Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gas Regulators Must Respond To USGS Earthquake/Liquids Disposal Warning For Oklahoma City Region

This warning of increased earthquake risk in the Oklahoma City region should be big news.

USGS points to substantial data that the number of earthquakes in the Oklahoma City region has increased substantially, skyrocketing to 40 per year from 2009 to mid-2013. That is startling higher than the 1 to 3 earthquakes per year experienced from 1970 to 2008.

USGS further reports that some of the earthquakes can be felt at the surface, do damage, and register 4 or 5 on the Richter scale. This is a serious matter and should again be big news.

What is the cause of the skyrocketing number of earthquakes? Almost certainly deep underground disposal of liquids that are mainly wastewater from oil and gas operations.

The USGS warning is remarkable! But to my knowledge it has not led to any regulatory response from either Oklahoma's regulators or the EPA.

To put in bluntly, it would be regulatory malpractice to ignore the USGS warning and the data that form its basis. But that may be exactly what is happening.

Great Solar Cost Calculator Provides Homes/Businesses Solar Estimates: Try It!

The decline in solar costs is astonishing and means that many families and businesses can save money by installing solar. Are you one of them?

To answer that question, a good start is a solar report for your property from the website at Cost Of Solar.

After getting your solar report, I then recommend getting bids from three separate solar installers. Be sure to ask for references and talk to at least one of those references. Make sure you know their experience. Ask what solar equipment do they install. Understand guarantees. And explore both solar leasing and solar ownership, both of which may be available in your area.

Finally, remember that installing solar on your property will increase its property value. That property value increase is a bonus that comes on top of the increasing likelihood that installing solar will save you money but not doing so will cost you dollars!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stunning Fact: Deutsche Bank Projects Global Solar Market To Hit 50,000 Megawatts Or 12 Nuclear Plants In 2014

This is a great year for solar around the world. How great?

An incredible 35,000 megawatts of solar will be built around the world in 2013, a new record for annual installation. That is the equivalent of 9 medium sized nuclear plants being built in one year.

As sunny as 2013 has been for solar, 2014 will be brighter still.  Deutsche Bank projects that the world will install as much as 50,000 megawatts next year or the equivalent of 12.5 nuclear plants!

That's an astonishing amount of new electricity generation of any sort and confirms that the solar industry has reached a scale that will transform energy markets around the world.

Latest EIA Data Show That US Carbon Emissions May Not Rise In 2013 After All

US carbon emissions fell in 2012 to their lowest levels since 1994 but were expected to rise by nearly 3% in 2013.  And sure enough 2013 carbon emissions were up significantly in the first 4 months of 2013, when compared to the same period of 2012.

But since April ended, carbon emissions for May, June, and July have been lower than in the same months of 2012. The lower emissions of the last 3 months creates the possibility that carbon emissions may not be after all higher in 2013 than they were in 2012.  That would be a welcome surprise.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

These Top 5 Coal Generating States--TX, OH, PA, IN, & IL--Will Decide Coal's Future

The future of coal-fired electricity in the USA will be decided substantially in just 5 states--Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois.  These Big 5 coal generation states account for one-third of coal-fired generation in the USA.  And these Big 5 coal states have led coal's 2013 rebound.

Coal-fired electric generation is up nationally 6.1% in 2013, while it is up more than 11% in Texas.

Yet, coal's rebound is not likely to continue after 2014. Why?

In part because electricity demand will rise slowly or not at all in 4 of the Big 5 states that are key markets for coal.  Other factors limiting coal's future is booming renewable energy in all 5 states and across America, substantial coal retirements likely in the 2014 to 2020 period, and low natural gas prices that are likely to continue at least for several more years.

Finally, the Big 5 coal-fired electricity generation states also have competitive generation markets and Regional Transmission Organizations. Most power plants in these states must compete daily for revenues and are not protected by being part of a monopoly utility's rate base. As such coal-fired power plants are subject to intense competitive pressure in most of Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois.

Key Fact: Wells Producing Both Oil And Gas Increase From 37% To 56% In Last 5 Years

How has natural gas production remained at record levels, even though the number of gas drilling rigs has fallen and gas prices have crashed?

Part of the answer is that the number of wells drilled that produce both oil and gas has jumped. In 2007, 37% of wells produced both oil and gas but 56% did by 2012. As oil prices rose and gas prices fell,  rigs moved from gas to oil but now produce both at least 56% of the time.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stunning Fact: Wind In Texas Produces More Electricity Than Gas Does In 40 States

A look at how wind power generation in Texas compares to natural gas and coal electric generation in other states underlines just how big wind power production has become.

The amount of electricity produced in Texas is greater than the amount of electricity generated in 40 states by natural gas. Wind power's future has arrived.

Here is another comparison that drives home how big wind production in Texas is already. Texas is producing more power from wind than 32 states produce from coal--the nation's still leading source of electric power.

Blowing Hard: South Dakota Community Wind Project Achieves 48% Capacity Factor

With typical capacity factors between 30% and 40% for commercial wind farms, major wind developers would do a lot to find a site that would make real a 48% capacity factor wind farm.  Real it is, however, at the East River Electric Cooperative's community wind farm in South Dakota.

Almost as remarkable as the 48% capacity factor achieved by the 10 megawatt community wind farm is how the installation was financed.  Six hundred of the Coop's customers provided more than $16 million of capital for the $21 million project.

Even before the 48% capacity factor was achieved, the customers investments looked good. Now they are golden.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pope Francis Attacks Ideology, Warning Against Turning Christian Faith Into "Christian Ideology."

This blog is dedicated to attacking rigid ideology that counters reason and facts. Ideology detaches one from reality and so 93% of Tea Party members believe the federal deficit is rising, when it has fallen an astonishing $450 billion in just one year.

While ideology is the enemy of reason, Pope Francis states ideology also harms faith. In truly remarkable comments, Pope Francis warns against turning Christian Faith into Christian Ideology:

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology,” he said, according toRadio Vatican. “And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid."
Pope Francis goes on to say this:
“And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

Smart Fact: Smart Electric Meters Jump From 9% To 30% Of Total, Making Grid More Intelligent

Why is the grid dumb? In big part because the electricity meters in most properties are dumb.

Indeed, the electric grid will not smarten up, until smart meters are the norm in homes and businesses. A smart meter enables two-way communication between the consumer and electricity provider and creates data showing how much electricity is being used in small increments of time such as every 5 minutes or hour.

New data reveals that 46 million smart meters have now been installed in America. Smart meters were just 9% of the total in 2009 but were up to 30%, as of August 2013.

Smart meters immediately report when a property has lost electric service and enhance reliability. They also make possible many electricity offerings or products like the popular weekend free option that Direct Energy has offered in the PPL electric service territory.  The smart meters allow consumers to customize their purchase to maximize savings and convenience.

With smart meters now at 30%, the grid is gaining intelligence but has much further to go.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reality Check: UT Poll Finds Just 40% Of Public Familiar With Hydraulic Fracturing Technology

For energy wonks, the University of Texas energy poll is sobering. For example, the poll finds that just 40% of Americans are familiar with hydraulic fracturing technology.

Among that 40%, the poll measured a drop in support for hydraulic fracturing from 45% to 38%.  The poll, however, also found that 82% want the federal government to focus on developing gas and 89% want it to concentrate on renewable energy.

Not too surprisingly, the poll documents contradictions in popular opinion about energy issues. It is also a reality check for energy wonks and a reminder that most Americans have many other things on their minds.

Shock Fact: Americans Favor 58-39 Legalizing Marijuana In Latest Gallup Poll

The tipping point has been reached on Marijuana legalization.

A shockingly large majority--58% to 39%--now favor legalizing Marijuana. Wow!

Though a large majority now favors legalization, Republicans and Democrats view differently Marijuana laws. Sixty-five per cent of Democrats and 62% of independents favor legalization, but Republicans remain strongly opposed. Just 35% of the GOP want to stop the government from arresting about 750,000 Americans every year for possessing Marijuana.

The change in public opinion about Marijuana laws is now bigger and faster than the big move in public opinion about marriage equality. It is astonishing.

My campaign for Governor includes a 3-step Marijuana reform plan--medical marijuana, decriminalization, and legalization. The plan is at

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

AEP Boosts Wind Purchase To Save Oklahoma Customers $53 Million In One Year

You will not see it in the editorial pages of the WSJ or from the wind-bashing think tanks doing the Koch brothers bidding.  Yet, in the real world, wind power now saves utility customers big money.

"American Electric Power-Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said it originally planned to purchase up to 200 megawatts of wind energy but contracted for an additional 400 megawatts after seeing extraordinary pricing opportunities that will lower utility costs by an estimated $53 million in the first year and even more thereafter."

Wind power lowers utility rates today and in the future. That's a fact in Oklahoma and elsewhere in America.

New Solar And Gas Generation Increase Sharply In 2013, With Solar Ranking Second In New Capacity

With wind farm construction in a lull and so total new electric generation down in 2013, the new generation market is being dominated by solar and natural gas. Both are up sharply in 2013, compared to 2012, while all other forms of new capacity are down.

New utility-scale solar capacity through September 2013 totals 1,935 megawatts, compared to 1,091 megawatts in 2012.  Those solar totals do not include substantial distributed solar built in 2013.

Indeed, the FERC data does not include more than 2,000 megawatts of distributed solar that has been already built in 2013. Adding that distributed solar capacity to the FERC data would materially change it.

Apart from solar, natural gas capacity is the only other that has increased in 2013, compared to 2012. Natural gas capacity built through September 2013 was 5,845 megawatts, compared to 5,043 megawatts in 2012 at the same point.  More natural gas capacity has been added to the grid this year than any other type.

Yet, the fact that solar ranks second in total new capacity, even without counting the large amount of distributed solar capacity built this year, is another remarkable milestone for solar.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Generation Capacity Down 24% In 2013 As New Wind And Coal Fall Sharply

After a strong year for new generation in 2012, led by a blowout wind boom, building new power facilities is down 24% in 2013 through September. So far, 10,717 megawatts have been built.

By comparison, at this point in 2013, a big 14,217 megawatts had been already brought on line. Importantly, these numbers do not include distributed solar, an important exclusion, as is discussed further below.

The 24% decline in new generation results from a huge drop in new wind capacity and a significant decline in new coal power.  Through September, just 961 megawatts of new wind had been connected to the grid, compared to 5,043 megawatts at the same point in 2012.

New coal capacity in 2013 is also down from 2012.  Through this September, 1,543 megawatts of new coal has come on line, compared to 2,359 megawatts at this point in 2012.

Strong gains this year in new solar and natural gas capacity have not been enough to offset the wind and coal declines. It, however, is important to note that FERC does not include in the solar category distributed solar. When solar and distributed solar specifically were tiny parts of new generation capacity coming on line, excluding distributed solar from the FERC data was not a major weakness in its data. But now that exclusion does provide an importantly incomplete of new electricity generating capacity in the USA.

Stunning Fact: Carbon Intensity Of US Economy Dropped A Record 6.5% In 2012

US carbon emissions fell to 1994 levels in 2012, despite a growing GDP and the population growing by nearly 3 million. The key to the total emissions decline of 3.8% was a record 6.5% drop in the economy's carbon intensity. That smashes the previous record fall in carbon intensity.

The EIA's must read report on carbon emissions in 2012 says about carbon intensity:

"The combined reduction in energy use per dollar of GDP and the carbon intensity of the energy supply meant that the overall carbon intensity of the economy (carbon dioxide per GDP) declined 6.5 percent in 2012
  • The largest drop in the overall carbon intensity of the economy since records were kept beginning in 1949. Only two other years, 1952 and 1981 had declines greater than 5 percent."

Again, the report is full of important data and is well-worth reading. The data underlines that the US can grow its economy, create 2 million jobs per year, and add 3 million people to its population and cut carbon emissions substantially at the same time, without using magic.

Instead, the combination of using less energy per dollar of GDP and using more zero or low carbon energy is a very real formula for cutting carbon emissions and growing the economy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Flaring Of Gas In North Dakota Jumps From 3% To 30%, Triggering Class Action Lawsuits From Lease/Landowners

As the natural gas industry flared 30% in July of the natural gas produced in North Dakota, the mineral owners whose gas is being burnt have had enough. Ten class action lawsuits have been filed by lease and landowners who are tired of watching their royalty payments go up in smoke through a flare.

Flaring in North Dakota has jumped from 3% in 1999 to 30% in July, 2013, even as the volume of gas skyrocketed over that period. The amount of gas being flared in North Dakota is worth an incredible $100 million per month or $1.2 billion per year.

Flaring is essentially out of control in North Dakota, and it remains one the major impacts for local communities in the Marcellus region.  Flaring releases various emissions, including carbon dioxide, and causes substantial noise and light pollution too. Regulations must be tightened to require the use of the best flaring technology and, most importantly, to restrict flaring so that it takes place only when safety compels its use at a gas well.

To date, nothing has decreased the massive, irresponsible flaring in North Dakota. Perhaps, the legal action of lease/landowners may do the job at which regulators have failed. These cases bear watching.

Reality Check: Federal Budget Lower In Fiscal Year 2013 Than In Fiscal Year 2009 & Budget Deficit Plummets

The fact that the federal budget is lower in the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2013 than in the fiscal year 2009 that ended on September 30, 2009 will shock Tea Party ideologues. Ideology and living in an echo chamber will disorient from reality anyone.

Here are the numbers. The federal budget was $3.54 trillion in fiscal year 2009 (again ending September 30, 2009).

By comparison, in fiscal year 2013, the one that just ended this September 30, federal budget was $3.46 trillion. Over the last 4 years, total federal spending is FLAT or slightly DOWN.

Despite these facts, it is amazing to hear so many right wing ideologues say the reverse of reality. For example, an incredible 93% of Tea Party members and two-thirds of Republicans believe that the federal deficit increased in Fiscal Year 2013. Such detachment from reality is dangerous for democracy.

In fact, the federal deficit was $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2009, as revenues to the government collapsed. It was $1.1 trillion in fiscal year 2012. And this year, as the economy was creating jobs at the rate of 2 million per year and revenues increased, the deficit fell sharply to $642 billion or 4% of GDP.

The deficit in 2013 is down $450 billion--that is a huge drop in a one-year period! But nearly all Tea Party members and two-thirds of Republicans believe the deficit is up!

Just remember that watching Fox News destroys minds!

Friday, October 18, 2013

US Chamber Of Commerce Fights Tea Party Senate Candidates In Kentucky, Mississippi, And Elsewhere

The US Chamber of Commerce is a political operation at its core. It spent about $35 million during 2012, with close to 99% going to Republican candidates.
After witnessing Republican members of the House and Senate deny that default would harm the US economy, the Chamber now knows that electing a Tea Party member to Congress is a recipe for business and economic disaster. And so, the Chamber is going to fight the Tea Party in Republican primaries.

Political war between the conservative business establishment and the Tea Party radicals is now joined. The vote in the House and the Senate on raising the debt limit provides the battle map for the on-going war, with Tea Party supporters primarying Republicans that voted "Yes" and US Chamber and its allies supporting Republicans who voted Yes. But the traditional conservatives are also going on offense, as they plan to primary some Tea Party incumbents.

The war for the GOP's future will decide much, including whether or not this country's politics remains driven by those at the right-wing fringe.

Walmart, Costco, IKEA, Macy's Increase Solar By 48% On Their Roofs

Led by Walmart and its 89 megawatts, solar is booming on the roofs of America's companies. The top 25 solar-using companies increased solar capacity by a huge 48% last year to 445 megawatts cumulatively.

The top 6 companies are Walmart, Costco, Kohl's, IKEA, Apple, and Macy's. The full list of the 25 companies with the most solar is in the link.

To put in context the 445 megawatts now installed at the premises of these 25 companies, America had a total of about 500 megawatts of solar installed as of 2005. This year total solar installation passed the 10,000 megawatts mark.

Most importantly, the solar boom in America and on the roof's of the America's companies is just getting started.

Stunning Fact: Peterson Foundation Report Finds Budget Crises Have Destroyed 900,000 Jobs

The costs of the constant budget and default crises are astounding.

Standard & Poor's calculates the most recent 17 day shutdown reduced 4th quarter GDP by 0.6% or $24 billion.  But the toll is much greater if one looks at the damage done over the last 3 or more years of budget and debt limit turmoil. Indeed, a report for the Peterson Foundation calculates 900,000 jobs have been destroyed or the national unemployment rate is 0.6% higher, as a result of budget uncertainty.

There is no doubt that the most recent shutdown and all the other budget turmoil has cut GDP, decreased jobs, and so increased deficits and debt.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Default Vote Splits Republican Party: Will The GOP Follow Senator McConnell Or Tea Party?

Reason and facts prevailed last night, with strong bi-partisan votes in both the House and Senate to raise the debt limit, protect the full faith and credit of the United States of America, and avert a financial disaster.
Not a single Democratic member of the House or Senate voted for default, and the country would have defaulted last night but for the Democratic party. That is the case, because a big majority of House Republicans voted against the bill to avert default.  In fact, 144 Republicans voted No, and 87 voted Yes.

Last night, once again the governing majority in the House was all Democrats plus a minority of the GOP. Yet, dangerously, the Tea Party still controls the House Republican caucus and the House itself, as long as Speaker Boehner will not bring bills to the floor that do not have a majority of Republicans in support.

Unlike the House, in the Senate, the Tea Party does not rule the GOP caucus. In fact, 27 Republican Senators voted Yes and only 18 voted No. One of the 17 GOP Senators hugging Senator Cruz was Pennsylvania's own Pat Toomey.  But the 18 extremists are a minority in the GOP senate caucus, where responsible conservatism led by Senator McConnell still maintains a majority.

Last night's vote raises this key question for the future of the Republican party and the country: Will the GOP follow the path walked by the 27 GOP Senators that rejected default denial or the Tea Party that maintains either default will not cause economic damage or would even strengthen the country?

At this point, the Republican primary in Kentucky, where Senator McConnell faces a Tea Party challenger becomes another major battle in the political war between traditional conservatives and Tea Party radicals for the control of the GOP. Back in the House, where the Tea Party already rules, it will be important to watch and see if the Tea Party makes more gains in the 2014 primaries against the 87 Republicans who voted Yes last night.

Tellingly, all the GOP Senators running for President--Rubio, Paul, Cruz--are in the extremist Tea Party faction that seeks to never raise the debt limit and so destroy the full faith and credit of the United States of America. That's especially good news for Hillary Clinton!

Innovative 22 Megawatt Geothermal Plant Goes On Line & Federal Loan Guarantees Made It Possible

As has been documented here, the federal energy program from which the Solyndra investment was made has been a success. The program's losses, including Solyndra, have been much lower than what was expected and the amount for which Congress appropriated to cover the expected loss rate. In addition, most of the investments made--Tesla being one example--have been highly successful.

Add to those successes an innovative 22 megawatt geothermal plant that is now on line in Idaho. The plant was a $130 million project that received a $97 million federal loan guarantee.

The federal guarantee reduced interest rates on the project to 2.6% and was a major factor in the plant being built and now generating power.  The plant's innovative technology increases efficiency by 15% and allows geothermal production in areas with a lower temperature resource.

This exactly is an example of the public-private partnerships needed to commercialize energy innovation that benefits our environment and economy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Winter Facts: 51% Of Americans Use Gas And 39% Electricity To Stay Warm In Winter

Most of America has at least a month of winter when homes must be heated. For some, home heating lasts as long as 6 months.

To stay warm in the cold, Americans overwhelmingly rely on natural gas and electricity that provide heat respectively to 51% and 39% of homes. Oil provides heat to just 6% of America's homes.

In places where cold temperatures last for months, the cost of home heating strains the budgets of even median income families. That is especially true for those who still heat with oil--by far the most expensive source of heat.

New Pew Poll Finds Key To Default Madness: 52% of Tea Party Supporters Say Debt Limit Should Not Be Raised

To understand the madness in Washington, look no further than the new Pew Poll finding that 52% of Tea Party supporters do not support raising the debt limit. Not at all. That poll number explains all the madness in Washington DC where the Tea Party has ruled for the last 16 days.

Never mind that 99% of economists, Tea Party funders like the US Chamber of Commerce, and major business leaders with profit and loss responsibility all say the consequence of default is an economic disaster more serious than the 2008 meltdown.

Tea party congressmen are impervious to economic knowledge or facts about the debt limit and default, as they are to the findings of 99% of climate scientists or 99% of scientists who support evolution. The combination of Tea Party ideology and its political power within the Republican Party is disastrous not only for the Big Money creators and enablers of the Tea Party but also tragically for the nation itself.

The only small hope that I can sift from the wreckage created by the Congressional horror house is a possible dawning among the nation's business elite and right wing billionaires, the funders of GOP extremism, that things are now out of their control. Perhaps, the US Chamber of Commerce that ranks among the top enablers of Tea Party madness and other sobering parts of what is left of the GOP establishment just might stir themselves to disable the monster they have created.  Yet, even if they move now to undo their historic mistake, it may be too late to avert disaster.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

4 Key Reasons Why Coal's 2013 Rebound Will End And Its Decline Resume

With its electricity generation market share collapsing to 37%, coal had a terrible 2012. But coal consumption rebounded 8.8% in the first 6 months of 2013, and more coal will be consumed in 2014 than in 2013, according to EIA.

Though coal is rebounding, will its rise continue after 2014?  Could coal recover significant lost market share and return to the days, when it provided 45% to 50% of America's power?

The answer is no.

In fact, coal's market share will fall below its 2012 low of 37% and possibly as soon as 2015-2016.  Here are 4 reasons why.

First, for coal to recover significant lost market share after 2014, natural gas would need to become expensive, and that is not going to happen.  Coal's market share collapsed from 48% in 2008 to 37% in 2012 mainly because the shale gas boom drove down the spot price of natural gas from $13/mcf to an average of $2.77/mcf in 2012.  The price of gas has recovered modestly in the last 10 months, allowing coal to rebound modestly, but has remained at or below $4.

Second, even before the shale gas boom took off in 2008, natural gas and renewable energy were dominating the new power plant market. Gas plants have low capital costs and renewable energy has low operating/fuel costs.  Those advantages are only getting larger, as the fuel costs of gas plants and the capital costs of renewables both fall enormously compared to 2008. Coal plants, therefore, increasingly cannot compete in the new power plant market.  And that is the case, even before EPA's proposed carbon limits are finalized.  The end result is that new coal plants are not replacing retiring ones.

Third, the median age of coal plants is more than 40 years.  Old coal plants are often inefficient and cannot produce power in competitive power markets at a profit in an increasing number of hours in the year. To make matters worse for the old coal plants, many coal plants do not have the pollution controls to limit mercury and other air toxics that will be required in 2015.  Owners of an old coal plant that is already struggling to break even are choosing to retire them, instead of investing to upgrade them.

Fourth, wind, solar and new renewable energy capacity will add every year at least the equivalent of 40 billion kilowatt-hours of new production, or 1% of the existing power market.  That 1% of new renewable energy production will push out of the market some coal as well as gas generation.  Importantly, the large amount of solar generation that is beginning to flood across America will cut market prices in the hottest hours of the year, reducing important revenue to coal plants and worsening their economics.

The combination of low natural gas prices, large number of coal plant retirements, few or no new coal plants, and booming renewable energy mean coal's rebound will end in 2014.  Then coal's generation and market share will resume declining.

Fuel Efficiency Of New Cars Soars And Sets Record In September

The fuel efficiency of the new cars Americans are buying is soaring. The typical new car bought in 2013 is 1.2 miles per gallon on average more fuel efficient than in 2012. A big jump in one year.

Compared to cars bought in 2007, 2013 cars are 4.7 miles per gallon more fuel efficient. All data are from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Declining oil consumption and oil carbon emissions are now hardening facts produced by the increasing efficiency of vehicles, as new gas sippers replace old gas guzzlers, as well as substitutes like natural gas, electricity, and biofuels eating away at oil consumption. Uncle Sam's oil addiction is breaking!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Is Right Wing Ideological Bubble Breaking? Conservative Columnist Does Her Part

I write this blog to have a fact-centered discussion of important energy, environment, economic, and political issues. It is partly a reaction to the ideologically-driven "Conservative Movement" that is powerful and controls the Republican party.

Yet, even some conservatives have had enough of the delusional, fact-free discourse and action that characterizes right-wing leaders like those driving the shutdown and default crisis. Jennifer Rubin is an arch-conservative, but she tries to pop the right's bubble with her 20-point Kool Aid Test:

Good luck to Rubin and other conservatives who seek to be part of the reality-based world. Perhaps, there is hope for the restoration of a fact-centered discourse.

The Tale Of Two Markets: Friday's Marcellus Gas Closing Price Was $1.94/Mcf; Henry Hub's $3.74

Friday's natural gas spot market closing prices were an extreme example of the now established price separation of the Marcellus Northeast spot market from Louisiana's Henry Hub.  While Marcellus Northeast Gas is typically 20 to 40 cents below Henry Hub, Friday's closing prices featured a Grand Canyon gap between the two.

As quoted in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, Marcellus Northeast closed at $1.94/mcf and Henry Hub at $3.74 for an astonishing $1.80/mcf price difference.  The low prices in the Marcellus Northeast are rooted in enormous production from some of America's most prolific gas wells.

The build out of gas production infrastructure in Northeast, Pennsylvania is significant and local citizens are rightly pushing for strong regulation and installation of the best technology.  For example, the use of the best pollution controls on compressor engines can cut those emissions by 90% and the utilization of the best technology to identify methane leaks can sharply reduce them, reducing risks of explosions and the volume of heat trapping gas entering the atmosphere.

Sunny Fact: Solar Raises Home Values By An Average Of $9,000

Do you want to raise the value of your home by $9,000? Installing a solar system will do that.

The payback of a solar system is now typically 10 years or less, but that is without including any home value increase in the payback calculation.  Inclusion of the amount a home increases in value shortens to about 5 years the solar payback period.

For many homeowners, solar is now a compelling way to invest $10,000 to $25,000.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Historic Fact: First Legal Hemp Crop In 56 Years Is Harvested In Colorado

Before last weekend, the last time a legal hemp crop was harvested in the United States was in 1957, the year of my birth. The place was Wisconsin. Ever since then, growing hemp was illegal anywhere in the USA.

But, last weekend, 55 acres of hemp were grown and harvested in Colorado, and it was legal.

In our history, hemp once was a major agricultural crop and whole communities were named after it. For example, I live in Hershey, Pennsylvania or just 30 minutes from Hempfield, Pennsylvania!

Coal Consumption Jumps 8.8% In First Half Of 2013 And EIA Projects More Growth In 2014

Headlines still emphasize bad news stories for coal, but 2013 remains a strong one for coal consumption.

Led by more electricity being generated from the burning of coal and less from the burning of gas, coal consumption bounced back 8.8% in the first half of 2013. And EIA projects more growth in 2014.

The battle for market share between coal and gas literally takes place daily, with some power plants able to burn either coal or gas. Increases in the price of natural gas has caused switching from gas to coal this year. To date, coal is providing about 39% of US electricity in 2013, compared to 37% in all of 2012.

Until 2008, coal regularly supplied around 50% of America's electricity, but it steadily lost market share to gas through 2012 when it bottomed. This year has been a rebounding year, though coal will never again return to a market share of 50%. Instead, after 2014, coal will slowly lose market share and fall below the 2012 low of 37%.

EIA Finds Booming Production Makes Marcellus Gas America's Cheapest

EIA documents that America's cheapest natural gas is now produced in the Marcellus region. Booming production means that natural gas in Marcellus region costs less than at Louisiana's Henry Hub.

The Marcellus region is now producing 12 billion cubic feet per day or nearly 18% of the country's gas.  All that gas is pushing the Marcellus regional price downward.

EIA projects the Marcellus price will be 20 to 40 cents per thousand cubic feet lower than the Henry Hub. Or, to put it another way, Marcellus gas will typically be 10% to 20% lower than Henry Hub gas. That's an important difference.

The booming production in the Marcellus region makes it imperative to use the best technology to limit impacts and emissions in local areas where the gas is produced.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

New WSJ/NBC Poll Shows GOP Is Devastated By Shutdown/Default Madness

The American people don't like a political party that goes crazy. That's the only conclusion to be drawn from the new WSJ/NBC poll that contains one devastating fact after another for the GOP.

GOP approval is 24% and disapproval is 53%--the worst numbers in the history of the poll for the GOP.

As the GOP sinks, the President's approval rises. It is 47%, up 2 percentage points.  Obamacare approval is rising too. It is now up to 38%, a 7 percentage point climb. And a majority opposes defunding Obamacare.

The GOP is now run by a collection of extremists, ideologues, and Congressmen who are just clueless about important things like the consequences of defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States. And that earned the GOP these devastating poll numbers.

Stunning Facts: America Has 13.2 Million Millionaires Or 4% Of Americans are Millionaires

America is adding millionaires. Another 1.7 million Americans became millionaires last year, bringing the US total to 13.2 million. That's a bit more than 4% of the population or 1 of every 25 Americans.

America's income continues to skew heavily toward the top. Times have never been better for America's wealthiest. Meanwhile median incomes are stagnant or falling in real terms.

On planet earth, there are 41 million millionaires or less than 1% of the world's population. In other words, America has a little less than one-third of the world's millionaires, while comprising just 4% of the world's population.

Stunning Fact: Gallup Finds GOP Has Record Low Favorability Rating

If the cause was not damage to the nation, Democrats would be smiling at this news.  Just 28% of Americans approve of the GOP, a record low number, according to Gallup.

The previous record low number for the GOP was 31%. When was that? Right after the GOP House under Speaker Gingrich impeached Bill Clinton.

Can you imagine that the American people don't like the Republican party closing down the government and threatening default? To those of us in the real world, the collapse of the Republican brand comes as no surprise.

In the same poll, Gallup found 43% approval for the Democratic party.

EV Facts: Sales Surge 120% For All Electric & Plug-In Hybrids

This year is becoming a very good one for 100% electric cars, plug-in hybrid vehicles, and plain vanilla hybrids. Sales are surging for all three categories of electric vehicles.

But sales are especially surging for all electric vehicles.  They are up 447%.

Plug-in hybrids are enjoying strong gains too--up 35%.  Sales for 100% electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids will near 100,000 this year.

Yet, these are early days in the electric vehicle revolution.  Battery costs will decline, and battery range will grow every year.  Electric vehicle sales will only increase in the coming decade.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013 Gas Heating Costs Rise 13% But Are $1,367 Less Than Oil Heat

It is going to cost on average 13% more to heat this winter with natural gas than last winter. On average,  heating a home with natural gas will cost $679 in the upcoming winter.

In comparison, heating a home with oil will cost $2,046 or $909 with electricity.  In short, natural gas remains a considerably cheaper--$1,367--way of heating a home than oil or electricity.

Shock Fact: Gallup Finds Consumer Confidence Plummets To 2008 Level

As Yogi Bera would say: "It's Deja Vu all over again!"

Gallup's measure of consumer confidence is plummeting. After a precipitous drop caused by the government shutdown and the irresponsible talk of default, consumer confidence is back to 2008 levels. That's when the stock market fell 57%, GDP collapsed 8.9%, and unemployment soared.

GOP radicals are happy and confident about the shutdown and the consequences of default. The rest of us are nervous and becoming downright afraid.

John Boehner has a choice: support his radical caucus or America's economy. He cannot do both!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Surprise Facts: Large Majorities Favor Both Carbon Limits And XL Pipeline

A new Pew poll has data that will depress or thrill everyone on the energy spectrum.

Large majorities favor both carbon limits at power plants and the XL pipeline.  In fact, 65% support both.

In a further surprise a majority of Republicans--52%--favor carbon limits at power plants, and a majority of Democrats--51%--favor building the XL pipeline.

Meanwhile, the federal government is closed, and the US is heading toward default.

Stocks Fall Nearly 1% Thanks To John Boehner's Sunday Talk About Default

During the 2008 financial meltdown, as stocks plunged, Fox News would regularly show what the stock market was doing when President-elect Obama spoke.  Its suggestion and sometimes explicit claim was that the President and his policies were harmful to stock values.  Fox gave up this ploy shortly after stocks hit bottom in March 2009 and began the biggest bull run in market history.

Given that history, Fox should start showing the stock markets movement when John Boehner speaks. As CNBC wrote on Monday morning before the markets opened: 

"Mr Boehner's latest comments have unsettled investors with the S&P 500 expected to open lower on Monday, following falls in European and Asian stock markets."

Indeed, Boehner did talk down stock values, with the DOW falling 136 points and the NASDAQ doing worse than the DOW in Monday trading.

Speaker Boehner will have to choose between the radical GOP he leads and the country's economic and financial stability. Right now, I am scared about which direction Boehner will go.  Indeed, investors around the world are growing scared of Boehner and the radical GOP House caucus.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Island Nation Becomes First To Be Powered 100% By Renewables

Tokelau, an island nation in the South Pacific with a population of 1,500 on three atolls, is the first to be 100% electrically powered by renewable energy. Most of Tokelau's electricity comes from solar, with generators running on coconut oil providing the remainder.

Tokelau is both a model and a canary for the world.  With its highest point just 15 feet above sea level, it is threatened with extinction by rising seas as a result of increasing global temperatures.

While Tokelau gets 100% of its electricity from renewable resources, its few vehicles--a grand total of 3--still run on petroleum. Yet, getting off diesel for its electricity not only cuts its carbon emissions but also eliminates a considerable fuel bill for Tokelau's people.

At this point, what happens in Tokelau with renewable power and climate is not staying in Tokelau!

Even Without A Default, Goldman Sachs States Shutdown Reduces 4th Quarter GDP By 0.2% Every Week It Lasts

"The GOP Is No Longer The Party Of Business" is the title of Joshua Green's article in Bloomberg Business.  And that was written before Speaker Boehner's remarks on Sunday that increase the risks of a default becoming a reality.

Not including the unmeasurable damage that could result from a default, Green writes the following about just the government shutdown's costs to the economy:

"An Oct. 2 Goldman Sachs (GS) report estimates that growth will be reduced on an annualized basis by 0.2 percentage points a week, meaning if the government were to remain closed for five weeks, fourth-quarter estimates of U.S. economic health would fall by a full point."

Green continues to expand on the damage done to the US economy by the radicalized GOP that the US Chamber of Commerce has done more to birth than anyone:

"Over the past several years the series of budget crises engineered by Republicans to extract concessions from Democrats has damaged economic growth by reducing spending and increasing uncertainty. “We estimate that fiscal drag from federal government policies was 1 percent last year and 1.8 percent this year,” says Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist for Barclays (BCS). “We do believe that there has been an effect on both investment spending and hiring the past few years because of the uncertainty over the events in Washington.”

The radicalized GOP cares not about any of the foregoing and is no longer listening to its business patrons like the US Chamber of Commerce. That is truly scary or should be.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Surprise Fact: US Natural Gas Production On Pace To Set Another Annual Record

Headlines about declining rig counts create the false impression that natural gas production is declining. Not so.

After the first 6 months of 2013, US natural gas production is on pace to set yet another annual record.

With prices consistently below $4 per thousand cubic feet for now more than 2 years, the continued record volumes of gas production is surprising.  Time will tell whether the combination of record volumes and sub $4 natural gas is the new normal.

Solar Milestone: Bloomberg Forecasts Global New Solar Capacity Will Exceed WInd For First Time In 2013

The global wind and solar industries are big business that installed a total of 76,000 megawatts of generation capacity just in 2012. Wind, however, substantially led solar last year by installing 46,000 megawatts to solar's 30,000.

But surging solar capacity and a dip in wind installations may mean that solar will install more generation around the world than wind for the first time ever during 2013, according to BNEF.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that the global solar industry will install 36,700 megawatts of new generating capacity in 2013, while the wind industry's new capacity will total 33,800 megawatts. If the Bloomberg forecast is accurate, it will be another milestone for solar power.

While 2013 is shaping up to be best year ever for solar, this year may see a decrease in the combined amount of wind and solar installed from 76,000 in 2012 to 70,500 megawatts installed this year.  Both numbers, nonetheless, are big.  For example, they are 3 to 4 times the total amount of new electric generating capacity that is typically built in the USA each year.

While solar may install more generating capacity this year, even if the BNEF projection is correct, the 2013 new wind generation will generate more electricity than the 2013 new solar capacity, because wind has higher capacity factors on average than solar systems.  Indeed, though lower in total, the 2013 new wind capacity may generate about 50% more power than the 2013 new solar capacity.

One must remember that not every megawatt of power generation produces the same amount of actual electricity power.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

US Fossil Fuel Production On Record Pace, While Total Renewable Energy Production Slightly Below 2011 Record Levels

Through June, fossil fuels in America are on pace to set another annual production record. As for all renewable energy sources, they were slightly behind the 2011 record, after the first 6 months.

While coal production continues to decline in 2013, increases especially in oil and another rise in gas production are enough to make it likely that fossil fuel production will set a new record in 2013.

Renewable energy too may set a new record in 2013, though it was a bit below the pace set in 2011.  Through June, declines in the two biggest source of renewable energy--hydro and biomass/biofuels--offset sharp increases in wind and solar production.

Ironic Fact: 250 Business Groups Find GOP Bites The Hand That Fed It

Tom Donahue of the US Chamber of Commerce can take credit for the GOP's capture of House of Representatives in 2010. Donahue and others in the business community raised hundreds of millions of dollars in 2010 and 2012 to elect and re-elect a Republican House of Representatives.  But now the US Chamber of Commerce and 250 business groups are expressing buyers remorse, as the radical GOP threatens a series of business and financial crises.

Stunningly, 250 business groups sent a letter to House members supporting a clean continuing resolution and raising the debt ceiling to insure that the full faith and credit of the USA is protected.

Good luck to the business patrons of the radical GOP. But Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and the entire House GOP have slipped the business leash and are now biting the hand that fed them.  At this point, the US Chamber of Commerce and its allies must deal with a Frankenstein Congressional monster that they birthed and raised.

Be careful for what you wish because you just might get it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shock Fact: 78% Of Marcellus Wells Already Have Paid Off All Costs And So Industry Can Pay To Meet Tough Rules

Marcellus Shale wells are less than 7 years old, but 78% of those wells, nonetheless, have already paid off all their costs. These wells are incredibly profitable and can well afford to meet tough rules!

The debate should end about banning drilling pits, requiring the best pollution controls on compressor engines, limiting flaring, treating fully drilling wastewater, paying for pipelines to homes whose water has been contaminated, and reducing substantially methane leakage.  These wells are generating more than enough cash to pay for these measures as well as a real drilling tax.

Biodiesel Industry Sets New Production Records--Monthly And Annual

Biodiesel production is on a tear, setting a new, monthly record of 128 million gallons in July.  That compares to 87 million in July 2012 and 113 million gallons just last month.

Biodiesel production is also up 15% in the first 7 months of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012.  Through July, 690 million gallons have been produced, compared to 610 million gallons in the first 7 months of 2012.  Last year was a record production year for biodiesel, but a new annual production record is very likely to be set this year

As biodiesel production soars, more biodiesel fueling stations are opening around America.  The total now stands at 733, though disappointingly only 7 of those are in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shock Fact: Colorado Utility Official Filing States Solar Is Competitive With Gas

Colorado's largest utility needs more electric generation capacity, and the results of its new generation bidding process are shocking.

Xcel states: "Based on generation needs, the most reliable and most cost-effective resources happen to be solar and wind. We are not taking on solar because we have to, but because it is cost-effective and economical."

In Colorado, a large producer of natural gas, solar is competitive with gas. As you can see, Xcel states that wind is also competitive with gas. But that's not news at this point.

The solar industry's already successful drive to cut costs is now the most important story in energy.  And remember cost reductions in solar are far from over.

IKEA Sells Solar Systems For Less Than $10,000

Cutting soft costs for solar systems is another reason a solar tsunami heads toward energy markets.

A leader in putting solar on its stores roofs, IKEA has begun selling 3.36 kilowatt solar systems for $9,200 in Britain, with plans to expand this program to other nations.

The solar installation business is already significant around the world and will soon be huge. Home Depot, Loews, and Walmart likely will not be far behind IKEA, bringing forward the day when shoppers can come home with a solar system.