Saturday, December 31, 2011

Counting Down Biggest Energy & Environment Facts of 2011

The Countdown of the 10 Biggest Energy and Environment Facts of 2011 began on friday (see earlier posting) and now resumes at Number 5:

5. World investment in renewable energy plants exceeded investment in fossil fuel plants, according to calculations performed by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and announced on November 25, 2011.  Renewable generation investments amounted to $187 billion compared to $157 billion.  These figures were for global investment during 2010, but I count it as a 2011 Fact because it was documented less than 2 months ago.  It is also a stunning fact with major implications for the future.

4. The EPA finalized both the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and the Air Toxics Rule that will prevent 34,000 deaths per year from power plant pollution.  While both rules are now administratively complete, litigation has begun already concerning the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and will soon begin against the Air Toxics Rule.  Gas, coal plants with modern pollution controls, nuclear, and renewable facilities that comprise 90% of US generation capacity meet the rules.  But about 100,000 megawatts of mainly old and mostly smaller coal-fired units do not.  The rules will lead to dramatic reductions in mercury, acid gases, soot, acid rain pollution, and smog-forming pollutants.

3. The Energy Efficiency Boom picked up speed, with total US energy consumption back to 2000 levels.  Oil demand in 2011 is about 7% below 2010 levels; gasoline demand is down about 5% from 2011.  Electricity demand will barely increase in 2011 and is projected to actually decline in 2012 by EIA.  The North American Electricity Reliability Corporation forecasted the lowest levels of electricity increases ever in its 2011 Long-term electricity reliability study.  More fuel efficient cars; more energy efficient appliances, lighting, buildings; rising demand response resources on the electricity grid; and increasing cogeneration are just some of the reasons why energy demand is flattening. There is a structural change in the demand side of the US energy market. Flattening energy demand or at least declining rates of increases in energy demand is a big story of 2011.

2. The USA installed between 1,700 and 2,000 megawatts of solar during 2011, and new solar power may have exceeded new coal. The 2011 US solar deployment represented more than a 100% increase over the 2010 number and is a new record that likely will be broken again in 2012. The most stunning part of the solar boom is the rapidly falling installed solar prices. Utility scale solar projects now cost $3.45 per watt and the lowest price hit an incredible $2.90 per watt. Even residential rooftop solar fell to the high $4 per watt range in some parts of the country. All those prices are before any tax credits or other available incentives. The grid parity price varies across America, with it being highest in Hawaii and lowest in Idaho, but solar at $2 to $2.50 per watt will be cheaper than grid power in most parts of America. The US 2011 solar installations represents about 10% of the global approximately 20,000 megawatt world solar market.The sun itself is the limit on solar power's future.

On monday, I will post the 2011 Number 1 Energy and Environment Fact. I wish everyone a happy, healthy 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Counting DownThe Biggest Energy & Environment Facts of 2011

Facts can be ignored but stubbornly shape our world.  Here are the first 6 of this year's 11 Biggest Energy and Environment Facts.  I will post the next 5, plus the Biggest Fact of 2011 tomorrow.  Let the Countdown begin:

11. The number 11 Fact of 2011 is one that did not happen--Electricity Rate Shock in Pennsylvania, when the last electricity rate caps ended as of January 1, 2011.  Despite gloom and doom predictions, no rate shock or broad energy shock took place during 2011, in large part due to shale gas production crashing the price of gas. Instead electricity prices are down 10% to 50% in inflation adjusted dollars, compared to 1996 levels.

As part of implementing its 1996 Electricity Competition and Customer Choice Act that ended state granted monopolies for electricity generation, Pennsylvania capped generation rates at essentially 1996 levels.  Many of those rate caps ended effective January 1, 2011. Why no rate shock?   First, shale gas production crashed the price of natural gas and also
shaved as much as 5 cents per kilowatt-hour of the price of electricity.  Second, approximately 10,000 megawatts of new electricity generation capacity were built in the last 10 years in Pennsylvania alone.  Most of it was natural gas but it included about 1,000 megawatts of renewable generation.  Third energy efficiency and demand response boomed in Pennsylvania and the PJM wholesale market, jumping to 15,000 megawatts in the PJM 2011 capacity auction.  These three reasons added up to no electricity rate shock in 2011 when rate caps ended, the big story that did not happen.

10.  Owners of coal-fired power plants have announced the closure of 231 coal-fired units or 48,000 megawatts by 2022, according to a list maintained by the Edison Electric Institute. Plants on the list comprise about 15% of the nation's coal fleet. The EEI listing stated that the reasons for the closings were low-priced gas, declining demand, age of plant as well as EPA tightening air rules.  The EEI listing is the single most authoritative tracking of coal plant closings and documents the transition from coal to natural gas that is on-going in the power industry.  Natural gas now supplies 25% of US electricity power, while coal falls to approximately 43% in 2011.

9. President Obama announced on July 29, 2011 an agreement to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 for passenger vehicle fleets.  The existing CAFE standard was set in 2009 and calls for the fleet average to be 35.5 mpg by 2016, up from the current level of 27.5 mpg.  The 54.5 miles per gallon will cut oil consumption by about 2.2 million barrels per day or more than 10% of current consumption and reduce foreign oil imports by more than 20%. from current levels.  As Vice President Biden might say, a truly big deal for our economy, environment, and national security.

8. California raised on April 13th, 2011 its Renewable Portfolio Standard for electricity production from 20% to 33% by 2020.  California by itself is one of the 10 biggest economies in the world and is about one-eighth of everything in the USA. It is so big that it matters a lot. Extending its commitment to renewable energy will transform power production in California and beyond.  Its massive demand for solar is helping to create the economies of scale that is driving down the global solar price.  California is on the way to becoming the first state that sources all of its electricity from natural gas and renewable energy.  It looks like it may get there by 2020.

7. In reaction to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany announced it would close all its nuclear reactors by 2022 and get 35% of its elecricity from renewables by 2020. The 35% goal represents a doubling of renewable energy in Germany, the world's 4th largest economy.  The German decision to jump to 35% renewable energy will impact more energy technologies and markets than its decision to exit nuclear power. It confirms the global boom in renewables.

6. In 2011, US Greenhouse Gas emissions will likely decline to 1998 levels and by about 0.7% compared to 2010.   The 2011 decline will be the 4th year out of the last 6 when US  Greenhouse Gas emissions declined.  Rising energy efficiency, increasing renewables, and low-priced natural gas displacing coal generation are the major reasons why US emissions have been falling.  EIA projects a further decline in 2012 from fossil fuel sources.  Remarkably this trend to lower US emissions has drawn very little media or awareness.  Instead most reporting focused on the misleading 2010 increase over the 2009 level that was depressed by the near depression experienced in the USA from September 2008 to June 2009.

Check the blog tomorrow for the top 5 Facts of 2011!

Sempra Generation Shows Why New Solar Will Exceed New Coal

The posting that new US solar capacity could exceed new coal capacity during 2011, and would do so by 2013, was greeted with disbelief, even outrage by some.  The numbers in the December 27th posting are accurate and speak for themselves, but Sempra Generation's recent energization of 42 megawatts at its Mesquite Solar 1 project breathes life into the abstractions.  See

The Mesquite Solar 1 project will be 150 megawatts that began construction in June 2011, with the first 42 megawatts now completed and generating power.  The full 150 megawatt project is scheduled for completion by early 2013.  About 450 workers are constructing the facility that will provide enough power for 50,000 homes.

Moreover Sempra Generation plans to build 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar generation by 2015.  Sempra Generation states that the Mesquite Solar 1 project could be expanded to 700 megawatts and that it is currently constructing another 150 megawatt solar generation facility in Nevada.

If Sempra Generation were unique, its solar construction program is big enough that it would matter.  But they are not unique and instead are one example among several major companies building enormous solar projects. 

Current utility scale solar deployment in the Southwest of these United States is extraordinary and understandably blows the fuses in some brains.

China & India Installing 35,000 Megawatts of Solar; Driving Down Global Solar Prices

A big change in the global solar market in 2012 will increase this momentum toward lower prices and more solar, with China and India, two of the world's top ten economies, pursuing large solar installation plans.  China is moving from almost exclusively exporting solar modules to deploying them domestically as well. More solar leads to lower prices; lower prices yields more solar; and so the sun rises.

About 40,000 megawatts of solar are operating in the world, but China and India have installed just a small fraction of that total, probably together no more than 1,000 megawatts.  Their plunge into installing solar is a major change and energy event.

China recently raised its 2015 solar deployment goal from 10,000 to 15,000 megawatts by 2015, and India plans on installing 20,000 megawatts by 2020. The Chinese and Indian solar installation programs will probably account for about 5,000 megawatts per year and will drive down solar prices further through economies of scale.  The current global annual solar market is about 20,000 megawatts.

The New York Times reported yesterday that solar in India is priced at about 16 cents per kilowatt-hour, and recent price declines and the certainty of further price reductions mean its 20,000 megawatt target could be achieved before 2020. China's and India's domestic solar plans increase the downward solar price slope.

That matters a lot across the energy world, including in the US energy industry, for what happens in China and India does not stay there.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Telling Iran To Shove It: 1100 Miles on 3.4 Gallons

My sister bought a Volt in November and has driven 1100 miles on 3.4 gallons of gasoline. She has averaged more than 320 miles per gallon.

The Volt is primarily used to drive 25 miles to work, where she charges it, and 25 miles back home. It is also perfect for local errands, while maintaining the flexibility for long trips.
Public charging stations would add to the flexibility of the vehicle.

Driving 1100 miles on 3.4 gallons saved her money, prevented pollution, and strongly tells Iran and the other oil blackmailers to shove it.

Electric vehicles, CNG vehicles, and biofueled vehicles all run well, cheaply, cleanly, and freely. Fueled by America, they are the ayatollahs nightmare.

Showdown with Iran Threatens $150 Oil

Iran just put the oil knife to Uncle Sam's throat.  And Iran is just one of our enemies with the oil knife.

Yesterday, a high Iranian official warned that Iran would close the Straits of Hormuz, through which most oil from the Middle East travels by tanker, if Iranian oil exports were stopped by international sanctions, designed to halt the Iranian nuclear weapon program.  The Iranian navy is in the middle of a major exercise in the Persian Gulf.  In response, President Obama had the commander of the US Navy's 6th fleet warn that no blockage of the Persian Gulf would be tolerated.

The stage is set for $150 global oil price within weeks or months, if hostilities break out, and the US economy cannot withstand $150 oil.  Yet, the truth is that the political risk around oil means that the prospect of $150 oil always is possible and always within weeks or months of becoming real.

While the US for the first time in 40 years has reduced its dependence on foreign oil, lowering oil imports from 60% to 46%, that 46% of oil that remains imported, plus that 100% of oil is priced in global markets, constitutes the oil knife at Uncle Sam's throat.

The Iranian dictatorship knows that it can cause havoc to us and the world economy by initiating armed conflict in the Persian Gulf, even though it would lose the immediate military confrontation.  Its real weapon is not the Iranian navy and its speed boat squadrons but the oil knife.  With that knife, it loses the armed conflict but wins by driving the oil to price levels that create a global recession.

Of course, we could disarm Iran, remove the knife from Uncle Sam's throat, and make the Iranian oil threats impotent by establishing a sustained program to deploy biofuels, natural gas vehicles, and electric vehicles.  We would not need the 6th fleet in the Persian Gulf to protect our economy.  By moving from oil to alternative transportation fuels, we could also lower our energy bills, make ourselves more competitive, create literally millions of jobs in the USA, and prevent huge amounts of pollution. 

All that is needed to get the job done is smart, sustained policy of incentives and standards to build the fueling infrastructure and to put on the road alternative fuel vehicles.  The broken market left alone leaves us addicted to oil and subject to Iranian blackmail.  I am tired of waiting.

Santorum Catching Fire: Hits 16% in Iowa

For political junkies, the 2012 Republican Presidential primaries are the best ever.  Wow, Wow, Wow!

Two polls of Iowa came out yesterday--PPP and CNN.  The PPP poll had Senator Santorum at 10%, with no movement for him.  But the CNN poll had Santorum at 16%, up 11 percentage points, and in third place behind Romney at 25% and Paul at 22%.

In other words, CNN had Santorum surging or catching fire.  If the CNN poll is right, Santorum has enough time to take second or even win it.

Clearly the 25% of Republicans aligned with the party establishment long ago settled on Governor Romney.  Just as clearly, the 75% of Republican voters who want something more than winning power continue their hunt for someone other than Romney.

Romney's good fortune to this point is that the "Not Romney" vote has split 6 ways and so far has not been able to coalesce solidly behind any other candidate.  Could Santorum change that?

His position with the Christian right is A plus; his position with the Neo-Conservatives who still believe the Iraq War was a good idea is A plus; his position with the Tea Party is solid too.

He is a two-term US Senator who rose to be the Republican whip in the US Senate so he has experience.

What he does not have is hardly any money.  He did not qualify for the Virginia ballot.  He has essentially no campaign anywhere but Iowa to where he moved his entire family months ago.

A win in Iowa would bring Santorum $5 million within a week, but New Hampshire is January 10th and the state is much less evangelical, more libertarian, more Yankee Republican and fits Santorum less well.  Can Santorum do well enough in New Hampshire to build momentum for South Carolina and Florida and a long battle into April?  The odds are small but not zero, and this is the most unpredictable primary season ever.

If CNN is right, Santorum is catching fire and that would reward his immersion in Iowa and his hard work.  At this point for Santorum to win the nomination,  he will need an inferno. 

The good news for Santorum is that the fuel for such an inferno--the 75% of primary voters seeking an alternative to Romney--exists.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gasoline, EV, & CNG Fueling Stations: How Many & When?

Americans expect to be able to hop in a vehicle and drive without any thought of running out of fuel. In a gasoline powered vehicle, that worry-free fueling expectation is met by 180,000 gasoline fueling stations with about 2 million fueling pumps.

By comparison, America has about 1,000 CNG stations, of which about half are public, and will have approximately 5,000 public EV chargers by the close of 2011. This year has seen EV stations jump more than six-fold from just 750 at the beginning of the year. The states of California, Washington, and Texas are national leaders in EV deployment, but Pennsylvania lags with just 29 as of November.

While 2011 has been an encouraging year for EV charging deployment, it would take 40 to 50 years at the 2011 rate of deployment for EV chargers to be as ubiquitous as gasoline fueling stations. More must be done more quickly.

CNG fueling station deployment is not keeping pace even with the quickening but inadequate rate of EV charging installations and is making glacially slow gains.

Without worry-free fueling for EVs and CNG vehicles, the growth rates for both will be hurt, with plug-in hybrids best positioned to cope with inadequate fueling infrastructure.

What will it take to have worry-free fueling infrastructure for natural gas and electricity vehicles on a schedule that can break Uncle Sam's addiction to oil before he is hit with $150 oil? Smart policy and the involvement of the nation's gas and electricity utilities in building the fueling infrastructure is needed. ASAP.

Key Numbers To Judge Political Prospects of President Obama

A look at two key numbers from the first terms of George W. Bush and President Reagan provides insight into the political prospects of President Obama and the outcome of the 2012 presidential contest.

President George W. Bush won re-election in 2004 with a 47% approval rating but just barely and only as a result of a brilliant, harshly negative campaign (remember the nasty attacks on Senator Kerry's brave Vietnam service?). Indeed, exit polls in the late afternoon of election day in 2004 had Kerry winning the race, but the contest came down to one state--Ohio--that President Bush carried.

President Reagan carried 49 states, but it is often forgotten that in November 1983 America had an unemployment rate of 8.8%, down from double digit unemployment in 1982. It fell below 8% by election day 1984, and the famous "It's Morning In America" campaign nearly even carried Minnesota, Vice President Mondale's home state.

In comparison to presidents Bush and Reagan, President Obama's approval rating is between 46% and 49%, according to polls by Gallup, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and the November 2011 unemployment rate is 8.6%, down from the 2009 peak of 10.1%. Those numbers would mean a close election were it being held today. They also make it probable that the 2012 campaign by the President will be tough, featuring strong negative attacks on the GOP nominee.

All the campaigns will be watching carefully the President's approval rating and the unemployment rate in 2012, knowing that a campaign's quality decides the winner in a close race but cannot overcome some inherent political facts of life. If unemployment falls below 8% and if the President's approval rating is 47% or higher, President Obama will be re-elected. If unemployment, however, is above 8% and the approval rating is below 47%, America will elect a new President in 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

PA Job Creation Falls Below National Average During 2011

After being a national leader in job creation during 2010, Pennsylvania fell below the national average for job creation in 2011. Pennsylvania's recent poor job performance is particularly troubling, given its gas production boom, and puts a spotlight on its state budget and economic development policies.  Pennsylvania was the only oil and gas boom state not to be above the national average.

From November 2010 to November 2011, the nation created 1.2% more jobs, but Pennsylvania generated just 0.9%. States like Massachusetts, California, Vermont, Washington approximately created jobs at twice the rate of Pennsylvania in this period.  Other energy boom states like North Dakota, Wyoming, Oklahoma created jobs three to five times faster than Pennsylvania.  These numbers are drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and were reported in the December 24th, NYT.

To make matters more troubling, Pennsylvania's job performance was worse from May to November 2011 than from November 2010 to April 2011. In fact, Pennsylvania ranked among the top states for job creation from November 2010 to April 2011 and then among the worst from May 2011 to November 2011.  Pennsylvania killed its job creation momentum in May, 2011.

In other words, the Pennsylvania economy's job creation numbers relative to the US got worse, as the year passed.   This trend bears watching and means that Pennsylvania may be among the bottom ten to 15 states for job creation for the period May 2011 to May 2012.

Moreovoer, Pennsylvania is the only state with a booming oil and gas economy that could not beat the US national average for job creation in 2011. How could that be? One explanation is the huge slashes to education in the current state budget that destroyed 20,000 jobs since May, 2011.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pricking Freakonomics Rooftop Solar Bubble Call

How does "bubble" describe dot-com stocks or condos in Las Vegas, the price of which escalated beyond any reasonable valuation based on costs or revenues?  Well indeed!  How does "bubble" describe the market for rooftop solar systems whose price is declining due to economies of scale and increased efficiency of solar panels?  Not well at all!

Yet, despite price declines of about 1% to 2% per month, Freakonomics labels the rooftop solar system market a bubble.

The piece suffers from a poor choice of words, chosen for dramatic effect--to draw eyeballs or for reasons of blogging economics.  While there is no bubble in solar rooftop systems, the Freakonomics piece does usefully highlight how the burgeoning use of on-site electricity generations systems, whether they be gas microturbines, solar systems, fuel cells matters not much, challenges the existing economics and pricing of grid power. 

As more customers produce more power at their homes and businesses, they purchase less kilowatt-hours from utilities or the grid, decreasing revenues to the utility.  These homes and businesses, however, remain connected to the grid and take power from the grid when they need to do so. 

The decline in revenues to the utility caused by distributed generations systems means that the fixed costs of the grid must be collected from less electricity delivered, pushing up the rate for each kilowatt-hour, shifting costs between customers who generate power on site and those who do not.

The Freakonomics piece focuses on a proposal by a utility in Southern California to the California Public Utility Commission to assess essentially a 5 cents per kilowatt-hour standby charge for solar PV customers.  The charge would amount to 31% of the current total bundled rate.  Assessing the 5 cent standby charge, would mean that a rooftop solar system could not avoid all 15 cents of the utility's current rate but instead just 10 cents of it.  Such a charge would slow solar deployment but not stop it.

At current rates of solar rooftop price declines, the equivalent of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour will be cut from solar pricing in about 3 years.  Moreover in about 3 years, the price of grid power would likely increase 10% to 15%.  Or in the case of the utility featured in the Freakonomics piece, its grid power would rise in 3 years from 15 cents per kilowatt-hour by about 1.5 to 2 cents.  The combination of declining prices for rooftop solar systems and rising grid power would erase the economic impact of the 5 cents standby charge in less than 3 years.

Rooftop solar is proliferating in Southern California so it is not a surprise that a regulatory battle over assessing a standby charge and its amount has broken out there.  As solar PV, microturbines, fuel cells proliferate, there will be more such standby charge cases.  These standby charge fights will be common, because the boom in rooftop solar PV is not a bubble and the same is true for gas microturbines.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Philly & NJ Gas Costs Down 37%-52% Due To Shale

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to know that gas customers of 5 utilities in southeast Pennsylvania and New Jersey are saving about $500 per year on their natural gas bills as a result of the shale gas boom, since that fact was first calculated and reported here. Andy Maykuth of the Philadelphia Inquirer, however, reports good details, including that gas costs to consumers are down 37% to 52% since 2008.

The 5 gas utilities where gas costs have crashed are UGI, PECO Energy, South Jersey Gas, PSE&G, and PGW.  PGW's cost of gas has fallen from $1.27 for one hundred cubic feet of gas in December 2008 and is now 61 cents.  Maykuth calculates this gas cost reduction saves the average PGW customer $594 per year.

PGW only serves in the City of Philadelphia where approximately 20% of the people have incomes below the poverty line.  Saving $594 per year for poor and low-income families is huge, even life saving, and without shale gas production the savings would not exist. These savings are even more important this winter, because the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Programs that provides heating bill assistance is being slashed.  The desperately needed savings are a huge point that the Inquirer editorial page should factor into its positions.

Maykuth also writes about UGI opening a pipeline directly from the Marcellus fields to 15,000 UGI customers that this blog highlighted earlier in this week, noting that reducing transportation costs offer another wave of savings for gas customers.

The Maykuth article also hits a frequent theme here about the big savings gas offers to heating oil consumers who are paying record high prices for heating oil. But he does not point out that the low-priced gas produced by shale has also cut electricity wholesale market prices and saved residential consumers about another $500 per year, compared to where wholesale electricity prices were in July 2008.

The low-price of gas not only is saving consumers big money in gas bills plus electricity bills but also is cutting enormous amounts of pollution by reducing oil and coal consumption at power plants without modern pollution controls.  Gas emits about half the carbon dioxide and a small fraction of the nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution.

The consumer, economic development, and pollution reduction opportunities presented by doing shale gas right are big indeed and Maykuth's piece provides an important example of just some of them.

Electricity From Gas & Renewables Set All-Time Records And Coal Power Falls Sharply

The historic shift to gas and renewables and away from coal to make electricity gains momentum almost every month.  Coal generation is down 12% from its peak in 2007 and is back to 1996 production levels, while gas and renewables set all time power production records during 2011.

The latest EIA data indicates that US electricity from coal-fired power plants in 2011 will be less than in 1996, while natural gas electricity will have more than doubled between 1996 and 2011.  Renewables other than hydro will have increased 150% in the same time period.

Drawn from the EIA December monthly report ( and archived data, here are the numbers:

On a rolling 12 month basis through September 2011, coal generation provided 1,788,203 thousand megwatt-hours or less than 1,795,196 thousand megawatt-hours coal provided in 1996.  Coal-fired generation peaked in 2007 at 2,016,456 thousand megawatt-hours and is down 12% from its peak.

By contrast, natural gas power plants produced 455,056 thousand megawatt-hours in 1996 but 999,811 thousand megawatt-hours on a rolling 12 month basis through September 2011. The 2011 gas power production will be a record  Gas more than doubled and is taking electricity market share from coal.

What about renewables other than hydro power?  In 1996, they provided 75,796 thousand megawatt-hours, with most coming from biomass power plants, and now produce 187,655 thousand megawatt-hours, with wind becoming a large producer. 

Not including the considerable hydro production, the other renewables today provide about 8% of the combined electricity coming from coal and gas.  With hydro, total renewables provide about 24% of the combined power coming from coal and gas.

The combination of gas and renewables will likely provide more power than coal by 2014.

These trends of coal generation falling and gas and renewable production rising will almost certainly continue and quicken in 2012.

Competing Against the Power Grid: Gas Microturbines & Cogeneration Boom

Solar PV, Fuel Cells, gas microturbines capturing waste heat are all examples of booming distributed generation or on-site electricity solutions.  These technologies all cut pollution compared to taking electricity power from the grid, can keep the lights on when the grid is down, and increasingly are cheaper than taking power from the grid.  They are competing against and posing a fundamental challenge to grid power.

Low gas prices are making gas microturbines that capture waste heat a particularly efficient and attractive distributed generation option for business customers.

For example, as Carbon Black yesterday pointed out in a comment, the Philadelphia Four Seasons hotel has deployed three 65 Kw Capstone microturbines that capture and use waste heat. See Such systems are called cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP). 

Compared to taking electricity from the grid, the Capstone microturbines configured to cogenerate cut Nox emissions by 95% and carbon dioxide pollution by 35%.  They also save money in nearly all locations.  According to the Four Seasons in Philadelphia, it is saving the equivalent of $480,000 per year.  The three microturbines and the heat captured is providing all the hot water and 30% of the electricity for the hotel.

Geisinger Hospital and Abbington Hospital are two more institutions in Pennsylvania that have installed gas-powered turbines on site that cogenerate.  The pollution reductions and dollar savings are substantial for the two hospitals as well.  This is a solution that is good for the economy and environment.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hybrid Vehicles 25% Safer In Accidents

In the pre-hybrid era, higher fuel efficiency often meant smaller, lighter cars and higher injury probability in a crash.  Better fuel economy linked to less safety.  Not anymore.

The Highway Loss Data Institute calculates that the odds of being hurt in a hybrid during a crash is 25% less than if one is in a non-hybrid. Why?

Weight is the answer.  Hybrids are 10% heavier on average as a result of the battery backs.  That works out to about 300 to 500 pounds more for the hybrids.  The bigger mass is protective during a crash.

Hybrids provide better fuel economy and better crash protection. The wonder of technological advances.

600,000 Homes Weatherized Since 2009: An Example of Why Electricity Demand Is Slowing

One of the electricity marketplace's oldest rules is being modified and even possibly repealed. For decades, substantial annual increases in electricity demand were a given. But now the rate of electricity demand growth is falling, as demonstrated by NERC (top grid cop) projecting over the next 10 years the lowest ever rate of electricity growth.  Even more shockingly, EIA forecasts a 0.5% drop next year in total electricity demand.  

But why is electricity demand softening?  Is it simply slowing GDP growth? Some insist so. Or are structural changes taking place in electricity markets?

Those focusing on GDP growth as the primary cause of electricity demand changes are overlooking a boom in energy efficiency that is taking many forms. Yesterday, I posted on Pennsylvania's successful Act 129 electricity conservation program and many other states have similar programs. Consider that NERC reported that demand response increased from 30,000 to 43,000 megawatts just in 2010. 

Another example of structural change is provided by the US Department of Energy's announcement that 600,000 low-income homes, including 125,000 multi-family properties, have been weatherized since 2009.  The massive weatherization was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or "Stimulus."  See

That is a lot of homes or electric accounts. It is more than all the residential accounts in the Duquesne Light service territory that serves Pittsburgh and its suburbs and is a little less than 50% of all PECO's residential accounts in Philadelphia and its suburbs.  Each home will cut energy consumption by 35% and total savings will be $320 million in the first year. Savings will continue typically for at least 10 years.

Rising demand response, big stimulus energy efficiency programs, rising energy efficiency standards for buildings, lighting and appliances, successful state electricity efficiency programs, the growing energy service or "ESCO" business add up to a boom in energy efficiency and structural change on the demand side of the electricity marketplace.

The boom in energy efficiency is employing hundreds of thousands of Americans, is making America more competitive, and adding to GDP growth.  Yet this piece of GDP growth is cutting electricity and energy demand. It should also change the calculations of everyone in the electricity business.

Everpower Announces Its 4th PA Wind Farm

Everpower is on a role and will have more than 300 megawatts of wind power operating by 2012 in Pennsylvania, making it Pennsylvania's leading wind power developer and operator.

 Everpower this week announced it would build in 2012 the Patton Wind Farm, a 30 megawatt facility in Cambria County. The Patton wind farm will be Everpower's third  in Cambria county and Everpower's 4th in Pennsylvania.

Everpower's other Pennsylvania wind farms are the 62.5 megawatt Highland wind farm that began operations in 2009; the 75 megawatt Highland North Wind farm that will begin operations any day; and the 140 megawatt Twin Ridges wind farm located in Somerset County that will be built in 2012.

The Patton wind farm is a community wind project that was started by Saint Francis University's Renewable Energy Center that made possible wind measurements of the site.  OwnEnergy and Marty Yahner, a local landowner, did substantial development work at the site.  OwnEnergy has now sold its interest to Everpower who will build and operate the Patton wind farm.

The construction of the Patton wind farm will employ 100 workers, with most coming from the local area.  The project will require 3 to 5 full-time jobs to maintain the wind farm over the next 30 years.

All the work will produce an electrical generation facility that will provide enough zero pollution electricity to supply 9,000 homes each year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

EPA Releases Final Air Toxic Rule: Good For Gas, Renewables, Plants With Pollution Controls

The EPA just released the final Mercury and Air Toxics Standard for Power Plants.  See All gas, renewable, nuclear, and the 60% of coal plants with modern pollution controls meet the requirements of the rule.  The rule is good news for those plants that have been competing against plants that do not meet the same standards that they do.

Old oil and coal plants without modern pollution controls generally do not meet the rule and must install pollution controls or switch to natural gas or another cleaner fuel.

The rule will cut by 90% mercury emissions from power plants; 88% acid gas emissions from power plants; 41% sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants.  Oil and coal power plants emit 50% of total mercury emissions and 20% to 60% of total toxic metals like lead.  There are 1,400 coal and oil units in the nation and again about 60% already have needed pollution controls. 

The rule will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths per year; 4,700 heart attacks per year; 130,000 asthma attacks per year.  The EPA states that "the value of the air quality improvements for human health alone totals $37 billion to $90 billion each year."

The rule provides generally 4 years for plants or January 2016 to be in compliance, and a case-by-case reliability safety valve to provide an additional year for compliance to a power plant determined to be critical to reliability of the grid in a local area.  The EPA states it "believes there will be few, if any situations, in which this pathway will be needed."

The EPA projects that 4,700 megawatts or about 1.5% of the nation's coal capacity will retire as a result of the rule alone by 2016.    Low-natural gas prices, falling electricity demand forecasts, and aging of the generation fleet will lead to more power plant retirements, as the owners of 231 coal units that total 48,000 megawatts have announced they will close by 2022.

The EPA notes that builders of new power plants report to the EIA that currently 40,000 megawatts of new generation is under construction in the country, more than enough to compensate for expected retirements by 2016.

This rule does not endanger reliability.  The lights stay on, or if they go out, they do so for reasons other than this rule.

110 Companies Have Shale Drilling Permits in PA

There a 110 companies that have one or more permits to drill a Marcellus well in Pennyslvania.  Twenty-three companies have more than 100 permits.  Chesapeake has the most permits at 1,514 permits.  All the foregoing data come from the good folks at www.

Here are the top 15 companies by numbers of permits:

Chesapeake  1,514
Talisman        770
Range            768
Atlas              463
East               459
Anadarko      399
EQT              332
Chief             303
Cabot           299
EOG             279
Ultra             249
Exco             229
Seneca          217
Cnx               216
Williams        184

To date, a total of 8,778 Marcellus permits have been issued.

Lowest Electricity Rate Increases In States With The Most Wind & Solar

Those confidently declaring that adding substantial wind and solar to a state's electricity grid causes electricity rates to rise faster than if little or no wind or solar is built need to face some facts that show it just ain't so.

A recent paper looked at the annual electricity rate increases from 2005-2010 in the 5 states with the most wind and solar installed versus the 5 states with the least wind and solar installed by the end of 2010.

The author Brennan Lou found that the 5 states (Texas, California, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oregon) with the most wind and solar installed by the end of 2010 had electricity rates increase by 3.2% annually.  These five states had more than 22,000 megawatts of wind and solar installed by the end of 2010 or about 50% of the nation's entire wind and solar capacity.  They certainly are the states where wind and solar is most concentrated.

By contrast, the 5 states with the least wind and solar installed (South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama) had annual electricity rate increases averaging 4%.  These five states had virtually no wind and solar installed by the end of 2010.

All 50 states had average electricity rate increases from 2005-2010 of 4.1%.

Consequently, the 5 states with the most wind and solar installed saw a lower rate of electricity rate increases than the 5 states with the least wind and solar operating or the national average rate increase. 

See for the full paper:

What could explain these results? 

First, the states that built wind and solar added 22,000 megawatts of new electricity supply. More electricity supply puts downward pressure on prices.  Moreover wind and solar facilities that bid into competitive wholesale markets are total price takers.  Since wind and solar have zero fuel costs, these facilities actually bid zero into the markets and accept for their electricity whatever the market clearing price is.  Wind in Texas has lowered significantly market clearing prices.

Second, the price of coal has been rising by on average 6.5% per year for the last decade, and using more zero fuel cost renewables avoids some amount of an increasing fuel bill.  At a minimum, renewables diversify a fuel portfolio and hedge risks.

Third, the price of wind in the best generation areas is falling fast and is often the lowest cost source of new electricity supply in such favorable locations.  For example, Xcel provides electricity in Minnesota and Colorado and reports that its wind energy cost a bit more than 4 cents per kilowatt-hour since 2007.  No new coal or gas plant could be built for that price.  Xcel further reports that its most recent 200 plus megawatt wind deal is priced at an incredibly low 2.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Simply put, wind is not expensive but instead is cheap in the best areas.

Fourth, other factors have substantial influence on electricity rates like gas prices and the amount of electricity generated from gas or coal in a particular state.

The 5 states that heavily invested in wind and solar enjoyed lower rates of electricity increases, created tens of thousands of jobs building and operating new renewable power facilities, reduced pollution, and made their states more competitive. 

They were smart and a bit fortunate.  But the smart have a way of being lucky.

Investing $1 to Save $8: Smart Energy Conservation Pays Off For PA!

It is better than a skyrocketing Inital Public Offering.  Or, at a time when investments in treasury bonds pay less than 2% interest, an analysis of Pennsylvania's Act 129 finds that each dollar electricity utilities invest in energy efficiency is returning 8 dollars to electricity ratepayers. See the report by Optimal Energy done for PennFuture at

Passed in October 2008, Act 129 requires Pennsylvania's electricity utilities to provide energy efficiency services that reduce their electric load by 1% by May 31, 2011 and by 3% by May, 2013.  Additionally peak demand must be reduced by 4.5% by 2013.  Optimal Energy finds that the electricity utilities have exceeded by 41% the 2011 goal.

Other key data the levelized cost of the energy efficiency measures is 1.6 cents per kilowatt-hour.  No new electricity generation could be built for that amount.  It is a total bargain.

Annual savings will be $278 million or a present value of $2.3 billion over the expected life of the efficiency measures.  All that for an upfront cost of $281 million.

Act 129 is also avoiding millions of tons of pollution each year and has created 4,000 jobs so far.

Another benefit of Act 129 is a healthy competitive electricity market.  A successful competitive electricity market requires healthy supply and demand curves to set prices.  Act 129 and PJM Demand Response programs are policies that have made sure that electricity consumers have choices about how much energy they consume and when.

Pennsylvania's electricity utilities and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission should be commended for implementing well Act 129, a very smart and important law.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tap Water On Fire: The 2011 Most Important Energy Photo

I have called the picture of tap water exploding in fire the most powerful picture in energy policy.  It is great television and is run many times, even with little reason to do so.  No doubt the picture and its repetitious showing raised public concerns about fracking more than anything else and by a lot.

Tap water on fire is a picture that is worth many more than a thousand words.  The picture, however, poses questions, requiring the separation of fact from fiction.

Methane in water that catches fire can come from methane that existed prior to drilling or methane that migrated as a result of poor drilling practices.  No doubt exists that a substantial number of water wells in gas producing areas have always had biogenic or natural methane in them.  No doubt also exists that mistakes in gas drilling and casing also can cause methane to migrate and to reach water wells.

 In the absence of pre-drilling water testing, as was the case in Dimock, determining whether gas existed in tap water before or after drilling is a guaranteed dispute, though a number of ways exist, including examination of the gas in the water, to make reasoned judgments. 

As distinguished from poor drilling and casing, hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause methane to be present in tap water.  This point is typically not understood or is lost in the public debate.

More good discussion of this topic is desperately needed and Susan Phillips has authored a helpful article. See

Marcellus Gas Transported To PA Customers, Producing More Savings

A new source of savings for gas consumers in Pennsylvania is emerging due to the shale boom.

A residential gas bill consists of three basic parts: the cost of gas itself, the cost of transporting the gas from  gas wells to what is called the "city gate," and the cost of metering, billing, and distributing the gas to each and every home and business within a gas utility service territory.  Both the cost of gas and the cost of transporting gas to Pennsylvania customers have fallen since 2008.

For example, UGI has just opened a pipeline that means 15,000 of its gas customers in Northeastern Pennsylvania will get gas directly from Pennsylvania's shale wells.  This project will reduce gas bills, because traditionally transportation costs of bringing gas from Canada, Alaska, or the Gulf Coast could be 30% of a total gas bill.  Transportation cost savings will be increasing as more of the Marcellus gas avoids or limits the use of interstate pipelines and goes directly to Pennsylvania customers.

The gas transportation cost savings will be added to the approximately 70% reduction in the spot market price of gas from July 2008 to now that the surge of shale gas has yielded.  How big is the shale gas surge?  According to Daniel Yergin, shale gas provides today 34% of total US gas supplies.

Is Santorum Catching Fire or 2 Weeks From End?

With one interesting exception yesterday that I discuss below, nearly every single poll has been horrible reading for Senator Santorum, since he began his Presidential campaign.  A painful example of this point was the December Gallup poll that found Senator Santorum would be an acceptable nominee to just 27% of Republican primary voters and unacceptable to 62%.

The negative 35 score made Santourm the least acceptable of all the Republican candidates.  Santorum was a tiny bit more unacceptable than even Governor Huntsman, who has annoyed many Republicans, by refusing to drink the climate and evolution denial Kool Aid demanded by so many conservatives.

Despite the normally terrible polls, Santorum has soldiered on, moving his entire family months ago to Iowa, and betting everything on the Iowa caucus.  And a Public Policy Polling poll yesterday provided actual data, documenting small gains for Santorum in Iowa.

PPP had Paul in the lead, Romney second, with Gingrich collapsing to 14%, and Santorum rising to 10% from 6% and 8% in the two previous polls. The last three PPP polls show a modest trend toward Santorum.

But while the poll contained good news for Santorum, it also revealed a major obstacle to winning Iowa.
Santorum's is splliting the 2008 Governor Huckabee vote between Bachmann, Perry, and himself, all of whom had 10% of the vote in the PPP poll.  The split of the Christian conservatives in at least three ways means that a breakthrough for Santorum is difficult.

To achieve it, he must manage to get many of the Bachmann and Perry voters to move to his camp and gain a good chunk of what he must hope is a collapsed Gingrich Iowa candidacy.  Can he move from 10% to 25% in two weeks?  It is possible and more possible than just 5 days ago, but still would rate among the biggest political shocks of the last 30 years. 

But catching fire for Santorum means winning Iowa.  Second will not be good enough, since he is running on vapors, has no money, and has put what little he has into Iowa.  Without a first place finish, there is no second act for Rick Santorum, especially since New Hampshire comes next, and its more libertarian electorate is not fertile ground for him.

Aside from this presidential cycle, Rick Santorum is trying to restart his political career after his 2006 shellacking by Senator Casey.  An Iowa win would do that, even if it meant following in Governor Huckabee's footsteps and losing the nomination to Mitt Romney.

An Iowa victory for Santorum would mean that Pennsylvania would be home to 2 big, national Republican names:  Senator Toomey and himself.  Senator Toomey's rise eclipsed Senator Santorum, within Pennsylvania and national Republican circles, but an Iowa victory would change all that, creating the possibility that Santorum and Toomey would duke it out for the Vice Presidential nomination.

The odds remain strong that Rick Santorum is 2 weeks from the end of his campaign, but his political career was born in a surprise and a rebirth will require the biggest surprise of all.  While he has few resources to build on his modest Iowa momentum, Senator Santorum has his dogged will, his message, and the biggest asset of all--competing in the the craziest, most fluid political year in living memory.

Stunning Fact: North Korea GDP Is $30 Billion

North Korea's $30 billion economy is tiny but big enough to have nuclear weapons, and 1 million soldiers in offensive formations aimed at Seoul. With most of its few resources dedicated to arms and a Communist elite, the economy does not produce enough to feed or shelter its people. Starvation in North Korea is as real as the nuclear weapons and would be worse without international food aid.

The North Korean $30 billion economy is 0.2% or 1/500th of the American economy's $14.5 trillion 2010 GDP.  North Korea's economy is 3% of South Korea's annual GDP of $1 trillion.

No economy or people in the world are less free than North Korea and the results are horrendous and dangerous.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Four Most Important & Surprising "Solar" CEOs

The 4 most important leaders in the solar industry don't run solar manufacturing companies or solar trade groups.  Instead they run Berkshire Hathaway, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, NRG, and Next Era--one conglomerate and 3 big diversified energy companies.  Their names respectively are Warren Buffett, Greg Abel, David Crane, and Lew Hay.

These 4 chief executives run major, diversified companies that must be profitable, and each plunged into solar power in the USA during 2011.  Their plunge came in the form of multiple transactions at the scale of a billion dollars and hundreds of megawatts.

Nothing signals more strongly the arrival of solar power as a big, mainstream business than the huge stakes in solar taken by Buffett, Abel, Crane, and Hay during 2011.

Why have they become top solar power executives?  Certainly, if they were easily buffeted by what they read about Solyndra or heard from conservative politicians, they would not have become big solar players. 

Instead they crunched the numbers and saw that solar pricing is approaching major tipping points in 2011.  Solar is now at grid parity or fast approaching grid parity in increasing numbers of markets.  The falling price of solar makes viable explosive solar power growth across America and the globe. 

Buffett, Abel, Crane, and Hay are the first big movers into solar power from Big Energy and for now are the 4 most important and surprising solar CEOs.

Iraq War Facts: Paying Respect and Giving Thanks

For nearly 9 years, the flag outside the Pennsylvania Capitol often flew at half-mast to honor each of the 196 Pennsylvanians who died serving our country in IRAQ and others who have died in Afghanistan, a war that now enters its 11th year.  The number of Pennsylvanians who died in Iraq ranks third among all states, with only California and Texas suffering more casualties.

A total of 4,487 USA members of our military died in IRAQ.  More than 30,000 were wounded. More than 1.5 million Americans served in Iraq or about 1 in every 205 Americans. Their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families must be remembered and repaid at least by insuring employment and health care.

While the members of our military bore huge sacrifices, the civilian population did not. The Iraq war cost $800 billion, and all of it was debt financed.  Taxes were actually cut during the war.  Promises made at the time of the start of the IRAQ war that it would be quick, cost $30 billlion, and be paid for by the oil wealth of Iraq were cruelly not kept.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars so far have cost directly a combined $1.25 trillion and are very much part of the $15 trillion of national debt as well as our annual interest costs required to finance the debt.

I give thanks that President Obama has ended the Iraq war and so do 75% of the American people.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Buffett's MidAmerican Makes 2nd Big Solar Investment

Warren Buffett really believes solar has a sunny future.  Fresh off buying a 500 plus megawatt solar farm last week, the Buffett-owned MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company bought a 49% share of the 290 megawatt, $1.8 billion Agua Caliente solar project in Arizona.  NRG sold 49% of the project but retains the majority share.  First Solar is building the project for now NRG and MidAmerican.

Greg Abel, the CEO of MidAmerican, said of the latest purchase: "We are aggressively pursuing opportunities to expand our presence in the renewable energy sector and the Agua Caliente project is another important step toward that goal."

That quotation might make one think that MidAmerican currently has a small renewable energy position that it seeks to grow. Drawing that conclusion would be a mistake.  In fact, 28% of MidAmerican's electricity generation capacity is renewable or non-carbon.  It has one of the biggest wind generation fleets in the nation, and clearly intends to be a leading national, solar generating company as well.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Time Magazine Declares Howarth "Person Who Mattered"

In the words of Time, when selecting Howarth as one of the "People Who Mattered":

"Robert Howarth...who produced one of the most controversial scientific studies of the year; a paper arguing that natural gas produced by fracking may actually have a bigger greenhouse gas footprint than coal. The study--strenuously opposed by the gas industry and many of Howarth's fellow scientists--undercut shale gas's major claim as a clean fuel."

Time also named Anthony Ingraffea and Mark Ruffalo, as the people who mattered in the fracking debates, which Time declared to be the environmental issue of the year, eclipsing climate change.

Howarth and Ingraffea's study has been debunked by 6 or more studies, all finding that coal emits twice the carbon on a lifecycle basis, but the Howarth paper did matter. It has done major damage to the cause of reducing carbon pollution by so badly misleading millions of people around the world about the carbon impacts of using coal or gas.

On the bright side in the USA, natural gas displacing coal is one reason that US carbon emissions will fall in 2011 and probably again in 2012. But for shale gas that now supplies 34% of all USA gas, the price of gas would likely be over $8 per thousand cubic feet and uncompetitive with coal.

Had Howarth won a broad ban of shale gas, the result would have been devastating for consumers, and especially for low-income families, and the nation would be building more coal plants and not closing many of the 231 units now scheduled to end operation.

While Horwath mattered a lot in 2011, he was unable to prevent substantial carbon reductions resulting from replacing coal and oil with gas. Thank goodness for that.

Uncle Sam Is Cutting Carbon: Carbon Emissions Falling In 2011 & 2012

Uncle Sam is becoming a carbon fighter. Consider these surprising facts:

While world carbon emissions escalate alarmingly, US carbon emissions from fossil fuels are projected to fall 0.7% in both 2011 and 2012, according to the EIA in its December 6th Short-Term Energy Outlook (

Assuming falling carbon emissions in 2011 and 2012, US carbon emissions from fossil fuels will have fallen in 4 of the last 5 years or in 5 of the last 7 years.

US carbon emissions from fossil fuels by 2012 will be at or below 1998 levels, according to EIA data.

If the world had the US record over the last 5 to 7 years, the world would be on the road to stabilizing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere at levels consistent with a 2 degree celsius warming, the global goal at this point.

So how is Uncle Sam cutting carbon? He is using more gas to use less coal that emits twice the carbon of gas; doubling wind power production in 3 years; increasing 8-fold solar generation in 3 years; using energy more efficiently in transportation and buildings, with electricity consumption projected to decline in 2012; and replacing oil with lower carbon fuels like gas, ethanol, and biodiesel.

Small Wind Market Booms

With average residential grid power bills reaching record levels of $1,400, homes as well as businesses in rural areas are exploring small wind, on-site generation, and more than ever are installing them.

Defined as wind turbines from 1 kilowatt to 100 kilowatts of capacity, 144,000 small wind turbines operate across America.  These machines provide power at the customer premise, normally a home or business, and cumulatively total 179 megawatts of generation. The small wind market is growing, as documented in the small wind market report at

The report states that in 2010 more than 8,000 small wind turbines were installed, adding 25.6 megawatts of power.  The small wind industry employs directly 1,500 people.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stunning Fact: Traffic Fatalities Fall To 1949 Level

Nostalgia for the good, old days often tricks the mind. Yet, many things are better today than 50 or 60 years ago. Car and road safety is one great example of huge improvement.

Highway deaths fell to 32,885 in 2010, despite 46 billion more miles driven than in 2009, a 1.6% increase in miles driven. In 2010, there was 1.10 death per 100 miles traveled, down from 1.15 in 2009. All data come from the United States Department of Transportation.

Incredibly, highway fatalities are back to 1949 levels, when America had about 50% of today's population, and when miles driven were a fraction of what they are today.

Today's vehicles are designed to be survivable in most crashes, handle much better to avoid accidents, and generally travel on better designed roads. And just possibly drivers may even be a bit better.

Safe holiday travels to all readers.

Philadelphia Sets Record For Annual Rain

It has been raining and pouring, and this year's rain has been one for the record books, at least in Philadelphia.  Read the great posting at The rain total in Philadelphia has exceeded 62 inches, breaking a record set in 1867.  Average annual rain fall in Philadelphia is 40 inches.

Jeff Masters calculated that 56% of the USA has either experienced extreme drought or extreme rain in 2011. 

Global warming scientists have stated that dry areas will likely get drier and wet areas wetter, as a warming climate impacts evaporation and precipitation.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Duke Energy Invests $1.75 Billion In Renewables

Private capital around the world and in America is flocking into renewable energy.  Duke Energy offers just one example. 

Since 2007, Duke Energy has invested $1.7 billion in about 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy, mostly at 10 wind farms, but with solar gaining investments now.  Duke's latest renewable investments are 2 solar farms in Arizona that provide a combined 20 megawatts.  See  Duke has about 45 megawatts of solar total or about 1% of all US solar installed by the end of 2011.

Duke is gaining experience in solar and is an example of the major power companies that don't want to miss the solar boom that has begun.

Sharply escalating private investment in solar is part of annual capital investment in renewable energy generation projects around the world that approaches $200 billion and is comparable to or exceeding investment in fossil fuel power plants. Duke's plunge into renewables is one American example of this global phenomenon.

Grid Power Prices Hit Record High, Boosting Distributed Generation

Yesterday USA Today had a front page story entitled: "Electric bills soar $300 in 5 years."  See  The piece goes on to say that residential bills hit a record high of $1,419 per year on average.  While USA Today does not discuss distributed generation or on-site power like solar, the rising cost of grid power puts wind at the back of distributed power.

USA Today attributes the grid power bill increases to higher usage than 20 years ago and higher rates caused by "higher fuel prices and the expense of replacing old power plants, including heavily polluting--but cheap to operate--coal plants that don't meet federal clean air requirements."  Not quite right. 

Coal costs have gone up an average of 6.5% per year for the last 10 years, a significant increase in fuel costs to electricity utilities. It is one of the reasons that coal's market share has fallen from 52% to 43% this year and will fall further.

But not all fuel costs have gone up.  Natural gas prices have actually fallen sharply since 2009 due to the shale gas boom.  At current gas prices, gas plants today are  cheaper to operate than coal plants. Wind, hydro and other renewables often have zero fuel cost and renewables account for about 13% of all electricity in the USA.

Apart from painting with a broad brush on the role of fuel costs in electricity price increases, USA Today does not explain the difference between a monopoly generation and a competitive generation state and writes the piece as if the entire country had regulated, monopoly generation utilities.  In monopoly states, all costs--fuel costs and capital building costs--are recovered from captive electricity ratepayers.  As coal costs have marched upward over the last 10 years, the much higher costs of coal have been automatically paid for the electricity ratepayers of monopoly utilities.

Yet, in a competitive state, fuel or any other costs are not automatically recovered, since prices are not tied just to costs, but are set by supply and demand. The imperative of the competitive market is to use low-cost fuel (wind is free), use all fuel as efficiently as possible, and deploy low capital cost, reliable technology, with gas plants offering much lower capital costs than coal, nuclear or any other technology. 

Regardless of their costs, competitive plant owners only get paid whatever the market price is and only if they generate power.  Monopoly regulated plants, however, normally earn revenue for their owners whether they run or not, because once a plant is placed in rates, customers keep paying for it almost no matter what.

Another source of electricity rate increases is the transmission and distribution or the electricity delivery system to carry power from often distant central power stations to homes and businesses.  These costs were not mentioned by USA Today but range from 3 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour for many residential customers or about 30% of the typical bill.

Putting aside these quibbles, the basic point of the USA Today piece that grid power electricity prices are going up is correct and is another reason why the future of distributed generation--power production at the site of the customer's home or business--is bright.  For example, solar grid parity is a function of both the price of grid power and the price of solar power. 

Solar power prices are falling rapidly and grid power prices are rising, bringing forward the date when solar power will cost no more or less than power from the grid. The article points out that grid power costs 26 cents per kilowatt-hour in New York City.  At that price point, solar power is cheaper and so are many other alternatives--like cogeneration or major efficiency retrofits--to grid power.

Grid power is progressively losing its economic advantage and will soon thereafter lose customers.  Once a tipping point is reached, customer loss will be fast and heavy.  That tipping point is just 3 to 5 years away.

Gamesa Builds 1,000th Nacelle In PA

Despite the gas frenzy in the media, green power and green jobs are hitting new milestones around the world, including in Pennsylvania.

Gamesa hits the 1,000 Nacelle production mark in its Pennsylvania facilities, as reported by PennFuture in its Green Power Update (

Pennsylvania won a battle with Texas in 2004 to win the 800 jobs and the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment that Gamesa offered.  Gamesa has factories in Bucks County and Cambria County, where it is now manufacturing its new 2 megawatt turbine model that is ideal for low-wind speed areas.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Two Electricity CEOs Defend EPA Air Rules & Blast WSJ

Days away from EPA announcing its final air toxic rule, the attacks on it continue.  But importantly attacks are not coming from all quarters of the business community or electricity industry.

The Chief Executives of Calpine and PSE&G strongly defended the EPA's air rules and took to the woodshed the consistently error-filled and ideologically-driven editorials of the Wall Street Journal. See

It is good to see both of these corporate leaders raising their voice to rebut particularly the charge that the EPA proposed air rules would create systemic grid reliability issues, a flimsy, factually challenged assertion. 

The Wall Street Journal editorial position presents itself as pro-market and anti-regulation.  Refusing to internalize major external costs in pricing is not pro-market and only another form of subsidization for favored companies.

Stripping away the ideological cover and pretension, the Wall Street Journal position boils down to supporting continued operation of 40-plus-year old coal plants without pollution controls by continuing their subsidy and opposing the interests of gas plants, nuclear units, renewable energy facilities, and modern coal plants--all of which comply with the EPA rules.

The EPA apparently will announce the final air toxic rule either on friday, December 16th or monday, December 19th. Hopefully it will not make major changes to the proposed rule and keep to the rule's schedule.

Putting The EPA Wyoming Report Under The Microscope: What's Controversial & What Is Not?

Five days after the release of the EPA Pavillion, Wyoming preliminary findings, the strongest critique and the strongest supporting analysis would be Encana's response and a  must-read piece by Scott Johnson, published at   The Encana criticism of EPA can be found here:

To guide us through the EPA documents, it is helpful to divide the findings into two categories: contested/controversial findings and uncontested/not controversial.  These three findings do not appear controversial:

1. EPA states that the Pavillion drilling and geology is a unique, unusual combination that features shallow fracking in a sandstone formation, without a geological barrier or cap rock between groundwater and the fracking zones.  This description certainly does not describe drilling and the geology in Pennsylvania and Louisiana, to name just two big shale plays, where fracking is taking place typically 5,000 feet or even deeper, with a major cap rock barrier between the fracking zones and groundwater;

2. Some contamination of shallow groundwater has resulted from at least some of the 33 pits in the area.  Encana states it has self-reported to regulators some pits that it inherited and has begun remediation to correct localized contamination; and

3. At least some of the gas wells drilled in the area had casing and cementing defects, with 2 apparently having no cement at all.  I have not seen any serious contest so far to the description of the drilling practices that appear in the EPA report and that are disturbing.  Encana so far has not rebutted them to my knowledge.  Perhaps more information will be provided that changes this picture.

Moving to the controversy, Encana rejects that the EPA has established a link between hydraulic fracturing and various forms of chemical and other contamination found in the aquifer by the two test wells that EPA drilled. Again see the Encana statement and then the Scott Johnson piece in for competing views on this crucial point.  This contested issue will be the focal point of the independent scientific review and public comment.

I continue to give EPA high grades for conducting a careful investigation that has taken 3 years so far. It has done the right thing in releasing to the world its preliminary findings and making it clear that they are preliminary, providing for independent scientific review, and for public comment.  The alternative of proceeding in secret to a final conclusion would have been a disaster, no matter what EPA said.

The reactions to the EPA from those who think the industry can do nothing right or nothing wrong have been predictable.   Josh Fox declares that the EPA's Wyoming findings support a global ban on fracking. EPA itself disagrees, pointing to unique circumstances and operational errors in pits and gas well drilling. Senator Inhofe and some others declare the EPA report "offensive" and political. Inhofe and those like-minded are wrong too. Most of the gas industry withholds comment, apparently treating the findings as both preliminary and serious, deserving of independent science review and thoughtful comment within the 45 days provided.  

Looking at just the non-controversial findings in the EPA document provides important lessons.  I am currently hopeful that this process will make gas drilling safer and reduce risks further.

Gasoline Devours Record Dollars In 2011

The addiction to oil is getting more and more expensive and more and more destructive to our economy.  Running the family car on gasoline never cost more than in 2011, leaving less money for other goods and services, thereby lowering demand and growth . 

Cumulatively Americans spent a record $448 billion on gasoline or $100 billion more than in 2010, according to the LA Times.  See,0,6324648.story.

Though oil prices in 2011 did not reach or even approach the daily record level of $147 per barrel, oil prices on a rolling 12 month average basis have been at record levels.  Oil has consistently cost between $100 to $125 per barrel this year.

America's national and economic security has an oil knife to its jugular.  The answer should be an urgent program to rapidly accelerate the deployment of natural gas vehicles, electric cars, and biofuels. Small progress is being made, but it is not fast enough or big enough to remove the knife from Uncle Sam's throat. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gas Generation Surpasses Coal By 2020

The rate at which coal is losing and gas is gaining electricity generation market share is quickening, yielding agreement that gas will surpass coal as America's dominant electricity source.  But when?

Exxon says in its annual energy forecast that America will get more electricity from gas than coal in 2025. Yet current trends indicate that gas could surpass coal by 2020, when both coal and gas could have about 34% of the electricity generation market.

Low gas prices mean that existing, often under-utilized gas plants are being dispatched much more and new gas plants are being ordered. At the same time that gas generation grows, low gas prices, plain old age of coal plants, and requirements for coal plants to invest in modern pollution controls cause closing of perhaps 231 existing coal units and cancelling orders for up to 150 new coal plants.

These powerful market forces are reshaping electricity generation in America. As recently as 2000, coal provided 52% of America's electricity and gas just 16% or coal had a 36 percentage point lead over gas.

By 2011, coal's market share will stand at 43.5% while gas' will be 24.2%. Further EIA states in last week's Short Term Energy Outlook that in 2012 coal's share will drop even further and more quickly, reaching 41.9%, and gas's will rise to 25.5%.

In other words, from 2000 to 2012, coal's lead over gas will have fallen from 36% to 16%.  In twelve years, the market share gap between coal and gas closed by 20 percentage points.

Most importantly, the rate at which coal is losing market share and gas is gaining share is increasing.  From 2000 to 2010, coal lost each year 0.7% and gas gained 0.8%, with the gap closing a combined 1.5% per year on average.

But in 2011 and 2012, coal will have lost 1.45% per year and gas will have gained 1.3% per year, with the gap closing about 2.7% per year or 80% faster than from 2000 to 2010.

Whether the year that America gets more electricity from gas than coal is 2020 or 2025, the rise of gas and the decline of coal is a stunning market transformation.  It is also one that will cut sharply America's carbon emissions, even in the absence of any price placed on carbon.

Stunning Fact: US Electricity Demand To Fall In 2012

The boom in natural gas production and renewable energy production has an interesting companion.  Energy efficiency, demand response, and old-fashioned energy conservation are all booming too.  Far too little attention is being paid to the booming demand side of the energy markets that is powerfully shaping them.

For example one result of the demand side boom is that nobody should take for granted any longer that electricity demand increases 1.5% or more per year or even increases at all.  The Energy Information Administration projects that electricity demand will fall 0.5% in 2012, after increasing a miniscule 0.3% in 2011.  See the EIA December 2011 Short Term Energy Outlook at

These numbers deepen the trend to record low-increases in electricity demand that the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation (NERC) documents in its 2011 Long-Term Electricity Reliability Report.

Structural changes in energy markets like the increase in demand response from 30,000 megawatts to 43,000 megawatts between 2010 and 2011 are driving down at a minimum the rate of electricity demand increases and could even be flattening out electricity demand.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Statement On EPA Wyoming Fracking Investigation Report

The EPA issued yesterday its draft findings of its Pavilion, Wyoming Ground Water Investigation for Public Comment and Independent Scientific Review.  Its contents are disturbing and demand attention from all regulators and all those charged with managing drilling companies. The mess in Pavillion, Wyoming is a screeching, disturbing event for regulators and the gas industry.

My preliminary review of the 121 pages of draft findings is that EPA has done a careful, methodical investigation that has produced strong, probably compelling evidence that leaks from surface pits, gas well design and operation failures, and hydraulic fracturing at what appear to be depths less than 1,300 feet below the surface have caused chemical and methane pollution of groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming.  For the EPA draft findings and accompanying press release, go to http:

The press release states: "The draft report indicates that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing." For example chloride levels 18 times the expected levels have been found in ground water and other measurements in the draft findings strongly support the preceding sentence.  Encana, a large Canadian headquartered gas business, is the only company identified as being engaged in "gas production practices" in the document.

The report itself says there are 169 production wells which extract gas in the area and that "at least 33 surface pits previously used for the storage/disposal of drilling wastes and produced flowback waters are present in the area" (page xi). Pages 17 to 27 of the findings provide strong evidence that failures in the pits have caused ground water contamination

The report goes on to say that water wells are as deep as 732 feet but: "With the exception of two production wells, surface casings of gas production wells do not extend below the maximum depth of domestic wells in the area of investigation" (page xi).

The EPA's description of the surface casing, cementing, and fracking at depths of less than 1300 feet add up to a set of outrageous practices, if the descriptions are correct, and they appear to be.  They would violate the Pennsylvania drilling rules or just about any set of rules.  Rules must be enforced and followed to do any good. This mess is a strong reminder of that cardinal rule of regulation and good management.

The EPA states that the circumstances in Pavillion appear unique to the area.  I would certainly hope so.

Pages 27 to 29 of the draft findings provide strong evidence of gas drilling causing gas migration and pollution of ground water.

Pages 29 to 32 have strong evidence that  poor casing and cementing as well as hydraulic fracturing  frequently at depths of less than 2,000 feet and at least once at 1222 feet caused ground water pollution. Leaving aside the issues of casing and cementing for a moment, Marcellus Shale fracking in Pennsylvania occurs at depths between 5,000 to 8,000 feet below the surface.

Here are the key conclusions at page 33: 

1. "Detection of high concentrations of benzene, xylenes, gasoline range organics, diesel range organics, and total purgeable hydrocarbons in ground water samples from shallow monitoring wells near pits indicates that pits are a source of shallow ground water contamination in the area of investigation."  This finding again highlights the risks associated with pits that store frackwater and the operational challenges of pits, a practice that is declining in Pennsylvania but not yet totally eliminated.

2. "Detection of contaminants in ground water from deep sources of contamination (production wells, hydraulic fracturing) was considerably more complex than detection of contaminants from pits necessitating a multiple lines of reasoning approach common to complex scientific investigations...While each individual data set or observation represents an important line of reasoning, taken as a whole, consistent data sets and observations provide compelling evidence to support an explanation of data.  Using this approach, the explanation best fitting the data for the deep monitoring wells is that constituents associated with hydraulic fracturing have been released into the Wind River drinking water aquifer at depths above the current production zone."

EPA has issued its draft findings for a 45 day public comment period.  The draft findings are not the final word.  Yet, this document should be read by every board member of every gas drilling company operating anywhere in the world, by all the top managers of those companies, and by every regulator charged with environmental protection.

The EPA has provided reasons for humility, a real commitment to strong rules and strong enforcement, and a genuine dedication to excellence in operations and a culture of safety by both companies and regulators.  The opposite may well have happened in Pavillion, Wyoming.

Updated: Don't Believe In Solar? Warren Buffett Does Big Time!

Buffett believes that solar is rising.  A $2 billion solar project in California is now part of Warren Buffett's investment empire.  First Solar sold the 550 megawatt Topaz Project that has a 25-year power purchase agreement from Pacific Gas and Electric and that is now under construction in California to Buffett's MidAmerican Energy. 

The power purchase agreement for the power from Topaz makes Buffett's investment very low risk and probably lucrative.  Buffett is no fool, as shown by his bank account.

But another point in this story should be underlined.  This one solar plant is 550 megawatts and is more solar than the entire country had installed from its founding until 2008. At the end of 2011, the US will have about 4,000 megawatts of solar operating, and that does not include the Topaz solar plant. The solar revolution is quickly moving into a higher gear.

Will Buffett make more investments in solar?  It sounds like it, given these words from the CEO of MidAmerican, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times:

"We believe the underlying cost structure of their technology is very reasonable.  Their technology is proven and can be implemented at a utility scale level.",0,6937593.story.

I can see heads exploding in certain quarters.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

PA Has 6 of 20 Biggest Toxic Polluters But Gas Dominates Environmental Fears

The Environmental Integrity Project is out with a must read report detailing pollution from power plants.  See the link below.  The data is compelling and leads me to these questions:

Why are so many in Pennsylvania and a lot of the environmental community focused largely on the environmental impacts of gas drilling, when Pennsylvania is home to 6 of the nation's 20 biggest power plant toxic polluters--all of them old, poorly controlled coal plants?  Which poses the most threat to our air and water? These top power plant toxic polluters emitting huge amounts of arsenic, lead, mercury? Or natural gas production that provides a fuel that emits zero mercury, lead?  These questions are not posed by the Environmental Integrity Project in its great new report on power plant pollution but should become burning inquiries, given the enormous data in the EIP report.

The good news in America's Top Power Plant Toxic Air Polluters is that nationally toxic metal emissions from electricity utilities are down from approximately 10% to 50% between 2007 and 2010.  See page 4 at  Electric power plants burning coal and oil, however, continue to emit much more toxic pollution than any other industrial source, approaching 50% of the nation's total.

The bad news is that Pennsylvania has 6 of the 20 biggest power plant toxic polluters (see page 6) in the nation and that still large amounts of lead, arsenic, mercury, chromium, nickel, and selenium are dumped into America's air and water. Also distressingly, the amount of arsenic pollution emitted in Pennsylvania has actually risen since 2001, and Pennsylvania power plants emit more arsenic and lead than any other state's.  Or bluntly stated, we are number 1 in arsenic and lead power plant pollution.

The data in this report confirms four things:

1. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision overturning in 2009 the state mercury rule that the Rendell Administration successfully enacted over huge opposition was a public health disaster.

2. The EPA's proposed Air Toxic Rule is desperately needed in Pennsylvania to protect human health.

3. The top 20 power plant toxic polluters identified in this report must install modern pollution controls or switch to gas or other cleaner burning fuels.

4. The failure to use more gas to clean our air is a massive public policy, economic, and health mistake. 

It is extremely unfortunate that the gas industry and the environmental community do not make common cause on critical issues where their mutual interests are aligned, like the EPA's proposed Air Toxic Rule or using more gas and less coal and oil, while agreeing to disagree on other important issues.  The failure to cooperate hurts the gas industry, environmental protection, public health, and our economy. 

Sometimes fighting takes on its own momentum and "logic."

The Trump & Republican Debates Have Destroyed Big Money Politics For Now

The media-sponsored Republican debates have been the best thing to happen to our democracy, in the last 50 years, since the first television debate between JFK and President Nixon. The huge number of debates have attracted large audiences that have created a major commercial incentive to schedule more debates. One result has been that nearly all the Republican candidates have received significant free television time to speak directly to the American people, and the American people have been able to judge the candidates in a much better manner than by watching paid television commercials financed by political donors.

Except for the debates, the well-bankrolled, great-haired, but not silver-tongued Rick Perry may have been on the way to the White House, and Romney's comparatively strong campaign treasury would have put him in a much stronger position. The debates stopped all that and instead powered Newt Gingrich to the top.

Newt Gingrich who raised a pitiful $2.9 million by September 30 and had debts (not to Tiffany's) that were three times greater than his campaign money in the bank leads national polls by about 20 points, is ahead in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, and 9 points behind Romney in New Hampshire where Romney has a home. The plentiful debates have trumped big money and good hair.

Thanks to the large numbers of mainly Republican viewers and the media companies televising them, the debates are a genuine political revolution that is now triggering a counter- revolution by the big donor establishment. No surprise that Karl Rove leads the counter-revolution and is trying to veto the Trump debate on Ion and Newsmax.

I stand with Trump, when he says more debates are a good thing. Hooray for Gingrich and Santorum for resisting the Rove hazing and for showing up. Of course spineless, pandering Romney who has seen his huge private wealth and $32 million plus campaign war chest devalued by the debates will not be.

Mark McKinnon, a big-time political consultant, even wants Harvard University to run a primary debate commission to "organize" the "out-of-control" debates. How rich is that? The people who controlled the process, until this primary contest, were almost exclusively those who could give and raise huge sums to overpay the Roves and Mckinnons of the political world and to buy often dishonest commercials.

The Republican debates have freed our democracy to a significant extent from the toxic grip of big money, as shown by the whining and sad faces on those losing control. Indeed, those whines and sad faces are a big reason for most Americans, regardless of their political allegiances, to smile.

PA Turnpike To Install EV Charging Stations

Soon it will be possible to travel the entire length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike from New Jersey To Ohio or from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh using electricity in an electric vehicle and recharge as needed.

As part of the builiding wave to substitute domestic energy for oil, a public-private partnership will be bringing EV charging stations to every rest area on the Pennsylvania Turnpike within two years.  Each rest area will have at least two Level 3 charging stations that can recharge a car within 20 minutes and one Level 2 charger.  Rest areas that can be accessed in both directions will have twice the number of charging stations.

The investment to get this infrastructure will come from a private company that will match a state grant.  Total investment will be approximately $2 million.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike was the nation's first toll road and will be among the longest stretches of highway with full EV charging.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

DEP & EPA In Drilling Air Collision?

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency are edging to direct conflict on a major gas drilling permit issue.  See The battleground is air and how to determine whether groups of air emission sources must be aggregated to calculate legal pollution thresholds.

Determining whether or not a group of sources is operationally one for the purposes of the Clean Air Act permitting is a difficult, fact intensive process no matter what rules are used to guide the factual determination. It is a swamp in the best circumstances that damages all who enter. Now DEP and EPA are in disagreement about the rules or principles that must be followed when doing the factual determination in order to issue what are federal air permits.  DEP is processing the air permits and handling the aggregation issue, as the state agency delegated to do so by the EPA.

The battle between DEP and EPA could produce more confusion, litigation, delay, and possibly more pollution.  Here is the history.

In December 2010 DEP at my direction issued principles or guidelines for the DEP permitting staff that followed a 3-part test that EPA had directed in 2009 and that were as consistent as possible with a jumbled set of federal court rulings.  Following the 2010 election, the December guidelines were first stopped and then replaced by different directives from the new Administration that industry is cheering and environmental groups are attacking. See the Don Hopey story that explains the back and forth.

All the regulatory and legal fencing ultimately will be very much beside the point if total emissions from the gas industry contribute to ground level smog and ozone. Regional and state smog does not hide.  It will be measured, and it violates the Clean Air Act at specific levels. If smog levels violate the law, the health of people will be damaged severely, and major restrictions on permitting would be likely.

Does not everyone have a big incentive to avoid that outcome toward which we may be collectively moving?  A smarter, better way than reaching that destructive point would be to install available pollution control equipment or use gas or electricity to cut by 90% the pollution that otherwise could result.  Deployment of the best technology and approaches should make the aggregation swamp irrelevant.

In this aggregation battle, everybody should remember the maxim: be careful for what you wish.