to $4.53 in Hawaii.

Oil provides 75% of Hawaii's electricity where it costs 29 cents per kilowatt-hour as of December 2010.

Fifty years ago, the USA was heavily dependent on oil to make electricity, but the amount of oil to make electricity has been declining since the Arab oil embargo of 1973.  Nuclear power and natural gas that provide 44% of our power took the place of burning oil to make electricity.

Today Hawaii is the exception to the USA rule of little oil used to make electricity.  Less than 1% of USA electricity comes from burning oil.  The USA now gets three times more electricity from wind than from oil.

The replacement of oil by other fuels to make electricity is a triumph for our environment, economy, and national security.

If the USA still heavily used oil to make electricity, a broad energy shock would be crippling our economy today and our air would be dirtier.  The national average residential electricity price would be  between 15 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour rather than the 10 cents it is.  Families would be paying another $500 per year for electricity, in addition to the $1,000 more for gasoline.

Those combined additional costs of $1500 would devour another 3% of total income for families with the median income and would likely be the straw that would break the current economic recovery.

Good policy broke our oil addiction for making electricity.  Now we have to finish breaking free from oil and decrease by 70% within 20 years our use of oil for transportation.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hawaii Sets Record High Gasoline Price

The average price of regular gasoline in Hawaii now is $4.53 per gallon, a record high, exceeding the price set in July 2008.

Six states plus the District of Columbia now have average prices above $4 per gallon.  Pennsylvania's average is $3.87 per gallon.

USA consumers have begun to cut their gasoline purchases, with demand down about 2% in the last 6 weeks.  But USA reductions of that amount don't dent the world oil market where rising global demand for oil continues.

Odds remain high that gasoline prices new normal will be closer to $4 than closer to $3.  Electric cars, compressed natural gas vehicles, and biofuels look better and better.

A Great Earth Day Example: Council Rock School District

Council Rock School District in Bucks County has cut its energy usage by 49%.  Wow!

It has prevented substantial pollution by doing so, making our air, water, and land healthier for us.

Council Rock schools also saved taxpayers $9 million that would have been spent on all the energy it conserved.  Energy conservation protects the pocketbook too.

Congratulations of Council Rock School District, a great Earth Day example for us all.  I am interested in highlighting other examples of great energy conservation.  Please let me know about families, companies, churches, and others who have taken control of their energy usage.

China Starts Fracking Shale Gas To Decrease Coal Use.

This week, China used hydraulic fracturing to complete its first horizontal shale gas well and began its journey to get 10% of its energy needs from natural gas by 2020.  By comparison natural gas provides right now 25% of all energy usage in the USA.  Shale gas has increased Chinese natural gas reserves by 10 times.

China is the world's largest emitter of carbon, the world's largest user of energy, and the world's second largest economy.

China powers itself primarily on coal and now must import coal to meet its needs.  Chinese coal plants often have few environmental controls and burn coal inefficiently, resulting in large amounts of mercury, other toxics, soot, smog, and heat trapping gas being emitted to the atmosphere.

China's development of shale gas will reduce significantly its pollution loading as more efficient, cleaner natural gas plants take the place of dirtier, older, inefficient coal plants.

China is also in the middle of the world's largest nuclear plant construction program with an incredible 27 nuclear plants being built now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 22nd Earth Day: Please Consider Buying Green Electricity

I am speaking at Slippery Rock University as part of its Earth Day events.  The University has put together an excellent full day program examining gas drilling and the Marcellus Shale.  I am honored to start the day off with the keynote.

My personal hope for Earth Day is for everyone to be good stewards of our air, land, and water. Using energy wisely and efficiently is vital to protecting our environment, health, and economy.

I also recommend buying green power products for your home or business.  I am buying a 100% wind power product for my home in Hershey.  The Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate has an excellent electricity shopping guide on its websites that has all the green and traditional power products.

Solar Boosts Value of Homes by $17,000

Home prices have declined generally around the country about 20% since peak prices in 2006 but a new study confirms that installing solar boosts the value of a home.  A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Report issued on April 21st found that solar on average increased the sales value of a home by the equivalent of $5.50 per watt installed or an average of $17,000.

In Pennsylvania, the median cost of residential solar system in December 2010 was $5.90 per watt.  With a $5.50 per watt increase in the value of the home, the solar system has an almost instant 100% payback before receiving any savings from electricity production or tax credits.

The study compared sales prices of 2,000 homes with solar installed in California to homes sold without solar power.  The average size of the solar system in the study was 3,100 watts or 3.1kw.

The premium was greatest for existing homes to which a solar system was added and less when solar was installed with a new home, where the premium was $2.3 to $2.6 per watt.  The premium did decrease with the age of the home.

Shale Gas Causes NRG to Stop Texas Nuclear Projects

Low gas prices more than the Fukushima nuclear disaster have pushed NRG to painfully pull the plug on its plans to construct two nuclear units in Texas.  NRG had been in a lead position to secure federal loan guarantees, but the low price of gas made it impossible to finance the immense investment needed to build the nuclear plants.

NRG's decsion means that it will write off $300 million it had invested in moving the projects forward. Toshiba, an NRG partner, indicated that it too will write off $150 million.  Financial results like that certainly won't make financing new nuclear plants easier.

What role did the Fukushima disaster play in NRG's decision?  The disaster did remove Tokyo Electric Power and the Japanese Government as possible investment partners, but the low price of natural gas made recovery of the capital investment plus a return on that investment next to impossible.

Fundamentally fracking, shale gas and low natural gas prices, not Fukushima, stopped the NRG nuclear projects.  Low natural gas prices also played a key role in Constellation Energy's decision to stop moving forward with a new nuclear plant at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland.

The US shale boom has dimmed the US nuclear renaissance.  It should also mean an end to operating old, coal plants with few or no pollution controls on them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cornell Prof. Horwath Paper Debunked by New Study: Will NYT Cover It and How?

Today, the American Clean Skies Foundation released a life cycle study finding greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas-fired electricity is 50% less than coal. See  This study was authored by Greg Staple and Dr. Joel Swisher, who among other things is a Senior Fellow at the Rocky Mountain Institute and a consulting professor of engineering at Stanford University. 

The Staple-Swisher paper will be the first of several as more life-cycle studies from highly credible institutions are nearing completion.

Staple and Swisher use the most recent 2011 EPA data on methane leakage rates (not used by Horwath), accepted IPCC global warming potential protocols (not used by Horwath), and calculate emissions for both the production of coal and gas plus the combustion of coal and gas.   Unlike Horwath, the Staple-Swisher paper used empirical data readily available concerning the efficiency with which coal plants burn coal and the efficiency with which gas plants burn gas to produce an actual kilowatt-hour of electricity that we then use at our homes and businesses.

Coal plants are less efficient than gas plants.  Coal plants require more fuel than gas plants do to produce a kilowatt-hour.  The lower efficiency of coal plants are a major reason why they emit more carbon per kilowatt-hour of electricity actually generated than gas plants do.

And if you don't want to read the paper, though I recommend it, here are its principal conclusions:

1. Existing gas fired plants emit 51% less greenhouse gas pollution per kilowatt-hour than existing coal plants;

2. A new gas-fired combined cycle unit produces about 52% less GHG pollution per kilowatt-hour than a new coal fired plant;

3. A new gas-fired combined cycle unit produces about 58% less GHG pollution than the average coal plant and 63% less than a typical  older coal plant.

Will this news be fit to print in the NYT?  Again, this will be the first of several studies arriving at materially different conclusions to Professor Horwath and debunking his paper.

The Full Bromide and TDS Mon River Story

The news that DEP politely called for ending disposal of drilling wastewater from the remaining 15 plants that were in operation prior to August 2010 when the new Total Dissolved Solids Rule went into effect is welcome.  The reason for DEP's action--rising levels of bromide on the Mon and Allegheny Rivers documented by good work by Carnegie Mellon University--is unwelcome. Carnegie Mellon University reports that generally bromide on the two rivers is above background and between low and moderate levels but has reached high levels for short periods. 

Bromide itself is harmless.  It is part of the total dissolved solids such as salts and sulfates that is regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act through a secondary standard, because high TDS concentrations change the color, taste and odor of water.

Drinking water plants that take in water and process it to deliver to homes and businesses have no equipment to remove TDS.  What comes in the plant flows through to the tap.

Moreover, bromide at certain concentrations reacts with chlorine in the drinking water treatment process to create a third substance that is a known carcinogen so keeping bromide levels low in water is particularly important.

The Mon River and Allegheny River have for many years had TDS levels that have exceeded 400 mg/liter, nearing the 500 mg/liter Safe Drinking Water standard limits, and TDS levels exceeded that limit on the Mon River in October 2008.

At that time, the Mon River when it reached Pennsylvania from West Virginia already was at the Safe Drinking Water Standard of 500 but the TDS levels increased further as the river flowed to Pittsburgh.  The sources of TDS are numerous, including industrial discharges, coal mining, and gas drilling wastewater.  The historic discharges have been enough to stress both the Mon and Allegeheny rivers and new ones can push it over the limit.

In response to the 2008 TDS levels exceeding the 500 standard, DEP issued a drinking water advisory to the public and ordered municipal sewer treatment systems that were taking drilling wastewater and discharging it to the Mon River to cut by 90% the drilling water discharges.  That order is still in effect to my knowledge.

Given the Carnegie Mellon University data and the unexpected bromide issue, now stopping drilling wastewater discharges to both the Mon river and Allegheny is a sensible precaution.  It also seems to be a precaution with limited impact on the gas drilling industry as a result of the already widespread and still growing use of recycling technology that the industry developed in response to the prospect of the August 2010 new TDS rule.

 If companies could recyle but have not been as a result of the operation of the old plants, such companies can join many others in the industry and recyle or treat to the safe drinking water standard drilling waste water.  Eureka is one company that has plant running that can do exactly that.

With the bromide issue being addressed, the bigger issue of TDS levels on the Mon River remains lurking. The TDS pollution sources to the Mon are multiple, including new ones like waste from scrubbers installed at Hatfield Ferry coal plant that are providing vital air pollution control, and the TDS levels have been uncomfortably close to the 500 level since 2008. 

Indeed the sulfate levels, a major part of TDS, have been above the environmental limits.  DEP, therefore, recommended in December 2010 to EPA that the Mon river be listed as impaired for sulfates and steps be taken to reduce sulfate loading of the Mon River.

Everyone who uses the Mon River--from drinking water suppliers to industrial dischargers--would be well-served by a cooperative plan to lower TDS levels.  The bromide piece of the TDS issue reminds strongly that managing and reducing the TDS levels on the Mon River is a necessity.

April 20, 2010, a Day To Remember that Oil is Much Dirtier Than Natural Gas

One year ago today 4.7 million barrels of oil began pouring into the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded.  One out of control oil well killed eleven workers and devastated the environment and economy of the Gulf and 4 states.

 Had the Deepwater Horizon spill involved only gas, eleven workers would have tragically died but the impact on the environment and economy of the Gulf would have been much, much less.  No oil covered wildlife. No impacts on shrimping and fishing.  Natural gas is less damaging than oil when it gets where it is not supposed to be, though reducing gas migration cases is a top priority.

And of course oil spills, big and small, happen everyday all around the world.  The Exxon Valdez spilled 257,000 barrels into Prince William Sound.  That disaster killed 250,000 birds.

Closer to home in Pennsylvania, the Delaware River has been assaulted by oil spills for decades. 

To focus on just some of the big ones, in November 2004, the Athos 1, a single hull tanker was punctured and the Coast Guard put the final spill estimate at 265,000 gallons.  PSEG shut down a nuclear reactor for two days as a result.  Birds were killed. 

Then there was the 1976 tanker spill that released 130,000 gallons into the Delaware River.  Of course don't forget the plumes of oil under the city of Philadelphia that have leaked into the ground from oil refining operations.  And just in Pennsylvania there are thousands of oil tanks underground, abandoned, and leaking product into ground water.

Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research says in today's Philadelphia Inquirer that it alone has been part of bird rescues at 150 oil spills in 8 countries in two decades. 

Tri-State also recounts since the BP oil spill that it has gone to an oil spill at the Potomac River; and oil spill at the Delaware Memorial Bridge; and saved two ducks that encounterd oil in Lower Moreland Township in Montgomery County. Interestingly, to my knowledge most of these "routine," daily oil spills trigger very little media or public attention.

With the intense focus on gas drilling comes the risk of forgetting how much dirtier oil and coal inherently are.  Natural gas has impacts but they are less. 

Using more natural gas and less oil and coal will lessen the environmental impact of our energy production and consumption on the environment.

Monday, April 18, 2011

PJM Renewable Energy Doubles From 2005 to 2010

While a previous post documents the extraordinary growth in wind power within the PJM power pool, all renewable energy sources, including hydro, landfill gas, and biomass, provided 38 billion kilowatt-hours of power in 2010 or doubling the 2005 total of 19 billion kilowatt-hours.

Of the total 19 billion kilowatt-hours of increased renewable energy, wind power accounted for about 10.5 billion.

Renewable energy from all sources within the PJM power pool supplied enough power for 3.8 million homes in 2010.

Renewable energy is now an important part of keeping our lights on and it continues to grow rapidly.

EPA 2009 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Puts Emissions at 1995 Level But...

The EPA has issued the final 2009 greenhouse gas inventory that showed a 6.1 decline in emissions from 2008 levels.  US emissions in 2009 fell to 1995 levels.  The 2009 decrease followed a decrease in 2008 and another in 2006.

2009 emissions fell for 3 reasons: the economy shrank in the first 6 months of 2009 as the nation nearly plunged into depression; consumers used energy more efficiently; and low or zero carbon fuels displaced coal.

Greenhouse gas pollution in 2010 will likely increase over 2009 levels as the economy grew, reaching 2007 GDP size. Also, US electricity consumption rose 4% in 2010 compared to 2009. 

But total US greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 will not jump up more than 6%.  2010 emissions will almost certainly be well below the 2007 levels.

More renewables, more efficiency, and more gas are all bending downward total US carbon emissions.

Wind Power Increases 22 Fold in PJM Power Pool

Sometimes major change sneaks up, and that is the case with wind power in the PJM power, the world's largest wholesale electric market that operates in 13 states, with headquarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

In 2005 wind power provided 500 million kilowatt-hours and then 11 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010 or a 22 fold increase in just 5 years. 

In 2010 wind power in PJM supplied enough electricity for 1.1 million homes.

2011 will see a further increase in wind power production as wind farms built in 2010 have a full year of production and more wind farms are constructed this year.  Currently 4 wind farms are under construction just in Pennsylvania.

Wind has no air emissions, no water withdrawals, no water discharges.  Wind farms have been opposed primarily for view impacts and bird and bat mortality that the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) has documented to be about 4 birds per year per turbine.  See the Post about the PGC wildlife impact survey.

Wind energy has created tens of thousands of jobs directly and indirectly in the PJM region.

In addition, the 11 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity supply from wind farms lowered the wholesale price of electricity as the additional wind supply prevents more expensive units from operating and setting the market clearing price higher. 

Wind energy is a complete price taker, with wind generator owners bidding zero into the PJM spot markets and taking whatever the spot market price is.

See PJM Wind Production in Real Time

PJM, the grid operator in 13 states stretching from Illinois to New Jersey, provides a real time window into how much wind power is operating throughout its power pool.  It calls the tool the "Wind Forecast Graph."

Go to 

The Wind Forecast Graph shows instantaneous power and power forecasted for the next 5 minutes.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Shale Gas Production Stops Big Energy Shock

Is the USA on course for another big and broad energy shock that could make a shambles of our economy?  Are we seeing a repeat of the 2008 energy price explosion that saw oil reach a record $147 per barrel and natural gas hit $13 for a thousand cubic feet?

Oil has reached $123 at the Brent Benchmark and is being pushed up by record global demand.  Gasoline prices in the USA are $1 higher than a year ago, hurting median income families and businesses.

High oil prices are back and probably going to get worse.

But here is how the Marcellus and other shale production has so far helped to stop yet another crippling big energy shock and a replay of the energy horrors of 2008.

Thanks substantially to new shale gas production, America produced more gas in 2010 than in any year since 1973.  The new supply pushed down the price of natural gas by about 70% since 2008 to $4.20.

Since natural gas provides about 25% of our total energy needs, low and stable natural gas prices goes a long way to preventing a big and broad energy shock.

Natural gas heats 51% of our homes; it is a major industrial energy fuel; and provides 24% of our electric power.

Low, stable natural gas prices also now mean affordable electricity prices, since natural gas power plants are often on the margin or set the price of the overall wholesale electric market.  So unlike 2006 when retail electricity prices spiked 10% and 2008 when they went up 5%, electricity prices this year will increase about 2% and probably not at all next year.

Thank shale gas production specifically for keeping electric bills in check.

Oil prices are being driven up by record global demand, reaching $123 at the Brent market, nearing the record $147 set in July 2008.

As gasoline hits $3.82 per gallon on average across America, and with 5 states already above $4, families and businesses are experiencing real economic pain. Gasoline prices are about $1 higher per gallon than 1 year ago and that is costing a typical family about $750 per year.  Ouch.

The median income family has about $49,000 of pre-tax income so the $750 increase in gasoline costs hurts and represents easily 2% of lost purchasing power on after tax basis. These higher gasoline costs decrease purchases of other goods and services, destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, and slow economic growth.  To make it worse, since we import 70% of oil, at current world oil prices, we are close to exporting $500 billion per year to foreign countries to buy their oil.

When will we break the oil addiction by subsidizing alternative fuel vehicles and massively deploying natural gas fueling stations and public electricity charging stations? Until we move to natural gas, electricity and biofuels for transportation fuels, relying on oil for 90% of transportation fueling will mean energy pain. Oil is dirtier and more expensive.  We are horribly addicted, indeed.

But unlike what happened as recently as 2008, the new natural gas shale production yields lower natural gas prices just when we need them, limits the damage done by our oil addiction, and prevents not another full energy shock.

5 States Above $4 per gallon gasoline, including Alaska

Connecticut, Illinois, California, Hawaii, and Alaska now average more than $4 per gallon for gasoline.

New York and DC are nearly there, with average prices of $3.97 and $3.99 respectively.

The national average is $3.82.

Alaska proves having a lot of oil locally does not mean low prices locally.  Alaska has a high cost of living, taxes oil and gas significantly, with former Governor Palin raising those taxes.  But the main reason that Alaska has $4 gasoline is that oil is priced globally.

And oil prices have increased about 40%, reaching the highest levels since the spring and late summer of 2008.  In July 2008 oil peaked at $147 and crashed to the low $30 per barrel as the nation hurtiled toward depression after the Lehman bankruptcy on September 15, 2008. 

The friday NYMEX price closed at $109 per barrel and Brent at $123. 

So will rising oil and gasoline prices create an energy shock that shakes once more our economy?  I will offer some thoughts in the next post.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Disturbing Fact: Federal Criminal Charges Involving Another Charter School

The Feds this week filed criminal charges involving misuse of taxpayer funds against 2 former officials of New Media Charter School.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday, to date, the feds have filed criminal cases involving the handling of taxpayer funds now at 4 charter schools.  It further reported that 18 charter schools have been the subject of federal investigations in the Philadelphia area.

Given that there are 74 charter schools in Philadelphia, the number of charges and investigation involving these schools are disturbing.

The future of  America's competitiveness rests on how good our  K-12 education, technical training, and college systems are.  Then all children deserve a quality education.  But taxpayers cannot have their money ripped off at anytime whether budgets are tight or not. 

Wtth all educational funds facing an unwise slashing in Pennsylvania, the controls on the use of funds at charter schools and the quality of education provided by them need to be strengthened.  Right now.

Poor performing charter schools should not receive taxpayer funds.  Is not that just common sense?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Stunning Fact 5: Trump Trumps Republican Presidential List

Donald Trump topped the list of Republican Presidential candidates with 27% of the vote.  He has opened a 10 point lead over Mike Huckabee who logged in at 17% in a stunning Public Policy Polling survey. 

Donald Trump has brazenly stoked the madness of birtherism, drawing enormous media attention as sane people's jaws drop realizing Trump will say anything to get attention.

But Trump is no fool.  PPP previously documented that 51% of Republican primary voters believe that President Obama is not a US citizen. 

Trump knows a market.  But I cannot believe the Republican Party will nominate a birther for the Presidency of the United States of America.  It, however, may have to nominate someone who dodges the question.

Renewable Generators Double/Total 14,723 in PJM Power Pool

Explosive growth in the number of renewable energy generators continues with 14,723 renewable generators connected to the grid in the PJM power pool, the world's largest wholesale power market.  See  Many of the renewable generators connected to the grid and feeding power into it are residential solar systems, while others are large, utility-scale wind, hydro, landfill gas, and biomass.

How quickly is the number of renewable energy generators increasing?  Doubling in about 1 year.
At the end of 2009, PJM had 6,700 renewable generators in its system. 

As distributed generation proliferates the electric industry is seeing now its future.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blockbuster Agreement Retires 18 Old Coal Plants, Saving Thousands of Lives

The above is a remarkable headline but it is not all. The TVA will also install modern pollution controls on three dozen additional coal units, in addition to retiring 18 coal plants. The 18 plants total 2,700 megawatts and will be off line by 2018.

The plants being retired date back to the 1950s and never had pollution controls installed. 

The TVA combination of plant retirments and modern pollution controls is estimated to prevent 1,800 premature deaths per year.

Congratulations to the TVA, four states, federal officials, and environmental organizations that arrived at this blockbuster agreement.

Good energy news indeed.

17,000 Americans Die Every Year Due To Toxic Pollution From Mainly Old Coal and Oil Power Plants

After the recent round of headlines and stories proclaiming coal to be cleaner than gas, many people could be excused for actually thinking coal is cleaner than gas.   Time to get to the facts, and they are disturbing.

According to official Environmental Protection Agency data, toxic power plant pollution comes almost exclusively from coal and oil power plants and causes the following tragic and expensive health disaster each year:

1. 17,000 premature deaths...again every year;
2. 11,000 non-fatal heart attacks;
3. 120,000 asthma cases;
4. 11,000 acute bronchitis cases among children.


Natural gas power plants do not contribute at all to the above public health disaster. 

In fact if gas replaced all the coal and oil power plants emitting the toxic pollution causing the illness and deaths listed above, gas would prevent 17,000 premature deaths each year.

The EPA proposed on March 16th a 20-year-overdue rule requiring power plants to cut their mercury and toxic pollution by essentially 91%.  Coal and oil fired power plants could install pollution control equipment to meet that goal and save 17,000 lives.  Or their owners could convert them to natural gas.

Gas is orders of magnitude cleaner than coal and oil.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fukushima Increasingly Likely To Emit More Radiation than Chernobyl

More than 33 days into the Fukushima disaster no end to it is in sight, and that means the total radiation release from Fukushima may well exceed that of Chernobyl. 

As of March 22nd, Fukushima had released about 10% of the radiation that came from Chernobyl.  Three weeks later the total is now much higher, and there have been massive amounts of radiation released to the ocean since March 22nd.

The long-term impacts of this disaster are just not yet knowable.

US Consumers Cut Gas Demand For Five Straight Weeks But...

Gas prices of $3.50 to $4.00 have led to 5 straight weeks of declining demand for gasoline in the USA as more consumers park gas guzzlers, buy more fuel efficient vehicles, car pool, and take public transit where available.

But American reductions in demand will not be enough to reduce the world price of oil, because surging demand from China, India, and other countries continues to increase total global demand.

The US consumer cannot reduce demand enough to cause world oil prices to reverse, unless we move off oil.  We remain over a barrel.

Meanwhile compressed natural gas to run vehicles is available for $1.40 to $2.00 per gallon equivalent.  We are really addicted to oil when alternatives are cheaper and cleaner and plentiful and made in America but we do not use them.

Horwath Study Underlines An Important Lesson For Gas Industry

Though Professor Horwath's study has infirmities and conflicts with other studies, as discussed in the previous post, the natural gas industry should not simply circle the wagons and rebut Professor Horwath. 

I urge the industry to meet generally high safety and environmental performance standards and to reduce methane leakage specifically.  Major efforts have been undertaken to reduce leakage but now is not the time to be either defensive or satisfied.

Natural gas is inherently a much cleaner product than coal and oil, and it can do substantial good to reduce pollution that causes premature deaths, illness, and climate change.  But whether the industry operates at high or low standards of safety and performance impacts both how much good it does and public acceptance of natural gas.

True operational excellence on methane leakage, recycling of water, water disposal, erosion and sediment control, gas well integrity, emergency preparedness are all vital to making real the good that natural gas can do, protecting the natural gas brand and the success of gas.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gas Is Cleaner Than Coal: What Cornell Prof Gets Right and Wrong

"In other ways, I'd say coal is worse, without question," said Professor Howarth of Cornell University in today's The Patriot-News at page 4 about all pollutants other than carbon or heat trapping gas.

More on the important issue of heat trapping pollution that has already raised global temperatures and Professor Howarth's study in a moment.

But let's thank first Professor Howarth for making it clear that he agrees that gas is cleaner than coal on mercury, arsenic, lead, soot, nox, sox and a host of pollutants that sicken hundreds of thousands and cause up to 36,000 premature deaths each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, just from smog forming pollutants.

Coal burning power plants account for 90% of the toxic pollution coming from all power plants in the United States.  Just focus on mercury.  Gas emits no mercury.  But mercury powers out of old coal plants with next to no pollution controls. So much mercury from coal burning has been put in the atmosphere that fish are contaminated (See the blog posting about the 2011 Pennsylvania Fish Consumption advisory) and then people eat the fish.

As a result, one out of 6 women has elevated levels of mercury so that any babies they may have could suffer from reduced IQ. 

So again thank you to Professor Horwath for not disputing the overwhelming scientific case that gas is much cleaner than coal on pollutants other than heat trapping gas.

Nobody disagrees that gas when combusted releases about 50% less carbon than coal.  But Professor Horwath says that when you do a "life cycle" analysis of coal and gas, then you find that gas emits more heat trapping gas than coal.

Consumer beware!  The author of any life cycle analysis can get to a result quite easily, because life cycle analysis swings greatly on the assumptions, data inclusions, and data exclusions.  It is not a simple scientific measurement.

To take just one example among legions, Professor Horwath himself is quoted to say in The Patriot News today that he assumed methane emissions during the initial flowback period of a well are never flared but vented fully into the atmosphere.  In fact anyone who spends anytime in the Marcellus knows that not to be true because the flares are quite visible. 

Horwath said to The Patriot News that if the wells are flared the results of the study change.  "It's very difficult to figure out how often they do that rather than simply let it vent.  The data is far from perfect."  But Professor Horwath just adopted an extreme and false assumption of no flaring that conveniently moved the result of his life cycle analysis in the direction that he wanted. 

And Professor Horwath does want the result to which he gets.  He is a committed opponent of gas drilling and fracking, a position to which he is entitled in this free country.

What else has Professor Horwath said about the data that he uses in his study?  On March 15, 2011 he is quoted as calling the data used in his study as "lousy", "really low quality," "teased apart out of PowerPoint presentations here and there."  In a court of law, those would be case determining admissions.  In a boxing match, the ref would stop the match.  In science, they are an expressway to junk.

Especially troubling to me, Professor Horwath also rejects major conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that would lead to a big bronx cheer were polluters to do the same in service of their life cycle analysis.

Professor Horwath's conclusion that gas emits more heat trapping gas than carbon flies in the face of numerous life cycle studies done around the world.  And more studies from credible organizations with strong environmental credentials are in the works.

But to take just one, in July 2010, the National Energy Technology Lab ( that has no ax to grind published a presentation of its life cycle analysis of coal and gas.  See

What did NETL, a government energy lab, find? That coal emitted about 50% more carbon on a life cycle basis.  Did the NYT or the media go into feeding frenzy mode when NETL came forward with its analysis? 

Just seeing if you are awake.

California To Be First Gas and Renewables State

California is going to be the nation's first state to get 85% or more of its power from renewables (not counting large hydro) and natural gas. 

California gets approximately 57% of its electricity from gas or twice the national average of 24%. America also gets 45% of its electricity from coal and California basically zero.

Secretary Chu joined California Governor Brown at a solar manufacturing plant to sign into a law a huge jump in California's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.  Raising the standard from 20%, the new law requires 33% by 2020. 

If California meets its renewable target in 2020, California will likely be getting 85% or more of its power from gas and renewables, making it the first state to transition almost completely to these fuels from coal.

What are California's odds of meeting its aggressive 33% renewables target.  Pretty good, with renewables providing 20% of its power now and with solar thermal plants using the excellent California sunshine resource to generate power at prices competitive with new natural gas plants.  See the first post in this blog: "Bigger Than Marcellus."

Today large hydro provides 12% of power and nuclear power about 15% of California's power, but the earthquake concerns have cast a cloud over the future of Diablo canyon and some other reactors in the state.

The trends in California are apparent nationally as both the national shares of power production by  gas and renewables increase quickly.  America's electricity profile will look like California's in 20 years.

See Gas Drillers Ranked by the Number of Active Gas Wells.

According to Gas Business Briefing and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection data, 218 companies have a minimum of 100 active wells.

Who is number 1?  Chevron who just bought Atlas and its wells and other assets.  Chevron now operates 5,459 total active wells, the vast majority being not Marcellus wells but traditional, shallow Pennsylvania gas wells.

Number 2 is Range Resources with 5,360 active wells.

Number 3 is Exco Resources with 4,066 active wells.

Number 4 is Consol Gas Co. with 3,341 active wells.

Number 5 is the privately held Snyder Bros Inc. with 3,302 gas wells.

Twenty-six companies have more than 1,000 active wells.  Again the vast majority of these wells are not Marcellus and were drilled 3 or more years ago.  In some cases the wells are decades old.

Fukushima Now Officially a Category 7--Twenty Three Days After This Blog Said So

Fukushima now joins Chernobyl as the only nuclear accidents that have been classified officially as a Category 7, the worst level possible.  This Blog on March 19th categorized the Fukushima as a nuclear disaster comparable only to Chernobyl.

And unfortunately the Fukushima disaster now nearly 5 weeks after it began is far from over.  Indeed, the Japanese government in a moment of candor stated yesterday that the disaster could possibly get worse yet.  The situation remains dangerous and volatile.

Another 115,000 people in the vicinity of the plant but just outside the current 12 mile exclusion zone were told by the Japanese government to evacuate within a month.

The US government has imposed a warning to stay 50 miles from the plant.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

PA Game Commission Documents Low Bird and Bat Impact of PA Wind

The Pennsylvania Game Commission issued its second report on bird and bat impacts at PA wind farms, finding that on average 3.9 birds were killed per turbine from July 2009 to June 30 2010.  Bat mortality was 24.6 per turbine. 

The PGC said that there were no large mortality events defined as more than 50 birds or bats dying in one day.

88% of wind power developers cooperated in the survey with the PGC.  Of these companies, the PGC said that they "have proven to be partners in developing conscientious renewable energy with the highest regard to the Commonwealth's wildlife resources and have set an example that others should aspire to follow."

For some 1 bird or bat is too many.  For some 1 turbine in a viewscape is too much.  Some are as opposed to wind farms as others are to gas drilling or mountain top coal mining or nuclear plants or burning biomass.

Wind has impacts but it also has major environmental and health benefits.  In fact, wind is like medicine with side effects.  It does a lot of good but has some negative impacts. Wind reduces heat trapping pollution that is raising global temperatures and pushing whole bird species to extinction.  Wind has no air emissions and uses no water. 

Pennsylvania right now has 16 operating wind farms with another 4 under construction.

Hope to See You at Pittsburgh Post Gazette Energy Forum

I am speaking at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Energy Forum at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh on April 11th at 6pm.

I am told a big crowd is expected.  I hope to see you there.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Good Fact: Manufacturing Jobs Increase in 2010 Breaking 12 Year Losing Streak

For the first time since 1997, US manufacturing jobs increased in 2010 compared to the previous year.  Until 2010 for 12 straight years the number of US manufacturing jobs declined year over year. The 12 year losing streak has been broken.

Manufacturing jobs have been lost for two basic reasons.  We have heard a lot about one reason: jobs getting off-shored to nations where wages can be one-tenth or less of US wage rates.

We have not heard much about another reason: technological innovation that has reduced the need for labor.  Manufacturing output in the USA has climbed, while manufacturing jobs have declined.

Agriculture is another sector where the number of jobs sharply declined, while output soared as a result of ever more powerful, productive machines and processes.

What is the outlook for 2011?

Right now 2011 looks like it could be the beginning of a winning streak.  2011 may well mark two years in a row where the total number of manufacturing jobs increase.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Wind provides 35% of All New US Generation since 2005 As Costs Drop

Ten years ago, did anyone think wind power would provide 35% of all new generation in the USA from 2005 to 2010 or that 40,181 megawatts of wind would be running today, enough for 10 million homes, and equal to 2.3% of all electricity? None of the top forecasts from the Energy Information Agency did, and the EIA had lots of company.  From the perspective of 10 years ago, wind's boom is extraordinary.

And the future for wind is one of growth in the USA, because the industry has driven down its costs and makes bigger, more efficient turbines.

In 2011, wind power is cost competitive with new gas and below the cost of a new coal plant.  According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind projects can be financed with an average power purchase agreement of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Deals are being done a bit above and below that average.

Awea also reported that 5,600 megawatts of wind power is under construction around the country right now or twice the amount at this stage of last year.

Total national wind power capacity increased by 15% in 2010 over 2009, though the amount built in 2010 fell 50% compared to the record year of 2009, when an incredible 10,000 megawatts were constructed.

The amount of electricity coming from wind in 2010 jumped nearly 30% compared to 2009 as all the turbines built in 2009 made power in 2010.

Over the next 10 years, wind power will be a mainstream power production choice and will continue to provide a large part of America's new generation capacity.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why GE Jumps Into Solar Market Pegged to Reach 75,000 Megawatts and Its Significance

GE is a solar bull and that means a lot. The solar skeptics may want to stop snickering and start rethinking but probably will not.

Long in the business of nuclear power and gas turbines, and making wind turbines since 2002, GE moved today aggressively into solar, announcing it will build America's biggest solar manufacturing plant and has the highest efficiency thin film product.  GE also expects to reduce by another 50% in several years thin film solar factory gate costs that are already below $1 per watt.

GE estimates that the global solar market will be 75,000 megawatts over the next 5 years or enough generation to supply the annual needs of about 12 million American homes.  GE's 75,000 megawatt projection, large though it is, remains quite conservative. 

I would bet it will be more than 100,000 megawatts or a $300-$400 billion market.  GE is no fool and realizes that, if it can make money in a 75,000 megawatt market and that scenario is the worst case over the next 5 years, it is positioned to make higher profits in a market that will probably be even bigger.

GE's solar business follows its wind footsteps that began in 2002 when GE purchased the defunct Enron wind turbines and manufacturing facility in California, the most valuable piece of the Enron carcas.  GE grew its wind business from $200 million to $6 billion in less than a decade.  It clearly expects to do even better with solar.

GE has yet to announce where in the United States it will locate its manufacturing.  Hopefully Pennsylvania is in the hunt, but worryingly clean energy companies are wondering whether they are welcome in the Commonwealth.  The future of solar is now, is enormous, and is made brighter by plunging costs.

Plunging costs and rising efficiency means solar with gas are going to dominate power production over the next 20 years.

Ranking Power Plant Technologies By Water Usage

In a post on April 5th, we saw that all power plants in Pennsylvania withdraw each day 6.43 billion gallons per day out of a total of 9.48 billion gallons per day.

Now let's drill down and see how the different generation technologies rank on water usage, going from using the most to the least.  Rankings are based on gallons used per megawatt-hour of electric production.

1. Nuclear: Approximately 840 gallons/megawatt-hour.

2. Coal: Approximately 760 gallons/megawatt-hour

3. Concentrated Solar: Approximately 720 gallons/megawatt-hour

4. Gas: Approximately 600 gallons/megawatt-hour

5. Combined Cycle Gas: 240 gallons/megawatt-hour

6. Wind: Zero

7. Solar PV: Zero

Pennsylvania is blessed with abundant water resources.  It is a major comparative advantage to many states in the West that are dependent on snow melt for water, a source that has been declining with rising temperatures.

Having said that, wise stewardship of water use is required in Pennsylvania.  Droughts here can make water scarce locally, regionally or statewide.

100% of PA Cyber Charter Schools Worse Than Public Schools

Breaking the oil addiction, infrastructure, healthy people, clean environment, educated people are keys to competitiveness in the modern economy.  Targeting well educational dollars is vital.

A powerful study done by Standford University measuring the performance in reading and writing of students enrolled in cyber charter schools, bricks and mortar charter institutions, and traditional public schools found that 100% of the PA cyber charter schools are "performing significantly worse than their traditional public schools in both reading and math." See page 20 of Charter School Performance in Pennsylvania at

So why are we spending scarce taxpayer dollars on cyber charter schools? 

The report's findings on the performance of bricks and mortar charter schools was mixed.  Certainly charter schools that are documented to do a better job are wise investments, but charter schools that are documented to do a worse job harm children's education, waste scarce resources and are not a solution to our educational challenges.

Important Fact: Applications for Unemployment Compensation Down 42% From Peak

Applications for Unemployment Compensation peaked at 659,000 during the near depression that commenced in November 2007.   During the week that ended April 2nd, 2011, applications fell to 382,000.

The economy is healing from the grievous wounds suffered in 2008.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Highlights Politicization of Courts

Yesterday Wisconsin held an election to select a Supreme Court Justice and as of 12:26 pm today the vote count is 739,350 for Justice Prosser (the sitting Justice) and 739, 574 for Ms. Kloppenburg, his challenger.  There will be a recount for sure.

After the recount, one of the two will win by a handful of votes, but the idea that the law is impartial or blind will lose by a landslide after a campaign that featured both candidates repeatedly being queried about how they would rule on the challenge brought against a bill signed by Governor Walker to end bargaining rights for public employees.  And both candidates hinting how they would rule, while trying to avoid prejudging the matter.

All in all an ugly sight.

Politicians and citizens can and should say where they stand on issues.  But judges hopefully would decide cases not on politics or ideology but the law. 

In the Wisconsin challenge a trial judge has enjoined the law and appeals are pending.  Everybody believes the Wisconsin Supreme Court will decide finally the case.

A main legal question is whether or not the Legislature obeyed the public notice requirements of Wisconsin law prior to passing it.

No matter how the Wisconsin Supreme Court rules, unless it comes to an unanimous or near unanimous decision, many citizens will think the ruling is just one more political vote and political decision.  We all lose as a result.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

See Top 9 Water Users and Where Drillers Rank

The total of all water withdrawn by all users from Pennsylvania's surface and ground waters is 9.48 BILLION gallons per day.

And which industries use most of that water?  Many would say gas drillers would be the biggest user or near the top of the list.

Marcellus gas drilling uses 1.9 million gallons or about 0.2% of all the daily water withdrawn.  They are the smallest major water user in Pennsylvania, ranking 9th out of 9 top users.

The biggest user or Number 1 are power plants at 6.43 billion gallons per day.

Number 2 is public water suppliers at 1.42 billion gallons per day.

The rest of the users are in the millions, not billions category.

Number 3 are industrial users at 770 million gallons per day.

Number 4 is aquaculture at 524 million gallons per day.

Number 5 is domestic water supply (private water wells) at 152 million gallons per day.

Number 6 is mining at 95.7 million gallons per day.

Number 7 is livestock at 61.8 million gallons per day.

Number 8 is irrigation at 24.3 million gallons per day.

And Number 9 are Marcellus Drillers at 1.9 million gallons per day.

All that data comes from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, in an article, entitled Straight Talk, written by its Executive Director, John Arway, and published in the January/February 2011 edition of Pennsylvania Angler & Boater.

EPA Administrator Jackson Calls Governor Corbett

During an interview yesterday with WHYY in Philadelphia, EPA Administrator Jackson said that she had called earlier Governor Corbett to discuss apparently the DEP directive to its inspectors not to issue notices of violation at Marcellus Drilling sites without the approval of DEP Secretary Krancer.

She said yesterday that she had not received a call back and did not sound pleased.

Hopefully by now she has received a call back from the Governor. 

DEP is the delegated agency for issuing Clean Air Act permits, Clean Water Act permits, Safe Drinking Water Act matters and for enforcing the permit requirements.  Maintaining a working relationship between DEP and EPA is important for everyone.

Communication is important, to say hopefully the obvious.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Philadelphia Inquirer Publishes My Piece about Good Energy News: EPA Clean Air Rules and Gas

The following was printed Sunday April 3rd in the Inquirer:

Americans looking at the headlines over the last year must believe no good energy news exists.

Stories about the Japanese nuclear crisis, the BP oil spill, skyrocketing oil prices, and the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia have dominated the news. Add the thousands of Americans who are sickened annually by breathing pollution from old coal plants, and there seems to be no hopeful case.

The health damage done by mercury, soot, smog, and other pollution from mainly old coal-fired plants is tragic and expensive.  One out of six women has elevated levels of mercury that can reduce the IQ of babies as a result of eating fish contaminated with mercury.  The smog and soot cause up to 36,000 premature deaths each year and hundreds of thousands of illnesses.

Yet two recent events are powerful good energy news.  Massive, new gas supplies end all excuses to operate old coal plants with limited pollution control, and the Environmental Protection Agency acted March 16 to strengthen rules limiting toxic pollution from power plants.

Despite the bonanza of cleaner-buring natural gas, the one-third of American coal plants that are more than 40 years old and cause most of our nation's most serious power plant pollution are still operating.  These plants should clean up, refuel with gas, or close.

Some say running old, polluting power plants is the price needed to keep the lights on and electricity affordable.  That narrative now is demonstrably false, thanks to the supply of natural gas that can slash air pollution levels affordably and quickly.  Natural gas emits no mercury, virtually no soot, and less of the other pollutants that sicken people and cause acid rain and climate change.

America's reserves of natural gas are rocketing upward, doubling in 2010 to the most in 35 years as a result of the shale gas boom.  Natural gas production itself last year was the highest since 1973.

Fortuitously, the world's second-largest gas field, the Marcellus, which runs under portions of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York sits under many of the 40, 50, 60 year old plants that the EPA toxic rule targets.  In the last 6 months of 2010, Pennsylvania had more than 1,100 Marcellus wells producing gas, with the most prolific one providing an incredible 2.6 billion cubic feet in six months, or enough for 26,000 homes for a year.

The new gas supplies have also smashed the link between oil and gas prices in the United States.  The Brent oil price benchmark has jumped 45 per cent, while natural gas has fallen 20 per cent in 12 months and 70 per cent in 3 years.

The sharply lower prices for natural gas equal lower heating bills for the 51% per cent of homes using gas, plus lower wholesale electricity prices, because 24% of our electricity comes from natural gas plants.  Lower gas and electricity bills ensure that oil-price increases do not become a broad energy shock to our economy.

Building electric-charging stations and natural gas fuelding stations should be a national priority so domestic gas supplies can reduce the 70% of the oil that America imports.

Industrial processes like coal mining, oil production and gas drilling must be strongly regulated to reduce environmental impacts.  But coal and oil production cause more impact than gas drilling.  Just one oil well in the Gulf devastated it.  Mountaintop mining in Appalachia alone has "removed" 500 mountaintops and buried 1,200 miles of streams.

Gas is not a perfect answer to all our energy woes.  Renewables, energy conservation, and technological innovation must also be encouraged and accelerated.

But the huge new gas supplies and the EPA's stronger air-pollution rules wil make America healthier, clearner and more competitive.  Good news, indeed.

Drilling Is Not Endangering the Chesapeake Bay, Part 2

I don't think so.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation thinks so.  The Patriot-News ran a front page above the fold piece about the issue with a headline that took sides.  I am quoted extensively.

Read the article for yourself by Don Gilliland who is an excellent reporter.

Also see my saturday, April 2nd posting about this issue.

Finally, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) or pollution diet that was concluded in December 2010 deserves support.   It is a fair resolution of an important, difficult issue.  It has lots of critics, apparently including CBF, all of whom have a gripe.  Some say that it did not count this or that.  Others say the TMDL counted too much of this and too little of that.  So be it.

The TMDL is based on massive evidence and science. It is a 15-year plan that will in some cases have some pleasant surprises and some unpleasant turn of events. Yet, if implemented, the TMDL will clean local waters and the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Stunning Fact: Rep. Bachmann Leads GOP Presidential Fundraising Race

Rep. Michele Bachmann raised $2.2 million in the first quarter, outpacing former Massachusetts Governor Romney's $1.9 million. Representative Bachmann has proven that she can raise eight figures for a US House race, primarily with small donations through the internet.

What does Bachmann's strong fundraising quarter mean?

Possibly a lot if former Texas Senator Phil Gramm was right when he said famously: "The most reliable friend you can have in American ready money."

Or possibly not much at all if the future repeats the past of John Connally, the Former Governor of Texas and Secretary of the Treasury, who raised the most in 1980 and fizzled expensively in the GOP primaries.

Marcellus Drilling Is Not Endangering The Chesapeake Bay

Yesterday I was interviewed by The Patriot-News about concern that Marcellus Drilling is causing additional nitrogen, phosphorus or sediment loading of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.  Simply put, there is no evidence that preparing well sites for drilling is even a minor impact to the Bay, while there is massive evidence about what pollution sources that are really endangering the Bay.  I have read that evidence.

We all need to get a grip.  Marcellus drilling is not the cause of every environmental problem or every bit of increasingly good economic news in Pennsylvania.  The Marcellus is big and important, but too many are losing perspective about its real impacts and benefits.  To some the Marcellus is imagined to be the root of all good or all evil.

In December 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection negotiated with the EPA Pennsylvania's Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to meet a federal court requirement to stop polluting the bay with so much nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that the Bay and it's watershed are severely impaired. 

The TMDL has numerous provisions that will reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution over the next 15 years to the levels that will restore the Bay.  Focusing on implementing that TMDL should be the priority.  Cleaning our local Bay watershed waters is a legal and moral imperative.

The fate of the Bay rests on implementing the TMDL and will not even be marginally impacted by the Marcellus drilling.  Getting the Marcellus done right also must be a top priority and making sure land preparation rules are followed is important no matter where the drilling is done.

When Marcellus drilling sites are prepared, whether they be in the Bay watershed or not, and most are not, the strong rules concerning erosion and sediment controls must be followed, and inspectors must be allowed to do their jobs, including making the initial decision about the issuance of a notice of violation.

But the Marcellus is not the root of all good or all evil and what happens with it will not save or impact the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Senator Mary Jo White Supports Limits On State Forest Drilling

In an excellent article by Don Gilliland in today's The Patriot-News (, Senator Mary Jo White, the Chair of the Senate's Energy and Environmental Resources Committee, supported Governor Corbett's plan to look at state land where prisons are located for possible drilling, but she also voiced caution about further drilling in the state forests.  This is a notable development.

Senator White noted that the state forests have a valuable sustainable forestry designation that is important to the Pennsylvania forest industry, and she correctly noted that the designation could be lost with much more drilling. 

She is quoted in the piece as saying: "The state forest is, after all, the state forest.  It isn't the state oil field."

Approximately 700,000 acres of state forest out of a total of 2.2 million have been leased over decades for oil and gas drilling. 

A bill imposing a 3-year moratorium on further drilling in the state forests passed the House of Representative in April 2010 by an overwhelming vote of 150 to 50 but did not come to a vote in the state senate by October 2010 when the Senate initially adjourned.

Governor Rendell at that point issued an executive order imposing a moratorium on further drilling in the state forests after the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources concluded that more drilling would impact the sustainable forest designation of the state forests and ecologically sensitive areas.

Legislation has been introduced in this General Assembly to impose a moratorium on further drilling in the state forests.

I applaud Senator White's caution about further drilling in the state forests.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Best Job Growth Since 2006 and Why

February and March 2011 mark the first time since 2006 that private employers added more than 200,000 jobs.  Good facts indeed.

Net jobs created in March were 216,000 or less than the 230,000 private jobs as a result of a reduction in public sector positions.

The country now has had 7 quarters of solid GDP growth, beginning in July 1, 2009.  The recession began in December 2007 and nearly became a depression on September 15th, 2008 when the credit markets froze. 

Job loss in October 2008 was 500,000 and 4th quarter 2008 fell by over 5%.  January 2009 saw 747,000 jobs destroyed.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed on February 17, 2009 that featured a major tax cut that began in April 2009, infrastructure investments, energy investments and support for state and local governments to limit job losses of police, fire, teachers.

Pennsylvania led the nation in smartly putting to work the transportation, water and sewer and energy ARRA funds.  The boost is one reason why Pennsylvania ranked third in the nation in creating jobs from February 2010 to February 2011.

The Dow Jones bottomed in March 2009 and has had a huge bull run since then, with corporate profits surging in 2009 and 2010.

 By January 2010, job losses had stopped with no gains or losses. 

Since January 2010 about 1.5 million jobs have been created.  More to do but we are on the right track.