Friday, November 16, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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U.S. Military To Congress: Dude, Where’s My Biofuels?

Posted: 16 Nov 2012 12:00 AM PST

Sometime within the next several weeks, Congress will take up the National Defense Authorization Act and, according to a report by the advocacy organization Environmental Entrepreneurs, this could be a make or break deal for the Department of Defense’s ambitious biofuel programs. The group has raised concerns that the Department of Defense’s ability to purchase biofuels will be written out of the new legislation. That would deal a crippling blow to DoD’s long-term energy security strategy, and it would cost the advanced U.S. biofuel industry one of its biggest and most promising customers.

Environmental Entrepreneurs supports military biofuel

Why the NRDC Hearts the DoD

Environmental Entrepreneurs is an affiliate of the well-known environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (donations to E2 are made directly to NRDC). If you’re new to the topic, it’s fair to wonder why an organization like NRDC would go to bat for the Department of Defense, but just keep in mind that biofuel is the common denominator and you’re on steady ground.

The Department of Defense isn’t just a big biofuel customer; it’s also a tenacious and aggressive customer that plays a key role in research and development for algae and other next-generation biofuels, helping to propel them into the mainstream market.


Military Winning on Biofuels, So Far

Last spring, Republican leaders in Congress tried to prevent the military from buying biofuels that are more expensive than fossil fuels, and from building its own biorefineries.

The Obama Administration promptly ran around those obstacles with a $62 million military biofuel initiative enabled under the 1950′s-era Defense Production Act, and a $420 million public-private biofuel partnership for biorefinery construction.

That’s how, for example, the Navy will keep its long-running R&D relationship with the biofuel company Biodico going without a hitch. The Navy just signed a new agreement under which Biodico will build its own biorefinery right in a Navy base and sell cost-competitive biofuel to the Navy.

The Air Force also has a vigorous biofuel program, and the Army and Coast Guard are involved, too.

The Environmental Entrepreneurs Report

In the new report, E2 claims that military biofuel initiatives alone could generate  almost $20 billion in economic activity in the biofuel industry by 2020, accounting for up to 17,000 new jobs (or double that, depending on how you calculate it).

The report also notes that the benefits of a growing bioeconomy will be distributed across a broad swath of the U.S. That dovetails with the Obama Administration’s rural economic development initiatives, which are designed to create more sustainable conditions in distressed rural communities, partly through the biofuel industry.

The rural economic development plan kicked off last year with a memorandum of understanding between the Departments of the Navy, Energy, and Agriculture, which promised the Navy as an eager customer for biofuel products.

Biodico president and founder summed it all up in a statement in support of the new report:

“The military is the biggest driver of the biofuel industry right now. If Congress stops the military from doing what the military knows is best, Congress also could threaten the growth of the Made-in-America biofuel industry.”

Image: Military biofuel, some rights reserved by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Heavy hitters abound as the speaker lineup announced for Total Energy USA Conference

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 11:19 PM PST

The big picture for energy issues in the United States and around the world is that a myriad of sources are likely to be needed for the foreseeable future. But each energy source has its own challenges, benefits, and drawbacks. The Total Energy USA Conference November 27-29 in Houston, TX will provide participants with an in-depth look at the energy landscape, from biomass and energy efficiency to natural gas, nuclear, and oil.

Terry Tamminen, CEO of Seventh Generation Advisors, and advisor to former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, will kick off the upcoming conference in Houston, TX. It’s fitting, as Tamminen’s background is as diverse as the energy sources the conference will cover. A U.S. Coast Guard licensed ship captain who has both worked in aquaculture and studied ocean ecology, Tamminen ran the largest sheep ranch east of the Mississippi, owned a recreational services company, and helped found a solid waste recycling program in Nigeria. Tamminen helped elect Governor Schwarzenegger and pass several proactive energy laws in California, including the Global Warming Solutions Act (2006), Hydrogen Highway Network, and the Million Solar Roofs Initiative.

Sessions on hydrogen, natural gas and “The Future of Wind Energy” will follow the opening keynote roundtable, which also features Russ Conser, leader of the GameChanger Team at Shell, Kenneth Medlock III, Fellow in Energy and Resource Economics at Rice University, and the Honorable Philip R. Sharp, former U.S. Congressman and President of Resources for the Future.

A big topic at the conference will be finance. Specifically, how we can finance clean energy investments. Jan Koninckx, Ph.D. business director for biofuels at DuPont, will showcase how DuPont has championed renewable transportation fuels.

Other keynote sessions include the U.S. Electric Grid 2.0, Water and Energy: Opportunities & Issues (featuring Ben Grumbles, President of the U.S. Water Alliance), Transporation with Advanced Vehicle Technologies and Fuels (featuring Larry Burns, Professors of Engineering Practice at the University of Michigan and Director of the Program on Sustainable Mobility at Columbia), How the Department of Defense will impact U.S. energy security (with Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, President of the American Council on Renewable Energy), Energy Production in Efficiency and Buildings (with Gordon Gill, who we interviewed on CleanTechnica a few weeks ago),  Job Creation and Workforce Education, Finance and Investments (featuring Mike Eckhart, Managing Director of Citigroup), and City Leaders who are shaping energy generation and use.

The early bird rate ends today for conference registration, so register today! Advanced registration goes through 11/26, and onsite registration begins thereafter, wherein the price goes up $100.

(Updated, Live Blogging) BP Admits Criminal Liability Over Deepwater Horizon, To Pay $4.5 Billion; 2 BP Employees Face Manslaughter Charges

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 08:42 AM PST


Update 4:22pm EST: The two highest-ranking Deepwater Horizon BP supervisors at the time of the disaster have now been charged with 23 criminal counts including manslaughter.

“The company said it would plead guilty to 11 felony counts related to the workers’ deaths, a felony related to obstruction of Congress and two misdemeanors.” (Reuters)

Update 4:20pm EST: Reuters reports: “U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the deal a ‘critical step forward’ but was adamant that it did not end the government’s criminal investigation of the spill.”

Update 4:13pm EST: CBS News reports: “Two men who worked for BP during the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster have been charged with manslaughter and a third with lying to federal investigators, according to indictments made public Thursday, hours after BP announced it was paying $4.5 billion in a settlement with the U.S. government over the disaster.”

Update 4:04pm EST: BP has agreed to pay $4.5 billion in charges, including $1.26 billion in criminal fines.

BP will admit criminal liability over the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, according to Reuters.

The plea is understood to be part of  an agreement the company is expected to strike with the US Department of Justice and the Security and Exchanges Commission in return for immunity from any future prosecutions connected to the disaster.


The news comes after the Department of Justice launched a civil case against BP in August citing “gross negligence and wilful misconduct.” The case is due to be heard in New Orleans in February 2013 but may not go ahead if an out of court settlement is reached. However, other federal civil cases would still be possible.

At its heart the case centres upon whether errors were made in calculations of the pressure of the well Deepwater Horizon was drilling into. The Department of Justice believes it has a clear-cut case, saying “that such a simple … test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence.”

If the civil case was to succeed, it would leave BP open to damages of nearly $85 billion, dwarfing the $7.8 billion it has already set aside to resolve cases brought by individuals and businesses affected by the spill. In comparison, the settlement with the Department of Justice is expected to be the largest in US history, which current stands at $1.3 billion.

CBS News, which has reportedly received anonymous confirmation from a source close to the case, also noted that “two BP employees face manslaughter charges over the death of 11 people in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the massive spill.”

The anonymous source “also confirmed that BP will plead guilty to obstruction for lying to Congress for its statements on the size of the leak.”

BP Oil Spill Background

The case dates back to 2010, when an unexpected surge of methane gas from an exploratory drill caused the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to explode in the Gulf of Mexico. It took BP three weeks to cap the well, during which time an estimated 53,000 barrels of crude oil leaked into the ocean every day, making it the largest accidental marine oil spill in history.

Although the well was officially declared capped in late 2010, there are persistent reports that the seabed in the area continues to leak oil, and earlier this year the NOAA said that the ecological consequences of the spill were “far more profound than previously thought,” with “a disturbing number” of fish bearing mutations and reports of mass deaths amongst dolphins.

4 Important Things To Know About California’s 1st Ever Carbon Auction

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 08:28 AM PST

By , reposted from EDF

While millions of Americans recover from the Sandy-Nor'easter extreme weather event combo, and even as President Obama's remarks about action against a "warming planet"linger, all eyes will be on California this coming Wednesday. This is when the next big event in the climate change conversation will take place.

Between 10am and 1pm pacific time on November 14th, California [conducted] the state's first ever cap-and-trade auction for climate change pollution.  This landmark event [kicked off] the second largest carbon market in the world, the European Union being the first. Entities covered in the program include utilities, oil refineries, oil producers, and large manufactures, though other individuals and organizations can also participate to buy carbon allowances if they meet the state's rigorous requirements.  A practice run was held back in August, and all systems are ready to go. More information about the nuts and bolts of the auction can be read here.

[H]ere are four things to keep in mind:

1.  This is the best designed cap-and-trade program in the world
California has the good fortune of learning from predecessor cap-and-trade programs like the European Union Emissions Trading Platform, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and the Acid Rain Program, just to name a few. Key elements of California's program include giving free allowances to industry in the beginning years to help with transition; letting entities bank allowances for future use; and establishing an allowance reserve in case prices exceed a certain value. All help keep carbon prices more stable and make for a well-functioning market.

2.  A price will be established for carbon, but that will vary as the program evolves
The California program will include auctions four times a year through 2020 – 32 more times after November 2012.  As such, the number of participants, the settlement price and other results of the first auction may not necessarily predict the activity of future auctions. Over time, the market will change and both prices and participation will fluctuate as the cap reduces and businesses decide how best to participate.

3. Money from the auctions will be used to invest in California's clean energy future
Proceeds from the auction must be invested in ways that further the goals of the law – the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32).  Though these investments are scheduled to start in the next fiscal year, a specific investment plan is still underway and is being guided by two bills passed at the end of California's legislative session. Likely project categories include renewable energy, energy efficiency, advanced vehicles, and natural resource conservation. In addition, 25% of proceeds must be used in ways that benefit disadvantaged communities. These investments will boost clean tech in California, improve air quality, and create jobs.

4. California's leadership will serve as a launch pad for other programs
California is the ninth largest economy on the planet, and the world is watching. No state or country can stop climate change alone, but California's environmental policies have a history of success and replication, including clean car, clean fuel and energy efficiency standards that have saved consumers across the US hundreds of billions of dollars in avoided energy purchases.  If the past is any indicator, California's rich history of leading the nation on responses to critical environmental problems, while delivering wide ranging benefits, means the US is on the brink of something special.

A public notice of the auction results will be released on Monday, November 19, 2012 and will be posted to both the Air Resources Board and auction website.

Grover Norquist Pulls A U-Turn On Carbon Tax After Koch-Backed Group’s Pressure

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 08:12 AM PST

Editor’s note: As I noted the other day when discussing some optimistic conservative support for a carbon tax, talk is cheap, but when it comes to doing anything to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, fossil fuel–funded Republican Congresspeople faces some serious soul searching in order to actually buck the trend and support a tax on pollution (even if the income is sent right back to individuals or businesses in a GOP-directed way). Here’s more along those lines, courtesy Stephen Lacey & Climate Progress:

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist raised a lot of eyebrows on Monday when he told National Journal that a carbon tax might be on the table if it were swapped with a cut to the income tax.

"It's possible you could structure something that wasn't an increase and didn't violate the pledge," he reportedly said.

As president of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist has convinced hundreds of members of Congress to sign a pledge that they will never raise taxes. While his influence appears to be waning in Washington, Norquist's tax pledge is still considered gospel for many Republicans. That's why his willingness to consider a tax on global warming pollution is a big deal in political circles.

But one day later, after being criticized by the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy arm of a Koch-supported energy think tank devoted to promoting fossil fuel development, Norquist has completely reversed his statement, saying there virtually "no conceivable way" he could support a tax on carbon.

"Grover, just butch it up and oppose this lousy idea directly. This word-smithing is giving us all headaches," wrote AEA in its newsletter, while promoting a newly-published study labeling carbon taxes "political cronyism."

Americans for Tax Reform issued this statement this morning:

Americans for Tax Reform opposes a carbon tax and will work tirelessly to ensure one does not become law.

Taxing American energy consumption not only opens up a new revenue stream for proponents of big government, but threatens to forever damage the American economy.

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist describes a carbon tax this way:

"The creation of any new tax such as a VAT or energy tax — even if originally passed with offsetting tax reductions elsewhere — would inevitably lead to higher taxes as two taxes would be at the disposal of politicians to increase taxes. Two smaller tapeworms are not an improvement over one big tapeworm. Tapeworms and taxes grow.

There is no conceivable way to add an energy or VAT tax to the burdens American taxpayers face that would not violate the pledge over time.  If someone first passed and implemented a constitutional amendment with 2/3 of the House and Senate and 3/4 of the states concurring to forbid the restoration of the income tax, we might more safely consider passing a VAT or energy VAT. And then it would be foolish and economically destructive thing to do."


Meanwhile, conservatives who understand the threat of climate change continue to discuss the prospects for pricing carbon in Obama's second term, possibly as part of a grand bargain on a deficit deal. While some consider taxing carbon pollution a "pipe dream," others believe it's one of the only opportunities to get Congressional Republicans to support a carbon reduction policy. Norquist's immediate reversal shows just how difficult it will be to bring enough Republicans around on the issue and get something done.

The Obama Administration said last week that it has no intentions to introduce a carbon tax proposal.

Carbon Tax Option Now Back In The Limelight As Fiscal Cliff Nears

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 06:03 AM PST

The creation of a national carbon tax has been a matter of public debate for quite some time now, but has become somewhat of a taboo subject in recent years. With the election now over, though, it has begun to come back into the spotlight, with some people recognizing the economic ‘windfall’ that such a tax would provide, potentially helping to address the budget deficit.


Superstorm Sandy, ongoing droughts, rising seas, and the unprecedented arctic sea ice melt may have had some effect also, with the subject of climate change much more firmly in the minds of many Americans as a result of these events. And many are now wanting to know what we will do to address the changing climate. By creating a carbon tax and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, climate change may be mitigated to some degree, and the carbon tax could also be quite useful as a new revenue stream.

A carbon tax would essentially function just to charge the largest emitters of greenhouse gases for their effects on the environment. Power plants, oil refineries, and many other large industrial operations have quite a negative effect on many of the services that ‘nature’ provides for humans, such as clean water, clean air, forestry products, wild fish, a livable climate, healthy ecosystems, etc. But since the things that nature provides are essentially free, the damage done to it isn’t economically accounted for, as some leading economists think that it should be. A carbon tax would do some to address this.

Of course, there is still a deeply divided Congress with one side of the aisle very friendly to polluters, so the passing of such a measure may still be quite a ways off, but having a public debate on it is moving in the right direction. Some analysts have argued that the significant economic benefits of such a tax should be the primary selling point, not the environmental goals.

A recent report by the Congressional Research Service suggests that a $20 per ton tax on carbon emissions could at least halve the U.S. budget deficit over time. Generating around $88 billion a year in 2012, and up to $144 billion a year by 2020. That could cut U.S. debt by around 12–50% in just a decade.

Because of the potential benefits of such a tax, there have even been some influential former Republican policymakers trumpeting its potential to raise needed revenue for the federal budget.

Analysts at the significant global banking companies HSBC and Citigroup have mentioned a carbon tax as a policy that may potentially emerge during Obama’s second term.

“One major fiscal possibility is a new carbon tax, which is likely to garner far more support this time around than at any time in the past and could become an appealing part of an emerging consensus on how to avoid the fiscal cliff,” said a note from Citigroup’s investment research group.

And as Paul Bledsoe, an independent policy consultant said, a carbon tax on major greenhouse gas polluters would be “better for the economy than our current taxes on work.”

“The measure would garner more support if its economic benefits are touted rather than its ability to help the administration achieve its green goals,” said Bledsoe, who served as staff on the Senate finance committee during the 1993 budget negotiations.

Some of the Republicans that have recently come out in support of the tax actually include some of the economists that advised Mitt Romney during his presidential campaign, which has led some to think that there is some chance for bipartisan support in Congress.

Harvard professor Gregory Mankiw, economic adviser to Romney, has previously stated that “if we want to reduce global emissions of carbon, we need a global carbon tax.”

And even George Shultz (as we’ve reported before), who was Ronald Reagan’s former Secretary of State and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, has “entered the fray, saying that a carbon tax that returns revenue to taxpayers could garner the support of his party.”

“The fact that you are seeing more voices come into the conversation and talk about it is a welcome one,” said Nat Keohane, vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund and former special assistant to Obama on energy and environmental issues.

Hurricane Sandy has helped reboot this conversation,” he said, by becoming just the latest in a year of extreme weather events in the United States, including major droughts and historic wildfires.

But whether or not such a measure could actually pass remains to be seen. We will see.

Source: Reuters
Image Credits: Coal Power Plant via Wikimedia Commons

Australia Targets 85% Energy Generation From Renewable Sources By 2050

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 04:30 AM PST

According to the recently published energy white paper from the Australian government, renewable energy sources could provide 40% of Australia's energy demand by 2035 and 85% by 2050. This could be achieved by virtually eliminating coal-fired power stations over this time period. The paper was launched by Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson.

According to the Australian government, average electricity prices have increased to 40% in the last four years, and above 50% in some states, which is “simply not sustainable."

The white paper focused on the country's use of alternative energy, specifically natural gas and solar. According to the white paper, the government is determined to offset its dependence on coal-based energy, hoping to establish a new dependency on renewable forms of energy. It also talked about development strategies for natural gas and renewable energy in the coming decades to reduce coal supply usage. It is estimated that the transformation from coal to renewable energy would require an investment of A$200 billion in new power stations and infrastructure, including around A$50–60 billion in gas and A$100 billion in renewable energy.

The paper also emphasized the need for smart power demand management with tools like smart meters and smart appliances to reduce peak power demand. One such monitoring tool recently developed is the Energy Matters Power Monitor; which helps to assist solar households to manage their consumption in order to match their solar production; helping to make their investment in a solar panel system even more valuable.

Australia has made significant progress in the renewable energy sector over the past decade, but the energy focus for future needs remains natural gas. While launching the paper in Melbourne, Ferguson said he wants Australia to develop one of the "biggest gas markets in the world" and invest hundreds of billions into export terminals.

Image Credit: Australia wind turbine via Shutterstock

The views presented in the above article are author's personal views only.

Siemens & Pattern Energy Complete 265-MW California Wind Deal

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 04:12 AM PST

Siemens Energy, one of the world's top wind turbine manufacturers, has signed an agreement with Pattern Energy to create the Ocotillo wind project in Southern California.

The new wind farm will give 265 megawatts (MW) of new wind energy in California, which is now under construction and set to be on-line by 2013.

Meanwhile, the Ocotillo wind project is the 10th project either in contract, completed, or being developed by Pattern Energy, and will include a maintenance and service agreement for two years.

Siemens, besides investing in the new California wind farm, is also making further headway in South America by investing in the Chilean El Arrayan wind power plant. El Arrayan is the first wind farm in South America built by Siemens that is not in Brazil. The El Arrayan deal will allow for a five-year maintenance and service contract, with installation set for 2013 and coming on-line by winter 2013/14.

Officials were keen on both the new California wind and Chilean wind projects, with the projects boosting Siemens’ overall global presence in renewable energy.

“We are very pleased to once again partner with Pattern Energy on another of its wind projects. Our U.S. factories will supply the blades and the majority of the nacelles and hubs for the Ocotillo Wind project, and we will also export components to Chile," said CEO of Siemens Energy's Wind Power Americas Business sector Mark Albenze.

"Siemens has invested more than $100 million in our factories here in the U.S. over the last five years and we remain committed to providing our wind turbines to the U.S. industry as well as exporting them to markets across the Americas."

These recent announcements add to the rich layers of Siemens’ environmental portfolio, which had a revenue of €30 billion in 2011. Siemens cleantech investments, besides being very beneficial to the economy, have provided many positive environmental benefits, including taking close to 320 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Oak Park Heights Sees The Light: Leading The Way With LEDs & Solar PV

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 04:03 AM PST

The riverside city of Oak Park Heights knows when to take advantage of a good opportunity. The city received an Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) in 2009 through the U. S. Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Oak Park Heights used the EECBG funding to improve its energy efficiency and conservation efforts. The projects not only helped the city save money on energy costs, but also provided community benefits, including educational programs for residents and visitors about energy efficiency.

New lighting LED park lighting in Oak Park Heights

The city focused much of the EECBG funding on projects at Brekke Park, a site popular among both residents and visitors of the city (pictured above). In August 2010, Brekke Park hosted an energy fair as part of its annual "Party in the Park" and National Night Out, attended by over 450 visitors. EECBG funding supported the energy fair, which showcased opportunities for energy conservation and efficiency, and provided free compact fluorescent bulbs to residents.

All of the lighting structures at the park, including those at the Brekke Park pavilion, are now equipped with high-efficiency LED lighting. This transition has not only saved the city money, but it has also provided relief to the park's surrounding neighborhood. Prior to the lighting retrofit, the park lighting gave off a terrible glare that disturbed households near the park. Eric Johnson, Oak Park Heights City Administrator, is pleased to report that residents in close proximity to the park are much more comfortable with the new lights. "The LED lights are great because they are neighborhood-friendly but still provide the required lighting for safety."

EECBG funding also bought nine photovoltaic panels that make up a 2kW solar PV array mounted on Brekke Park's main pavilion roof. The array is fully integrated into the grid, so the city is able to sell back the energy they make from the panels to offset the electricity costs of the park.

The city used remaining EECBG funds to make a municipal plan, ordinance updates, and a greenhouse gas baseline inventory. The actions completed by the city highlight the importance of a multifaceted approach to energy efficiency and conservation. The LED lights on the Brekke Park pavilion addressed an energy issue and a quality of life issue, while the energy fair raised awareness about actions residents could take to reduce their energy consumption. As a result, the people of Oak Park Heights are thinking about how the choices they make now will affect residents in the coming decades.

Project Profile:

  • Location: City of Oak Park Heights, Washington County
  • Project Cost:
    • Lighting Total Cost: $27,793
    • Solar Total Cost: $37,840
  • Funding:
    • EECBG Grant: $37,840
    • Xcel Rebates: $4,900
  • Technologies:
    • Solar photovoltaic (PV)
    • LED lighting
    • Energy Efficiency
  • Community Benefits: The surrounding neighborhood of the park has reduced glare from the parks at night, and the city is saving money through reduced energy costs

About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

Local Government Energy ActionThis year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools; and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

Local Government Lighting Retrofits: Inspiring Over 25,000 Efficient Bulb Upgrades In MN

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 03:38 AM PST

What's an efficiency project that most anyone can do? Lighting!

Efficient Lightbulbs

Did you know that $1 invested in efficient lighting can pay back $6 in energy savings? CFLs & LEDs use less electricity, last longer.

Be it in your home, your business, your school, or your government office, lighting uses a lot of energy. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) website, "EIA estimates that in 2010, about 499 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity were used for lighting by the residential and commercial sectors. This was equal to about 18% of the total electricity consumed by both of those sectors and about 13% of total U.S. electricity consumption." So it's not surprising that many of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) projects included some sort of lighting retrofit component to increase the efficiency of the bulbs being used.

Indeed, out of projects at 260 buildings throughout Minnesota, over half (136 buildings!) received lighting and controls upgrades. Older, incandescent lighting fixtures are less efficient because they often trap a significant amount of light produced within the fixture itself. Switching to more efficient lighting helps to save energy and money and helps to spread light more evenly. Additionally, installing new lighting fixtures will often help save on maintenance costs since newer lights such as LEDs and CFLs have longer lives than standard incandescent bulbs.

Statewide, over 25,000 standard lighting fixtures were replaced with more efficient fixtures. Many of the projects that funded lighting retrofits focused on replacing T12 light fixtures with T8's. The numbers 8 and 12 in the names of the lights refer to the diameter size of a CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) tube. The smaller the number is, the smaller the width of the fluorescent tube and, more importantly, the greater the efficiency of the light. There were also several EECBG projects that replaced standard lighting with efficient LED fixtures.

In addition to switching out fixtures and bulbs, 37 buildings had occupancy sensors installed, totaling over 3,400 new occupancy sensors installed statewide. Occupancy sensors are a low-cost, high-gain energy efficiency method that are relatively cheap to purchase and set up, and require little to no maintenance once installed. They control energy use using motion detectors to turn on and off lights in high-use areas.

Lighting retrofits are some of the simpler steps you can take to increase the efficiency of a building and, correspondingly, see energy costs decline. Are you ready to take action in your community? Stay tuned for Local Government Energy Action lighting stories!

About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

Local Government Energy ActionThis year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools; and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

Local Government Energy Action: Launching a Year-Long Series of Success Stories

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 03:28 AM PST

Over the past three years, Minnesota's local units of government — including municipalities, counties, and schools — have been hard at work completing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). These projects have included everything from installing energy-efficient street lighting and traffic signals to studying the feasibility of waste heat recovery from wastewater streams.

Rural City Hall

Is your City Hall in need of a little energy efficiency love? This new, year-long Local Government Energy Action series sheds light on those taking the lead to save energy and money.

In total, Minnesota has implemented 165 projects funded by Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG), contributing to the renovation and retrofitting of 260 buildings since 2009.

As we learned more about these projects — and the sheer number of them — we knew that these stories could serve as examples, and hopefully catalysts, to any community around Minnesota (or even beyond) looking to curb its energy usage. With that in mind, we teamed up with the Minnesota Department of Commerce (Commerce), Division of Energy Resources (DER) to document and tell the story of projects from around the state.

A Year of Stories: This article launches a year-long series documenting nearly 50 of these energy efficiency efforts throughout Minnesota and the tangible results they produced, in hopes of inspiring others to take their own actions toward energy efficiency. The new series is called called Local Government Energy Action.

By the Numbers: Out of projects at 260 buildings statewide, many addressed multiple energy efficiency issue areas, including the following:

  • 56 projects replaced or upgraded outmoded HVAC technology including over 50 boilers and 26 furnaces;
  • 136 projects focused on lighting and controls including:
  • 25,000 lighting fixtures replaced and over 3,400 occupancy sensors installed
  • 37 projects that installed occupancy sensors
  • 4 streetlight projects that accounted for the replacement of 720 streetlights and 14 traffic signals;
  • 52 low-cost fixes and weatherization projects including projects at 11 buildings to install programmable thermostats, one of the lowest-cost, highest gain efficiency measures
  • 30 projects that replaced windows and/or doors totaling over 880 windows and 30 door replacements
  • 10 solar projects;
  • 7 ice arenas renovations, some of which will be highlighted in our ice arena sub-series in time for ice hockey season!


City of ClearbrookHighlights to Pique Your Interest: The projects highlighted each week for Local Government Energy Action will touch on projects that overcame roadblocks in structural planning or those that used low-cost efficiency measures to generate big savings. Many of the project highlights will deal specifically with improving the energy efficiency of local unit of government operations such as ice arena renovations, lighting retrofits of schools and municipal buildings, boiler replacements, and effective weatherization techniques.

For example, the City of Clearbrook's project — one of the largest in terms of funding and energy savings, according to Bruce Nelson of Commerce's Division of Energy Resources — improved the efficiency of the Clearbrook City Hall and Community Center building through replacement of 37 outdated windows with 37 efficient, weatherized windows and insulating 9,230 square feet of wall as well as the entire roof (19,000 square feet) with R-20 and R-30 insulation. With these improvements, the city's natural gas consumption fell from approximately 93,400 kBTU in December of 2011 to 29,591 kBTU in April 2012, and consumption now seems to be leveling out.

Houston County was another success story. Before the project completion, the courthouse was performing well below its potential, as the county had to run the boiler year-round to heat water for the facility. After replacing two inefficient boilers with two sealed-combustion, 94% efficient boilers, the Houston County Courthouse has exhibited a strong decrease in gas consumption.

City of BuffaloThe series will also include highlights of projects that included community engagement components such as domestic energy efficiency workshops for residents, and that focused on commercial energy efficiency efforts like the program launched by the Buffalo Municipal Utilities. The Buffalo effort, called the Buffalo Commercial Building Energy Conservation and Benchmarking Pilot Program, aimed to engage local businesses on energy efficiency by providing energy audits and referring businesses to efficiency rebates. The program ended up with 26 total participants that included restaurants, non-profits, churches, and light industrial facilities.

Overall, Abby Finis of Commerce's Division of Energy Resources reports that the projected savings throughout Minnesota from the EECBG projects was estimated at over 143,000 MMBtu based on proposals submitted, but that the actual energy savings total has yet to be tallied on all of the completed projects. Beyond the energy savings, there are several other benefits to the EECBG funding. Chris Gilchrist, a former coworker of Abby's, had this to say: "The best part [of the EECBG projects] was that they catalyzed thinking for more energy efficiency projects. A lot of grantees really leveled out their energy usage. They achieved a new plateau—a new normal. It was an opportunity for people across the state to save energy and money and now they are hungry for more."

Stay tuned over the next year for stories in the following categories:

  • Weatherization
  • Ice Arena Retrofits
  • Lighting & Controls
  • HVAC & Boilers
  • Community Engagement
  • Food Service Efficiency
  • Renewable Energy
  • Transportation Infrastructure
  • Commercial Efficiency
  • Building Recommissioning

We look forward to your comments, reactions, and ideas about how to kick-start similar projects in your community!

Stay in the Loop: If you want to be sure to see all of the stories in the Local Government Energy Action series, click here to subscribe to MN Energy Stories, our weekly email digest.

About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

Local Government Energy ActionThis year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools; and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

353 Coal Power Plants Too Expensive To Run In U.S. Power Markets

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 03:13 AM PST

As many as 353 coal-fired power plants across 31 states should be considered for closing, because the electricity they produce will no longer be economically competitive with cleaner sources of energy in America's power markets soon.

Ripe for Retirement Coal Plants

This analysis comes from the Union of Concerned Scientists' "Ripe for Retirement" report, which found that 18% of all U.S. coal generation capacity would not compete with natural gas or wind energy generation after being upgraded with modern pollution controls. The findings mirror a recent survey of utility executives that found coal's fiscal outlook plummeting.

These plants collectively represent 6% of all power generated in America, roughly 59 gigawatts (GW) of generation capacity. Generally speaking, they average 45 years of age – well beyond the 30-year expected coal plant lifespan – and are much less efficient than other coal plants, operating at only 47% of capacity compared to 64% for the overall coal fleet.


Older + Less Efficient = Dirtier

But perhaps most importantly, the Ripe for Retirement plants are much dirtier than all other forms of U.S. electricity generation. Roughly 70% of these generators lack equipment to control emissions of three of four harmful pollutants – sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, mercury, or soot.

Closing these 353 plants would add to the 41 GW of coal plants currently slated for retirement and reduce America's electric power sector's annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 410 million tons, or 16.4% of current levels. Federal reports have consistently found coal is the dirtiest energy source in America.

"Switching to cleaner energy sources and investing in energy efficiency often makes more economic sense than spending billions to extend the life of obsolete coal plants," said Steve Frenkel, UCS's Midwest office director. "Spending billions to upgrade old coal plants may simply be throwing good money after bad."

Coal Closures Won’t Threaten Grid

Critics of coal plant retirements say losing such a large percentage of baseload generation would threaten blackouts, but the UCS report finds that retiring the 353 plants wouldn't risk grid reliability or price spikes.

Current U.S. natural gas generation capacity only operated at 39% design capacity in 2010, and running natural gas plants at 85% capacity would generate more electricity than the Ripe for Retirement fleet. America's largest grid operator has already found natural gas replacing coal on the basis of market forces.

Old Coal Plants Concentrated In Eastern US

In addition, reductions in generation capacity might not have to be replaced at all if states boosted clean energy measures. Existing policies are expected to spur installation of 55 GW of new renewable capacity by 2020, and energy efficiency measures are projected to reduce overall demand 5.7% by 2020.

An Historic Opportunity

Much of the Ripe for Retirement fleet is located in states with booming renewable energy capacity installations, or states with under-realized renewable energy generation potential. Beyond an opening to reduce harmful emissions and slow climate change, replacing these coal dinosaurs is a chance to grow a green economy.

"This is an historic opportunity to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. Decisions we will make in the next three to five years can improve public health, reduce global warming, and create a more resilient energy system," said Frenkel.

Images via Union of Concerned Scientists

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