Wednesday, February 28, 2007

UC- Irvine Unveils Hydrogen Fueling Station

UC Irvine yesterday cut the ribbon on a brand new hydogen vehicle refueling station. The station is the first deployed by the company Air Products as part of the California Hydrogen Infrastructure Project (CHIP) with the United States Department of Energy (DOE), along with project collaborators Toyota, Honda, BMW and Nissan.

The station was funded by grants from the Department of Energy and the SQAMD. It will be operated as part of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at UC Irvine.

According to

The fueling station features non-interchangeable fueling nozzles, which reduce the potential for user error. The stand-alone dispenser features a familiar gas station-like interface designed for ease of use and safety. The station has the capacity to fill approximately five to 10 vehicles per day, depending on vehicle fuel capacity. Computerized vehicle communications help optimize the refueling process, and vehicle fill times are approximately three to six minutes.

The CHIP program is a DOE sponsored multi-year project led by Air Products to demonstrate a model of real-world hydrogen infrastructure and to acquire sufficient data to assess the feasibility of achieving some of the nation's hydrogen infrastructure goals. To accomplish this, several hydrogen fueling stations employing a variety of hydrogen production methods are planned in the greater Los Angeles area, including the station at UCI.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

SSJID's Aggressive Energy Play.

The South San Joaqin Irrigation District is shopping a proposal to outside investors to build a solar farm in the district. While I haven't read the fine print, on the surface the plan seems interesting and it appears to be the kind of aggressive, creative thinking that California needs more of.

Basically, the SSJID needs power to run its water treatment plant. Rather than construct the generation facility itself, it is seeking to contract with private sector interests to build it using their own capital. In return, the private sector builder/operator will get federal tax breaks (that the SSJID is not eligible for because it is a non-profit) and a guaranteed contract with the SSJID to purchase all of the power at a discount (the private sector builder/operator would still make money on the sales, however).

Again, the devil is in the details, but the deal appears to be the kind of innovative public/private partnership that will facilitate more renewable energy generation in California.

Ironically, the SSJID is also in the midst of a nasty eminent domain fight with PG&E. The District has offered $80 million for PG&E's distribution infrastructure in the area, but PG&E is not biting. SSJID claims it can offer customers a 15% dsitrict if the deal goes through.

Admittedly, the eminent domain fight is the polar opposite of the kind of market-based solution that this blog loves, but you have appreciate the aggressive play by SSJID. The District is pushing the envelope on all fronts to squeeze fat, maximize efficiency and provide cost-efficient energy solutions to consumers.

No doubt there are going to be lots of supporters and detractors for both of these proposed deals, but these are the kinds of public policy discussions California needs to have if it is going to dig itself out of the current energy mess.

Monday, February 26, 2007

What About Nuclear?

Blogger Bill Bradley points out that Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore is stumping for nuclear power in Fresno. Moore, who has fallen out of favor with many in the environmental community, has written a lengthy piece in which he makes the case for nuclear-- and dispels some of the myths.

[Note: Sorry for the late post... I celebrated way too hard last night after Al Gore won his Oscar and had to sleep in...]

Nuclear Future? [New West Notes]

Friday, February 23, 2007

California Dems Seek To Expedite Green Energy Efforts

In an effort to speed California's compliance with aggressive alternative energy mandate set foth in AB32, California State Senate President pro Tem Don Perata and a coalition of Senate Democrats announced yesterday the introduction of a sweeping eight-bill package that aims to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California.

As reported in California Progress Report:

"Perata complained that: "The implementation of Assembly Bill 32 is getting bogged down in arcane discussions over intercontinental trading schemes,'carbon markets' and free 'credits'. That may work for Wall Street traders andEnron economists, but it doesn't work for Californians."

The California Progress Report has a complete discription of the bills in the legislative package.
[Photo credit: Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer]

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Marketplace At Work.

In a perfect follow-up to yesterday's rant about the need for private sector investment in California's alternative energy infrastructure, Lennar, one of the largest homebuilders in the country announced today that solar energy packages will now come standard in all of the homes it builds in the Bay Area.

An article in the Contra Costa Times acknowledged that, in the past, buyers have shied away from adding solar to their new home designs (only 2% of new home buyers, historically) because it was such a costly add-on, but thanks to incentives given to builders through Gov. Schwarzenegger's Million Solar Roofs program, the solar package is now standard.

In its press release, Lennar acknowledged that the incentives included in the Million Solar Roofs program prodded the company to make this move:

In 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation (Senate Bill 1) aimed at establishing California as the nation’s leader in solar energy. By 2011, his Million Solar Roofs Plan will provide incentives to builders and homeowners who install solar power in new homes and convert to solar energy in existing homes. The bill, which provides tremendous support to Lennar’s existing solar energy initiatives, is just part of a broader effort to push green energy alternatives throughout the state.

Additionally, PG&E has said that homeowners who generate more power through their solar arrays than they consume will receive a credit on their bill that can be applied to nightime use of electricity drawn from the grid. There is a $5 monthly connection fee that all solar customers will be required to pay, however.

Developer makes solar power standard [Contra Costa Times]

Lennar Homebuilding Introduces Solar Electric Systems in All New Homes in the Bay Area [Lennar Press Release]

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Let's Hope This Idea Goes Nowhere...

In an oped in today's San Jose Mercury News, Assembly Member Kevin de Leon (D- Los Angeles) says "talk is cheap" when it comes to green energy. Calling AB 32 just the "first step," de Leon writes:

"The best way to keep this issue moving forward in Washington is to keep leading the way here at home. That means creating an investment climate that attracts a sustained infusion of dollars into our growing green economy and finally breaking the boom-and-bust cycle that has plagued this energy sector. To break that cycle we need to prove to Wall Street and capital venture leaders that this isn't just another political fad."
I love it. Bring it on Mr. de Leon.

But, not so fast... If you read further, you quickly learn that Mr. de Leon is not advocating a market-based solution to developing an alternative energy infrastructure in California-- far from it.

de Leon wants to raise taxes on automobiles to create state-run fund to invest in alternative energy projects. This is an apocalyptically bad idea.

If Mr. de Leon wants to do deals, he should move to New York and become an investment banker or perhaps get a gig with one of the Sand Hill Road VC shops. But, for now, he's an elected legislator, and he should focus on crafting legislation that promotes the already strong private sector interest in investing in alternative energy in California (see last week's post about the truckloads of cash being poured in to solar projects in Northern California).

I agree with de Leon that California is going to require a huge infusion of investment capital if it is going to meet its renewable energy mandate, but simply throwing money at the problem won't solve it. In order to achieve real progress, the results-driven, brutal efficiency and high standards of a hard-nosed private equity firm will be required-- not the political unacccountablility of the California legislature.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Kennedy Beating Continues...

Poor Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.! What did he do to deserve this aggravation?

It's been over two weeks since he published a letter in the Ventura County Star expressing broad support for the concept of LNG as a "bridge fuel" and as an alternative to coal and other fossil fuels. Since then, he's been beaten like a rented mule. I don't think Uncle Teddy took this much heat for Chappaquiddick!

The latest to weigh in with an anti-RFK diatribe is Assembly Member Julia Brownley who constructs her argument thusly: I disagree with RFK-- but here are all the things he said that are right-- and I hate the Cabrillo Port project.

Kennedy might hate the Cabrillo Port project too, but we can't be sure of that because he never mentioned it! Nor did he mention Long Beach, or the Sempra project in Mexico, or any other project for that matter- he merely expressed his admiration for one individual's "courageous" decision to consider an unpopular proposal.

In another broadside, a college student from Washington crushes Mr. Kennedy and recounts how she hounded him at a reception over the LNG issue. She opposes LNG because it emits too much carbon and because, apparently, fishing stocks in Sakhalin Island, Russia were wiped out by an LNG operation. (Can't you just see RFK giving the "crank up the Prius and get me out of here, NOW" signal to his assistant?!)

From my perspective, RFK's fundamental thesis makes sense:

"No energy project is perfect, and LNG only makes sense if accompanied by the appropriate public and environmental safety protections.

Like most fuels, there is an explosive risk with LNG, but it is small compared with ships that carry gasoline and other petroleum products into American ports by the thousands each day. An LNG facility, if properly sited and constructed, can
impose a relatively tiny ecological footprint and poses far less public health risks than grave injuries endured by workers and residents in coal communities or the many public health threats from burning dirtier fossil fuels.

LNG is certainly not a silver bullet, but as a transitional fuel, it can pave the way for greener sources of energy while replacing oil, nuclear and coal in the short term."

Is his position really that unreasonable?

We need to focus on creating a portfolio of clean energy sources that includes everything from geothermal to wind to solar and, yes, even natural gas. How we build that portfolio and--more importantly-- where we site and build the facilities to provide those various sources of energy-- is a matter for public debate and regulatory approval which is all Kennedy was really trying to say.

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Dam'd" If You Do... "Dam'd If You Don't!

In the latest example of why the renewable energy mandate is going to be so hard to meet, the Sacramento Bee has a story about Arnold's new $4.5 billion dam project. The idea was to create more hyrdroelectric power, which will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, right? Wrong.

Apparently dams are actually greenhouse gas emission factories. When you pour all that cement to build a dam? Emissions. When the water pools into a reservoir? Decaying organic material causes emissions.

And, according to the Bee, it's not just a front-loaded problem:

"Emissions continue throughout the dam's life as more organic matter washes in from upstream, and when water is released to make electricity, causing a pressure drop that frees gases locked within the stored water."

The Bee also notes:

"Only one study has been done so far in California, led by researchers at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Published in 2004 in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, it looked at Shasta Lake, Lake Oroville and New Melones Reservoir.

It estimated that Shasta Lake released 224 tons per day of carbon dioxide, both through diffusion from the surface and during power generation. That's equal to about 14,500 average automobiles, each driven 40 miles a day. Lake Oroville emissions equaled about 3,400 cars."

I'm sure the hydro guys will have plenty to say about all of this.

'Clean' energy dams may be dirty after all [Sacramento Bee]

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Jerry Brown Becomes an LNG Casualty

Capitol Weekly reports that things are heating up in the "hot gas" lawsuit brought by AQMD. Environmental interests are not happy that new AG Jerry Brown failed to file an amicus brief in the action and are raising suspicicions that the LNG industry might have gotten to him.

Now it is absolutely no secret that I'm for LNG, but I have said repeatedly that the issue of LNG imports should be decided the same way every other public policy issue is decided: through a thorough public evaluation. If state regulators decide to kill the idea, so be it.

AQMD had every right to file the lawsuit and it will have its day in court. But how do you throw Jerry Brown under the bus for not filing a brief? The guy is an anti-establishment icon who has spent a lifetime championing liberal causes. He's been on the job for a month...let him get settled in!

Similarly, the blogosphere has been going crazy on Robert Kennedy for writing a pro-LNG editorial. The man's environmental (and liberal, political) credentials are beyond reproach-- I find it hard to believe he's been corrupted by monied industrial interests.

As Dan Walters's piece in the Bee yesterday reminds us, the energy situation in California is a mess. We're hurtling toward a renewable mandate we probably won't be able to meet while our population continues to grow. We need energy solutions and that requires that we consider all the options.

So let's see where the lawsuits and the hearings come out, but in the interim, let's not beat up public officials for things they didn't do, after all, if history is any guide, these folks will repeately make decisions and do things that will give us plenty of legitmate fodder for criticism.

Is 'hot gas' rift developing between enviros, Brown? [Capitol Weekly]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Seriously, What IS the Plan?

Dan Walters has a piece in today's Sacramento Bee about just how much of a mess the energy picture in California really is. He doesn't pull any punches when talking about the morass of mandates handed down by the powers that be:

"The power system now functions under a conglomeration of decrees from the Legislature and two state agencies, but with little overall philosophical thrust or transparency. And since then, the state has imposed even more obligations on power suppliers, such as moving away from generating sources that emit greenhouse gases."

Walters acknowledges that supply is going to be an increasingly big problem as California's population grows by 5 million people every decade. He even acknowldedges a need to consider LNG but notes that, if Long Beach is any inidcation, that's no easy fix either.

Dan Walters: California still needs energy plan [Sacramento Bee]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Is Solar the New Dot-Com?

Business 2.0 magazine goes in-depth on the venture capital community's love affair with solar energy and notes that the Sand Hill Road crowd hasn't been this fired up since the dot-com days.

Solar is an $11 billion worldwide market now and California has pledged $3.2 billion for its Million Solar Rooftops initiative. Those numbers will turn more than a few heads are causing solar to leave other alternative energy sources in the dust from a capital infusion standpoint.

The article notes:

The signs of world-changing transformation are everywhere: Venture capitalists are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Valley solar startups pursuing technological breakthroughs to make sun power as cheap as fossil fuel. Three of the largest tech IPOs of 2005 were for solar companies, including San Jose-based SunPower (Charts), a spinoff of chipmaker Cypress Semiconductor.

Other old-line Valley tech companies are also jumping into the market. Among the most significant is Applied Materials (Charts). The world's largest chip-equipment maker will begin producing machines to manufacture solar wafers, laying the groundwork for an industrial infrastructure that should lower the cost of producing solar cells. For the first time in many years, high-tech manufacturing plants - yes, factories - are being built in Silicon Valley.

The piece looks at several Northern California solar start-ups and muses on the California carbon market that is almost sure to develop as companies begin to trade carbon credits.

Regardless of how you feel about solar, it's an interesting read.

Here Comes the Sun [Business 2.0]

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Other Side Weighs In on Long Beach LNG.

Writing in the Sunday San Jose Mercury News, Sullivan Marsden (Stanford University Professor Emeritus) condemned the Long Beach decision to kill the Sound Energy Solutions LNG project.

His argument? Life isn't safe and we're kidding ourselves by "adopting the attitude that we can insulate ourselves from energy incapacity, especially in a time of rising concern over price stability and global warming."

He goes on to argue that domestic natural gas supplies will never meet demand and that we need LNG:

"So LNG needs to be rethought. Like it or not, we are now part of a new global market in natural gas. Thus, we need to build the infrastructure to bring in LNG from the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, South America and possibly Russia. And that's going to require siting one or more terminals on the Pacific Coast, preferably in California."
(I can already hear the conspiracy theorists musing about the timing of this piece, only days after the Sound Energy Solutions lawsuit over was filed over LNG!)

Natural gas too important to fall prey to NIMBY attitudes [San Jose Mercury News]

Friday, February 09, 2007

Who Didn't See This Coming?

Sound Energy Solutions sued the Long Beach Harbor Commission yesterday to revive their proposed LNG terminal in Long Beach Harbor. The suit claims the Harbor Commissioners violated California environmental laws by not completing the EIR for a project that was DOA anyway.

According to the LA Times's write up:

"Acting on the advice of Long Beach City Atty. Robert E. Shannon, the commissioners decided that the project faced insurmountable legal and safety issues.

Critics, including staff at the California Coastal Commission, the Public Utilities Commission and the Energy Commission, say that a catastrophic accident at the proposed natural gas terminal would burn much of the harbor, one of the busiest in the nation, and the Long Beach waterfront. "

So I guess, SES has a decent shot of winning this suit (and clogging up the courts and expending a lot of money and time in the process), then the project can officially be voted down-- because that's a given at this point.

At least it gives us something to talk about....

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Building Our Way to Energy Efficiency?

Apparently there is one area of California's agressive new alternative energy agenda where the state does have its act together: buildings.

According to an EPA press release, commercial buildings are responsible for almost 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the country, and California has more energy-efficient buildings than any other state in teh country-- 779.

Texas comes in second with a mere 367 buidings that qualified under the Energy Star program. Energy star buildings use about 35% less energy than traditional buildings, according to the EPA.

While this is all good news from a consumption standpoint, we still have to address that nagging issue of 20% by 2010 in terms of energy production.
You could argue, I suppose that, by cutting consumption, you are decreasing the amount of energy you need to produce to meet demand and therfore making the 20% number easier to achieve, but let's not kid ourselves...

California leads nation in Energy Star program [EPA Press Release]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Is CAL-ISO Getting In The Power Plant Business?

Nevada Hydro, the company developing the Lake Elsinore Hyrdoelectric Plant is pressuring the ISO into taking over the future operation of the plant. The ISO is a non-profit organization that has long facilitated transmission of electricity in California but has never run a for-profit generation facility before.

If you're scratching your head right now trying to figure out why this is a good idea (and whom it would benefit), consider the following pull-quote from the North County Times' write-up:

"Some of the scenarios would also have the plant included in the system operator's "transmission access charge," which splits the cost of high-voltage transmission projects among all the entities that use the ISO-controlled grid, proportionate to their size.

The access charge would provide the major source of revenue for the project's investors and would ensure a guaranteed return on their investment, Nevada Hydro spokesman Chris Wysocki said. That charge would be passed on to the state's electricity customers, but Wysocki said that it could turn out to be better than the alternative.

If the ISO doesn't operate the plant, he said, electricity customers could be stuck with even higher bills if the power the hydro plant creates were to be sold on the open market. The owners of the project could wait until electricity demand dictates higher prices to maximize their profits, he said. Nevada Hydro's plan is to sell the project once the proper licenses are granted."

For background on the Lake Elsinore project, see this earlier post.

Grid operator looks at running power plant [North County Times]

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fighting Dirty In The Battle Against Coal?

Now, we've talked California's recent ban on coal-fired power to death, but things just seem to keep getting tougher for coal.

A week or so ago on American Idol, curmudgeonly judge Simon Cowell gave some showbiz advice to an effervescent young woman trying to be supportive of her best friend who had just flubbed her audition: "When someone is down, kick them!"
The natural gas industry has apparently taken this to heart, putting much maligned coal interests in its sites-- and they've turned to a Hollywood ad agency to do the kicking!

A "coalition" that goes by the suspicious name the "Texas Clean Sky Coaltion" has been piling on the coal industry in Texas, running full page ads in major newspapers depicting soot-smudged men, women and children, bashing coal and opposing new coal-fired plants.

The Austin American Statesman reports today that the coalition is apparently a front group for the natural gas industry and that this Texas-sized campaign ($1 million!) is being run out of Los Angeles by Republican media firm Strategic Perception (a quick Google search reveals that Strategic Perception just signed on with the John McCain presidential campaign in January...).

According to the American Statesman:

"The campaign has cost "north of a million dollars," according to Fred Davis III, the head of Hollywood agency Strategic Perception, which put the campaign together. The photos were shot in a Southern California studio, he said. "
"Shot in a Southen California studio????" First the moon landing, now this! It's enough to make you cynical...

Safeway Getting Even Greener...

Safeway is the first retail grocery chain to join the California Climate Action Registry, California's only official registry for Greenhouse Gas emissions reduction projects. Joining the Registry requires Safeway to follow a stringent program to annually monitor, report and certify its greenhouse gas emissions.

Safeway has implemented several clean energy initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint across California and North America. The company was a strong supporter of AB 32, California’s new law to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020. In September 2006 Safeway joined the Chicago Climate Exchange and committed to reduce its carbon footprint from the base year 2000 by 390,000 tons of carbon dioxide. The company also announced the purchase of an additional 174,000 megawatt-hours of wind energy, making it one of the largest corporate purchasers of green wind energy in California and the nation.

The Registry, created by the California legislature in 2000, helps companies and organizations throughout the United States track, publicly report and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The results are certified by independently approved third-party auditors that ensure compliance with Registry protocols and standardization across participants and sectors within California. The Registry has been widely recognized as a gold standard for public reporting of greenhouse gases.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Berkeley To Share BP Grant With Illinois

BP announced that UC Berkelely and the University of Illinois will share its half-billion dollar grant to create an energy biosciences laboratory.

According to the BP press release:

"The proposal from UC Berkeley and its partners was selected in large part because these institutions have excellent track records of delivering 'Big Science' - large and complex developments predicated on both scientific breakthroughs and engineering applications that can be deployed in the real world," said BP Group Chief Executive John Browne. "This program will further both basic and applied biological research relevant to energy. In short, it will create the discipline of Energy Biosciences. The Institute will be unique in both its scale and its partnership between BP, academia and others in the private sector."

BP Selects Strategic Partners for Energy Biosciences Institute [Press Release]

Friday, February 02, 2007

SDG&E Raising Rates.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. is petioning the PUC to end a rate freeze that covers about 70% of its customers. The company says the cap is unfair to large customers and it discourages energy conservation. (Yeah, I'm sure that's it...)

Specicially, SDG&E is proposing to raise rates for typical customers next year by about $5 monthly, or nearly triple the increase the utility anticipated seeking late last year.

The Union Trib has the story, read all about it.

SDG&E proposes rate increase [San Diego Union Tribune]

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dateline, Malibu.

It’s “game on” in Malibu this morning as both the Malibu Times and the Surfside News go after LNG.

The Times has a good summary of the several offshore projects in various stages of environmental review, and it breaks the news that the EPA has responded to Waxman’s inquiry with a letter of its own—but nobody knows what it says because Waxman’s office hasn’t read it yet. (Which is good for the Times because it can get a two-day bounce out of the story! Stay tuned.)

The Surfside News takes up the issue of AQMD’s “hot gas” lawsuit . Reporter Hans Laetz also notes that Cabrillo Port officials have not officially informed the AQMD that the facility will steer clear of hot gas, but the agency did say that the company has said it could meet that standard if the PUC decides to implement it.
The article points out that, if Cabrillo Port did ever use hot gas, it would have to come up with some kind of a engineering/design fix to the catalytic scrubbers that are usually used at LNG terminals to control hot gas emissions. Apparently these scrubbers are ill-suited for use on a pitching, swaying ship.
Lots going on, lots to discuss!