Monday, February 28, 2005

Governor Schwarzenegger begins new Solar push

Governor Schwarzenegger is living up to his promise to promote market-based, environmentally friendly policies. First, he proposed the Hydrogen Highway. Today, it's solar power:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger aims to make California a world leader in solar energy with a new proposal he's sending to lawmakers today...

Under the new plan, the Public Utility Commission would decide how electricity consumers pay into the incentive fund, most likely with a new fee on utility bills.

The incentive approach is modeled on Japan, the world leader in solar power. That country has seen a 72 percent drop in solar costs as 70-thousand homes have been outfitted for the alternative power over the past decade.

SCE gets approval for transmission line

During the 2000-01 energy crisis, many experts pointed out that California had sufficient generation capacity to meet demand, but insufficient transportation to get the electricity to consumers. With potential shortages in Southern California this summer, the approval of new transmission lines could not come any sooner:

Southern California Edison Co. has won preliminary approval to build a high-voltage transmission line that would bring enough electricity from Arizona to serve 900,000 Southland homes while providing savings for ratepayers.

The California Independent System Operator, the agency that runs much of the state's electricity grid, said Friday that it had OKd what would be the first major expansion of SoCal Edison's power transmission system in 15 years.

...If built, the 230-mile line will bring as much as 1,200 megawatts of power produced by efficient gas-turbine generators from the Palo Verde area west of Phoenix to Palm Springs beginning in 2009.

The new line should save consumers money by removing transmission bottlenecks, boosting supplies, lowering prices and reducing the ability of power generators to manipulate the market as some did during California's energy crisis of 2000-01, said James Sweeney, an energy expert at Stanford University.

PG&E focuses on core business to climb out of bankruptcy

When things are going wrong for a company, it makes sense to focus on what you do best...that's exactly the strategy Pacific Gas & Electric is taking to get out of bankruptcy:

The state's largest utility is on the rebound with a focus on its core business — providing power at regulated rates in Northern and Central California — while trying to bolster its financial health, improve service and secure enough electricity for customers.

A lack of power supplies in 2000 and 2001 helped trigger the energy crisis "and drove both us and [Southern California] Edison to financial distress, drove us completely to our knees," Peter A. Darbee, the new chief executive of the company's San Francisco-based parent, PG&E Corp., said Friday at an investor conference in New York.

It was "a situation we don't want to revisit and are committed to ensuring never happens again," Darbee said in his first appearance before analysts and investors since being named CEO in December.

That's similar to the legacy air carriers who are now focusing on the long-haul and international markets where they face less competition from low-cost carriers.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Devilish! Customers to pony up $706 million for Diablo

The Public Utilities Commission has greenlighted new rate increases for PG&E customers:

State regulators gave Pacific Gas and Electric Co. preliminary approval Thursday to charge its customers $706 million to refurbish the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, a decision that all but guarantees the disputed project will move forward.

San Francisco's PG&E wants to replace eight steam generators at the plant, tucked into a sea cove near San Luis Obispo. The plan has drawn fire from environmentalists, who never wanted the plant, and consumer advocates, who question spending hundreds of millions on a $5.8 billion facility just 20 years old.

Cal-ISO worker under investigation for breach

Keeping reigns on its employees, the California Independent System Operator is investigating one of its own for leaking confidential information:

The California Independent System Operator declined to say what type of information was involved or how the possible leak was discovered. The agency also declined to release the names of those involved, but said the Cal-ISO employee was placed on leave.

People familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified, said the worker provided power-generation data to a former Cal-ISO employee who works as a consultant in the energy industry. Details of that information or its commercial value couldn't be determined Thursday.

Cal-ISO is "taking immediate actions to identify what information has been disclosed and what data, if any, is confidential," Cal-ISO Chairman Ken Wiseman said in a statement.

Since the Cal-ISO is the clearinghouse for electricity trading in the State, the possibility of an inside mole passing information to power companies who could game the markets would be extremely troubling.

Pretestors' last stand to save Electric cars

Hoping to salvage the few remaining electric vehicles before they are scrapped, protestors converged on GM's Burbank offices:

For the more than 800 former lessees of the pioneering electric vehicle from GM, they're now a club without a car.

An electric vehicle designed by General Motors years ahead of a California mandate to produce zero-emission cars, the EV1 turned heads. By 1999, GM built more than 1,000 EV1s, of which it leased 800 for between $300 and $600 a month before finally pulling the plug on its electric car program in 2003.

All Reeves and other EV1 enthusiasts say they want is a chance to buy their former wheels back for $25,000 each -- free of strings from the factory. And for GM to recharge its electric car program.

On Saturday, the group will hold a Burbank rally to include such celebrities as Ed Begley Jr. of "Six Feet Under," Alexandra Paul of "Baywatch" and Ted Danson of "Cheers."

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Hybrid Fuel Cell SUV spotted in San Francisco

California is the testing grounds for a new, low-emission vehicle from Nissan:

(A Reader) spied a mini convoy (ok, two) of Nissan’s experimental hybrid fuel-cell powered SUVs, the X-Trail, likely straight from Japan. BRS says:

“They were heading to San Francisco on the Bay Bridge about 3:45pm. They were right hand drive and looked exactly like the picture. They were both silver.”

Though slightly far afield of Nissan’s goal to road test the vehicles in the US in 2003, with an eye toward launching a limited leasing program, it appears the program is underway in some form.

Nuclear rods location unclear

Pacific Gas and Electric provides us a good reason to support Yucca Mountain as a permanent disposal site for nuclear material--rather and storing it at locations scattered around the country as is done today:

After a seven-month search, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said Wednesday that no one is completely sure what happened to three missing fuel rods at the old Humboldt Bay Power Plant near Eureka -- but that there is every reason to believe they were right where they were supposed to be all along.

An interim report to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission detailed "reasonable, but not conclusive, evidence" that deteriorated fragments recovered from the bottom of a used-fuel storage pool at the defunct plant in fact were the remains of the missing fuel rods.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Summer energy outlook mixed for Californians

Southern California could face energy shortages this summer, the Los Angeles Times reminds us, while NorCal's energy outlook is decidedly better, yet mixed, per the Sacramento Bee...

A top official at the state Independent System Operator, which runs a large part of the electric grid, says there's a "moderate" risk of power interruptions, including blackouts, in the south state if summer is unusually hot.

California's three big for-profit utilities and its biggest municipal utilities all told the state Senate Energy Committee on Tuesday that they expect to have ample power - plus an emergency cushion - for summer.

One energy consultant says the West now is wallowing in an electricity glut, and that California should have healthy surpluses in the north and south.

Yet federal regulators, in a press release announcing assignment of two staffers to a Folsom office, said Friday that the move is particularly important because the state could face "tight energy supplies." Sometimes don't you think a Magic 8 Ball would be more accurate?

Hybrid Taxis save in San Fran

Your next taxi ride through the Golden Gate might not get you to your destination any faster, but at least you'll be helping the environment:

With the introduction of the 15 Escapes -- 10 belong to the Yellow Cab Cooperative, the other five to Luxor Cab Co. -- San Francisco, which has 1, 381 taxis, became the first city in the United States to create a fleet of hybrid SUV cabs.

...The interest comes about this way: A Ford Crown Victoria sedan, the car of choice for most police and taxi fleets, has a perpetually thirsty 4.6-liter V-8 engine that, in Gochberg's experience around town, delivers about 12 to 14 miles per gallon, despite its government fuel economy rating of 18 to 25 mpg.

Gochberg's Escape, using a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor, has given him between 30 and 33 miles per gallon in the three weeks he's been driving the two-wheel-drive vehicle. U.S. government ratings say the Escape gets between 31 and 36 miles per gallon.

Of course, those saving will not get passed on to the customer!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

LNG: California's New Gold Rush

Liquefied Natural Gas is leading the world's leading natural resources companies to pull out all the stops to get into the California market:

With billions in new revenues at stake, some of the world's biggest energy companies are spending millions on public relations, lobbying, contributions and foreign trips to win the right to import natural gas into the Golden State.

"For energy companies, this is California's new gold rush," said environmental consultant Bob Hattoy. "They see a potential market where the sky is the limit."

With natural gas prices in the state doubling since 2002, energy companies are proposing to bring new supplies here by building six terminals along the California and Mexico coasts to receive liquefied natural gas shipments.

Energy experts say California can support only two or three of the proposed terminals, so advocates are jockeying for an advantage.

"They are putting on the full-court press to convince the administration and the people of California that we need more natural gas, and we must get it from liquefied natural gas," said Susan Jordan, California Coastal Protection Network director. "This is the oil companies' next product line, and they are trying to figure out how to get a corner on the next market."

Rite Hikes, Affiliated businesses keep Sempra afloat

While California's energy crisis sent one investor owned utility into bankruptcy and the other to its brink, San Diego's Sempra Energy managed to survive:

San Diego-based Sempra, whose 22.8 million California customers stretch from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border, has had its own problems grappling with the crisis and its aftermath. The company at times has infuriated its customers, vexed Wall Street analysts, drawn the ire of consumer advocates and repeatedly battled with California lawmakers and regulators.

Last week, for instance, state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) accused Sempra of lying to legislative investigators when Sempra denied that it participated in electricity trading schemes during the state's energy crisis.

Sempra also faces a class- action lawsuit that accuses the company of manipulating the natural gas market and exacerbating the state's electricity problems, because most power plants are fueled with gas. Sempra's potential liability if it loses is $24 billion. The company strongly denies both allegations.

Through it all, Sempra has maintained profitable growth under a multi-prong strategy devised by Baum and Sempra President Donald Felsinger, who is set to become CEO when Baum retires Jan. 31.

With 13,000 employees, Sempra not only delivers electricity and gas via its two traditional utilities, it also runs power generation plants; trades electricity, gas and other commodities; operates energy pipelines and storage; and is expanding into the liquefied natural gas market. The company's relative good health in recent years, when other energy suppliers and traders were struggling to survive, helped Sempra snap up assets on the cheap.

SDG&E and Southern California Gas remain heavily regulated in what they can charge ratepayers. But Sempra's trading, generation and LNG businesses aren't — providing Sempra with potential growth well above the single-digit rates forecast for SDG&E and Southern California Gas.

Customers should be wary, however, about the profitability of this vertical integration, because in the end, they're the ones who pay. So what if retail prices Sempra charges to its customers are regulated if the wholesale prices it charges itself are not?

Compressed air to replace internal combustion?

There's always a marketplace for new ideas, and one seems to offer the shangri-la of automobile design--pollutant and fossil-fuel free. As always, there's a hitch:

Moteur Developpment International, is developing a line of cars, vans and pickups powered exclusively by compressed air. There's no gasoline, no costly service schedules and no polluting exhaust.

The prototype vehicles are so clean, the company says, that the air coming out of them is often cleaner than when it goes in.

"This represents something truly revolutionary in the automobile industry," said Shiva Vencat, the company's representative in the United States. "We are talking about changing the way we make cars, how we buy cars, and, more importantly, we are talking about a clean car."

MDI claims that its air-powered automobiles will eventually render the internal combustion engine "as obsolete as the black-and-white television."

The company plans to produce vans, family sedans, taxis, small trucks and three-passenger runabouts called the MiniCat.

All are prototypes. Their bodies are made of aluminum tubing, fiberglass and injected foam. Prices are expected to range from less than $10,000 for the MiniCat to $16,000 for a six-seat sedan called the CitiCat.

These are no ordinary cars. Power comes from fresh air stored in reinforced carbon-fiber tanks beneath the chassis. Air is compressed to 4,500 pounds per square inch — about 150 times the pressure of the typical car tire. The air is fed into four cylinders where it expands, driving specially designed pistons. About 25 horsepower is generated.

Though technical problems are being worked out, company officials say the car is capable of 70 mph and a 120-mile range under normal city conditions, performance that is comparable to electric cars.

Critics say the car has had trouble living up to its range projections. But company officials say they are trying to overcome that by warming the stored air.

Recharging the onboard tanks takes about four hours using the car's small compressor, which can be plugged into any wall outlet. Gas stations equipped with special air pumps can replenish the tanks in about three minutes. Company officials say the oil only needs to be changed every 31,000 miles.

LNG sparks debate in Ventura

Assemblyman Keith Richman, one of Ventura County's only politicians to go on the record in support of liquefied natural gas, participated recently in a discussion over the role of LNG in meeting the State's energy needs:

Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Granada Hills, and Bill Powers were part of a panel on the LNG issue. The seminar was held at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel as part of the University of California, Santa Barbara's Economic Forecast Project.

Richman, who supports importing LNG, said that a combination of faulty deregulation laws, aging power plants, dwindling natural gas supplies and an unwillingness to invest in new power generation is putting California at risk of more blackouts similar to the ones in 2000 and 2001.

"There is no question that the electricity crisis continues," Richman said. "We need new generation. There is no question we need new generation."

Powers disagreed. Powers owns an air-quality consulting firm in San Diego called Powers Engineering and is a member of the Border Power Plant Working Group, a watchdog group developed to monitor LNG port projects proposed for Mexico.

Powers blamed energy deregulation and illicit gas trading for the state's high energy prices. His data showed a 10 percent decline in natural gas demand in California between 2002 and 2006.

"Do we strategize and implement steps to keep that decline going in the future, or do we build natural gas terminals and ramp up demand?" Powers asked.

Who wants to bet that energy demand will decline in California any time soon?!?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Daily News calls out Hahn on "Hot Air"

If you build green energy people will use it...but Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power's green energy program has appeared to be all talk recently. The Daily News calls Mayor Hahn out on yet another broken promise:

Back in 2003, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn triumphantly announced -- to the cheers of environmentalists -- that the Department of Water and Power would open a massive wind farm 12 miles north of the High Desert community of Mojave.
The new green power facility was supposed to be operating by July 2004. Now that 2005 is well under way, we learn that the wind farm isn't likely to be in business until at least 2006.

That's to say that, in two years, we have come no closer to getting our wind farm. Hahn's boasting turned out to be well, a lot of hot air -- a false promise to environmentalists, matching the false promises he's made to just about everyone else.

And this false promise didn't come cheap.

The press conference, which featured Hahn standing in front of a turbine at the DWP's downtown headquarters, was carefully choreographed by P.R. giant Fleishman-Hillard. Cost to the taxpayers of Los Angeles: $62,526.

Kyoto unnecessary; California businesses protecting environment on their own

Yesterday while Al Gore and world leaders celebrated the signing of the Kyoto Treaty, California Businesses were doing what they always do--work to protect the environment:

It's part of a move by some leading corporations, directed by California state regulatory agencies and echoed by a growing number of other state governments, to bypass the Kyoto debate and take direct action against global warming.

"PG&E recognizes that climate change is an important issue, both for the country and the electric industry, and we're taking a proactive role in grappling with it," said Wendy Pulling, director of environmental policy at PG&E.

To be sure, important questions remain in the Kyoto Protocol debate. Will Europe and Japan, which must make deep cuts in their emissions under the treaty, be able to do so without hurting their economies? Will the U.S. government, which pulled out of the protocol in 2001, continue to oppose international negotiations on climate change? And will the companies make painful cuts in operations that are polluting yet profitable?

But many experts say California's actions could help defuse the tensions in Washington and bring pressure on President Bush and Congress to take action against global warming, with or without Kyoto.

"California, it seems to me, is on the right track or at least trying to get onto it," said James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "That track makes sense given the scientific evidence for climate change. If California succeeds in flattening its greenhouse gas emissions, then it is certainly possible for the United States as a whole."

Treaty, scheaty...leave environmental protection to the free market and it will work...just ask anyone trying to buy a Hybrid vehicle!

Sempra, LADWP face perjury accusations over energy trading

A subsidiary of Sempra Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are facing accusations that they perjured themselves over accusations of energy trading irregularities related to the 2000-01 California Energy Crisis. State Senator Joe Dunn is pushing them to come clean:

State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) said he would refer evidence to the Sacramento County district attorney that Sempra Energy Trading Corp. executives lied to legislative investigators in June 2002 when they denied using trading strategies — nicknamed "Fat Boy," "Ricochet" and "Death Star" by employees of Enron Corp. — to artificially boost profits. Dunn also said he would ask the Senate Energy Committee to censure Sempra for perjury, which could expose the company to a variety of punishments.

...The action by Dunn marks a revival of the Legislature's attempt to hold power sellers accountable for alleged manipulation of the semi-deregulated market it helped create in 1998. The market was supposed to deliver cheaper electricity, but it brought blackouts and soaring prices instead. State officials have asked federal energy regulators to order power sellers to return California $9 billion in overcharges.

The March 2001 internal Sempra e-mail that Dunn cited as proof that the company had used a trading scheme called "Ricochet" appears to show the involvement of the DWP as well as the power department run by Burbank.

The municipal utilities are described by a Sempra trader as potential power sellers in "two plays that have really worked out this week." The "plays" involved buying electricity and reselling it several times before finally selling it to the state, which by March 2001 had stepped in to buy electricity on behalf of nearly bankrupt private utilities.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Demand rises, supplies stable for Natural Gas

The California Energy Commission is predicting the obvious: as the State's population grows, demand for Natural Gas is increasing. However, new supplies are not coming on line.

The wholesale price of natural gas in California has doubled in less than four years, and continued price inflation will contribute to future increases in the cost of living and the cost of goods in the Golden State, says a staff report released in Sacramento Monday by the California Energy Commission.

"Californians feel the effects of rising natural gas prices with more expensive home heating and electricity bills, and higher prices paid for food and consumer goods," the CEC Natural Gas Assessment Update states. "Higher natural gas prices add to the cost of California-made products, making in-state businesses less competitive in the global marketplace."

Two realities of the California natural gas market combine to put the state's consumers in that position: the state produces only about 15 percent of the natural gas that it uses, and most of the state's electricity now is generated by natural gas-burning generators.

"It's not that natural gas demand is growing that much in California: we're only growing about 1 or 2 percent per year," said Claudia Chandler, a spokeswoman for the energy commission. "It's that we don't produce much ourselves."

Long Beach Council Pushes Back Against FERC

The City Council of Long Beach has fired the first shot against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in what will certainly be intergovernmental warfare over liquefied natural gas:

"I do not believe you're going to find communities and cities lining up to get on the LNG bandwagon," she said. "I would submit that perhaps that's why the feds are so interested in eminent domain."

Tuesday's council debate came hours after a U.S. Senate committee hearing in Washington at which FERC officials again expressed their interest in taking control of LNG siting decisions nationwide. FERC officials argue that since they already regulate imported energy sources, they should have more say over a growing number of proposed LNG terminals.

Because of its proximity to the Port of Los Angeles, it's surprising that the neither L.A. City Council nor any of the five candidates for Mayor have weighed in on this issue.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

CalPERS pushes for cleaner-burning fuels

The California Public Employees Retirement System appears poised to push for lower vehicle emissions by directing its investments towards companies which produce cleaner cars.

On Monday, trustees voted to ask automakers to show how they are working to increase fuel efficiency in cars and ask energy companies for better information on power plants' environmental effects. Trustees have already voted to invest $200 million in renewable energy companies and $50 million in companies they deem to be environmentally friendly.

Clean cars gain in popularity

Market forces appear to be driving the development of cleaner-burning fuels in the automobile industry, according to a report released yesterday:

Vehicle manufacturers are offering more types of fuel-efficient vehicles including for the first time an SUV, giving Southern California drivers new purchasing power over smog and high gasoline prices.

So says the author of the 2005 Green Book Online, a ranking released today of new vehicles by how friendly they are to the environment and, conversely, the worst gas-guzzlers.

For the first-time, a sport-utility vehicle -- the Ford Escape Hybrid -- made the Green Book's list of the dozen "greenest" vehicles of the year, said the book's author, James Kliesch, a research associate for the Washington D.C.-based non-profit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

"On the whole, today's vehicles are much cleaner than they were five or six years ago," Kliesch said.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Congressmen back LNG Solutions

Reps Gene Green and Lee Terry write about the benefits and rocky road in introducing liquefied natural gas to American markets:

Over the past four years, American consumers have paid an estimated $130 billion more for natural gas than in the prior 48 months. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has warned that unless we expand our supply, the United States will become increasingly uncompetitive in industries that rely on natural gas. To do this, Greenspan advocates a drastic increase in our LNG capacity to serve as a safety valve to ease price volatility.

Vast amounts of natural gas around the globe (at least 10,000 trillion cubic feet) are ready to be developed, from places such as the Caribbean, Australia and Eastern Europe that look more favorably on U.S. interests. In this country, mitigation measures coordinated by federal, state and local agencies will make LNG terminals, ships and ports the world's most secure.

The good news is that more than 30 LNG terminals are in various stages of planning throughout North America.

The bad news is that not-in-my-backyard opposition and litigation-minded outside interests in certain areas, particularly Southern California and New England, have delayed many of these plans. Ironically, these regions consume massive amounts of natural gas. In fact, one-third of the natural gas consumed in New England is currently supplied by an existing LNG facility.

The opposition to LNG by a handful of communities is costing the nation dearly, as these costly delays have forced many companies to abandon their plans.

LADWP Clean Power Blowing in the Wind

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spent millions in PR to promote its green power programs. Now, if only the clean generation could get built...

It was a public relations coup for Mayor James Hahn, standing in front of the Department of Water and Power on Feb. 3, 2003, with environmentalists to announce the city was going green and would nearly double its renewable energy production within 18 months by building a massive wind farm in the Mojave Desert.

Now, two years later, the project is two years behind schedule and critics cite the incident as one of the most blatant examples of the Hahn administration's abuse of the $3 million a year public relations contract that the DWP awarded to Fleishman-Hillard.

The firm, which has become swept up in local and federal criminal investigations of City Hall corruption, billed the DWP $62,526 to put together the Pine Tree Wind Farm event.

SF Muni continues to run on diesel, despite deadline

Although the MUNI transportation system in San Francisco does a wonderful job of getting polluting cars off the street, when it comes to managing its own polluting fleet, it comes up short:

Disappointing environmentalists and public health advocates, San Francisco's Municipal Railway has missed the first of three deadlines to phase out about 150 highly polluting diesel buses.

The first deadline, mandated by last year's voter-approved Proposition I, expired last month and required Muni to replace a quarter of the buses. The Board of Supervisors' land use committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday to examine how the transit agency is complying with the terms of Prop. I.

Nevada fighting Yucca Mountain...still

Even though the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site has been approved by Congress and the President, Nevada is still trying to fight it:

Opposition has come from every level of Nevada government: Local utility managers turned off the federal project's water supply. Gov. Kenny Guinn issued a veto of the project. Atty. Gen. Brian Sandoval has tied up the project in the courts. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman threatened to arrest anybody carrying out the plan on his turf.

But the most prominent symbol of the state's growing power is Sen. Harry Reid, selected late last year as Senate minority leader and an ardent opponent of the dump. Reid has impressed even his critics with political maneuvers that have eviscerated the Energy Department's budget for Yucca Mountain.

"The Department of Energy has no credibility here in the state of Nevada," Reid said in a recent interview.

In late November, Reid engineered the appointment of Greg Jaczko to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is in charge of licensing the nuclear dump. To broker the deal on Jaczko, a physicist on Reid's staff, the senator held up a number of Bush administration nominations.

"We have thrown up everything humanly possible to block Yucca Mountain, but Harry Reid is going to be the difference now," said Billy Vassiliadis, a top political operative in Nevada who has produced the advertising for the state's tourism and gaming industry.

If Nevadans are successful in blocking Yucca Mountain, it will mean that nuclear waste will continue to be stored along our coastline in San Onofre and Diablo Canyon.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Long Beach, Port upset over FERC decision

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is trying to exert exclusive jurisdiction over the siting of a liquefied natural gas facility in the Port of Long Beach, and that has City officials fuming:

Tuesday, the City Council unanimously asked the city attorney to come up with a resolution urging the federal government to make sure local officials have a say in whether or not a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal could be built in their city. The port’s Harbor Commissioners approved a “hands off” letter sent to elected representatives on Monday.

“I was just really outraged that our local authority could be usurped,” said First District Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, one of the co-authors of the item brought to the council, along with Third District Councilman Frank Colonna.

What prompted the reaction was a request by officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a recent U.S. Senate hearing in Washington D.C. That agency is currently involved in a court case with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) about who has jurisdiction for approvals of a proposed LNG terminal in Long Beach.

While legislation in Congress seeks to "clarify" the siting process for LNG, it can get in the way of approvals for projects which have already begun the process.

CPUC begins conservations Benchmarking

The California Public Utilities Commission is looking to track the best practices in Conservation:

California's investor-owned utilities and energy commissions have sponsored an effort to systematically benchmark and draw lessons learned from programs implemented throughout the United States. The new Energy Efficiency Best Practices Web site was developed to communicate excellent practices in order to enhance the design, implementation, and evaluation of energy efficiency programs.

The information on the site was compiled for the California Public Utilities Commission by a team of contractors led by Quantum Consulting, Inc. Pacific Gas and Electric Company managed the project in association with the California Energy Commission, Southern California Edison Company, San Diego Gas and Electric Company, and Southern California Gas Company.

The project used a benchmarking methodology to identify best practices across a variety of program types. Each report presents a detailed analysis comparing benchmarked programs within a particular area. The Web site also contains profiles of 90 energy efficiency programs from around the country.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Americans losing Hybrid Race

Beyond Brilliance, Beyond Stupidity calls American carmakers "stupid" for being behind the 8-ball on hybrid vehicle technology:

Failure to start producing hybrids at similar levels to Japan will cost US Jobs. As many as 200,000 depending on the level of hybrid adoption. And with lower gas prices nowhere in sight, that higher number looks more than likely.

Sounds like there is some opportunity for someone to take a leadership stance in California.

Want clean power? Catch a wave!

Californians might be surfing for power if one clean-energy proposal moves forward:

A new report from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggests that generation of electricity from wave energy may be economically feasible in the near future. The study was carried out by EPRI in collaboration with the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and energy agencies and utilities from six states.

Conceptual designs for 300,000 megawatt-hour (MWh) plants (nominally 120 MW plants operating at 40% capacity factor) were performed for five sites in the United States: Waimanalo Beach, Oahu, Hawaii; Old Orchard Beach, Cumberland County, Maine; WellFleet, Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Gardiner, Douglas County, Oregon; and Ocean Beach, San Francisco County, California.

The study determined that wave energy conversion may be economically feasible within the territorial waters of the United States as soon as investments are made to enable wave technology to reach a cumulative production volume of 10,000 - 20,000 MW.(For comparison land-based wind turbines currently generate 40,000 MW.)

"Wave energy will first become commercially competitive with land-based wind technology at a cumulative production volume of 10,000 or fewer MW in Hawaii and northern California, about 20,000 MW in Oregon and about 40, 000 MW in Massachusetts," said Roger Bedard, ocean energy project manager. This forecast was based on the output of a 90 MW Pelamis wave energy conversion plant design and application of technology learning curves that will enable cost savings.

With Californians aversion to building anything offshore, I'd place high odds on such a plan coming to fruiting in the Golden State.

Lockyer sues over power price gauging

California State Attorney General Bill Lockyer is taking on Canadian Power company Powerex to recover exorbidant prices paid during California's energy crisis:

"Powerex gamed the market, then gouged the state, taxpayers and ratepayers," said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, in a written statement. "It created conditions that allowed it to hold California businesses and consumers hostage, and left the state no choice but to pay the ransom. We want that money back."

Filed on behalf of the California Department of Water Resources in Sacramento County Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges PowerEx helped manipulate the market to inflate prices and create phony supply shortages. Powerex then overcharged the state when the agency was forced to buy energy directly from the company to balance the electricity grid and avoid blackouts, according to the complaint.

The Department of Water Resources bought energy from Powerex in so-called "out of market"transactions on thousands of occasions through most of 2001, the complaint alleges. Powerex overcharged by some $850 million on purchases that totaled $1 billion, according to Mr. Lockyer's office.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ballot Measure would regulate gas prices

SacBee Blogger Dan Weintraub reports that advocates for creating a commission to regulate gasoline prices have received title and summary to collect signatures to send a measure to the ballot:

The commission's job would be to keep prices "fair and reasonable" and to limit refinery profits to no more than 5 percent. So we want low prices and low profits in the oil industry. I could get into that. Sounds like a good idea. Maybe we should create a Grocery Regulatory Commission too and do the same thing for food. Oh, wait. Wal-Mart has driven prices to rock-bottom, forces its suppliers to trim profits and itself has a profit margin of less than 5 percent. All without a commission giving them marching orders. AND WE HATE THEM FOR IT! Right? Hmmm.

SDG&E to offer Broadband

San Diego Gas and Electric is venturing into a new version of horizontal integration of California's utilities:

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. said Tuesday that it would launch a pilot program offering some customers broadband Internet access over power lines, making it the first electric utility in the state to test the latest high-speed technology.

But the broadband connection would be a byproduct of what the utility really wants: a way for customers and the company to better manage electric service.

...Lorenz said SDG&E wanted to make sure that broadband over power lines, or BPL, could provide customers such services as minute-by-minute prices to help them manage their use of electricity. The network also would have to provide the utility with some operational benefits, such as precise data on any problems with the lines, he said.

With the possibility of offering VOIP, could a Sempra Phone Services be next?

DWP Scandals focus attention on Mayor's Race in Los Angeles

Although the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has proved generally less expensive and pore reliable in delivering electricity than the State's investor-owned utilities, according to LA Times Columnist Steve Lopez, its mismanagement of funds is drawing the ire of voters, and making them focus on the race for Mayor in that town.

But I'm always stunned by my DWP bill, if not by the handy tips stuffed inside.

"Conserving water saves you money and helps preserve our natural resources," the DWP informed me while asking for $370.66.

You're kidding. Conserving water saves me money and preserves resources?

"Use a bucket of soapy water to wash your car," the text continued. "Use the hose only for the final rinse."

Hey, there's a breakthrough idea.

And here's another:

"Use a broom instead of a hose to sweep up dirt and leaves from the sidewalk."

I don't know what genius at DWP came up with these tips. My guess, after the news of the last year on how things work in local government, is that a team of 30 in-house geniuses got together and brainstormed but came up dry.

So I'm guessing the DWP spent millions of dollars hiring people to come up with the car wash and broom insights.

That's the way it worked when the water agency hosed away $3 million a year on a politically connected PR firm that allegedly padded its bills, charging the city up to $315 an hour for jobs like pumping up Mayor Jim Hahn's image. Meanwhile, the DWP was pushing for a rate hike.

Thankfully, there's a silver lining to this kind of monkey business. There's been so much of it at City Hall, some Angelenos appear to be bucking tradition and — brace yourselves, Los Angeles — paying attention. A Times poll found that fewer than half of likely voters think Mayor Jim Hahn has honesty and integrity, and 34% came right out and said they believe he's dishonest.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Politicians Fail to Plan for Population Growth

Sacramento Bee Columnist Dan Walters examined politics and population and reaches an important conclusion:

The Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit estimates that during the 2003-04 period, 551,000 births and 283,600 in net immigration, offset by 235,000 deaths, produced a net growth of 599,000, bringing the state's population to 36.6 million.

There are several ways to put that number in perspective, but two of them sharply illustrate its dimensions: It's roughly 20 percent of all the population growth in the United States, and over just one decade, it would be the equivalent of adding the entire population of Indiana, the 14th-most-populous state, to California.

What it means, most of all, is that we would be very foolish to repeat the mistakes of the 1970s and fail to adjust public policy to the simple fact that every year we can expect 600,000 more people. They will need 200,000 more units of housing and a quarter-million more jobs, will add about 500,000 more cars and trucks to already crowded highways and roads, send tens of thousands more kids to school, and will demand retail stores, water, health care and recreation.

Political action to meet those demands is more than overdue - especially since politicians have so often ignored the effects of the 50 percent increase in population we've already experienced since 1980. Our increasingly congested highways are just the most obvious example of how growth's impacts have been sidestepped.

The odd thing is that individually, California politicians know that population growth and its effects, including ever-greater levels of cultural diversity, are the most important challenge facing the state. They wax nostalgic about how their predecessors in the 1950s and 1960s faced similar pressures and met them with historic infrastructure improvements, including hundreds of miles of new roadways, vast new water projects and school-and college-building on a massive scale.

The same can be said about the need to build critical energy infrastructure--such as electric generation and receiving terminals for liquefied natural gas.

Assembly Committee reviews auto emissions cap

In an odd twist of political fates in Sacramento, Republicans and men of the cloth went head-to-head over, of all things, automotive emissions:

The Assembly Transportation Committee on Monday reviewed a state cap on automotive greenhouse gas emissions without much of the debate that has dogged the controversial rule.

All 14 people - mostly environmental advocates, business executives and the clergy - who testified supported the cap. Adopted by the Air Resources Board in September, it requires automakers to curb output of carbon dioxide and other climate-warming gases from cars and trucks sold in the state beginning with model year 2009...

Several Republicans on the committee questioned how the regulation's cost was calculated. Air board staff estimates it will add $1,050 to the price of the average vehicle by 2016, a cost that will be more than offset by savings in fuel expenses. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers maintains the added average cost per vehicle will be $3,000.

Monday, February 07, 2005

New Developments in Fuel Efficient Cars

While Californians may love their cars, it seems the Teutonic peoples are more likely to love their cars running efficiently. Switzerland’s Paul Scherrer Institute and French tiremaker Michelin recently received plaudits for their fuel-cell powered vehicle. Meanwhile, German Automaker Mercedes is working up the E200 NGT to run on natural gas, which would have 20% fewer Carbon Dioxide emissions than the regular model. Of course, Natural Gas might not be so viable a fuel for California unless the infrastructure is built to import more of it into the State!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Court OKs California Energy Efficiency Law

Californians can get more information on energy efficient products, after a court ruled the proposed State law is not in conflict with weaker federal regulations:

The state regulations, unique in the nation and a source of information for consumers and utility companies, were frozen by a federal judge in late 2002, as an expansion of the rules was about to take effect. U.S. District Judge William Shubb said states can't exceed federal requirements for disclosures of energy efficiency.

But the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that a state can exceed federal standards when requiring appliance manufacturers to provide information related to their products' energy consumption.

A federal law, passed in 1975 in response to the Arab oil embargo, set uniform nationwide criteria for energy efficiency and energy-related labeling of appliances but didn't restrict states' authority to collect additional data from manufacturers, said Judge Sidney Thomas.

Transcripts reveal Enron's Plots for California

Although Enron is no longer around, its impacts on California are still felt. This week, we're learning more about how they gamed California's deregulated energy markets:

The Houston company, which made at least $1.6 billion during California's energy crisis, spotted weaknesses in the state's deregulation plan even before it went into effect, officials with the Snohomish County Public Utility District said Thursday.

The documents they unveiled Thursday also suggest Enron gamed the market in Alberta, Canada, using trading schemes similar to those it employed in California. Phone transcripts show Enron searching for reasons to shut down one of its power plants during the height of the California energy crisis, eventually closing the plant as blackouts rippled across the state.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Parks seeks to wean City from LADWP

In recent years, the City of Los Angeles has treated its municipal utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, as a Cash Cow. "Not so fast," says City Councilman and Mayoral candidate Bernard Parks:

Councilman Bernard Parks, stepping up his criticism in his campaign against Mayor James Hahn, said Wednesday that he would freeze rates at the Department of Water and Power and try to wean the city off using so much money from the utility to balance its books.

"The current administration looks at the DWP as a cookie jar," Parks said at a news conference in front of the utility's downtown headquarters. "In the last four years, the mayor has taken $600 million from the DWP ratepayers to use to give in salary increases and pension benefits to city workers."

Americans squabble, Mexicans move on LNG

Seeking to fill the gap between supply and demand in California's natural gas markets, would-be receiving terminals are getting various welcomes in the U.S. and Mexico. North of the Border, squabbles between the State and Federal government are threatening the future of Mitsubishi's Long Beach project:

The lead attorney for California's energy regulatory agency on Wednesday denounced federal regulators for seeking sole power to place liquefied natural gas terminals nationwide, including Long Beach.

Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asked members of the Senate energy committee to change language in the 67-year-old Natural Gas Act so that the federal commission had ultimate power in deciding where and whether LNG terminals are built.

"It's a pretty extreme position FERC is taking, but it's a pretty extreme FERC," said Harvey Morris, principal counsel for the California Public Utilities Commission. "FERC's move for exclusive jurisdiction is a threat throughout the state."

The state utilities commission is fighting FERC in federal court over who has the power to determine if a proposed LNG terminal in the Port of Long Beach is safe enough to be built. The Long Beach project is one of a handful of proposed LNG terminals statewide that could be affected by the court case.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, a new entrant in the California/Baja California LNG picture is raising eyebrows:

An intriguing new player has entered the fierce competition to supply liquefied natural gas to Baja California and Southern California. A private Baja California company has teamed with Moss Maritime, a global leader in the design and engineering of LNG tankers, to build a $55 million floating LNG project about 5 miles off the coast of Rosarito Beach. The partners plan to convert an LNG vessel into a floating storage and regasification unit -- known in energy circles as an FSRU -- that would supply LNG to the cross-border region.

"We believe an FSRU is the best way to receive, store, regasify and transport the gas, which will be delivered to shore," said Lucy Ocaña, public relations director for the Mexican partner, Terminales y Almacenes Maritimos de Mexico S.A. de C.V., known as TAMMSA.

"This concept has less impact on the environment compared to shore-based and gravity-based platforms," she said.

TAMMSA and Moss applied in mid-January for a federal environmental permit to develop the project.

Projects in Mexico have gone through less rigorous environmental approvals than those north of the border, thereby giving them a leg up in the race to build LNG facilities off the coast.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Union leader pushes for onshore LNG

Citing a study which says that a worst-case scenario at the proposed LNG terminal in Long Beach would be limited to the Port, union leader Richard Slawson of Building and Construction Trade Council of Los Angeles and Orange counties, takes a swipe of those who would rather put LNG off shore:

While some present "offshore" as the "safe alternative," it is increasingly clear that opponents of a facility in the middle of an industrial port area are really saying "no" to LNG anywhere. Why is that? We don't have any test case examples of offshore LNG terminals. If LNG at a secure, controlled and "hardened" onshore industrial site is unsafe, how would you propose that we protect an offshore LNG terminal?

LNG is a necessary and stabilizing boost for our local energy needs, California jobs and our economy overall. The real question is whether the opponents of LNG are open to an honest discussion or one driven by hysteria.

If there are risks with LNG, however, wouldn't it make sense to locate them as far away from population centers as possible?!?

Conservation push worth three power plants

States across the country are turning to conservation methods to ease demand for electricity. California hopes to save enough power to prevent the ened to construct three power plants, but not everybody is buying it:

"Some consumers hate it," concedes Art Rosenfeld of the California Energy Commission, which in December approved stricter energy-efficiency standards for more than 20 products, including DVD players, televisions, and light bulbs. But he says these items will pay for themselves in a few years, and then "you're laughing all the way to the bank."

For states, the benefits of stricter standards tend to outweigh the risks of annoying consumers.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Timeline of Troubles for Long Beach LNG Facility

Sound Energy Solutions' proposed Long Beach Liquefied Natural Gas facility now has a timeline for the hurdles it must clear in order to gain approval:

The LNG project, supported by state and federal energy advocates but opposed by local activists, faces key regulatory, environmental and safety hurdles at the City Hall, the Port of Long Beach and federal court.

Sound Energy Solutions (SES), a Long Beach subsidiary of Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Corp., has been developing plans for the terminal, which could hold 320,000 cubic meters of LNG.

It is estimated the plant would bring in enough LNG to provide about 10 percent of California's natural gas needs.

On April 2, the City Council will hold a study session at a yet-to-be-determined location on the project and members of the public are encouraged to attend and provide input.

Then, in late April or early May, an environmental review of the project, being conducted jointly by federal energy regulators and the port and funded by SES, will be released.

Eighth District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich, who pushed for the April forum, said it's important for the city and port to make decisions on the project ahead of the environmental review.

Gabelich said she is wary of the proposed terminal.

"I want to make sure everybody understands what they approved," she said. "Once the train leaves the station, you've sort of given it your OK."

...The summer is also likely to see the resumption of a court case between energy regulators in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., over which agency has authority to permit the LNG plant.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is suing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which claims control over LNG imports, because the state agency says all the natural gas from the terminal will be used in California.

Final briefs in the CPUC's case against FERC are due in April, meaning the case likely won't begin until the summer, said CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper.

Even with that aggressive schedule for Long Beach, it remains behind the Cabrillo Port project in the approval process, despite the Coast Guard "stopping the clock" last month.

Hybrid Owners stuck in HOV Onramp

State law allowing drivers in hybrid vehicles to use carpool lanes on the State's freeways took effect January 1st, but without an act of Congress, hybrid owners are stuck on the highways with the rest of us:

Although several California legislators are working on a solution, no one can say for sure when hybrid drivers will be allowed to zoom past other commuters on traffic-choked freeways.

It has been a long and frustrating delay, said Lorusso, 46, who moved to Toluca Lake from Ventura last year.

"It was part of the sales pitch, and I've been waiting ever since," she said. "I've been going online every month to see if it's gone through."

California's law, which expires in 2008, applies to vehicles that get at least 45 mpg and are among the cleanest-burning in their class. Qualifying owners would have to apply for a special decal from the Department of Motor Vehicles before entering carpool lanes.

LADWP ratepayers subsidize City Hall

Jim Alger, a member of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council, outlines a grave concern many observers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have about the fungibility of money in Los Angeles' Civic Center:

As revealed by a class-action lawsuit filed by five DWP customers, since 2000 the DWP has transferred more than $800 million in "surplus" funds to the city of Los Angeles, $250 million last year alone. The city's description of the money as "surplus" would be laughable if it weren't so indicative of its arrogance. The fact is, the DWP has amassed not a surplus, but instead it's in debt to the tune of $1 billion.

The bottom line is simple. When you send the DWP your monthly check, you probably think what you're paying for is the water and electricity you've consumed. Think again. What you're really doing is subsidizing City Hall.

But it gets worse.

Last June, under the pretense of needing more money for "homeland security," the DWP raised water rates by 11 percent. It could have been higher. If it weren't for neighborhood councils the DWP would have raised rates by 18 percent. Even so, the 11 percent will bring in an estimated additional $60 million. Just coincidentally, of course, the City Council, just weeks after approving the rate hike, transferred an additional $60 million in a "onetime surplus transfer" to the city coffers.

In other words, as a DWP customer you're not only paying for the water and electricity you use, you're also paying a secret tax to the city of Los Angeles.