Friday, August 31, 2012

Stunning Fact: Top Gas Well & Pad Produces Enough Gas To Supply More Than Half Of Philadelphia's Residential Gas Accounts For Full Year

Nothing drives home more powerfully why the Marcellus, in particular, is a massive bounty of gas than recent  production data crunched by the good folks at MarcellusGas.Org (

A 7-well pad in Morris Township, Greene County, that includes the top producing well in Pennsylvania, has produced 23 billion cubic feet of gas. Of that total, the top producing single well in the Commonwealth has provided 6 billion cubic feet.  A true gusher!

Since the annual, average residential gas consumption in Philadelphia is about 87,000 cubic feet, this prolific well pad has supplied enough gas for 264,000 residential gas accounts in Philadelphia for a full year.  That's more than half of the homes using gas in Philadelphia and is just amazing!

Even using a low at the well head price of $1.94, MarcellusGas.Org calculates that Pennsylvania's top single well has so far printed $1.5 million in royalties and $12 million worth of natural gas.  Yes, shale production has made millionaires of some landowners.

Moreover, the Greene County well is not a one-in-a million fluke.  In fact, MarcellusGas.Org states that another well, completely across the state in Dimock Township Susquehanna County, nearly matched the Greene County well by producing also more than 6 billion cubic feet.  That well is one of three at its well pad (King wells) that cumulatively supplied to date 12 billion cubic feet, about $3 million in royalty payments, and still another shale gas millionaire.

For gas consumers, all this gas has brought rock bottom natural gas prices, with consumer and economic benefits of approximately $1 billion per day.  The jaw-dropping facts just keep rolling out of the shale gas revolution and especially the Marcellus.

Gasoline Costs In 2011 Hit Record Average of $2,850

While natural gas prices hit rock bottom, sustained high oil prices pushed average annual gasoline costs to a record high of $2,850.  Not surprisingly, in response to these high prices, consumers have been snapping up higher mileage vehicles, and oil consumption is now back to 1995 levels.

But here is a question and answer that points to continuing massive market and policy failure.  What would that $2,850 average bill been had the consumer fueled up with natural gas during 2012? At least one-third less and possibly more.

In other words, using natural gas would have cut that $2,850 bill to about $2,000 or saved about $850 in one year.  That dollar savings equals about 2% of the pre-tax median annual income of a Pennsylvania family.

And these avoidable high gasoline costs add up. The failure to deploy aggressively natural gas fueling stations and electricity charging stations across America and the Commonwealth is costing Americans about $100 billion each year in lost fuel savings.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Study For Mayor Bloomberg Finds Gas Provides 57% of NYC's Total Energy & Cuts Carbon Emissions By Up To 47%

A study prepared for New York City Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability finds gas provides 57% of NYC's energy. at page 2.  NYC is much more dependent on gas than the rest of the country. In fact, NYC gets twice as much of its total energy from gas as America does (gas accounts for about 28% of America's total energy).

The study further concludes that gas provides substantial climate benefits, compared to coal or oil. Specifically, the study concludes that gas on a life cycle basis emits 36% to 47% less carbon than coal and 20% less carbon than heating oil.  The study was done by ICF International.

And thanks to shale gas production, gas right now is available for bargain basement prices, reducing the energy expenditures of New Yorkers by about $1,500 per year, when compared to 2008 gas and wholesale electricity pricing.

Compared to coal and oil, gas provides more of NYC's energy, is cleaner, and today cheaper.  All that makes New York City better economically and environmentally for all its residents and visitors.

Stunning Fact: Global Solar Now Bigger Than Global Arms Market

The world has yet to beat swords into plowshares.  Not by a long shot.  Indeed, the global arms market sharply increased in 2011 to more than $85 billion, as Persian Gulf states, fearful of a bellicose Iran, went on an American arms buying spree.

Yet, notwithstanding the boom in weapons purchases, the global solar market was bigger in 2011 than the global arms market.  The solar market exceeded last year $91 billion, when 27,000 megawatts of solar were installed around the world.

The global wind market that was worth $68 billion in 2011, when 40,500 megawatts of wind power was installed, is also nearing the amount spent around the world on arms purchases.

Even if peace does not breakout around the world during 2012, more may be spent this year on building wind farms or solar projects than buying arms. That fact underlines why the US would make a huge economic mistake in turning away from the big, booming global wind and solar markets.

Key Fact: US Approved Nuclear Uprates Total 6,500 Megawatts & Is The Main Source Of New Nuclear Power

Nearly every owner of generation in the USA judges buidling new nuclear reactors to be prohibitively expensive, despite massive subsidies being available for nuclear construction, and even though many utilities still have state sanctioned monopolies and "rate bases" that can be used to make captive ratepayers repay generation investment.  Only the boldest (and some would use less favorable adjectives) generation owner is building new nuclear plants here.

But making improvements to existing nuclear plants to increase their generating capacity--so-called "nuclear uprates"--makes good sense for plant owners, consumers, and the environment.  Indeed, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, since 1997, has approved 144 uprates that cumulatively add 6,500 megawatts of capacity.  How much power is that?

That much additional nuclear capacity, given that nuclear power plants operate at about 95% of their capacity, would be equal to approximately 20,000 megawatts of wind power, about 35,000 megawatts of solar power, or another 11 nuclear units the size of Three Mile Island.  It would be enough to supply about 6.5 million homes or more than all the residential electricity accounts in Pennsylvania.

The combination of sharply better nuclear plant performance over the last 25 years and nuclear uprates increased electricity generated by existing nuclear plants so that nuclear continued to keep its market share at about 20% of all electricity generated in the USA.

Today, EIA reports that 16 nuclear uprate projects that constitute another 1,140 megawatts of capacity are pending approval by the NRC.  Approval of the project by the NRC, however, does not automatically mean the project will be completed, and the EIA data does not state how much of the approved uprates were in fact constructed.

Nuclear uprates are much lower cost than construction of new nuclear plants, but major ones can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment.  Low wholesale power prices in the last three years represent a real short-term barrier to completing some uprates. As a result, Pennsylvania considered legislation in 2010 that would have increased its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard and included nuclear uprates as a qualifying technology.

Nuclear uprates have proven good for investors, consumers, the economy and environment, a real win, win, win, win. They increase supply and help keep prices affordable by doing so. They diversify how electricity is made, generating reliability and more economic benefits.  They produce no air or climate pollution.  They increase revenues for owners of nuclear plants.  They lower risks for everyone!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NY Hesitates To Frack But Gas Usage Up 18%

As New York ponders producing shale gas or allowing "fracking", New York might want to remember that it really likes using natural gas. Already big before this year, New York's appetite for natural gas got a lot bigger in the first half of 2012, when its consumption of natural gas rose 18.6%, compared to the same period in 2011.  See table 2.8b at:

Why is New York using more natural gas? Most of New York's growing gas consumption is to make electricity and to keep its lights on.  Like most states, New York would be in the dark, grind to a halt, and be cold without natural gas.  And that is more true today than was the case even just last year.

Moreover, if New York does succeed in its campaign to close the Indian Point nuclear plant, take one guess what will provide most of the replacement power if that big nuke goes off line.   Mostly more coal and gas generated electricity that feeds into the grid around the clock, plus a bit more wind and solar, will fill the void that then opens.

And given all the heat from Ithaca and Manhattan about gas production in Pennsylvania, New Yorkers may be surprised to learn that New York uses considerably more gas than does Pennsylvania.  In fact, New York used 10% more, a total of 34 billion cubic feet more than Pennsylvania, during the same period.

New York guzzles gas everyday and supports fracking with its purchases, whether or not it does its part to meet America's energy needs.

Wave Power Hits Shore: FERC Issues Tidal Power Permit

Renewable energy is generally classified as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydro electric generation and biofuels for transportation.  But the definition may soon need to be broadened to include tidal or wave power.

While not the first tidal wave project in the world or the US, Ocean Power's Oregon wave power project is the only such project with a current FERC permit to feed power into the grid and a true energy pioneer.  As planned, Ocean Power will generate 1.5 megawatts of tidal power off Oregon and feed that power into the grid.

If Ocean Power is successful, the Energy Information Administration will have another technology category to start tracking and the definition of renewable energy will have to be updated by us all. Moreover, the potential of tidal power is considerable and is an example of why the future of energy always surprises.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gas Migration Problem Is More Than Dimock: Gas Well In Leroy Township Pollutes Water Well With Methane

As the Dimock case approaches resolution, gas migration causing methane pollution of water wells remains a problem , as the report from Leroy Towhship, PA by Scott Detrow demonstrates.

Detrow does a good job of making it clear that the pollution of Mike and Nancy Leighton's water well has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing but instead results from mistakes in drilling and cementing the gas well.  Frack fluids and chemicals are not returning from depth.  Again, getting clarity about what the problem is and what it is not is imperative.

I am glad to see Chesapeake Energy acknowledge that its gas drilling operation caused the gas to migrate and work to fix the problems.  Chesapeake is not denying and otherwise obfuscating. 

The gas industry must routinely recognize, accept, and fix its mistakes.  It's not perfect and never will be.  But it can be better, even excellent.

For excellence in operations to be achieved, every company and employee in the gas industry must treat gas migration as a real problem that should be a top priority.  In this vein, I was disappointed by the quotation in the Detrow piece from API, but that may be a function of not including all that was said by the API spokesperson. 

In this piece, the API stresses the infrequency of gas migration, when I would have hoped that the API would stress how important it is to prevent gas migration and for the industry to become consistently more excellent in operations to reduce further gas migration cases. Strong rules and strong enforcement of rules can make a major difference, but excellent operations makes the biggest difference of all.

Right now, the number of mistakes that lead to gas migration remains higher than should be the case, if operational excellence was the standard at every gas well.  More leadership is needed within the industry, because the results are not where they should be.

As a result, landowners in leases and regulators need to consider measures to drive more industry focus on preventing gas migration by each and every gas drilling company and all their contractors.  In the Dimock case, DEP required repairing or plugging gas wells, a halt to drilling by the company that caused migration in the area of the migration, and the payment of two times the market value of the property to which gas migrated, to serve as compensation and deterrence.

Finally, gas migration to a private water well is a major problem for any family so impacted.  The problem when it occurs must be fixed and compensation paid.  And as I have just made clear more needs to be done to prevent the problem in the first place.

Having said all of that, the damage done by pollution pouring from sewer plants, run-off from streets, lawns, and fields, acid mine pollution from coal piles or old mines dwarfs the harm done to Pennsylvania's waters by migrating gas to probably about 100 water wells in Pennsylvania.  That is not a reason to ignore the gas migration issue. It must not be ignored.

But gas drilling's impacts on Pennsylvania's waters would not rank in the top 5, or even the top 10, of the causes of water pollution here.  That too must not be ignored.

Electricity Competition Working For PA's Consumers: Electricity Prices In June Down 6% & Below National Average

In 1996, when Pennsylvania ended state-granted electricity generation monopolies and embraced electricity competition, Pennsylvania's electric generation rates were 15% above the national average.   Even worse, residential electricity rates in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions were often among the ten highest in the nation, driven up by enormously expensive new nuclear plants that were charged to captive ratepayers,  inefficient power plants that converted just one-third of their fuel to electricity, and waste bred by monopolization.  Those stratospheric rates were especially punishing to working families, those living on social security, and the poor.

The latest electricity rates from EIA for June 2012 show a great deal has changed for the better.  Start with that Pennsylvania's electricity rates are down about 6% from June 2011 to June 2012.  The drop in rates is a product of both fierce competition in the generation portion of the electricity bill as well as declining natural gas prices, new renewable generation in the regional power pool that is dampening wholesale market prices, and sharply increasing demand response and energy efficiency that moderates demand and in turn prices.

While lower gas prices, more renewable energy supply, and rising energy efficiency are downward pressure on wholesale market power prices across the country, only a minority of states have adopted a policy of retail generation competition and ending the generation monopoly. Electricity competition in Pennsylvania now has changed the state from one with electricity prices that were 15% above the national average to one with prices below the national average.

Pennsylvania's average electricity rate in June, 2012 of 9.91 cents was nearly 3% below the national average of 10.18 cents per kilowatt-hour.  No longer are electricity rates in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions anywhere near the ten highest in the nation but instead are close to or even below the national rate average residential rate of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Electricity prices for commercial customers in the Commonwealth are also well below the national average, making our economy more competitive and attractive to investment.

Electricity competition is delivering lower prices to Pennsylvanians, as this data confirm, and also renewable energy, energy conservation services, and a range of electricity pricing plans like Direct Energy's popular Free Power Day plan. Here is a case where today is much better than the bad old days of 1996!

PA Electricity Generation Scoreboard: Gas Up 39%; Coal Down 19%; Wind Up 12%; Hydro Down 19%

For most of the last 30 years, coal and nuclear power--the big two--dominated Pennsylvania's electricity generation fleet.  But, in 2012, major change arrived.  During the first 6 months of 2012, natural gas electricity rose another 39% to provide 25% of the Commonwealth's electricity.  The big two is now the big three.

As more electricity in the Commonwealth was generated with gas, less was produced from coal.  From January to June 2012, coal generation fell 19% but provides about 38% of the state's electricity, more than any other fuel, and similar to the 35% that coal generated nationally during the period.  (All data from or based on EIA's latest monthly report:

Nuclear power provides the second most electricity in the Commonwealth, and Pennsylvania ranks second, behind only Illinois, in nuclear electricity generation.  Nuclear plants here increased their output 5.7% in the first six months, generating roughly 35% of Pennsylvania's power, considerably more than the 20% nuclear produces nationally.

Pennsylvania's hydro generation fell 19% in the first 6 months, but the on-going, substantial Holtwood hydro project on the Susquehanna River will boost hydro production once completed.  Though hydro was down, wind increased 12%. Pennsylvania is also benefiting from a surge in new wind farms that are being constructed in 2012 and that will boost future wind generation totals.

Unlike wind and hydro that were up or down, biomass production in Pennsylvania was essentially stable. Landfill gas projects provide most of Pennsylvania's biomass power, and Pennsylvania is a national leader in capturing landfill methane and converting it to electricity.

As for solar, the EIA data also does not capture most of the 150 megawatts of solar generation in Pennsylvania, because it is behind the meter or distributed generation.  Recognizing the EIA solar data hole, renewables together provided about 3% of the electricity generated in Pennsylvania during the period, considerably less than the 13% all renewables generate nationally.

In summary, coal ranks first in Pennsylvania, nuclear second, gas third, and renewables fourth.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Philly Inquirer Bringing Curtain Down On Dimock Drama

In the shale wars, the Dimock battle has been described and watched around America and the world.  Reporters from Russia were dispatched to portray shale drilling environmental impacts that they hoped would convince Europe not to develop its shale resources, thereby cementing Putin's gas monopoly. Others from Canada, Britain, and across the USA journeyed to Dimock with varying agendas.  Dimock became a football, useful for scoring points, no matter that facts and the real story were mangled.

That is not the case, when Pennsylvania's biggest and most read newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a major story on Sunday.  Read this article for a good idea of the swirling controversy and the pain to lots of people on all sides that it caused. Hopefully, Andy Maykuth's article may serve as a near dropping of the curtain on the Dimock drama, and everyone there can get back to living quietly together.

Electricity Generation Scoreboard For Jan-June 2012: Gas Up 34%; Coal Down 19%; Hydro Down 14%; Wind Up 16%

The first 6 months of 2012 have been among the most eventful in the last 40 years of electricity generation statistics.  The pace and breadth of change is startling, with the big winners being natural gas, wind, and solar.

Compared to the same period in 2011, gas generation jumped 34% from January to June 2012.  By crashing the price of gas, shale gas production turned natural gas into a formidable competitor for electricity generation and gas supplied about 30% of America's electricity for the period.  All data is from EIA. See:

Gas gains came at the expense of coal generation that saw a 19.8% decline in the first 6 months of 2012.  During this period coal provided about 35% of all US electricity.

Last year was a huge year for hydro production because the heart of hydro country received substantial snow melt and precipitation.  The water flows are lower this year, and the result is a 14.3% decline in hydro electricity in the first half of 2012. 

How does the production of hydro compare to coal and gas?  Hydro generates about 22% as much electricity as coal and 26% as much power as gas.  Of course, in the Pacific Northwest, hydro is the dominant electric power source.

Renewables other than hydro are having a good 2012, climbing cumulatively 11%.  Wind generation is up 16% so far; solar thermal and PV is up 97% (and that does not include distributed solar production that is not included in the EIA data);  biomass is up 2.3%; and geothermal is essentially flat, up 0.2%.

The result of wind generation's continued growth and the fall of hydro production is that wind generation  produced 50% of the power that hydro did from January to June 2012.

All renewables together generated about 13% of America's electricity for the period, slightly less than it did in 2011, as a result of the large drop in hydro production.

To end this month's electric generation scoreboard, let's look at nuclear.  Nuclear production was essentially stable, up 0.3%, and still providing about 20% of America's electricity. 

What will the second-half of 2012 bring?  More of what it brought in the first-half of 2012! With natural gas prices now hovering around $2.75 for a thousand cubic feet, and with a large number of new wind and solar generation facilities coming on line, natural gas, wind, and solar will prosper in the July to December period.

PA In Gas Big Leagues But With Minor League Production Reporting

The latest gas production reporting data for the most recent 6-month period from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that Pennsylvania's gas production is Big League, but Pennsylvania's gas production reporting practices are minor league.  The result was another round of national criticism from investors, the public, and the media about Pennsylvania's transparency.

The root of the problem is that major gas states routinely report production data every month. Except for Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania reports every 6 months, because state statutes forbid more frequent reporting.  To be clear, monthly reporting is not an option for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.  Indeed, prior to 2010, reporting was even less frequent, but Pennsylvania's General Assembly changed the law to increase reporting frequency to every 6-months.

When Pennsylvania was in the minor leagues of gas production, not reporting data every month did not draw any attention.  But big production draws big attention.

Pennsylvania produced 783 billion cubic feet of gas from January to June 2012, an enormous number, and a 26% increase over the previous 6 months.

Times have changed.  The General Assembly needs to change the law to require monthly production reporting

Last week another source of criticism were snafus with the Chesapeake Energy data. The original data released last week did not include the production data of Chesapeake Energy that produced about 24% of the gas in the period.  No note was included by DEP to alert readers about the exclusion of the Chesapeake data.

Critics yelled about the absence of an alert to readers, even speculating about supposed ethical violations by DEP. That is hyperbolic and unnecessarily nasty. But next time that data is incomplete, a simple statement saying it is, and when data should be corrected, would head off avoidable bad publicity for Pennsylvania.

Friday, August 24, 2012

DOE Issues Major Natural Gas Life Cycle Study That Debunks Howarth & Boosts Carbon Capture and Storage For Gas

Perhaps this will be the stake through the vampire of the Howarth study and birth a serious push to develop carbon capture and storage technology.

The United States Department of Energy published yesterday a definitive comparative life cycle study entitled: "The Role of Alternative Energy Sources: Natural Gas Power Technology Assessment." The Report looks at the carbon, other air pollutants, land, and water impacts of natural gas and coal, as well as offering tantalizing cost numbers for CCS.  It debunks Howarth one more time and becomes the sixth study to reach diametrically different conclusions from Prof. Howarth.

Possibly more important to the future than more findings debunking Howarth are DOE's cost numbers for the deployment of gas plants equipped with CCS.  DOE puts the cost of such gas plants at 8.1 cents per kilowatt-hour. As recently as 2008, when the wholesale price of electricity was about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, 8-cents power would have been attractive.

The CCS cost analysis indicates that the cost of installing carbon capture and storage equipment on gas power plants may well be manageable and hints how natural gas could become a near-zero carbon fuel.  That would be a game changer, indeed.

Concerning issues manufactured by the Howarth study, DOE's finds that gas power plants, without CCS, emit less than half of the carbon of a coal plant on a full life cycle basis.  It concludes that gas emits less carbon, whether or not a 20-year or 100-year Global Warming Potential factor is used.

The IPCC uses a 100-year GWP.  Professor Howarth of course rejected the IPCC science and used a 20-year GWP as doing shifts results in the direction that Howarth wants.

DOE further finds that there is about a 1% difference in the carbon footprint of shale gas and conventional gas.  The DOE finding supports the conclusions of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University who also found negligible differences between carbon emissions from shale and conventional sources.  By contrast, Howarth alone found that shale gas was much dirtier than conventional gas.

Finally, DOE calculates the cost of gas-fired electricity to be 5.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, assuming a gas cost of $5 per thousand cubic feet.  That price is great news for consumers and the economy.

And to make matters even better, the cost of new wind generation (without subsidies) is today about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Low-cost gas and wind create a real competitive advantage for America in the global economy.

PA Gas Production Up 26%: Is that "Uptick" Or Robust Growth

Expectations shape how we see reality, and they are mighty big for Marcellus Shale gas.  Pennsylvania gas production grew 26% in the first half of 2012, compared to the last six months of 2011. How does that strike you?

Robust growth is how I would describe that 26% production jump, and impressive since natural gas prices tumbled during the last 12 months. But the Post-Gazette headline writer labels it an "uptick."

Perhaps uptick sticks, because the growth rate of production slowed from 40% to 26%. But were we talking about stocks, electric rates, or just about anything other than Pennsylvania gas production a 26% increase would be seen as a big jump, a shocking increase, or a boom.

Pennsylvania produced 793 billion cubic feet of gas in the first 6 months, up from 631 billion cubic feet in the second half of 2011, and on course to produce at least 1.6 trillion cubic feet for all of 2012. Pennsylvania production alone is likely to account for 8% of America's gas and the Marcellus region 10%.

Pennsylvania now is in the big time of gas production by any measure!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

All Eyes Will Be On Cabot & DEP As Fracking Resumes In Dimock

Hopefully this will not be a case of be careful of what you wish for.  Cabot has wished for permission to resume drilling and hydraulic fracturing in a 9-square mile area of Dimock Township, Pennsylvania.

Many local landowners who have lost income, because drilled wells have not been completed and new wells not drilled, also have supported Cabot's request to resume production activity.  Gas drilling revenues for landowners in these times can create a better life or even allow families to keep land and farms.

After more than 29 months of a moratorium on both drilling more gas wells and hyrdaulic fracturing within a 9 mile area, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is partially granting Cabot's wish by permitting the company to hydraulic fracture and complete 7 already drilled wells.

Tellingly, DEP is not yet allowing Cabot to drill new gas wells in the area. The gas migration issue in Dimock was a result of gas well design and cementing mistakes and not the hydraulic fracturing process.  No frack fluids or chemicals returned from depth, but thermogenic gas (not biogenic or naturally occurring) did migrate from some gas wells to 18 water wells.

Here are a few thoughts:

1. Eyes from around the world will be on Cabot and the Pennsylvania DEP as Cabot resumes fracking.  The company must operate excellently. 

2. DEP is moving in a measured way by first allowing only hydraulic fracturing, and not new drilling, and only after a substantial moratorium.

3. DEP's refusal to allow new gas wells to be drilled may reflect a desire to have a resumption of production activity done in steps and not more.  Or it may mean that DEP remains unconvinced that methane levels have been fully abated in all 18 water wells and that drilling new gas wells in that location remains inappropriate.  Time will tell.

Cabot's renewed production activity in Dimock will be intensely watched.  Indeed, the only production activity that will be under a more stronger microscope than Cabot's in Dimock will be the first New York Marcellus wells that may actually be drilled in 2013.  In both cases, the stakes are high for the gas industry, and operational excellence is an imperative.

UK Installs 50% of World Offshore Wind But High Cost Is Big Barrier In US

Offshore wind power so-far is a very British thing.  In the offshore wind race, Team GB has more than half-of-the medals, since the UK has installed 2,500 megawatts of the world's 4,600 megawatts, according to the Earth Policy Institute.  See  By comparison, global land based wind was about 233,500 megawatts at the end of 2011.

First deployed in 1991 in Denmark, wind is now operating in the waters of 12 nations, and its capacity has increased 6-times since 2006.  Of course, the rapid increase reflects the very small base from which it is growing.

The principal barrier to offshore wind development is cost and not the wind resource.  Ocean winds are among the best in the world, but costs for capturing that wind remain much greater than land wind farms.  Offshore wind in the USA costs about 18 to 22 cents per kilowatt-hour, when wind on land can be produced for 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Will the US begin producing offshore wind?  Major challenges to offshore wind development exist here, when compared to Europe or Asia. Though Hawaii is an exception, many parts of the coastal USA have lower electricity prices than found around the world and have access to large, substantially lower priced land wind resources.    Siting wind on land in the geographically small, heavily populated UK is much more difficult than doing so in Texas, Oregon, California, Washington, New York, all of which have good on-land wind resources.  The case for building offshore wind is much more difficult to make when land-based wind can be developed and a lower cost.

Despite the obstacles, at least three offshore US wind projects are in serious stages of development--the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts, a Rhode Island proposed project, and a wind farm off New Jersey.  Perhaps one of these three projects will become America's first, but offshore wind will face an uphill climb in the USA for many years to come, unless its costs fall considerably.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fossil Fuels Generation Market Share Declines From 82% to 68% In 42 Years

Coal, oil, gas--our fossil fuels--have been the backbone of the electric generation industry for decades.  And they remain dominant today, providing about 68% of our electric power, but times are changing.

The rise of nuclear power and renewable energy means that America has been slowly decreasing the share of electric generation coming from fossil fuels, during the last 42 years.  In 1970, fossil fuels generated 82% of our electricity.

The decline in the electricity generation market share of all fossil fuels conceals very different trends for coal, gas, and oil.  Indeed, the changes in market shares within fossil fuels is probably more important than the slow decline in the combined market share of all fossil fuels.

After supplying a bit more than 20% of America's electricity during the 1970s, oil has almost been eliminated as an electric generation fuel today.  It now provides 1% or less of our power.

As for coal, it generated 52% of our electricity in 2000, 48% in 2008, 42% in 2011, and is projected to generate about 37% this year.

While coal and oil have dropped significantly, natural gas has steadily increased the amount of electric generation it supplies.  In 1990, natural gas provided 12% of America's power, then 16% in 2000, and this year it has been above 30%.

The rise of gas did not come at the expense of nuclear or renewables.  Instead gas has been competing with coal and oil for electric generation market share.  Renewable energy now typically provides 13% or more of the nation's electric supply, and booming wind and solar generation are adding to the renewable energy market share.

The trend toward more gas and renewables in the US generation mix, with nuclear maintaining or slightly decreasing its market share, looks firm. The result of all those changing market shares will be a continuing slow decline in the electricity generation market share of all fossil fuels combined, but fossil fuels will provide 60% or more of America's total power for years ahead.

Finally, it is important to remember that the amount of electricity consumed is rising, going up more slowly than in the past, but still increasing approximately 1% per year nationally.  The electric generation market is growing.  A growing market means that fossil fuels can lose market share without reducing total combined production.

2012 Power Surge For Renewables In State Legislatures: NY Joins NJ & MA Passing Big Renewable Laws

Though attacks on renewable energy from the right in Congress are loud and frequent, renewable energy industries are finding love in state legislatures.  Just during the last 2 months, three states enacted important legislation that will trigger billions of dollars of investment in new renewable energy generation.

First New Jersey enacted a solar bill that will add about 3,000 megawatts of solar power in the next 4 years. That bill alone will cause about $10 billion or more of investment. A big deal, indeed! See:

Then Massachusetts boosted renewable energy investments by doubling its cap on net metering capacity and boosting the use by its utilities of long-term contracts to finance new renewable projects. See  Both changes will trigger substantial new renewable energy investments.

Last week New York jumped on the 2012 state renewable energy bandwagon by passing a package of 3 bills to boost solar. The bills include state tax credits for solar installations and exemptions from state sales taxes for the sale of solar equipment. New York currently has 7,500 solar projects and 121 megawatts of solar capacity, according to SEIA.

The 2012 legislative actions of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts will cumulatively add thousands of megawatts of renewable generation capacity in the short term. These pro-renewable energy state laws follow California's 2011 big increase to 33% for its renewable electricity requirement.  This surge of favorable legislation proves that reports of renewable energy's political demise are wrong, the product of wishful thinking by opponents of renewables.

Also proving wrong is the assertion by those attacking fracking that low-priced natural gas would sap political support for renewable energy.  In fact, Governor Brown of California states that low-priced gas has the opposite effect.  He argues cheap gas, by keeping electricity bills affordable, creates more political space to accelerate deployment of renewable energy in California!

Senator Reid boldly predicted a few weeks ago that the federal production tax credit for wind will be renewed either before or after the election.  Given the gains already made in state legislatures, if time proves Reid right, renewable energy will have had an excellent 2012 legislative year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Shale Gas Truths: IEA Head Delivers Bluntly Two Key Points In Houston

Valuable messages often make an entire audience uncomfortable at points.  I suspect Maria van der Hoeven, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, achieved that distinction in Houston last week.

First, she made some environmentalists squirm by saying that: "Natural gas in the power sector has caused emissions to fall rapidly.  And the shale gas revolution made this possible."  She added that coal would replace 75% of the gas now being used if fracking were banned, a fact of life but denied by more than a few.

She also said that concerns about fracking must be taken seriously and can stop gas development, unless they are properly addressed.  She made it clear that she felt the gas industry is not meeting this standard around the world.  Her exact words were: "There is a very real possibility that public opposition to drilling for shale gas will stop the unconventional gas revolution and fracking in its tracks."

The wise within the environmental community and the natural gas industry would act on the words of Maria van der Hoeven.

US Is Moving Beyond Oil: The Most Important Emerging Energy Trend

Few predicted that natural gas would rapidly displace coal to generate electricity, as it has since 2008.
While it is not quite a case of history repeating itself, another enormous energy transition is now underway.

The US is moving beyond oil, though oil currently provides more of our total energy than any other fuel.  US oil demand peaked in 2007, and this July fell back to July 1995 levels.

The transition from oil to other fuels is essentially complete in the electricity generation sector.  Burning oil to make electricity generated a bit more than 20% of US electricity supply from 1972 to 1978.  The significant reliance on oil to make electricity meant that oil price shocks triggered sharp electric rate increases too.  Oil shocks really were broad energy shocks that created both inflation and recession or infamous stagflation.

After 40 years of building new nuclear plants, new coal plants, new natural gas plants, and recently substantial renewable energy generation, today less than 1% of our nation's electricity comes from oil, and Hawaii is the only state whose electricity sector is dependent on oil.  As a result, oil price shocks now have essentially no impact on our electricity prices, outside of Hawaii, where residential electricity rates are more than 30 cents per kilowatt-hour or three times the national average.

The US move beyond oil is now spreading from the electricity sector to the space heating, industrial, and transportation sectors.  The transition is being driven by sustained world oil prices above $100 per barrel and gasoline prices above $3 per gallon.  Policy initiatives promoting biofuels, natural gas and electric vehicles, and rising fuel efficiency for vehicles are adding to the market pressure to get off expensive oil.

The combination of high market prices for oil and increasing federal and state policy initiatives to substitute other fuels for oil and to raise the efficiency of oil use are moving the US beyond oil.  The shale gas boom adds new momentum to substituting natural gas for oil for transportation and could become another major cause of declining US oil consumption.

Unless oil pricing drops to about $70 per barrel or lower and remains at such low levels for years, an unlikely scenario, the trend away from oil will gather momentum.  That is exceptionally good news for the US economy and environment.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Stunning Fact: US Oil Demand In July Drops To 1995 Level

US GDP has never been bigger, but US oil demand this July dropped to July 1995 levels.  Stunning!

For the first 7 months of 2012 dropped 2.3%, compared to the same period in 2011.  Oil consumption in July 2012 was 18.062 barrels per day--matching July 1995 levels.

Sustained gasoline prices above $3 per gallon are pushing down US oil demand, with gasoline demand in July falling 3.8%, compared to last year.  Gasoline demand is back to 1997 levels. Interestingly, total oil demand has fallen more than gasoline consumption, though both have fallen considerably.

The reduction in oil demand is not a function of a smaller economy.  In fact, US GDP was 66% higher in 2011 than in 1990.  GDP has grown still further in the first two quarters of 2012. Indeed, US GDP has increased every quarter since July 1, 2009 and  more than recovered the declines experienced in 2008 through the first half of 2009.

So since a smaller GDP does not explain falling US oil consumption, what does?

The main factors leading to declining US oil consumption are increased efficiency in use of oil, especially rising fuel efficiency of new vehicles, and rising substitutes for oil like biofuels, natural gas, and electricity.  All that adds up to the US moving beyond oil.  More on this key trend in a coming post.

Warning Fact: July Marks 4th Straight Month PA Has Lost Jobs Even As Jobs Increase Nationally

To repeat one more time, the gas development boom by itself cannot bring prosperity to all of Pennsylvania.
The July jobs report was one more piece of proof for this fact and was ugly reading for Pennsylvanians.

Pennsylvania lost jobs again in July, even as 163,000 new jobs were created nationally. July was the fourth month in a row that Pennsylvania has lost jobs.  Unemployment increased 0.3% to 7.9%.  Why is Pennsylvania losing jobs becomes the question?

Since March, America has created jobs every month and a total of 547,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  But since March, Pennsylvania has lost jobs every month, losing a total of 19,100 jobs.

The stark fact is that Pennsylvania is losing jobs, even as the national economy increases them. Pennsylvania's jobs troubles are not caused by the national economy that is creating jobs every month.

And the Commonwealth's poor performance matters to the national economy. If Pennsylvania had created 22,000 jobs, instead of losing 19,100 jobs since March, America would have nearly 600,000 more jobs as of the end of July.

Pennsylvania's economy is big and diverse with health care, education, agriculture, manufacturing, and energy among its leaders.  State budget and policy decisions impacts this diverse economy and especially the huge sectors of health care and education.

As a result of choices made in state budgets, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in education alone, and each lost jobs there ripples through the economy, destroying more jobs in sectors like restaurants, recreation, and retail. Pennsylvania has failed to address transportation funding, and that has meant transportation investments--big jobs producer--is lagging.  Programs to spur investment in water and sewer infrastructure, clean energy, and environmental remediation have not been renewed.  All that adds up and explains why Pennsylvania is losing jobs, even as America creates hundreds of thousands.

Moreover, Pennsylvania must have an economic development strategy that builds on gas development but does not rely on it to create prosperity for the whole state.  Right now, Pennsylvania does not have such an economic development vision and plan.

Pennsylvania must have policies that encourage energy development--not simply gas development.  Energy efficiency, wind, solar, hydro, biomass, nuclear uprates, biodiesel, carbon capture projects, and alternative transportation fueling stations are all big opportunities to create jobs and improve our environment.

Pennsylvania was a leader in creating jobs in 2010 and now is a leader in losing jobs. We were doing much better and can do better again if we make smart investments and decisions.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Global Distributed Renewable Generation To Build 232,000 Megawatts In Next 6 Years

A major advantage for renewable energy is its flexibility.  It can be utility scale or power a single home. It can be a big distant power producer or very local.

Mega wind and solar farms capture most interest, but distributed renewable energy systems are today a big business amounting to about 20,000 megawatts of global installations per year, booming in the USA and around the world.  And distributed renewable energy's growth has just begun.

Pike Research projects that annual new distributed renewable generation will triple by 2017, when it reaches more than 63,500 megawatts, and an incredible 232,000 megawatts of new distributed renewable generation will be installed around the world from 2012 to 2017.

A analyst for Pike states: "In a growing number of cases around the world, renewable distributed generation technologies are more cost-effective than centralized installations that require transmission."  That is fundamentally why the shale gas revolution will not kill renewables and why both gas and renewables will grow rapidly over the next 20 years.

Pike concludes that solar will account for 210,000 megawatts of the 232,000 megawatts that will be installed.  Solar modules cost $4 per watt in 2006 and now cost $1 per watt, according to Pike Research.

Good times ahead for distributed renewable energy and natural gas.

Solar Leasing Dominating Booming Distributed Energy Markets With Guaranteed Savings

The financial crisis of  2008 that cratered the US economy justifiably causes a cynical reaction to the claim that financial innovation can boost growth.  But suspend disbelief for a moment.

Massive declines in the cost of solar panels--from $4 per watt to $1 per watt--attracted entrepreneurs to the solar installation business.  Now the retail end of the solar industry--where solar panels are sold to homeowners and businesses--is becoming as innovative as solar manufacturing and is driving solar growth.   

Entrepreneurial excellence in retailing the panels has birthed the solar lease, a financial tool that is still just 5 years old, and subject of a major article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine on August 11.

The solar lease has the system installer own the panels, while the retail customers provide roof space.  Homeowners and businesses signing solar leases get guaranteed power bill savings--typically 10% or more off their current bill, even after they pay a lease payment to the solar company.  No upfront costs, no capital to recover, no payback period calculations but guaranteed power bill savings from day one for the retail customer.  And no worries about "owning" a solar system.

This business model is proving attractive to both homeowners and sources of capital like Bank of America and Barclays that are providing hundreds of millions of dollars to finance solar leasing arrangements.  The result of this entrepreneurship is more solar growth.

Solar leasing, that had none of the market 5 years ago, now constitutes 63% and 80% of the California and Colorado distributed solar markets.  In turn, the distributed solar market, where solar systems compete against the full bundled electricity rate, and not the wholesale generation price, is booming.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shale Gas, Efficiency, & Renewables Break The Link Between Rising Carbon Pollution & GDP Growth

The once tight link between carbon emissions and economic growth in the USA is breaking.  Consider that since 1990 US GDP has grown 66%, but energy related carbon emissions have increased just 9%.  While the link has been weakening year after year, as the carbon intensity of the US economy lessens, it completely broke in 2011.

Last year, US GDP increased 1.8% but carbon emissions fell 2.4%, according to the official 2011 EIA data.    The carbon intensity, a measure of how much carbon is required to produce each dollar of GDP, declined 4.2%.

From 1990 to 2011, in those 22 years, carbon intensity has been steadily declining, but only 6 years saw carbon emission decreases--1991, 2001, 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2011.

Importantly, five of the 6 years with carbon decreases have taken place in the last 11 years. Four of the 6 years, however, were recessionary--1991, 2001, 2008, and 2009.

Two years--2006 and 2011--were non-recession years when GDP grew and carbon emissions fell.  Almost certainly 2012 will become the third year when GDP grew and carbon pollution fell.  What explains rising GDP and falling carbon emissions?

More natural gas, renewable energy, and energy efficiency are breaking the link between GDP growth and carbon pollution. What would completely shatter the link would be economic carbon capture and storage technology.  Developing such technology should be a top priority for research and development in the USA and around the world.

Moratorium Hits 9 Nuclear Plants Seeking Relicensing: What Does It Mean?

It's not a fracking moratorium.  It's a relicensing moratorium for 9 nukes and perhaps more!  It's time to pay attention to a judicial order placing a moratorium on the relicensing of nuclear plants and its possible implications.

About 20% of America's power comes from its nuclear plants, but many of those plants are approaching the end of their 40-year original operating license. Until recently, relicensing a nuclear plant was a long process, but one that almost always ended with the issuance of relicense for many more years of operation.

Siding with New York, three other states and environmental litigants, a federal court, however, has thrown out key waste storage standards used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the relicensing process. The court found that the NRC had not appropriately considered possible environmental impacts of storing waste semi-permanently at the sites of nuclear plants.

New York is pressing this litigation as part of its effort to force the closure of the two nuclear units at Indian Point.  Both units original operating licenses expire in 2013 and 2015.  At this point, the risks just jumped that a new license will not be issued by 2013 and so one of the two nuclear units at Indian Point may indeed at least temporarily be forced to stop operating.  Here is why.

In response to the court's ruling, the NRC has stated that it will allow relicensing proceedings to continue but not issue final orders granting relicenses, until it puts in place new regulatory standards or practices to respond to the court's ruling.   Meeting the requirements of the court's ruling may well take considerable time.

Long-term storage of highly radioactive materials at nuclear plants was never supposed to occur, when the plants began operation.  Instead the nuclear industry and the US government planned on moving nuclear waste from around the country to a central permanent repository.  Yucca Mountain, Nevada was selected more than a decade ago as that site.  But enormous opposition within Nevada and major engineering and environmental challenges at the site have meant that Yucca Mountain or any other permanent repository is likely still a decade or more away from opening.

Now judicial patience with the absence of a permanent repository and continued storage of waste at nuclear plants has worn thin.  Hence the moratorium on further relicensing of nuclear plants without more study done by the NRC to support the safety of storing waste at nuclear sites.

What does this mean for power generation and markets?  Right now 9 plants seeking relicensing face more uncertainty about getting new licenses.  Those 9 plants represent a little less than 10% of America's nuclear fleet and about 2% of the nation's electric generation.

Those numbers are significant but do not capture the importance of each nuclear plant to regional power markets and grid operations.  Nuclear units, like those at Indian Point, can be big fish in a small pond, and their shutdown can  pose challenges to grid operations.  They run at 95% capacity factors and have low-production costs (though hugh construction costs).  They bid zero into wholesale markets to insure that they dispatch and so put downward pressure on wholesale market prices, benefitting consumers.

Nuclear plants also emit essentially no air pollution, and their shutdown almost always leads to higher amounts of carbon and other air pollutants.  That is the case in Germany and in Japan, where large numbers of nuclear plants have been either temporarily of permanently taken off line.

The fact that currently 9 nuclear plants--and possibly more--face relicensing issues that could force even a temporary halt to operations is a real worry.  This possibility highlights how existing nuclear units benefit our economy, climate, and air quality and the continuing failure to solve permanently the nuclear waste issue.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Please, Please Let A Settlement End The Cabot-Dimock Litigation

Laura Legere reports that Cabot and 32 of 36 families in Dimock that sued the company for contaminating their water wells are nearing a settlement. See:

Please, please let a settlement end the Cabot-Dimock litigation.  It's time and would be good for all involved.

To recap, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found in 2009-2010 that gas drilling mistakes caused gas to migrate to and contaminate 18 water wells.  Substantial testing by DEP also found that fracking fluids had not contaminated the aquifer or water wells.  EPA testing in 2011 and 2012 confirmed that fracking fluids or chemicals had not contaminated water wells.

To remedy the documented gas migration problem at 18 water wells, DEP ordered the plugging and repair of suspect gas wells, stopped issued drilling permits in a zone where gas had migrated, fined Cabot cumulatively more than $1.3 million, and ordered compensation in the amount of $4.1 million be paid through escrow accounts to the 18 families.  The average payment was $201,000 and was valued at two times the property value of the home.

Of those 18 families for whom escrow accounts were established, 7 received the payments and 11 chose not to take the payments, while continuing litigation.

The lessons from this case are numerous for regulators, companies, landowners, and environmental organizations, but the most important is the importance of excellence in cementing and gas well design to prevent gas migration.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Drill For Gas Or Drain Lakes: The Choice Facing PA Fish & Boat Commission

Drill for gas in public recreation areas or drain lakes is the choice confronting John Arway.

John Arway, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, loves fish, fishing and boating.  He is a true conservationist, values the outdoors, and is an excellent public servant.

In short, John is the perfect person to wrestle with imperfect choices about what to do with 19 of 56 dams owned by the PFBC that have been designated High Hazard.  High Hazard is an official Department of Environmental Protection designation, made after careful inspection, meaning that a dam has maintenance issues and a dam failure would threaten life and property.  Inspecting private and public dams across Pennsylvania is just one of many vital duties entrusted to DEP.

DEP orders the draining of lakes, when repairs to dams needed to protect public safety are not made.  Such orders are tragic and can damage local communities and economies by destroying a recreation asset that brings joy and business to an area.  Draining a lake is not a good option but sometimes there is no other choice.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports the bill for fixing all 19 PFBC High Hazard dams is $46.5 million.  This probably does not shock you, but PFBC does not have the money. Fishing and boating licenses would skyrocket, were they priced to include such expenses. Also other state programs like the excellent Growing Greener 2 program that fixed some dams have exhausted funding.

But gas under PFBC lakes and the Marcellus Shale boom provide the PFBC a way to raise substantial funds that could repair dams and avoid draining more and more lakes. That option is entering into a gas drilling lease to allow the production of gas under PFBC lakes and other property.

Lease and royalty income from the gas drilling actually offers PFBC a means to finance dam repairs.  Of course, gas drilling is not without impacts, especially during the first year of intensive well development.  Yet, strong leases and horizontal drilling can reduce risks and increase benefits.  In fact, horizontal drilling can allow gas to be produced from under lakes, without requiring surface disturbance of PFBC property.

I am sure that John Arway would prefer not drilling under lakes for which he is the steward.  He surely wishes he had a means to pay for vital repairs other than drilling.  But when the choice is between draining lakes and drilling for gas, drilling for gas looks pretty good.

Massachusetts Doubles Net Metering Cap & Long-Term Renewable Contracts

Broad public support for increasing the amount of electricity coming from renewable energy is turning into new law in states.  Following the footsteps of New Jersey and Governor Christie who signed in July a major solar bill, Massachusetts just enacted provisions boosting new renewable energy power facilities. See: Also see:

The new legislation increases to 7% the amount of renewable energy that utilities must purchase through long-term contracts and doubles the cap on the amount of on-site generation that can qualify for net metering.  Massachusetts had limited net metering to 3% of a utility's peak demand but raised that to 6%.  The boom in on-site generation, especially solar systems, had meant that the original 3% cap had been reached this year in some areas.

Raising the long-term purchase requirement from 3% to 7% will also insure a significant amount of new renewable generation capacity will receive financing and thus get built.  The long-term contract increase combined with doubling the net metering cap means substantial new investment and renewable energy business activity in Massachusetts during the next few years.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

China Gets Cracking on Fracking: The Best Environmental News Of The Year?

The start of fracking in China could well be the best environmental news of the year.  Here is why.

China sits on natural gas reserves that are estimated to be 50% higher than the massive gas reserves in the USA. Despite this gargantuan gas resource, coal provides China 80% of its electricity, compared to 34% in the USA, as of May 2012.  Why the difference?

The shale gas boom that is now more than 10 years long in the USA is just getting started in China and so the Chinese remain heavily reliant on coal to make electricity and for their total energy.  Around the world, the basic energy choice is coal or gas.  China is just the biggest example of this fundamental fact.

China's reliance on coal means that its economic growth brings skyrocketing carbon emissions and other air pollution.  Indeed, Chinese air quality is infamous around the world, and smog has been so thick that Beijing airport has been unable to land planes for short periods.

As of 2011, China was responsible for 29% of the world's carbon emissions, while the US produced 16%, even though the US economy is still considerably bigger than China's.  Moreover, US carbon emissions are declining to 1992 levels, but China's emissions skyrocket.

Though China is building substantial new wind, solar, and nuclear generation, those investments are not enough to cut Chinese coal consumption, given economic growth that is still 7% in what some describe as an economic slowdown.  Shale gas, however, could be big enough to actually displace significant amounts of coal in China.

More gas in China means less mercury, soot. lead, smog, and carbon emissions.  China's energy plans call for shale gas to provide 6% of its total energy as soon as 2020.  If it achieves that goal, China will avoid more than 500 million tons of carbon pollution per year or about 1.5% of today's total carbon emissions.

For the sake of the world's climate, China needs to get cracking on fracking!

Texas Wind Bolts Past 10,000 Megawatts Mark & Interconnection Requests Top 31,480 Megawatts

The Texas wind boom ranks among America's most remarkable energy stories.  As of June 30, Texas had 10,035 megawatts of wind operating and will have 11,955 megawatts by the end of 2012.  About 20% of all US wind power is located in the Lone Star state.

Those are phenomenal numbers and will push wind close to providing 10% of all of Texas's electricity.  Ten years ago, only a few would have believed that wind could become the energy colossus it is today in Texas.

But what has happened so far looks like just a start of Texas's wind future.  In the formal interconnection process is another 31,480 megawatts of wind generation. Just amazing.

By comparison to wind, in the interconnection queues are 12,399 megawatts of new gas, 3,875 megawatts of coal, and 1,189 megawatts of solar.  The solar number includes utility scale projects and typically not distributed, on-site solar systems that can comprise 50% or more of total solar construction.

No doubt a substantial portion of all the proposed generation in the interconnection queue, including the wind projects, will not make it to operations.  But even if about 80% of the proposed wind farms are not constructed, Texas could add another 6,000 to 8,000 megawatts of wind and hit the 20,000 megawatts mark.

In fact, that is going to happen and sooner than later.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Stunning Fact: Wholesale On Peak Electricity Prices Plummet 24% to 39%--Thank Gas & Renewables

Low gas prices, warm weather during heating months, and booming wind production all pushed down wholesale electricity generation prices across America once again.

Already low in 2011, America's wholesale on-peak electricity prices plummeted 24% to 39% in the January-June 2012, compared to the same 6 months of 2011. This most recent price plummet is truly astonishing.

Off-peak prices were also down but showed much bigger drops east of the Mississippi River.  Off-peak prices actually climbed 10% in California (as a result of nuclear plant shutdowns), while dropping 42% in New York.

The power price collapse even reached Texas, where a shortage of peak capacity has caused repeated reliability stresses during the last 18 months.  Texas on-peak prices were down 30% and off-peak prices  down 4%.  Texas off-peak wholesale prices averaged just 1.85 cents per kilowatt-hour, a true bargain.

Impressively Texas' on-peak and off-peak electricity prices are below those in the huge PJM market, below those in New England Market, and below those in the Midwest or MiSo market.  Texas' off-peak price was even below the off-peak price in Southern market. Why?

Wind is part of the answer. Texas' on-peak and off-peak power prices would be much higher without 10,000 megawatts of installed wind power that bids zero and takes whatever prices at which the wholesale market clears.  Indeed, regions that reach the milestone of 10% of their power coming from wind will put substantial downward pressure on their wholesale electricity generation prices.

In fact, the nation's 50,000 megawatts of wind and its substantial hydro generation, both zero fuel cost power sources that bid zero into markets, are concentrated West of the Mississippi river, exactly where the nation's lowest wholesale generation prices are located.

S&P 500 Up 74% Since January 2009: The Fact That May Re-elect The President

Polls conflict. Rasmussen finds Governor Romney will be the next President.  Gallup concludes the race is tied. But 3 polls (Fox, CNN, Reuters) found last week that the President was opening a 7 to 9 point lead.

While polling conflicts, US stock markets stopped collapsing and started rocketing up within weeks of the President's inauguration. And that's when Fox News stopped showing graphics of stock prices going down as the President spoke at events (a favorite technique of the network right after the November 2008 election).

As of friday, the S&P 500 was up 74% since the day President Obama was inaugurated in 2009 and 12% so far in 2012. See  If the President is re-elected, look no further than the Obama-Bernanke stock boom for why.

Wall Street Journal editorial page, conservative, and Romney campaign silence about the stock boom on President's watch is not surprising.  After all, it is a market judgment that rebuts Republican claims that the President's policies are not working and exactly opposite of what they said stocks would do.

The near complete silence about the stock boom from Democrats, however, is becoming strange.  Undoubtedly, the Obama team is wary of pointing to the great increase in stock wealth, because markets can turn quickly and for reasons that a President does not control fully. For example, since 2010, European austerity policies threaten a Euro meltdown and repeatedly put downward pressure on US stock prices.

But despite these external shocks, US stock markets keep rising.  Like gasoline prices, stock gains or losses shape powerfully political mood and thinking.

Tens of millions of Americans with direct stock holdings or members of pension systems who fearfully watched their wealth vanish from 2007 to March, 2009, today open their investment reports and smile. The cause of those smiles remains one of the most powerful underpinnings of the President's support, even if the stock market boom during the President's term is in a cone of silence.

No President in his first term, since Dwight Eisenhower, has had a bigger increase in stock prices than President Obama. As the election nears and the risk lessens of a market downturn prior to the election, expect President Obama to point to the boom in equities as a market validation of his economic policies.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Stunning Fact: Nation's Toxic Air Pollution Drops 19% In 2010 & Bigger Reductions Ahead

Using more natural gas to make electricity and installing modern pollution controls on more coal plants slashed by 19% the nation's toxic air pollution in 2010, according to a new report from NRDC. See  Kudos to NRDC for putting together the data.

To make the news better, the 2010 data are no fluke.  Even bigger reductions have happened in the last 19 months than took place in 2010. 

In 2011 and 2012, the combination of using still more gas to make electricity, that emits essentially zero toxic air pollutants, and installing pollution controls at still more coal plants will slash toxic air emissions by about another 30% or more.

The shale gas revolution has environmental challenges.  But it has enormous clean air and public health benefits too that this NRDC report documents.

The benefits of reducing substantially and quickly toxic air pollutants will be particularly big in Pennsylvania that has had through most of its history high amounts of toxic air pollution.  Gas and modern pollution controls are ending those days and turning the page to a better environment and economy.

Gas & Wind Perfect Together: Wind Is Good Hedge Of Gas Price Volatility

The case for gas and wind being perfect together is growing.  It has been long understood that gas turbines provide spinning reserves to all  grids, able to quickly produce power to replace unexpected losses of generation from a nuclear plant shutting down or wind dropping. This ability of gas to back up grids is especially important for wind, since wind's success means it already provides 10% of all electricity in 7 states.

And now Lisa Huber has a must read analysis that shows how wind can address the volatility of gas pricing, gas's single greatest weakness as a fuel to make electricity.  Huber's analysis is available through this link:

"Ben Franklin said there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. To that, I would add the price volatility of natural gas," so said Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy and quoted by Huber.  

Jim Rogers is far from alone among power company chieftains in expressing concern, even fear of the volatility of gas pricing.  For example, Southern Company's CEO also has expressed repeatedly this year grave concerns about the current dash to gas because of the volatility of natural gas prices.

Indeed, many power companies that consume large amounts of gas pay to hedge the risks of gas pricing, though the hedges almost never go beyond 10 years. Entitled "Utility-Scale Wind and Natural Gas Volatility: Uncovering the Hedge Value of Wind for Utilities and their Customers," Huber's full paper documents how regulated utilities who purchase huge volumes of gas have paid 91 cents per thousand cubic feet to more than $2 per thousand cubic feet to hedge the volatility risk of natural gas. These hedging charges are passed through to gas consumers in regulated bills.

The paper also describes how wind (no fuel price risk and zero price volatility) can hedge the volatility risks of using gas.  Huber demonstrates how an accuarate calculation of the economics of wind and gas generation must include the gas hedging costs paid by large users of gas. With hedging costs for gas purchases included, wind and gas are often equally economic choices, according to Huber's paper.

None of this means that gas is a bad energy option but makes the point that both gas and wind have strengths. The US should use more of both. Indeed, using both in tandem produces real synergies, making them better together than apart.

Dueling Videos of Drilling Air Emissions: CBF versus EID

Last year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released a video taken with an infrared camera, purporting to show toxic pollution and methane streaming from gas production facilities in Pennsylvania.  Here's the video:

Most of the public seeing the video probably found it dramatic, worrying, and possibly convincing.  They likely were impressed by the professor from a prestigious university whom CBF asked to analyze the video.

Now many months later, Energy In Depth has released a rebuttal video.  See the video here:  To analyze the CBF video, EID's video expert presents a starkly different version of what the CBF video shows.  He says that the emissions are engine exhausts and not hydrocarbons and methane being vented.

I encourage you to watch both videos which are short.

After doing so, the question becomes, what to make of the competing videos?  Here's 3 lessons that I would offer:

1. If you want real facts, never jump to conclusions when one side presents its version.  The never-jump-to-conclusion rule is especially important, when video evidence is presented, since there is a tendency to find videos compelling.  This problem is similar to the fact of life in a courtroom that eyewitness testimony tends to be the most convincing to jurors and to have the highest probability of being wrong.

2. Interpretation of videos is critically important.  What you think you see may not be real or right or the facts.  Watch out for editing too that often changes the real meaning of interviews or information.

3. Choice of experts matters. CBF likes Professor Howarth, who at the least is controversial.  CBF has done a puff piece in his support so CBF is certainly aware that professor Howarth is crusading to shutdown the shale gas industry. Further CBF must know that Howarth's notorious study claiming shale gas is as dirty as coal has been debunked by 5 other university and environmental organization research teams. Colleagues of Howarth at Cornell too have issued a scathing paper, debunking his work.  Finally, does Professor Howarth's faculty position make him an expert in interpreting these video images?

CBF can do better than Professor Howarth and possibly right at Cornell.

No matter what one thinks of the dueling videos, I do agree with CBF, when it responded to the EID video, by partly saying that the real issue is not its now challenged video, but instead controlling air emissions caused by gas production.

On air emissions from gas production, the good news is that the EPA enacted in April important new rules that will slash methane and other emissions from gas production.  Even Professor Howarth conceded that much.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

July Sets US Temperature Record & Talking Point of Climate Deniers Evaporates

This July certainly rewrote the temperature record books. Since temperature records were begun in the 19th century, July was the hottest month ever, part of the hottest first 7 months of a year, and part of the hottest last 12 months.  This July temperatures was an extraordinary 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit about the 20th century average.  A devastating drought also grips 63% of our land.

One good thing that may come from July being the hottest month ever could be that George Will and other climate change deniers can no longer use July 1936 as a talking point.  George and his friends could be counted on to say something like: "climate change is not real, because it was hotter in July 1936."   

They may keep saying such things, but that part of their case will not be factually accurate any more.  Indeed, close to nothing in the denier case is factually accurate.

2012 New Generation Scoreboard: 42% Gas; 38% Renewables; & 16% coal

At the mid-way point of 2012, America is on course to have a good year building new electricity generation, and natural gas and renewable energy are dominating the new generation market, according to the excellent monthly Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Infrastructure Report.

From January to June 2012, America installed 8,656 megawatts of new generation that must report to FERC and natural gas and renewable energy accounted for 42% and 38% respectively of the total. FERC reports 1,600 megawatts of new coal plants began operation too or about 16% of the total.  By the end of 2012, when all new generation is added up, America will have built about 20,000 megawatts of new power facilities.

The FERC total number for new generation is actually low, because it does not include the considerable amount of distributed generation--mainly solar, small wind, and fuel cells-- that is built on roofs and at premises of companies and homes. Such on-site power often does not need to report its construction or operation to FERC. And it adds up, reaching possibly 1,500 to 2,000 megawatts this year.

Renewable energy continues to prosper, even though lower wholesale electricity pricing, caused substantially by lower gas prices, makes more difficult financing new generation of all sorts, including paradoxically natural gas plants.  Even in the age of low gas prices, renewables are doing well partially because in their distributed, on-site form they compete against the full bundled electricity pricing--generation, transmission, and distribution.  While the wholesale price of electric generation is 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, the full bundled rate for residential customers averages 11 cents nationally and is as high as 34 cents in Hawaii.

Other advantages for renewable energy generation include strong policy support for them in most states, substantially declining costs, and lower siting and permitting hurdles to clear.  A major reason that renewable energy power facilities are easier to site is that they typically use and discharge no water and emit no air emissions.

Of course, there are more than a few exceptions to this general rule that renewable energy is easier to site, but virtually any nuclear, coal, or even natural gas developer would gladly trade their development headaches for those of a wind farm or solar developer.

The Politics Of Wind: 81% of Wind Power In Republican Congressional Districts

Ten years ago wind power was not on the political or energy radar screens of the nation.  Today that has all changed.

Wind will have installed more than 55,000 megawatts by the end of 2012 and produce nearly 4% of America's electricity.  The last 4-years registered average growth of 7,500 megawatts per year, an annual market valued at about $15 billion, and even more this year.

 The wind industry has grown up, employs about 70,000 people, and has some built political muscles too.  And it will need to flex those muscles, because wind's growth puts it on the radar screen and drawn attacks.

In terms of political strength, wind power is not the oil and gas industries, but it just may be stronger than the far from weak nuclear industry.  Wind's strength is rooted in the turbines, leases, tax payments, manufacturers, and vendors that are spread across America.  Turning turbines all across America mean that the days are long gone, when environmentalists stood alone in urging favorable policies for wind.

Indeed, a remarkable 74% of Republican congressional districts have a wind farm or wind manufacturing facility, and 81% of wind power is located in Republican districts. These local facts on the ground insure that wind power like all forms of energy enjoys supporters in both parties.

In Iowa, a key swing state in the Presidential election that gets 20% of its power from wind, the maxim that all politics is local means that the wind energy issue has caused state Republicans--Governor Branstad, Senator Grassley, and the entire Iowa Congressional delegation--to sharply disagree with Romney's plan to end the wind tax credit. Or is it his plan?

Governor Romney was in Iowa yesterday, saying warm and fuzzy things about wind once more.  The Governor embraced wind during the Iowa primary, touring a wind manufacturing company there, signing a wind blade.  After Iowa, he jumped on the "Solyndra" anti-green energy, right wing bandwagon that includes the anti-wind production tax credit position.  Today who knows where he will be. Notably, as a result of the production tax credit issue, a couple of top Iowa Republican wind energy businessmen have been campaigning for the President across Iowa.

Attacking wind now has political risks that include losing the support of owners of businesses, workers, landowners with leases or who want to have a wind lease, and local governments that receive significant tax revenues.  That democratic feedback process impacts both parties.

The bi-partisan strength of wind energy surfaced last week, when a key senate committee passed an extension of the wind production tax credit by a strong 19-5 vote.  And just this week, Harry Reid decleared that he was confident that the production tax credit would be extended by the end of the year and even possibly before the election. 

The politics of wind have never been more interesting or blowing harder.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wind Power Races Past 50,000 Megawatts Milestone: Bolt-like Growth

America's wind industry raced past in July the 50,000 megawatts milestone, a truly substantial accomplishment.  And its growth since 2003 has been nearly as fast as Usain Bolt.

Just consider these remarkable facts.  From 1981 to 2003, a total of 5,000 megawatts of wind was installed in the USA for an average of less than 250 megawatts installed per year over a 22-year period.  Snail-like growth.

But then the Bolt wind growth era began in 2003. 

From 2003-2006, wind capacity jumped from 5,000 megawatts to 10,000 and then exploded to 25,000 megawatts by 2008.  The US wind industry added 20,000 megawatts in 5 years from 2003 to 2008 or 4,000 megawatts per year.

But the wind boom really has picked up speed since 2008.  In the last 4 years, the US has crossed the 50,000 megawatts milestone and likely will end 2012 with more than 55,000 megawatts of wind operating.

In short, wind power will have more than doubled since 2008, adding approximately 30,000 megawatts or 7,500 megawatts per year.  Bolt-like growth, indeed, and it took place, while the shale gas boom shattered natural gas and wholesale electricity prices.

New UT Study Finds Association Between Earthquakes & Deep Well Injection: All States Should Follow Ohio's Lead In Strengthening Regulation

A main purpose of this blog is to separate the real environmental impacts caused by gas drilling from demagogic attacks and to compare the strengths and weaknesses of natural gas to all our other energy choices.  In the category of genuine environmental issues posed by gas production, put the siting of deep well injection facilities to dispose of drilling wastewater.

Indeed, the evidence is growing that injecting fluids deep underground can cause earthquakes.  The latest study was done by University of Texas researcher Cliff Frohlich and focused on disposal wells in the Barnett Shale from 2009 to 2011.  Frolich's study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using seismic monitoring equipment, Frolich identified a series of earthquakes, many too small to feel at the surface, that he concluded were associated with the disposal of drilling wastewater in the area. Frolich's work builds on other research and experience.  For example, data from Arkansas and Ohio were sufficient to convince regulators there to close a small number of drilling waster water disposal wells.

To be clear, Frolich found that hydraulic fracturing itself was not causing the earthquakes he measured and recorded.  Instead the seismic activity was associated with the permanent disposal of drilling wastewater deep underground in certain locations.

America has approximately 144,000 injection wells, where fluids are permanently disposed.  Of that total, Pennsylvania has less than 10.

In Pennsylvania the Environmental Protection Agency administers the basic permit required to operate an injection well, but EPA has delegated this responsibility and authority to most states so that state agencies generally regulate injection wells.

Given that the seismicity risk associated with injecting fluids underground is sufficiently documented, regulators, industry, and the public should review siting regulations for these facilities.  That is what Ohio's state officials exactly did after the Youngstown earthquake.  And after the review, Ohio tightened regulations on deep well injection siting.

All states would be well advised to follow Ohio's example.

Apple Becomes A Power Company: See Pictures of Apple's Massive Solar & Fuel Cell Systems

With its laptops, iPads, and smart phones, Apple played a crucial role in decentralizing data computation and communication. Now Apple is boosting decentralization of the power grid, as it becomes a power company.

To power its servers, Apple is installing America's largest solar array behind the meter or at a premise as well as an enormous fuel cell farm. See the pictures from North Carolina at:

Apple's solar farm will be 20 megawatts.  Enormous.  Prior to Apple's on-site solar system, the record for the biggest distributed solar system was 9 megawatts on a gargantuan roof in New Jersey.

In addition to the solar system, Apple is installing 4.8 megawatts of Bloom fuel cells, a truly disruptive technology, that generates power around the clock where the electricity is consumed. Unlike solar, at least without very expensive storage systems, fuel cells create the real possibility of economically and reliably dropping off the grid.

While fuel cells generally run on natural gas, Apple's fuel cells in North Carolina will run on biogas, further cutting the facilities environmental and carbon footprints.

How much electricity will the solar and fuel cells produce?  A total of 82 million kilowatt-hours per year, with   the solar array generating 42 million kilowatt-hours per year and the fuel cells another 40 million kilowatt-hours per year. That's the equivalent of the power consumed by about 8,200 homes in a year.

All that generation will help to power its North Carolina facility and is another huge example of the revolutionary grid decentralization that is roaring through the power industry.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

South Africa's Fracking Moratorium Leads To New Coal Plants & Rising Carbon Emissions

"Fracking Debate Wracks South Africa" was the headline in yesterday's WSJ article by Devon Maylie. Maylie reports that environmentalists won a moratorium in April 2010 on fracking in South Africa, and the nation is building two new coal plants to help close a gap between electricity demand and supply.

Saying no to gas means saying yes to coal and oil in South Africa, America, and around the world.  And what's the carbon result? The carbon emissions from South Africa's new coal plants will be more than twice what they would be had the plants run on gas.

One needs not read any further to understand why the world is loading its atmosphere with record amounts of carbon pollution, with the exception of America, where massive new gas production is slashing carbon pollution.  Yet, in the minds of some, banning or stalling gas development is a victory for the environment.

South Africa has potentially 486 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.  That is a huge amount, roughly similar to the Marcellus gas reserve, and would be enough to power South Africa for a couple hundred years.

But virtually none of South Africa's deep shale gas is being developed, in large part due to tragically misguided environmental advocacy.  Yet, South Africa's economy and appetite for energy is growing.  And South Africans rightly are not willing to sit in the dark amid grinding poverty.

With fracking stopped and gas locked under ground, coal is being used to meet South Africa's energy needs. Indeed, coal power plants generate about 90% of South Africa's electricity today and may well continue to do so.

The Marcellus Becomes Top Gas Producing Field & Unleashes Creative Destruction

The Marcellus is the new king of gas production.  At least unofficially so. And its ascension to the throne ushers in an era of creative destruction in the energy business

I posted two weeks ago about the Marcellus' rise to the top at The AP now reports that the Marcellus produced the most gas in July.

According to the AP, the Marcellus produced in July 7.4 billion cubic feet per day, or more than 11% of America's gas. Marcellus production rose from 6.9 billion cubic feet per day in May, when the Haynesville shale slightly edged it.  Despite a slowdown in drilling, as more gas wells were connected to pipelines, gas production in the Marcellus grew another 0.5 billion cubic feet per day just between May and July.

And make no mistake the Marcellus production is pivotal, a true tipping point.  Had it not come on line as quickly as it has, gas prices would not have sunk below $2 in April 2012. The already massive, and still rising, Marcellus production turned upside down energy economics and investment in just five short years.

Gone are the 2008 days of crippling gas prices of $13 for a thousand cubic feet. Gone are the billions of dollars invested to import LNG to meet what was expected to be a domestic shortage of gas. Gone are skyrocketing gas and electricity bills for Pennsylvania's and the nation's consumers.

Gone are the days when US gas prices were linked to oil prices, when carbon emissions were rising, and when coal dominated electricity generation markets.

In the Marcellus era, gas is delinked from oil, gas is displacing coal and oil, and America's emissions of carbon dioxide, soot, sulfur dioxide, mercury, lead, and nitrogen oxides are plummeting.  More than anything else, the Marcellus has made gas cheap.

And low-priced gas saved every consumer about $1,500 per year, compared to 2008 gas and electricity bills. Cheaper and cleaner too.  Some things do get better.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Wisconsin Utility To Double Gas Generation & Slash Air Pollution

Wisconsin Power & Light Company (a subsidiary of Alliant Energy) is the latest example of why air pollution is falling in the USA by more than 70% and why Uncle Sam leads the world in reducing carbon pollution since 2006. The Wisconsin utility is embarking on a $1.4 billion plan that features repowering coal plants with natural gas, installing modern pollution controls at coal plants, and closing inefficient units.

Once its power generation makeover is done, Wisconsin Power & Light will double the electricity it gets from natural gas and cut its coal power by 35%.  To be sure, the changes in the Madison headquartered utility would not be so extensive without the shale gas boom, and the shale gas boom is at the heart of slashed air pollution in Wisconsin and around America. 

It must not be forgotten that power plant pollution is America's leading cause of dirty air that causes each year hundreds of thousands of illnesses, including tens of thousands of premature deaths.  The shale gas boom has become an unexpected key to cutting quickly power plant pollution and its public health toll.