Thursday, January 31, 2008

SoCal Ed's Turn For Sticker Shock

Southern California Edison told state regulators yesterday, "Sure we riggend customer satisfaction survyes and safety data, massively defrauding ratepayers, but we're the real victim here because the $237 million fine you want us to pay is unreasonable-- how about $51 million and we call it even?" [I'm paraphrasing here...]

According to Elizabeth Douglas in the Los Angeles Times:

"The case stems from Edison's admission in 2004 that employees had falsified data for seven years to help workers and the company win performance rewards that were paid for by the utility's customers. Subsequent investigations by Edison and the PUC uncovered elaborate schemes that artificially boosted the company's customer satisfaction scores along with extraordinary measures taken by safety managers to downplay employee injuries."

What happens next? The ball is in the PUC's court...

Edison argues for lower fine [Los Angeles Times]

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Refinery Upgrade Encoutering Opposition

Chevron's plan to upgrade its Richmond refinery is ruffling some community feathers. With the upgrades, the facility will be able to process a wider range of crude oil and pump out 6% more California grade gasoline, albeit at a cost of almost 900,000 extra metric tons of greenhouse gases every year.

The EIR supposedly outlines measures to mitigate the greenhouse gases, and Chevron claims the changes will result in a net emissions decline.

Envirnonmentalists and community members however see this overhaul as an opportuntiy to make even more sweeping environmental upgrades and some have argued that Chevron should be kicking back more of its increased profits to the local community instead of passing higher dividends along to its "wealthy shareholders."

(Imagine that, environmental oppositions and class warfare surrounding an oil refinery... go figure...)
Public hearings are later this week and the project still needs municipal approval, as well as the blessing of the CEC and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Monday, January 28, 2008

In L.A., Class Conflict Over Solar Subsidies

The Los Angeles Daily News has a story about a new battle between the "haves" and the "have-nots," and its all about solar power subsidies. A Los Angeles Deparment of Water and Power program to promote solar power has become a give-away some of the richest Angelenos.

According to the Daily News:

Since its inception in 1999, DWP ratepayers have paid $50.8 million to fund the city's Solar Incentive Program, which has financed half the cost of 1,022 solar power systems for residential and commercial property owners.

But of the $18.1 million in residential solar subsidies, nearly three-quarters has gone to 633 customers in five council districts encompassing upscale Westside communities, the West San Fernando Valley and the Silver Lake area.

Solar power to the richest [Los Angeles Daily News]

Friday, January 25, 2008

Solar Drowning In Red Tape

As if solar didn't have enough of its own challenges, we get this from the LA Times:

Despite state goals to encourage alternative energy, no application to build a large solar power plant in California has been approved in 18 years, and new projects could face significant delays in the bureaucracy, the state auditor said Thursday.

The auditor said actions by the state and a changing energy market appear to have spurred new interest in solar power plants in California, but she warned that red tape may end up slowing future projects.

More than 50 applications have been filed with the federal Bureau of Land Management for large solar plants, those that would produce more than 50 megawatts, but no application for such a facility has been approved by the state since 1990. Two applications for large projects are being processed, and eight more are expected this year, said Terry O'Brien, a deputy director for the California Energy Commission.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dispositions Are Not So Sunny In Sunnyvale

Paul Rogers writes in today's Mercury News about a dust-up in Sunnyvale that is almost comical.

It seems a guy who is a committed environmentalist (he has an electric car to prove it) installed a 10kw solar array on his roof in 2001. Rogers describes the system as "so big that he pays only $60 a year for electricity." Alternative energy success story, right? WRONG!! (as John McLaughlin likes to say!)

This guy's neighbors are also committed environmentalists (their car is a hybrid and not full-on electric, but it still counts). In the late 90's they planted eight redwood trees along their fenceline. As you know, redwoods tend to get pretty big and now the trees are casting a shadow over the aforementioned solar array.

The aggrieved neighbor did what any environmentalist would do-- he demanded that the redwoods be cut down! (Ironic, I know.) The tree owners balked, mediation ensued and failed, and now they find themselves on the wrong end of criminal charges brought by the Santa Clara DA's office!

The charge? They are in violation of California's "Solar Shade Control Act." This obscure law dates back to the 1970's when Jerry Brown signed it in order to promote solar energy during the energy crisis. It "affects only trees planted after 1979, and bans trees or shrubs from shading more than 10 percent of a neighbor's solar panels between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m," according to the Merc.
The tree-owners have spent $25k in legal fees and are looking at possible fines of $1,000/day for non-compliance.

I hate to take sides here (really, I do...) but let's step back a minute. The trees were planted in the late 90's and the solar array was installed in 2001. Mr. Solar Panel had to know that they were there and, being something of an environmentalist, it is reasonable to assume that he knew--or should have known-- that the redwoods would only grow taller. Wouldn't it have been prudent to resolve this disupute before he spent the money to install the solar array?

Furthermore, according to Rogers, this guy only pays $60 a year in electricity--five bucks a month. Wouldn't that indicate that the solar panels are working, despite the shadow cast by the trees?

Just another example of the unintended consequences of alternative energy-- wind turbines cause bird strikes, hydroelectric facilities endanger fish, ethanol drives up the price of corn, and now this. At some point, we are going to have make some choices. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Algae is Chevron's New Green

Chevron has announced a deal with the company Solazyme to develop bioddiesel out of algae. According to Solazyme's CEO, if "all goes according to plan" the company will be pumping out commercially viable diesel derived from algae witnin 2-3 years.

Give Solazyme credit, not only for hooking up with a deep-pocketed partner in Chevron, but also for recognizing that nothing gives innovative green technology the patina of legitimacy like the Hollywood stamp of approval.

So, the company pimped its product last week at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT, by showcasing a biodiesel Mercedes. (That's a two-for because if there are two things that the Hollywood elite love, they are green energy and luxury automobiles!)

The idea of producing fuel from algae has been around for decades but this looks like the first realistic shot at brining it to market. No word yet whether the company plans to tap into my fish tank for (which hasn't been cleaned in months) for a steady supply of source material.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More Power!

Fans of the old Tim Allen sit-com "Home Improvement" will remember his default solution to just about any problem: "MORE POWER!"

Well, sceintists are taking that mantra to heart in their quest to tap new energy reserves. The USA is aldready second only to Iceland in the use of geothermal energy, but now we are looking to up the ante by tapping into.... volcanoes.

Experts are predicting new geothermal plants in the Pacific Northwest that tap into the awesome enrgy potential that lies beneath the Cascade Mountain Range.

According to the write-up in the Charlotte Observer:

A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that the amount of geothermal power that could be recovered from deep drilling would represent almost 3,000 times the amount of energy currently consumed in the United States.

Last year's Energy Department report said the Cascades contained "potentially significant" geothermal resources, but it cautioned that the effort to tap these resources, including drilling miles into volcanoes to tap "supercritical fluids," won't be easy.

From our mouth, to the LA Daily News' Ears!

Yesterday we lamented the lack of a more comprehensive list of cars driven by our electeds... today the Los Angeles Daily News obliges!

Click here for the list.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Here's a fun one for this holiday afternoon. The Oakland Tribune "outs" California lawmakers for their less than environmentally friendly, taxpayer-funded cars.

Sparked by the recent car-jacking of Don Perata and his fire-engine-red, $38,000 gas-guzzline Dodge Charger (that your tax dollars pay for), the Trib took a look at some of the rides our Assembly Members and Senators are driving on your dime.

Not surprisingly, GOP members tended to have more expensive cars with lower gas mileage. According to the Trib, "GOP senators drive state vehicles that average 19 mpg to the Democrats' 30 mpg, the survey found. Republicans also chose cars that cost nearly $3,000 more on average. Assembly Republicans, at 24 mpg, get 6 mpg less than Democrats and picked cars that cost nearly $4,000 more — although the state caps its costs."

The Republican rebuttal? They tend to live in more rural, rugged districts that require longer drives and sturdier cars. Case in point, Minority Leader Dick Ackerman's "rural," "rugged" district of Anaheim! (In fairness, he only drives an Explorer but it does post a pretty lame 15 mpg).

Democrats are not immune however as the Tribune shines a light on liberal Senator Joe Simitian's pricey Chrysler 300 and notes he could get more comfort at a cheaper price with a hybrid Altima.

Sorry, there is no comprehensive list of who drives what, but of the examples cited, our favorite-- by far-- is Sen. Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) who drives a 2000 Chevy Camaro!!!!! Stud.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Safeway's Green Image Keeps On Trucking....

Pleasonton-based Safeway has been riding the good-PR wave ever since it announced its intention to go green in a big way. While the company simply can't buy the good publicity that its recent announcement about switching its truck fleet to biofuel generated, many are questioning just how beneficial the move actualy is?

According to the San Francisco Business Times:

But the jury is still out on biofuels' effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions because of the amount of energy that goes into growing crops that will be converted into biofuels. Plus, one only need walk the aisles of Safeway store to see their rising costs of a broad range of products because the biofuel industry is competing with food companies for corn and other crops. The European Union is considering a ban on certain biofuel imports that don't meet "a minimum level of greenhouse gas savings."

The company claims that the move will reduce 75 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually and if they are even half right, that plus the good press makes this a great deal.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

California Is Putting the Green in Green Technology

The tallies are in. Almost $4 billion in venture capital spending went to green technology in North America in 2007-- a 38% year-over-year jump. $1.38 billion of that-- almost 45%-- went to California companies.

Is this a legitimate trend or a bubble? Only tme will tell but in a survey last month by the National Venture Capital Association, 61% of venture capitalists said that the green tech sector will overvalued this year.

So where does energy generation stand within this larger green tech sector? According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "In 2007, companies that specialize in energy generation - devising biofuels or new solar panels, for example- pulled in more venture capital than any other green tech companies in North America and Europe."

Power to the People!

Amid widespread criticism and fear of increasing control over Californians' lives by "Big Brother," a state panel has dropped a plan that would have let utility companies use radio signals to dictate the temperature in residents' homes.

The California Energy Commission, in a bid to cut energy use during peak times or emergencies, had proposed forcing residents to install programmable thermostats that utilities could remotely control.

This is one of those rare times when we find ourselves on the right side of an issue!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

State Money Grab: Just Say No!

So California is $14 billion in the hole and the governor is bound and determined not to raise taxes... what to do?

The obvious answer is to "hike fees" because in Arnold's world, that's different from a tax increase. But what about a good, old fashioned money-grab?

When that last G.D. Governor ("Gray Davis"... c'mon this is a family blog!) had us behind the 8 ball, Sacramento started raiding the reserves of local and special districts throughout California. This didn't sit well with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District boss Jeff Shields so this time around he decided to get out in front of things.

Shields moved $10 million in SSJID surplus funds out of the very public and raidable Local Agency Investment Fund, and into private sector investments where Sacramento can't get its paws on it!

No word yet on the Guv-ernator's response but this shows that public power guys are not to be trifled with! If this catches on, no telling if we'll actually dig our way out this budget mess, but at least energy dollares will remain energy dollars!

SSJID moves $10M out of state's reach [Manteca Bulletin]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

San Onofre's Problems Continue

So last week it was reported that a failed backup generator at the San Onofre Nuclear Power plant had prompted a federal investigation. At the time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it no longer issued fines except for deliberate acts of misconduct. Becuase this was a case of mere imcompetence or simple neglect, it didn't count.

Well, this week, we find out that the feds have discovered that San Onofre personnel have been cooking the books on safety logs for five years, as well as a host of other safety violations. According to the Los Angeles Times:

"In addition to falsified records, officials uncovered two security lapses, but would not elaborate on them. The other violations involved a radiation worker who did not comply with the conditions of a work permit, and a company failure to properly supervise an unqualified technician, whose work led to the temporary shutdown of a safety system."

As if anticipating our question, the Times notes: "Though the actions of plant workers were deliberate, NRC and Edison officials said the five incidents did not represent a significant threat to the safety of San Onofre. Victor Dricks, an NRC spokesman, said the lapses were what the agency calls "Level 4" violations, or the least serious."But I don't want to diminish their importance," Dricks said. "They involve willful misconduct."
Now we know from last week that "deliberate" misconduct will get you a fine, right? Nope. In no fewer than ten published write-ups on the findings, there is nary a mention of a fine-- just "corrective actions" that include training for employees and ethics classes!

If you feel like the contractors working on a nuclear power plant need ethics classes, you've got a pretty big problem that requires more than some classroom time to correct.
The problem with all of this of course is that it is a classic case of a single rotten apple threatenting to spoil the whole bushel... look for a new wave of anti-nuclear power sentiment, at precisely the time when we need clean energy fuel alternatives the most.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Powerline Lawsuit

The Center for Biological Diversity has officially sued the Department of Energy over the proposed Southwest energy corridor that would run through Arizona and California.

The lawsuit claims that the plan's fast-track federal approval process for the construction of transmission lines would allow energy companies to bypass state jurisdiction, environmental laws and even private land ownership.

The Department of Energy designated the Southwest Corridor pursuant to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, allowing for “fast-track” approval of utility and power line projects within the corridor, nullifying state and federal environmental laws, and enabling federal condemnation of private land for new high-voltage transmission lines.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Orwellian California....

Finally something the left and right can agree on! The California Energy Commission's proposal to use radio controlled thermostats to reguate the termperature in your house amounts to "nanny state regulations" on steroids.

Whether you are a card carrying ACLU Democrat or a reactionary Rush Limbaugh Republican, I think we can all agree that allowing the CEC to beam signals into my house to control my thermostat is going way to far.

The CEC can control what's going on outside my house, but not on this side of the threshold. If I'm using too much energy, cut me off. But do not think you can come in and physically touch my thermostat.

In the final analysis, the energy we consume is a commodity that we purchase. Energy producers and regulators have every right to limit the amount of that commodity that they sell to me and they have every right to charge me what they want for it. But they do not have a right to violate the sanctity of my home and physically alter my behavior patterns.

If the technology exists to control individual thermostats remotely, then it should not be a stretch to implement technology that is capable of cutting power to individual homes and residences if and when they consume more than their reasonable share of energy.

In the event such individual shut-offs occur, then those residences would have to deal with the consequences and alter their own consumption in the future. Bottom line, you can incentivize me to adjust my thermostat, but you're not invited in to do it yourself.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Saying "Hasta La Vista" to Arnold's Hygdrogen Highway

Everything else in California is absolutely FUBAR right now so why not the Governor's much-hyped "Hydrogen Highway."

Arnold promised 100 hydrogen refueling stations by 2010-- we are officially at 23 and falling fast. PG&E just turned down $1.5 million to build a station in the Bay Area and instead will concentrate on plug-in hybrids.

CARB is holding a hydrogen summit today to get a handle on where things stand, but don't expect anything earth shattering to come of it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

This is Comforting...

Buried in an otherwise mundane write-up about a federal inspection team giving the San Onofre nuclear plant a thorough inspection after a back up generator failed last month, is this line Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials:

“We don't issue fines anymore unless there was what we call deliberate misconduct involved. . . . There is certainly no indication that happened here,” Dricks said.

That's kind of disturbing.

So, benign neglect, garden variety incompetence, or just plain old mistakes won't draw a sanction from the feds-- just intentional acts. That surely will motivate plant staff to stay on their toes!

I would hope that fines and other penalties would be handed out for the slightest violation-- deliberate or otherwise. I guess not.


Inspectors plan report on Onofre [San Diego Union Tribune]

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

PG&E Gets No Love From Unhappy Hippies!

PG&E can't catch a break. Its service territory was battered by last weekend's storms and today the San Francisco Chronicle reported that 91,000 of its customers in Northern and Central California were still without power. If that weren't bad enough, now the company has karma issues to deal with.

The coastal hamlet of Bolinas, known for its rather unique population of recluses, bohemians, and others who have withdrawn for a host of reasons (with apologies to Jerry Garcia!: Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night, the first ones named sweet Anne Marie, and shes my hearts delight... the second one is prison, babe, the sheriff's on my trail, and if he catches up with me, Ill spend my life in jail...) apparently digs the creature comforts after all, and wants its damn power back on!!!

The Chronicle has a great article about it today that reads like a Dave Barry column. Some choice quotes for your reading pleasure:
  • "I am so burned out, so tired of not having electricity," said Debbie Morrison, a 30-year resident of Bolinas, who has been huddling with her husband and five dogs in front of their wood-burning stove. (You're so burned out? Really? Wow.)
  • "I'm basically always without power," said Joe, who didn't want to give his last name because of legal troubles he'd rather not go into. "I have a place I live, but to save money I don't have power, so this doesn't bother me at all."
  • Roughing it is kind of spiritual, said local tree cutter Jerrund Bojeste, who drives a van reshaped into a dragon - complete with metal scales and a toothy mouth that he insists shoots fire. "It's not PG&E that is the light. It's the inner light of our own heart, the love light"... Without electricity, he said, "people go back to that earthly divineness. It's only because we are told we need electricity that we use it." (PG&E should sign this guy up for their PR department! "You don't need lights, man!")
But the quote that pretty much sums it up is this one:

"You kind of rough it when you live out here," Miller said, "but it's kind of frustrating with PG&E."

Dude, that quote applies all over the state.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Conservative Screed Against the Energy Bill

American Policy Center prexy Tom DeWeese weighs in with a bitter commentary against our (lack of) an energy policy.

DeWeese sort of tiptoes on the lunatic fringe in more than a few areas of his commentary (I don't really believe that municipalities are intentionally allowing roads to go to pot in order to force people to ride public transporation (much of which uses the same crappy roads)-- I just think municipalities are broke and incompetent), however, his fundeamental thesis is undeniable-- special interest influence in Washington cuts both ways: environmental and industrial agendas both are to blame for the current mess we are in.

Ethanol is undeniably a corporate boondoggle, but raising vehicle mileage standards is probably a reasonable first stab at reducing our dependence on foreign oil before we start ripping up ANWR and the ocean floor. Even George Bush routinely prattles on about the need to invest in new technology that will use energy more efficiently.

DeWeese points out the inherent challenges and shortcomings with alternative energy sources like wind and solar, but those have been discussed to death and are hardly news.

An easy conclusion to draw from all of this is that there is zero chance of ever achieving a real national energy strategy as long as special interests from both sides of the the aisle are plying their trades in the halls of Congress.

Have fun with this column by DeWeese... read it, enjoy it, or line your bird cage with it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

LNG-- Without An Obstructed View!

The multiple offshore LNG import terminals certainly caused an uproar but here's a compromise-- homegrown LNG that doesn't require floating or permanent offshore regassification facilities.

Prometheus Energy is doing just that in Irvine, CA where it is turning Landfill Gas into LNG.

Production capacity is nothing close to the massive imports proposed by the big boys' offshore projects, but it's a start.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year, Old Issue...

Bird strikes in the Altamont Pass are front and center on the San Francisco Chronicle's radar screen again.

The Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area is home to some 5,000 wind energy turbines (most owned by FPL) that chop up or electrocute thosuands of birds each year.

Under a settlement reached last year, turbine operators agreed to shut down 300 of the most dangerous windmills and to reduce bird deaths by 50%. The initial report card, however, is not good and activists are calling for additional turbines to be taken out of service and ultimatlely for a wholesale repowering.

Many of the turbines are obsolete and produce only 100 KW-- the newer ones are in the 1-2 MW range. But repowering will cost $1 bilion so there is considerable push-back on the idea.

The best corporate spin on this issue has to come from Rick Koebbe of Altamont Energy, who said, the impact on birds has to be weighed against the human deaths and diseases that are reduced by using wind power instead of pollution-producing fossil fuels.


The turbine operators agreed to take the windmills off line in November and December, but they are balking at extending the shut-down... more on this as it develops.
THE DEADLY TOLL OF WIND POWER [San Francisco Chronicle]