- 106 U.S. Coal Plant Retirements Since 2010
- Samsung — 2012 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year
- CleanTechnica Video
- American Schools At Head Of Class In National Sustainability Efforts
- IKEA NOT Selling $86,500 Prefab Home, But..
- Wind Power Project News (3 Stories)
- SDG&E Now Getting Over 20% of Energy from Renewable Energy Sources
- Energy Efficiency Spotlight Could Save U.S. $1 Trillion, Create 3.3 Million Jobs
- Even Conservatives Love Clean Energy
- The Natural Gas Fracking Bubble & Scam (Fracking Ponzi Scheme?)
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 10:31 AM PST
Last Wednesday was a big milestone for people who care about public health and a livable climate. Two utilities announced the planned closure of nine coal plants in Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, bringing total retirements (executed and planned) since January 2010 past the 100 mark to 106.
Two plants in Chicago owned by Midwest Generation, the Fisk Plant and the Crawford Plant, had been a key target for local activist groups. These two plants have been in operation since the early 1900′s and were last updated in the late 50′s and 60′s. Along with violating"grandfathered" (i.e. lax) air quality standards and causing hundreds of emergency room visitseach year, the two plants represented the largest source of local greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.
Local and national activists groups, along with the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, put intense pressure on Midwest Generation to shut the plants down.
The second set of plant closures come from the wholesale power provider GenOn Energy, which said it will close 3,140 MW of aging plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. All of the plants are coal, except for one that is oil-fired. GenOn said new air quality regulations would make it difficult for the company to keep the plants operating.
A confluence of factors is making it very difficult for owners of coal plants — particularly old coal plants — to compete. A combination of high domestic coal prices, low natural gas prices, new air quality regulations, coordinated activist pressure, and cost-competitive renewables are making coal an increasingly bad choice for many power plant operators. Along with the 106 announced closures, 166 new plants have been defeated since 2002.
So just how much of an impact have these factors had on coal closures? Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign sent along these numbers:
EXISTING COAL (ANNOUNCED/RETIRED SINCE JAN 1 2010)
So what's going to happen to the lights when all that coal gets phased out? According to a group of forward-thinking power providers, there's already enough unused combined cycle natural gas capacity installed to make up for over 100 GW of closures.
Of course, with questions about the life-cycle emissions of natural gas still unanswered, it remains to be seen how environmentally effective all that gas will be. But with record amounts of investment pouring into renewables and efficiency, and progressive utilities calling increasingly cost-competitive solar "the next big thing in the industry," the forces are coming together to close the gap.
This article was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.
Coal power plant via shutterstock
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 10:21 AM PST
Samsung, in its news release on the matter, noted that it has “960 ENERGY STAR-qualified models across multiple product categories, including more televisions than all other consumer electronics brands” and that it “was selected out of the 20,000 participating ENERGY STAR organizations for its outstanding contributions in ongoing employee, retailer, and distributor training programs, as well as consumer education campaigns, recycling efforts, and labeling practices.”
I think Samsung really is a leader in this field (and actually have a Samsung TV, partly for that reason) and I think it’s worth giving the company a little recognition for its leadership.
"Under our global Planet First initiative, we are working to manage our operations sustainably while developing not only the most innovative technology, but also the most energy efficient products,” Yangkyu (Y.K.) Kim, President and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America, said. ”The four Eco-Design and Sustainability Awards we received from the Consumer Electronics Association earlier this year, together with this strong recognition from the EPA is appreciated as validation of the hard work and dedication of Samsung people around the world."
Here’s more on some of Samsung’s green efforts:
Samsung will formally receive its award at the upcoming ENERGY STAR award ceremony Washington, D.C. on March 15, 2012. This award ceremony will mark the 20th anniversary of ENERGY STAR.
More on Samsung’s green efforts.
(I know this post might have come across as a little sales-y, so I’ll just note that this was not sponsored in any way — just a fan of the company.)
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 09:57 AM PST
Green Building Element’s was also created at the time. Have a look:
And, if you haven’t seen the network video yet, it’s here:
You can keep an eye on the Important Media blog to see more as they roll out, if you’re interested.
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 09:48 AM PST
Businesses are often cited as the standard for turning sustainability efforts into profit margins, but two recent developments suggest schools are at the head of the class in reducing emissions reductions and turning energy efficiency into cost savings. As government budgets tighten, places of learning are turning into places of sustainability.
This trend is most apparent in America's public schools. Dedicated funding for the nation's K-12 education system seems to get further reduced with every federal, state, and local government austerity measure. Faced to do more with less, schools are turning to energy efficiency in large numbers.
To that end, 84 percent of the 210 U.S. organizations recently recognized in the Environmental Protection Agency's 2011 ENERGY STAR Leaders program are listed in the "K-12 education category." To receive this recognition, school districts must have either achieved at least a 10 percent increase in overall energy efficiency, or have their entire portfolio of buildings ranked within the top 25 percent of energy performance nationwide.
Most promising, the movement toward high-efficiency education is found in almost every state. ENERGY STAR Leader school districts are located in 36 states and every region of the country. Minnesota is the surprising leader of the pack, with 31 school districts, followed closely by more traditional efficiency leaders New York State and California.
The single biggest efficiency leader was Indiana's Decatur County Community Schools, which reached the remarkable 60 percent efficiency improvement level in 2011, the first organization of any kind to hit that mark. The school's actions have already saved over $1 million in energy costs and 3,000 metric tons of CO2 — equivalent to the annual emissions of 600 vehicles.
While the efforts of K-12 schools are significant, they are not alone. America's colleges and universities are also taking steps to increase the use of renewable energy and reduce their emissions. The American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), an agreement between 674 higher education institutions, recently released a report quantifying their environmental impact.
ACUPCC efforts have significantly reduced participant carbon footprints. Of the participating schools, 599 have submitted greenhouse gas inventories, which reported collective emissions of 28 million metric tons. 451 have submitted climate action plans, 306 institutions have set a climate neutrality target by 2050 or before, and 93 have pledged neutrality by 2030. In addition, the ACUPCC network has purchased nearly 1.3 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of renewable energy credits, the third-largest single buyer in the U.S.
"This is the first major U.S. sector to commit to climate neutrality, and the first time since WWII that higher education in the U.S. has collectively stepped forward to take on a major societal challenge without waiting for some external entity to request it or fund them," said Dr. Anthony Cortese, president of Second Nature, the lead supporting organization of the ACUPCC.
Indeed, well-established alumni and funding networks have had a major impact — ACUPCC signatory schools have secured an average of $2,343,787 from outside sources to fund sustainability efforts.
Image courtesy of Izismile
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 09:43 AM PST
Reports around the interwebs, from Huffington Post to CNET, have been announcing that IKEA teamed up with ideabox to manufacture and offer an $86,500, 745-square-foot, 1BR/1BA prefab home to customers in the Portland, Oregon area. This was reportedly unveiled at the Portland Home & Garden Show last week.
Turns out, it is a teaming up, but it’s really just ideabox offering a prefab home that was designed around IKEA furniture, with some help from IKEA Portland designers. “IKEA has not launched and is not selling prefabricated homes in the United States. Any reports saying otherwise are not accurate,” IKEA said in a statement.
Why is this on CleanTechnica? Well, first of all, this home is rather small, already making it very energy efficient. Also, reports have indicated that the home features many eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient appliances. This all seems to be true, and it makes the news just as relevant and almost as exciting as if it were actually IKEA manufacturing and offering the homes. “Almost” since it seems that would more easily lead to mass production and sales, but maybe Ideabox can go that route anyway.
Of course, it would be great if the house were greened up just a bit more, and would be totally awesome if it were offered with solar panels.
Here’s more from Ideabox on the home:
Swedish inspired, wide open living, functional, no wasted space, and full of personality!
Now, while this is really more of an ideabox home than an IKEA home, maybe the news hubbub around it will inspire IKEA to design and manufacture some small, energy-efficient homes. Given IKEA’s love for solar power and electric vehicles, I imagine it could create a pretty awesome little eco-friendly home!
Photos via ideabox
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PST
1. 67-MW Colorado Highland Wind project to come online in 2012. “Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement to buy the electricity from the state's newest planned renewable energy resource, the 67-megawatt Colorado Highlands Wind project,” GE, which will be providing the project with its wind turbines, notes. “The facility will be built on a 5,200-acre site in northeast Colorado's Logan County, within the service territory of Tri-State member co-op Highline Electric Association, and is scheduled to be operational by the end of the year.”
2. Ofgen and the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) have published a new report on how the nation could save bundles of money on offshore wind power development. In particular, but simplified, “a more co-ordinated approach in line with government targets to build 11GW-18GW of wind farm capacity by 2020 could save between £500m and £3.5bn,” the UK’s Business Green reports.
3. Investment in North American wind energy is to hit $145 billion by 2017, a new report by Pike Research finds. “Although the North American wind energy industry lags in key areas compared to Europe and Asia, falling costs and larger, more efficient turbines are helping give rise to a sense of cautious optimism. Home to the second largest wind market in the world – the United States – the region saw a total of 5,784 megawatts of wind capacity installed in 2010. Although 2011 was another difficult year for the industry, today the region accounts for more than 22% of the world's total installed wind capacity.According to a recent report from Pike Research, installations in the region will pass 125 GW by 2017 – more than doubling from 2011 to 2017 – with onshore installations accounting for more than 97% of that total. Overall, the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts that approximately $145 billion will be invested in onshore and offshore wind energy installations between 2011 and 2017 in North America.”
Wind turbines in Texas via shutterstock
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 08:35 AM PST
San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) reported on March 1st that “20.8 percent of the energy delivered to retail customers in 2011 was provided by renewable energy sources, such as wind, geothermal, biomass, hydroelectric and solar facilities.” That’s 9% more than in 2010! Can you imagine if the country as a whole were so progressive?
“Of the overall 20.8 percent in retail renewable sales, geothermal, biomass, biogas, and solar projects accounted for almost 40 percent of the power. About 60 percent of this total can be attributed to wind power,” SDG&E wrote.
Of course, SDG&E isn’t stopping there. It’s got new renewable energy projects coming on-line in 2012.
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 08:06 AM PST
When I first started writing about energy and, in particular, energy policy, energy efficiency wasn’t at the top of my list for the most important thing to support, promote, or put money into. I knew it was good and knew it deserved to be in the mix, but I didn’t initially realize how much potential was sitting in this option. In the past year or so, it has risen to the top of my energy priorities list, perhaps the very top. However, really, the point is that a mix of energy efficiency and clean energy is the full package we need. That said though, energy efficiency certainly doesn’t get the spotlight wind and solar energy get, despite deserving it. Maybe a new Deutsche Bank and Rockefeller Foundation report will help to change that.
The report, "United States Building Energy Efficiency Retrofits," finds that new types of financing models that more strongly encourage households and businesses to invest in energy efficiency could end up saving the U.S. approximately $1 trillion. Additionally, it could create over three million jobs. From the report:
This follows a Deutsche Bank report I posted a story about in January which showed great energy savings potential, billions of dollars worth, in energy efficiency retrofits in multi-family housing. Numerous studies by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) on the matter have come to similar findings.
And how to tap into this potential? The report identifies a few top, non-traditional models that could be used (one of which, PACE, we’ve been promoting for years):
Here’s a little more from the report summary on these models:
For more, check out the full report.
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 07:17 AM PST
Again, with his mailing list base being mostly his previous supporters, poll results often line up with the agenda of FOX News. So, when I received a recent one on how to make America more energy independent, and “Invest in alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind and bio-diesel” ranked rather high, I was a little surprised. Really, only ‘a little’, because I already know that people across the political spectrum support clean energy. But, from my previous experiences with Buchanan’s polls, it was a bit of an uplift. You can see a screenshot below of the results as of my submission, but be sure to note that the completely loaded question was: “Gas prices have surged to $3.58 a gallon nationally – the highest February on record. What do you think is the single most important action we should take to make America more energy independent?”
Interestingly, Buchanan doesn’t mention EVs. However, he includes electricity-generating sources that generally aren’t related to gas prices in any way but through EVs. not very clear and probably had people scratching their heads or just shooting straight to an oil option, since they know how oil is related to gas prices (well, they know it’s related — probably don’t actually know how they are related). Nonetheless, an answer hardly related to transportation, except through the unmentioned link of EVs, is doing pretty well. Here’s that screenshot:
Posted: 05 Mar 2012 06:55 AM PST
Energy Ponzi Scheme
“Fracking, it turns out, is about producing cheap energy the same way the mortgage crisis was about helping realize the dreams of middle-class homeowners. For Chesapeake, the primary profit in fracking comes not from selling the gas itself, but from buying and flipping the land that contains the gas. The company is now the largest leaseholder in the United States, owning the drilling rights to some 15 million acres – an area more than twice the size of Maryland. McClendon has financed this land grab with junk bonds and complex partnerships and future production deals, creating a highly leveraged, deeply indebted company that has more in common with Enron than ExxonMobil. As McClendon put it in a conference call with Wall Street analysts a few years ago, ‘I can assure you that buying leases for x and selling them for 5x or 10x is a lot more profitable than trying to produce gas at $5 or $6 per million cubic feet.’”
“According to Arthur Berman, a respected energy consultant in Texas who has spent years studying the industry, Chesapeake and its lesser competitors resemble a Ponzi scheme, overhyping the promise of shale gas in an effort to recoup their huge investments in leases and drilling. When the wells don’t pay off, the firms wind up scrambling to mask their financial troubles with convoluted off-book accounting methods. ‘This is an industry that is caught in the grip of magical thinking,’ Berman says. ‘In fact, when you look at the level of debt some of these companies are carrying, and the questionable value of their gas reserves, there is a lot in common with the subprime mortgage market just before it melted down.’ Like generations of energy kingpins before him, it would seem, McClendon’s primary goal is not to solve America’s energy problems, but to build a pipeline directly from your wallet into his.”
Not So Much Available As Once Thought.. & Comes with Unexpected Problems
“In January, the Energy Department cut its estimate of the amount of gas available in the Marcellus Shale by nearly 70 percent, and a group affiliated with the Colorado School of Mines warns that there may be only 23 years’ worth of economically recoverable gas left nationwide. Even worse, new studies suggest that because of fugitive emissions of methane from wellheads and pipelines, natural gas may actually be no better than coal when it comes to global warming. ‘I was an early optimist about natural gas,’ says Robert Kennedy Jr., who sits on a panel that’s advising Gov. Andrew Cuomo on whether to allow drillers like McClendon to expand into New York. ‘But after looking into it, I now believe that, without tighter regulations and stricter oversight, the shale-gas boom could turn out to be an economic and environmental disaster.’”
Rolling Stone goes into the environmental concerns not related to global warming a lot more, but I think these are things most people are well aware of. But, for more details on that, most of Page 3 of the article is on that.
Chesapeake Energy Flipping Land Like Flipping Pancakes… & Going Deep Into a Ponzi Hole
The article is largely focused on one company, and the man behind it, in particular. That would be Chesapeake Energy and Aubrey McClendon. Again, the full piece, for context and more info, is worth a read, but here’s a key summary of what Chesapeake Energy & McClendon are all about:
“At Chesapeake, McClendon operated more like a land speculator than an oilman. ‘Our approach is to go in early, quietly and big,’ says Henry Hood, who directs Chesapeake’s land purchases. ‘We like to get our deals signed before anybody knows what we’re up to and tries to run up prices.’ But buying up such huge swaths of land requires huge chunks of cash – and the money often comes not from gas production, but from selling off land or going into debt. After Chesapeake drills a few wells in a region and ‘proves up’ the reserves, it hawks the leases to big oil and gas companies looking to get into the shale-gas game. In 2010, it pocketed $2.2 billion by selling land it bought in Texas for $2,000 an acre to one of China’s largest oil companies for $11,000 an acre. ‘That’s a five-to-one return on investment,’ says Jeff Mobley, Chesapeake’s senior vice president for investor relations.”
“In recent years, the company has also sold off the future proceeds it expects to receive from thousands of wells – a complex financing deal that enables it to borrow cash now without counting the debt it will owe when it has to drill the wells later. The very first deal, made with Deutsche Bank and a Swiss investment firm, brought Chesapeake more than $1 billion in return for 15 years of future production from 4,000 wells. ‘It’s not illegal, but most gas and oil companies don’t do it,’ says Bob Brackett, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. ‘Chesapeake’s poor credit rating pushes them to turn to unconventional financing.’”
“To make its operations even riskier, leaseholders like Chesapeake are required by law to drill on the land within three to five years after acquiring the rights or wind up forfeiting the lease. ‘The more land they acquire, the more capital they have to spend upfront,’ says Deborah Rogers, a former investment banker who learned just how precarious Chesapeake’s business model was when she looked into the firm’s financial statements after the company sunk wells near her property in Texas. ‘Then they have to drill it or lose it, which further adds to capital costs. And the more they drill, the more gas they produce, which lowers the price of gas and further reduces their revenues. In the end, this drilling treadmill is difficult to sustain for long – especially if the wells underperform, or the resource turns out to not be as valuable as they thought.’”
“… McClendon’s worst enemy may not be environmentalists or coal companies, but his own recklessness. He played a leading role in creating the fracking bubble by hyping the promise of endless natural gas and sweet-talking Wall Street into funding a massive land grab. If the bubble bursts, Chesapeake’s stockholders won’t be the only ones who pay the price – the shock waves will be felt throughout the economy, from homeowners who rely on natural gas for heat to manufacturers who were betting on it to power their new factories. Thanks to McClendon’s gambles, Chesapeake is struggling to cover $10 billion in long-term debt.”
Already Hitting Shaky Ground
“This sort of gambling suits McClendon, who is known for placing big bets – and sometimes losing big. During the financial meltdown in 2008, McClendon was forced to sell off 94 percent of his stock in Chesapeake – some 33 million shares – for $550 million to meet a margin call on his personal investments. (Only a few months earlier, the stock had been worth $2 billion.) Despite the dramatic setback, Chesapeake’s board boosted McClendon’s annual salary to $112 million, making him the highest paid CEO at any S&P 500 company at the time. The pay hike, which sparked a shareholder lawsuit, was scorned by Wall Street analysts. ‘McClendon clearly thinks of Chesapeake as his own personal piggy bank,’ says one. In the end, that piggy bank may prove to be empty: In February, Chesapeake announced that, because of low gas prices, its revenues will fall $3.5 billion short of its expenses this year.”
& What about Truly Clean Energy?
To throw in another key threat, and this one is not in the Rolling Stone piece, truly clean energy (i.e. wind, solar, and geothermal energy) are increasingly cheap and competitive. In many places, they are already competitive with or cheaper than natural gas. Now, with natural gas prices expected to rise considerably in the years to come, out-competing these other three options without going under is going to get might hard. Can natural gas do it? I certainly don’t think so, unless heavily subsidized and supported by the government. And why would the government do that? (I think I’d prefer not to know.)
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